The Advice of Al-Hasan al-Basree to ‘Umar ibn ‘Abdul-‘Azeez
“Know that being thoughtful calls to good and acting upon it. And repenting from and regretting evil, calls to abandoning it. And that which will perish – even if it is much – does not outweigh that which is everlasting – even though seeking it is rare. And to endure short-lived difficulties that are followed by long lasting ease, is better than hurrying for a short-lived ease that is followed by ever-lasting hardship.
So beware of this land (i.e. the Dunyaa – the worldly life) that is falling down and is misleading and deceiving, being decorated by its deceit and having deluded [others] by its delusion, and having killed its people with its hopes. It looks forward with anticipation towards the one who proposes to it for marriage. Hence it becomes like the unveiled bride – all the eyes are looking towards it, and the souls are in love with it, and the hearts are captivated by it.
To the minds that are attached to it, it is faultless, and to all of its husbands, it is deadly and lethal. For the one who remains takes no notice of [the fate of the husband] who came before him, and the last one, is not prevented by what he saw [happen to] the first one. And the intelligent one no longer takes any benefit from the numerous trials and tests, and the one who recognizes Allaah and has complete trust in Him, no longer takes heed when He advises him about it (i.e. this Dunyaa).
So the hearts insist on loving it and the souls insist on clinging to it, and this is nothing but the passionate love we have for it. Whoever loves something does not consider anything else and he dies either desiring it or else he does obtain it. Hence there are two types of lovers who desire it.
The first is the lover who has obtained it and has been deceived by it, and through it, he has forgotten his origin and his eventual place of return. Hence his mind is preoccupied by it and his intellect has been neglected concerning it, such that his foot slips off it and his death comes to him as the fastest thing that he has ever experienced. Hence his remorse and regret becomes immense and his regret shatters him and his sorrow and grief becomes severe, along with the agony that occupied him. The agony of Death, which agonizes him, combines with the regret of Death, which torments him. And what has afflicted him cannot be described.
As for the other lover who died before obtaining what he wanted from it, then he died with his misfortunes and grief and he did not obtain what he tried to get from it. And his soul did not have any relief from fatigue and distress.
Both of these types of lovers have died with no provision (for the Hereafter) and they have reached an evil place of rest.
So be vigilant and totally on your guard, for indeed it (the Dunyaa) is like a snake – it is soft to touch, but its poison is deadly and fatal.
So abandon those things in it that dazzle you, because only a little of it will accompany you [in the grave]. And do not burden yourself with its worries, since you have seen with your own eyes its misfortunes and calamities, and you know for certain the grief encountered when separating from it. And tightly fasten whatever has become distressing in it, in order to make it easy and comfortable when it befalls you. And be the happiest person concerning your present status in it, and be most wary about what you want further from it (i.e. higher positions, more wealth, etc.). For indeed whenever a companion of the worldly life (Dunyaa) trusts one of its pleasures, it dispatches to him something despised from itself. And when such a companion obtains something from the Dunyaa, he slips up on it, twisting his foot and so he falls over as a result of it.
Anything of the Dunyaa that makes one happy, is only a deception, and whatever of it is beneficial [today], is harmful the next day. And any ease in it is connected to trials and misfortunes, and anything that remains in it will be made to perish. Its joys are mixed with grief and the last years of one’s life in it are full of weakness and frailness. So adopt the attitude towards it of someone who abstains from it and separates himself from it. And do not have the attitude of someone who is its lover and shows tender affection for it.
Know that it eliminates the one who lived and resided in it and that it inflicts suffering upon the one who had faith in it and was dazzled by it. Whatever departs from it, will not return and so it slips away. And whatever is to come in it is not made known, such that one could expect it.
Be cautious of it! For indeed its claims are lies and its expectations are deceptions. Its life is full of hard work and its happiness is murky and full of grief. And you are upon danger with respect to the Dunyaa. Either there is a blessing in it, which is soon to perish, or else there is an affliction in it that is descending. Either there is a calamity that will cause pain or there is a lethal decisive death.
If only the companion of the Dunyaa had realized it, he would have seen that life had been hard and difficult on him, and that he was upon danger with respect to any of its graces, and that he was wary and cautious with respect to the needs he had, and that he was certain of death. So even if the Creator, the Most High, had not informed anything about [the ills of] the Dunyaa, nor had expounded any examples about it, nor had ordered us to abstain from it, then the Dunyaa itself should be enough to warn even the one who is asleep and would arouse even the one who is negligent and indifferent.
And how much more so is this when there came from Allaah, the Most High, one who alerted and deterred the people from it and who warned and admonished concerning it?! So it is of no worth to Allaah, not even being worth the equivalent of an insignificant weight to Allaah, the Most High. Not even being worth the measure of a small pebble to Him, the Most High. Not even the measure of a single grain of soil. And there is no created thing that I know of, which is more hateful to Him than this Dunyaa, and He has not looked at it ever since creating it, out of hatred for it.
And the Dunyaa had been laid before our Prophet (salAllaahu ‘alayhi wasallam) with all its keys and treasures, but he was not in need of any of that – to him it was not even worth the equivalent of a mosquito’s wing. So he scorned accepting it. And the thing that prevented him from accepting it – and indeed Allaah is not in need of anything – was nothing but the knowledge he had – that whenever Allaah hates something, then he too should hate it. And whenever Allaah considers something to be insignificant, then he too should consider it to be insignificant. And whenever Allaah leaves something, then he too should leave it. If he (salAllaahu ‘alayhi wasallam) had accepted it, then that acceptance would be a proof that he had love for it. But he hated to love that which his Creator hated, and he hated to elevate that which his King had put down.
And if the only thing that He used to demonstrate to him the insignificance of his Dunyaa was that Allaah despised it so much that He disdained to make its wealth a reward for the obedient people and make its problems a punishment for the disobedient people. Rather He took any reward for being obedient to Him out of it, and removed the punishment for being disobedient to Him from it.
And perhaps the evil of this Dunyaa will be demonstrated to you by the fact that Allaah, the Most High, concealed it from His Prophets and loved ones, as a test. While He exposed it to others, so that they should be mislead and fooled.
The one who is deceived and tempted by it thinks he is just being generous to himself by indulging in it. But he has forgotten what Muhammad the Mustafaa (salAllaahu ‘alayhi wasallam) used to do, and also what Moosaa (‘alayhis salaam) – who Allaah chose to have a direct private conversation with – used to do.
So as for Muhammad (salAllaahu ‘alayhi wasallam), then he used to have to fasten a rock to his stomach, because he used to get so hungry.
And as for Moosaa (‘alayhis salaam) then the green colour of the vegetables he had eaten would be seen under the skin over his stomach, because he used to be so thin and emaciated. And on the day when he sought shelter in the shade, he only asked Allaah for food that would simply satisfy his hunger. (Refer to al-Qasas 28:24)
And narrations have come to us concerning Moosaa, that Allaah, the Most High, revealed to him, saying:
O Moosaa! If you see poverty approaching, then say, ‘Welcome, O sign that distinguishes the righteous people.’ And when you see that wealth and riches have been put forward, then say, ‘Sins – its punishment has been brought forward.’
And if you want a third example, consider the ‘Soul created by Allaah’, the one created by His Word (Kalimah) [i.e. ‘Eesaa (‘alayhis salaam)], and there is something quite marvelous concerning his condition. He used to say, “Hunger is my condiment. My distinguishing sign is fear. My clothes are made of wool. My riding beast is my feet. My lamp during the night is the moon and my [only] source of heat in the winter is the sun. The fruits I eat and the sustenance I have are from what grew on the earth for the beasts of prey and for the cattle. I spend the night possessing nothing – but no one is wealthier than I am.”
And if you want a fourth example, consider Sulaymaan ibn Daawood (‘alayhimaas salaam), because his situation was no less marvelous than the others. He would eat bread made from barley that was in his private property, and he would feed his family with bran bread, while feeding the people with bread made of white flour. When night fell, he would wear clothes made of coarse wool, and he would not spend anything, instead spending the night weeping until he entered upon the morning. He would eat course, rough types of food and would clothe himself with bristly, hairy clothes.
All of these hated what Allaah hated, and they considered worthless whatever Allaah, the Most High, considered worthless, and they abstained from the matters that should be abstained from.
Then the righteous people followed their Manhaj, and took hold of their way of life, imposing, as a duty, that they should work hard and weep, and that they displayed a good manner to being thoughtful. They had patience for the short period [of their lives], refraining from the pleasures of the vanities that would end up passing away. They looked towards the end of the Dunyaa and not its beginning. And they looked towards the upshot of its bitterness and not to the temporal existence of its sweetness.
Then they made patience a duty upon themselves and gave it [i.e. the Dunyaa] a station that was equivalent to that of a rotting carcass, which was not lawful to eat from, except in the case of necessity. So they ate from it to an extent that would restore their fitness and preserve their souls and give strength for the day. And they gave it a station that was equivalent to a corpse that had an intensely foul stench, such that anyone who passed by it would be seized by this smell, and so they would eat from it only when they really had to, due to extremely difficult circumstances. And they would finish eating from it once they had satisfied their immediate appetite, because its stench [would prevent them from eating more]. Hence the Dunyaa was chained up from them and this was its station in their eyes. So they would be amazed at the one who [indulged in the Dunyaa], eating his fill from it, wildly reveling in it. They would say to themselves, “Have you not seen those who are not afraid of what they eat?! Have they not noticed its foul stench?!"
By Allaah, my brother, the Dunyaa is, in the end and with respect to the life to come, more foul smelling than a firm compact corpse. However, there are people who are impatient when it comes to restraining themselves, so they do not notice the stench. And indeed the one who is brought up in the smell of something rotten and terrifying, does not notice the stench that harms others who pass by or sit next to it.
And perhaps it is sufficient for the one who is intelligent about the Dunyaa, [to know] that he who dies while leaving lots of wealth, [would then not care what he had used to be in the Dunyaa], and would have been happy whether he was poor and lowly. Or if he was elevated and noble, he would have been happy if he was ignoble in it. Or if he was free from any harm, he would have been happy if he had suffered in it or if he had been subjugated and he would have been happy if he had been of its common people.
And if you were to withdraw from the Dunyaa, then you would be happy to be the most humble of all the people, being poorer than anyone else. Is not this [enough of] an indication of its vile and contemptible condition, for the one who understands its true state?
By Allaah, if this Dunyaa were such that whoever wanted something from it found it by his side without having to ask for it or exert himself in obtaining it – however, whenever he would take something from it, the rights of Allaah would be obligatory on him concerning it, and He would ask him about it, and would bring him for Reckoning – then it would be proper for this intelligent person to take only that which he is able to, and which is sufficient for him, being cautious of what he asked for, and having an aversion for the severity of the reckoning [associated with it].
And when you consider it, then the Dunyaa is nothing more than three days: the day that has passed by and so there is no hope in it. The day you are living in, and so it is proper that you should make the most of it. And the day that is to come, concerning which you have no knowledge of whether or not you will be of its people. And you do not know if perhaps you will die before reaching it.
So concerning yesterday, it gives you wisdom and you are educated by it. And as for today, then it is a friend that is bidding you farewell. However, although yesterday has made you sad because it has passed away, it still leaves its wisdom in your hands. And even though you had neglected it, the day after it came as a replacement for you. And this following day was absent from you for a long time, while now it is quickly journeying away from you.
Also there is tomorrow – its hopes are in your hands – so take to relying on doing [good] deeds, and abandon the deception that is connected with the hopes, before your appointed time arrives. And beware of entering upon a day, having tomorrow or other future days as your main concern and worry. [If you do so] you will increase in anxiety and difficulty, and you will wish to collect during your day what will suffice you for several days. How stupid! One ends up being preoccupied, one’s grief gets worse and one’s toil and labour becomes great. And the slave ends up neglecting doing [good] deeds as a result of these hopes [he has in tomorrow and the future days].
If you were to remove the hopes you have in tomorrow from being in front of you, then you would make your actions in this present day better and good; and you would confine yourself to the problems and concerns related to this present day. On the other hand, the hopes you have in tomorrow would call you to neglect [those good deeds] and to be excessive in demanding and asking.
If you wish, and if you allow yourself, then I will describe the Dunyaa as being one hour between two other hours – the one that has gone past and the one that is to come, and you are in the hour that is in between.
So as for the hour that has passed and the hour that remains, then you do not find any enjoyment in its comforts and you do not find any agony from its trials. And the Dunyaa is nothing but the present hour you are in, and it has deceived you away from Paradise and has induced you towards the Fire.
And if you realized, the [present] day is nothing but a guest that has come to you but is about to depart. So if you had offered good when he visited, and given him a hospitable reception, then he would be a witness for you and would praise you for that good treatment – and he would be correct in that praise. While if you gave him an evil reception and did not offer him any good, then he would wage war against you.
These are two days, which are like brothers. One of them comes to you, and then you treat him badly and you do not offer him a good reception concerning what is between you and him. Then the other one comes to you after the first, saying, “Indeed I have come to you after my brother, so if you offer me goodness, it will wipe out the evil you did to my brother, and he will forgive you for what you did. So beware when I descend upon you and come to you after my brother has left.” Hence if you had sense, you should win over his successor and make up for what you have neglected and ruined. But if you treat the latter one just as you treated the former one, then how likely it is that you will be destroyed by their testimony against you.
Indeed whatever of your life remains is priceless and has nothing equal to it. So if all of the Dunyaa were gathered together, it would not be worth the same as a single day that remained in the life of any of you. Do not sell the present day or make it equal to anything from the Dunyaa, for any price at all. Do not let it be the case that a dead and buried person gives greater respect and value to what you have in your hands and is in your possession. For upon my life, if it were said to the person buried in his grave, “Here is the worldly life from its beginning to its end, you can have it all to give to your children after you, so that they can enjoy its delights after you – since you had no concern besides them – would this be more beloved to you, or that you be given a single day from it and be left to work for your own benefit?” Then he would certainly choose this (latter choice) – he would not be offered anything except that he would choose the day over it, out of desire for it and his great respect for its importance.
Indeed, if he were offered for himself a single hour from it, then he would still prefer that over many times what I described being given to anyone else. Indeed if his choice were either restricted to a single word which he could say such that it should be written down for him or whatever I have described to you many times its like – then he would prefer the single word over all of that.
Look furtively at the present day for your own self, and attach a greater importance to every word you say, and beware of the grief experiences when the agony [of Death] descends. And do not feel secure that everything you say will be a proof for you [as much of what you say may be a proof against you]. May Allaah benefit us and you with admonition, and may He provide us and you with the best final outcome.
Related by Aboo Nu’aym in al-Hilyah 2/134-140
1 – He is al-Basree, being one of the noblest of the taabi’oon, and his fame is such that there is no need to mention his biography
2 – He is the prominent, outstanding figure of the Tribe of Umayyah, the fifth rightly guided Khaleefah and the one who revived the Deen during the first century. His fame is well known and his narrations are extensive and widespread.
Taken from ‘Words of Advice from the Salaf’, Compiled by Shaykh Saleem al-Hilaalee (hafidhahullaah), pages 90-100