“I saw people who are negligent in paying their debts and who bequeath, ‘When I die, bury me in the tomb of Ahmad.’ Did they not hear the Messenger ﷺ refrained from praying (the funeral) upon those who died without settling their debts and those who unlawfully took from war booty, saying, ‘My prayer will not benefit them.’ [Abu Dawud #2710, Nasa’i #1959]
I have seen scholars who were driven by the love of fame, requesting permission from the Ruler to be buried in the grave of Ahmad ibn Hanbal; not knowing that numerous people are buried there.
None of them is unaware that he is not worthy of that, so where is the self-humility?
Did they not hear that ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz was asked, ‘Would you like to be buried in the Room*?’ He replied, ‘For me to meet Allah with every sin there is, apart from disbelief, is dearer to me than to believe myself worthy of that.’
However, the habits and the love of power dominated these people, such that knowledge was spoken in a manner of habit, and not for application.
We then found some scholars who became associated with Rulers and committed oppression, yet were fighting to be buried in Ahmad’s grave and wrote that in their wills.
If only they asked to be buried in an empty grave, instead they asked to be buried upon the dead bodies of others. When they are resurrected, they will be gathered in the state of oppression in which they were used – even in their death – and they will forget they used to be assistants to tyrants.
Did they not know that the tyrant’s assistant is also a tyrant? It is said, ‘It suffices for treason to be a traitor’s trustee.’ [This is a statement of Malik bin Dinar (r), recorded by Bayhaqi in Shu‘ab al-Iman, 3/53]
The jailor said to Ahmad ibn Hanbal, ‘Am I one of the tyrant’s assistants?’ He said, ‘No. Rather you are one of the tyrants. The tyrant’s assistant is the one who assists you.’ ”
*Referring to the place where the Messenger ﷺ is buried
[Al-Hafiz Jamal al-Din ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn al-Jawzi, صيد الخاطر (Quarry of the Mind), pp. 901-902 of English translation]
“We have seen many scholars who had a bad ending because of their proximity and mixing with rulers. They were after comfort but did not achieve it properly, because the sadness of the heart never goes away with money or food…
If we compare the difference between Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal’s refraining from rulers, and Ibn Abi Du’ad* and Yahya ibn Aktham**, then we will learn the difference between a good life in this world and safety in the Hereafter.
Ibn Adham said, “If kings and their sons knew the pleasures in which we are living [because of our religious contentment], they would have fought us over it.”
Ibn Adham spoke the truth. When a ruler eats something he fears that someone might have poisoned it, and when he goes to sleep he fears that someone will assassinate him. He remains indoors fearing leaving his residence. If he does so he gets annoyed from the closest people to him.
If he likes a certain food he will eat too much from it and trouble his stomach; if he has too much sexual relations he becomes weak and feels little pleasure. He does not find the same joy that a poor person finds when eating after being hungry or a single man after finding a woman. A poor person might feel secure enough to sleep on the street, something that a prince would not be able to do. So their pleasure is always reduced, yet they will be held to account more.
By Allah! I do not know of any people who lived honorably while achieving pleasures more than sincere scholars such as Al-Hasan al-Basri, Sufyan al-Thawri and Ahmad ibn Hanbal, and true worshippers such as Ma‘ruf [al-Karkhi].
The pleasure of knowledge exceeds all pleasures and whenever seekers of knowledge feel hunger or harm, this only elevates their status. There is also a sweetness to seclusion and worship.
Ma‘ruf for example, was alone with his Lord, living comfortably with Him and enjoying the sweetness of being with Him.
Although he died about four hundred years ago [edit: he passed away on the 2nd of Muharram, 200 Hijri], he is still gifted (the reward) of reciting many chapters of the Qur’an! The least that is done for him is people stand at his grave, reciting:
قُلْ هُوَ اللَّهُ أَحَدٌ
“Say: He is Allah, the One” [112:1]
And gift him its reward. Even rulers stand humble in front of his grave. On the day of resurrection more honours will be distributed.
The same applies to the graves of scholars. Those who have been inflected with visiting leaders, they confessed that they were harmed by doing so.
Sufyan Ibn ‘Uyaynah said, “Since I accepted the gift of such and such prince, I was stripped from the understanding of the Qur’an.”
So refraining from mixing with leaders might cause hardship sometimes, yet it will result in goodness in many other ways. It is best for someone to be firm upon this issue.”
*Considered a leading Mu‘tazilite and one of the chief architects of the mihnah [Inquisition], Ahmad ibn Abi Du’ad’s persecution of orthodox men of knowledge, including the famous scholar Ahmad ibn Hanbal, caused his reputation to suffer after his death – no-one attended his funeral prayer. He was made into an object of vilification by later biographers.
** Yahya ibn Aktham was instrumental in Ahmad ibn Abi Du’ad eventually becoming a close associate of the Mu‘tazilite Abbasid caliph Al-Ma‘mun. Ibn Aktham himself was appointed as chief judge by Al-Ma‘mun. He was eventually dismissed during the caliphate of Al-Mutawakkil when his money and land were seized and he was placed under house arrest.
[Al-Hafiz Jamal al-Din ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn al-Jawzi, صيد الخاطر (Quarry of the Mind), pp. 630-633 of English translation (with some edits)]
It is from the Devil’s deception of scholars to make them intermingle with rulers and sultans. They look away from their faults and never admonish them in spite of their ability to do so. Some of them might even give fatwas allowing them to do things just for worldly gain. Three aspects of harm are involved with such behavior:
First: The ruler assumes that had he not been on the right path, then the scholars would have admonished him. And had my wealth been gained through illegitimate ways, scholars would not have eaten from it.
Second: The general public will think that this ruler, his wealth and his actions are fine because the scholar is always visiting him.
Third: The scholar himself ruins his religion. Sometimes the scholars use an excuse just to (be able to) mix with the rulers. They say: ”We will only visit the ruler to intercede for so and so.” However, what proves that this is from the devil is that if someone else goes to intercede he would get annoyed, and might even attack that person for visiting the Sultan.
lblis also deceives them to take from the ruler’s wealth. It is known that if the ruler’s money was from an impermissible source then it would be a sin to take from it. And if it was from a suspicious source then it is best not to take from it. And if the money was gained from a permissible source then the scholar ought to only accept an amount that was appropriate in return for his services. The general public might follow the scholar’s footsteps in taking that which is not theirs. On the other hand, Iblis has deceived some scholars who refrained from frequenting the Sultan to backbite scholars who do. Thus they combine between two problems: backbiting others and glorifying themselves.
In general, frequenting the Sultan entails great dangers because the intention might be proper at first, but after receiving good treatment, intentions change, and the scholar begins to flatter the Sultan and stops admonishing him.
Sufyan al-Thawri used to say: I am not worried about them (the ruler) insulting me. I worry from them acting generously towards me, so my heart becomes softer towards them.
Early scholars used to stay away from leaders because of their oppression, but leaders continued to ask for their services in matters relating to governance. A group of people thus became interested in worldly affairs and learned the sciences suitable for such positions.
The proof that they seek to please the rulers is that when rulers became interested in arguments related to creed, scholars busied themselves with kalam. And when rulers preferred fiqh debates, scholars went towards such debates. Then when leaders tended toward preaching sermons, many scholars practiced preaching.
Iblis also persuades jurists to be lenient with respect to some prohibitions. This is why we see some of them wearing silk clothes and gold. The reason for this leniency varies: Some of them only practice fiqh to conceal their true identity of being enemies of the religion. Others do so to gain a leadership position.
And others are not enemies of religion but fall victim to their own desires and lusts. They do not have the self-control required to resist temptation, in fact they possess qualities that cause the opposite. Resistance to desires only comes with practice and referring to stories of previous scholars.
[Al-Hafiz Jamal al-Din ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn al-Jawzi, تلبيس ابليس (The Devil’s Deceptions), pp. 709-712]