There is a saying in post-modern America that “chivalry isn’t dead” which is an acknowledgment that though there is an understanding that traditional moral codes and rites of passage have waned, they are not yet extinct. With that said, Islamic civilization has always held chivalry to be praiseworthy going back to the Pious Predecessors until today. One of the early transmitters of al-Futuwwa, which is loosely translated as a youthful exuberance of chivalry within Islam, was Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (may Allah’s blessings be upon him).
Imam as-Sadiq, meaning the Truthful in speech and deeds, was a paternal descendant of Prophet Muhammad (prayers and peace be upon him and his family) and a maternal descendant of Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him).1 He inherited sacred knowledge and spiritual refinement from these two streams which he taught to hundreds of students who passed along his teachings as well as narrated stories about his merits, two of those more famous students having been Imam Abu Hanifah and Imam Malik bin Anas (may Allah’s mercy be upon them both).
The essence of al-Futuwwa as derived from Imam as-Sadiq is based in beauty of character which is displayed through not only treating others with excellence but also preferring others over one’s self. One such example of this understanding which he learned came from his father Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (may Allah’s blessings be upon him) who stated that “When the Messenger of Allah (prayers and peace be upon him) ate with people, he would be the last of them to eat.”2 Sufyan ath-Thawri, one of the imam's chief students, stated that an axiom of al-Futuwwa relates to diet and it being removed from corruption or transgression.3 Hence an aspect of al-Futuwwa which was passed on by the Prophet (prayers and peace be upon & his family) to his spiritual inheritors relates to being generous and preferring others as it relates to a base necessity of life which is food.
The preferring others over one’s self, of course, extends beyond food as taught by Imam as-Sadiq. When he was asked by a disciple of his regarding what was al-Futuwwa, he asked the questioner to state what he thought it meant. The disciple said to the imam, “If I am given, I show gratitude, but if I am withheld, I show patience.” The imam responded, “The dogs with us [in al-Madinah] do that.” The disciple then wanted to know what was the reality of al-Futuwwa. Imam Jafar then said, ”If we are given, we pass along, but if we are withheld, we show gratitude.”4 Hence an attribute of chivalry besides preferring others over one’s self is to show thanks even when not given. This disposition was taught to the Sahabah to be expressed by saying “Praise be to Allah upon every condition.”5
Another example given by Imam as-Sadiq relates to generosity not only with passing along material acquisitions but also in pardoning people. A pilgrim once was sleeping in al-Madinah and then awakened to not find his money-pouch containing 10,000 dinar. He then saw Imam as-Sadiq praying close by and accused him of taking his money-pouch. Imam as-Sadiq asked him what was in it and the pilgrim replied that it had 10,000 dinar. Imam as-Sadiq then brought the man to his house and gave him 10,000 dinar. When the pilgrim went back to the masjid and looked through his belongings again, he found his money-pouch containing the 10,000 dinar which he mistakenly thought was stolen. The man then returned to the imam asking for his pardon and offered to give him back the 10,000 dinar, but the imam refused to accept it. The man not knowing the identity of the imam then asked the people who he was and they replied that he was Ja’far bin Muhammad (may Allah be pleased with him).6 Thus the imam was generous in pardoning, trusted that the pilgrim would give the 10,000 dinar to those truly in need of assistance and taught him a lesson in how to replicate chivalry.
One thing is for sure — chivalry is not dead, and we should keep it alive as a moral code of conduct among us. There is more that can be said about the topic of al-Futuwwa. Books have been written about this subject, scholarly seminars have taken place about it and institutes in varying places of the world have been established specifically to instill chivalry within young people. I pray to Allah (Mighty & Sublime) that we benefit from these lessons related to us through one of the stars of the Ummah, Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq, and that we recommit ourselves to instilling chivalry among our young people.
1. Al-‘Aqiqi, Kitab al-Mu’qibin, Page 313.
2. As-Sulami, Kitab al-Futuwwa, Page 16.
3. Al-Maqdisi, Al-Adab ash-Shar’iyah, Page 199.
4. Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah, Madarij as-Salikin, Volume 2, Page 325.
5, Ibn Majah, Sunan ibn Majah, Hadith #3831.
6. Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah, Madarij as-Salikin, Pages 326 - 327
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