Hasan of Basra

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Imam Hasan of Basra
Theologian, Arabic
Born c. 642 CE / 21 AH
Died c. 728 CE / Friday 5th of Rajab 110 AH
Venerated in Islam
Influences Muslim Imam
Tradition or genre
Sunni Islam

Al-Hasan ibn Abi-l-Hasan al-Basri (Arabic: الحسن بن أبي الحسن البصري‎‎) &ltr;(642–728), also known as Hasan al-Basri (حسن البصري), was a well-known Muslim preacher, theologian, and scholar of Islam who was born in 642 from Persian[1][2] parents. Brought up in the house of the prophet Muhammad's wife Umm Salama, Hasan met many companions of Muhammad including, it is said, seventy of the warriors who fought in the Battle of Badr. As can be seen in the spiritual chains (silsilah) of most Sufi orders, he was a renowned follower of Ali ibn Abi Talib. Hasan grew up to become one of the most prominent figures of his generation, being famous for his piety and condemnation of worldliness. When he died on Friday, 5 Rajab 110 AH, at the age of 89, the entire population of Basra attended his funeral, so that for the first time in the history of Basra the city's Jami' Masjid remained empty at the hour of the 'Asr prayer.[3] Hasan quickly became an exemplar for other saints in the area and his personality made a deep impression upon his contemporaries. He was the Murshid of Rabia Basri.[4]


Hasan's father, Peroz, was made a prisoner at the town of Maysan in Iraq. He was later brought to Medina, where he met Khayra, who was to be Hasan's mother. According to tradition, Hasan was born in Medina in 642 C.E.[5] He grew up in and around the area but later, after the Battle of Siffin, decided to move to Basra. As a young man, Hasan took part in the conquests and campaigns in eastern Iran, but he became famous after denouncing arrogance and sin to take up life as a pious Muslim in Basra.

Hasan's sermons played an integral part in confirming his status as one of the most notable scholars of the era. In his sermons, Hasan warned his fellow citizens of the dangers of committing sin and commanded them to regulate their whole life in a more pious manner. These sermons, of which only fragments have been preserved, are considered to be among the outstanding examples of early Arabic prose.[6] Some scholars have remarked upon the vivid images that Hasan developed in his sermons and it is because of this that anthologists grouped Hasan's sermons with the speeches of political leaders as models of style and some of his sermons have even found their way into the early Arab dictionaries.[citation needed]


Historical documents do not record much from Hasan's early years. One of the earliest instances concerning Hasan is his conversion. Hasan was a jewel merchant and was called Hasan of the Pearls. Attar narrates that he traded with Byzantium and had to do with the generals and ministers of 'Caesar'. On one occasion, going to Byzantium he called on the prime minister and conversed with him a while.

"We will go to a certain place," the minister told him, "if you are agreeable."

"It is for you to say," Hasan replied. "I agree."

So the minister commanded a horse to be brought for Hasan. He mounted with the minister, and they set out. When they reached the desert Hasan perceived a tent of Byzantine brocade, fastened with ropes of silk and golden pegs, set firm in the ground. He stood to one side. Then a mighty army, all accoutred in the panoply of war, came out; they circled the tent, said a few words, and departed. Philosophers and scholars to the number of nigh four hundred arrived on the scene; they circled the tent, said a few words, and departed. After that three hundred illumined elders with white beards approached the tent, circled it, said a few words, and departed. Thereafter more than two hundred moon-fair maidens, each bearing a plate of gold and silver and precious stones, circled the tent, said a few words, and departed.

Hasan relates that, astonished and filled with wonder, he asked himself what this might be.

"When we alighted," he went on, "I asked the minister. He said that the Caesar had a son of unsurpassable beauty, perfect in all the branches of learning and unrivalled in the arena of manly prowess. His father loved him with all his heart."

Suddenly he fell ill — so Hasan related on the authority of the minister. All the skilled physicians proved powerless to cure him. Finally he died, and was buried in that tent. Once every year people come out to visit him. First an immense army circles the tent, and they say: "O prince, if this circumstance that has befallen thee had come about in war, we would have all sacrificed our lives for thee, to ransom thee back. But the circumstance that has befallen thee is at the hand of one against whom we cannot fight, whom we cannot challenge." This they say, and then return.

The philosophers and the scholars come forward, and say: "This circumstance has been brought about by one against whom we cannot do anything by means of learning and philosophy, science and sophistry. For all the philosophers of the world are powerless before him, and all the learned are ignorant beside his knowledge. Otherwise we would have contrived devices and spoken words which all in creation could not have withstood." This they say, and then return.

Next the venerable elders advance, and say: "O prince, if this circumstance that has befallen thee could have been set right by the intercession of elders, we would all have interceded with humble petitions, and would not have abandoned thee there. But this circumstance has been brought upon thee by one against whom no mortal man's intercession profits anything."

This they say, and depart.

Now the moon-fair maidens with their plates of gold and precious stones advance, circle the tent, and say: "Son of Caesar, if this circumstance that has befallen thee could have been set right by wealth and beauty, we would have sacrificed ourselves and given great moneys, and would not have abandoned thee. But this circumstance has been brought upon thee by one on whom wealth and beauty have no effect." This they say, and return.

Then Caesar himself with his chief minister enters the tent, and says: "O eye and lamp of thy father, O fruit of the heart of thy father, O dearest beloved of thy father, what is in thy father's hand to perform? Thy father brought a mighty army, he brought philosophers and scholars, intercessors and advisers, beautiful maidens, wealth and all manner of luxuries; and he came himself. If all this could have been of avail, thy father would have done all that lay in his power. But this circumstance has been brought about by one before whom thy father, with all this apparatus, this army and retinue, this luxury and wealth and treasure, is powerless. Peace be upon you, till next year!" This he says, and returns.

These words of the minister so affected Hasan that he was beside himself. At once he made arrangements to return. Coming to Basra, he took an oath never to laugh again in this world, till his ultimate destiny became clear to him. He flung himself into all manner of devotions and austerities, such that no man in his time could exceed that discipline.[7]

A Fire-Worshipping Neighbour

Attar, in his Memorial of the Saints, narrates that Hasan had a neighbour named Simeon who was a fire-worshipper. When Simeon fell ill and was nearing death, Hasan visited the aged man and warned him to "fear God" and told him to finish his life by asking for forgiveness. Simeon answered that he had been a fire-worshipper for over seventy years, but Hasan remained persistent and told him to end his life by accepting the belief in God. Simeon, with much weeping, accepted and told Hasan, “When I die, bid them wash me, then commit me to the earth with your own hands, and place this document in my hand. This document will be my proof.” Feeling guilt at forcing someone to convert, Hasan fell asleep much distressed. That night, Hasan witnessed a miraculous dream: he saw Simeon "glowing like a candle; on his head a crown, robed in fine raiment, he was walking with a smile in the garden of Paradise." Hasan was struck with awe and asked Simeon of his fate, to which Simeon thanked Hasan for his warning and gave him back the paper with the declaration of faith. When Hasan awoke, he saw the parchment in his hand and began to contemplate, thanking the Lord for His mercy and asking for forgiveness.[8]


Hasan did not take sides in Ibn al-Zubair's revolt.[9] In 700 CE he joined the camp of Ibn al-Ash'ath during his revolt,[10][11] Hasan is not known to have supported any Caliph after Abu Bakr,[12] but he was on decent terms with Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz. After the revolt Hasan became a teacher in Basra and founded a school there. Among his many followers were Amr ibn Ubayd (d. 761) and Wasil ibn Ata (d. 749), the founder of the Mu'tazilites – which name derives from Arabic verb i'tizàl ("to part from", "to separate from"), Wasil ibn Ata having broken all relations with his former Master.[13] Among Hasan's juristic students were the Imam Ayyub al-Sakhtiyani, ʿAbd Allāh bin ʿAwn and also Humayd.[14] Hasan's other companions included fellow saint Farqad as-Sabakhi, an Armenian Christian convert to Islam.[15]

Under the reign of Caliph 'Abd al-Malik and his governor in Iraq al-Hajjaj, Hasan came to oppose the inherited caliphate of the Umayyads (r. 660–750).[16] Hasan held to a doctrine of human free will but did not reject predestination, as rejection of predestination constitutes disbelief in Islam. Hasan was a great supporter of asceticism in the time of its first development. Hasan was also held in high regard by the Sufis for his asceticism,[17] though he predated Sufism as a self-aware movement.[18] Many writers testified to the purity of his life and to his excelling in the virtues of Muhammad's own companions.[19]

Apocryphal writings

He is associated with the authorship of several epistles, many of which are known to be forged.[20] Among the forgeries is an epistle to Abd al-Malik espousing human free will, first attested by Abd al-Jabbar ibn Ahmad (d. 415 / 1024);[21] which survives in three MSS.[22] This epistle, despite claiming "some of the ... best examples of Arabic linguistic prose style",[23] is based on the theology of al-Razi's Kitab al-Radd and on the politics of the Zaidi Shia; that is, it comes from Abd al-Jabbar's circle if not from Abd al-Jabbar himself.[24]

See also


  1. Michael G. Morony, Iraq After the Muslim Conquest, Gorgias Press LLC, 2006. Excerpt from pg 189: "the parents of Al-Hasan Al-Basri were lower-class Persians and came from this part of Iraq (Baladhuri, Futuh,344).
  2. Christopher Melchert, "ḤASANBAṢRI, ABU SAʿID B. ABI’L-ḤASAN YASĀR", in Encyclopædia Iranica. Accessed April 2010.
  3. Al-Din Al-Hanafi, Allama Qutb; Hasan Al-Basri. Prayers For Forgiveness. White Thread Press. ISBN 978-1-933764-07-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Ritter, 14ff., 33, n. 5
  5. Richard C. Martin, ed. (2004). Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World. 1. Macmillan Reference USA. p. 106. ISBN 978-0-02-865603-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Encyclopedia of Islam, Vol. III, Hasan al-Basri
  7. Muslim Saints and Mystics, Attar, Trans. A.J. Arberry, Hasan of Basra
  8. Muslim Saints and Mystics, Attar, Trans. A.J. Arberry, Hasan of Basra
  9. Suleiman Mourad, Early Islam between myth and history (Brill, 2006), 35
  10. Mourad, 35–40; quoting Ibn Sa'd, Tabaqat and many others
  11. Mourad, 39 from Yaqut Mu'jam al-udaba' , III, 1025
  12. Mourad 43–4
  13. Henry Corbin, "History of Islamic Phylosophy", chapter on Wasil ibn Ata and Mu'tazilism
  14. Mourad, 172
  15. Historical dictionary of Sufism By John Renard, p. 87
  16. Mourad 40–3
  17. Hasan of Basra, from Muslim Saints and Mystics, trans, A.J. Arberry, London:Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983
  18. at-Tasawwuf and al-Fuqaraa': Ibn Taimiyyah on Sufism and the Paupers, Majmoo’ al-Fataawaa by Ibn Taymiyyah
  19. 1911 Britannica. References:
  20. Mourad, 126–8; 194–5
  21. Mourad, 178
  22. Mourad, 179
  23. John Esposito, The Oxford Dictionary of Islam, 2003; note that he was writing prior to Mourad's work, when he also declares it "earliest"
  24. Mourad, chapter 6, concluded pp. 238–9