Praise be to Allah, and prayers and peace be upon the Prophet Mohammad (عليه سلام) and his sanctiﬁed and dedicated Companions (رضي الله عنه), as well as all their followers till the Day of Judgment.
In this article, we present a brief biography of Imam Hassan al Basri who was a theologian, a Quranic exegete, a scholar of hadiths, a preacher, a jurist, and one of the eight well-known ascetics of the first and second/seventh and eighth centuries.
Name: Abu Saʿid bin al-Hasan Yasar al-Basri
Title: Imam al-Tabi’in, Sayyid al-Tabi’in, and Shaykh al-Islam.
1. Kunya: Abu Sa’id .
2. Father: Yasar al-Basri.
3. Mother: Khayra.
4. Born: 21 AH/641 CE,Medina, Hejaz, Sa’ūdi Arabia.
5. Denomination: Ahl Sunnāh wal Jammat.
6. Creed: Atharii.
7. Died: Friday, 5th Rajab 110 AH/15 October 728, Zūbaīr, Iraq.
8. Age of death: 86.
9. Buried: Zūbaīr, Basra province of Iraq.
10. Ethnicity: Persian.
11. Works Tafsir al-Qur’an (exegesis of the Qur’an).
Imam Hasan al-Basri was born in 642, nine years after the Prophet’s death, in Medina to Yaser and Khayra, both freed slaves in Medina and grew in Wadi l-Qura (in suburbs of Medinah Munawariah). Hasan was raised within the inner circle of the Prophet’s family. Hazrat Umar ibn al-Khattab is said to have given the name Hasan (which means beautiful) to him and prayed for him when he was a child.
Hazrat Umar (رضی الله عنه) made the dua, “Give him a true understanding of the Deen and make him beloved by the people”.
قال عمر بن الخطاب رضي الله عنه: اللهم فقِّهه في الدين، وحبِّبه إلى الناس (البداية والنهاية)۔
When asked what his motivation was, Ḵhawāja Hasan al-Basri said it was the blessed company of the two years he was present in the Caliphate of Hazrat Umar (رضی الله عنه).
عن الحسن ، قال لي الحجاج : ما أمدك يا حسن ؟ قلت : سنتان من خلافة عمر
(سير اعلام النبلاء)
Khawāja Hassan al Basri (رحمهالله) is an example of how the company we keep is our compass in a world of challenges and temptations. In his early life, he would absorb the knowledge of Zayd bin Thabit (رضی الله عنه), Umm Salamah (رضی الله ), and the other Companions of the Prophet (علیه السلام). It is one thing to absorb the knowledge from books but another level to witness people who directly received the light of Islam from the Prophet (علیه السلام). Witnessing how the Companions inculcated and practiced the teachings of the Prophet (علیه السلام) is more potent than merely reading his Hadith. To interact with Companions of the Prophet (علیه السلام) who continued to put their lives on the line to defend his message is more inspirational than simply knowing the tenets of belief. Ḵhawāja Hasan al Basri (رحمه الله) absorbed the knowledge of his teachers in Madina.
The Messenger of Allah (عليه السلام) informed us that the best companions are those whose appearance reminds us of Allah, whose speech increases our knowledge of Deen, and whose actions exemplify consciousness of the hereafter (Musnad ‘Abd bin Hameed).
عَنِ ابْنِ عَبَّاسٍ ، قَالَ : قِيلَ : يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ ، أَيُّ جُلَسَائِنَا خَيْرٌ ؟ قَالَ : مَنْ ذَكَّرَكُمْ بِاللَّهِ رُؤْيتَهُ ، وَزَادَ فِي عِلْمِكُمْ مَنْطِقَهُ ، وَذَكَّرَكُمْ بِالآخِرَةِ عَمَلُهُ
Imam Hasan al-Basri’s (رحمه الله) success was molded by the Companions who were his teachers and role models.
Father and Mother:
Imam Hasan’s father was from Iraqi province of Maysan (an area between Basrah and Waasit in Iraq) and was at first a Nasrani and his name was Yasar . In an Islamic conquest, Yasar was captivated and turned into one of Mawali (slaves). He was then taken to Medina and was emancipated after a while.
Imam Hasan’s mother, Khayra (also known with her teknonym, Umm al-Hasan), was captivated in the Conquest of Maysan, and had a bond of wala’ with Umm Salama, the wife of the Prophet (عليه السلام). Khayra taught the Qur’an to women and preached them. Moreover, she was allegedly a reliable transmitter of hadiths who transmitted hadiths from two wives of the Prophet (عليه السلام), Umm Salama and ‘A’isha, and her two sons, al-Hasan and Sa’id, as well as others, transmitted hadiths from her. Her hadiths have also been cited by prominent Sunni scholars.
Title and Teknonym:
Imam Hasan was known as Imam al-Tabi’in, Sayyid al-Tabi’in, and Shaykh al-Islam, and his teknonym was Abu Sa’id.
Imām of Basra, Lamp of Basra.
Migration to Basra:
Ḵhawāja-Hasan memorized the whole Qur’an at the age of twelve or fourteen, and it is said that he learned occasions of revelations as well as interpretations of suras he learned. In the second year of Hazrat ‘Ali’s caliphate, Ḵhawāja al-Hasan and his family migrated to Basra where he married a woman after a while and had two sons and a daughter from her.Ḵhawāja Hasan al Basri had keen insight into the issues that plagued the Muslim Ummah of the time. He is remembered for his mastery of oration so much that his speaking ability was said to surpass any scholar or preacher in the Hijaz or Levant. His oratory ability is very important to reflect on because its origins went beyond fancy talk.
The things that are deep within our heart and soul manifest into our outward appearance and speech.
Imam Hasan al-Basri (رحمه الله) said, “Iman is not outer decoration, nor mere hope. Rather, it is what settles in the heart and what is affirmed by actions”.
قال الحسن: “إن الإيمان ليس بالتحلِّي ولا بالتمنِّي، إن الإيمان ما وقر في القلب وصدَّقه العمل”۔
المصنف لابن أبي شيبة)۔)
If our hearts and souls are corrupted with obsession in the material world and that which is haram, then our actions will lead to detrimental consequences in the Akhirah and will most likely deprive us of contentment in the Dunya. However, when your heart and soul attaches itself to Allah (SWT) and his Messenger Muhammad (عليه السلام), then our outward appearance will emanate the light of Islam. Hasan al Basri’s reverence for the Deen gave his speech a mystic effect that would awaken spiritually dead hearts. This was because his own heart and soul amplified his speech and the effect it had. When Ḵhawāja Hasan al-Basri (رحمه الله تعالى) spoke, he spoke from the love that stirred his heart, and when your heart loves Allah (SWT), you shine.
Hasan was taught by many teachers, the most prominent among whom were Anas b. Malik, Jabir b. ‘Abd Allah al-Ansari, Hudhayfa al-Yamani, ‘Abd Allah b. ‘Abbas, Hittan b. ‘Abd Allah, ‘Imran b. Husayn, Ahnaf b. Qays, Abu Hurayra and Samura b. Jundab.
Imam Hasan had lectures in the Grand Mosque of Basra in which he engaged in dialogues concerning different disciplines (including hadith, jurisprudence, beliefs, and Quranic sciences).
Aside from his prominence in hadith, Ḵhawāja Hasan was a great jurist and an influential mufti. There are a number of books devoted to jurisprudential views attributed to Ḵhawāja al-Hasan, including Fiqh al-Hasan al-Basri in seven volumes by al-Qadi Abu ‘Abd Allah Muhammad b. Mufarrij al-Qurtubi, and Mawsu’a fiqh al-Hasan al-Basari in two volumes by Muhammad Rawas Qal’aji. Jurisprudential views of al-Hasan rely on the Book, the Tradition, sayings of the Companions, and personal ijtihad.
The Importance of Knowledge:
There were a number of characteristics that Ḵhawāja Hasan al Basri would carry from childhood onward. The first is that he was able to strike a rare balance between his celebrity status in Basra while maintaining an ardent commitment to Islamic knowledge.
It was Imam Hasan al-Basri (رحمه الله تعالى) who called people back to the way of the Prophet (عليه السلام). He asserted that a majority of the people in Basra did not carry Islam in their hearts nor did they inculcate it into their outward character.
Imam Hasan al-Basri (رحمه الله تعالى) is reported to have said, “When love of this world enters the heart, the fear of the Hereafter exits from it”.
عَنِ الْحَسَنِ، أَنَّهُ كَانَ يَقُولُ: مَنْ أَحَبَّ الدُّنْيَا وَسَرَّتْهُ ذَهَبَ خَوْفُ الْآخِرَةِ مِنْ قَلْبِهِ، وَمَا مِنْ عَبْدِ يَزْدَادُ عِلْمًا وَيَزْدَادُ عَلَى الدُّنْيَا حِرْصًا، إِلَّا ازْدَادَ إِلَى اللَّهِ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ بُغْضًا، وَازْدَادَ مِنَ اللَّهِ بُعْدًا
These reminders are reality and they could have been conveyed by any number of individuals or several books. It was the sincerity of Ḵhawāja Hasan al Basri (رحمه الله تعالى) that shocked the hearts of the heedless. His condemnation of the injustices in society was so loud and powerful in rhetoric that it was difficult to not be swayed by his sermons. People would attend one of his sermons and walk away from it a changed person. How many people he swayed is obviously unclear, but one thing we are sure of is that the people of Basra and the Ummah at large reformed. If it were not for the passionate effort of Ḵhawāja Hasan al Basri, the center of the Khalifah would have continued to deteriorate and the Ummah may not have had the resolve to carry the message of Islam to us.
The Story of the Thief:
Rarely do we find individuals who are so renowned by the public, yet still so humble and steadfast upon the path of righteousness. This is why many individuals such as Ḵhawāja Hasan al-Basri (رحمه الله تعالى), Imām Ibn Taymiyah (رحمه الله تعالى), and other important figures in Islam are so revered. Popularity and status are corruptible to a person’s relationship with Allah (SWT). Individuals are smitten by the pleasures of the material world and neglect their relationship with Allah (SWT). However, we know that chasing the material gains of this world is an illusion. We always want more and more, eventually, the appetite for the material world becomes insatiable. When an individual loves Allah (SWT) to the degrees of Ḵhawāja Hasan al-Basri (رحمه الله تعالى) and others, not only does that individual make a concerted effort to avoid the illusions of the Dunya, but they reach a point where a concerted effort to avoid the illusions is unnecessary. They have trained their nafs (or ego) to the point where their desires have become congruent with the commandments of Allah (SWT).
Deep into the night, Ḵhawāja Hasan al-Basri (رحمه الله تعالى) was praying the Tahajjud prayer. Despite hearing the sounds of an individual in his home, he proceeded to complete his prayer. After, he turned to see a man who declared himself a thief. The thief repeatedly demanded that Ḵhawāja Hasan al Basri (رحمه الله) give him something of value. Ḵhawāja Hasan al-Basri (رحمه الله) responded that he did not have anything of material value to give but the thief was insistent. Surprisingly, Ḵhawāja Hasan al Basri (رحمه الله) offered the one thing he did have to offer. He told the thief to make wudu and pray two rakat of Tahajjud with him.Ḵhawāja Hasan al Basri (رحمه الله) asked the man if he got something, the thief said yes. He said that the two rakat he was able to pray was a means of peace and reflection, and this momentary reconnection with Allah (SWT) is what jolted him to make tawbah and amend his ways.
Imam Hasan al-Basri (رحمه الله) had nothing that many people would expect from someone with celebrity status. He had no excessive wealth or items; he had so little, in fact, that a thief could not even find something worthy to steal. This is the self-discipline of those who strive for Allah (SWT), they force themselves not to be concerned with material value so that they may focus on Allah (SWT). Those who love Allah (SWT) do not want to stop feeling close to Him and they will go to extraordinary lengths in order to prove themselves worthy of being Friends of Allah (SWT).
The story with the thief also illustrates how to deal with others. Ḵhawāja Hasan al-Basri was known for his incredible oratory skills. Yet, he did not lecture or criticize the thief. Rather, He asked the thief to pray two rakat with him. Not every individual can be spurred into practicing or improving their iman through a lecture or conference. Some people, especially those who are struggling the most, need a friend who will take their hand and guide them. Can that process be grueling and take a long time? Perhaps, but for an individual to have some clarity and closeness with Allah (SWT) it is worth the effort and patience.
The judge of Al-Basrah:
Al-Hasan Al-Basri used to frequently advise the rulers and governors and he never feared anybody except Allah. He was especially well-known in the last years of the reign of the Umayyad caliph, Mu`aawyah Ibn Abi Sufyaan, may Allah be pleased with him. Al-Hasan lived in Iraq when Al-Hajjaaj Ibn Yoosuf Ath-Thaqafi was the ruler and Al-Hasan used to severely criticize Al-Hajjaaj’s harsh policies.
Al-Hasan Al-Basri was a close friend of the Rightly-Guided Umayyad Caliph, `Umar Ibn `Abdul-`Azeez may Allah have mercy upon him who loved him very much and used to consult him in some affairs related to administering the Muslim State. Al-Hasan became the judge of Al-Basrah in 102 A.H., 720 A.C. and performed this role on a voluntary basis.
Imam Hasan al-Basri passed away at the age of 86 in 728 C.E. Once, Basra was riddled with hypocrisy and corruption. After the efforts of Ḵhawāja Hasan al-Basri , a significant portion of the elite was reformed and the Deen was revived. All of Basra had shown up to Ḵhawāja Hasan al Basri’s Janaza and no one was in the central masjid of Basra for Asr. The life of Ḵhawāja Hasan al Basri teaches us how companionship forms great individuals, how self-discipline is key in remaining true to Allah (SWT), that knowledge is a prerequisite to calling people to Islam, how to treat others who are struggling with their Iman, and so much more. We look to the life of Ḵhawāja Hasan al-Basri to guide us to become people who are on the straight path, grounded in knowledge, and can effectively bring people to Islam. We look to his life in order for us to find better company and teachers that can take us by the hands when we fall, rise up, and do the same for others.