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The Life and works of Imam Jabir bin Zayd

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Living in Basrah, one of the major centres of political activities, and being contemporary with the events of the lively period (28-93 A.H.), Jabir was able to form a clear understanding of the complicated course of the political and religious affairs of the growing Muslim community. As a result, he chose the most effective way to attain his aims. He kept himself apart from all Political activities and followed a very careful course in his relations with the 'Umayyad rulers. On the other hand, he devoted his time to teaching people Islam and formulating legal opinions on religious problems.

Al-Hajjaj had a secretary called Yazid b. Muslim, who loved Jabir very much and admired him greatly. One day, circumstances of everyday life led to Jabir going to visit this admiring secretary. It seems the secretary wanted to please both his master and his friend, and so he set up a meeting without them being aware of it. Al-Hajjaj listened to the great imam and, admiring his knowledge and his manners, offered him the position of judge. He said to him: 'You need not seek the pleasure of anyone, we shall appoint you as judge for the Muslims.' This had been the intention of his secretary friend, but Jabir was not one who sought the things of this world. So he said to him: 'I am not up to the task.' Al-Hajjaj then asked him: 'What makes you incapable?' He said: 'An evil [a dispute] is occurring between a woman and her servant, but I cannot make peace between them.' Al-Hajjaj said: 'That is certainly a weakness'.

In this way, the great imam was able to extricate himself from this prestigious offer, which someone else would have been overjoyed with. It seems, however, that his secretary friend had not understood the imam's purpose in extricating himself (from the offer), desiring to exploit, the occasion to the benefit of the imam, and to do him a long-term favour. Thus he said to al-Hajjaj: 'Here is an idea - it is of no burden for the shayekh and of assistance to Muslims: employ him as an assistant to the Treasurer in Basrah'. Al-Hajjaj agreed to the suggestion, but the devout scholar did not accept it. He said Yazid: 'You have accomplished nothing: do you see me as assistant to the Treasurer?'

The imam did not accept the second offer which this loving and admiring person had brought to him. He avoided employment in an oppressive government: how could it be right for Jabir to assist such oppressors, when he criticized their actions on a daily basis and called for them to grant what is due to those who deserve it, to release payment and stipend to those who had a right thereto, and to give such jobs to trustworthy and careful people who fear God and dread His reckoning?

When it was time for him to return home after the visit and prepared for the journey, Yazid ordered his slaves to saddle a horse. But the imam was too ashamed before his Lord to ride a mount picked out for him by luxury-loving tyrants and bestowed upon him by opulent despots. He accordingly excused himself from his friend. A male was then brought for him. He accepted it and rode off on it, knowing full well that riding on a male was rougher and less comfortable, as well as being the opposite of prestigious, but it was closer to the Sunnah of God's Messenger, may God bless him and grant him peace: the best of creation used to ride on a grey mule called Duldula. Yazid went to excess in his generosity towards the imam, as the rich and wasteful rulers in an oppressive state are wont to do. He ordered his servants to perfume Jabir's head and beard with musk and ambergris. The great imam made his way to the Tigris and washed his head and beard, scrubbing them hard and saying: 'O God do not make it my fate that I be amid these people.'

It was Jabir's custom to do the pilgrimage each year. In one year, the governor of Basrah sent him a message asking him not leave town that year because people were in need of him for teaching and fatwas. Jabir, however, insisted on his custom and informed the governor that he would not abandon a deed for God's cause on account of a command issued by a human being, even if that human being was a governor of the Umayyad state. The governor arrested him and put him in jail.

When the crescent moon began to appear in Dhul-Hijjah, people went to see the governor and pleaded with him: 'May God make the emir good! the new moon of Dhul-Hijjah is upon us and there is almost no time left to make the journey from Basrah to Makkah'. The emir released him. When Jabir got to his house, he began to saddle up a she-camel of his- he would race her to the pilgrimage. He said: Whatsoever mercy God opens to men, none can withhold [Fatir, 2]. Then he asked Aminah, 'Do you have anything (I can take)?' She said that she did, and presented some provisions in a pair of knapsacks. He asked her not to tell anyone that he was leaving that day. When he arrived at Arafat where the people were standing (in the rite of pilgrimage), his she-camel struck the ground with the front part of her neck and began to tremble. People shouted: 'Slaughter her! slaughter her!' He then said: 'It is not fitting for a she-camel that has seen the new moon of Dhul-Hijjah in Basrah and reached people in (pilgrimage) sanctity that this be done to her.' The she-camel was unharmed. He travelled on her 24 times to do hajj and umrah.

Among the powerful families with whom Jabir established good relations was the Muhallabid family, his kinsmen; but, what was more important than kinship, Jabir was the religious teacher of this family. He used to visit them and teach them Islam and "command them to do good."

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