Physical Descriptions of the Four Great Imams of Fiqh

By Imam Abu Abdullah Muhammad Ibn Ahmad al-Dhahabi (rah)



1. Imam Abu Hanifah an-Nu’man bin Thabit (rah):

Abu Yusuf said: “Abu Hanifah was well-formed, was from the best of people in appearance, the most eloquent of them in speech, the sweetest in tone, and the clearest of them in expressing what he felt.”

Hamad bin Abi Hanifah said: “My father was very handsome, dark, had good posture, would wear a lot of perfume, was tall, would not speak except in reply to what someone else had said, and he – may Allah have Mercy upon him – would not involve himself in what did not concern him.”


2. Imam Abu ‘Abdillah Muhammad bin Idris ash-Shafi’i (rah):

Ibrahim bin Buranah said: “ash-Shafi’i was serious, tall, and noble.”


az-Za’farani said: “ash-Shafi’i visited us in Baghdad in the year 95. He stayed with us for a few months, then left. He would dye his hair with henna, and he had thin cheeks.”

Ahmad bin Sinan said: “I saw him with a red beard and hair – i.e. he used to dye them.”


3. Imam Abu ‘Abdillah Ahmad bin Hambal (rah):

Ibn Dharih al-’Ukbari said: “I requested to see Ahmad bin Hambal. So, I greeted him, and he was an old man who dyed his hair. He was tall and extremely dark.”

Muhammad bin ‘Abbas an-Nahwi said: “I saw Ahmad bin Hambal with a handsome face, well-formed, and dyeing his hair with henna that was not too dark. He had black hairs in his beard, and I saw his clothes extremely white. When I saw him, he was wearing a turban and an izar.”


‘Abd al-Malik al-Maymuni said: “I do not know that I have ever seen anyone who wore cleaner clothes, was more attentive to trimming his moustache and grooming the hair on his head and body, or wore purer and whiter garments than Ahmad bin Hambal.”


One man said: “In Khurasan, they did not think that Ahmad resembled a human being. They thought that he resembled the Angels.”


al-Fadl bin Ziyad said: “I saw Abi ‘Abdillah in the winter, and he was wearing two shirts with a colored vest between them, and maybe he was wearing a shirt with a heavy sweater. And I saw him with a turban over a hood and heavy outer garment. So, I heard Aba ‘Imran al-Warkani saying to him: “O Aba ‘Abdillah! All of these clothes?” So, he laughed and said: “I cannot stand the cold,” and he would also wear the hood without a turban.”

al-Fadl bin Ziyad said: “I saw Abi ‘Abdillah in the summer wearing a shirt, trousers, and robe.”


4. Imam Abu ‘Abdillah Malik bin Anas (rah):

‘Isa bin ‘Umar said: “I never saw anything white or red that was more beautiful than the face of Malik, or any clothes whiter than Malik’s.”

And a number of people relate that he was tall, firm, serious, blond, had a white beard and hair, had a large beard, was balding, and would not shave his moustache, as he considered this to be a form of mutilation.

It is said that he had blue eyes, and some of this was narrated by Ibn Sa’d from Mutarraf bin ‘Abdillah.

Muhammad bin ad-Dahhak al-Hizami said: “Malik’s clothes were clean and soft, and he would constantly wear different clothes.”

al-Walid bin Muslim said: “Malik would wear white clothes, and I saw he and al-Awza’i wearing black and green caps.”

Ashhab said: “When Malik would wear a turban, he would wrap part of it under his chin and would leave the ends of it hanging between his shoulders.”

Khalid bin Khidash said: “I saw Malik wearing a cap, and I saw him wearing woven clothes.”

Ashhab said: “If Malik would wear kohl for a necessity, he would remain in his house.”

Mus’ab said: “Malik would wear ‘Adani clothes, and he would wear perfume.”

Abu ‘Asim said: “I never saw a Muhaddith with a more handsome face than Malik’s.”

It is said: “He was so light colored that he was blond. He had wide eyes, a raised, pointed nose, and he would let his moustache grow long based on ‘Umar’s curling of his moustache.”

Ibn Wahb said: “I saw Malik dying his hair with henna once.”

Abu Mus’ab said: “Malik had the most handsome face of the people, the widest of eyes, the whitest skin, and was the greatest of them in height – all in the strongest body.”

al-Waqidi said: “He was well-formed, would not dye his hair, and would not enter the public baths.”

Bishr bin al-Harith said: “I entered upon Malik and saw him wearing a cap that was worth about 500 dirhams.”

Ashhab said: “When Malik would wear a turban, he would wrap part of it under his chin and would leave the ends of it behind his back, and he would scent himself with musk and other scents.”


Collected from Siyar A’lām al-Nubalā




Allah has given us many blessings. The most important of these blessings is intelligence. We distinguish right from wrong, and good from evil thanks to our intelligence. For this reason, intelligence and thinking are among the fundamental characteristics of human beings that distinguish us from other living beings. The blessing of intelligence brings along with it responsibility. That is because God, Who
gave us these blessings, did not leave us alone and irresponsible.

He commanded the things that are beneficial and good for us and forbade the things that are harmful and bad for us. He held us accountable for some duties that enable our worldly and next-worldly happiness and He commanded us to perform those duties. Thus, these duties and deeds that we are commanded to perform or avoid are called “Religious Liabilities.”

When does one enter puberty?
The time of puberty in children occurs depending on the children’s body structure and the climate. In general, puberty takes place around age 12 to 15 for boys and age 9 to 15 for girls. After age fifteen, a boy or girl is considered mature and becomes responsible for obeying our beautiful religion’s commands and prohibitions even if the child doesn’t show the signs of puberty.

What Does Legally-responsible Mean?
The individuals who have reached the age of puberty and who are of sound mind and therefore responsible to obey our religion’s commands and prohibitions are called “legally- responsible” (mukallaf). Insane people and children who have not reached the age of puberty are not legally-responsible.


Obligatory/ Al-Fardh: These are the acts of worship that are definitely commanded to perform by our religion. For example, performing five daily ritual prayers, fasting, and paying poor-due (Zakat) are obligatory. Whoever performs the obligatory acts gain divine rewards (thawab). Whoever does not perform them, short of a valid excuse, would be committing sin. If someone does not believe in even one of the obligatory acts or does not acknowledge that it is obligatory would abandon the religion of Islam.

Fardhs are of two kinds:

a) Obligatory on Individuals (Fardh al-Ayn):
These are the obligatory acts that each legally-responsible Muslim is tasked with fulfilling personally. For example, praying five times
a day and fasting are obligatory on individuals (fardh al-ayn).

b) Obligatory on the Community (Fardhal-Kifayah):
These obligatory acts are fulfilled even if only some Muslims do them. In this case, the responsibility is lifted from other Muslims. If no one fulfills such obligatory acts, then all Muslims are responsible. For example, when a Muslim passes away, if a group of Muslims performs the funeral prayer, the responsibility is being lifted from the entire Muslim community in that region.

Al-Wajib: These are orders that are determined through evidence that is not as definitive as the evidence for the obligatory acts. For example, performing Festival prayers (Salah al- Eid), giving alms to the poor in the month of Ramadan (Fitr), and sacrificing an animal during Eid-ul-Adha are necessary (wajib). As in the case of obligatory acts (fardhs), whoever performs the wajib acts gains divine rewards (thawab) and whoever does not becomes a sinner. However, while a person who denies a fardh abandons the religion, if someone denies a wajib, he or she does not abandon the religion.

Sunnah: These are the acts that are not among the obligatory and necessary ones, but they were performed by our Prophet and are
advised for us. Traditions (al-Sunnah) are of two groups:

a) Emphasized Tradition (Sunnah Muakkadah):
Those are the traditions (sunnahs) that our Prophet ﷺ would always perform and hardly ever missed. For example, parts of Morning (Dawn) Prayer (Salat al-Fajr), and Noon Prayer (Salat al-Zuhr), Sunset Prayer (Salat al-Maghrib), and Tarawih Prayer (Salat-al-Tarawih) are all sunnah Muakkadah. (Ritual prayers are composed of parts that are obligatory and non-obligatory.)

b) Non-continuous tradition (Sunnah al-Ghayri muakkadah):
These are the acts or worship that our Prophet ﷺ occasionally performed and sometimes did not. For example, the sunnah parts of the Afternoon Prayer (Salah al-Asr) and Night Prayer (Salah al-Isha’) are non-emphasized traditions (sunnah Ghayr mu’akkadah). One who performs the sunnah gains divine rewards (thawab),and in the hereafter, he or she would be blessed by the Prophet’s (blessings and peace be upon him) intercession. The one who abandons the sunnah would miss the opportunity to gain divine rewards (thawab).

Al-Mustahabb: Mustahabb: These are the acts that are good and nice to perform according to our religion’s general guidelines. They are
also called “nafilah/ supererogatory” or “mandub/ praiseworthy.” For example, Performing the mid-morning ritual prayer (Salat al-Duha), fasting on Mondays and Thursdays, giving nonobligatory alms to the poor (Sadaqah), and giving gifts to each other are Mustahabb. One who does these liked and appreciated acts gains divine rewards (thawab), and one who does not engage in them does not commit a sin.

Al-Mubah: These are the acts that people are free to do or not to do. When we perform an ordinary act, we do not gain any divine reward (thawab) and, if we do not do it, it does not incur any sin. For example, sitting, walking, or sleeping are all mubah acts.

Al-Makruh: These are the acts and behaviors that are not welcome and are considered bad in our religion. There are two kinds of

a) Makruh Tahriman (Disliked, but closer to Forbidden):
These are the acts that are forbidden even though not based on evidence that is not as strong as would warrant them to be haram (forbidden). One who performs this kind of Makruh becomes a sinner. For example smoking, not performing the Ritual Festival Prayers (Salatal- Eidain), and performing the Late Afternoon Prayer (Salat al-Asr) when it is almost sunset without an important excuse – rather than performing it on time – is all considered Makruh.

b) Makruh Tanzihan (Disliked, but closer to permissible):
Those are the acts and behaviors that are not considered nice in our religion. One who engages in this kind of Makruh would not be a sinner but nevertheless commits an act that is not nice. For example, cleaning one’s nose with his right hand is considered makruh tanzihan.

Haram: Those acts that are strictly prohibited by definite evidence by our religion. For example, killing a person without a just cause, stealing, drinking intoxicating drinks, adultery, gambling, eating pork, rebelling against one’s parents, and gossiping are all
haram. The one who performs haram is considered as having disobeyed God and commits a big sin. The ones who distance themselves from haram acts gain the love of God and divine rewards. The ones who deny that such acts are haram, or who consider them halal/permissible abandon Islam.

Mufsid: Those things that cancel or annul any worship (ibadah) that has already begun. For example, talking during prayer (salah) and taking any food-like substance or drinking while fasting. The worship that has been annulled should be redone.


An Excerpt from “My Beautiful Religion: According to the Hanafi School”


Islam and Good Manners

Good manners are the most important provision of the traveler of the straight path. A person cannot be both pious and quarrelsome and unkind. As a creed, the spiritual essence of Islam is tawhid or believing in the oneness of Allah, and, in practice, good manners, uprightness, and compassion. In this regard, it can be said that Islam is composed of measures of elegance, courtesy, cleanliness or “good manners.” How elegantly Jalal al-Dīn Rumī قدس سره states this
reality in the following lines:

“Open your eyes and look carefully into the word of Allah from beginning to the end. The whole Qur’ān, all of its verses, is but explanation of good manners.”

Friends of Allah have attained such high levels of spirituality through their good manners. Imam Rabbānī قدس سره says that:

“None can make progress towards unity with Allah the Almighty without complying with the measures of good manners. The way of great Sufis is composed of good manners from beginning to the end.” And the most significant of good manners is the ones observed towards our Creator.

We should not forget that the devil was banished from the Divine presence, not because of his lack of knowledge or actions, but because of his bad manners. This is why the thing that the devil hates most is good manners.

How nicely Rumī قدس سره explains this state:

“When Devil refused to prostrate before Adam and disobeyed the command of Allah, he said:

“My essence is fire, while his essence is clay. Would it be appropriate for someone who is eminent to prostrate to someone who is low?”

Because of this impertinent response, Devil is cursed and banished from Divine presence. In addition to his rude response, Devil attempted to argue with his creator.” (Fihi Mā Fīh, p. 159)

Abū ‘Alī al-Daqqāq (may Allah have mercy upon his soul) says that:

“Leaving good manners requires to be banished from Divine presence. Whoever misbehaves in front of the Sultan, he would be sent to the door; and if he misbehaves at the door, he would be sent to the barn.”

Our predecessors advised us to take lessons from the states and fates of ill-mannered people in their saying “Learn your manners from the ill-mannered.” We should think about the end of Demon and take lessons from it.

A servant who shows the appropriate manners towards Allah the Almighty avoids all kinds of reckless actions, and realizes his mistakes and heedlessness in his worship and dealings with others. He protects himself/herself from the illness of too much reliance upon his actions.

One of the greatest objects of Sufism is to raise people to the state of iḥsān or the state of realization of being in the presence of Allah all the time, and thus to show good manners towards Allah. Sufis say that:

“Hold on to good manners externally and internally. Because if someone makes a mistake about his manners externally, he gets external punishment; while those who commit mistakes about their inner manners will be punished internally. Whoever loses his good manners gets away from Allah the Almighty, even if he thinks that he gets closer to Him and even if he thinks that he is accepted, in fact he is rejected.” (Bursevī, Ismail Hakki, Ruḥul Bayān, X, 401)

The most valuable manner towards Allah is to revere Him. And the best manifestation of reverence shows itself in our worship. Friends of Allah state that:

“Worship takes a person to Paradise; while reverence and good manners in worship takes him to Allah the Almighty and makes him His friend.”

Anas b. Mālik رضي الله عنه says that:

“Showing good manners in actions is a sign of their acceptance.” Hiḍir (Alaihi Salaam) advises to say the following prayers:

“Dear Lord! Bless me with good manners in worshipping You.”

Because friends of Allah live being aware of that they are always in the presence of Allah the Almighty, they pay utmost attention to their external good manners in addition to their inward manners. This can be expressed as keeping the state of reverence and respect out of worship as well. In fact Allah the Almighty says in the Holy Qur’ān in this respect that:

“Those who are constant at their prayer” (70; 23)

“And those who keep a guard on their prayer” (70; 34)

Jalal al-Dīn Rumī قدس سره interprets these verses as follows:

“A servant keeps his state in prayer, after he is out of prayer as well. Thus he spends all his life in reverence, respect, and good manners; and watching his tongue and heart. This is the state of real friends of Allah the Almighty…”


After interpreting the verse “Do not hold the Messenger’s calling (you) among you to be like your calling one to the other” (24; 63), Abū Lays (may Allah have mercy upon him) said:

“We also understand from this verse that we should show respect to the teachers. It’s been pointed out that the rights of the teachers and virtuous people should be observed.

This is why when their names are mentioned, and the language does not matter, we should also say things to show our respect. Since we are prohibited to call our biological fathers with their names, think about how disrespectful to specify our spiritual fathers’ names.”

(Ruḥ al-Bayān, VII, 447)


Awliya Allah (Friends of Allah)

Those who are the friends of Allah are not forgotten after their mortal bodies have left this world, rather they continue to live in the hearts of their loved ones and continue to guide them. Allah loves them and He has bestowed their love only upon those who are privileged. This is expressed in the Qur’ān as follows:

“On those who believe and work deeds of righteousness, will (Allah) Most Gracious bestow love.” (19:96)

The most vital love… A heartfelt affection which attracts many hearts like a magnet…

Isn’t the number of those who visit the tombs of Moulayi wa Murshidi Sarchasham e Uloom Zaahiri wa Baatini Qutub ul Aktaab Owaisi Hazrat Moulana Muhammad Amin Qureshi (Alai’hi Rehmah), Hazrat Abdul Qadir Jilani (Alai’hi Rehmah), Shah-ı Naqshiband (Alai’hi Rehmah), Jalal al-Din Rumi (Alai’hi Rehmah), Yunus Emre, or Hudayi (May Allah have mercy on their souls) every day enough to prove this fact?

The following story is a very nice manifestation of this reality:

Abbasid Caliph Harun al-Rashid was living in glory and luxury in Raqqa. One day Abdullah b. Mubarak came to Raqqa. All the people of the city went out of the city to welcome him. The caliph was practically all alone in the city. One of the concubines of the caliph wondered the reason for such a scene and asked:

“What is this? What is happening?” and she was told:

“A scholar from Khorasan came to the city. His name is Abdullah b. Mubarak. People went out to welcome him.”

Then the concubine said:

“The real sultanate is this one, not Harun al-Rashid’s; because, without a police force he cannot even gather his workers.”

This is the real sultanate; because, one day, all reigns in this world will end. However, the spiritual sultanate will continue with all its glory even after death. People are always in need of the sultans of the hearts. They look for them and follow their footsteps. This is why the friends of Allah, such as Hazrat Khuwaja Owais e Qarni, Hazrat Shah Abdul Latif Bithayi, Hazrat Moulana Muhammad Noor uz Zamaan Shah, Hazrat Abdul Qadir Jilani, Shah-ı Naqshiband, Jalal al-Din Rumi, Yunus Emre, or Hudayi (May Allah have mercy on their souls) and others, have been longed for, for centuries.

The spiritual appeal and affection of the friends of Allah is the secret behind their spiritual sultanate. Their exceptional qualities are also among the reasons of their esteemed state. The friends of Allah, who are completely lost in the love for the Messenger of Allah (fana fi al-Rasul) do not speak out of their own selfish desires. They are like the reed flute that has emptied its inner self from everything that keeps it away from Allah. All their talk and actions are actually reflections from the traditions and sayings of the prophets. Their hearts are like clear mirrors upon which the divine light of Allah and the truth are reflected. This reality is expressed in the following saying of the Prophetﷺ

“…And the most beloved things with which My slave comes nearer to Me, is what I have enjoined upon him; and My slave keeps on coming closer to Me through performing Nawafil (praying or doing extra deeds besides what is obligatory) till I love him, so I become his sense of hearing with which he hears, and his sense of sight with which he sees, and his hand with which he grips, and his leg with which he walks; and if he asks Me, I will give him, and if he asks My protection (Refuge), I will protect him; (i.e. give him My Refuge) and I do not hesitate to do anything as I hesitate to take the soul of the believer, for he hates death, and I hate to disappoint him.” (Bukhari, Kitab al-Riqaq, 38)

Their spiritual world is an exceptional place where the beautiful attributes of Allah the Almighty are manifested. The most repeated attributes of our Lord in the Noble Qur’ān, “Rahman” (The Compassionate) and “Rahim” (The Merciful), are reflected in the hearts of the friends of Allah as a mercy for all creation. Seeing creation through the window of mercy and compassion of the Creator has been the doctrine of their lives.

Esteemed Learning of Quran and Hadith….

Abdullah ibn Masud -Allah be well-pleased with him- says:

“When a Companion returned home, his wife would straight away ask him two questions: ‘How many ayat were revealed today?’ and ‘How many of the Prophet’s ahadith did you memorize?’” (Abdulhamid Kashk, Fi Rihabi’t-Tafsir, I, 26)


The below words from Abdullah ibn Masud -Allah be well-pleased with him-, further bear out the strong connection the Companions had with the Quran:

“I promise by Allah, apart from Whom there is no god, that there is not a surah revealed from the Book of Allah, whose place of revelation is unknown to me. Again, there is not an ayah revealed from the Book of Allah, without me knowing which person it was revealed about. If I heard that someone knew the Book of Allah better than I and it was possible to go to him on camelback, I would not waste anytime in setting out on the road.” (Bukhari, Fadail’ul-Quran, 8)

Time and again, Abdullah ibn Masud -Allah be well-pleased with him- would recite and teach his students a certain ayah of the Quran and follow it up by saying, “This ayah is better than anything the Sun has ever shone upon on Earth!” He would say the same for every single ayah. (Haythami, VII, 166)


His below words again show just how much the Companions were occupied in training themselves in Quranic sciences:

“Whosoever desires knowledge, let him thoroughly contemplate the meanings of the Quran and concentrate on its interpretation and recital; for it contains the knowledge of past and present.” (Haythami, VII, 165; Bayhaki, Shuab, II, 331)

The Companions would frequently get together to discuss the Quran and hadith.(1) The students of the Suffa, especially, were always at the Masjid, reading the Quran at day and discussing it amongst each other at night.(2)

Hazrat Umar -Allah be well-pleased with him-, for one, focused on contemplating in order to better understand the Quran, reciting it reflectively, in a way that resulted in practice. Proof of this are his words, “I managed to complete (fully implement in my life) surah al-Baqara in twelve years and as thanks, I sacrificed a camel.” (Qurtubi, I, 40)

Imam Malik (Alaihi Rehma) reports that Abdullah ibn Omar -Allah be well-pleased with him- studied the ayat of surah al-Baqara alone for a complete eight years, in order properly understand and practice them. He would always read the Book with an eye to learn and practice its commands and steer clear from its prohibitions.(3)

Hazrat Abu Bakr -Allah be well-pleased with him- has in fact said, “Explaining a single ayah of the Quran is more appealing to me than memorizing it alone.” (Ibn’ul-Anbari, Kitab-u Izah’il-Waqf, I, 23)



(1) Khatib al-Baghdadi, al-Faqih wa’l-Mutafaqqih, II, 126.

(2) Bukhari, Jihad, 9; Muslim, Imarah, 147.

(3) See, Muwattaa, Quran, 11; Kattani, Taratib, II, 191.

According to a narration whenever Imam Zayn al Abideen (RadiAllahu Anhu) rose to take his ablution his face would turn pale and whenever he began to pray his legs would shake. When he was asked the reason he said:

“Are you not aware of Whose presence I am entering? (Abu Nuaym, Hilya, III, 133).

One time when he was praying his house caught fire. However he remained unaware of this. When he finished his prayer and was told of the situation they asked him:

“What was it that made you fail to notice that your house was on fire?”.

Imam Zayn al Abideen (RadiAllahu Anhu) replied:

“The fire that awaits mankind in the hereafter made me forget the fire of this world”.