Hasan al-Basri

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Hasan al-Basri
Hasan Basri, Abu Sayid B. Abi’l-Hasan Yasar
Al basri.jpg
Born 21 AH / 642 AD
Medina, Saudi Arabia
Passed away 5th Rajab 110 AH / 728 AD
Basra, Iraq
Resting place

Basra, Iraq

Map of Burial Place

Al-Hasan ibn Abi'l Hasan al-Basri was born in Medina in 21 (642). His father was a freed slave of Zaid ibn Thabit Ra.gif, a famous companion of Holy Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. Hasan Basri was himself brought up in the house of Ummul Mu’meneen Ummi-Salmah Ra.gif. He met many Companions of the Prophet ﷺ including, it is said, seventy of those who fought at the Battle of Badr. He grew up to become one of the most prominent figures of his generation, being famous for his uncompromising piety and outspoken condemnation of worldliness in high places. He died in Basra in 110 (728). He was a brilliant orator. Many of his speeches and sayings are quoted by Arab authors and some of his letters are still preserved.


The Conversion of Hasan of Basra

The beginning of Hasan of Basra’s conversion was as follows. He was a jewel merchant and was called Hasan of the Pearls. He traded with Byzantium, and dealt with the generals and ministers of Caesar. On one occasion, going to Byzantium he called on the prime minister and conversed with him a while. “We will go to a certain place,” the minister told him, “if you are agreeable.” “It is for you to say,” Hasan replied. “I agree.” So the minister commanded a horse to be brought for Hasan. He mounted with the minister and they set out. When they reached the desert Hasan perceived a tent of Byzantine brocade, fastened with ropes of silk and golden pegs, set firm in the ground. He stood to one side. Then a mighty army, all accoutred in the panoply of war, came out they circled the tent, said a few words, and departed. Philosophers and scholars to the number of near four hundred arrived on the scene, they circled the tent, said a few words, and departed. After that three hundred illumined elders with white beards approached the tent, circled it, said a few words, and departed. Thereafter more than two hundred maidens, each bearing a plate of gold and silver and precious stones, circled the tent, said a few words, and departed. Hasan relates that, astonished and filled with wonder, he asked himself what this might be.

“When we alighted,” he went on, “I asked the minister. He said that the Caesar had a son of unsurpassable beauty, perfect in all the branches of learning and unrivalled in the arena of manly prowess. His father loved him with all his heart.” Suddenly he fell ill ” so Hasan related on the authority of the minister. All the skilled physicians proved powerless to cure him. Finally he died, and was buried in that tent. Once every year people come out to visit him. First an immense army circles the tent, and they say: “O prince, if this circumstance that has befallen thee had come about in war, we would have all sacrificed our lives for thee, to ransom thee back. But the circumstance that has befallen thee is at the hand of one against whom we cannot fight, whom we cannot challenge.” This they say, and then return.

The philosophers and the scholars come forward, and say: “This circumstance has been brought about by one against whom we cannot do anything by means of learning and philosophy, science and sophistry. For all the philosophers of the world are powerless before him, and all the learned are ignorant beside his knowledge. Otherwise we would have contrived devices and spoken words which all in creation could not have withstood.” This they say, and then return.

Next the venerable elders advance, and say: “O prince, if this circumstance that has befallen thee could have been set right by the intercession of elders, we would all have interceded with humble petitions, would not have abandoned thee there. But this circumstance has been brought upon thee by one against whom no mortal man’s intercession profits anything.” This they say, and depart.

Now the moon-fair maidens with their plates of gold and precious stones advance, circle the tent, and say: “Son of Caesar, if this circumstance that has befallen thee could have been set right by wealth and beauty, we would have sacrificed ourselves and given great moneys, and would not have abandoned thee. But this circumstance has been brought upon thee by one on whom wealth and beauty have no effect.” This they say, and return.

Then Caesar himself with his chief minister enters the tent, and says: “O eye and lamp of thy father, O fruit of the heart of thy father, O dearest beloved of thy father, what is in thy father’s hand to perform? Thy father brought a mighty army, he brought philosophers and scholars, intercessors and advisers, beautiful maidens, wealth and all manner of luxuries, and he came himself. If all this could have been of avail, thy father would have done all that lay in his power. But this circumstance has been brought about by one before whom thy father, with all this apparatus, this army and retinue, this luxury and wealth and treasure, is power-less. Peace be upon you, till next year!” This he says, and returns.

These words of the minister so affected Hasan that he was beside himself. At once he made arrangements to return. Coming to Basra, he took an oath never to laugh again in this world, till his ultimate destiny became clear to him. He flung himself into all manner of devotions and austerities, such that no man in his time could exceed that discipline.

Hasan of Basra and Abu Amr

It is related that Abu Amr, the leading authority on the reading of the Koran, was teaching the Koran one daywhen suddenly a handsome boy arrived to join hisclass. Abu Amr gazed at the child improperly, and immediately he forgot the whole Koran, from the p of “Praise” to the n of “jinn and men”. A fire possessed him, and he lost all self-control. In this state he called on Hasan of Basra and described to him his predicament. “Master,” he wept bitterly, “such is the situation. I have forgotten the whole Koran.” Hasan was most distressed to hear of his situation. “Now is the season of the pilgrimage,” he said. “Go and perform the pilgrimage. When you have done that, repair to the mosque of Khaif. There you will see an old man seated in the prayer-niche. Do not spoil his time, but let him be until he is disengaged. Then ask him to say a prayer for you.”

Abu Amr acted accordingly. Seated in a corner of the mosque, he observed a venerable elder and about him a circle of people seated. Some time passed, then a man entered, clad in spotless white robes. The people made way before him, greeted him, and conversed together. When the hour of prayer arrived, the man departed and the people departed with him, so that the elder remained alone. Abu Amr then approached and saluted him. “In Allah’s name, help me,” he cried. And he described his predicament. The elder, much concerned, raised his eyes to heaven.“He had not yet lowered his head,” Abu Amr recounted, “when the Koran came back to me. I felldown before him for joy.”

“Who recommended me to you?” the elder asked.“Hasan of Basra,” Abu Amr replied.“Anyone who has an imam like Hasan,” the old man commented, “what need has he of another? Well,Hasan has exposed me. Now I will expose him. He rent my veil, and I will rend his as well. That man,” he went on, “in the white robes who entered after the afternoon prayer and left before the rest, and the others did him reverence that man was Hasan. Every day he prays the afternoon prayer in Basra and then comes here, converses with me, and returns to Basra for the evening prayer. Anyone who has an imam like Hasan, why should he ask me for a prayer?”

Hasan of Basra and the Fire-Worshipper

Hasan had a neighbour named Simeon who was a fire-worshipper. Simeon fell ill and was at death’s door. Friends begged Hasan to visit him; he called, to find him in bed, blackened with fire and smoke. “Fear God,” Hasan counselled him. “You have passed all your life amid fire and smoke. Accept Islam, that God may have mercy on you.” “Three things hold me back from becoming a Muslim,” the fire-worshipper replied. “The first is, that you speak ill of the world, yet night and day you pur-sue worldly things. Secondly, you say that death is a fact to be faced, yet you make no preparation for death. In the third place, you say that God’s face shall be seen, yet today you do everything contrary to His good pleasure.”

"This is the token of those who know truly" Hasan commented. “Now if believers act as you describe, what have you to say? They acknowledge the unity of God, whereas you have spent your life in the worship of fire. You who have worshipped fire for seventy years, and I who have never worshipped fire we are both carried off to Hell. Hell will consume you and me. God will pay no regard to you, but if God so wills, the fire will not dare so much as to burn one hair of my body. For fire is a thing created by God and the creature is subject to the Creator’s command. Come now, you who have worshipped fire for seventy years; let us both put our hands into the fire, then you will see with your own eyes the impotence of fire and the omnipotence of God.”

So saying, Hasan thrust his hand into the fire and held it there. Not a particle of his body was affected or burnt. When Simeon saw this he was amazed. The dawn of true knowledge began to break. “For seventy years I have worshipped fire,” he groaned. “Now only a breath or two remains to me. What am I to do?” “Become a Muslim,” was Hasan’s reply.

“If you give it me in writing that God will not punish me,” said Simeon, “then I will believe. But until I have it in writing, I will not believe.” Hasan wrote it down. “Now order just witnesses of Basra to append their testimony.” The witnesses endorsed the document. Then Simeon wept many tears and proclaimed the faith. He spoke his last testament to Hasan. “When I die, bid them wash me, then commit me to the earth with your own hands, and place this document in my hand. This document will be my proof.”

Having charged Hasan thus, he spoke the attestation of faith and died. They washed his body, said the prayer over him, and buried him with the document in his hand. That night Hasan went to sleep pondering what he had done. “How could I help a drowning man, seeing that I am drowning myself? Since I have no control over my own fate, why did I venture to prescribe how God should act?”

With this thought he fell asleep. He saw Simeon in a dream glowing like a candle, on his head a crown, robed in fine raiment, he was walking with a smile in the garden of Paradise. “How are you, Simeon?” Hasan enquired. “Why do you ask? You can see for yourself,” Simeon answered. “God Almighty of His bounty brought me nigh His presence and graciously showed me His face.The favours He showered upon me surpass all descrip-tion. You have honoured your guarantee, so take your document. I have no further need of it.”

When Hasan awoke, he saw that parchment in his hand.“Lord God,” he cried, “I know well that what Thou doest is without cause, save of Thy bounty. Who shall suffer loss at Thy door? Thou grantest a fire-worshipper of seventy years to come into Thy near presence because of a single utterance. How then wilt Thou exclude a believer of seventy years?”

Death of Hasan Basri

The immaculate sincerity, outstanding piety and moral and spiritual excellence of Hasan Basri had earned the affection of everyone in Basra. When he passed away in 110 (AH), on 5th Rajjab on a Friday at the age of 89, the entire population of Basra attended his funeral which took place on Friday, so that for the first time in the history of Basra the Juma Masjid of the city remained empty at the hour of the Asr prayer.

Quotes & Sayings

1. The friends of God (awliya) are those who renounce this world and attain true knowledge of God.
2. The wise man is he who considers this world as nothing and with this consideration he seeks the next world and does not regard the next world anything seeking His proximity.
3. One who knows God considers Him to be his friend and he who recognizes this world considers Him to be his enemy.
4. Patience is of two sort; firstly, patience in misfortune and affliction, and secondly patience to refrain from the things which God has commanded us to renounce and has forbidden us to pursue.
5. A grain of genuine piety is better than a thousand fold weight of fasting and prayer.
6. Meditation on God is the most essential quality of the lover of God since he recognises his Pure Self and becomes conscious of his moral attainments during his concentration on the Attributes of God. Meditation is the mirror which reveals you your virtues and vices.
7. How excellent is he who takes no thought of his own interest so that his patience is for God's sake not for the saving of himself from Hell; and his asceticism is for God's sake, not for the purpose of bringing himself into Paradise. This is the mark of true sincerity.
8. He who has attained contentment requires nothing; he who has sought retirement from the world found peace; he who has trodden his passion and lust under foot got freedom; he who has rid himself of jealousy attained friendship and he who has lived with patience for a little while, gained an eternal abode.
9. Humility is constant fear accompanying the heart.
10. Renunciation of the world is that you loathe its devotees and all its contains.
11. Seek sweetness in three things; prayer; making remembrance of God, and reciting the Holy Quran.
12. You must beautify your character i.e., cultivate moral character.
13. Learning religion, moderation in the world, and knowledge of what constitutes your duty toward God Most High.
14. A sheep is more aware than a human being, for it responds to the warning of the shepherd, but ignorant is man who disobeys the commands of the Lord and follows the behests of the devil (his lower mind).
15. Evil company degenerates the seeker.
16. Accumulating wealth is worse than drinking wine which is prohibited by the scriptures.
17. He who takes to solitude finds safety in it. And he who disowns allegiance to his carnal soul is set free.
18. He is wise who digs out the foundation of the world and builds instead the castle of other worldliness (eternity) on it.
19. Whosoever recognizes God, considers the world as his enemy and he who loves the world turns enemy of God.
20. He who gives up his spiritual practices to play the philanthropy in the world, trying to mould its evil ways, is ruined.
21. Whosoever loves silver and gold is humiliated by the Lord and he who considers himself the leader of the community is misled and belittled.
22. The Lord in the Quran says, "I shall forgive thee all thy transgressions if ye shall cast thy glances on none besides Me."
23. Sell this present world of yours for the next world and you will gain both in entirety, but do not sell the next world for this world, for so shall you lose the two together. Act towards this world as if it were not, and towards the world to come as if it would never cease to be. He is a wise man who regards this world as nothing, and so regarding it, seeks the other world, instead of setting at nought the other world and seeking this. Whoso knows God regards Him as a friend and whoso knows this world regards Him as an enemy.
24. He who is content, needing nothing, and who has sought solitude, apart from mankind, will find peace: he who has trodden his carnal desires underfoot, will find freedom : he who has rid himself of envy will find friendship, and he who has patience for a little while will find himself prepared for Eternity.
25. God has said: " When My servant becomes altogether occupied with Me, then I make his happiness consist in the remembrance of Myself, and when I have made his happiness and his delight consist in that remembrance, he desires Me and I desire him, and when he desires Me and I desire him, I raise the veils between Me and him and I become manifest before his eyes. These do not forget Me, when others forget."

[1] [2] [3]


  1. The Book of Sufi Chivalry (Kitab al-Futuwwah) by Muhammad ibn al-Husayn al-Sulami
  2. Readings from the Mystics of Islam - Margaret Smith
  3. Tadhkirat al-Auliya’ translated by A.J. Arberry
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