Impressibility of the Salaf
Notes on the Psychology of the Early Muslims
by Sh. G. F. Haddad

"I would come to Ibn Hurmuz, whereupon he would order the servant to close the door and let down the curtain, then he would start speaking of the beginning of this Umma, and tears would stream down his beard." (Malik ibn Anas)

As-Salamu `alaykum:

These are some notes on the psychology of the early Muslims. Recently a contributor pointed out that advances in psychology bear on our interpretation of the texts. This is true, just as as advances in our use of electricity and technology bear on our psychology. For example, the ancients knew darkness and silence at night, we don't. Conversely, they appreciated natural light - the sun, the moon, candles, a fire - as well as heard and felt sound and noise, and, by extension, music and poetry, in ways we could not possibly fathom. Their dreams were probably far more legible than ours - some of those reported dreams carried entire conversations - because they didn't compete for their attention with the clutter of modern distractions - Their bellies also, like their minds and senses, were not overstuffed so they walked lightly upon the earth. Imam Malik reportedly went to stool only once every three days, and he "felt shame before my Lord" if or when this frequency increased.

The Salaf were also far more impressionable than we. They laughed, wept, shook and trembled, and fainted more than we do. It is related that `Umar had dark streaks on his face caused by excessive weeping. They used simple and childlike images to express their emotional states. For example: "I wish I were a little bird in the sky" (Abu Bakr and Ibn Mas`ud); "I wish I were this straw on the ground" (`Umar). Those states were described in simple but striking terms: "When Ibn Mas`ud prayed, he looked like a discarded rag" (Abu Wa'il); "They [the Companions] used to rise in the morning disheveled, dust-covered, pale, with something between their eyes like a goat's knee [from prostration on gravel], having spent the night chanting the Book of Allah, turning and returning from their feet to their foreheads. When Allah was mentioned they swayed the way trees sway on a windy day, then their eyes poured out tears until - by Allah! - they soaked their clothes. By Allah! Folks today are asleep and heedless" (`Ali). Al-Awza`i's contemporaries compared him to a blind man due to his humility.

Ibn Qunfudh in Wasilat al-Islam (p. 145-146) wrote: "Imam Ja`far al-Sadiq - Ja`far ibn Muhammad ibn `Ali ibn al-Husayn ibn `Ali ibn Abi Talib - would turn pale whenever he heard the Prophet ﷺ mentioned while `Abd al-Rahman ibn al-Qasim ibn Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr al-Siddiq would turn red and stammer and, as for `Amir ibn `Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr ibn al-`Awamm, he would weep until his eyes had no tears left in them."

The Sufis pursued those states and cherished them because they recognized them as avenues of spiritual advancement and in line with the Prophetic command to "weep often and laugh little if you knew what I know." They knew, also, that the servant's extreme contrition is a sign of his Lord's acceptance. It is also said that a sign of the Divine acceptance of one's Hajj is the feeling of sorrow at not having performed Hajj correctly as it deserves to be performed.

Ibn Taymiyya in his essay "Sufis and Fakeers" (Majmu` al-Fatawa 11:5-7 epistle entitled al-Sufiyya wa al-Fuqara') purported to correct and reform what he perceived as wrongful Sufi practices and went so far as to claim that the Companions and Successors were never so affected as the Sufis of his time claimed to be. The evidence shows otherwise:

- Al-Hasan al-Basri and Hisham ibn al-Hasan narrated that `Umar sometimes lost consciousness after reciting a verse from the Qur'an, whereupon he would be taken ill and visited for days. Narrated by Ibn Abi Shayba in his Musannaf (13:269); Abu Nu`aym, Hilyat al-Awliya' ("Adornment of the Saints" 1:88 #133); Ibn al-Jawzi, Manaqib `Umar ("Immense Merits of `Umar" p. 168); Ibn Qudama, al-Riqqa wa al-Buka' ("Softness of Heart and Weeping" p. 166); al-Dhahabi in the Siyar, etc.

- Imam Ahmad in his Kitab al-Zuhd ("The Simple Life" p. 248 #880) narrates from Abu Hayyan that when Ibn Mas`ud passed by the furnace of a blacksmith as they were fanning the fire, he fell unconscious.

- The same is reported from the Tabi`is Malik ibn Dinar by Ibn Qudama in al-Riqqa wa al-Buka' (p. 331) and al-Rabi` ibn Khuthaym - in front of Ibn Mas`ud - by Abu `Ubayd in Fada'il al-Qur'an (p. 65) and Ibn Qudama in al-Riqqa wa al-Buka' (p. 293).

- Certain Tabi`in of Basra such as the qadi Zurara ibn Abi Awfa (in Tabaqat Ibn Sa`d 7:150) and Abu Juhayr upon hearing a certain verse of Qur'an were reported to die on the spot.

- Among those known to faint at the recitation of certain verses were Ahmad's two teachers: Imam al-Shafi`i and the Master of the Hadith Masters Yahya ibn Sa`id al-Qattan as related from Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal; also the son of the great Saint Fudayl ibn `Iyad, `Ali ibn al-Fudayl ibn `Iyad (in al-Bayhaqi's Shu`ab al-Iman 5:25, the Hilya 8:297; the Siyar [al-Arna'ut ed.] 8:442; and al-Mizzi's Tahdhib al-Kamal 21:960).

- Al-Dhahabi in the Siyar (al-Arna'ut ed. 8:47) relates that a number of people died upon hearing the Qur'anic recitation of Salih al-Murri the Basran admonisher.

- Al-Khatib in Tarikh Baghdad, Ibn al-Jawzi in Manaqib Ahmad, al-Dhahabi in the Siyar and the Mizan and others related that Imam Ahmad wept to the point that he passed out upon hearing the discourse of the Sufi Shaykh, al-Harith al-Muhasibi for the first time. Al-Dhahabi comments: "The chain of this report is sound, and yet I can't believe this on the part of Imam Ahmad!"

Ibn Taymiyya also said that several of the Companions reportedly disapproved of those who fainted at the sound of Qur'an. This is true. Disapproval of those who fainted upon hearing Qur'an is narrated from Ibn `Umar, `A'isha, Anas, Asma', `Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr, and the Tabi`i Qatada. This confirms beyond doubt that the phenomenon existed in their time - a time and a people extolled by the Best of creation, Allah bless and greet him and his Family and Companions. And Allah knows best.

Hajj Gibril ©

next page





latest update: Wed, 7 Jan 2009


* living Islam – Islamic Tradition *