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Authors: Nayab Naseer

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BOOK: Stories from Islamic History
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No sooner had Harun al Rashid finished
reading the letter than he sent a contingent to trace Sofia. The
next morning she was brought to the chamber of the
kalifah
.
The opulence of the chamber was in sharp contrast to Sofia’s
disheveled appearance and ragged clothes.

Harun walked in. “Go freshen yourself up.
After that we shall talk” so saying, Harun instructed the head maid
to give her one of the queen’s chambers.

They met after lunch.

Sofia was so overawed by the hospitality and
kindness shown by the
kalifah
and his retinue that the first
words she spoke was that she was ready to accept Islam.

The
kalifah
spoke: “You are like my
daughter to me. You can stay here as long as you like, in the
comfort you have enjoyed until now. Or if you wish you can stay
anywhere in
dar-us-Islam
and no one will harm you. Embracing
Islam is entirely up to you. There is no compulsion. I would rather
prefer that you return to your country, as your father-in-law has
specifically asked me for your release. I shall send with you a
copy of the Quran and some translators who would be able to teach
you more about Islam. Study about Islam in your land, with your
husband and if you want, embrace Islam then. You are free to return
whenever you want.”

After some wavering, with great reluctance,
Sofia agreed to go back. Harun al Rashid sent her back accompanied
by royal escorts, religious scholars, translators, and several
presents.

Naqfoor, Istribiq and Sofia lived for a long
time after that, and so did Harun Al Rashid. Naqfoor never again
delayed tribute, and never again went to war with
dar-us-Islam
. Sofia visited Baghdad after some years with
her husband.

***

 

Harun al Rashid was the last of the great
kalifahs
who upheld the true spirit of Islam. After his
reign, the love for this world and the hatred for death slowly
started creeping in. During the later Abbasids, the life and times
as described in the Book of Thousand and One Nights – the court and
high society full of wine, debauchery and worthless opulence was in
full flow. The religious orthodoxy that Harun al Rashid upheld was
diluted, and after a time, religion was totally removed from the
state, and has never really come back. As for the state, it
declined slowly but steadily, the
kalifah
himself becoming a
vassal of dynasties like the Buids and the Seljuks.

 

Allah is the Most Patient and the Most
Merciful. He is also the Al-Ghani (in no need). If man turns away
from obeying Him and adhering to His laws, “He will replace you
with other people; then they will not be like you.” (
Ayah
38
of Sura Muhammed)

For the Abbasid
kalifahs
, and in fact
for the Muslim society of Iraq, Persia and Central Asia, which had
become overwhelmingly corrupt with deviant beliefs and love of
money, fame, women and wine, the punishment came in the form of the
dreaded Tatars or Mongols.

Ghengis Khan started by finishing off the
Shah of Khwarizm. Then came the turn of the great centers of
learning and culture – Bhukara, Samarkand, Khiva, Nishapur, Tabriz
and Tus - all lay in rubbles, the only standing structures being
made of skulls of dead people. In 741 AH (1341 CE), Hulagu knocked
the gates of Baghdad. The ensuing pillage marks the end of the
Abbasid
khilafat
and with it all the pomp and glitter of
Iraq.

The Mongol leader, Hulagu served his captive,
kalifah
Muta’sim a dish of precious stones taken from the
kalifah
’s harem.

The
kalifah
said “This is not
edible.”

Hulagu replied “Then why did you not use
these stones to pay and maintain your soldiers so that they would
have opposed me at the riverbank, and why did you not melt these
copper arches in this grand palace to make arrows to fire at
me.”

The
kalifah
said “Such was the will of
Allah.”

Hulagu replied “In that case, what is going
to happen to you will also be the will of God.”

Harun al Rashid also had a harem full of
precious stones, and he also depended on the will of Allah. But
apart from these two, he also strove in the way of Allah – taking
the offensive where offense was required and enjoining moderation
and toleration when they were required. This, most of his
successors neglected to do so.

For the record al Musta’sim met his dead
inside a tied sack, rotting in the blood strewn river-bank of the
Tigris. All the gold in his treasury, all of his monumental
palaces, all of his slaves, eunuchs and “yes-men” could not do a
thing to help him.

THE LIFE
AND TIMES OF
IMAM
AHMED AND BUKHARI

After the death of the Messenger of Allah,
peace be upon him, the Quran and
sunnah
became the ultimate
source of Islamic thought on all aspects of human life. Thus
fiqh
and theology was also based on the two legal sources
without any external influence. The first
hijri
century,
however witnessed the emergence of various sects like the
Mu’tazilites. What made such sects different from the mainstream
traditionalists was their attempt to incorporate external
influences, apart from the Quran and
sunnah
to theology.

Once, in Basra, confusion arouse with regards
to the status in Islam of a sinful person. The Khawarij, one of the
newly formed sect expel the sinful from Islam, and the Murji’ah,
another breakaway sect argue sins do not affect one’s faith. A
person came to
imam
al-Hasan al-Basri to enquire about the
orthodox position on this matter - is such a person a Muslim or
not?

Before al-Hasan al-Basri could reply, one
Wasil bin Ata interjected and claimed: ‘Such a person is not a
believer, nor a disbeliever, rather he is of an intermediate rank
between the two ranks of faith and disbelief. Since this was
something outside the teachings of the Messenger of Allah, peace be
upon him, al-Hasan al-Basri expelled Wasil bin Ata from his
gatherings.

Wasil bin Ata started his own gatherings at a
corner of the same masjid, which prompted al-Hasan al-Basri to say:
“Wasil has withdrawn from us”, and they were henceforth known as
“Mu’tazila”, literally meaning “those who withdraw.”

When the Islamic
khilafat
took over
much of Byzantium and Persia, ideas and beliefs that hitherto
prevailed came in as a package. The dominant theological viewpoint
was that of ancient Greek philosophers like Socrates and Plato. In
the face of Islam challenging the established dogma, interfaith
debates became commonplace. In such debates the opponents of Islam
often used Greek logic to sustain their arguments, and some
Muslims, wanting to defend Islam in the same pane began to
interpret Islam on the basis of Greek philosophy and logical
sciences. This is how Mu’tazilism began.

 

The Mu’tazilites advocated kalam or
speculative theology – the way of theology that proceeds by stating
a position and then defending it against objections by logical
arguments, often in live debate with the opponents. They sanctified
intelligence above revelation, which made them conclude the Quran
is created, and not Allah’s speech. Through such logical
conclusions, they believed “spirit is divine,” “Allah is
everywhere,” and denied the Sirat or the bridge over hell-fire
Muslims cross in the hereafter. They also resorted to metaphorical
interpretations of Quranic verses and Prophetic reports with
seemingly anthropomorphic content.

The Mu’tazilites were never given any
important posts during the Ummayad rule. Things however changed
when the Abbasids took over and everyone who opposed the Umayyad
gained in power. The leader of the Mu’tazilites, Amr bin Ubayd was
a close friend of
kalifah
Abu Jafar al Mansur, who appointed
them as judges. From here onwards they gained acceptance and
legitimacy. Harun Al Rashid was a great champion of orthodoxy, but
the later Abbasids – from the time of al-Ma'mun lent their
wholehearted support to Mu’tazilism. What made matters serious was
far from accepting any other doctrine, they were hell-bend on
exterminating any kind of diverse viewpoint, and as such started an
inquisition supported by
kalifah
al-Ma’mun.

Bishr al-Misiri and Ahmad bin Abi
Du'a
d were the two important figures behind this ‘Minha
inquisition.’

They proceeded systematically.

The prominent jurists of orthodox Islam were
systematically rounded up and put on trial. They were pronounced
guilty and subject to severe torture until they acknowledged the
Mu’tazilite beliefs. Such acknowledgements were published in all
major cities, and the masses persuaded to accept the same.

It is in such a background that two famous
personalities–
imam
Ahmed ibn Hanbal and
imam
Bukhari
of the Sahi Bukhari fame, may Allah have mercy on them, stood up as
a bulwark of orthodox Islam, resisting the Mu’tazilite
onslaught.

Ahmed ibn Hanbal was born in the city of Merv
(Khurasan) in 163 AH (780 CE.) He started his career by learning
jurisprudence under Abu Yusuf, the renowned student and companion
of
imam
Abu Hanifah. He discontinued his studies with Abu
Yusuf when he turned sixteen, and started to travel around the
dar-us-Islam
in the search of
hadeeths
.

In the course of
imam
Ahmed’s travels
he met
imam
Shafi, who became his most beloved of teachers.
Imam
Shafi equally admired Ahmad for his expertise in
jurisprudence and
hadeeth
. He would often say to Ahmad:
“Tell us if you know of an authentic
hadeeth
so that we may
act on it.”

***

 

While
imam
Ahmed was thus busy
collecting
hadeeths
and acting upon them, Mohammed Ibn
Ismail Ibn Ibrahim Ibn al-Mughirah Ibn Bardiziyeh al-Bukhari was
born in 194 AH (810 CE) in the city of Bukhara. His father, Ismail
Ibn Ibrahim, a known scholar of
hadeeth
, died when Bukhari
was eleven years old. The young Bukhari now started the study of
hadeeth
; to one day take over from where his father
left.

The young Bukhari developed a power and speed
of memory that seemed miraculous to his contemporaries. Very soon
he memorized seventy thousand
hadeeth
by heart with their
complete chain of narrations going from him to his teacher, to his
teacher's teacher, all the way to the Messenger of Allah, peace be
upon him.

Bukhari attended lectures and discourses of
learned men, but unlike other pupils never took any notes, for
which he was criticized. One day, annoyed by consistent criticism
of his carelessness, Bukhari asked his fellow pupils to bring all
they had noted down. Fifteen thousand
hadeeths
were thus
collected. Young Bukhari, to the amazement of all, narrated all
these fifteen thousand
hadeeths
from his memory with
minutest details which had not been noted down by the follow
pupils. On another occasion, he stood up to correct one of his
teachers, who laughed at the audacity of the young student. Bukhari
persisted and referred to the books, which showed him as
correct.

Just as
imam
Ahmed did,
imam
Bukhari went on
hajj
when he turned sixteen. In Makkah and
Madinah, he devoted his time to attending the lectures of great
teachers of
hadeeth
. By the time he turned eighteen, he
finished a book on decisions made by the companions of the
Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him.

Imam
Bukhari did not return home from
hajj
. He traveled to all the important centers of Islamic
learning of his time, talked to scholars and exchanged information
on
hadeeth
. He stayed at Basrah for five years, in Hijaz for
six, traveled to Egypt twice, and to Kufah and Baghdad many
times.

Collection of
hadeeth
became short of
an obsession for Bukhari. He used all of his money to travel, and
at one occasion, became so short of money that he lived on wild
herbs for three days. A good deal of his income, he spent on
helping students and poor.

Imam
Bukhari never showed ill temper
to anyone, even when there was more than sufficient cause. On one
occasion, while traveling on a boat, one of the passengers began
screaming "I had five hundred gold coins and someone has stolen
it".

Imam
Bukhari had five hundred gold
coins with him. He instinctively threw these coins in to the ocean.
The whole boat was searched and no set gold coin was found.

After arriving at the destination, the man
who had screamed out asked
imam
Bukhari, "I had seen your
gold coins and made the accusation out of greed. What did you do
with the money?"

Imam
Bukhari replied, "I threw it in
the ocean"

Out of shock the man asked "why?"

Imam
Bukhari replied, "I am compiling
a book of the
hadeeth
of the Messenger of Allah, peace be
upon him. I cannot allow anything to damage my reputation and
discredit me".

The fame of
Imam
Bukhari reached
distant parts of
dar-us-Islam
and wherever he went, people
received him with great veneration. When authorities in Basra
received information of his arrival, they fixed a time to deliver a
lecture.
Imam
Bukhari was able to confine himself only to
such
hadeeth
that he had received on the authority of early
hadeeth
scholars of Basrah, but which nonetheless had been
unknown to the audience.

***

 

In the meantime, in Baghdad, the Minha
inquisition was in full flow. Nearly all scholars and jurists were
hauled to court, and faced with torture and decapitation, all of
them had acknowledged the doctrine of the created Quran – all
except two: Ahmad bin Hanbal and Mohammed bin Nuh, may Allah have
mercy on them. The meek surrender of the
ulema
greatly
pained and angered
imam
Ahmad, such that he boycotted some
of the great traditionalists, and refused to narrate from them.

BOOK: Stories from Islamic History
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