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Aphorisms of the Salaf (Predecessors) on Ethics

Compiled by Shaykh Ahmad Farîd

Selected from "From the Characteristics of the Salaf" with transliteration-related modifications © 1996 Jami’at Ihyaa’ Minhaaj Al-Sunnah


Ibrâhîm at-Taymi (rahimahullâh) would say, The sincerely devoted one is he who conceals his good deeds like he conceals his bad ones.

Once ‘Umar ibn ‘Abdul ‘Azîz (rahimahullâh) was advised, O ‘Umar, beware of being the ally of Allâh in open, while being His enemy in secret. If one’s nature in open and secret do not equate then he is a hypocrite, and the hypocrites occupy the lowest level in Hellfire.

It was asked by one of them, Beware of hypocritical fear! On being asked, What is hypocritical fear? he replied, When your body is seen fearing whereas you heart is not fearing.

One of them said, Accompanying the righteous people gives rise to righteousness in the heart.

Ahmad ibn Harb (rahimahullâh) said, There is nothing more beneficial to a Muslim’s heart than to mix with the righteous and to watch their actions, while nothing is more harmful to the heart than mixing with the sinners and watching their actions.

One of the Salaf said, If it can be that no one beats you to Allâh, then do so.”

Abű Turâb an-Nakhshabî (rahimahullâh) would say, If a person resolved to leave sinning, Allâh would send him reinforcements from all sides. What indicates the blackness of the heart are three: Not to find an escape from sinning, nor a place for obedience to occur, nor a haven for the sermon that warns.

One of them said, If the only quality of obedience was light appearing on the face and its radiance, love in the heart, strength in the limbs, security of the soul (nafs),… all these would have been enough for leaving sins. And if sins only produce ugliness in the face, darkness in the heart and fear over the soul, then all this would have been enough for leaving sins. For both the obedient and disobedient Allâh has left indications and signs to please one and make the other sorrowful.

Qatâdah was asked, Which person has the highest standing? He replied, The most abundant in his pardon.

One of the Salaf said, I disobey Allâh to find its effect in the way my animal behaves and my wife.

‘Alî ibn Abî Tâlib (radiyAllâhu ‘anhu) said, What contents a person is five things. For his wife to be agreeable, his children to be loyal, his brothers to be pious, his neighbours righteous, and his provisions in his Lord.

Ahmad ibn Harb (rahimahullâh) would say, If six mannerisms are gathered in a woman, her goodness is perfected: Guarding the five prayers, yielding to her husband, pleasing her Lord, guarding her tongue from backbiting and gossip, forsaking worldly possessions, and being patient following a tragedy.

Sufyân ath-Thawrî (rahimahullâh) said, Do not seek leadership except after fighting the soul (i.e., fighting your desires and self) for seventy years.

Bakr ibn Abdullâh al-Muzanî (rahimahullâh) said, If you see someone older than you then respect him saying, He has beaten me to Islâm and righteous action. If you see someone younger than you then respect him saying to yourself, I have beaten him in sins. If the people honour you then say, That is from the grace of Allâh, but I do not deserve it. If they degrade you then say , This happened as a consequence of a previous sin. If you throw a pebble at your neighbor's dog, then you have harmed him.

Mutarrif ibn Abdullâh (rahimahullâh) would say, I am not surprised at the one who is destroyed, how he was destroyed, but am amazed at the one who was saved, how he was saved, and Allâh never granted a blessing greater than the gift of Islâm.

Yahyâ ibn Mu‘âdh (rahimahullâh) gathered the characteristics of the believers in one of his essays as follows, It is to be full of modesty, and to be harmless too. To be full of goodness and not to be corrupt. For the tongue to be truthful, for the words to be little and to be plentiful in good action. To have little slip-ups and not to be excessive. To be good to ones relatives, building closeness between them. To be dignified and grateful. To be full of contentment if Allâh restricted some provision. To be forbearing and friendly to his brothers. To be compassionate and chaste. Not to curse, swear, insult, backbite, nor to gossip. Not to be hasty, envious, hateful, arrogant nor vain. Not to lean towards worldliness, nor to extend long hopes and wishes. Not to sleep too much nor to be absent-mined, nor to show-off nor be hypocritical. Not to be selfish, but to be soft and cheerful, nor servile. Loving for only the sake of Allâh, being pleased for His sake and being angry for His sake. His provision is taqwâ (reverential fear of Allâh). His worries are what will happen to him in the Afterlife. His friends remind him. His beloved is His Protector and Master. His struggle is for Afterlife.

Fudayl ibn ‘Iyâd (rahimahullâh) said, A believer plants a palm tree and fears that thorns will grow. The hypocrites plant thorns expecting ripe dates to grow!

Mâlik ibn Dînâr (rahimahullâh) said, Whoever proposed to the world, then the world would not be satisfied until he gave up his Deen as dowry.

Fudayl ibn ‘Iyâd (rahimahullâh) said, If you remember the creation (gossip about such and such a person), then remember Allâh the Most High. Remembering Him is the medicine for remembering His creation.

Yahyâ ibn Mu‘âdh (rahimahullâh) said, Renew your hearts with the remembrance of Allâh because it rushes into forgetfulness.

Kab al-Ahbâr (rahimahullâh) said, I prefer to weep out of the fear of Allâh [even] with only one tear drop falling from my eyes than the spend a mountain of gold with an ungracious heart.

‘Alî (radiyAllâhu ‘anhu) would say, The signs of the righteous are a pale complexion, bleary eyes, lips shriveling from their hunger, weeping, and wakefulness in prayer at night.

Mâlik ibn Dînâr (rahimahullâh) said, Beware of the sorcerer who enchant the hearts of the scholars distracting them from Allâh the Most High, i.e., the world. Its nature is uglier than the magic Hârűt and Mârűt came with, since their magic separated a man from his wife, whereas the world separates a slave from his Master.

‘Abdullâh ibn Mubârak (rahimahullâh) would say, The world is the believer’s prison. The best action in the prison is patience and control of one’s anger. The believer has no country in the world, His land will be there tomorrow in the Afterlife.  

[The aim (and Allâh knows best) is that the believer does not aspire for the world as evidenced in the statement of the Most High: That Home of the Hereafter We shall give to those who intend not high-handedness or mischief on earth: and the end is (best) for the righteous. {Sűrah Qasas: (28):83} But Allâh will elevate him in this world and the Hereafter and give him honour in this world as for the Hereafter.]

One of the Salaf used to say, If you want to be close to Allâh then put an iron wall between yourself and your desires.

Abű Muslim al-Khawlânî (rahimahullâh) said, Many people live amongst the people just with their knowledge, destroying their souls, i.e., with vanity and egoism.

Abű Hâzim (rahimahullâh) said, The scholars of our time have been content with speech and with no practise! The Salaf used to practice but not speak. After them the people practised and spoke being followed by a people who spoke but did not practice. There will come a time when people will not speak nor practise.

Sufyân ath-Thawrî (rahimahullâh) said, Whoever’s knowledge makes him weep, then he is a scholar (‘âlim). Allâh the Most High said, Verily those who were given knowledge before it, when it is recited to them they fall down on their faces in humble prostration. [Sűrah Banî Isrâ’îl (17):107] He also said, When the verses (âyât) of Ar-Rahmân (The Most Merciful) is recited to them they fall in prostration weeping. [Sűratul-Maryam (19):58]

One of the Salaf said, If one of you do not wish to fulfil his brother’s needs by sharing his worries or by making invocations (du‘â) then do not ask – How are things? – because it is considered hypocrisy.

Abű Bakr as-Siddîq (radiyAllâhu anhu) was asked, How are you this morning? He replied, This morning I enter as a lowly slave to a magnificent Lord. I enter the morning commanded by His command.

Imam ash-Shâfiî (rahimahullâh) was asked, How are you this morning? He replied, This morning I have entered eating my Lord’s provision but not fulfilling true gratitude towards Him.

Mâlik ibn Dînâr (rahimahullâh) was asked, How are you this morning? He replied, I enter the morning with my remaining age diminishing and my sins increasing.

Fudayl ibn Iyâd (rahimahullâh) said, If Iblîs conquers the son Âdam with one of the three [things] he says: I will not seek anything else from him - 1) being fond of himself, 2) deeming his deeds to be plentiful, and 3) forgetfulness of his sins.

Al-Hasan (rahimahullâh) said, If shaytân saw you consistently obeying Allâh he will seek you time and time again. If he sees your consistency he grows weary of you and rejects you. If you changed, however, each and every time, then he begins to have hope in you.

Sahl at-Tustarî (rahimahullâh) said, Gratitude to Allâh is not to disobey Him with His favours. The whole body is from the favours of Allâh and His giving, so do not disobey Him with any of it.

Mujâhid and Makhűl (rahimahumullâh) used to say about the statement of Allâh, Then you will be asked that Day about the enjoyment [Sűratut-Takâthur (102):8], Indeed this is the cool drink, the shelter of a home, the satisfaction of ones belly, the perfection of one's features, and joy of sleep.

‘Umar ibn ‘Abdul ‘Azîz (rahimahullâh) used to say, None can reach the station of taqwâ until he possesses neither action nor words that can be exposed to his embarrassment either in this world or the Hereafter. He was once asked, When does the worshipper reach the peak of taqwâ? He replied, If he put all his thoughts and desires in his heart on a plate and then wandered around in the market, he should not feel ashamed of anything there. He would frequently say, The sign of the muttaqî (pious person) is to bridle oneself from speaking just like one in ihrâm bridles himself from speaking. The muttaqî need to be a scholar of the Sharî‘ah, all of it, otherwise he leaves taqwâ without realising.

Abű Dardâ (radiyAllâhu anhu) said, From the completion of taqwâ is that the slave fears from his Lord even with regards to things the weight of an atom.

Abű Hurayrah (radiyAllâhu anhu) was asked about taqwâ. He said, It is a road full of thorns. One who walks it needs to have extreme patience.

Sufyân ath-Thawrî (rahimahullâh) said, We met a people who loved it when it was said to them, Fear Allâh the Most High. Today you find that people only become annoyed at this.

From the statements of the Amîrul-Mu’minîn ‘Alî (radhiAllâhu ‘anhu), The tallness of the slave ends at the age of twenty-two. His intelligence reaches its peak at twenty-eight. What is after that until the end of his life is just test and affliction.

Qatâdah (rahimahullâh) would say, Men are of three types: A man, half a man and no man. The man is the one from whose opinion and intelligence there is benefit. The half man is the one who questions the intelligent and practices according to their opinion. The no man is the one who has no intelligence nor opinion nor does he ask anyone else.

Sufyân ibn ‘Uyaynah (rahimahullâh) said, The most nimble of creatures still have need of a voice. The cleverest women still need to have a husband, and the cleverest man still needs to consult wise men.

Wahb ibn Munabbih (rahimahullâh) said, Whoever claims to be intelligent but his attention is not geared towards the Afterlife, then he is a liar.

One of the Salaf said, Wisdom is kindled by four things: sorrow after sins, readiness for death, emptiness of the stomach, and accompanying the forsakers of this world.

Ash-Shâfi‘î (rahimahullâh) said, Whoever spread gossip for you spreads gossip against you. Whoever relates tales to you will tell tales about you. Whoever when you please him says about you what is not in you, when you anger him will say about you what is not in you.

Fudayl ibn Iyâd (rahimahullâh) said, Whoevers admonition is much, his friends will be few.

Ibrâhîm an-Nakhâ‘î (rahimahullâh) said, Whoever reflects will find that the noblest and most dignified person of every gathering is the one who is most silent, because silence beautifies the scholar and conceals the faults of the ignorant.

Ma‘rűf al-Kirakhî (rahimahullâh) said, A person speaking about unnecessary things is [indication] from Allâh abandoning him.

Shignî ibn Mâtî’ al-Asbahî (rahimahullâh) said, Whoever’s speech increased, his mistakes [also] increased.

Sufyân ath-Thawrî (rahimahullâh) said, When your brother is out of your sight, mention him as you would like him to mention you when you are out of his sight.

One of the Salaf said, One of you might see his own faults but he still loves himself. He then hates his Muslim brother on suspicion. So where is the logic?

Ash-Sha‘bî (rahimahullâh) would say, Whoever sought the mistakes of his brothers is left with no friends.

Sufyân ath-Thawrî (rahimahullâh) used to be overjoyed if he saw a beggar at his door saying, Welcome to the one who has come to wash my sins.

Fudayl ibn Iyâd (rahimahullâh) said, Beggars are such good people! They carry our provision to the Afterlife without payment until they place it on the scale in front of Allâh the Most High.

Rabî ibn Khuthaym (rahimahullâh) said, No one should isolate himself in worship except after studying the religion deeply, because Imâm Mâlik used to say: Study deeply and then seclude yourself.

It was said, Secluding oneself from the general public is from the completeness of morals.

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