Sufi Biography: al-Mohasebi

Sufi Biography: al-Mohasebi

The account given by Attar of al-Mohasebi, one of the greatest figures in the history of Islamic mysticism is surprisingly jejune. Born in Basra in 165 (781), Abu ‘Abd Allah al-Hareth ibn Asad al- Basri al-Mohasebi early in his life removed to Baghdad where he studied Traditions and theology and was closely involved with the leading personalities and prominent events of his times. He died in 243(857).

 The influence of his teachings and writings upon later mystical theorists, including in particular Abu Hamed al-Ghazali, was profound and far-reaching. Many of his books and pamphlets have been preserved, the most important being the Ketab al-Re’aya (edited by Dr.
Margaret Smith, London, 1940).

The austerity of Hareth-e Mohasebi

Hareth-e Mohasebi inherited thirty thousand dinars from his father. “Take it to the Treasury. Let the authorities have it,” he ordered.
“Why?” they asked.
“The Prophet said,” he explained, “and it is a true Tradition that the Qadarites are the Magians of this
community. My father was a Qadarite. The Prophet also said that a Muslim cannot inherit from a Magian.
My father was a Magian, as you see, and I am a Muslim.”

God’s providence in preserving him was such that, when he stretched out his hand towards food whose
lawfulness was doubtful, a nerve in the back of his finger became taut so that the finger did not obey the
command to move. Thus he knew that the morsel in question was not proper.
“Hareth came to me one day and was visibly hungry,” reported Jonaid. “ ‘Uncle, I will bring some food,’
I said. ‘That would be welcome,’ he answered. So I went to the larder and looked for some food. I found
some remains of a wedding-feast which had been brought to us for supper. I brought this a offered it to
him. His finger would not obey him. He put morsel in his mouth, but despite all his efforts it would not
down. He turned it about in his mouth, then at last he got and put it out in the porch and took his departure.
“Later I questioned him about what had happened. Hareth said, ‘I was certainly hungry, and I wanted to
please you. But God has given me a special sign, that any food that is doubtful will not go down my throat
and my finger refuses to touch it. For all that I tried, it would not go down. Where did that. food come from?’
‘From the house of a kinsman of mine,’ replied.

“Then I said, ‘Today will you come to my house?’ ‘I will,’ he replied. So we entered, and fetched a piece of
dry bread, and we ate. Hareth remarked, ‘This is the kind of thing to offer dervishes.’”