“From Sufyaan ibn Sa’eed to ‘Abbaad ibn ‘Abbaad
Peace be upon you. All praise is for Allaah, and none has the right to be worshipped but Him. To proceed: I advise you to fear Allaah, for if you fear Allaah, the Possessor of Might and Majesty, He will save you from being harmed by people. But if you fear people, they will not avail you in the least (if) Allaah (wants to punish you). You asked me to write you a letter, and in it, you wanted me to write down certain qualities and characteristics that you can use as guidelines for dealing with the people of your lifetime, so that you can fulfill the rights they have over you; as well as qualities that will make you deserving of asking Allaah, the Possessor of Might and Majesty, for His rewards. It is a weighty matter indeed that you ask me about. Those that study and apply this matter today are few indeed.
Today, people are not be able to discern between truth and falsehood, and none will be saved from this predicament except for someone who invokes Allaah for help with the same intensity and feeling with which a drowning man invokes Allaah for help. Do you know of anyone who is at that level? It used to be said, ‘The time draws near for the people when the wise among them will find no joy (but will instead be constantly worried about the degeneration of Muslim society).
Fear Allaah, the Possessor of Might and Majesty. Be a man of solitude; occupy your time with yourself (with preparing for the Hereafter); and seek companionship with the Book of Allaah (Allaah, the Possessor of Might and Majesty). Beware of rulers, and stay in the company of the poor and needy; establish close ties of friendship with them. If, in a gentle manner, you are able to order others to do good deeds, then do so. If your advice is accepted, praise Allaah (the Possessor of Might and Majesty). But, if your advice is rejected, then focus on yourself, because rectifying yourself is an endeavor that should keep you very busy.
Beware of status (i.e., positions of authority and leadership) and of loving status. For staying away from positions of authority is harder than staying away from all other worldly things (since power and prestige have such an intoxicating effect on a person).
It has been conveyed to me that the Companions of the Messenger of Allaah (salallaahu ‘alaihi wasallam) sought refuge from such a time as we live in, and they possessed knowledge that we do not possess. How will it be for us if a trial overtakes us when we are short in knowledge, foresight, patience, and people who help and encourage us to do good deeds; compounded with those shortages are the vile times we live in and the corrupted people that are alive now. So adhere to what was taught in the early days of Islaam. Try to remain obscure and unknown, for we live in an age wherein the best thing a person can do is to remain obscure and unknown.
Isolate yourself from others, and mix with people as little as possible. Verily, ‘Umar ibn Al-Khattaab (radiallaahu ‘anhu) said, ‘Do not become ambitious, for ambition is in reality poverty, whereas giving up hope (of worldly riches and pleasures, whereby one becomes content with one’s lot) is in reality richness. In isolation, one can achieve tranquility since one avoids mixing with evil people. Sa’eed ibn Al-Musayyib used to say, ‘Isolation is worship.’ In the past when people met, they would benefit from one another, but that is no longer the case today. So in my view, safety means forsaking people. Beware of rulings; do not go near them, and do not mix with them at all.
And beware of being deceived, of being asked to intercede on behalf of someone when, by acquiescing to that request, you will in fact be harming a victim of transgression or preventing an injustice from being redressed – for this is the Devil’s Deception. Evil reciters (of the Qur’aan (i.e., those who are not sincere)) use this deception to climb the ladder of worldly prosperity. It used to be said, ‘Beware of the trial of an ignorant worshipper and of an evil scholar, for indeed being put to trial by them is a true ordeal for every weak person.’
As long as others are available to answer questions and issue legal rulings, take advantage of the situation (and do not issue legal rulings yourself), and do not compete with the scholars who do issue legal rulings: Beware of being someone who loves to be heard, to have his opinions followed, and to have his view gain popularity far and wide throughout the lands. Beware of loving positions of leadership, for among mankind there are people who love positions of leadership more than they love gold and silver:
This is a very subtle problem that is perceived only by the giants among scholars. And beware of Ar-Riyaa’ (doing deeds for show), for indeed, Ar-Riyaa’ is more hidden (from a person’s vantage point) than the crawling of an ant. Hudayfah (radiallaahu ‘anhu) said, “A time will come for people when both evil and good are presented to a man, yet he does not know which to follow.’ Let death preoccupy you and always be on your mind. And decrease your expectations for this world. Remember death frequently, the things that happen to you in this world will be easier for you to bear…Know that the time draws near when a man will desire death.
May Allaah protect both of us and you from the things that bring about our destruction, and may He guide both of us and you along the path of obedience (to Him).”
Source: Biography of Imam Sufyaan ath-Thawri