How we should understand the Salaf's striving hard in worship
Fatwa No: 133994

  • Fatwa Date:4-4-2010 - Rabee' Al-Aakhir 20, 1431
  • Rating:

Question

Assalaamalaikum sheikh, I came to know from many sources including your own website that great scholar like Imam Abu Hanifa prayed the fajr prayer with the wudu of isha prayer for 40 continuous years and Imam Ahmed prayed 300 voluntary prayers daily and recited the whole Quran daily and similar such feets by other great personalities of Islam. If this is true then my question is: Islam is a religion of moderation which denouces going to exteremes in performing acts of worship.This is proven by the texts from Quran and Sunnah and also normal human mind accepts only the middle path in worship. What intrigues me is how such great jurists of Islam missed this point and perfomed acts of worship that clearly reflects extremism in devotion. I need your clarification on this issue. Wassalam.

Answer

All perfect praise be to Allaah, The Lord of the Worlds. I testify that there is none worthy of worship except Allaah, and that Muhammad  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ) is His slave and Messenger.

 

There is no doubt that moderateness in worship is the well-proved Sunnah of the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ) in words and actions. Indeed, the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ) passed over a man who was praying on a stone and he (Prophet) went towards Makkah and stayed for a while and when he came back, he found that that man was still praying as he left him, then the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ) stood and held his hands together and then he said: "O, people, you should observe moderation (and he repeated this thrice). For Allaah does not get tired (of giving reward) but you get tired (of performing good deeds) until you get bored.” [Ibn Maajah, Ibn Hibbaan and Abu Ya’la]

What you mentioned about some righteous predecessors that they were performing the Fajr prayer for a given number of years with the ablution (Wudu) of ‘Isha, and that they used to stand in prayer for the whole night and that they fast on a continuous basis and so forth, then many of these narrations are Dha’eef [weak]. Shaykh-ul-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah  may  Allaah  have  mercy  upon  him said: “…And also, what is mentioned about those who used to always stand the whole night in prayer or that they used to pray the Fajr prayer with the ablution of ‘Isha for a number of years while much of what is reported about this is Dha’eef [weak]. ‘Abdullaah Ibn Mas’ood said to his friends: “You fast more and pray more than the companions of Muhammad [ sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention )] while they were better than yourselves. They asked: “Why are you saying so, O, Abu ‘Abdur-Rahmaan? He replied: “Because they were more ascetic than you in this worldly life and they were more desirous for the Hereafter.

Even the narrations that were confirmed about them, they are construed as an indication that they (those righteous predecessors) used to do this sometimes when they are active but they were not used to do it on a regular basis. Ash-Shaatibi  may  Allaah  have  mercy  upon  him stated this in “Al-I’tisaam” saying: “…As regards the evidence that is reported about them praying Fajr prayer with the ablution of ‘Isha and standing in prayer for the whole night, and fasting for the whole year, and so forth, then this may be conditioned on them not doing this on a regular basis. Rather, they used to do this to take the opportunity whenever they were active, and when another time comes again when they feel active they would do so again if it would not lead to neglecting what comes in priority over it. And thus it might be that this activity lasted for him for a long time and at each time he might not do so but the idea is that they used to seize the opportunity to do it at any time…

Ash-Shaatibi further explained the matter saying that a Mukallaf (a man/woman who is competent for religious assignments) feeling tired or not when performing an act of worship on a continuous basis, is not a constant matter; rather, it is an relative matter that differs according to the difference of people in the strength of their body and the strength of their determination or in the strength of their belief and so forth. Therefore, we should understand the actions which the former predecessors used to do on a regular basis, that it was not difficult for them to do so, even if what is lesser than it is difficult for us.” [End quote]

On the other hand, striving hard in acts of worship, like praying sometimes all night long, or fasting sometimes on a regular basis and so forth is a permissible act and it is not an act of extravagance. Shaykh-ul-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah  may  Allaah  have  mercy  upon  him said: “With regard to fasting continuously for some days of the year, then the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ) used to do so as he used to fast until people would say that he never breaks the fast, and he used to break the fast [he does not fast] until people would say that he never fasts. The same thing can be said about standing the whole night in prayer in some nights, like the last ten days of Ramadan, or standing all the night praying at some other days, then this is confirmed in the Sunnah.

In any case, we should seek excuses for the Salaf (righteous predecessors) who strived their utmost in what we think that they acted differently from the Sunnah. Indeed, the worship of someone whose heart is burnt from the fear of the Hellfire is not like the one who is lazy and sluggish like us.

We ask Allaah to rectify our affairs and guide us to the straight path.

Allaah Knows best.

Related Fatwa