This section is about how Al-Nawawi stood up in defense of the people against the sultan. It is quite lengthy and includes the actual text of the letters sent to the Sultan. If I were to discuss the stories, I might as well type up the whole chapter. So inshaAllah a few snippets and the gist of the letters will have to do.
Al-Nawawi understood very well the evil of disobeying Allah. He would not accept or remain silent in the presence of any evil, no matter who or what the source. He stood up for the sake of Allah and he feared the punishment of no one but Allah. He once stated that he considered dying for the sake of Allah an act of worship.
Hence, he would stand up to the king, the other scholars, the powers that be and anyone else for the sake of Allah.
At the same time, he understood very well the words of the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam:
“The religion is sincere advice.”
He took it upon himself to advise those who were doing wrong. He used soft speech and convincing arguements from the Qur’an and Sunnah wherever appropriate. If this had no affect, then he would take a harsher approach to try to correct the wrong that appeared around him.
The leader of the Muslims during much of Al-Nawawi’s lifetime was Sultan al-Dhaahir. He was the one who fought the Mongols and handed them a great defeat. However, his status and popularity did not prevent Al-Nawawi from standing up to him when he was wrong. He would approach him personally in the Hall of Justice (Daar al-‘Adl) or write to him if necessary.
He wrote many letters to the Sultan in defense of the people. First, he wrote to him in regards to the unfair taxes on the people and later on because of the harsh treatment in regards to their properties.
Al-Nawawi also stood up for his peers – other scholars – against the government. The government said that they could only teach one school at a time, and this was making it difficult for them to make ends meet. [Note that Al-Nawawi never took pay for teaching, so there wasn’t anything in it for him.]
Here is one of the shorter stories:
Sultan al-Dhaahir Baibars understood the dangers of the Mongols close by. Hence, he decided to do what he could to defeat them and drive them further out of the lands of the Muslims. He asked for a fatwa from the scholars that would allow him to take money from the citizenry in order to use it in his battles against the Mongols. The scholars issued such a fatwa for him. He asked if any scholar refused to write such a letter and he was told that only Al-Nawawi refused. The sultan had Al-Nawawi bought to him and he asked him personally to sign with the other scholars. However, Al-Nawawi refused. When the sultan asked him why, he replied:
“I know that you used to be a slave of the Ameer Banduqaar and you did not have any weath. Then Allah bestowed his bounty upon you and you became the ruler. I have heard that you have one thousand male slaves and each of them as a girth [by which the horse’s saddle is tied] of gold. And you have two hundred slave girls and each of them has a portion of gold jewelry. If you spend all of that and you leave your slaves with straps and dyes instead of gold girths, and you leave the slave girls with their clothing and no jewelry, then I will give you a fatwa that you can take wealth from the citzenry.”
The sultan got upset with him and had him banished from Damascus. Al-Nawawi then left to Nawa. Perhaps there was more than one event that led to the Sultan’s actual decision to banish him, Allah knows best.
Another lesson that one of the scholars noted on this story: Notice how the although the Sultan’s cause was a noble one, Al-Nawawi refused as he saw the means as improper.
Pious intentions do not make illegal means permissible.
Shortly before his death, Al-Nawawi returned to his hometown of Nawa. There are two different stories as to why he returned. Basically, they are about the Sultan expelling him from Damascus because he would not accept any sort of wrong. AnNawawi went to visit his teachers and colleagues in Damascus, both alive and dead, at their cemetaries, to bid them farewell. He then went to Jerusalem, and then back home to Nawa. Allah knows best.
After a short period of time in Nawa, he fell ill and passed away. He died in 676 A.H (1277 CE). He died at the age of 44. However, his accomplishments during his short life span were equal or greater than many who lived even twice as long as he did. May Allah reward him greatly for all of his efforts and striving for the sake of Allah. May Allah have mercy on him. Ameen.
When the news of his death reached the people of Damascus, their eyes flowed with tears at the loss of one of the greatest scholars and leaders. Indeed, he was greatly beloved by almost everyone’s life he touched.
Al-Nawawi wished that his grave be according to the Sunnah. The people – and we should say ignorant people – however, refused that. They wanted to make his grave a prominent place for visiting. However, every time they tried to build something, it was destroyed. So, finally, they left it slightly marked and according to the Sunnah.