Gems from ‘Sifat us-Safwah’

The Characteristics of the Most Excellent

source: IslamicNetwork

Insha’-Allah, in this thread, we will be going through the book ‘Sifat us-Safwah’ (The Characteristics of the Most Excellent) – which is a priceless collection of biographies of the best personalities of this ummah, by al-Imam Ibn al-Jawzi – and throwing out a few brief selections here and there of stories of the most devout of the Tabi’in and those who came after them.

Since information on the Prophet (peace be upon him) and the Companions are already available for anyone to find, I will stick to those personalities that are less well-known to us.

Hope you enjoy these, and one more thing: do not read anything on this thread if it is not your intention to imitate these amazing people in the way they lived their lives.

May Allah teach us what will benefit us, and benefit us by what we learn.

Name: ‘Ata’ bin Yasar
Kunyah: ِAbu Muhammad
Status: Successor (Tabi’i)
Location: Madinah

‘Abdur-Rahman bin Zayd bin Aslam narrated:

“‘Ata’ and Sulayman (his brother) bin Yasar went to run an errand outside Madinah along with some companions of theirs. When they reached the outskirts of the city, they stopped at a house to rest. Sulayman and his companions went to see to some of their needs, and ‘Ata’ stayed in the house alone, praying. Suddenly, a beautiful bedouin woman entered upon him, so when ‘Ata’ saw her, he assumed that she needed something from him, so he sped up his prayer a little and then asked her: “Is there something you need?”

She answered: “Yes.”

He said: “And what is that?”

She replied: “Come and have your share of me, for I am filled with desire and I am without a spouse.”

So, he said to her: “Get away from me, and do not cause me to burn in the Fire along with you!”

She then continued to intice ‘Ata’ until he started weeping and repeating: “Woe be to you! Get away from me!” and his weeping intensified until the woman herself saw his weeping and the grief that was inside of him, so she herself began to weep because of his weeping. While they were both sitting and weeping, his brother Sulayman returned from seeing to his needs, and when he saw his brother ‘Ata’ weeping and the woman on the other side of the house weeping, he himself began to weep as a result of their weeping without asking them about anything. When the weeping intensified and grew louder, the woman got up and left the house.

Their companions, who were standing outside of the house, then got up and came in, and Sulayman remained after that without ever asking his brother about the woman out of respect for him, as he (Sulayman) was younger the younger of the two.

They then proceeded to Egypt to see to their errand, and they remained there as long as Allah Willed. One night, ‘Ata’ was sleeping and woke up crying, so Sulayman said to him: “Why are you crying, brother?” So, ‘Ata’s weeping intensified, and he said: “Because of a dream that I had tonight.” Sulayman asked him: “And what was it?”

‘Ata’ said: “Do not inform anyone of it as long as I am alive! I saw Prophet Yusuf (peace be upon him) in my dream, so I went to look at him along with others who were looking at him. So, when I saw his beauty, I wept. He then looked at me out of all the people and said: “Why are you weeping?” I replied: “May my father and mother be ransomed for you, O Prophet of Allah! I remembered the wife of al-‘Aziz and how you were tested with her, and what you experienced of imprisonment and separation from Ya’qub; I remembered all of this and wept and was amazed by it all.” So, he (Yusuf) said: “Will you not then be even more amazed by the one who was with the beautiful bedouin woman on the outskirts of the city but rejected her?” I realized to whom he was referring, so I wept and woke up weeping.”

At that point, Sulayman asked: “My brother, and what was the situation with this woman?” So, ‘Ata’ told him the story, and Sulayman did not tell anyone about it until ‘Ata’ had died, where he informed a woman of their family who later said: “And this story did not spread in Madinah except after the death of Sulayman bin Yasar.”

Ibn ‘Abiz-Zinad narrated:

“‘Ata’ bin Yasar used to fast every other day.”

‘Ata’ heard and narrated hadith from Ubayy bin Ka’b, Ibn Mas’ud, Abu Ayyub al-Ansari, and many other Companions of the Prophet.

He died in the year 103 (some say 94) after the Hijrah.

Name: Mas’ud ad-Darir
Kunyah: Abu Juhayr
Status: Later generations
Location: al-Basrah, Iraq

Salih al-Mirri narrated:

“Malik bin Dinar said to me: “Come by tomorrow, O Abu Salih, for I have promised a group of the brothers that we would go visit Abu Juhayr Mas’ud ad-Darir in al-Jiban so that we could give him our greetings.”

And this man, Abu Juhayr, had secluded himself in a nearby village and devoted himself to worship, and he never used to enter al-Basrah proper except on Fridays during the time of the prayer, then he would return to his home as soon as it was over.

The next day, I made my way to Malik’s home on the way to al-Jiban to find that he was already ahead of me on the way, and with him was Muhammad bin Wasi’, Thabit al-Binani and Habib. When I saw them all together, I said to myself “By Allah, this is indeed a day of joy!”

So, we left together to go see Abu Juhayr.

Whenever Malik would come across a clean area, he would say to Thabit: “Pray here, because it might be that tomorrow, this piece of earth will testify on your behalf,” and then Thabit would pray there.

We then kept walking until we arrived to Abu Juhayr’s residence, where we asked about him. We were told that he was just about to come out to leave for the prayer, so we waited for him. Eventually, a man that you could say had just emerged from his grave came out of the house, came to a man standing nearby, and took him by the hand to the nearby masjid. They stood at the door of the masjid briefly talking, then he (Abu Juhayr) entered and prayed for as long as Allah Willed, then he called the Iqamah and we prayed behind him.

When he completed his prayer, he sat as if he was heading an important meeting, and the people unanimously came by to greet him. So, Muhammad bin Wasi’ stepped forward to greet him, as well. Abu Juhayr replied to his greeting and said: “Who are you? I do not recognize your voice.” He said: “I am from the people of al-Basrah.” Abu Juhayr replied: “What is you name, may Allah have Mercy upon you?” He said: “I am Muhammad bin Wasi’.” Abu Juhayr said: “Welcome; you are the one whom these people – and he pointed towards al-Basrah – say is the best of them? Sit down.” So, he sat down.

Then Thabit al-Binani got up and greeted him, so he returned his greeting and asked: “Who are you, may Allah have Mercy upon you?” He replied: “I am Thabit al-Binani.” Abu Juhayr said: “Welcome, Thabit al-Binani. You are the one that the people of this town say stand the longest in prayer? Sit, for I had been wishing from my Lord to meet your likes.”

Then Habib Abu Muhammad got up and greeted him, so he returned his greeting and asked: “Who are you, may Allah have Mercy upon you?” He replied: “I am Habib Abu Muhammad.” Abu Juhayr said: “Welcome, Abu Muhammad. You are the one that these people claim never asks Allah anything except that it is given to you? Sit, may Allah have Mercy upon you.” So, he took his hand and sat him down next to him.

Then Malik bin Dinar got up and greeted him, so he returned his greeting and asked: “Who are you, may Allah have Mercy upon you?” He replied: “I am Malik bin Dinar.” Abu Juhayr said: “Bakh bakh (an Ethiopian expression of happiness) Abu Yahya! If you are as they say, then are you, as these people claim, the most abstentious from the worldly life of them all? Sit now, for everything that I have ever wanted from my Lord in this world has now been given to me.”

Then I got up to greet him, and the others began speaking over my voice, so Abu Juhayr said to them: “Remember how you will be tomorrow between the Hands of Allah on the gathering of the Resurrection.” I then greeted him, so he returned my greeting and asked: “Who are you, may Allah have Mercy upon you?” I replied: “I am Salih al-Mirri.” He said to me: “You are the young reciter? You are Abu Bishr?” I said: “Yes.”

He told me: “Recite, Salih.” So, I began to recite, and I did not get past seeking refuge with Allah except that he had already become overwhelmed. He then told me to start again, so I did and recited {“And We shall turn to whatever deeds they did, and We shall make them as scattered floating particles of dust.”} [al-Furqan;23]

He then collapsed and turned over on his face, and part of his body was exposed as it began moving around as a bull would, then his body became still. We looked at him and saw that his soul had been extracted (he had died).

So, we went out and asked if there was anyone that would tend to him. We were told that there was an elderly woman who used to come and serve him on some days, so we sent for her. She came and said: “What happened to him?”

We said: “The Qur’an was recited in his presence, so he died.”

She said: “It was befitting of him, by Allah. Who was the one who recited for him? It might be that he is a righteous reciter.”

We said: “Do you know who Salih is?”

She said: “I do not know him, except that I used to often hear him (Abu Juhayr) say: “If Salih recites in front of me, he will kill me.””

We said: “Well, he (Salih) is the one who recited in front of him,” and they pointed to me.

So, we prepared his body and buried him, may Allah have Mercy upon him.”

Name: Tahiyyah an-Nubiyyah
Status: Later generations
Location: Egypt

Abu ‘Abdur-Rahman Muhammad bin Husayn as-Sulami narrated:

I heard al-Malini say: “I went to visit Tahiyyah one time, so I heard her from outside the house, calling out: “O You who loves me, and I love Him!”

So, I went to her and said: “O Tahiyyah, it is good that you love Allah – the Exalted – but, from where do you know that He loves you?”

So, she said: “Yes, I used to live in the land of the Nubians, and my parents were Christians. My mother used to take me to church and bring me to the Cross and say to me: “Kiss the Cross!” So, when I was about to do this, I saw a hand come out of the Cross and push my face away so that I would not kiss it. At that point, I knew that it was Him protecting me.””

And another story of a devout female worshipper from the land of Egypt whose name is unknown:

Abu ‘Abdullah Muhammad bin Shuja’ narrated:

“I was in Egypt during my travels there, and I had a strong desire for a woman. I mentioned this to some of my brothers, so they said to me: “There is a devout woman who has a daughter that is just like her and is beautiful, and she has reached puberty.” So, I found her, became engaged to her, and eventually married her.

When I entered upon her (so that I would sleep with her), I found her facing the Qiblah in prayer, so I became shy and embarrassed that she was a young girl such as herself at her age praying and I was not praying, so I also faced the Qiblah and prayed as much as I was destined to pray, until I was overtaken by sleep and fell asleep in my place of prayer. She also eventually fell asleep in her place of prayer.

The next day, the same thing happened. When it became too much, I said to her: “Will you not come to bed?” She replied: “I am in the service of my Lord who has a right which I will not prevent him from.” [*] So, I became shy from her words and continued like this for a month.

Then, it came time for me to leave, so I said to her: “O woman!” She replied: “At your service!” I said: “I wish to leave this place now.” She replied: “It was a mercy to have known you.”

When I got up to the door, she got up and said: “My master, there was a contract between us in this life that we did not complete (the marriage), but it might be that in the Paradise we will complete it, if Allah Wills.” So, I said to her: “Maybe.” So, she said to me: “I bid you farewell with the protection of Allah, and He is the best of protectors.” So, I bid her farewell and left.

I then returned to Egypt a few years later and asked about her. I was told that she was even better and more exerting in her worship than she was when I had left her.”

[*] Islamically, what she did is not correct, as a woman is obliged to answer her husband’s call to the bed at all times. However, the point here is to reflect on her level of devoutness and dedication to the worship of Allah.

Name: Shaqiq bin Ibrahim al-Balkhi
Kunyah: Abu ‘Ali
Status: Later generations
Location: Balkh, Northern Afghanistan

He was considered the shaykh of Khurasan.

He was in his mother’s womb for thirty-six months.

‘Ali bin ‘Abdullah bin Shaqiq (his grandson) reported:

“My grandfather had travelled to the lands of the Turks in his youth for the purpose of business. He entered a temple filled with some idols that they would worship, and he said to the servant of the temple: “Verily, what you are upon is falsehood! These creations have a Creator Who is different from everything else, and He provides for everything else!”

So, the servant said to him: “Your words do not match your actions.”

Shaqiq said to him: “And how is that?”

The servant said to him: “You claimed that you have a Creator Who is able to do all things, yet you have tired yourself by travelling all the way over here in order to seek your provision!”

Shaqiq later said: “The inspiration for me abandoning the pleasures of this world and turning back to Allah were the words of this Turk.” He then returned to Khurasan and gave all of his wealth away in charity, and preoccupied himself with seeking knowledge.”

Abu ‘Abdullah said:

“I heard Shaqiq bin Ibrahim say: “I used to make one thousand dirhams from three hundred (i.e., I would engage in usury), then I wore wool (i.e., I repented) for twenty years without knowing anything (about Islam) until I met ‘Abdil-‘Aziz bin Abi Rawad. He said to me: “O Shaqiq! The point is not simply eating barley or wearing wool. The point is that you have intimate knowledge of Allah and that you worship him without associating partners with him.”

So, I said: “Explain this to me.”

He replied: “It is that everything that you do be solely for Allah,” then he recited: {“So whoever hopes for the meeting with his Lord, let him work righteousness and associate none as a partner in the worship of his Lord.”} [al-Kahf; 110]”

Hatim al-Asamm said:

“We were with Shaqiq al-Balkhi while we were fighting the Turks, and that day I saw nothing except for heads rolling and swords slicing, so Shaqiq said to me: “We are between the two rows of the armies. O Hatim! How do you see yourself on such a day? Do you see yourself just like the night on which you wed your wife?”

So, I said: “No, by Allah.”

Shaqiq then said: “By Allah, on this day, I feel as good as I felt on the night in which I wed my wife.” Then he laid down between the two rows of fighters (as he was overtaken by sakinah) and put his leather shield underneath his cheek until I could hear him snoring.

Shaqiq also once said to me: “Befriend people just as you would befriend fire: take from them what you need, but beware of being burned.”

He also said to me: “The believer is like a man who plants a palm-tree and fears that it will have a single thorn growing on it, while the hypocrite is like the one who plants a thorny tree in hopes that it will bear fruit. Anyone who does good will be rewarded good by Allah, and the righteous will never descend to the level of the sinners.””

Shaqiq narrated hadith from ‘Ubad bin Kathir, and he was a close companion of Ibrahim bin Adham.

He was killed in the Battle of Kulan in the year 194 H.

His story is also featured in ‘Siyar A’lam an-Nubala’ [8/200]

Name: Maymunah as-Sawda’
Status: Successor (Tabi’iyyah)
Location: Kufah, Iraq

al-Fudayl bin ‘Iyad narrated:

‘Abdul-Wahid bin Zayd said: “I asked Allah – the Mighty and Majestic – for three nights in a row to show me my future companion in Paradise in a dream, so in my dream, I heard a caller saying: “O ‘Abdul-Wahid! Your companion in Paradise is Maymunah as-Sawda’.” So, I asked: “And where is she now?” The voice replied: “She is among such-and-such a tribe in Kufah.”

So, I went out to Kufah and asked about her, so I was told: “She is among us, and she takes care of the livestock.” So, I said: “I wish to see her.” I was taken to the place where she was, and found her standing in prayer with a walking stick to support her. She was wearing a wool cloak, with a sign written on it that said: “Not to be bought or sold.” ِAlso, the sheep that she was supposed to be caring for were surrounded by wolves. However, the wolves were not trying to attack the sheep, and the sheep were not afraid of the wolves.

When she saw me, she ended her prayer and said to me: “Go back, Ibn Zayd. Our meeting place is not here. Rather, it is later on (in the Hereafter).”

I said to her: “May Allah have Mercy upon you! Who told you that I am Ibn Zayd?”

She said: “I know that the souls are like a unified army, so the souls that go together are one, and the souls that differ from each other are divided.”

I said to her: “Advise me.”

She said: “Strange! An admonisher who wishes to be admonished? O Ibn Zayd, it has been related to me that a servant is not given anything of this worldly life and wished for more of it, except that Allah ceases to allow that servant to love Him and desire Him, and He exchanges the closeness that he had with Him for distance…” Then she recited:

O admonisher! The accounting has begun * To drive the people away from sin

You forbid others while you are the one who is truly ill * This is indeed a strange evil

If you had rectified yourself beforehand * Your mistakes and repented recently

Then – my dear – what you you said * Would have had a position of truth in the heart

You warn against temptation and excess * While you yourself are in a state of doubt”

I then said to her: “I see these wolves with the sheep, but the sheep do not run away from the wolves, and the wolves do not try to eat the sheep! What is this?”

She said: “This is a sign to you from me: since I made peace between my Master and I, He made peace between the wolves and the sheep.””

Name: ‘Ali bin Bakkar al-Basri
Kunyah: Abul-Hasan
Status: Tabi’i
Location: al-Masisah, Syria

He was detached from the worldly pleasures. He became a fighter and guarder of the Muslim lands; a truthful worshipper.

He lived in al-Masisah (in Sham) as a fighter, and he was a scholar of Fiqh.

Musa bin Turayf said: “‘Ali bin Bakkar’s slave-girl used to spread his bed for him, so he would touch it with his hand and say: “By Allah, you feel good; by Allah, you feel cool; by Allah, I will not lay on you tonight,” and he would pray until the next morning with the same wudu’.”

Abul-Hasan bin Abi al-Ward said: “A man said to us: “We came to ‘Ali bin Bakkar and said to him: “Hudhayfah bin al-Mar’ashi sends you his greetings.” So, he said to us: “May peace be upon you and him. I know of him that he has only eaten that which is lawful for over thirty years, and I would love to meet Satan more than I would love to meet him.” I asked him why this was, and he said: “I am afraid that I would try to beautify myself for him out my respect for him, and then be guilty of beautifying myself for other than Allah, and as a result, have my status lowered in the Eyes of Allah – the Mighty and Majestic.””

Yusuf bin Muslim said: “‘Ali bin Bakkar wept until he became blind, and his tears would leave marks on his cheeks.”

Fayd bin Ishaq said: “I came to ‘Ali bin Bakkar, seeking to go out in the Path of Allah, so asked him to advise me. He said: “Fear Allah and stay in your dwelling, guard your tongue, and avoid unnecessarily mixing with the people, and wisdom will be poured on you from above you.”

Yahya bin Zakariyyah said: “We were with ‘Ali bin Bakkar, so some clouds passed by overhead. I asked him about something, so he said to me: “Be quiet! Do you not fear that these clouds will be followed by rocks that will be poured down on us?”

It has been narrated to us that ‘Ali bin Bakkar was stricken with an injury during a battle that he fought in, as a result of which his intestines spilled out of his stomach. He then gathered his intestines and pushed them back into his stomach, then tied the wound up with his turban. He then jumped back into the battle and was killed after he himself had killed thirteen disbelievers.

‘Ali bin Bakkar narrated hadith from Hisham bin Hassan, Abu Ishaq al-Fizari, Abu Khaldah, etc. He was a close companion of Ibrahim bin Adham.

He was killed in al-Masisah in the year 199 H.

Name: Unknown
Kunyah: Unknown
Status: Later generations
Location: Egypt

One of the wise men of the past said:

“I passed by a village in Egypt seeking to engage in Ribat (guarding the Muslim frontier against the disbelievers), when suddenly I passed by a man in sitting in the dark. His was missing his eyes, as well as his hands and legs. He was suffering all types of difficulty, while saying: “Praise be to You, Allah – a praising that combines the praises of all of Your Creation – for what You have blessed me with, and preferred me greatly over many of those whom You have Created.”

So, I said to him: “For what blessing are you praising Allah? For what preference are you thanking Him for? By Allah, I do not see any type of difficulty except that you are experiencing it!”

So, he said: “Do you not see what has happened to me? By Allah, if He were to cause the heavens to rain fire down upon me, and I were to be burned up because of it, and He were to command the mountains to crush me, and He were to command the oceans to drown me, I would not increase except in praising and thanks to Him, and I request something of you: I have a daughter who used to serve me and break my fast with me. Can you see if you can find her?”

I said to myself: “By Allah, I hope that in fulfilling the request of this pious servant, I will gain nearness to Allah – the Mighty and Majestic.” So, I went out looking for her in the desert to discover that she had been eaten by wild beasts. I said to myself: “To Allah we belong and to Him we return! How will I tell this pious servant that his daughter had died?” So, I went to him and asked him: “Are you better in the Sight of Allah than Prophet Ayyub? Allah put him to trial with his wealth and his children and family.”

He replied: “No, rather, Ayyub is better!”

I said: “Well, the daughter that you had asked me to find, I found that she has been eaten by wild beasts.”

He said: “Praise be to Allah who has taken me out of this World without putting in my heart any love for it.” Then he collapsed and died.

I said: “To Allah we belong and to Him we return! Who will help me to wash his body and bury it?” Suddenly, a group of horsemen engaging in Ribat passed by, so I motioned for them to stop. They came over, so I informed them of what had happend, so we washed the man’s body, shrouded it and buried it in this village, and the group of men then went on their way.

I spent the night in the village unable to leave this man. When a third of the night had passed, I began dreaming that I was with him in a green garden. He was wearing two beautiful green garments, and he was standing up and reciting the Qur’an. I said to him: “Are you not my companion from yesterday?”

He said: “Yes, I am.”

I said: “How did you reach your current state (of health and happiness)?”

He replied: “I have reached a level that none of the patient reach, except those who are patient during times of calamity and thankful during times of ease.””

Name: at-Tayyib bin Isma’il bin Ibrahim adh-Dhuhali
Kunyah: Abu Muhammad and Abu Hamdun
Status: Successor (Tabi’i)
Location: Baghdad, Iraq

He was known as Abu Hamdun ad-Dallal. He was one of the well known recitors, and was known for his righteousness and abstinence from worldly pleasures.

He learned to recite from al-Kisa’i and Ya’qub al-Hadrami.

Abu al-‘Abbas Ahmad bin Masruq narrated:

“I heard the recitor Abu Hamdun say: “I prayed at night one time, so I accidentally mispronounced a letter from the Qur’an. I lifted my eyes to see a light in front of me, saying to me: “Between you and Allah is me.”

So, I asked: “And who are you?”

It said: “I am the letter that you mispronounced.”

I said: “I will never do so again.”

So, I continued reciting, and I never mispronounced a letter after that again.””

Abu Muhammad al-Hasan bin ‘Ali bin Sulayh narrated:

“Abu Hamdun at-Tayyib bin Isma’il lost his eyesight, so he had someone leading him into the masjid. When they entered the masjid, his assistant said to him: “Mister, take off your shoes now.”

So, Abu Hamdun asked: “O my son! Why should I take them off?”

He said: “Because there is some impurity on them.”

ٍSo, Abu Hamdun became distressed that he could bring filth from his shoes into the masjid, so, he raised his hands and supplicated, then Allah returned his eyesight to him, and he continued walking.”

Abu ‘Abdullah bin al-Khatib narrated:

“Abu Hamdun had a scroll on which was written the names of 300 of his close friends, and he used to supplicate for them – one by one – every single night. One night, he went to sleep without doing so. So, in his sleep, he heard a voice saying: “O Abu Hamdun, why did you not light your lamps this evening?” So, he woke up, and lit his lamp, and began supplicating for each and every name on the list until he completed it.”

And Abu al-Husayn bin al-Munadi narrated:

“Abu Hamdun at-Tayyib bin Isma’il adh-Dhuhali is from the best of the righteous who is well known for his recitation of the Qur’an. He used to purposely visit the areas where there was a lack of recitors for the people and teach them. When they had memorized from him, he would move on to a different area doing the same. He used to always pay special attention to the outcasts in the community. May Allah have Mercy upon him.”

He narrated hadith from al-Musayyib bin Shurayk, Sufyan bin ‘Uyaynah, and Shu’ayb bin Harb.

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