Abu Hazim and the Caliph

Imam al-Qurtubi has, in his commentary, related a very illuminating story in this context – a story which has come down to us through a chain of reliable reporters, and has been taken from the “Musnad” of Darimi.

During  one  of  his  visits  to  the  Holy  town  of   Madinah,  the Ummayyid  Caliph  Sulayman  ibn  ‘Abd  al-Malik  wanted  to  meet someone who had  lived with a Companion of  the Holy Prophet &  ,  if such a man was still alive. On being informed that Abu Hazim was the only man of this kind left in the town, he sent for him.

The Caliph said to him, “Abu Hazim, why have you shown such discourtesy and disloyalty?”

“How have I been discourteous or disloyal to you?”

“Everybody who is anybody in Madinah has come to see me, but you haven’t”, complained the Caliph.

“0 chief of the Muslims, may Allah protect you against saying something which is not true to the fact”, replied Abu Hazim. You have not been familiar with my name before today, nor have I ever seen you. Things being what they are, how could I come to meet you?  Is it disloyalty or discourtesy?”

The Caliph looked around questioningly. Imam Zuhri spoke up:

“Abu Hazim is right, and you are wrong.”

Changing the subject, the Caliph asked:  “Abu Hazim, how is it that I don’t like to die?”

“The  reason  is  simple,” Abu  Hazim  said  “You  have  made  your world  flourish,  and turned your  habitation  in  the other world  into a desert. Naturally,  you  don’t  like  to  leave  a  flourishing  city  for  a desert.”

The Caliph admitted that it was true, and came out with another question:  “What would it be like when we have to appear before Allah tomorrow?”

Said Abu Hazim,  “The man who  has been  doing good  deeds will present himself before Allah like the man who returns from a travel to his loved  ones, while  the man who  has been  doing evil  deeds will appear like  the slave who  had  run  away and has now been  brought back to his master.”

The Caliph burst into tears, and said with a sigh, “I wish we could know how Allah would deal with us.”

Abu Hazim replied, “Assess your deeds in the light of the Book of Allah, and you will know.”

“Which verse of the Holy Qur’an can help us to do so?”

“Here is the verse:

Sura 8 13-14

Sura 8 13-14

“Surely the righteous shall be in bliss, and the transgressors shall be in a fiery furnace.” (82:13-14)

The Caliph remarked: “Allah’s mercy is great. It can cover even the wrong-doers.”

Abu Hazim recited another verse

Sura 7-56

Sura 7-56

“Surely the Mercy of Allah is close  to  those  who  do  deeds.” (7:56)

The Caliph advanced another question: “Tell me, Abu Hazim, who is the most honorable among the servants of Allah?”

“Those who are mindful of their fellow-human beings and possess the right kind of understanding to know the truth.”

“Which is best among good deeds?”

“Fulfilling the obligations laid down by Allah, and keeping away from what He has forbidden.”

“Which is the prayer that is likely to be accepted by Allah?”

“The prayer of a man for him who has done him some good.”

“Which is the best form of charity?”

“Giving as much as one can, in spite of one’s own need, to a man in misery without trying to make him feel grateful and without causing him pain by trying to put him off.”

“Which is the best form of speech?”

“Speaking the truth plainly and unreservedly before the man who can harm you in some way or from whom you expect a favor.”

“What kind of man is the wisest among the Muslims?”

“He whose actions are governed by obedience to Allah, and who invites others as well to it.”

“What kind of man is the most stupid?”

“He who helps another man in committing some injustice, which comes to mean that he has been selling off his faith for serving the worldly interests of that man.”

The Caliph agreed with all this, and then asked him pointedly,

“What do you think of  me?”

Abu Hazim wanted to be excused from replying to such a question, but the Caliph insisted that he should say a word of advice.

Abu Hazim said: “0 chief of the Muslims, your forefathers established their rule over the people with the help of the sword and against their will, after killing hundreds of men. Having done all this, they departed from the world.  I wish you could know what they themselves are saying after their death and what people are saying about them.”

Fearing that the Caliph would be displeased by such plain talk, one of his courtiers rebuked Abu Hazim for having spoken so rudely.

He replied: “No, you are wrong. I have not said anything rude but only what Allah has commanded us to say. For Allah has enjoined upon the ‘Ulama'(Scholars of Islam) to speak the truth before the people and not  to conceal  it.”

And he recited this verse of  the Holy Quran:

Sura 3-187

Sura 3-187

“You shall make it clear to the people and not conceal it.”  (3:187)

The Caliph asked, “Alright how can we reform ourselves now?”

Abu Hazim said, “Give up your pride, acquire a spirit of fellow-feeling for the people, and give them justly what is due to them.”

“Abu Hazim, is it possible that you come to live with us?”

“May Allah protect me from it!”


Abu Hazim said “Because I am afraid  that if  I live with you, I might begin  to  like your  wealth  and  your  grandeur,  and  have  to  suffer  a  grievous punishment for it in the other world.”

The Caliph asked “Well, is there anything you need? What can we do for you?”

Abu Hazim said “Yes, I have a need. Please help me to save myself from Hell and to enter Paradise.”

The Caliph said “This is not in my power.”

Abu Hazim said “Then, there is nothing you can do for me.”

The Caliph asked him to pray for him. Abu Hazim  made  this prayer:  “0  Allah, if you approve of  Sulayman, make the well-being of this world  and the next  easily  accessible  to  him; but  if  he  is your enemy, drag him by the hair towards the deeds you approve of.”

The Caliph then asked him for some special advice.

Abu Hazim said: “I shall make it short. You should have the fear of your Lord and reverence for Him to the degree that He never finds you present at the place He has forbidden, and never finds you absent from the place where He has commanded you to be.”

Later on, the Caliph sent one hundred gold dinars to him as a present. Abu Hazim sent the money back with a letter, saying:  “If these dinars are the wages for my words, then blood and pork are, in my eyes, cleaner than this money. If you believe that this money is my due from the public exchequer, then there are hundreds of ‘Ulama’ and servants of Islam. If you have sent the same amount to each one of them, I can accept the money; otherwise I do not need it.”

Abu Hazim’s refusal to accept the wages for giving advice clearly shows that taking wages for an act of worship or obedience to Allah is not permissible.


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