Imam Ibn Wahb (RA) Leaves Optional Worship For Optional Knowledge
One of the amazing things that happened to one of the Imams of the past is that he gave up optional knowledge for optional worship. Then one of his close associates saw a dream which caused the Imam to stop his optional worship and to return to the spread and propagation of knowledge.
Imam ‘Abdullah Ibn Wahb al-Qurashi al-Misri رحمه الله was a great scholar of hadeeth, a jurist, an ardent worshipper and an ascetic. He was a companion of Imam Malik رحمه الله, Imam Layth رحمه الله, Imam Thawri رحمه الله, and other great scholars. He passed away in 197 A.H.
Suhnoon رحمه الله narrates: “Ibn Wahb رحمه الله divided his life into three: one third in guarding the Islamic borders, one third in teaching the people of Egypt, and one third for Hajj. It is said that he performed Hajj 36 times. His nephew said: ‘I was with him in Alexandria, guarding the Islamic borders. Some people came to him asking to propagate knowledge. So he said to me: “This is a place of worship. Rarely do I get time for myself when I become busy with people.” He therefore stopped sitting with the people at those times in which he had set aside to sit with them. He then turned his full attention to worship and guarding the Islamic borders.”
“After two days, a person came to him and informed him that he saw himself in a huge masjid like al-Masjid al-Haram in Makkah. The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم was there, Sayyiduna Abu Bakr as-Siddeeq رضي الله عنه was sitting to his right, Sayyiduna ‘Umar رضي الله عنه was sitting to his left, and you were sitting in front of Rasoolullah صلى الله عليه وسلم. There were many candles in the masjid – they were extremely beautiful and intensely bright. Suddenly one candle died down and became extinguished. The Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم said to you: ‘O ‘Abdullah! Go and light it.’ So you went and lit it. The same thing happened to another candle. You remained there for several days and you saw all the candles wanting to go off. Sayyiduna Abu Bakr رضي الله عنه said: ‘O Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم! Do you see these candles?’ The Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم replied: ‘These are the deeds of ‘Abdullah and he wants to extinguish them!’”
“[On hearing this] Ibn Wahb رحمه الله began crying. The man said to him: ‘I had come to give you glad tidings. Had I known that it would cause you grief, I would not have come to you.’ Imam Ibn Wahb رحمه الله replied: ‘It is good. I have been admonished through the dream. I thought that worship was superior to spreading knowledge.’ He then gave up many of his deeds for the sake of knowledge. He would sit patiently before the people, they would read to him and ask questions.”
“Ibn Wahb رحمه الله said: ‘I was sitting in front of Imam Malik رحمه الله, writing. The iqamah was given – and in another narration: the mu’adhdhin called out the adhaan – several books were open before him. I therefore hastened to gather and close all these books. So Imam Malik رحمه الله said to me: “Take your time. The salah for which you are rushing is not superior to what you are engaged in [knowledge] provided your intention in this regard is correct.”‘”
“Imam Yahya al-Laythi رحمه الله, a scholar of Spain and a student of Imam Malik رحمه الله, said: ‘The person who passes away while seeking knowledge will be just one level lower than the Prophets عليهم الصلاة والسلام in Paradise.’”
[Qadi ‘Iyad رحمه الله: Tarteeb al-Madarik, vol 3, pp. 234-235, 240, 361]