“How can one ask about the difference between this world and the Hereafter? They are like East and West: the closer you move towards one, the farther you move away from the other. How can one ask about the nature of this world? Life in it begins in toil and ends in annihilation. One is accountable for that which he enjoys lawfully, and one is punished for that which he enjoys unlawfully. Anyone who becomes wealthy is tempted, and anyone who becomes poor is grieved.”
“What have we done to ourselves? We have starved our religion and fattened our material wealth. We have worn out our morals and renewed only our clothing and furnishings. We recline at ease, feasting on wealth which we unlawfully acquire. The rich man’s food is stolen, and those who serve him do so by force. He calls for spicy food and then for sweets. First he wants cold food, and then hot food, then something cripsy, and then something soft. When he is stuffed to the point of bursting he calls his servants to bring him medicine to help him digest his food!”
“Fool! Does he not know that the only thing he has devoured is his own morality? Where is his needy neighbor, his hungry, orphaned kinsman, the disabled who can only watch him in despair? Where is all that Allah comanded him to do for others? If only he knew that he was like a number: every time the sun sets, the number decreases by one, and part of him passes on…”
This is the excerpt from the reply of al-Hassan al-Basri RA when he was asked about the nature of life in this world.
Masalamah Ibn ‘Abdul-Malik said, “How can a people go astray when they have al-Hassan al-Basri living among them?” Al-Hassan means “the handsome one” and this name was given to the son of Khayrah and Yasar by Umm Salamah RA, the widow of Prophet Muhammad PBUH and mother of all believers. Khayrah was her servant, and Yasar was the servant and friend of Zaid Bin Thabit RA. Al-Hassan Ibn Yasar was partly raised by Umm Salamah, who also breast-fed him. Then, Allah swt added barakah to the childhood of al-Hassan by blessing him with the constant presence of the widows of Prophet Muhammad PBUH, who all lived next to each other. He acquired their virtues and good qualities and benefited from their guidance. In essence, this atmosphere shaped his character. In his lifetime, Al-Hassan was impressed by Khalifah Ali Ibn Abi Talib RA more than anyone else. He was captivated by his staunch belief, his devoutness, and his lack of interest in the vanity and follies of worldly life. He modeled his style of expression on the example set by Ali RA, who had a dazzling talent for eloquence. Al-Hassan moved to al-Basrah when he was fourteen, and hence known as al-Hassan al-Basri. Al-Hassan became a student of Abdullah Ibn Abbas RA and learned Tafsir, Hadith, and Qur’an recitation. He also learned Islamic jurisprudence, literature, and Arabic language.
When Khalid Ibn Safwan asked Maslamah Ibn Abdul Malik about al-Hassan, he said the following: “He is a person whose heart is as good as his appearance. His actions are the same as what he speaks. When he commands virtuous actions he is the first one to perform them, and when he discourages vice, he’s the most abstemious of all. I have found him to be a man who is not in need of others’ services, and has no interest in profiting from their wealth, even though the whole world seems to beat a path to his door seeking him.”
Al-Hajjaj Ibn Yusuf (known for his cruelty and opressions), in the capacity of a governor built a palace in Wasit and invited the public to come to witness it. Al- Hassan Al-basri made the best possible use of this opportunity by giving an unanticipated public speech on spot: “… Now we have seen what this vile creature has constructed, and we have to remember that Pharaoh had structures built which were grander and more lofty, but Allah caused Pharaoh to perish, and brought all of his monuments to ruin. If only al-Hajjaj knew that he is despised in Heaven, while those on earth deceive him into being satisfied with himself.. ” When somebody advised him to keep quiet, he continued: “Allah has taken a covenant from His scholars that they proclaim the truth and not suppress it.” Al-hajjaj out of anger and humiliation ordered his execution. The moment Al-Hassan realized al-Hajjaj’s plan, he started reciting something. To everyone’s astonishment, al-Hajjaj insisted al-Hassan to sit next to him and and he inquired him about some religious matters. Al-Hassan was very calm as usual. After the conversation, al-Hajjaj said: “Abu Sa’id, you are the master of all scholars.” Then he respectfully applied a perfume on al-Hassan’s beard and dismissed him. When Al-Hassan was asked about what he was reciting earlier, he said the following: “I said, ‘O Master of my good fortune, You are my refuge in times of ill fortune. Make his vengeance towards me be coolness and peace, just as you made the fire to be coolness and peace over Ibrahim (AS)”
Al-Hassan al-Basri lived for 80 years. One of his greatest contributions was his articulate and refined sermons. When he passed away in the year 110H. on the first of Rajab, the whole city of al-Basrah was shaken. It’s been said that the whole city followed the procession, leaving the city of Basrah empty. The Asr prayer was not held in the mosque of al-Basrah because there was nobody left in the city that day to hold the prayer.
[excerpts from Suwar min Hayat at-Tabi'in by Abdur Rahman Al-Basha (Late)]