We can learn a lot by looking at the lives of the pious predecessors. They should be our role models and the ones we strive to immitate. I personally love to read about the companions, scholars and prophets. Their stories are so uplifting and really make me feel shameful for how much time I waste and the life I live. Their examples are such an inspiration for Muslims everywhere.
Their examples demonstrate that in every age, there were pious Muslims who followed the way of the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam without compromise and without giving into the desires of this world.
A lot of the time, I think we tend to see scholars and companions as in a far off world, as if they lived in a Eutopic world in which they didn’t have to face the real life problems that we face. On the contrary, I believe that their problems were far worse than ours.
The author says that he kept the chapter on the Imam’s life brief, but it’s 40+ pages long, mashaAllah! And worth reading every letter Alhamdulillah 🙂 I split the chapter on the Imam’s life into three parts: his life, his aqeedah and works, and lastly his bravery (which I believe are mostly stories of him standing up for justice to the rulers). A lot of it is just taken straight from the book, because his life was so amazing, I just didn’t want to leave anything out 🙂
An-Nawawi: The Life
Background and Childhood
An-Nawawi lived during very turbulent times for the Muslims. In the 7th Century after Hijra (or 11th century A.C), the Mongols were invading the Muslims from the East and the Crusaders from the West. Despite these difficult times, the scholars of Islam kept the light of Islamic knowledge strong. Noor al-Deen Zanki (d. 569) revived Islamic studies in Ash-Shaam (“Greater Syra”). He opened many schools, including the first Dar al-Hadith in Damascus, Aleppo.
His name was Muhi al-Deen Abu Zakariya Yahya ibn Sharaf al-Hizaami al-Nawawi.
Muhi al-Deen means “the one who gives life to the religion.” He disliked this nickname, although many would say that the name became him. He did not like to be called it out of modesty. “Abu Zakariya” was also just a kunya, as he never had any children.
An Nawawi’s family was not very well known. There is very little mention, if any, of his grandfather, father or any relatives. This implies that they were a modest family. They were not known for producing great scholars. His father did have a reputation for being God fearing and pious. His father would avoid, and taught his family to avoid, eating anything that may be forbidden in any way whatsoever.
From his youth, Yahya al-Nawawi was not attracted to sports or playing. Indeed, the other children chided him for this. From an early age, he turned his attention to studies. He hated any activity that would take him away from the memorization of the Qur’an. SubhaanAllah!
On one occasion, the children forced him to play with them and he cried because he was wasting time.
At the age of 18, his father took him to Damascus to continue his studies. He excelled in the Shafi’ee school of fiqh, memorizing some of its more important texts. He performed pilgrimage to Makkah, visited Madinah and other locations, but returned to Damascus to continue his studies. He remained in Damascus, until just prior to his death, when he returned to his hometown in Nawa.
In Pursuit of Knowledge
An-Nawawi first studied at the Saaramiya school in Damascus. This is where his father left him. He had no housing there whatsoever. After some time, he approached the Shaykh of the school and asked f he had any housing, as many of the schools did house their students. They had no housing so the Shaykh suggested that he go to the Rawaahiyah school. There, he was given a very small room in which he lived for a number of years. In fact, he remained in that small room until he was named the head of the Ashrafiya school, a number of years later. It was stated that, when one visited him, the room was so small and the books were so many, t hat the only wy to sit was to remove the books and pile them on top of each other to make some room to sit.
His life was consumed by learning. At one point, he attended 12 lectures a day! At the age of 24, he began teaching at the Ashrafiyh school. His reputation and excellence as a scholar began to be recognized by all the scholars and inhabitants of Damascus.
It is even stated that when he would not sleep until sleep would overtake him. He would rest on his book and sleep for a little, then he would act startled upon wakening and continue studying.
An-Nawawi once said, “I spent two years without lying on the ground [to sleep] on my side.” That is, he would always study and write until sleep overtook him while in a sitting position. Al-Qutb al-Yauneen said about him, “He would not waste any moment of the day or night but he would spend it busy with attaining knowledge. Even when he is walking n the streets, he will be busy going over what he had remembered and reviewing his notes. He continued gaining knowledge in that way for a period of six years.”
It seems – and only Allah knows the reality – that Allah truly blessed his time. Perhaps this was due to a sincere intention to please Allah. Because between the 12 lectures he attended and the time it took to review and memorize all of what he studied, there wasn’t time left in the day – and that isn’t even considering things such as eating, obligatory acts of worship, etc.!
A Humble Life
He led a very simple, austere life. Some narrations state that all the clothing he possessed was a turban and a long gown! (Compare that to how many dozens of clothes we own…)
At one point in time, he would not eat anything except some cake and olives that his father would send him from time to time from Nawa. One of the reasons for this was that he was certain that such food came from permissible sources. He would refuse even permissible things out of fear that they may lead him to doubtful matters.
An-Nawawi chose to lead a simple and pure life, although it would have been possible for him to live otherwise. Once, Chief Justice Sulaimaan al-Zara’i visited him on the day of Eid. Al-Nawawi was eating some kind of broth with no meat. He asked Sulaimaan to eat with him and he said that it was not appealing to him. Sulaimaan’s brother went and brought some roasted meat and sweets. Sulaimaan told Al-Nawawi to eat from it, but he refused. Sulamaan said to him, “O my brother, is this forbidden?” An-Nawawi said, “No, but it is the food of the tyrants [and the extravagant].” Compare that to us – we have meat at least twice a day on normal days. This was the day of Eid! They used to consider having meat a luxury.
An-Nawawi was well known for his modesty. Part of his modesty included never being served by any of his students, although, he served his students even in his old age.
He did not accept any money for his teaching. It seems that he may have accepted money for the first year or two, but that money was used on books that were left as endowments after he passed away.
One material possession that An-Nawawi did own….was books 😉 As mentioned early, his tiny living quarters were basically a small warehouse of books. When Taaj al-Deen al-Subki (683-756) was asked to complete one of An-Nawawi’s works, he excused himself, saying that he did not have the number of references available to him as An-Nawawi did. It is to be noted that An-Nawawi didn’t just want a library. He benefited greatly from these books and many people have benefited greatly from An-Nawawi’s lectures and writings.
An-Nawawi Never Married
An-Nawawi is one of the famous scholars throughout history who never married. Other scholars who never married include Ibn Taymiyyah and Sayyid Qutb.
Some scholars think that An-Nawawi never married because he had so much love for learning and knowledge that he didn’t have desire for worldly things. Others say that perhaps he fears that he would not be able to give a wife her due rights.
Compare that to the youth of today! Because we cannot control our physical desires, we think that marriage is the overnight fixer – often not taking into account the responsibilities of marriage.
An-Nawawi was once told that marriage is a great Sunnah and it is perhaps the only sunnah that he did not fulfill. He reply was, “I fear that I may follow one sunnah and thereby get involved in many forbidden acts.”