Abdullah, the son of Imam Ahmad Hanbal, said that he used to frequently hear his father said, “May God have mercy upon Abu al-Haytham and may God forgive the sins of Abu al-Haytham.” Abdullah would hear about him so frequently that he asked his father who the man was. So Imam Ahmad narrated to him the story.
There was a time of great fitna in Imam Ahmad’s life where some of the core beliefs of Islam were questioned and some of the rulers in the Muslim lands succumbed to these incorrect beliefs. These rulers started to enforce these beliefs unto the people.
The scholars lined up to debate them and oppose these beliefs. They ended up imprisoning, torturing, and even killing these scholars until only Imam Ahmad was left standing. Imam Ahmad successfully debated their intellectuals and left them speechless.
One day, the ruler had enough and ordered that Imam Ahmad be chained up like a criminal and walked through the middle of the town so that he was humiliated. Finally, the ruler wanted to bring Imam Ahmad to him and torture him until he denounce his stand.
As Imam Ahmad was dragged through the streets, people were surprised and gave him unpleasant looks. At that moment, he started to question himself, “Why am I doing this to myself?” He could’ve agreed with the ruler in his speech but not in his heart, and it would be okay. The Prophet gave a person in such a circumstance leeway.
At that point, he thought to himself that he can handle imprisonment but he was unsure whether he could handle physical torture. He started to reconsider his stance. As he was thinking that, he felt a tug on his shirt. It was Abu al-Haytham.
Abu al-Haytham was widely known as a criminal. He tugged Imam Ahmad’s shirt and said to the Imam, “I rob people for a living. It is written in the court records that I have been lashed 18,000 times because of my crimes. But I haven’t stopped doing what I do. I obey Shaytan for the sake of the dunya, but I haven’t quit just because of a few lashes.”
He continued, “You obey Allah for the sake of the Deen and the Hereafter. Don’t you dare ease up on your stance because of a few lashes. I didn’t give up on bad things because of a few lashes. Don’t you dare give up on good things because of a few lashes.”
He said those words to Imam Ahmad and let his shirt go. The soldiers dragged Imam Ahmad on, and that was the last time he ever saw Abu al-Haytham. Abu al-Haytham’s words had lit a fire in his heart and he didn’t budge from his stance no matter what the ruler did to him.
Imam Ahmad became one of the reasons of the preservation of correct Islamic beliefs and the reason for the defeat of the incorrect beliefs of the time, thanks to Abu al-Haytham who ignited that fire within Imam Ahmad. That is why, for the rest of Imam Ahmad’s life, he would make du’a for Abu al-Haytham.
People who met Abu al-Haytham later on might never knew the good that he did. They might never knew that Abu al-Haytham, a notorious criminal of the time, was the man who inspired Imam Ahmad in preserving the correct Islamic beliefs and we see the fruits of Imam Ahmad’s contributions until this very day.
You can probably extract many lessons from this story, but I intend to leave you with this specific lesson: do not underestimate the potential of an individual, any individual. It might be that from the outside, he or she doesn’t look like they can do much for the Ummah but in reality you never know.
Is it possible that Allah answered Imam Ahmad’s du’a for Abu al-Haytham? Is it possible that because of that one deed that Abu al-Haytham did, Allah forgave his sins and enter him into Jannah?
We know about the life of Abu al-Haytham and what he did. We know how he lived his life. But, we have no idea how he ended his life and we have no where he will end up in the Afterlife.
If we truly are the followers of the mercy to all the worlds (Prophet Muhammad), then we have to recognize that everyone has potential for good. Even the most unlikely of individuals, he or she has potential for good. So do not underestimate anyone.
First of all, do not underestimate yourself. Do not think that you are too broken to be fixed or that you are a good for nothing person. There is no such thing. Allah didn’t created anyone to be useless. Allah recognizes the potential in us when He created us and when we messed up, Allah is always ready to accept us if we choose to return back to Him.
Next, do not underestimate other people because you’ll never know what good that can come out of them or what good that they had already done but you don’t know about. Nobody would know what Abu al-Haytham did if Imam Ahmad hadn’t narrated this story. But whether we know about him or not, Allah knows.
Do not underestimate anyone. Islam is not the religion of doom and gloom. Yes, it does carry a warning to those who do bad things. But, it also carries hope and Islam never runs out of hope to give out to people.
“Multiplied for him is the punishment on the Day of Resurrection, and he will abide therein humiliated – Except for those who repent, believe and do righteous work. For them Allah will replace their evil deeds with good. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful.”
(Surah al-Furqan: 69-70)
We have in our tradition a sahih narration about a mass murderer who killed 100 people. But then he decided to repent and in the effort to repent, he decided to move to a new place where he can start a new life. But, on the way to the new place, he died.
Both the Angel of Hellfire and the Angel of Paradise came down to claim his soul. They argued about who will take him. The Angel of Hellfire argued that the man killed 100 people. He should be in the Hellfire. The Angel of Paradise argued that he had repented and Allah forgave Him.
To settle the argument, they decided to measure the distance between the man and the old place where he came, and the distance between the man and the new place where he wanted to go. If he is closer to the old place, he will go to the Hellfire. But, if he is closer to the new place, he will go to Paradise.
By the Will of Allah, the man was closer to the new place hence he’s taken to Paradise.
If Allah can forgive a mass murderer, don’t you think He can forgive us? If there is hope for a mass murderer, then don’t you think that there’s hope for us? No matter how big our sins are, Allah’s Mercy is always bigger.
So do not lose hope for ourselves and for other people, and do not lose sight of the potential in every single human being we come across. Value yourself and value other people – value them for what they can, have, and will offer to the betterment of humanity.
“You will find that people are mines of gold and silver. The best of you in the time of ignorance before Islam will be the best of you in Islam if they gain understanding of the religion.” (Sahih Bukhari)
People have untapped potentials that, if polished and guided, will do wonders to the world.