Shaykh al-Fudhayl ibn 'lyadh (q.s.)

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

Shaykh al-Fudhayl ibn `lyadh ibn Biswr ibn Mas’ud Abu ‘Ali at-Tamimi al-Yarbu`i al-Khurasani (q.s.) was also known as Abu ‘Ali and as at-Talaqani.  He was a sinner who renounced his crimes and became an ascetic.  He is revered as a wali.  Some of the written accounts of Shaykh al-Fudhayl's (q.s.) life are found in Kashf al-Mahjub by the Shaykh ‘Ali ibn ‘Utsman al-Hujwiri (q.s.) in the 11th century, as well as in the Tadzkirat al-‘Awliya’, by Shaykh Farid ad-Din 'Aththar of Nishapur in the early 13th century.  He was also listed in the silsilah of the Jisty Order as the successor to Shaykh ‘Abd al-Wahid ibn Zayd (q.s.) and the master of the legendary ascetic, Shaykh Ibrahim ibn Adham (q.s.).  Sometimes, his story is confused with that of Fudhayl ibn Yahya, a contemporary who was the vizier to Sultan Harun ar-Rashid.

A number of places have been attributed as the birthplace of Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.).  They include Samarkand, Merv, Mosul and Balkh.  He could have been identified as an Uzbek, Turkoman, Arab or Azeri.  Prior to his reformation and renunciation of the world, Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) was the chief of a band of highway robbers.  He operated in the desert in Syria and Khurasan, attacking and looting passing caravans.  Even while a bandit, he wore simple garments of sackcloth and a woollen cap.  A tasbih was always strung around his neck.  When his band brought their plunder, he would take whatever he desired and distribute the remainder amongst them.  It was noted that aside from his anachronistic life of crime, he was otherwise a devout Muslim, keeping his five daily swalah, fasting as required and forbidding his men to uncover any women found among the victims. 

He always performed his swalah in jama’ah.  He would expel any member of his band, who did not participate in jama’ah.  Sufficient means for continuance of the caravan's journey were also left with the people.  Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) would also keep account of the persons and the amounts he robbed.  Allah (s.w.t.) had Wonderful Plans for Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) for him despite his iniquity hence these noble characteristics were inherent.  During this time, he was deeply in love with a woman, and would often send her tokens from his stolen treasures.

One story has a rich merchant, fearful of running into bandits, who mistook Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) for an honest man and asked him to hide the majority of his wealth lest he be robbed.  As the merchant continued on his way, he was robbed of his remaining wealth by Shaykh al-Fudhayl’s (q.s.) men.  When the merchant returned to Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) to recover the majority of his wealth, he was dismayed to find the bandits who had robbed him there surrounding the man he had trusted.  Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) indicated that he was a Muslim and would not betray his trust, therefore motioning the merchant to reclaim the wealth he had left in trust.

In surprise, the robbers asked, "Why did you return his money?”

Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) said, "He trusted me and entertained a good opinion of me.  I, therefore, honoured his trust.  I hold a good opinion of Allah (s.w.t.).  By His Fadhl, He too will Uphold my hopes in His Mercy."

After this episode, the bandits looted another caravan in which they had acquired much wealth.  When they sat down to eat, one of the travellers asked for their leader.  The bandits said, "He is at the riverside engaged in swalah."

The traveller said, "But this is not the time for swalah!"

The bandit replied, "He performs the nawafil swalah."

The traveller then enquired, "Why does he not eat with you?"

The bandit said, "He is fasting."

The surprised traveller said, "It is not Ramadhan yet!"

The bandit said, "He keeps the sunnah fasts."

Hearing this, the traveller was very surprised.  He went to Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) and asked, "Tell me, what relationship is there between robbery, swalah and swa’um?"

Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) replied, "Do you know the Qur'an?"

The traveller replied, "Yes."

Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) said, "Did you not recite the ayat:

Others (there are who) have acknowledged their wrong-doings: they have mixed an act that was good with another that was evil.  Perhaps Allah will Turn unto them (in Mercy): for Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. (Surah at-Tawbah:102)”

This reply perplexed the traveller even more.  He left wondering at the condition of this leader of the bandits.  It was said that one day, as Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) was watching a passing caravan; he heard someone reciting from the Qur’an, the following verse:

Has not the time arrived for the Believers that their hearts in all humility should engage in the remembrance of Allah and of the Truth which has been Revealed (to them), and that they should not become like those to whom was given Revelation aforetime, but long ages passed over them and their hearts grew hard?  For many among them are rebellious transgressors. (Surah al-Hadid:16)

This ayat struck Shaykh al-Fudhayl’s (q.s.) heart like an arrow.  He exclaimed: "Alas!  How long will I continue ruining my life with banditry?  The time has arrived for travelling in the Path of Allah."  He was overcome with profound regret and wept abundantly.  This was the beginning of his reformation.  He realised then that he was a hypocrite to claim both submission to Allah (s.w.t.) and engage in banditry.  Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) left his criminal ways and wandered through the desert where he found a caravan camping.  He overheard two men warning each other to be wary lest the bandit al-Fudhayl ibn 'Iyadh find them.  Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) stepped out and introduced himself, acknowledging that he had repented and was no longer a danger.

After this, Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) tried to visit each of his known victims to repay them what he had stolen from them, and when he ran out of available goods, he visited them to beg their forgiveness.  He journeyed far and wide to meet all those people whose rights he had plundered.  He had to make amends otherwise his repentance would be incomplete.  All his victims forgave him except for a Jew.  The Jew said: "If you want me to forgive you, then remove this dune of sand in front of us.  For many days, Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) laboured, carrying away the sand.  After several days of work, a strong wind blew away the pile of dirt, and Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) exclaimed to the Jew that Allah (s.w.t.) had Aided him.  But the Jew said: "I have taken an oath that as long as you do not return my money, I shall not forgive you.  Near my bed is a bag of gold coins.  Bring it to me so that my oath is fulfilled to enable me to forgive you."

Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) took the bag and gave it to the Jew.  When the Jew opened the bag, he said "First accept my declaration of faith.  Then, I shall forgive you."  After the Jew had embraced Islam, he asked, "Do you know why I became a Muslim?"

Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) replied, "I do not know."

The man said, "I have read in the Torah that when a man who has sincerely repented touches sand, it becomes gold.  That bag had contained some sand which turned into gold by your touch.  I have now realised the truth of your Way."

Once, Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) said to a man: "Take me to the king.  In my lifetime. I had committed many crimes.  I want him to punish me.”  The man took Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) to the king and put forward his request.  The king, however, recognised him and honoured him.  He ordered all present to honour him.  A group of noblemen was sent by the king to accompany Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) home.  This treatment greatly grieved him.

Seeing his grief, his wife asked: "Are you wounded?"

Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) replied, "Yes, I have been wounded."

His wife asked, "Where are you wounded?"

Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) said, "My heart has been wounded."

After his repentance, Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) moved to Kufa, in modern-day Iraq, and studied under Imam Ja'far asw-Swadiq (q.s.) and became a teacher to Shaykh Bishr al-Hafi (q.s.) and Shaykh Sari Sakti (q.s.).  When Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) determined to perform the hajj, he approached his wife and told her that he had to leave on the long and dangerous journey, but that he was willing to grant her a divorce if she wished to remarry in his absence.  She refused, and said she would prefer to accompany him on the trip.  He remained in Makkah for a long time, and studied under Imam Abu Hanifah (q.s.).  He had at least one son, named ‘Ali, and two daughters.

The people of Makkah would attend Shaykh al-Fudhayl’s (q.s.) discourses.  Once, some of his relatives came to visit him in Makkah.  He did not open the door.  Standing on the balcony, he said, "May Allah (s.w.t.) Bestow Beneficial Knowledge to you.  May He Keep you occupied in ‘ibadah."  The manner in which he delivered his naswiha made such an impact on his relatives that they all fainted.  When they became conscious, they returned to their homeland.  Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) stood for a long time on the balcony.  He watched them sadly, crying and making du’a for them until they disappeared over the horizon.

One night, the Caliph, Harun ar-Rashid said to his vizier, "Take me to an ascetic for my heart has become hard and corrupt."

The vizier took the Caliph to Imam Sufyan ibn ‘Uyaynah (r.a.).  The vizier knocked at the door.  Imam Sufyan (r.a.) asked, "Who is it?"

The vizier replied, "The Amir al-Mu'minin has come."

Imam Sufyan (r.a.) said, "Why did you not inform me earlier.  I, myself, would have come to meet him." The great imam said this out of great humility.

Hearing this, Caliph Harun said, "This is not the type of ascetic I am searching for.  Why have you brought me here?"

Imam Sufyan (r.a.) said with great wisdom, "That sort of ascetic would be Fudhayl ibn ‘Iyadh and no one else."

When they arrived at Shaykh al-Fudhayl’s (q.s.) home, the vizier knocked on the door.  Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) asked, "Who is it?"

The vizier replied, "’The Amir al-Mu'minin is here."

Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) said, "What work has he with me?  Do not take up my time."

The vizier said "Obedience to the Amir is incumbent."

Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) said "Do not distress me."

The vizier said, "Permit us to enter otherwise we shall enter without permission."

Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) said, "You have no permission.  To enter without permission is your decision."

Both entered anyway.  Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) extinguished the lamp so that his eyes did not fall on the Caliph.  The room was in darkness but Caliph Harun managed to take Shaykh al-Fudhayl’s (q.s.) hand.   Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) said, "How tender is this hand.  If only it could be saved from Jahannam."  So saying, he began performing swalah.  The Caliph wept.

When Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) had completed his swalah, Caliph Harun said "Give me some advice."

Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) said, "Your forefather was the paternal uncle of Rasulullah (s.a.w.).  He, had asked Rasulullah (s.a.w.): 'Appoint me the ruler of some region.'

Rasulullah (s.a.w.) replied, 'I appoint you the ruler of your nafs.  Your nafs in Allah's obedience is better than a thousand years of people's obedience (to you).  On the Day of Qiyamah, kingdoms will be the cause of regret.’"

Caliph Harun asked, "Say something more."

Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) said, "When Hadhrat ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz became the caliph, he sent for Hadhrat Salim ibn ‘Abdullah, Hadhrat Raja’ ibn Hayat and Hadhrat Muhammad ibn Ka'b and said, 'I have become involved in this affair.  Guide me.'

One of the three elders said, 'If you desire salvation in Qiyamah, treat the elderly Muslims as you would treat your parents; the young like your siblings; the children like your own children; women like your mother and sisters.’"

Caliph Harun asked, "Say something more."

Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) said, "Be kind to the pious and do good to your offspring and brothers.  I fear that your handsome form may perhaps be entering Jahannam.  Your face will become ugly there."

Caliph Harun wept and asked again, "Say something more."

Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) said, "Fear Allah!  Be prepared to answer to Him.  On the Day of Qiyamah,  Allah will Question you about every single one of your subjects.  If even an old lady in your domain slept hungry, on the Day of Qiyamah she will grab hold of you and demand justice in the Divine Court."

Unable to bear the impact of this naswiha, the Caliph fainted.  The vizier stepped in and said to Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.), "This is enough.  You have killed ‘Amir al-Mu'minin."

Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) said, "O Haman!  Be quiet!  I have not killed him.  You and your people have killed him."

Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) had addressed the vizier by the name of Fir'awn’s minister whose advise led to his damnation.  This vizier, Yahya of the Barmakid family was eventually removed later in the reign.  By this time, the Caliph had regained conscious and had heard the comments of Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.).  The Caliph said to the vizier, "Have you heard?  He said that you are Haman, which means I am Fir'awn."

Addressing Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.), the Caliph asked: "Shaykh, do you have any debt?"

Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) replied, "Yes,  I am indebted to Allah."

Caliph Harun said, "I am asking about debt owing to people."

Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) said, "Allah (s.w.t.) has Bestowed bounties to me in such abundance that I have no need to incur debt."

Caliph Harun presented a bag containing 1,000 dananir and said, "I have acquired this in a lawful way.  It came to me as inheritance from my mother.  Do accept it."

Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) cried out, “Alas!  You have derived no benefit from my naswiha.  It is indeed surprising that while I have called you towards salvation, you plan to ruin me.  I said that you should give to those who deserve, but you give to those who do not deserve."  Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) then asked the Caliph to leave.  He closed the door on them.

Outside, the Caliph said to his vizier, "Truly, this is a man of piety and excellence."

One day, Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) sat his son in his lap and had the following conversation with him.  The boy, ‘Ali asked his father, "Do you love me?"

Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) replied, "Yes."

His son then said, "You also love Allah.  The love of two cannot co-exist in one heart."  Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) understood that this comment of the boy was a Reminder from Allah (s.w.t.).  He was at the state of realisation where he was to be aware of the Creator Manifest.

Someone once asked Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.), "When does a man attain excellence in his relationship with Allah (s.w.t.)?"

Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) replied, "When attainment and denial (of bounties) are the same."  That was his level of understanding of Allah’s (s.w.t.) Qadr.

Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) said, "Allah has Accumulated all evils in one place.  Its key is this world."  He also said, "It is easy to enter the world, but to leave it freed of liabilities is difficult."  Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) also said, "The world is like an asylum and its inmates like insane people.  Insane people are always kept imprisoned."  True freedom lies not only in the denial of the self but also in the denial of other than Allah (s.w.t.).

His student, Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (r.a.) said that he heard Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) say, "The searcher of the world is contemptible."  He also said, "Remain a follower.  Do not become a leader.  It is nobler to be a follower."  Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) taught, "When Allah Befriends a man, He Casts him in difficulties and He Gives prosperity to His enemy."  The world is an illusion and a veil to the Divine Presence.  It is temporary and will eventually cease to be.  The awliya’ are ever aware of that which is temporary and the Divine which is Permanent.  This is because, as he said, "A man who has Allah's fear, does not indulge in futility.  The love of the world does not occur to him."

Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) also said, "Everything has its fixed zakat.  The zakat of ‘aql is contemplation.  It is for this reason that Rasulullah (s.a.w.) was always seen in a contemplative mood."

On his understanding of the fear of Allah (s.w.t.), Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) said, "All things fear a man who fears Allah and a man who does not fear Allah, fears all things."  He also said, "A man's fear (for Allah) is proportionate to his knowledge (of Allah)."  "An arrogant man is deprived of humility.  Allah (s.w.t.) Loves humility."

On zuhd and the striving for akhirah, Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) said, "A man's zuhd on earth is proportionate to his love for the akhirah."  The greater his love for the akhirah, the more he abstains from dunya and its pleasures.  Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) further said, "Even if akhirah was of sand and dunya of gold, man's striving should be for the akhirah which is everlasting.  This is more so, since dunya is of sand and temporary and akhirah of gold."

On tawakkul, he said, "True tawakkul is to sever all hope in anyone besides Allah and to fear only Him.  A man of tawakkul is grateful to Allah."

Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) remarked, "It is difficult to find three persons – A practising ‘alim; a man who practices righteousness with sincerity and a brother without fault."  He said, Allah Curses a man who overtly professes friendship for a brother Muslim, but covertly is his enemy.  It is possible that he may become blind and deaf."

On questions of his wilayat, he said "If someone asks you, ‘Are you a wali?,’ then remain silent.  If you say that you are not, you become a kafir.  If you say that you are a wali, you are a liar because your deeds are not the deeds of a wali."

He observed, "Many people emerge from the bathroom purified while many people return from the Ka'bah contaminated."  He also said, "Smiling in front of a fasiq ruins one's religion."

On adab towards Creation, he said, "When a man curses an animal, it responds, 'May the curse fall on the one who is the greater sinner of us two and amin from us both.’"

He remarked, "If I am told that only one of my du’a will be accepted, I shall supplicate for the good of the king.  If the king becomes good, it will benefit the whole nation."

He said, "Excessive eating and excessive sleeping ruin a man."

Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) said, "I do not envy the anbiya’.  They too have to go through the stages of the qabr, qiyamat and swirath.  I do not envy the angels.  They have greater fear for Allah than man.  I, however, envy the child whose mother never gave birth to it."

He further said, "Allah (s.w.t.) Revealed to our Prophet (s.a.w.), "Give sinners the glad tidings of Forgiveness if they repent and warn the swiddiqin that if on the Day of Qiyamah, I Apply the Code of Justice, they all will be liable for punishment."

Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) was noted for his dislike of frivolous company and was careful to guard against the exaltation of the ego.  When crowds began to gather around his Makkan home, eager for the chance to see him, he would often dissuade them.  One time, he stood on his roof to thank them all and tell them that he prayed Allah (s.w.t.) would Give them meaningful employment for their time.  He was noted for his preference for solitude.  His love for solitude constrained him to say, "I wish to become sick so that I be prevented from meeting people."  He wished he would become ill so that he could avoid going out to public prayers and did not have meet people.  He also said, "One should take to solitude in such a place where no one sees one."

Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) also said, "I am grateful to a man who does not greet me when he sees me and does not visit me when I am sick."

In another of his sayings: "A man who mingles with people is far from goodness."  He also said, "The tongue of a person who fears Allah, remains silent."

Shaykh al-Fudhayl’s (q.s.) son suffered from a urinary tract infection, which was cured when Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) relied on prayer and faith alone.  Once, when Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) saw his son polishing a dinar, he said, "Abandoning this futile act is better for you than ten hajj and ten ‘umrah."

Once a qari was reciting the Qur'an beautifully.  Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) said, "Recite to my son, but do not recite Surah al-Qari’ah.  My son is overcome with excessive fear of Allah.  He is unable to bear hearing about the calamities of akhirah." The qari recited to Shaykh al-Fudhayl’s (q.s.) son.  Forgetting about Shaykh al-Fudhayl’s (q.s.) warning, he also recited Surah al-Qari’ah.  The son let out a piercing scream and died of fear.

For 30 years, no one saw Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) laugh.  He said, "Just as weeping in Jannah is surprising, so too is laughing on earth surprising.  Neither is Jannah an abode of crying nor is the world a place of laughing."  But when his son passed away, Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) smiled.  When questioned about this, he said, "Allah (s.w.t.) is Pleased with my son's passing, hence I smiled to conform with His pleasure."  He explained in another occasion, "A man who is pleased with the Decrees of Allah, is a zahid and an ‘arif."

Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) had two daughters.  He was very scrupulous in their upbringing.  When Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.) understood that his death was near, he said to his wife:"After my death, take my daughters to Mount Abu Qays and say to Allah: ‘Fudhayl had cared for them until his last.  Fudhayl has now assigned them to Your Care.’"  

He passed away performing his swalah, early in the year 187 AH.  Some scholars suggest it was the third day of Rabi' al-Awwal and others suggesting the month of Muharram.  Imam ‘Abdullah ibn Mubarak (r.a.) said, “When al-Fudhayl ibn ‘Iyadh died, even the heavens and the earth wept.  An eerie silence was perceived."

After his passing, his wife fulfilled his waswiyyat.  Whilst making du’a, the king of Yemen passed by with his retinue which included his two sons.  He made enquiries and proposed that Shaykh al-Fudhayl’s (q.s.) daughters be married to his sons.  Thus did Allah (s.w.t.) Take Care for the daughters of Shaykh al-Fudhayl (q.s.).


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