Ten Lessons Ibn al-Mubarak Taught Us
‘Abdullah bin al-Mubarak was a scholar known for simultaneously combining numerous traits of virtue. In fact, his friends would sit and count all of the good things that were part of his character and personality. adh-Dhahabi related that they said: “Let’s sit and count the good traits that Ibn al-Mubarak has.” So, they ended up listing: “Knowledge, Fiqh, literature, grammar, language, zuhd, eloquence, poetry, praying at night, worship, Hajj, Jihad, bravery, instinct, strength, speaking little in what doesn’t concern him, fairness, and lack of conflict with his companions.”
Reading through his life story, one sees exactly this and cannot help but to derive brief yet heavy lessons from how this man lived:
1- No matter how bad you think you are, you can always become better.
In ‘Tartib al-Madarik’ (1/159), al-Qadi ‘Iyad mentioned that Ibn al-Mubarak was asked about the circumstances in which he began studying. He replied: “I was a youth who drank wine and loved music and singing while engaging in these filthy acts. So, I gathered some friends to one of my gardens where there were sweet apples, and we ate and drank until we passed out while drunk. At the end of the night, I woke up and picked up the stringed oud and began singing:
2 – You should associate with honorable people.
In ‘Sifat as-Safwah’ (2/323), Ibn al-Jawzi mentioned: “Ibn al-Mubarak’s home in Marw was vast. It measured fifty square yards. There was no person known for knowledge, worship, manhood, or high status in Marw except that you saw him in this house.”
3 – You should be a helpful guest.
In ‘Sifat as-Safwah’ (2/324), it is narrated that when an-Nadr bin Muhammad’s son got married, he invited Ibn al-Mubarak, “and when he arrived, Ibn al-Mubarak got up to serve the guests. an-Nadr did not leave him and swore that he would tell him to leave until he finally sat down.”
4 – You should give money to the poor.
In ‘Sifat as-Safwah’ (2/327), Ibn al-Jawzi mentions that Ibn al-Mubarak “would spend a hundred thousand dirhams a year on the poor.”
5 – You should always return borrowed items to their owners.
In ‘Sifat as-Safwah’ (2/329), al-Hasan bin ‘Arafah said that ‘Abdullah bin al-Mubarak told him: “I borrowed a pen from someone in Sham, and I intended to return it to its owner. When I arrived in Marw (in Turkmenistan!), I saw that I still had it with me. Abu ‘Ali (al-Hasan’s nickname), I went all the way back to Sham to return the pen to its owner!”
6 – You should be brave, and hide your good deeds:
In ‘Sifat as-Safwah’ (2/329), ‘Abdah bin Sulayman said: “We were on an expedition in the lands of the Romans with ‘Abdullah bin al-Mubarak. We met the enemy, and when the two armies met, a man came out from their side calling for a duel. One of our men went out to him and dueled with him for an hour, injuring him and killing him. Another came out, and he killed him. He called for another duel, and another man came out. They dueled for an hour, and he injured and killed him as well. The people gathered around this man, and I was with them, and saw that he was covering his face with his sleeve. I took the edge of his sleeve and pulled it away to find that it was ‘Abdullah bin al-Mubarak,” and in the version reported by adh-Dhahabi, he made him swear not to reveal his identity until the day he died.
7 – You should have a tender heart.
In ‘Sifat as-Safwah’ (2/330), al-Qasim bin Muhammad said: “We were on a journey with Ibn al-Mubarak, and I was always asking myself: what is so special about this man that he is so famous? If he prays, so do we. If he fasts, so do we. If he fights, so do we. If he makes Hajj, so do we.
One night, we spent the night in a house travelling on the way to Sham. The lamp went out, and some of us woke up. So, he took the lamp outside to light it, and stayed outside for a while. When he came back in with the lamp, I caught a glimpse of Ibn al-Mubarak’s face, and saw that his beard was wet with his tears. I said to myself: “This fear of Allah is what has made this man better than us. When the lamp went out and we were in darkness, he remembered the Day of Resurrection.””
8 – You should be generous to your friends.
In ‘Sifat as-Safwah’ (2/329), Isma’il bin ‘Ayyash said: “I don’t know of a single good trait except that Allah has placed it in ‘Abdullah bin al-Mubarak. My friends told me that they were travelling with him from Egypt to Makkah, and he was serving them khabis (a sweet flour dish) while he was fasting the entire trip.”
9 – You should not give in to Satan’s whispers.
In ‘Tartib al-Madarik’ (1/159), it is related that Ibn al-Mubarak was making ablution, and Satan came to him and said: “You did not wipe over this part of your body.” Ibn al-Mubarak said: “I did.” Satan said: “No, you didn’t.” So, Ibn al-Mubarak said: “You are the one making the claim, and you must therefore bring proof to back the claim up.”
10 – You should sincerely pray for people to accept Islam.
In ‘Tartib al-Madarik’ (1/162), it is related that al-Hasan bin ‘Isa bin Sirjis would walk by Ibn al-Mubarak, and he was a Christian. Ibn al-Mubarak asked who he was, and was told: “He is a Christian.” So, Ibn al-Mubarak said: “O Allah, grant him Islam.” So, Allah answered his supplication and al-Hasan became an excellent Muslim, and he travelled to seek knowledge and became one of the scholars of the Ummah.”