With the Name of Allah, the extremely Merciful at this very moment, and the extremely Merciful at all times
On the authority of Tamim ad-Dari who reported that the Prophet (saw) said:
“Ad-Deen (The Religion) is Naseehah (sincerity, well wishing).” Upon this we said: “For whom?” He (saw) replied: “For Allah, His Book, His Messenger and for the leaders and the general Muslims.” (Sahih Muslim Book 1 Number 0098)
Among all of the wonderful Islamic personalities we have today, to name a few, Zakir Naik, Yasir Qadhi, Nouman Ali Khan, Siraj Wahhaj, Suhaib Webb, the countless others who teach them in institutions like Madinah and Azhar, and the rising number of young “super” students of knowledge, it’s easy to sit back and say: “How can I possibly compare?” As an “average” Muslim, what can my contribution possibly be compared to the men and women of the present who carry the legacies of the great scholars of the past?
One such legacy from the past is the legacy of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal. Imam ash-Shafi’i is reported to have said:
“I left Baghdad and did not leave behind me anyone more virtuous, more learned, more knowledgeable than Ahmad ibn Hanbal.’
No doubt, his story is an inspiration until the end of times. Yet, amongst his success, he was a human being. There must have been days where his emotions almost got the best of him, where the thought of giving in could cross his mind. Rather, when Imam Ahmad went through his most difficult trials and his resolve was tested at its maximum, it was the words of a Bedouin- an “average” Muslim- that helped him keep his resolve. Imam Ahmad is reported to have said:
“I never heard any stronger words at that time than what a Bedouin said to me at Rahbat Tawq, a village between al-Raqqah and Baghdad on the banks of the Euphrates. He said, ‘O Ahmad, if they kill you for the truth, you will be a martyr, and if you live, you will be praised.’ And so my heart grew strong.” (Siyar A’laam al-Nubala’, 11/241).
The Qur’an gave Imam Ahmad belief to stand, the Prophet’s (saw) example gave him courage to speak, and his teachers taught him knowledge; but it was the words of a Bedouin that strengthened his heart.
Without a doubt, the best sources to provide inspiration and resolve in difficult times are the Qur’an and the Sunnah. But sometimes, by the will of Allah, the words of sincere people go straight to the heart and inspire it. It reminds me of Nelson Mandela drawing inspiration from the poem Invictus in the many dark hours during his 27 years in prison.
The words of Muhammad ibn Nuh, who accompanied Imam Ahmad during much of his struggle, are equally inspiring. Imam Ahmad relates:
“He said to me one day, ‘O Abu ‘Abd-Allah, you are not like me. You are a man whom people follow, and they are straining their necks to see what you will do, so fear Allah and adhere to His commands.’ (Siyar A’laam al-Nubala’, 11/242)
This beautiful advice helped Imam Ahmad keep firm on the truth, but it remains a beautiful advice for the leaders and role models of the present. Surely Allah is watching, but our leaders and teachers should remember that when they are in public we are too; and that we take them as our examples.
Imam Ahmad is remembered to this day because he stood up for the truth when no one else supported him. He is remembered for his iron will and determination, for his Musnad (collection of hadith), for his legal rulings, and for the legacy of students that came after him. But he had help- of course from Allah- but also from the “average” Muslims who inspired him to continue his struggle to speak the truth.
Therefore, we should never underestimate the power of our words. We may never reach the status of Imam Ahmad, speak at large conventions, have 1 million views on Youtube, or be as knowledgeable as the Islamic personalities who teach us. But we should always speak the truth and say a good word; perhaps Allah would be pleased with it and grant inspiration to a leader who was looking for it.