Aḥnāf ibn Qays Looks for Himself in the Muṣḥaf

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

In the book Ayn al-Khāshicūn fi al-Ṣalāh, the author, Shaykh Abū Ṭalḥah Muḥammad Yūnus ibn cAbd al-Sattār writes:

The objective of listening intently to counsel, or admonition, or studying a book is to treat spiritual sicknesses and rectify the soul in this way that whenever you are afforded an opportunity to listen to some advice or read a book, you should look at yourself: If you find piety and an inclination towards good, then praise Allāh, the Exalted, but if you do not find yourself desiring to do good deeds, ask Allāh for help, for, undoubtedly, Allāh, the Exalted, is Generous, and responds to those who ask of Him. “And when My slaves ask you about Me; undoubtedly I am near. I respond to the supplication of the supplicant when he calls out.”[i]

As an example of this, Shaykh Muḥammad quotes an incident that happened in the life of al-Aḥnaf ibn Qays, may Allāh have mercy on him. Before mentioning what happened it would be helpful to give a brief biography of al-Aḥnaf, may Allāh have mercy on him, so that we know who this man is, what accomplishments he achieved during his life, and what favors Allāh, the Exalted, blessed him with. With this knowledge, we will, God willing, be able to appreciate the incident that Shaykh Muḥammad mentions.

al-Aḥnaf ibn Qays’ real name is Abū Baḥr Ṣakhr ibn Qays ibn Mucāwiyah ibn Ḥuṣayn al-Tamīmī al-Sacdiyy (d. ~67 A.H.). He is famously known as al-Aḥnaf due to a birth defect afflicting his legs. When he was little, his mother used to rock him and sing, “If not for the defect in his leg/ There wouldn’t be a boy like him among the tribe.” al-Aḥnaf, may Allāh have mercy on him, was a paragon of forbearance and tolerance, a distinguished scholar, general, and a mukhaḍram, who was alive during the time of the Prophet, may peace and blessing of Allāh be upon him, but never met him (it has been said that he, may peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him, prayed for him). Considered one of the elder Tabicīn (pl. of Tābicī) of Baṣrah, he narrates from cUmar, cUthmān, cAlī, Ibn Mascūd, and Abū Dhar, may Allāh be pleased with them, as well as others.[ii]

Someone once asked al-Aḥnaf where his forbearance and dignified bearing came from. He replied, “It comes from aphorisms I heard from cUmar ibn al-Khaṭṭāb, whom I heard say: O Aḥnaf, the one who is arrogant is looked down upon. The one who laughs, his respect lessens. The one who indulges in a thing is known by it. The one who speaks a lot, errs a lot. The one who errs a lot, his shyness dwindles. The one whose shyness lessens, his piety diminishes, and the one whose piety diminishes, his heart dies.”[iii]

Ibn Kathīr, may Allāh have mercy on him, mentions that before one of the battles against a Turkish army in Khurasān, al-Aḥnaf addressed the Muslims, saying, “Undoubtedly you are small in number, and your enemy is abundant, but do not fear them for, ‘how many a small party has defeated a large one by the permission of Allāh; Allāh is with those who are steadfast!’ [iv]

With that groundwork as a foundation, we can now return to the example cited by Shaykh Muḥammad, who states:

In his booklet Qiyām al-Layl, Al-Ḥafiẓ Muḥammad ibn Naṣr al-Marwazī mentioned that one day while al-Aḥnaf ibn Qays was seated this ayah came to mind:

 ﴾لقد أنزلنا إليكم كتابا فيه ذكركم أفلا تعقلون﴿

Undoubtedly, we have revealed a book in which is your mention, will you not understand?[v]

He became excited and thought, “Today, I must take the muṣḥaf and search for my mention so that I may know who I am (i.e. since he knew that the Qur’ān mentioned all of mankind’s qualities, detailed their characteristics and classes, he wanted to search for himself to know which category he was in).”

He opened the muṣḥaf and came across a group of people described as:

“They sleep a little of the night, in the early morning they seek forgiveness, and in their wealth is a set portion for the beggar and the one deprived [i.e. who is not gainfully employed],”[vi] and a people described as, “Their sides shun their beds; they call upon their Lord, with fear and hope, and they spend from that which We provide them,”[vii] and a people described as, “They spend their night prostrating and standing for their Lord,”[viii] and a people described as, “They spend in good and bad conditions, conceal their anger, and pardon people; and Allāh loves those who do good,”[ix] and a people described as, “They give preference over themselves even though they are in need; and whoever is protected from the greed of themselves, those are the successful ones,”[x] and a people described as, “They abstain from the major sins and promiscuity, and when they become angry they forgive; those who respond to their Lord, establish prayer, their affair is mutual consultation, and they spend from that which we provide.”[xi]

Aḥnaf ibn Qays stopped and said, “O Allāh! I don’t recognize myself here (i.e. he did not find these qualities in himself so that he might be counted amongst this category).”

After a while he took a different tract, and in the muṣḥaf he came across a people described as,”When it is said to them ‘There is no god but Allāh,’ they become proud and say, ‘Should we leave our gods for a mad poet?’”[xii] and he passed by a people, about whom, Allāh said, “When Allāh alone is mentioned the hearts of those who have not accepted the truth of the Hereafter feel disgust, but when those besides Him are mentioned, all of a sudden, they are delighted,”[xiii] and he passed by a people to whom it was said, “What made you enter Hell? They replied, ‘We were not amongst those who prayed, we were not of those who fed the poor, we  used to discuss falsehood with the people of sin and misguidance, and we denied the Day of Judgement until certainty came to us.”[xiv]

Here, Aḥnaf ibn Qays stopped and, after a pause, he said, “Oh Allāh! I declare myself absolutely free of those people!” then he continued turning the pages of the muṣḥaf, searching for the category he belonged to until he stumbled across this verse:

﴾و آخرون اعترفوا بذنوبهم خلطوا عملا صالحا و آخر سيئا عسى الله أن يتوب عليهم إن الله غفور رحيم﴿

And others who acknowledge their sins; they mix righteous actions with wrong [actions]; soon Allāh will accept their repentance; undoubtedly, Allāh is the Forgiving, the Merciful.[xv]

After reading this, Aḥnaf ibn Qays humbly uttered the following words, “I am one of these people.”

Source: Ayn al-Khāshicūn fi al-Ṣalāh, pp. 42-43

[i]al-Baqarah, 186

[ii] Siyar 4:86,87,96; al-Iṣābah 1:364, 365, 367; al-Istīcāb pp.144-145; Tārīkh Madīnah al-Dimashq 24:312

[iii] Tārīkh Madīnah al-Dimashq  24:15

[iv] al-Baqarah, 249; al-Bidāyah wa al-Nihāyah 10:167


Translators note: In an attempt to keep things concise and not stray too far from the point, I omitted the following passages, but the incident is so interesting I decided to stick it in a footnote so that anyone who wants can read it.
al-Ḥāfiẓ Ibn Kathīr, may Allāh have mercy on him, continues:

Now, the enemy used to disappear during the night, and al-Aḥnaf did not know where they went, so one night he took a detachment to look for them. When it was almost morning, a single horseman from the enemy camp appeared. He was wearing a ring around his neck and beating a drum.  al-Aḥnaf advanced towards him, and the two exchanged blows, then al-Aḥnaf stabbed him and killed him, while reciting some lines of poetry, part of which was:

Assuredly, It is a right upon every leader

That he dye the spear until it shatters

Then he stripped the enemy soldier of his neck ring and stood in his place. Another soldier came out, dressed in the same manner, and started to beat his drum, but al-Aḥnaf went and killed him as well. After stripping this one, al-Aḥnaf again stood in his place. A third soldier came out, and was also killed and stripped of his ring. Then, al-Aḥnaf hastened back to his army, leaving the enemy unaware of what had happened.

It was the enemy’s habit that they would not come out of their resting places until three of their men came out, the first beating his drum, then the second, then the third, after which they would come out. When the enemy came out that night, after the third soldier had beat his drum, they stumbled upon their slain soldiers.

The enemy King took a bad omen from that and told his army, “We have stayed here too long, and those people have been afflicted in a manner the like of which has never occurred. We will achieve no good in fighting those people, let us turn back.” So they returned to their lands, while the Muslims waited on them to come out and fight. Later on the news reached them that the enemy had fled back to their lands.

The Muslims asked al-Aḥnaf what he thought about chasing them, and he said, “Remain in your places and leave them be.” Ibn Kathīr concludes, stating, “He was right in that,  because it is narrated, ‘Leave the Turks alone as long as they leave you alone.’[Sunan Abū Dāwūd, #4302]” [al-Bidāyah 10:167-168]

[v] al-Anbiyāh, 10

[vi] al-Zumar, 17-19

[vii] Sajdah, 16

[viii] al-Furqān, 64

[ix] Āli cImrān, 134

[x] al-Ḥashr, 9

[xi] al-Shūrā, 37-38

[xii] al-Ṣāffāt, 35-36

[xiii] al-Zumar, 45

[xiv] al-Muddathir, 42-47

[xv] al-Tawbah, 102

Author: Yusuf Yasin

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