The Fear of Fame: A Lost Characteristic
As-salamu `alaykum wa rahmatullah
The scholars and the righteous of this Ummah always feared fame and becoming well-known amongst the people. They would dislike for their name to be mentioned much and you can see one of them fleeing from the people as if they were a fitnah (trial), whilst at other times you can see one get up and leave the circle of knowledge which he was conducting because the numbers became too many.
Below here are some amazing statements from our predecessors that allude to just how much they held onto sincerity and how much they fled from fame and from being spoken about.
Ibn Mas’ood (radhiallahu `anhu): ‘(O people!) Be the springs of knowledge and the lamps of guidance! Stick to your homes and be like a light in the night, revivers of hearts, wearing worn-out clothes, you will then be known by the people of the heavens and be hidden among the people of the earth.’
A man said to Bishr: ‘Advice me.’ So he said, ‘Let your mention be unknown…’ And Hushib would be found crying saying, ‘My name has reached the Masjid!’
Both Ibrahim al-Nakha’i and al-Hasan used to say, ‘It is enough of an evil that a man should be pointed at in matters of Deen or Dunya (i.e. out of fame), except him whom Allah has protected. Righteousness lies here’ and he’d point to his chest three times.
Ibrahim ibn Adham: ‘A slave who loves fame has not been truthful to Allah.’
‘Aasim: ‘If more than four people came and sat around Abul-‘Aaliyah, he would get up and leave.’
Dawud al-Ta’i used to say: ‘Flee from people just like you would flee from a lion.’
Imam Ahmad: ‘Glad tidings be to the one whose mention has been hidden by Allah!’ And he would say, ‘I wish for something that will never be… I wish to be in a place devoid of other people.’
Dhul-Nun: ‘Being pleased with being around people is from the signs of bankruptcy’
Fudhayl ibn ‘Iyyadh: ‘If you can get by without being known, then do so. What does it bother you that people will not praise you, and what does it bother you that you may be blameworthy in the sight of people if in the Sight of Allah you are praiseworthy?’
Muhammad ibn al-‘Alaa ibn Musayyib from Basra wrote to Muhammad Yusuf al-Asbahani saying, ‘O my brother, whoever loves Allah loves that he remain unknown (to the people).’
Bishr ibn al-Harith: ‘I do not know a single man who loves fame except that he loses his religion and becomes disgraced. No-one who has fear of Allah, loves to be known amongst the people.’
He (rahimahullah) also said: ‘A man who loves that everyone should know him, will never find the sweetness of the Hereafter.’
Yazid ibn Abi Habib: ‘Indeed from the fitnah of a scholar is that speech should become more pleasing to him than silence and listening.’
Abu Huraira (radhiallahu `anhu) used to say: ‘Were it not for an ayah in the Book of Allah, I would not have narrated to you people (ayah below):
إِنَّ الَّذِينَ يَكْتُمُونَ مَا أَنزَلْنَا مِنَ الْبَيِّنَاتِ وَالْهُدَى مِن بَعْدِ مَا بَيَّنَّاهُ لِلنَّاسِ فِي الْكِتَابِ أُولَـئِكَ يَلعَنُهُمُ اللّهُ وَيَلْعَنُهُمُ اللَّاعِنُونَ
‘Verily, those who conceal the clear proofs, evidences and the guidance, which We have sent down, after We have made it clear for the people in the Book, they are the ones cursed by Allah and cursed by the cursers.’ [al-Baqarah: 158]
Al-Sha’bi: ‘We tried incredibly hard to get Ibrahim al-Taymi to sit down in the masjid and narrate to the people but he refused.’
Ibn Abi Layla: ‘I met a hundred and twenty Companions of the Prophet (sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam), and none of them would narrate except that he loved his brother to suffice him of that. And none of them gave fatawa except that he wished his brother would suffice him of that.’
‘Abdullah ibn Abbas: ‘Indeed Allah has slaves who have been silenced by the fear of Allah although they are eloquent in speech.’
Sufyan al-Thawri: ‘If you can become a scholar without being known, then do so. For indeed the people, if they knew what was in you, they would eat your flesh.’
^ He (rahimahullah) wouldn’t allow more than three people to sit in his gathering. One day, more than three came and he saw his gathering had increased so he stood up in fear and said, ‘By Allah, we have been taken and we do not even feel it! By Allah, if the leader of the faithful, ‘Umar (radhiallahu `anhu) were to see someone like me sitting in this gathering he would make me stand up and say ‘The like of you is not worthy of this!’
It is reported that when he sat to narrate hadeeth, he would sit in fear and terror. If a cloud passed over him, he would become silent until it passed then he’d say, ‘I feared that it contained stones with which we would be struck with.’
When Bishr al-Hafi abandoned narrating hadeeth in a gathering, the people said to him: ‘What are you going to say to your Lord when He asks you ‘Why did you abandon narrating to the people the statements of My Prophet Muhammad (sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam)?!’ He (rahimahullah) said, ‘I will say, O my Lord. You have commanded me to do it with sincerity but I did not find that in me.’
It was said to Sufyan Ibn ‘Uyaynah once, ‘Won’t you sit and narrate to us?’ He (rahimahullah) said: ‘By Allah, I don’t see you worthy of being narrated to nor do I see myself worthy of being listened to.’
Ibrahim Ibn Adham;-
Ibrahim ibn Adham: ‘I never found delight in living except in al-Sham (greater Syria). I would flee with my religion from heights to heights and from mountain to mountain. Whoever saw me said ‘He’s delusional’ and whoever saw me said ‘He’s a porter.’
He (rahimahullah) would also say: ‘The scholars! When they taught they would act (righteous deeds) and when they acted, they would become busy in that, and when they became busy they would be missed by the people and when they were missed, they would be sought out by the people, and when they were sought, they would flee.’
One day he passed by the gathering of al-Awza’i (rahimahullah) and saw that a large number of people had gathered. So he said, ‘If all this crowding was around Abu Huraira, he would have departed from it.’ This reached al-Awza’i who got up and abandoned the gathering from that day on.
Ibrahim ibn Adham was an amazing personality masha’Allah; he tried hard to keep away from the people in fear of them mentioning him too much. But his fame shot up and his name became so widespread to the point that it was said one time ‘He is in the garden’ (where he worked tending to crops), so the people entered it, encircling it, saying ‘Where is Ibrahim ibn Adham?’ So he began to encircle along with them saying, ‘Where is Ibrahim ibn Adham?!’ [Point being here that his name, character and reputation was known but he himself was hardly seen so they didn’t recognise him!]
He (rahimahullah) said: ‘My eye never found solace and delight in a day of this world except once. I spent the night in a mosque in one of the villages in al-Sham whilst I had a stomach sickness. The mu’adhin then grabbed me by my leg and dragged me out of the mosque!’ – He found solace in this because the man did not recognise him and he did not leave the mosque as he was ill and illness had made him remain in the mosque.