|Abu Sa'id or Abu Muhammad or Abu 'Ali
|Imam al-Tabi'in, Sayyid al-Tabi'in, and Shaykh al-Islam
|During the lifetime of Prophet (s)
|Place of Birth
|Places of Residence
|Jabir b. 'Abd Allah al-Ansari, Anas b. Malik
|Malik b. Dinar, Thabit al-Banani, Ghaylan al-Damishqi
|Tafsir al-Qur'an (exegesis of the Qur'an)
Al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī (Arabic: الحسن البصري), born as al-Hasan b. Abu l-Hasan al-Yasar, was a theologian, a Quranic exegete, a scholar of hadiths, a preacher, a jurist, and one of the eight well-known ascetics of the first and second/seventh and eighth centuries. There is no agreement over the school of thought he belonged to.
He met three hundred companions of the Prophet (s), had companionships with seventy of those who had attended the Battle of Badr, learned many hadiths from them, and transmitted those hadiths to others. Given his hadiths, remarks, and sermons, it becomes apparent that only few of the Companions and Tabi'un set out to recount Imam 'Ali (a)'s words. However, because of the circumstances of his time, al-Hasan transmitted many of Imam 'Ali's words anonymously as "it has been said" or as "Abu Zaynab" (the father of Zaynab) or as "one of the righteous people."
Al-Hasan al-Basri was born in Medina and grew in Wadi l-Qura (in suburbs of Medina). There is disagreement over the date of his birth. According to al-'Attar, al-Hasan was born during the lifetime of the Prophet (s). According to al-Waki', during the murder of 'Uthman (in 35/656) al-Hasan was ten, and according to Ibn Sa'd, he was fourteen years old. The latter view seems more accurate, because Ibn Sa'd (d. 203/818-9) was the closest person to the time of al-Hasan. Moreover, elsewhere he has stressed that al-Hasan was born two years before the murder of the Second Caliph. If al-Hasan was fourteen during the murder of 'Uthman, then he must have been born in 21/641-2. This is the date accepted by al-Waki' and al-Safadi as well.
Father and Mother
Al-Hasan's father was from Maysan, and was at first a Christian and his name was Yasar or Firuz (or Piruz). In an Islamic conquest, Firuz was captivated and turned into one of Mawali (slaves). He was then taken to Medina and was emancipated after a while. There, he had a bond of wala' (being emancipated) with Rybay' bt. Nadr or Jabir b. 'Abd Allah al-Ansari or another person from Helpers. Hence, al-Hasan is also called al-Ansari.
Al-Hasan's mother, Khayra (also known with her teknonym, Umm al-Hasan), was captivated in the Conquest of Maysan, and had a bond of wala' with Umm Salama, the wife of the Prophet (s), or some other people. Khayra taught the Qur'an to women and preached them. Moreover, she was allegedly a reliable transmitter of hadiths who transmitted hadiths from two wives of the Prophet (s), Umm Salama and 'A'isha, and her two sons, al-Hasan and Sa'id, as well as others, transmitted hadiths from her. Her hadiths have also been cited by prominent Sunni scholars.
Title and Teknonym
Al-Hasan was known as Imam al-Tabi'in, Sayyid al-Tabi'in, and Shaykh al-Islam, and his teknonym was Abu Sa'id or Abu Muhammad or Abu 'Ali.
Migration to Basra
Al-Hasan memorized the whole Qur'an at the age of twelve or fourteen, and it is said that he learned occasions of revelations as well as interpretations of suras he learned. In the second year of Imam 'Ali's caliphate, al-Hasan and his family migrated to Basra where he married an originally Persian woman after a while and had two sons and a daughter from her.
Al-Hasan died in 110/728 in Basra where he was buried. His burial place was well-known since long time ago and was mentioned by al-Muqaddasi. His mausoleum is still known today.
Al-Hasan was taught by many teachers, the most prominent among whom were Anas b. Malik, Jabir b. 'Abd Allah al-Ansari, Hudhayfa al-Yamani, 'Abd Allah b. 'Abbas, Hittan b. 'Abd Allah, 'Imran b. Husayn, and Ahnaf b. Qays. Moreover, according to Ibn Sa'd, he learned hadiths from Abu Hurayra and Samura b. Jundab. However, Ibn Sa'd quoted remarks from some people to the effect that al-Hasan never learned hadiths from Abu Hurayra. Moreover, some of al-Hasan's hadiths and treatments imply that he was critical of both Abu Hurayra and Samura.
Lectures and Students
Al-Hasan had lectures in the Mosque of Basra in which he engaged in dialogues concerning different disciplines (including hadith, jurisprudence, beliefs, and Quranic sciences), and sometimes responded to questions about some Sufi concepts. He also had private meetings in his own house, where he only talked about asceticism, worships, and inner spiritual doctrines. According to Abu Talib al-Makki, people such as Malik b. Dinar, Thabit al-Banani, Ayyub al-Sijistani (or Sakhtiyani), al-Farqad al-Sabakhi (or al-Sinji) and 'Abd al-Wahid b. Zayd attended these private meetings. Al-Hasan had other students as well, including Wasil b. 'Ata', al-Habib al-'Ajami, Ghaylan al-Damishqi, Ma'bad al-Juhani, Muhammad b. Wasi', Qatada al-Sadusi, and 'Amr b. 'Ubayd.
In his Quranic exegesis, al-Hasan interpreted the Qur'an by appealing to the Qur'an itself, and in his exegesis of explicit texts of the Qur'an and elaboration of its rulings, he constantly drew upon hadiths from the Prophet (s), Qudsi hadiths, remarks from the Companions, including Imam 'Ali (a), Ibn 'Abbas, Ibn Mas'ud and Tabi'un. Another source of his exegesis included Isra'iliyyat, words of People of the Book, and remarks quoted by people such as Ka'b al-Ahbar, Wahb b. Munabbih, and 'Abd Allah b. Salam. Many of his exegetical comments are cited in Quranic exegeses such as Tafsir al-Tabari and Tafsir Ibn Kathir, as well as Sufi books, including Hilyat al-awliya' by Abu Nu'aym al-Isfahani, Ihya' 'ulum al-din by al-Ghazali, and al-Risalat al-Qushayriyya by al-Qushayri.
In his exegesis, he always refers to Quranic verses that have been abrogated by other Quranic verses, although he made mistakes in taking some verses to be abrogated.
Al-Hasan met three hundred companions of the Prophet (s) and had companionships with seventy people who had attended the Battle of Badr, learning many of their hadiths and transmitting them to others. He was extraordinarily knowledgeable of hadiths, and his hadiths concerning the tradition of the Prophet (s) and the words of Imam 'Ali (a) and Imam al-Hasan (a) as well as hadith in chains of transmitters of which he appears have been cited by prominent Sunni and Shiite scholars of hadiths.
A consideration of his hadiths, words, and sermons reveals that a few people from the Companions and Tabi'un set out to recount the words of Imam 'Ali (a) as he did. Notwithstanding this, because of the prevalent circumstances of his time, he quoted many of Imam 'Ali's words anonymously as "it is said" or as "Abu Zaynab" or as "one of the righteous people." It may well be that he did not explicitly mention Imam 'Ali (a) because of the obvious attribution of those words to him. Another possibility is that he had explicitly mentioned Imam 'Ali (a), but those who transmitted al-Hasan's words did not attribute them to the Imam (a) out of fear or other reasons.
Hadiths transmitted by al-Hasan have been criticized because of deceit, lacking a complete chain of transmitters, and paraphrasing the quoted words in hadiths. It is noteworthy that al-Hasan sometimes deployed rational criteria in his transmission of hadiths.
Aside from his prominence in hadith, al-Hasan was a great jurist and an influential mufti. There are a number of books devoted to jurisprudential views attributed to al-Hasan, including Fiqh al-Hasan al-Basri in seven volumes by al-Qadi Abu 'Abd Allah Muhammad b. Mufarrij al-Qurtubi, and Mawsu'a fiqh al-Hasan al-Basari in two volumes by Muhammad Rawas Qal'aji. Jurisprudential views of al-Hasan rely on the Book, the Tradition, sayings of the Companions, and personal ijtihad. His particular jurisprudential views include the following:
- Impermissibility of performing wudu' with nabidh (date wine)
- Permissibility of mut'a in hajj, which is also called hajj al-tamattu'
- Impermissibility of the imprisonment of a debtor who cannot repay his debt,
- The right of divorce for a woman whose husband cannot provide her with spousal support (or alimony),
- Termination of 'idda for a woman who should observe 'idda for the death of her husband or for divorce if she gives birth to a baby or if she aborts the fetus,
- If Muslims fight with non-Muslims, they do not have the right to kill non-Muslim captives. They should either release them without compensation or should release them after receiving a ransom (fidya).
Sermons and Speeches
Al-Hasan delivered sermons and speeches as well. In his time, corruptions were rampant in the society. In these circumstances, al-Hasan delivered sermons to counter these corruptions, and since he acted upon what he told others, his sermons were effective on his audiences.
Although he had an Iranian lineage and Arabic was not his native language, his speeches were so eloquent that even al-Hajjaj—who was particularly eloquent and hated al-Hasan—admitted that "al-Hasan was more competent than everyone in sermons."
Because of his eloquence, his sermons were collected during his lifetime, or at least shortly after his death. Some earlier and more recent authors wrote independent works concerning his sermons and speeches. Even after his death, his sermons persuaded some powerful people to observe moral codes and dissuaded them from wrongdoings.
There is no definite way to identify al-Hasan's works. According to al-Dhahabi, al-Hasan's scholarly works survived, but according to Ibn Sa'd, al-Hasan burned down all his books, except for one. Notwithstanding this, some works are attributed to him, including:
- A letter to 'Abd al-Malik b. Marwan in the rejection of qadariyya (belief in human free will). This has been edited by Hellmut Ritter, and it is cited in Basit's book (pp. 168-180);
- The book, Tafsir al-Qur'an (exegesis of the Qur'an), which might be identical to Nuzul al-Qur'an, and …
In the Umayyad Government
Benevolent Relationships with 'Umar b. 'Abd al-'Aziz
Al-Hasan spent seventy years of his life in the Umayyad era. Since the Caliph 'Umar b. 'Abd al-'Aziz was a well-mannered politician, al-Hasan had benevolent and compassionate relationships with him. He wrote 12 letters to 'Umar in which he delineated the characteristics of a just leader, warned him against unreliability of this world, called him to asceticism and piety, preached him, and consoled him on the death of his child. He was even appointed by the caliph as a judge. Before that in 43/663, he served as a scribe and secretary in the office of Rabi' b. Ziyad al-Harithi (a companion of Imam 'Ali (a) who was a Mu'awiya-appointed ruler in Khorasan in 43/663). Moreover, he was allegedly a scribe of Anas b. Malik for three years in Shapur.
Opposition to Unjust Caliphs
Al-Hassan strongly opposed some of his contemporaneous caliphs and their unjust agents, particularly al-Hajjaj b. Yusuf al-Thaqafi, although he never endorsed armed riots against them. He sometimes acted upon taqiyya (precautionary dissimulation) in his encounters with unjust rulers. During the years of al-Hajjaj's reign in Iraq, al-Hasan repeatedly cursed him, and he treated al-Hajjaj in a way that he decided many times to murder him. According to al-Ya'qubi and ibn al-Nadim, al-Hasan accompanied 'Abd al-Rahman b. Muhammad b. al-Ash'ath in his uprising against al-Hajjaj, but this does not seem true, because Ibn Sa'd makes it explicit that al-Hasan prohibited people from joining ibn al-Ash'ath's army. He also prohibited his companions from joining Yazid b. Muhallab's riot, because he believed that the leaders of both of these riots were incompetent.
Receiving Pensions from the Treasury
Al-Hasan believed that it was permissible to receive pensions or allowances from Bayt al-Mal (Treasury) and accept gifts from rulers under certain conditions. He donated most of his pensions to others. Sometimes his pensions were cut off because of his oppositions to rulers.
Participation in Battles
There is a report that in the period of Mu'awiya, he attended some battles between Muslims and non-Muslims.
Ibn Sirin's Opposition to Him
Among the dissenting contemporaries of al-Hasan, the best-known is Ibn Sirin. Their disagreement was very well-known, and turned into a proverb: "sit either with al-Hasan or with Ibn Sirin." Apparently, their opposition was originated in al-Hasan's harsh encounters with rulers—particularly al-Hajjaj—and Ibn Sirin's way of compliance with, and even support of, rulers.
Many Sufi orders (or chains), including Suhrawardiyya, Tayfuriyya, and Mawlawiyya, as well as some Indian Sufi orders such as Chishtis, are attributed to al-Hasan al-Basri. His name also appears in pedigrees of Ahmad al-Ghazali, Abu Bakr al-Nassaj, Abu Najib al-Suhrawardi, Majd al-Din al-Baghdadi, and Najm al-Din al-Kubra. These orders trace their Sufist pedigrees to al-Hasan and through him to Imam 'Ali (a). Allegedly, when al-Hasan was born, he was taken to Imam 'Ali (a), and the Imam gave him the name "Hasan." Moreover, al-Hasan grew under the training of the Imam (a), received a khirqa (a particular type of cloak) from him, and the Imam (a) suggested the word of Tawhid to him.
However, some people, such as Ibn Khaldun and Shah Ni'mat Allah Dihlawi, deny such a relationship between Imam 'Ali (a) and al-Hasan. Given these two conflicting views, it is undeniable that both views—the belief in and the denial of al-Hasan's companionship with Imam 'Ali—are exaggerated, and although there is no decisive evidence for such a relationship, some sort of relationship cannot be denied.
Al-Hasan al-Basri's School of Thought
There is no agreement over al-Hasan's school of thought. He is variously said to be a Mu'tazilite, a Shi'a, a Murji'a, and an Ash'arite. Ibn Abi l-'Awja', who was first a student of al-Hasan and then became a zindiq or an unbeliever, is quoted as saying that al-Hasan sometimes tended towards Qadariyya (believers in free will) and sometimes towards Jabriyya (deniers of free will). However, his words do not seem to be reliable. Moreover, al-Hasan's rejection of both of Jabr and Qadar, and his endorsement of the Shiite position on the matter, have been frequently cited and praised in Shiite texts.
'Abd al-Rahman al-Badwi appeals to al-Hasan's refrainment from answering al-Hajjaj's question about Imam 'Ali (a) and 'Uthman to show that al-Hasan was a founder of Murji'a. This cannot be true, since al-Hasan frequently condemned Mu'awiya, Yazid, al-Hajjaj and many other powerful people, and he even went so far as to refer to his contemporary rulers as hypocrites. Moreover, al-Hasan's words and hadiths concerning the concept of faith imply his serious opposition to Murji'a.
Some people believe that al-Hasan stopped rejecting the public Sunni belief concerning Qadar (free will) after he was threatened. However, even if it turns out that al-Hasan tended towards determinism or free will in some cases, his words must be considered overall.
Since the time of al-Hasan until today, there have been reports to the effect that he rejected Imams of the Shia, particularly Imam 'Ali (a). For example, al-Tabrisi has narrated a story according to which, in Basra, 'Ali (a) asked al-Hasan about the reason why he did not participate in the Battle of Jamal, and al-Hasan responded by saying that both killers and the killed in this battle would go to the Hell. On another account, after the Battle of Jamal and the arrival of Imam 'Ali (a) in Basra, the Imam addressed al-Hasan who wanted to take notes of his remarks and said: "every nation has a Samiri, and the Samiri of our nation is al-Hasan who does not believe in wars." Moreover, it is said that al-Hasan did not join Imam al-Husayn's army in Karbala on purpose.
As to the first two reports, it should be said that they have no chains of transmitters, and cannot be true historically speaking, because the Battle of Jamal occurred in 36/656 when al-Hasan was only fifteen (at most). Aside from these and from other hadiths in which al-Hasan confirmed Imam 'Ali's actions in the Battle of Jamal, al-Shaykh al-Mufid provides another account of the first report in his al-Amali. On this account, al-Hasan did not rudely answer the Imam's question. Instead, he asked him to give him a piece of advice. As to the third report, al-Hasan was not present in Karbala, probably because he was not aware of Imam al-Husayn's arrival in Karbala, just like other people from Basra who wanted to help the Imam (a), but failed to find an occasion to join him. Furthermore, Ibn Ziyad had closed all ways leading to Karbala. Moreover, it is reported that al-Hasan was so attached to Ahl al-Bayt (a) that upon hearing the news about Imam al-Husayn's martyrdom, he wept and said: "may God humiliate the nation that killed the son of his Prophet."
Al-Hasan took measures to propagate some doctrines taught by Imams of the Shia and the overall Shiite doctrines, including the rejection of the possibility of seeing God, intercession, Mahdawiyya, the Imamate of the Imams from Ahl al-Bayt (a) and their number, rejection of qiyas (or analogy), taqiyya (precautionary dissimulation), the ruling about children of non-Muslims, the Prophet's Mi'raj (or Ascent), egregious mistakes by the Caliphs, temporary marriage, the Prophet's heritage, sanctification of prominent Shiite figures, such as Salman al-Farsi and 'Ammar b. Yasir.
Moreover, he praised Imams of the Shia. For example, he referred to 'Ali (a) as the divine figure of this nation and best person from the Prophet's nation, and the first believer and the first person who performed prayers with the Prophet (s). He also referred to Imam 'Ali's wife and his two sons are best people after him. He also quoted 'Abd Allah b. Mas'ud as saying that, on the day of resurrection, 'Ali (a) sits on a chair of light, and only people who believe in the wilaya of 'Ali (a) and his Ahl al-Bayt (a) can cross the bridge.
Al-Hasan al-Basri in the View of Sunni and Shiite Scholars of Rijal
In the View of Sunnis
Al-Hasan's hadiths are deemed acceptable by most Sunni scholars, and his hadiths are cited by al-Bukhari and Muslim in Sahihayn. Moreover, a meeting for the transmission of hadiths was organized for al-Hasan in Mecca, in which Mujahid, 'Ata', Tawus, and 'Amr b. Shu'ayb—prominent Sunni scholars—were present.
He is praised by Ibn Sa'd as knowledgeable, reliable, and authoritative, although he dismisses his mursal hadiths (those without specified chains of transmitters) as unreliable. In his book, Tadhkirat al-huffaz, al-Dhahabi refers to al-Hasan as Imam, Shaykh al-Islam, Hafiz, and 'Allama, although he calls him a fraud. Ibn Athir says that al-Hasan combined knowledge, asceticism, worship, and piety. Abu Nu'aym al-Isfahani considers him as a jurist, ascetic, and worshiper who had set aside the adornments of this world, and cites hadiths concerning al-Hasan's life and his sermons.
In the View of Shi'as
Of the four early sources of Shiite rijal, al-Hasan al-Basri appears only in Ikhtiyar ma'rifat al-rijal, which is the most important reference of more recent Shiite scholars of rijal. The book contains remarks attributed to Fadl b. Shadhan concerning the Eight Ascetics, in which al-Hasan al-Basri is reprehended. In this book, al-Kashshi aims to collect everything about transmitters of hadiths—from praises to blames—without deciding on the matter. His quote from Fadl b. Shadhan here is mediated by 'Ali b. Muhammad b. Qutayba who is deemed unreliable by Shiite scholars of rijal.
Negative Assessments of al-Hasan
Of Shiite scholars, the following have dismissed al-Hasan as blameworthy and unreliable: al-Fayd al-Kashani, Muhammad Baqir al-Majlisi, Muhammad Tahir al-Qummi, and Aqa Muhammad 'Ali Kirmanshahi. They dismiss him because of his reputation as a Sufi. Thus, they try to dissuade people from following him. By appealing to some reports, they offer negative assessments of al-Hasan, such as a teacher of heresy and misguidedness, a propagator of monasticism (rahbaniyya), the head of Qadariyya, a hypocrite, and an enemy of 'Ali (a).
Defenses of al-Hasan
On the other hand, some earlier and later Shiite scholars have tried to defend al-Hasan al-Basri, considering his hadiths and exegeses as reliable. In his al-Amali, Ibn Babawayh cites al-Basri's hadiths as well as his own words concerning Imam 'Ali (a), which implies that his words were significant for Ibn Babawayh, without implying any reprehension of al-Hasan. Al-Sharif al-Murtada 'Alam al-Huda speaks favorably of al-Hasan, referring to him as highly knowledgeable, eloquent in sermons, a role-model, a leader, and an early scholar who explicitly talked about God's justice. He also reports al-Hasan's brave encounter with al-Hajjaj, as result of which he decided to kill him.
In his introduction to his Quranic exegesis, al-Tibyan, al-Shaykh al-Tusi refers to Ibn 'Abbas, al-Hasan, and Qatada (al-Hasan's student) respectively as exegetes who had adopted a praiseworthy approach to the Quranic exegesis. In al-Shaykh's exegesis, al-Hasan is the second most frequently cited person. The same thing can be seen in al-Tabrisi's Majma' al-bayan. Qadi Nur Allah al-Shushtari quotes his master, Radi al-Din 'Ali b. Tawus as saying that al-Hasan was acceptable.
In many cases in his Persian exegesis of the Qur'an, Manhaj al-sadiqin, Fath Allah Kashani says after quoting a hadith or a word from al-Hasan that his words are the same as what is transmitted to us from the Imams and are acceptable to Shi'as. Moreover, he reported parts of al-Hasan's speech in the presence of al-Hajjaj in praise of Imam 'Ali (a). Muhammad Taqi al-Majlisi believes that al-Hasan practiced taqiyya (precautionary dissimulation) before Ziyad and his son, 'Ubayd Allah, as well as al-Hajjaj, at the command of Imam 'Ali (a). Muhammad Taqi al-Shushtari refers to and praises al-Hasan's letter in the rejection of Jabriyya, saying that we had better consider him as a good, pious man who practiced taqiyya. Muhammad Hadi Ma'rifat elaborately and admiringly wrote about al-Hasan's life, and rejected accusations against him.
Some Shiite scholars, such as Sayyid Muhammad Baqir Khwansari, 'Ali Aliyari Tabrizi, and 'Abd Allah Mamaqani, appeal to a hadith by Sulaym b. Qays al-Hilali according to which al-Hasan repented to God late in his life. Thus, they believe that al-Hasan was not on the right path at first, and then he found an insight into the true denomination.
- The material for this article is mainly taken from حسن بصری in Farsi WikiShia.