Ibn Hajar on Arab Rulers

ibn saud and percy cox

From the commentary of Hadith Jibril by Hāfiẓ Ibn Ḥajar al-‘Asqalānī:

…The man said: “Messenger of Allah! When is the Final Hour?” The Prophet ﷺ replied: “The one who is questioned about it is no more informed at all than the questioner. However, I shall tell you about its preconditions (ashrāṭihā). When the slave girl gives birth to her master – that is one of its preconditions. And when the naked and barefoot are the top leaders of the people – that is one of its preconditions. And when the shepherds compete in building tall structures – that is one of its preconditions. [It is] among five things none knows but Allah.” [aḥīḥ Muslim]

“are the top leaders of the people” This means the kings of the earth as explicitly stated in al-Isma‘īlī’s and Abū Farwa’s narrations. Those meant are the people of the desert, as explicitly stated in Sulayman al-Taymī’s and other narrations: “Who are the barefoot and naked?” He replied: “The little Arabs (al-‘urayb).”

Al-Ṭabaranī narrates through Abū Hamza, from Ibn ‘Abbās, from the Prophet ﷺ: “Part of the overthrow (inqilāb) of the Religion is the affectation of eloquence by the boors (al-naba) and their betaking to palaces in big cities.” Al-Qurṭubī said: “What is meant here is the prediction of a reversal in society whereby the people of the desert will take over and hold sway over every region by force. They will become very rich and their primary concern will be to erect tall buildings and take pride in them. We have witnessed this in our time.” Of identical import are the ḥadīths “The Hour will not rise until the happiest man in the world will be the depraved son of a depraved father (luka‘ ibn luka‘)” and “If leadership is entrusted to those unfit for it, expect the Hour,” both of them in the aḥīḥ.

[Hāfiẓ Ibn Ḥajar al-‘Asqalānī, فتح الباري شرح صحيح البخاري (Fatḥ al-Bārī Sharḥ Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī). English translation of excerpts in Sunna Notes Volume 3, Studies in Ḥadīth and Doctrine: The Binding Proof of the Sunna by Shaykh Gibril Fouad Haddad, AQSA Publications, UK, 2010, pp. 159-160, 196]

Ibn Ḥajar al-‘Asqalānī was born in Cairo in 773 H (1372 CE). A Shafi‘i Imam and hadith master (hafiz), he reached the level of Commander of the Faithful in Hadith, the only rank above that of hadith master. He first learned literature and poetry, but then devoted his considerable talents to hadith, which he studied under the renowned African master al-Zayla‘i and others in Cairo, Yemen and the Hijaz. His works were popular in his own lifetime and were hand-copied by the greatest scholars of the era. Known as Sheikh al-Islam, scholars travelled to take knowledge from him, and he was appointed to the judiciary in Egypt several times. He authored a number of works on hadith, history, biography, Koranic exegesis, poetry and Shafi‘i jurisprudence, among the most famous of them his fourteen-volume Fatḥ al-Bārī Sharḥ Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī [The victory of the Creator: a commentary on the “Sahih” of Bukhari] which few serious students of Islamic knowledge can do without. He died in Cairo in 852 H (1449 CE).
[Excerpted from The Reliance of the Traveller by Shaykh Nuh Keller]

The Role of the Sultan in Enjoining Right and Forbidding Wrong in Tafsir al-Qurtubi

tafsir qurtubi“Not everyone is capable of carrying out the actions necessary to enjoin right conduct. However, this can be performed effectively by the ruler [Sultan] because he holds the authority to frame laws that will be in accord with the Shari‘ah. As ruler, he has the final word in matters of consequence, such as the legislation of laws, the prosecution of punishable offences and the treatment of prisoners. The role of head of state must be entrusted to an honest, strict, and righteous person since he holds the responsibility of enforcing the dictates of the Shari‘ah in all matters. It is incumbent on the ruler to appoint suitable, powerful and just persons in every city for this purpose. This is because Allah says, “[They are] those who, if We give them power in the land, establish [regular] prayer and give [regular] charity, enjoin right and forbid wrong; with Allah rests the end [and decision] of [all] affairs.” (22:41)”



[Imam al-Qurtubi, الجامع لأحكام القرآن, vol. 4, p. 47. Translated by Syed Amin Ashraf in Ma‘roof & Munkar, Jalaluddin Umari, International Islamic Publishing House, Riyadh, 2008 (2nd Revised Edition), p. 119]

Imam al-Qurtubi is Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Abu Bakr ibn Farah, Abu ‘Abdullah al-Ansari al-Qurtubi, of Cordova (in present-day Spain). A Maliki scholar and hadith specialist, he was one of the greatest Imams of Qur’anic exegesis, an ascetic who divided his days between worship and writing. Educated in hadith by masters like ‘Ali ibn Muhammad al-Yahsabi and al-Hasan ibn Muhammad al-Bakri, we wrote works in the sciences of hadith and tenets of faith, though his enduring contribution is his al-Jami‘ li ahkam al-Qur’an (The Compendium of the Rules of the Qur’an), from which he mainly omitted the stories and histories customary in other commentaries, and recorded instead the legal rulings contained in the Qur’an and how scholars have inferred them, together with the usage of Arabic grammar. Scholars have used it extensively ever since it was written. It is related that Qurtubi disdained airs, and used to walk about in a simple caftan with a plain cap (taqiyya) on his head. He travelled east and settled in Munya Abi al-Khusayb in upper Egypt, where he died in 671H (1273 CE) [Excerpted from Reliance of the Traveller by Shaykh Nuh Keller, p. 1090]

When the Second Caliph Umar was Overruled by the Judge


Sa‘eed bin Musayyib narrates that Hadhrat Umar raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) once intended to take the house* of Hadhrat Abbas raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) to include it in the Masjid. However, Hadhrat Abbas raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) refused to hand the house over. When Hadhrat Umar raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) resolved that he would certainly have possession of the house, Hadhrat Abbas raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) proposed that they appoint Hadhrat Ubay bin Ka‘b raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) to pass judgement between them. Hadhrat Umar raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) agreed and they both approached Hadhrat Ubay raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him). After they had related the matter to him, Hadhrat Ubay raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) said, “Allah sent revelation to Hadhrat Sulayman bin Dawud instructing him to construct Baytul Maqdis [in Jerusalem]. The land belonged to a man whom Hadhrat Sulayman 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) approached to buy it from him. However, when Hadhrat Sulayman 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) handed over the money to the man, he [the man] asked, ‘Is this price that you are paying better or is that which you are taking from me better?’ Hadhrat Sulayman 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) replied, ‘Certainly that which I am taking from you is better.’ ‘In that case,’ said the man, ‘I shall not accept it.’

Hadhrat Sulayman 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) then gave the man a higher price. The man then did the same thing two or three times until Hadhrat Sulayman 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) made the condition with him, ‘I am buying the land from you at the price you fix. You may therefore not ask me which of the two is better.’ Hadhrat Sulayman 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) took the purchased land from him at the price he fixed, which happened to be twelve thousand Qintar of gold (one Qintar equals four thousand gold coins). Hadhrat Sulayman 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) then felt that the amount was too big to give the man. Allah then sent revelation to him saying, ‘If you are paying him from something that is your own, then you know best (what you have to do). However, if you are paying from what We have provided for you, then give him whatever he is pleased with.’ Hadhrat Sulayman 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) then paid the amount.”

Hadhrat Ubay raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) continued, “I feel that Abbas raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) has a greater right to his house, which cannot be taken from him until he is pleased.” Hadhrat Abbas raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) then said, ‘Since you have made the decision in my favour, I wish to make it Sadaqah [a charitable gift] for the Muslims.’

[Hayatus Sahabah (The Lives of the Companions), by Maulana Muhammad Yusuf Kandhelwi, excerpted from the English translation by Mufti Afzal Hoosen Elias, Zam Zam Publishers, Karachi, June 2013, vol. 2, pp. 133-134 (related by Abdur Razzaq, as quoted in Kanzul Ummal vol. 4 p. 260. Also related by Ibn Sa‘d vol. 4 p. 13. Ibn Asakir relates a similar narration, as do Bayhaqi and Ya‘qub bin Sulayman – quoted in Kanzul Ummal vol. 7 p. 65). Words in square brackets have been added.]

*His house was next door to Masjidun Nabawi

The Tyrant’s Assistant is a Tyrant as well

“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 Shuab 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]

Ibn al-Jawzi on Forbidding from Accompanying the Rulers

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)]