Imam al-A’amash (r.a.): The Sarcastic Scholar

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

Imam Sulayman ibn Mahran al-Asadi al-A’amash (r.a.) was a picky scholar of ahadits.  He was one of the tabi’un.  He was born in 680 CE and met Anas ibn Malik (r.a.) and studied under the students of ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’ud (r.a.).  He was a sarcastic character with a sharp tongue.  There are fewer scholars as eccentric as he.

Even though his manners were rough and unorthodox, he only used his barbed tongue on those who deserved it.  He was a lover of ahadits and had no time those who disrespected it.  He felt that this disrespected the Prophet (s.a.w.).  Although he was sarcastic, he was a noted muhadditsin and an excellent teacher.  Such was his piety and trustworthiness as a muhaddits that his ahadits were narrated by Imam al-Bukhari (r.a.) in his Swahih.  His student loved him.  He was also nicknamed ‘al-Muswhaf,’ because of his beautiful recitation of the Qur’an and his accurate narrations of ahadits.

He felt that students who wanted to learn ahadits had to be motivated and determined.  Students, on the other hand, had said that in order to get a ahadits out of him to memorise was like picking his teeth.  When Imam al-A’amash (r.a.) passed away, he was seen in someone’s dream.  In that dream, he was asked his state.  Imam al-A’amash (r.a.) replied, “I was Saved by the Forgiveness of Allah, and all praise is due to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds.”  The following are amusing incidents involving him collected from Siyar A’alam an-Nubala’, Hilyat al-Awliya’ and his tarjamah amongst others.

To ensure his students would do anything to learn, he put a dog outside his house that they would have to pass.  And he even made it known would unleash his dog on those he did not like.  His students were so scared of the dog that they killed him.  Imam al-A’amash (r.a.) cried over his dog’s demise with passion.  When people teased him for crying excessively over the dog, he retorted, “The only one who spread goodness and prevented evil has died.”

He was called ‘al-A’amash’ because he had poor vision.  In his time, people used to take baths in a common bathrooms known as ‘hammam’.  One day a man came out completely nude.  So Imam al-A’amash (r.a.) covered his eyes with one hand and used his other hand to feel around and to guide himself.  The man said to him, “O al-A’amash, have you now become al-a’amaa?”  ‘A’amaa’ means blind.

Imam al-A’amash (r.a.) replied, “It seems to have happened since your pants fell to the ground.”

Imam al-A’amash (r.a.) was poor and was not known for his looks.  Despite this, he was married to a beautiful woman although they did not always get along.  He spent much time with his students and they asked him once, “Why are you not at home?”

He replied, “Because you all are more merciful than what I have at home,” in reference to his wife.

When one student said to him while on a frivolous visit, “I hope I am not disturbing you, O shaykh,” Imam al-A’amash (r.a.) said, “Let me tell you: you bother me even when you are in your own home.  So how do you think I feel with you right here with me now?”

Imam al-A’amash (r.a.) was in some neighbourhood one day, and some people came up to him to ask him regarding ahadits.  His companions said to him, “Will you not narrate to these poor souls?”

Imam al-A’amash (r.a.) replied, “Who would hang pearls on pigs?”

In another incident, some people visited Imam al-A’amash (r.a.) one day and he went out of his house to greet them, saying: “Were it not for the fact that there were people in my house that I dislike more than you, I would not have come out to see you.”

On a certain Abu Dawud al-Hayk, it was asked of him, “Abu Muhammad, what is your opinion on praying behind al-Hayk?”

Imam al-A’amash (r.a.) replied, “No problem, as long as one does not have wudhu.”

He also asked, “What do you say about accepting his testimony?”

Imam al-A’amash (r.a.) replied, “Only if it is accompanied by testimony from two trustworthy people.”

The governor, ‘Isa ibn Musa sent a notebook along with a thousand darahim to Imam al-A’amash (r.a.) for him to write down ahadits in it.  Imam al-A’amash (r.a.) wrote: In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful, say: ‘He is Allah, One’ and sent the book back to him.  The governor sent him a note, saying, “Do you think I do not know any Qur’an?”

Imam al-A’amash (r.a.) sent it back, saying: “Do you think I sell ahadits?”  He kept the money for himself.

Shaykh ‘Abdullah ibn Idris (r.a.) said to Imam al-A’amash (r.a.), “What prevents you from getting a haircut?”

He replied, “The barbers talk too much.”

So, he said, “I will bring you to a barber who will not say a word to you until he finishes cutting your hair.”  He brought him to a Junayd, a barber who was also a muhaddits.  Shaykh ‘Abdullah (r.a.) had warned him not to speak to Imam al-A’amash (r.a.) and he agreed.

However, when he had cut half of Imam al-A’amash’s (r.a.) hair, he could not resist and said, “O Abu Muhammad, what is the status of the hadits of Habib bin Abi Tsabit regarding menstruation?”  Imam al-A’amash (r.a.) got up, screaming, and ran away.  He sat for a month with only half of his hair cut.

A knowledgeable man with a long beard came to Imam al-A’amash (r.a.) and asked him a basic question about the prayer.  Imam al-A’amash (r.a.) turned to his companion and said, “Look at him!  His beard could carry four thousand ahadits and he asks a question that the children in school would ask.”

It is said that Imam al-A’amash (r.a.) had a son who was slow witted.  One day he told him, “Go buy a rope for us to hang our clothes on.”

The boy asked, “How long do you want it to be, father?”

He replied, “Ten cubits long.”

The boy then asked, “How wide do you want it to be?”

Imam al-A’amash (r.a.) replied, “As wide as my bad luck with you.”

Husayn ibn Waqid was reciting Qur’an to Imam al-A’amash (r.a.) and asked him, “How do you like my recitation?”

Imam al-A’amash (r.a.) replied, “Better than the recitation of any disbeliever.”

One night, Imam al-A’amash (r.a.) got up and could find no water.  So he rubbed his hands on the wall and performed tayammum and went back to sleep.  He was asked about this strange behaviour, and he replied, “I am afraid to die without being in a state of purity.”

Once, Imam al-A’amash (r.a.) went out in the morning and passed by the mosque of Bani Asad.  They were about to start praying, and he went inside and prayed with them.  The imam recited Surah al-Baqarah in the first rak’ah, and Surah Ali ‘Imran in the second.  When he finished, Imam al-A’amash (r.a.) said to him, “Do you not fear Allah?  Did you not hear that the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) say, ‘Whoever leads the people in prayer should go easy, as there are those behind him who are old, weak, and have needs to tend to.”

The imam said, “Allah Said:

… it is indeed hard, except to those who have khushu’. (Surah al-Baqarah:45)

Imam al-A’amash (r.a.) said, “I am a messenger sent from those who have khushu’ telling you that you have made it hard.”

Another time, a soldier wanted to cross a river.  He came across Imam al-A’amash (r.a.), who was standing near the river, so he jumped on his back and had him walk through the water.  When he jumped on Imam al-A’amash (r.a.), he recited, “Glory to Him Who has Provided this for us.”  This is the supplication for riding an animal.

When Imam al-A’amash (r.a.) had gotten half way across the river, he threw the soldier off of his back and recited:

… “O my Lord!  Enable me to disembark with Thy Blessing: for Thou art the Best to enable (us) to disembark.” (Surah al-Mu’minun:29)

He left him soaked in the river and ran away.

One day, Shabib ibn Shaybah and his companions came by to see Shaykh al-A’amash (r.a.) and they stood at his door yelling, “O Sulayman!  Come out!”

From inside, Shaykh al-A’amash (r.a.) asked, “Who are you?”

They replied: “We are

Those who shout out to thee from without the inner apartments... (Surah al-Hujraat:4)

Imam al-A’amash (r.a.) glibly replied:

… most of them lack understanding. (Surah al-Hujraat:4)

One time, he wore an inverted sheepskin such that the wool was on the outside.  Someone suggested to him, “O Abu Muhammad, why do you not wear it so that the wool is on the inside? This would be warmer for you.”

Imam al-A’amash (r.a.) replied, “Why do you not go suggest this to the sheep?”


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