The advice of Sufyaan ath-Thawree (161 AH – rahimahoellaah) to ‘Abbaad ibn ‘Abbaad

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The advice of Sufyaan ath-Thawree (161 AH – rahimahoellaah) to ‘Abbaad ibn ‘Abbaad al-Arsoofee.


Sufyaan ath-Thawree[1] rahimahoellaah wrote to ‘Abbaad ibn ‘Abbaad al-Khawwaas al-Arsoofee[2] rahimahoellaah saying; as for that which comes after:


“Indeed you are in an era which the Companions of the Prophet sallAllaahoe ‘alayhi wa sallam, used to seek refuge from encountering, and yet they had knowledge which we don’t have, and they had a place of honour which we don’t have. So how is it for us now that we have reached that time, having scanty knowledge, little patience, few people who assist goodness, and there being corruption amongst the people and distress in the world?


Hence you must take to the original affair and hold tight to it[3], and you should take to being unkown, for indeed this is the age to remain unkown.[4] And take to remaining aloof and secluded, and associating little with the people, because when the people used to meet, some of them would benefit the others. But as for today, then that has gone, and in our view, salvation lies in abandoning them.[5]


And beware of the rulers: drawing close to them and mixing with them in any affair. And beware of being deceived, for it will be said to you ‘Intervene and ward off some danger from the oppressed or oppose tyranny…’ but all that is indeed the deception of Iblees. Yet the shameless, evil reciters have taken [such positions] as a means [to improve their standing].[6]


And it has been said: Fear the trial of the ignorant worshipper and the sinful, immoral scholar, for indeed their trial is a trial for everyone who is tempted and subjected to trials.[7]


And when a question or some verdict is put forward to you, then seize the opportunity, but do not vie or compete for them.[8] Take care not to be like the one who loves that his saying is acted upon, or that his saying should be publicised or heard – and when it is not, then the effects of that [rejection] can be seen on him.[9]


Beware of loving leadership, for indeed it is more beloved to men than gold and silver. However it is an obscure matter that can only be recognised by the mediating scholars.[10] So examine your heart and work upon the intention. And know that a matter has come close to the people, such that a man would prefer to die [in order to avoid it].

Wa salaam.[11]




1 He is Sufyaan ibn Sa’eed ibn Masrooq ath-Thawree, being attributed to Thawr ibn ‘abd-Manaah and not Thawr Hamdaan. He was one of the receptacles of knowledge and one of the greatest Haafidh’s, and when the scholars are mentioned, the Sufyaan [stands out like] a brilliant star.

His biography is well known, being found in abundance in the books of al-Jarh wat-Ta’deel [that – praise and criticise narrators of Hadeeth], and of History and Fiqh, and his narrations are extensive and widespread. I will mention just a few of the references where his biography may be found:

Tadheed al-Kamaal (11/154), at-Tabaqaat al-Kubraa (6/371), Taareekh Bagdaad (9/151), Siyar A’laam an-Nubulaa (7/229). And aboo Nu’aym al-Asbahaanee in Hilyah al-Awliyaa (6/356 – 7/144), wrote a uniquely wonderful biography of him, the likes of which my eyes had not seen before, and towards which the livers of riding camels would be struck. [Translators note: This is a phrase that means that one would strike one’s riding beast, to make it gallop faster, in order to reach the place where one could read this biography].

2 His biography will follow later. {Later in het boek.}

3 This pure speech was handed down from the Companions of the Prophet sallaah Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, from whom the incitement to follow [the Deen] and cling firmly to the old way is widely narrated, just as is authentic from ibn Umm ‘Abd radi Allaahu Ta’ala ‘anhu, who said: “Follow and do not innovate, for [what has been authentically narrated] is sufficient for you. [And every innovation is something that leads astray].” Wakee’ related this in az-Zuhd (315), and Ahmad related it by way of him in az-Zuhd (pag. 202), and ad-Daarimee in the introduction of his Sunan (1/69) and in al-Mu’jam al-Kabeer (9/154) and al-Bayhaqee in al-Madkhal ilas-Sunan (204), and others. And it is saheeh due to the many routes through which it is narrated, as I have made clear in al-Bid’ah (22), Edition 3. And what appears in the [second] set of square brackets is an addition from Ahmad and at-Tabaraanee, which is saheeh.

4 The man who remains unkown is the hidden one who is not mentioned or recognized and that is a sign of Taqwaa and a proof of righteousness. This is because the sincere ones are always fearful of showing off and so they work hard to deceive the people in order to avert their eyes from seeing their righteous actions, and they strive to hide them. They are stronger in this than the people are intent on their evil deeds. They do all this with the hope that their actions are pure, so that Allaah will reward them on the Day of Resurrection due to their sincerity. And the people of goodness never strive for fame and never run the risk of doing it, nor run the risk of entering into what leads to fame. Hence if they enter into fame on account of Allaah’s Decree, then they flee from it and its causes. Instead, they prefer to be inconspicuous, for it brings down deception and then destroys fame. Imaam Muslim related (Saheeh Muslim bi Sharh an-Nawawee (18/10)) [Translator’s Note: Muslim (Eng. Trans., Vol. 4, No. 7072)] and so does al-Baghawee [Sharh as-Sunnah (15/21 – 22)], where the following text is his, that ‘Aamir ibn Sa’d ibn Abee Waqqaas said; Sa’d ibn Abee Waqqaas radi Allaahu Ta’ala ‘anhu used to rear some camels and sheep. Once, ‘Umar (his son) came to him. When Sa’d saw him, he said ‘I seek refuge in Allaah from the evil of this rider [who approaches me].’ Once he eventually got him, he said, ‘O my father! Are you satisfied in becoming a bedouin amongst your camels and sheep, while the people in the city are fighting and struggling against the ruler?!’ So he struck his chest with his hand and said, ‘Be quiet my son! Indeed I heard Allaah’s Messenger sallaah Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam say; “Indeed Allaah loves the unknown, pure, fearing slave.”

So upon that – what Sufyaan intended by advising to be obscure during his era, was to conceal one’s good actions and he did not mean not to do good nor to be lazy. So he took notice of this and was not one of those who were lazy, nor of those who did no good. Two points will make this clear to you:


  • It is authentic that the Prophet sallaah Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said; “The strong believer is better and more beloved to Allaah than the weak believer.” [Translator’s Note: Related by Muslim (Eng. Trans., Vol. 4, No. 6441)].
  • It is established from the Prophet sallaah Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam that he used to seek Allaah’s protection against being weak in doing good and against being lazy. [Translator’s Note: Related by Muslim (Eng. Trans., Vol. 4, No. 6536)]

5 This intended meaning concerning being secluded is to mix only a little with the people, because it is no longer considered that some of the people can benefit others. And his intended meaning was not to completely withdraw from the people, because if those who called to the correct way were to do that, then when can the ignorant one gain any knowledge and the confused one be rightly guided and how can the one who has oppressed himself [by disobeying Allaah] return [to the right path]!? And there is no doubt that the one who mixes with the people, and patiently endures their injury, will have great reward.

6 Ibn al-Jawzee, may Allaah have mercy on him, said in Talbees Iblees (pag. 121-122); ‘And one of the Devil’s deceptions concerning the scholars, is luring them to mix with the leaders and rulers and flattering them and abstaining from criticising them, even though they may have the ability to do so. And perhaps they allow them something for which they have no permission to do, in order to gain a good worldly repute. Hence corruption occurs in three ways:

Firstly: The leader will say; “If I really was not upon the correct way, then the scholar would rebuke me. And how can I not be correct while he lives of my wealth?!”

Secondly: The ordinary person will say: There is nothing wrong with this ruler, nor his wealth, nor his actions, because indeed so and so, the scholar, does not depart from being near to the leader.”

Thirdly: The scholar corrupts his practice of the Deen as a result of that.

And Iblees has deceived them into entering upon the ruler, so saying: “But we only enter in order to plead on behalf of a believer.”

And this deception becomes obvious when someone else – who the scholar does not like – tries to intercede with the ruler, and so the scholar may speak ill of that person, in order that he alone has the favours of the ruler…

So in short, entering upon the rulers is an extremely dangerous matter, because the intention was proper on the first occasion, but then it alters because of the ruler’s nobility and their gifts or because of their craving for them, and they do not abstain from flattering the rulers and they abandon criticising them.

And Sufyaan ath-Thawree radi Allaahu Ta’ala ‘anhu used to say; “I do not fear that they insult me, but rather I fear that they honour me, such that my heart inclines favourably towards them.”

And Haafidh ibn Rajab al-Hanbalee said in Sharh Hadeeth: Maa Dhi’baan Jaa’i’aan (pag. 53): “Many of the Salaf have prohibited entering upon the kings, whether one wants to enjoin them to do some good, or whether one wants to forbid them from evil.”

And of those who forbade that was ‘Umar ibn ‘Abdul ‘Azeez, ibn al-Mubaarak, ath-Thawree and others. And ibn al-Mubaarak said: “As far as we are concerned, the one who orders [good] and forbids [evil] is not the one who enters upon the rulers in order to do these things. Instead, the one who orders and forbids, is the one who disassociates himself from them.”

And the reason for this is what is feared as a result of the Fitnah of entering upon them, for indeed a person may think, while being away, that he will order them [to do good] and forbid them [from evil] and will be firm with them, but when seeing them nearby, the heart inclines favourably to them. This is because the love of those of noble blood is latent in the heart, and therefore one would treat them gently and obliging to them, and perhaps even one will bend over to them and love them, while having no displeasure when one is treated gently and honoured by them, and all of that subjects one to their command.

And that had happened to ‘Abdullaah ibn Tawoos with some of the leaders, while in presence of his father [Tawoos], so Tawoos radi Allaahu Ta’ala ‘anhu reprimanded him for doing that.

And Sufyaan ath-Thawree wrote to ‘Abbaas ibn ‘Abbaad, and in his written message he said: “Beware of the rulers and coming close to them or mixing with them in a matter…”‘ [End of quote from ibn al-Jawzee]

And the highly learned scholar of Andalus (Spain), ibn ‘Abdul-Barr said in Jaami’ Bayaan al-‘Ilm (1/185-186), closing the chapter in which he mentioned the criticism of the Salaf of entering upon the leaders and the rulers; “And the meaning of the whole of this chapter is relating to the wrong-doing, tyrannical ruler. But as for the just and excellent ones of them, then to mix with them and to see them and to aid them upon righteousness is one of the most excellent deeds of goodness. Do you not know that the greatest of the scholars used to accompany ‘Umar ibn ‘Abdul ‘Azeez, like ‘Urwah ibn az-Zubayr and his like, and ibn Shibaab and his like. And ibn Shibaab used to enter upon the ruler ‘Abdul-Malak and his children after him.

And of those who used to enter upon the rulers were: ash-Sha’bee, Qabeesah, ibn Dhu’ayb, Rajaa ibn Haywah al-Kindee, aboo al-Miqdaam (and he was an excellent scholar), al-Hasan, Abuz-Zinaad, Maalik ibn Anas, al-Awzaa’ee, ash-Shaafi’ee, and a whole host of others. And to mention them all would take a long time.

And if the scholar is present with the ruler as a result of a need to do so, and says what is good and speaks from knowledge, then that is good. And that will count as something pleasing to Allaah up to the Day he will meet Him. But usually, they are gatherings which involve trials, and safety lies in abandoning them.”

I say: they spoke the Truth and were honest and advised sincerely rahimahum Allaahu Ta’ala – and they were like the pure warner who never misleads his people. And how could they not be like this when they heard what the Prophet sallaah Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said: “Whover comes to the Sultaan, then he is subjected to trials.” This is related by Aboo Daawood (2859), at-Tirmidhee (2256), an-Nisaa’ee (7/195-196), Ahmad (1/357), and others, by way of Sufyaan, from aboo Musaa, from Wahb ibn Munabbih from ibn ‘Abbaas radi Allaahu Ta’ala ‘anhum.

Its chain is weak because aboo Musaa’s condition is unkown. But it has another chain of narration related by al-Bayhaqee in Shu’ab al-Eemaan (3/2/2/48), and by it, it is strengthened if Allaah wills. It has two witnesess who I have brought forward in ar-Riyaa – Dhammuhu wa Atharuhus-Sayyi’ fil-Ummah (pag. 34). And with these two witnesess, the hadeeth is authentic and all Praises are for Allaah.

7 Look into Tahdheeb al-Kamaal (11/168)

8 Look into my essay ar-Riyaa, Dhammuhu wa Atharuhus-Sayyi’ fil-Ummah

(pag. 31-32)

9 This is indeed Riyaa (i.e. showing off). I have explained the word in terms of its causes, the ways it can be fallen into, its categories, its effects, and its remedy in my short book entitled ar-Riyaa, Dhammuhu wa Atharuhus-Sayyi’ fil-Ummah, so allow me some time, for it is currently available and published (by Maktabah ibn al-Jawzee).

10 Ibn ‘Abdul-Barr recited some verses concerning this matter in Jaami’ Bayaan al-‘Ilm (1/143-144):

The love of leadership is a disease that corrodes the world
And makes love a war for the lovers [of leadership].
It cuts throats and the ties of kinship,
So there is no sense of honour that is spared – none at all – nor any sense of religion.
So whoever becomes a leader while ignorant or before being firmly rooted,
Then you will only see him to be an enemy of the ones who profess the Truth.
He will treat the people wrongly and be envious of them
while being less than them in status.
Hence he resembles the enemies of the prophets.

So look into what he wrote in this chapter, for indeed what he wrote is of great value. And if a student of knowledge were to travel for a month [searching for this chapter] then he would be one of the succesful ones.

11 Related by aboo Nu’aym in al-Hilyah (6/376-377), and ibn Rajab mentioned a part of it in Sharh Hadeeth: Maa Dhi’baan Jaa’i’aan (pag. 53-54), and adh-Dhahabee mentioned it in the biography of Sufyaan in Siyar A’laam an-Nubulaa. And it is a famous advice that is in common use with the scholars. Haafidh al Mizzee rahimahoellaahu Ta’ala said in the biography of ‘Abbaad ibn ‘Abbaad, in Tahdheeb al-Kamaal (14/143): “And he was one of the eminent ones of the people of ash-Shaam, and one of their worshippers. And Sufyaan wrote to him the famous letter dealing with admonitions, manners, wisdom, examples and exhortations.”

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