ʿAbd Al-Rahmān b. Mahdī

Be with the Carriers of Books

It is reported that Imām ‘Abd Al-Raḥmān b. Mahdī – Allāh have mercy on him – said, following a mention of the Ṣȗfīah (Sufis):

Do not sit with them, nor with the followers of Kalām.(1) Be with the carriers of books,(2) for they are like mines, like those who descend: one brings up a gem and another a nugget of gold.

Ibn Battah, Al-Ibānah Al-Kubrā article 483.

(1) Speculative theology, drawn from foreign philosophy and logic, as practiced by sects such as the Jahmia and Mutazila.

(2) Arabic al-qamātir: covers or folders used to keep written material. ‘Carriers of books’ refers to the scholars and students who occupied themselves with Islamic knowledge and hadīth.

An Insult with a Gift [Backbiting]

It is reported that ‘Abd Al-Rahmān b. Mahdī – Allāh have mercy on him – said, “If it were not for the fact I hate that Allah is disobeyed, I would have wished that no one remain in this city except that he had spoken ill of me and backbitten me; for what is nicer than a good deed a man finds in his records on the Day of Resurrection without having done a thing or even having known?”

Abū Nu’aym, Hilyatu Al-Awliyā` 4:45.

Notes

This is a reference to a person who has been backbitten receiving good deeds on the Day of Judgment from the person who backbit him and didn’t repent and make amends, as mentioned in some narrations from the Prophet – Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him. The narration reminds us of the dire consequences of backbiting others: your good deeds may go to them if you don’t repent and make up for what you have done. It also provides assurance for those who have been backbitten: if left wronged in this life, they will be given good deeds in the hereafter as compensation and justice will be done.

Wasted Devotion

It is reported that a group of heretics (People of Bid’ah) and their devout worship was mentioned to ʿAbd Al-Raḥmān b. Mahdī. He said, “Allāh only accepts what conforms to what has been commanded and what is in the Sunnah.” Then he recited, And a monasticism which they (Christians) innovated, We did not ordain it upon them [Al-Ḥadīd: 27]. He went on to say, “So Allāh did not accept this from them and reprimanded them for it.” He then said, “Stick to the way and the Sunnah.”

Abū Nu’aym, Ḥilyah Al-Awliyā` Vol.4 p44.

Intentions First

The Prophet Muhammad – Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him – said:

Actions are but by intentions, and everyone will have what he intended. So whoever migrated to Allah and His Messenger, he migrated to Allah and His Messenger. But whoever migrated for some worldly benefit, or to take a woman in marriage, then his migration was only to what he migrated to.

Al-Bukhāri, Muslim and others.

Traditionally, Muslim scholars chose to begin their works by quoting this hadīth, or report, from the Messenger of Allah, Muhammad – Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him. Here is a brief commentary taken from Ibn Rajab’s Jāmi’ Al-‘Ulūm wa Al-Hikam, in which he explains the entire Forty Hadīth collection of Al-Nawawi:

Imām Al-Bukhārī (as Al-Nawawi later did in his Forty Hadīth) begins his Sahīh collection with this hadīth, reminding us that any deed through which Allah’s pleasure is not sought is futile; it will bear no fruits in this life or the hereafter.

ʿAbd Al-Rahmān b. Mahdī, the great scholar of hadīth, said, “If I were to compile a work in chapters, I would place this hadīth at the beginning of each one.” He also said, “Whoever wishes to author a book, he should begin with the hadīth about intentions.”

This hadīth forms a fundamental principle of Islām and an axis around which this way of life revolves.

It is reported that Imām Al-Shāfi’ī said, “This hadīth constitutes a third of all knowledge, and it relates to seventy areas of fiqh (correct understanding of the religion).”

It is reported from Imām Ahmad that he said, “The foundations of Islām are upon three hadīth: the one reported by ʿUmar – ‘Actions are but by intentions’, the one reported by ‘Āishah – ‘Whoever does a deed that does not conform to our commands will have it rejected’ and the one reported by Al-Nu’mān b. Bashīr – ‘The halāl and harām are clear…’”

This hadīth teaches us the principle that acceptance of our deeds and whether or not they are regarded as righteous depends primarily on what the intention behind them is. If the intention is good and pure – to receive Allah’s pleasure and reward, the deed is righteous. Otherwise the deed is futile and false. This is the first thing that needs to be dealt with.

The second condition which needs to be met for our deeds to be accepted by Allah is that they should be in conformity with Islām’s true teachings as taught to us by the Prophet – peace and blessing be upon him – and as understood and applied by the Righteous Predecessors. Hence, the Prophet stated:

Whoever does a deed that does not conform to our commands will have it rejected.

Al-Bukhārī and Muslim.