SHEIKH NASIR UD-DEEN AL-ALBANEE: MY FIRST ENCOUNTER WITH A SCHOLAR WHO MAY NOT BE SUBSTITUTED
By Mahmoud Ridha Murad
All praise is due to Allah Who made the scholars the heirs of the Prophets, and all praise is due to Him who made us of Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jama’ah. Revivalists are rare breeds who come one at a time at the top of every hundred years. Therefore, the whole Ummah feels the loss of one, particularly by the students of knowledge and scholars.
Although the death of scholars like Bin Baz and Nasirud-Deen al-Albani, may Allah admit them into Jannat al-Firdaws, is grave calamity, yet it does not mean the end of the Muslim Ummah. Their death however is not like the death of an ordinary man regardless how influential or powerful he may be. The death of a scholar leaves behind a vacuum that is not easy to fill. The time will come when Muslims realize that Shaikh Nasirud-Deen al-Albani was a genuine revivalist, and a specialist in a science which is nowadays shun by many students because it requires endurance, perseverance and an amazing memory to retain texts and chains of narrators in correct and chronological order. Even those who take the chance and study it, many of them are content with the university curriculum, and do not pursue further studies of their own. Rather, they rely on researches that were made by scholars of the past. And when it comes to narrating a hadeeth, some of them do not retain the precise text, rather, they narrate its meaning or miss or change one word here and another there. When one of them is asked about the source of a hadeeth, he would say after some ‘ahm, ahm. I think this or that Imam compiles it!
Shaikh Nasir did not attend regular schools or universities; he acquired his education studying under scholars and through his own research and studies, just like the Pious Predecessors. Yet he dwarfed doctoral Graduates who could not stand the chance of debating with him.
The arguments of those who differed with the Shaikh on certain Fiqh issues, such as the prohibition of wearing circular gold jewelry by women, and other issues, are too weak to stand the scrutiny of the Shaikh and his scholarly counter arguments.
About 17 years ago, I brought back with me from Kuwait a large number of cassette tapes of the Shaikh‘s lectures. I passed the time during the flight listening to them, one after another with full concentration. At times I used to rewind the tape more than once to make sure I did not miss even a word from his lecture.
Besides his warm voice that reaches the listener’s heart, the Shaikh had a unique scientific method in subdividing the topic into various issues. He would handle each issue separately without straying from the main topic regardless how long it took him to elaborate on that issue. This is indicative of his vast knowledge, and powerful memory retention. He would entertain a question from one of the listeners during the course of the lecture, and he would answer it in details, and then go back to the very point where he left off before answering the question. There is no doubt that that was a trait of a genuine scholarship.
At times he would be deeply involved in a certain issue in his research, when suddenly a caller phones in to inquire about one particular hadeeth or seek a fatwa. The Shaikh would leave his work, and provide a detailed answer and give the caller the name of the reference, the name of the compiler, and even the page number. He would not give up until the caller is satisfied.
On the other hand, dealing with the Manhaj (methodology) issues was not common at that time. Scholars in Saudi and elsewhere restricted themselves to Aqeedah, Fiqh, or Targheeb and Tarheeb (making people hopeful of the mercy and His reward, and making them fearful of Allah and His punishment.) There was not a single scholar who discussed Manhaj issues. In fact it was the first time I heard someone not only making a reference to it, but also discussing it in detail. Having lived in variant Muslim societies, Shaikh Nasir stressed on the importance of combining between the sound Manhaj and the sound Aqeedah. This combination was clearly noticed in his lectures.
There was one particular lecture to which I listened many times. I consider it as a model-lecture to prove the significance of the Manhaj. The Shaikh in that lecture explains the Hadeeth of al-Eenah (Eenah transaction. He said that it is selling a commodity for a certain price to be paid at a certain period, and then buying it for less than the price for ready money.) That hadeeth is compiled by Abu Dawood and narrated by Ibn Umar, may Allah be pleased with them, who said: I heard the Messenger of Allah say: “If you deal with Eenah, and hold the cows’ tails, and become content (with employing yourselves) with agriculture, and abandon jihad in the cause of Allah, Allah would permit your humiliation, and would not relieve you of it until you return to your Deen.”
This means that all of the ailments to which the Prophet, may Allah exalt his mention, referred in the above hadeeth are the consequences of one root problem; the departure from methodology of applying Islam, and the only remedy is the return to it.
Returning to Islam necessitates returning to its pure sources, the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of His Messenger, may Allah exalt his mention, and understanding them as the Pious Predecessors understood them.
Due to the fact that the majority of the Muslims are ignorant of the Manhaj of the deviant sects, many of them are easily deceived by them believing they are good Muslims. Had they learnt the proper Manhaj, they would have realized that the only Muslim sect that will be delivered on the Day of Resurrection is Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jama’ah.
It did not take me long before I listened to every tape of the Shaikh. I listened to some more than three or four times. Needless to say that afterwards, I bought or borrowed many other tapes of the Shaikh. Beside the science of hadeeth, the Shaikh dealt with the issues of Aqeedah, fundamentals of jurisprudence, Fiqh, Qur’anic commentary, Sirah, Arabic grammar, comparative studies of the madthahib, sectarian and many other issues of variant sciences.
The Shaikh encouraged students of knowledge to research and study on their own, and not to be content with school or university curricula. He also warned against following blindly one particular madth-hab, rather, one should follow the daleel (textual proof). He summed up his methodology in this regard in a beautiful manner in his book Sifat Salat an-Nabi. He said:
Since the main objective of this book is to show the format of the Prophet’s prayer, then it is obvious that I do not restrict myself to one particular madth’hab. Rather, I quote only the authentic proofs, in conformity with the methodology of the traditionists in the past and present. Hence, this book will in sha Allah, assemble pieces of relevant information that I have collected from various reference book of Hadeeth and Fiqh regardless of their schools of Fiqh. He who follows this book (Sifat Salat an-Nabi, or the Format of the Prophet’s Salah) will in sha Allah is among those whom Allah has guided ‘to the truth over which they dispute, with His leave, and Allah guides whoever He pleases to the straight path.’
Having restricted myself to this methodology, i.e., adhering to the authentic Sunnah which I have pursued in this as well as in other books of mine which will be circulated by the Muslims, in sha Allah, I knew that it will not meet the satisfaction of all sects and madthahib. Rather, some or most of them will censure me verbally as well as in writing. But there is no harm in that; because I know that pleasing all people is an unattainable aim. But I also know that “he who pleases people through displeasing Allah, Allah would commit his affairs to people.” (At-Tirmidthi)
It is enough for me to know that this is the right path that Allah has commanded the believers to pursue. Our Prophet, Muhammad, the best of all Messengers defined it. It is the same path that was pursued by the pious Predecessors of the Companions, the Tabi’een and those who followed them including the Four Imams to whose madthahib the assembly of believers adhere. All of the Four Imams are agreed that it is imperative to adhere to the Sunnah and to hold it as a term of reference, and reject everything, which opposes it regardless of how great, is the one who issues it. Because the Messenger of Allah is greater, and his methodology is the best. That is why I have pursued their guidance, followed their footsteps, and observed their command of adhering to the authentic hadeeth even if it contradicts their statements. Such commands have influenced me greatly in choosing this straight path, and turning away from blind taqleed (imitation.) May Allah reward them greatly on my behalf.
I was anxious to talk to this scholar, let alone seeing him. This finally took place when I made another trip to Kuwait, and visited the Society of Ihya’ at-Turath al-Islami. I was very happy when one of its officials gave me the Shaikh‘s telephone number. At the time I had begun abridging and translating Ibn Katheer’s exegeses, which required scrutinizing the Prophet’s ahadeeth in it and pointing out their categories. I had to consult an authority on both, exegetical as well as hadeeth sciences.
Although it was costly to make overseas calls from Canada, yet it was greatly rewarding when I consulted the Grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, at the time, Shaikh Bin Baz, may Allah grant him mercy, and Shaikh Nasirud-Deen, may Allah grant him mercy, on the science of Hadeeth. From then on I communicated with Shaikh Nasir on regular bases.
During those calls, the Shaikh used to ask me about the Da’wah activities in N. America of which I briefed him, and of course I used to ask him questions and used to tape his answers and comments. Once I read to him the constitution of the Qur’an & Sunnah Society when I was its chairman, just to make sure that there were no violations in the Society’s Manhaj. He listened patiently and commented on certain points without showing any sign of boredom.
I used to visit Saudi frequently. So I asked the Shaikh if he was going for Umrah so that I could adjust my itinerary to meet each other in Makkah. But he suggested that I visit him first. I was not able that year to stop in Amman. In fact it was only two or three years after when I managed to do so. He asked me to give him the date and time of my arrival. I did so and expected that he would send someone to the airport to receive me. This was honoring enough for me. I felt excited about the idea. I also gave the same information to his eminence, Sh. Muhammad Shaqrah.
I had never seen any picture of the Shaikh, so I could only imagine him as a dignified gray haired old man. Had I remembered that he was an Albanian, I would have probably envisaged a picture of his closer to reality.
I felt as if the flight took longer time than usual, and I wished the pilot would double the speed of the plane. When finally it landed, I felt like dashing through the passport point in the airport into the meeting hall. Alas! I had to wait for long before I reached that hall. There was Sh. Muhammad Shaqrah, whom I met for the first time, Ali Abdulhameed al-Halabi and another brother.
I thanked them for taking the trouble of coming to receive me, and I asked them about the Shaikh. Ali al-Halabi said: “The Shaikh is waiting for us.” The first thing came to my mind was that the Shaikh was waiting for us in his residence. All I said was, ‘Alhamdu lillah.’ Having expected my reaction, Shaikh Ali looked at me and said: “The Shaikh is waiting for us outside in his car, for he could not bear standing for a long period of time.” I looked at Ali back to make sure I heard him right. He looked at me as though he knew the effect of the surprise on me and said smiling. ‘Yes, he is outside.’ I was about to break in tears, but managed to control myself, and did not know what to say.
Soon as the Shaikh saw us coming out of the hall, he opened his car door to come towards us. But I rushed to him to save him the trouble of walking. I looked at his shiny face and green eyes, his white straight haired beard and mustaches, and opened my arms to hug him. My arms could not encircle him for he was large. He then asked the brothers with an air of command to put my luggage in his car, and they did so obediently.
The excitement of being driven by a scholar made it difficult for me to carry on a long conversation with him. I remembered he was asking me questions about my family, my activities in the Society, and other questions of that nature. When we finally reached his house, which was on top of a hill, I was amazed of how he maneuvered the car through the narrow driveway and then into the car park. I took out my luggage, and went up the stairs while he took a simple electric lift that he later on told me that he designed and built because it was difficult for him to mount the stairs.
His study door was opened, and I went inside to see that there were other students of the Shaikh waiting for us. Someone made the introductions. I was asked about the da’wah in N. America, and activities of the Salafis, and the other sects. I gave them a brief account because I was anxious to hear the comments of the Shaikh, and his answers to their questions. That was my main concern.
I spent about a week in the Shaikh‘s resident, which I consider as a condensed course in the science of hadeeth and fiqh. In deed it was a rare opportunity, at least for a person like me who at the time was living about 15,000. miles away from this renowned scholar.
Due to the fact that there was no mosque nearby, I would call the adthan for Fajr prayer, and he would lead the Salah then we would move into the library where the Shaikh began his work. Two hours later, the breakfast would be ready which we shared with two of the Shaikh‘s aides. He used to talk while eating or listen to what they had to say.
Then the Shaikh would return to the library to resume his work until around 10 o’clock when he retired to his family’s apartment. He would remain there until Dthuhr prayer followed by lunch and siesta.
After Asr prayer, the Shaikh stayed in the library and remained there until around midnight. That was the best part of the day. Some of his close students would come in and join us for the rest of the evening. Due to certain reasons that were beyond his will, the Shaikh‘s house was open only to his relatives and close students, not to visitors, let alone to public. They did not waste his time by idle talk or anything of that nature.. They would bring their questions concerning biographies of hadeeth narrators, their classifications and the hadeeth standards, and other issues on aqeedah or jurisprudence. He would answer them as if he was reading from a book.
There was another interesting period of that part of the day when the Shaikh began taking telephone calls and answering the questions of callers from all over the world. The phone never stopped ringing. As soon as one call was over, another would be waiting on line. We used to listen to the questions through a speakerphone. The topics varied widely.
He would give his answers according to the level of understanding of the caller. But he would not answer the question before he completely understood it, nor would he move from one point to another before he was sure that the caller understood the previous one. At times, he would repeat the point more than once without showing signs of frustration. He always used to ask the caller after answering his question whether he understood the answer.
One day the phone rang when the Shaikh was sitting in his library with some of his students. It was a female student of knowledge from Algeria, who used to call the Shaikh frequently. She said to him: Shaikh, I saw a dream last night. The Shaikh did not usually care much about interpreting dreams. But since he knew who she was, he allowed her to report to him her dream. She said: ‘I saw the Prophet (saws) walking while there was an old man with white beard sitting on the side of the road. I asked the Prophet, may Allah exalt his mention, who that man was, and he said: This is Shaikh Nasirud-Deen al-Albani.” At that point, the Shaikh broke in tears, and so did his students. In the meantime, the caller kept asking: ‘Shaikh are you there? Are you there?’ The Shaikh hung up, and gave his student a short speech about that fact that no one should take things for granted, for no one knows where will he end up. Or words to that effect.
Once the telephone period was over, he would listen to the comments or inquiries of his students on one of his answers, or would ask him questions relevant to some issues that were raised by callers. All of the questions and answers along with the comments of his students were taped. But unfortunately, the Shaikh did not keep the original tapes, and that was why he could not retrieve them from the fellow who was taping his sessions.
Knowing the Shaikh‘s love of the Sunnah of the Prophet (saws), it was not surprising to know that he listened to his students’ funny incidents that occurred to them during the day. He himself would share with them an incident of his own. His Damascene dialect made his narrative more interesting.
Besides being a specialist in the science of hadeeth, the Shaikh, may Allah grant him mercy, also designed quite a few things in his home. One of them was the solar water-heater, which he showed me the next day of my arrival. He also designed an elevator for himself because it was difficult for him to climb up the stairs. He also devised a sundial that he placed on the roof of his house to show the exact prayer times, and other things.
There were other occasions that I really enjoyed. We used to receive invitations from his students for lunch, dinner, or even breakfast. He never refused any of them unless it was break fast, or when he was tied up with some important occupation. I enjoyed those occasions because they were attended by a large number of guests, which meant more questions and discussions.
One day we were invited for lunch by sh. Hassan al-Awaysheh. Among the guests was a young man who brought a message from Hikmatyar to Shaikh Naseruddeen al-Albani concerning the assassination of Shaikh Jamilur-Rahman, may Allah grant him mercy. The discussion was about the war in Afghanistan, and the assassination of Jamil Arrahman which was the topic of the hour. After the Shaikh opened the discussion and made his point, I asked his permission to share my views on the issue. The Shaikh looked at me in the face and noticed that I was irritated by Hikmatyar’s representative, and said: ‘In sha Allah.’ I waited long hoping that he would give me the chance to speak.
The time for Asr prayer was due, so we went to the masjid to perform Salah, and then we returned to our host’s house. When every one took his seat, the Shaikh looked at me and said, ‘I think you have something to say.’ I was just waiting for that moment, and did not hesitate to say: ‘Certainly.’
Having said what I had in my mind, I felt relieved. Later on, I realized that the Shaikh had a valid reason for not giving me the chance to speak when first I asked his permission. He knew that the statements of the guest irritated me, and he wanted me to calm down before I uttered any word.
On the way home, I apologized to him for being unable to hide my emotion while making my point. Although he agreed that it was valid point, but he said: “As you know, it is hard for the ego to accept the truth. It is more so to accept it when it is presented in a sharp manner.” I looked at him while he was driving, and gave him a smile tinted with a sense of guilt. I was unable to utter a word in response. I said to myself if these were the only words of wisdom I learnt from this great scholar during my stay with him, they would have been more than sufficient for me to take home.
One evening Shaikh Muhammad Shaqrah, may Allah preserve him, invited us for dinner. That night I felt sorry for having forgotten to bring along my tape recorder. The Shaikh at that night was in a good mood. There were only few of his devoted students with us, when he talked about his suffering in his life, and how he had to leave his father’s residence with little amount of money and be on his own. His recollection moved him to tears, and we cried along with him. I hope some day I will be able to write about that part of the Shaikh‘s life which is not recorded in books.
Needless to say the duration of my visit flashed by when all of a sudden I realized that I had to pack for the return trip. The Shaikh insisted to take me to the airport, and I insisted that he should stay home. But he ignored my objection. Although I enjoyed his uninterrupted company for more than forty minutes, yet I felt guilty for taking him away from his work.