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Imām al-Ḥārith al-Muḥāsibī

By Tariq Yusufzai

It was during Iʿtikāf last Ramaḍān where I was sitting in our masjids library and I gazed upon a book my friend was reading, “al- Muḥāsibī’s Risāla al-Mustarshidīn” (Treatise for The Seekers of Guidance), by Imām al-Muḥāsibī. As he left, I picked up the book and started reading it.

Imām Abū ‘Abdullāh al-Ḥārith b Asad al-Muḥāsibī (may Allāh be pleased with him) was born in the great city of Baṣra, Iraq in the year 165 A.H./781 C.E – 243 A.H./857 C.E. The city which would plant the deep roots of the beginning of all Islamic Sciences to be. It is in the center of debates regarding new translated knowledge of the Greeks, Romans, and Syrian Christians etc that Imām al-Muḥāsibī would intellectually take part of, exploring the proper viewpoint of alienated knowledge and philosophies in the Islamic worldview.

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Both a scholar and narrator of Ḥadīth, he held a high level of legal thought. He was a major speculative theologian (Mutakallim), who authored over 200 books and treatises. He was the teacher of great Luminaries such as: Imām al-Junayd, Sarī al-Saqaṭī, Aḥmad and Muḥammad b. Abi al-Ward, Aḥmad bin Muḥammad ibn Masrūq, and Muhammad b Ya’qūb al-Farajī. He influenced many theologians who came after him, including Imām al-Ghazālī and his Iḥyāʾ ʿulūm al-Dīn. He had a somewhat fractious relationship with Imām Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal for his propensity to respond to the Rationalists using their own methods of reasoning, over the years this has led to some people overlooking his works.

He was called Muḥāsibī due to his constant reckoning of his own self, taken from the word muḥāsib, which means he who takes account of something. Therefore Imām al- Muḥāsibī ‘s major intellectual contribution was in the area of character reformation and human development, used essentially as a means in coming close to God. His work entirely focused on God-consciousness, that act which is necessary if we are to truly know and serve God. On the other hand, he emphasized on Divine Grace; it is Allāh who allows one to be on the path of truth; it is Allah who elevates the maqām of His servants; it is Allāh who allows one to be able to conquer and discipline his soul. Though he did not believe it to be completely passive, that it is through reflection, devotion, humility, and having a good opinion of Allāh that the hearts can become illuminated by the Light of Divine Grace.

His greatest work is considered to be ar-Ri ʿāyah li-ḥūqūq Allāh (Book of observance of the rights of Allāh); most of the themes in that book are dealt in al- Muḥāsibī’s Risāla al-Mustarshidīn (Treatise for The Seekers of Guidance) the book I laid my eyes upon.

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The greatest of miracles, I believe, of Imām al-Muḥāsibī is his discourse on speculative theology and rectifying the self and that in and of itself has brought in much miracles and inspiration to later luminaries and nations to come by. You and I are both transformed by his works, one way or another. I definitely was since Ramaḍān benefited me well.

Selected saying sof Imām al-Muḥāsibī:
“One who rectifies his inner self with an awareness of God’s surveillance and sincerity; God adorns his outer self with devotional acts and adherence to the prophetic way (Sunnah).”

“Knowledge bequeaths fear, divestment from the world bequeaths comfort, and gnosis bequeaths self criticism.”

“Good character is bearing abuse, rarely becoming angry, a pleasant face, and sweet speech.”

“One who does not thank God for a blessing has called for its eradication.”

“The best person is one who does not allow his Hereafter to preoccupy him from his worldly affair nor does he allow his worldly affair to preoccupy him from his Hereafter.”

“The tribulation of the seeker of the world is the idling of his heart from remembrance of the Hereafter.”

“For indeed, the pleasure of the wise scholars is in their intellects, and the pleasure of the ignoramuses and beasts is in their desires.”

Source: Treatise for The Seekers of Guidance, al-Muhasibi’s Risala al-Mustarshidin translation, commentary, and notes by Imām Zaid Shakir

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