Excerpt from Weekly Khutbah, Volume 3 (2015-2016)
Imam Ibn Qudamah Al Maqdisi (Rahmatullah Allaih) mentioned the following incident in his Kitaab al Tawwabeen:
There was an alcoholic who was addicted to alcohol & he used to remain excessively drunk- this young man’s name was Abdullah Ibn Maslamah Al Qanabi.
Upon one occasion, Abdullah was with his friends drinking alcohol and in front of him he saw a sudden rush. He saw a large number of people gathering around someone and this person was seated on his donkey. So Abdullah was curious and wanted to know who this person was.
“Why is everyone crowding around this individual?” He thought. So he went with a bottle of alcohol in his hand and asked the people around, “Who is this?”
The people replied, “This is a very famous Imam.”
Abdullah asked, “What’s the Imam’s name?”
The people replied, “Imam Ashabi (Rahmatullah Allaih).”
Abdullah said, “Ok. What does he do?”
So the people said, “He is a Muhaddith.”
Abdullah asked, “What’s a Muhaddith?”
So they replied, “A Muhaddith is a person that narrates, memorizes, teaches & acts upon the Hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam).”
Thereafter, Imam Ashabi (Rahmatullah Allaih) was sitting on his donkey and Abdullah went up to him and asked him, “If you are a Muhaddith, tell me, narrate to me one Hadith.”
So Imam Ashabi (Rahmatullah Allaih) being an Imam, read the situation & saw that Abdullah had a bottle of alcohol in his hand. He narrated a Hadith to him according to his situation and said, “And if you do not feel ashamed, then do whatever you like.” The translation of the original Hadith is the following:
Narrated Abu Masood (Radi Allahu Anhu): The Prophet Muhammad (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) said, ‘One of the sayings of the early Prophets which the people have got is: If you don’t feel ashamed (from Haya’: pious shyness from committing religious indiscretions) do whatever you like.”
Reference: Sahih al-Bukhar, Hadith 6120
When Abdullah heard this Hadith, the bottle of alcohol fell from his hands & he said, “Did the Prophet (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) say this that if you have no shame, do whatever you want?”
He then started asking himself, “Am I a shameless person?”
This Hadith penetrated Abdullah’s heart He went home and stayed there some days in his room crying, thinking, “What have I done with my life until now? I kept on drinking alcohol, disobeying Allah. “
So he repented to Allah (Subhana Wa Ta’ala).
He came out of his room & told his mother, “I am leaving this country. I asked the scholars, the Ulamas that I want to acquire the knowledge of Islam. I want to be like Imam Ashabi (Rahmatullah Allaih), he is a Muhaddith, why am I not a Muhaddith? If Imam Ashabi (Rahmatullah Allaih) can be a Muhaddith, so can I!”
So he asked the scholars and they said, “Go to the madrashah. Imam Malik (Rahmatullah Allaih) is one of the greatest Imams of this time. If you become his student, then you can become a Muhaddith.”
So Abdullah travelled from Busrah to Medina and he went to Imam Malik and became one of his greatest students. And this very man who was an alcoholic later became the teacher of Imam Bukhari (Rahmatullah Allaih) and Imam Muslim (Rahmatullah Allaih). He became one of the most famous scholars of his time.
Therefore, never lose hope on the people whom we perceive are far away from Allah, a day may come when their Imaan may even surpass ours. Hadith states:
Anas (Radi Allahu Anhu) narrated that Allah’s Messenger (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) said: “All the sons of Adam are sinners, but the best of sinners are those who repent often.”
References: Jami At-Tirmidhi & Sunan Ibn Majah. This Hadith has been graded Sahih by Imam At-Tirmidhi (Rahmatullah Allaih) and Imam Ibn Majah (Rahmatullah Allaih) with a strong chain of narrators.