Hassan Al-Basri (21-110 A.H.) emerged as one of th e greatest theologian tutor of Basra, leader of the scholars of his time and well known for his strict and encompassing embodiment of the Sunnah. He is also famous for his immense knowledge, fearless remonstration of the authorities with power of attraction in discourse and as the adviser to Caliph Umar bin Abdul Aziz.
It was in 21 Al-Hijra, just a decade after the death of Holy Prophet (peace be upon him), that he was born to Yasr and Khayrah in Madinah. Musa was a freed slave of Zaid bin Thabit, who embraced Islam at the hands of Caliph Abu Bakr Siddique.
His wife, Khayrah, served as a housemaid to Umm Salma, the wife of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him). The mother took the new baby to Caliph Umar bin Al-Khattab. After seeing his beautiful face he named him Hassan and prayed for him saying "Oh Allah! Make him wise in religion and beloved to the people."
He was raised in the household of Zaid bin Thabit, who was one of the seven Sahaba fuqaha (jurists) who was selected to compile the Holy Qur'an and was reared by Umm Salma who taught him the teachings of the prophet. After he grew up, he became a student in the Prophet's Mosque. He acquired knowledge from leading companions of the Prophet. He once remarked, "By Allah! I have met 70 warriors of Badar. He also memorized the Qur'an and learned reading, writing and mathematics. At the age of 14 he became the disciple of Ali bin Abi Taleb and became one of the most prominent figures of his generation because of his piety.
At the age of 15, he migrated with his parents to Basra. This earned him the name Hassan Basri. In those days, Basra was the biggest city of knowledge. Hassan attended the discourses of Abdullah bin Abbas on Tafseer and Tajweed and learned recitation of the Qur'an from Hattaan bin Abdullah Ar-Riqashi. He also attended sittings where Ibn Surayyi At-Tameemi delivered sermons. He soon became a narrator of Hadith and recorded more than 1,400 Hadiths in nine books.
He narrated Hadiths quoting Usman bin Affan, Ali bin Abi Taleb, Abu Musa Al Ash'aree, Abdullah bin Umar, Abdullah bin Abbas, Anas bin Malik and Jabir bin Abdullah (may Allah be pleased with them all). He used to talk about life after death, drawing the attention of his audience to the religious and moral defects that they might have, and how they could overcome them according to what he had learned from the Book of Allah, the Sunnah of the Prophet and from the Prophet's companions.
Hassan Al-Basri used to hold a large class in the Grand Mosque of Basra in which he taught people the Qur’an, Hadith, jurisprudence, the Arabic language and Tajweed. He also established a madrasa in Basra. He had a wide circle of disciples and students and became renowned as a brilliant orator. Arab scholars have preserved many of his speeches, letters and aphorisms. He was famous and respected not only for his knowledge and wisdom, but also for his tremendous humility and piety. Hassan lived for more than 80 years during which he served his community through his knowledge and wisdom.
Rabia Basri, the most famous lady of Basra and who was born in 95 AH and lived till 185 AH, also had discussions with him. Hassan used to frequently advise rulers and governors and never feared anybody except Allah. He lived in Iraq when Al-Hajjaj bin Yusuf was the governor but he used to criticize him severely for his harsh policies. Later he became a close friend and adviser of Caliph Umar bin Abdul Aziz, who loved him and consulted him on state affairs. He also acted as the voluntary judge of Basra in 102 A.H. Abu Burdah said, "I have never seen a man (other than Hassan Al-Basri) who, though did not accompany the Sahaba, resembled them."
Abu Qatadah Al-Adawi said, "Follow this scholar, for I have never seen a man except him who had opinions similar to Umar Ibn Al-Khattab."
Hassan said, "Son of Adam, you have no more than a few days. Whenever a day passes, a part of your life goes."
He also said that, "Son of Adam, never please anybody if this entails the wrath of Allah. Never obey anybody if this entails disobedience to Allah..."
He further said, "This world is like a carrier (camel) for you. If you ride it, it will deliver you to your destination. But if it rides you, it will lead you to destruction."
Hassan Al-Basri died at the age of 89 on Rajab 5, 110 A.H. at Basra. The entire population of Basra attended his funeral. May Almighty Allah shower His blessings on his soul.