* By Umar Hasan
After the next great generation of the Companions, we seldom have found a figure enjoying a track record in almost all the Islamic perspectives including Shar`i sciences, worship, Jihad, etc…. Whoever has a good command of a branch of knowledge for instance, may not master another quite often. This is due to the fact that the Prophet’s Companions were contemporaneous with Allah’s Messenger and were educated by him directly. `Abdullah ibn Al-Mubarak, however, was a Tab`i (follower) who was known for all good virtues. His biography serves as a convincing reply against the secularists who argue that Islam is practiced only within mosques. This article sheds light on some of his unique characteristics which entitled him to be a comprehensive scholar.
His name and linage:
His name is `Abdullah ibn Al-Mubarak ibn Wadhih Abu `Abdul Rahman Al-Handhali, known as Ibn Al-Mubarak. His father was from Turk and his mother from Khawarizm. He was born in A.H. 118 in the era of the Umayyad Caliph Hisham ibn `Abdul-Malik and remained until the age of Harun Ar-Rashid. He brought up in a pious and modest family. His father was working as a guardian of a grove.
His seeking knowledge:
Like many other great scholars, Ibn Al-Mubarak started seeking knowledge at an early age. He spent a great deal of his lifetime in scientific journeys to narrate Hadiths in addition to his journeys for practicing Jihad, and that is why he was entitled “As-Saffar” (one who travels so much). His first journey was to Ar-Rabi` ibn Anas Al Kharasani, his first teacher, in his prison and wrote down 40 hadiths from him. He also wrote down Hadiths from persons who were younger or lesser than him in knowledge. In A.H. 141, he moved to various cities and learnt from the other followers. ‘Abdul Rahhman ibn Abu Hatem said, “Ibn Al-Mubarak traveled (to write down Hadith) to Yemen, Egypt, the Levant, Arabia, Basrah and Kufah.” He also learnt under famous scholars including `Ashim Al-Ahwal, Humayd Ath-Thawil, Rabi` ibn Anas, Hisham ibn `Urwah, Al-Jariri, Isma`il ibn Abu Khalid, Khalid Al-@Haza`, Barid ibn `Abdullah, etc.
On the other hand, Ibn Al-Mubarak was himself a school from which numerous brilliant scholars graduated, from different places. Among his students were Imam At-Thawri, Mu’ammar ibn Rashid, Abu Isac Al Fazary, Ja`far ibn Sulayman, Abu Bakr ibn `Ayyash, etc…
The great scholar Ahmad ibn Hanbal said, “There was no one in his time that was more diligent in seeking for knowledge than Ibn Al-Mubarak.”
Ibn Ma`in said, “Ibn Al-Mubarak was a trusted scholar, and he had a strong memory. The book he taught about hadith contains 20000 hadiths.”
Ibn Usama used to call him “Amir al-Muminin (the Commander of the believers”.
His scientific approach:
Ibn Al-Mubarak adopted a unique approach for writing down Hadith: paying attention to the quantitative together with qualitative equally. Religion must be transferred honestly. Scientific verification was his methodology for transferring knowledge and Hadith. He also paid more attention to the authentic Hadiths than the weak ones. In this context, he said “The sound Hadiths have a priority over the weak ones.”
In fact, Ibn Al-Mubarak’s scientific wealth extended to include other branches of Islamic sciences like Jurisprudence and language. This is a characteristic which has made him different. In this connection, it is good to borrow one of his students’ sayings, who gathered one day and said, ‘Let us mention the excellence of ibn Al-Mubarak,’ Ibn `Isa ibn Masijiris narrated. They said, “He was knowledgeable in Jurisprudence, etiquettes of Islam, Arabic and its grammar, asceticism, and poetry in addition to in speaking, performing the night prayer habitually, diligence in worship, offering pilgrimage, skill of war, mastery in horse riding, silence in trivial matters, justice, and rarity in having feud with people around him.”
All the Muslim nation will remain learning from Ibn Al-Mubarak through his valuable works in various areas of knowledge, including Tafseer of the Qur’an (Interpretation of the Qur’an), Al-Musnad which contains a compilation of hadiths with Isnad (chain of transmission) to Ibn Al-Mubarak, “Al Jihad” which discusses particularly the rules of Jihad, and Az-Zuhd which is a compilation of hadiths about asceticism and its excellence.
Excellence of Ibn Al-Mubarak:
His exceptional knowledge inherited him piety, modesty and good manners. For knowledge to be perfect and praised, it must be put into practice by its holder. Our nation nowadays, unfortunately, has some scholars who enjoy much knowledge but either do not disseminate it or misuse it. Ibn Al-Mubarak acted on the same way of the first generation of the Companions who would memorize a verse then put it into practice. Once, he was asked, “Do not you feel yourself desolate?” “Why I am desolate and I live with the Prophet and his Companions,” he replied. Ibn Al-Mubarak took the Prophet and his Companions a good example for him. In fact, this is what has made a figure like Sufyan Al Thawry says, “I wish to emulate Ibn Al-Mubarak only for a year throughout my life, but I cannot emulate him even for only three days.”
Additionally, he defined the accurate meaning of (Zuhd) asceticism theoretically and practically. In Islam, Zuhd is not that you should not own anything, but that nothing should own you. Zuhd is not to eat from garbage and sleep in the roads. Nay, it is to gather money and all ornaments of the worldly life at your hand without capturing your heart. Though he was a rich, he used to feed the hungry, give the poor and provide the Muslim army with necessities. He used to feed his colleagues while he was fasting. Isma`il ibn `Ayyash used to say “There is none over the earth like Ibn Al-Mubarak. No good characteristic Allah has created but `Abdullah ibn Al-Mubarak had.”
More than twelve centuries, Ibn Al-Mubarak has rectified a currently fallacy: many Muslims for example, perform pilgrimage repeatedly, even yearly, while they do not give alms nor pay Zakah. Such case is diagnosed by Muslim scholars as lack of Fiqh Al Awlaiyyat (Jurisprudence of Priorities). It means to define matters in order of their priority. In other words, Fiqh of priorities or the understanding of deeds’ positions means the knowledge of which of the injunctions and the deeds takes precedence over the other. This precedence must conform to the legal criteria. Therefore, priority must be given to the rudiment (matter) over the branch, to the obligatory over the supererogatory, to the most important over the important…
We need to understand these priorities so as to be able to put each deed at its appropriate position. In this regard, Allah, the Almighty says:
Do you consider the providing of drinking water to the pilgrims and the maintenance of Al- Masjid-al-Haram (at Makkah) as equal to the worth of those who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and strive hard and fight in the Cause of Allah? (At-Tawbah: 19:20).
It was also narrated that Allah’s Messenger said: “Faith has over seventy branches, the uppermost of which is the declaration: None has the right to be worshiped but Allah; and the least of which is the removal of harmful object from the road, and modesty is a branch of faith.” (Reported by Muslim) Ibn Al-Mubarak evidenced such an accurate understanding of Islam through his lines of poetry to Al Fudail ibn `Iyad who left someday Jihad and isolated himself in worship. On then, Ibn Al-Mubarak said:
O worshipper in the two Harams if you observe us,
You recognize that you are dallying with worship.
If your cheeks are tinged with tears,
So, our necks with blood are tinged.
Or if your horse is getting tired for nothing,
Our horses in the battle (Djihad) become tired.
When El-Fudayl ibn `Iyad read these lines, his eyes filled with tears then he said: “Abu `Abdur-Rahman is right.”
Good deeds in Islam differ according to their priority and importance. It is not allowed to retreat while other Muslims engaged with Jihad. Therefore, Ibn Al-Mubarak himself was remarkable for bravery during fighting for the Cause of Allah. He used to fight a year and perform Hajj in the next year. In this respect we should cite his stance towards the poor widow. On his way to perform Hajj, he saw a woman picking up a dead chicken to cook for her hungry children. He then knew that she was a poor widow of four daughters and had any sponsor or food to feed. On then, Ibn Al-Mubarak burst into tear and gave her all money he had and did not perform Hajj this year.
Ibn Al-Mubarak died in Al Anbar in Iraq in A.H. 181.
May Allah confer his mercy upon him!
* Umar Hasan is a graduate of Al-Azhar University, Faculty of Languages and Translations, Dept. of Islamic Studies in English. Sheikh Umar is a translator, Islamic researcher and Imam in the ministry of Endowments, Egypt.