Interestingly, ‘Abdullāh, the son of Imām Aḥmad, said:
كنتُ كثيرًا أسمع والدى يقول: رحمَ الله أبا الهيثَم, عفا الله عن أبى الهيثم الحَداد
“I frequently heard my father saying: ‘May Allah have mercy on Abū al-Haytham. May Allah pardon Abū al-Haytham.’”
Imām Aḥmad did not fear prison, because it is seclusion with Allah, nor was he afraid of execution as it would have been martyrdom in the cause of Allah. It was the whip that frightened him, because he was only human.
On the day he was summoned for lashing, Imām Aḥmad felt someone tugging at his clothes from behind. He looked back and a man asked, “Do you know who I am?” Imām Aḥmad replied: “No.” The questioner then said, “I am Abū al-Haytham, the free soul and the infamous thief. To date, it is on record that I have received 18,000 lashes, which I have showed patience towards in obedience to the devil and in the cause of worldly gain. So show patience, for you are in the obedience of Allah and in the cause of the religion.”
Here was a sinner – a thief no less – but clearly a mighty believer. There are those who have memorised the Qur’an and the books of Ḥadīth and can quote every chapter and verse from revelation if asked about the various exhortations to courage and speaking truth to power. Yet this thief demonstrated that true knowledge is found in action, and among the best of actions is proactivity; to be the first to initiate a good deed. Moreover, Abū al-Haytham’s encouragement came at a time when Aḥmad was most in need of it, so Aḥmad would never forget him. Indeed, we should join Imām Aḥmad in remembering and celebrating Abū al-Haytham, the supporter of Imām Aḥmad when all others had deserted him.
Proactivity is a universally admired trait. Even if we are not blessed to have it, we admire those who do and we wish to imitate them. So, the question naturally follows: if proactivity is so collectively admired, why is it that some of us still fail to live by it? At times, we may blame genetics, circumstances, lack of knowledge or courage, a bad upbringing, or a mix of all of the above. But at times, it is due to a reason that is far simpler: belittlement of oneself. One may genuinely desire to be an initiative taker and live proactively with purpose, vision, and energy, yet he is shackled with the whisperings of “who am I to do so” and “what value could a person like me possibly add.”
The story of Abū al-Haytham pulls the rug from beneath every such excuse. Despite his sins and crimes, Abū al-Haytham did not deprive himself from being proactive. As a result, his words would have a tangible effect in strengthening the heart of Imām Aḥmad. He qualified himself for du’ā from the Imām, for which we envy him. The books of history have eternalised his words because of a single moment of proactivity. So, on what basis do you belittle yourself? You are not the product of your circumstances, but the product of your decisions. With Paradise as a prize, our decision must be to live a life of motivation, vision setting, initiative taking, and unlimited proactivity.
After Aḥmad was released, he did what the most noble of people do: he forgave all of those who harmed him, with the exception of the chief innovators who could not be given the benefit of the doubt. Aḥmad would recite the verse:
وَلْيَعْفُوا وَلْيَصْفَحُوا أَلَا تُحِبُّونَ أَنْ يَغْفِرَ اللَّهُ لَكُمْ
“Let them pardon and overlook. Would you not like that Allah should forgive you?”
Then he would say:
ماذا ينفعك أن يعذَّب أخوك المسلم في سبيلك؟
“How will you benefit if your brother is punished because of you?”
Aḥmad, however, had taken an oath to Allah that, until the day he died, he would not speak to anyone from the Muslims who gave in to the innovators and testified to their beliefs. This included his life-long friend and travel mate, Yaḥya b. Ma’īn, who was seven years older than Aḥmad.
Yaḥya once visited Aḥmad during his illness. Yaḥya greeted him with the salām, but Aḥmad did not return his greeting. Yaḥya apologised to Aḥmad and attempted to make excuses for himself – offering justifications as to why he professed to the deviant beliefs, quoting scripture that excuses people who testify to false beliefs under duress. Aḥmad kept his face turned away from him without answering. Yaḥya said to him, “You do not want to accept any of my excuses,” so Yaḥya walked out and sat on the doorstep in grief.
Then Abū Bakr al-Marrūdhi, who was in the same room, came out, and Yaḥya said to him, “What did Aḥmad say after I left?” Abū Bakr told him that Aḥmad said that the narrations you cited were in reference to people who were under actual duress, hence Allah excused them when they testified to falsehood, whereas Yaḥya was merely threatened with duress and succumbed to it. Upon hearing this, Yaḥya was heard saying to himself:
مر يا أحمد غفر الله لك فما رأيت والله تحت أديم سماء أفقه في دين الله منك
“O Aḥmad, instruct as you wish. May Allah forgive you, for by Allah, I have never seen any human being beneath the sky who has greater understanding of Allah’s religion than you.”
Some of his statements
Imām Aḥmad said:
ما قل من الدنيا كان أقل للحساب
“The lesser one’s worldly possessions are, the easier his accountability will be.”
He also said:
أنا أطلب العلم إلى أن أدخل القبر
“I will pursue knowledge until the day I enter my grave.”
Someone once saw Imām Aḥmad carrying his pen and paper, so he asked him, “Father of ‘Abdullāh, you still carry around your pen and paper despite having become the Imām of the Muslims?” Imām Aḥmad replied:
مع المحبرة إلى المقبرة
“With the inkpot to the graveyard.”
Al-Marrūdhi once asked Aḥmad, “How are you this morning?” His response gives an accurate depiction of Aḥmad’s disposition in life. He replied:
كيف أصبح مَن ربُّه يطالبه بأداء الفرائض، ونبيه يطالبه بأداء السنَّة، والملَكان يطلبانه بتصحيح العمل، ونفسه تطالبه بهواها، وإبليس يطالبه بالفحشاء، وملَك الموت يراقب قبض روحه، وعياله يطالبونه بالنفقة؟
“How is the morning of a person who has a Lord who demands from him the obligations, and a Prophet who demands the application of his teachings, and two angels who demand that he corrects his deeds, and a soul that demands its desires, and Shayṭān who demands the committing of sins, and the Angel of Death who eagerly awaits to claim his soul, and a family who demands expenditure?”
During the reign of al-Mutawakkil, Aḥmad’s illness intensified, but he nevertheless continued fasting. Al-Mutawakkil regularly sent Aḥmad the Caliph’s personal doctor, Ibn Māsawayh, to treat Aḥmad and prescribe him medication, but Aḥmad would not take his medication. Ibn Māsawayh informed the Caliph that the cause of Aḥmad’s weakness was not so much illness as it was his continuous fasting, minimal food intake, and intense worship.
During his last moments, Aḥmad indicated to his family his desire for wuḍū’ and communicated his wish that the areas between his fingers to be thoroughly washed in keeping with the Sunnah. This was a remarkable display of adherence to the Sunnah even during his last moments. By the time his family had completed his ablution during the forenoon of a Friday in the month of Rabī’ al-‘Awwal in the year 241AH, his blessed soul would return back to Allah.
It was estimated that his funeral was attended by 800,000 people. Other narrations say that this was closer to 1.3 million, whilst other narrations have estimated 2.5 million people.
Imām Aḥmad would say during his lifetime:
قولوا لأهلِ البدعِ: بيننا وبينكم يومُ الجنائزِ
“Say to the innovators, ‘The funeral processions shall determine who is upon the truth.’”
His intuition was accurate. ‘Abd al-Wahhāb al-Warrāq said, “We do not know of a funeral procession, whether during Islām or pre-Islām, that was larger than that of Imām Aḥmad.” On the other hand, the funeral procession of Aḥmad b. Abī Du’ād (who opposed, plotted against, and tortured Imām Aḥmad) was largely boycotted and barely attended.
A conclusion to this series
In only a century from now, every single reader of these words will be buried beneath the ground, their bodies becoming part of the soil. During that time, our fate, our destiny, and our final abode will be made known to us. Meanwhile, the homes we toiled to attain and beautify will be filled with another family’s laughter. Our fine clothes that we delighted in will be discarded in a landfill site. Our cars that we polished and maintained will rust and creak under someone else’s ownership. As for us, will anyone even remember our name? How often do you recall your great-grandmother? How often does your great-grandfather cross your mind?
Our presence here on Earth today, that presence we make so much noise about and shed so many tears for, was preceded by that of many generations and shall be followed by many as well. Every generation that passes through this world barely finds the time to glance at itself before needing to bid life farewell and hand over the baton, having not fulfilled even a fraction of its ambitions. Our lives are, in reality, far shorter than we imagine.
In just 100 years from now, every one of us will realise from within the grave just how worthless this world actually was, and the triviality of the dreams that revolved around it. Every one of us will be wishing we had dedicated this life to greater matters, such as the matters of Islām, and the collection of good deeds, particularly those that continue to benefit after one’s death.
For this reason, it should be at the top of one’s list of priorities to leave behind a legacy that will outlive the short life that rapidly comes to a close with every second of the day. One should yearn to leave behind a project that will continue to accumulate good deeds when one’s limbs are no more – a legacy that will outlive one’s fleeting existence and will cause the believers to speak well about one’s life for generations to come.
Crave this just as Prophet Ibrāhīm did. Consider his words to his community:
قَالَ أَفَرَأَيْتُمْ مَا كُنْتُمْ تَعْبُدُونَ (75) أَنْتُمْ وَآبَاؤُكُمُ الْأَقْدَمُونَ (76) فَإِنَّهُمْ عَدُوٌّ لِي إِلَّا رَبَّ الْعَالَمِينَ (77) الَّذِي خَلَقَنِي فَهُوَ يَهْدِينِ (78) وَالَّذِي هُوَ يُطْعِمُنِي وَيَسْقِينِ (79) وَإِذَا مَرِضْتُ فَهُوَ يَشْفِينِ (80) وَالَّذِي يُمِيتُنِي ثُمَّ يُحْيِينِ (81) وَالَّذِي أَطْمَعُ أَنْ يَغْفِرَ لِي خَطِيئَتِي يَوْمَ الدِّينِ (82) رَبِّ هَبْ لِي حُكْمًا وَأَلْحِقْنِي بِالصَّالِحِينَ (82)
“He said, ‘Do you see what you have been worshipping? You and your fathers before you? Indeed, they are enemies to me, except the Lord of the worlds Who created me, and it is He Who guides me. It is He Who feeds me and gives me drink, and when I am ill, it is He Who cures me. And it is He Who will cause me to die and then bring me to life. And He for Whom I aspire that He will forgive me my sin on the Day of Recompense. My Lord, grant me wisdom and join me with the righteous, and grant me an honourable reputation among later generations.”
This was the request of Prophet Ibrāhīm. In another Sūrah, Allah tells us the outcome of this request:
وَتَرَكْنَا عَلَيْهِ فِي الْآخِرِينَ
“We left for him [favourable mention] among later generations.”
His du’ā, a supplication that was substantiated by a relentless work ethic and a life full of sacrifice, was answered. The Prophet Ibrāhīm has now become a celebrated figure across the nations of the worlds. The Jews believe in the Prophet Mūsā and scorned the Prophet ‘Īsa, whilst the Christians accepted Prophet ‘Īsa but rejected Prophet Muḥammad. However, all three religions are unanimously agreed that the Prophet Ibrāhīm is a friend of Allah who should be praised and whose life must be celebrated.
The lives of these four Imāms have exhibited the importance of living a life immersed in the preparation for the hereafter, and that when Allah sees sincerity within one’s heart, He will take it upon His Divine Self to sponsor your efforts, even if you are ill-resourced and outnumbered. He will nurture your deeds till you meet them on the day of reckoning as mountains. Doubting this is to doubt Allah.
Live for the greater matters, trust Allah, and with the excitement of the believer in Paradise, start planning for your religion and furnishing your Hereafter. Then watch how Allah will guide each and every one of your footsteps as He opens up doors of clarity, guidance, and inspiration you could never have imagined.
On the note of efforts of the sincere sponsored by Allah, I conclude with one final example. If I were to show you a picture of this man, most may not recognise him.
However, if I show you a picture of this book, most Muslims across the globe will recognise it.
The Fortress of the Muslim is a booklet of supplications that are to be said during various times of the day and in different circumstances in one’s life. The author of this well-known and phenomenal booklet was the very same man in the image above: Shaykh Sa’īd b. Wahf al-Qaḥṭānī, who passed away in October 2018. May Allah have mercy upon him.
The idea of the booklet is not novel, its size is not enormous, and its graphics are non-existent. However, it seems that Allah saw sincerity within the heart of this man, and so this booklet was distributed across the continents of the world and translated into dozens of languages. The Ummah remembers, praises, and glorifies Allah under the supervision of this modest booklet. Can you imagine the good deeds we hope this man has accumulated because of his booklet, and which inshāAllāh he continues to do so? Are you incapable of producing something simple along these lines? Of course you can, and of course you must.
It is vital to note that the efforts you exert today may only come to fruition many years after your death. Do not despair if you do not see your efforts taking off during your life, regardless of your project. Your duty is to merely sow the seed with dedication, then it is Allāh Who decides how and when to give life to matters.
‘Ali b. Tāhir al-Sulamī is a prime example of this. He was a jurist of the Shāfi’i school of thought, teaching in the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus. He authored a book called Kitāb al-Jihād (The book of Jihād). This book details the rulings of jihād, explains the Qur’anic verses that address it, the duties of different categories of people, and frequently cites al-Ghazāli. It was the first scholarly response to the Crusades, which had, by that time, conquered Jerusalem.
The initial public readings of this book were in the year 1105, six years after Jerusalem had been conquered by the Crusaders. One would assume that these readings would be popular due to the urgency of the matter, yet they were poorly attended, and the book was largely forgotten. A year after this, ‘Alī b. Ṭāhir passed away. He did not live to see much.
Fast forward 81 years to the blessed land of Shām. The night sky should be filled with tension, yet there is a surprising calm, and excitement fills the air. This time, thousands of Muslims have gathered in a hushed huddle to hear a reading of the book. The pin-drop silence is only broken by the weeping sounds of the sincere, or the bellows of the takbīr. Led by Ṣalāhuddīn and his teacher Nūr al-Dīn Zengī, a once disparate Muslim community of various ethnicities and languages became united by Islām and were inspired into action by the book of Alī b. Ṭāhir. It was read in the lead to the decisive battle of Ḥattīn, the battle in which Jerusalem was liberated by Ṣalāhuddīn. One can imagine the reaction of Alī b. Ṭāhir when, on the Day of Judgement, he is informed, God willing, that his book played a key role in the recapturing of Jerusalem.
In short, the talents and interests of people vary. What is key, however, is that one gathers one’s thoughts, ambitions, talents, time, and resources, then devises a clearly defined plan to invest these for the greatest matters of life: Allāh and the home of the hereafter.
 Siyar A’lām al-Nubalā
 Ṣafwah al-Ṣafwah
 Al-Qur’an 24:22
 Al-Bidāyah wa al-Nihāyah
 Ṭabaqāt al-Ḥanābila
 Manāqib Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal, IbnaAl-Jawzi
 Siyar A’lām al-Nubalā
 Al-Bidāyah wa al-Nihāyah
 Al-Qur’an, 26:75-84
 Al-Qur’an, 37:108
Shaykh Ali Ihsan Hammuda is Islam21c’s Tarbiya Editor. A UK national of Palestinian origin, he gained bachelors and masters’ degrees in Architecture & Planning from the University of the West of England, before achieving a BA in Shari’ah from al-Azhar University in Egypt. He is currently based in Wales and is a visiting Imām at Al-Manar Centre in Cardiff, and also a senior researcher and lecturer for the Muslim Research & Development Foundation in London. Shaykh Ali is the author of several books including ‘The Daily Revivals’, ‘The Ten Lanterns’ and ‘The Friday Reminder’. He delivers sermons, lectures and regular classes across the country.