Islamic Studies

The Fear of Allah and Tolerance – Lessons from the Hadith, "Burn me and Spread my Ashes"

Edited by Abdul Sattar Ahmed

Narrated Abu Said:

The Prophet mentioned a man from the people of the past. and told his story saying: “Allah had given him wealth and children. When his death approached, he said to his sons, “What kind of father have I been to you?” They replied, “You have been a good father.” He told them that he had not presented any good deed before Allah, and if Allah should get hold of him He would punish him.’ “So look!” he added, “When I die, burn me, and when I turn into coal, crush me, and when there comes a windy day, scatter my ashes in the wind.” The Prophet added, “Then by Allah, he took a firm promise from his children to do so, and they did so. (They burnt him after his death) and threw his ashes on a windy day.

Then Allah commanded to his ashes. “Be,” and behold! He became a man standing! Allah said, “O My slave! What made you do what you did?” He replied, “For fear of You.” Nothing saved him then but Allah’s Mercy (So Allah forgave him).”

Narrations of this hadith:

This hadith was related by al-Bukhari in six different places and by Muslim in two. It was also related by al-Nasai and Ibn Majah [May Allah be pleased with them all].

Other companions who narrated this hadith: Abu Hurairah, Abu Sa’id al-Khudari and Hudhayfah [May Allah be pleased with them all].

Fiqh of the hadith:

The First Point: The Fear of Allah

1. The importance of fearing Allah

Ibn Battal al-Maliki wrote, “Allah forgave him due to the intensity of his fear of Him. The easiest way to draw nearer to Allah is with fear.” (Sharh Ibn al-Battal vol. 19 pg. 254.)

2. The Meaning of “Fearing Allah”

Imam al-Qushayri (ra) wrote, “It means that one fears that Allah could punish him either in this life, or the next.” (Risalah al-Qushayriyah vol. 1 pg. 58)

Abu ‘Amir al-Damashqi said about the fear of Allah, “It is the torch of the heart, by which one perceives the good and evil in his soul.”

Khalid Rabi’i said that he found the following in the Psalms of David, “The pinnacle of wisdom is the fear of God.” (Psalms 111:10)

Ibn Battal writes, “The early scholar’s hearts overflowed with the fear of Allah and they would consider their (great) acts as insignificant; fearing that they may, or may not, be accepted (by Allah) even though they avoided the major sins.”

It is reported that ‘Aiesha [may Allah be pleased with her] asked the Prophet [Allah’s peace and blessings upon him] about the verse, “Those who give what is spent [in charity] with fearful hearts.” The Prophet [Allah’s peace and blessings upon him] responded, “they are those who pray, fast and spend [in charity] fearing that those acts will not be accepted.” Related by al-Tirmidhi Hadith 3175 and Ahmad vol. 6/159

The Difference Maker

One of the Students of Ibn Mubarak [Allah’s mercy be upon both of them] mentioned: “I traveled with ‘Abdullah bin Mubarak observing him during our trip. I said to myself, “Glorified is Allah! His prayer is like our prayer, his recitation of Qur’an is like ours, his fasting is like ours and Allah has caused him to be mentioned in the best way amongst the people and spread his fame far and wide? How? Suddenly we entered a cave [for rest] and lit a torch, drawing closer to it as to benefit from its light.

After some time we found Ibn Mubarak sitting in the darkness weeping and tears were falling from his beard. We said to him, “What happened?” He responded, “I remembered, due to this constrictive dark cave, the grave and thought if this is the case with this cave, then what will the grave be like?!”

The Ruling on Fearing Allah:

Imam al-Qushayri states, “The Fear of Allah is an obligation.” (Risalah al-Qushayriyah vol.1 pg. 58.)

The Different types of Fear

1. The Fear of Falling into the prohibited or committing an act of aggression:

· The statement of Adam’s son Habil to his brother Qabil:

“If you stretch your hand against me, to slay me, it is not for me to stretch my hand against you to slay you: for I do fear Allah, the Lord of the worlds.” 5/28 Imam al-alusi mentions that what prevented Habil from reciprocating the harm of his brother was “the fear of Allah.” vol. 4 pg. 452

· The famous hadith of the seven people shaded under the shade of Allah on the Day of Judgement includes a man who is given this honor because when called to commit an illicit act with a woman he responded, “I fear Allah.”

Al-Qadi ‘Iyad said, “It is possible that he said this to the woman or he said it to himself to shake himself and remind himself…..he was able to exercise patience [by turning her down] due to the fear of Allah.” (Explanation of Sunan al-Nasa’i with explanatory notes of Imam al-Suyuti vol. 7 pg. 102.)

2. The fear that falling into certain permissible acts could lead to the forbidden

The early scholars used to say, “None will reach the station of piety until he leaves something permissible, fearing that it may cause him to fall into the forbidden.”

Ibn Katib said, “If the fear of Allah rests in the heart, then one will not speak except about that which concerns him.” (Risalah al-Qushayriyah vol. 1 pg. 26)

Such permissible acts are those whose rulings are not clear. This is the case when an issue contains attributes that are permissible and forbidden, thereby making a clear ruling on its nature very difficult .

3. The Fear of Allah Himself

This is the station of the scholars whose knowledge is sincere. Allah says, “Indeed, it is only the people of knowledge who fear Allah” 52/33. Allah says about this group of people: “Who feared the Most Gracious” 50/33. Fearing one who is gracious might seem strange, but this fear is a deep reverence and admiration for the Creator. Thus, although they fear Him, they know that He is source of awesome mercy and forgiveness. (Al-Tahrir wa al-Tanwir vol. 14 pg. 74)

Things that Bring About the Fear of Allah:

1. Knowing Allah’s names and attributes, pondering on them and understanding them

2. Fearing shortcomings in one action and excessiveness in one’s sins

3. Visiting the sick and the graveyard

4. Remembering death

5. Seeing Allah’s blessings and power in creation

6. Pondering on one’s last moment in this life

7. Contemplating on the verses of the Qur’an

8. Being with the righteous and those who remind one of Allah

From the Fruits of the Fear of Allah: Humility

Once Hassan al-Basri said to his students, “A man will be saved from the Hell fire after 1000 years. Oh how I wish I could be that man! I knew a group of people, who were far more scrupulous with the permissible, then you are with the forbidden, possessed greater vision with their hearts, then you have with your eyes and were more fearful that their good deeds would not be accepted, then you are of being punished for your sins.”

The Second Point: How could someone be forgiven who has clear problems in creed?

The man said, in other narrations of the same hadith, “If Allah gets a hold of me, He will surely punish me.” How is it possible that he could doubt such an issue and still be forgiven? For indeed, there is not denying that we will all be held accountable by Allah. Is this not a core of our faith?

Imam al-Tabari mentions a number of plausible explanations:

1. What is translated as “Gets a hold of me” is not understood in that way because the word carries with it different meanings in the Arabic language according to the context. Sometimes it is used with the meaning to tighten, restrict, seize or constrict. It is used in this way in the following verses of Qur’an, “Let a man of wealth spend from his wealth, and he whose provision is restricted – let him spend from what Allah has given him. Allah does not charge a soul except [according to] what He has given it. Allah will bring about, after hardship, ease.” 65/7 and “But when He tries him and restricts his provision, he says, “My Lord has humiliated me.”

Thus, what this man was referring to was his fear that Allah may punish him, not resurrect him. Thus, he will say upon being resurrected, when asked why he ordered his ashes spread, “Because I feared You.” Al-Tabari says, “By his fear and atonement he was forgiven by Allah.”

2. Although his statement was a clear statement of unorthodoxy, he stated it believing that what he had done was correct. Thus, he was forgiven, even though he was mistaken. In light of this the scholars noted, “It is not in agreement with Allah’s infinite justice that He would consider equal in punishment one who errors intending goodness and one who intentionally errors in clear opposition to the truth.” (Sharh Ibn al-Battal vol. 19 pg. 254.)

3. There is an important axiom that reads, “If a person utters words of disbelief, not knowing their ramifications, then it is not allowed to label his words as heresy.” (Sharh Ibn al-Battal vol. 19 pg. 254.)

4. He said this in a heightened emotional state: extreme fear of Allah. His case is similar to the last person who will enter Paradise. Upon being informed of his great rewards and bounties therein he says, “Oh Allah you are my slave and I’m your Lord.” Ibn al-Battal states, “That statement, if taken at face value, is a clear statement of kufr. However, he was not punished for that because he was overtaken by extreme happiness and said it in error.” (Sharh Ibn al-Battal vol. 19 pg. 255)

Allah says, “And there is no blame upon you for that in which you have erred but [only for] what your hearts intended. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful.” 33/5

May Allah grant you all a blessed Ramadan

About the author

Suhaib Webb

Suhaib Webb

Suhaib Webb is a contemporary American-Muslim educator, activist, and lecturer. His work bridges classical and contemporary Islamic thought, addressing issues of cultural, social and political relevance to Muslims in the West. After converting to Islam in 1992, Webb left his career in the music industry to pursue his passion in education. He earned a Bachelor’s in Education from the University of Central Oklahoma and received intensive private training in the Islamic Sciences under a renowned Muslim Scholar of Senegalese descent. Webb was hired as the Imam at the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, where he gave khutbas (sermons), taught religious classes, and provided counselling to families and young people; he also served as an Imam and resident scholar in communities across the U.S.

From 2004-2010, Suhaib Webb studied at the world’s preeminent Islamic institution of learning, Al-Azhar University, in the College of Shari`ah. During this time, after several years of studying the Arabic Language and the Islamic legal tradition, he also served as the head of the English Translation Department at Dar al-Ifta al-Misriyyah.

Outside of his studies at Al-Azhar, Suhaib Webb completed the memorization of the Quran in the city of Makkah, Saudi Arabia. He has been granted numerous traditional teaching licenses (ijazat), adhering to centuries-old Islamic scholarly practice of ensuring the highest standards of scholarship. Webb was named one of the 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center in 2010.

14 Comments

  • Asalam Aleikum

    Jzkheri
    Manshallah this is good! Enlightening i must say.

    May Allah swt reward you both.May Allah swt answer all your duas during this blessed of month of ramadan. And most of all May Allah swt have mercy on all of us . Ameen

    once again thank you.

  • Asalaamu Alaykum

    Masha Allah great post and great explanations given on the fear of Allah and methods of attaining this station

    I have a Question in regards to this:

    “2. Although his statement was a clear statement of unorthodoxy, he stated it believing that what he had done was correct. Thus, he was forgiven, even though he was mistaken. In light of this the scholars noted, “It is not in agreement with Allah’s infinite justice that He would consider equal in punishment one who errors intending goodness and one who intentionally errors in clear opposition to the truth.” (Sharh Ibn al-Battal vol. 19 pg. 254.) ”

    I find this point rather troubling. Many times people do things because they sincerely feel it is the right thing to do [9/11 hijackers, for example], yet their actions have immense ramifications.

    I see the logic in the statement that the punishment for someone who knows its wrong could be more than for someone who does not know so.

    Yet on a moral tip, does one’s ignorance/lack of clarity exonerate one of higher punishment?

    Just a random question . . .

    Jazak Allah Khayr

    Peace

    Fahim

  • As-salamu alaikum,

    Wallahu a’lam akh Fahim, but I agree with your observation. It seems to me that taking this one action of a Hadith which could possibly be just a parable and making it a case for tolerating innovative acts or justifying deviant behavior is taking it a little to far. What I am sure about is that the axiom in which no one is responsible for deviant actions which they do WITHOUT knowledge. In studying the application of this principle with a teacher of mine recently this is generally in minor issues (furoo’), and in places where the prevelance of knowledge is not strong whereas the common Muslim could realistically not know that ruling. That being said, we are all responsible for the command of the Prophet (saws) to seek knowledge especially since today it is so readily available.

    And Allah knows best

  • Asalamu alaykum,

    Something to think upon:

    His mistake did not violate the rights of others. However, killing and injuring does. Thus, this principle is applied, in the general sense, to one’s relationship with Allah. However, if one violates the rights of others then there is a whole different discourse (unintended injury or harm). The latter being punished and the former being subjected to investigation [see the chapter on murder Sharh al-Kabir of Dusuqi and al-Mughni of Ibn al-Qudama]

    Finally, I don’t agree that those who kill and harm have good intentions. Their intentions are known to Allah. The only reason we know of this man’s intention was that the Prophet [sa] said, “So, Allah forgave him.”

    I would disagree with Sh. Abu Majeed that we can dismiss this axiom so simply. Axioms are used at the discretion of trained religious scholars and not the common people. Dismissing it or accepting it completely removes that scholarly element from the equation creating a legal paradigm that fails to respect the human element. I think we should pay head to the words of Ibn Battal and others who were from the early scholars of this ummah. Such axioms bring richness and maturity to a discourse inebriated in a fetish for text based fiqh that excludes the deeper instruments passed on to us by the salaf. As we’ve moved through the greater part of the last century with shariah courts that are relegated to family law, some acts of worship and inheritance, we risk the danger of losing the feel for the human side of the system. Since most people study law without practicing it as total muftis, they tend to become hyper conservative. Interacting with a cool white page whose blood is dry and blue, is not the same as interacting with a warm body whose blood is red. The former requires no wisdom, the latter demands it.

    SDW

  • As-salamu alaikum beloved teacher,

    Maybe it wasn’t clear. I am not dismissing any axiom, just simply seeking to understand it. Man you went deep on that last part! Have you been hangin out with Abul-Hussein a lot or just reading a lot of Sayid Qutub 🙂

  • Asalamu alaykum,

    Sheikh Aba Majeed:

    Naw man. Abdul Hussein is on another level. Look at my typos and bad grammar. I heard you’re coming back to the states soon. Have you found a community that is ready for your awesome talents? When can we sit at your feet and read Manar al-Sabil with you?

    SDW

  • Wa alaikum as-salam Aba Shifa,

    Al-Hamdu lillah we bought our tickets last week and we’ll happy to be back home in a couple months insha Allah. I will be visiting a few communities and insha Allah we’ll see where the Naseeb is. Hopefully when I visit bakersfield I can come up there and dunk on you a couple times. It seems you have the sharh as-sagheer down much better than I have Manar, but it will be great to be back and serve the Muslims in any way that I can. Looking at a lot of the posts our communities are getting stronger and more knowlegable and wise and to Allah is the praise and glory for that tawfeeq. Send our salams to the wife and kids. I bet Shifa doesn’t remember me 🙁

  • Asalaamu Alaykum Shaykh Suhaib

    Jazak Allah khayr for the feedback

    I think the point you mentioned about the rights of others is a very good one. That brings much clarification to the topic.

    Peace

    Fahim

  • Assalamu Alaykum

    In the article it says :
    “His case is similar to the last person who will enter Paradise. Upon being informed of his great rewards and bounties therein he says, “Oh Allah you are my slave and I’m your Lord.”

    I’m not sure but isn’t the hadith about a man who lost his camel not the last man entering Jannah :

    In Riyyadu Salihin : “Allah has greater joy at the repentance of one His slaves when he turns towards Him than one of you would have over his mount, which, having escaped from him with his food and drink in the middle of the desert so that he has despaired of finding it and gone to a tree to lie down in its shade, suddenly appears standing by him while he is in that state, so that he takes its reins and then says out of the intensity of his joy, ‘O Allah, You are my slave and I am Your Lord!’ getting confused because of his intense joy.'”

    Please if the hadith mentionned in the article is different from the one of camel ignore my statement and also please kindly provide the full text of the hadith, it’s always good to know more ahadith.

    Jazakumullah Khayr

    And thank you for your articles.

    🙂 Ramadan Kareem

  • Asalamwalykum
    Is this hadith authentic.. I tried for the reference… dint find any! Do u have the Hadithh #?

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