The Life and Legacy of Hasan al-Basri (RA)

The Life and Legacy of Hasan al-Basri (RA)
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Javaid Ahmad Malik

Abu Sa’id Hasan al-Basri, commonly known as Hasan al-Basri(RA), was born in 21 A.H / 642 C.E in Madina nine years after the sad demise of the Prophet (SAAS). One of the most renowned Tabi’un (Companions of the Companions of the Prophet (SAAS), his father, Yassar, was the Slave of Zayd bin Thabit (RA) or Jabir bin Abdullah (RA)(al Bidayah wa al-Nihayah, X: 322).Similarly his mother, Khayra, was the handmaid of Umm-e-Salmah (RA)—one of the wives of the Prophet (SAAS) (Tazkirah al Awliya’, p.17). In history, Hassan al Basri(RA) is known as a learned man, great theologian, prominent ‘Arif (mystic), one of the most dignified Muhaddith (Compiler of the Traditions of the Prophet) and a great Mufassir (interpreter of the Qur’an).
After his birth, his mother took her baby to Hazat Umar bin Khattab (RA), who set his name as “Hasan” after seeing his handsome visage. It is narrated that Hazrat Umar(RA), once prayed for him in the words: “O Allah! bestow him the right understanding of the religion and make him beloved to the people”(al Bidayah wa al-Nihayah, X: 323). Hassan al Basri(RA) memorized the entire Qur’an in his early childhood. He also had the honor of attending the Friday Sermons of Hazrat Uthman (RA).
In 34 A.H, at the age of mere 13 years, Hasan moved to Basrah (City of ‘Iraq) and spent almost his whole life in the very city thereby earned the sobriquet as “Basri”. Although he had not taken much part in warfare, nevertheless as a young man he participated in some of the expeditions that led to the conquest of eastern Iran. It is said, that in most of the times the government had to take help of his insight and wisdom. In the reign of Amir Mu’awiya (RA), Hasan al-Basri worked as the Katib (Scribe) in the office of the governor of Khurasaan, namely Rabi’ bin Ziyad.
Hasan al Basri(RA) was an esteemed Transmitter of the traditions of the Prophet (SAAS) and had met many Companions (Sahaba) of the Prophet, including those who fought in the battle of Badr. However, his chief authority was Anas bin Malik (RA). Hasan met 120 Companions, most prominent among them are Uthman, ‘Ali, Sa’d bin ‘Ubadah, Abu Hurayrah, Jabir bin ‘Abdullah, Anas bin Malik, ‘Ammar bin Yasir, Ubay bin Ka’b and Ma’kil bin Yassar, (RA), and so on. People thought that the outstanding position which Hasan achieved in the field of knowledge, wisdom and asceticism was mostly because of the feed of Umm-e-Salmah (RA) in his childhood.
Hasan al-Basri is rightly considered as one of the few top-most guides of the Muslim Ummah. He resembled a bright star in his piety, endurance, moderateness and large-heartedness. He was always surrounded by his disciples seeking guidance in various branches of learning. Abu al-Hasan Nadwi, in his Tarikh Dawat wa ‘Azeemat/ Saviors of Islamic Spirit (I: 56), writes: “He would be teaching Hadith to one, Tafsir to another, Fiqah (Laws and Theological rules) to a third, expounding a legal opinion to someone else and imparting instructions in the principles of jurisprudence to yet another while continuing his sermons in the meantime for those who came to him for their purpose”.
He was a well-known theologian and one of the earliest champions of the Tasawwuf (Islamic mysticism). Al Basri(RA) lived through both the crises and rise to the glory of Muslim Ummah. After his settling down in Basrah, t he won a great reputation for his strong character, piety, learning and eloquence.
Hasan al-Basri was known to his generation as an outstanding and eloquent preacher, a paragon of piety and venturous and outspoken critique of the political rulers of the Umayyads. In Basrah, where other men who were held in great esteem such as Imam ibn Sireen and Imam Sha’bi, being questioned on Yazid’s Succession, did not dare to put forth their opinion openly and directly, Hasan al-Basri frankly expressed his strong disapproval. He showed the same freedom of speech in his letters to Caliph ‘Abd al-Malik and tyrannical al Hajjaj. But at the same time he did not forget righteous and just rulers. In a letter he addressed to the pious Umayyad Caliph, namely Umar bin ‘Abd al-‘Aziz as: “(Remember) the world is like a snake, soft to touch but full of venom. God hates nothing more than this world and that from the time He created it, He has not looked upon it even once”.
Hasan al-Basri was a great preacher and an admonisher. His sermons happened to be always effective, precious and valuable for his generation, when worldliness tried to penetrate in the religious spirit of Muslims and for all the times to come. Whenever he discussed Aakhirah (Hereafter) or described the departed Holy age of the Sahaba (\RA), everyone’s beard was seen drenched with tears. People said that there had not been seen orators with mind-blowing eloquence than Hasan and his contemporary Hajjaj bin Yusuf, but obviously the former was more graceful and elegant speaker and orator than the later.
Because of his purified soul, al Basri’s words always contain weight and effect in it. His discourses used to be always heart-animating because it would come from the core of his heart. His speeches had the power of abrupt influence and strong effect which no other preacher or advisor of Kufa and Basrah could produce. Imam Ghazzali says in his Ihya al ‘ulum that the most remarkable feature of his sermons and discourses was its resemblance and relationship with the Prophetic sermons. Some of his ‘valuable Sayings’ (Aqwaal) are quoted below:
Legacy of Hasan al-Basri(RA):
The faultless sincerity, outside piety and the moral and spiritual excellence of Hasan al-Basri(RA) earned the affection of everyone in Basrah. When he left for the heavenly abode in 110 A.H, the entire populace of Basrah attended his funeral which took place on Friday, and for the first time in the history of the Basrah, the Jami’a Masjid of the city remained empty at the Asr (afternoon) prayer.
Once Anas bin Malik (RA) said, that two persons from Basrah are enviable to me, one is Hasan al-Basri and another is Ibn Sireen. This reveals the greatness of the person, who has been praised by the Companion of the Prophet (SAAS). He is believed to be as one of the greatest personalities produced by the Muslim Ummah. He had a very excessive love and affection for the Sunnah of the Prophet (SAAS). In fact, he was fed by Umm e Salmah (RA), so he had a very close concern with the family of the Prophet (SAAS). Al Basri’s contributed an unforgettable legacy in the field of Tafsir, Hadith, and produced outstanding and effective sermons and discourses and most importantly the systematic Tasawwuf to the Muslim Ummah. The intention for writing about the life and legacy of such a great personality is to remind ourselves that we should not only describe and pen down the lives of such great personalities; rather we must try to follow their path and way of life, so that we will get real success in both here and hereafter.

—The author is a recently enrolled PhD Candidate in Islamic Studies at Islamic University of Science and Technology, Awantipora. He can be reached at: javaidislamicstudies@gmail.com

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