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Harith ibn Asad al-Muhasibi of Baghdad was a master of Sufi ethics and the father of Sufi psychology. He is most famous for his theory of the three-part nature of the human soul. His nickname, "al-Muhasibi," refers to his practice of muhasaba, the critical examination of actions, motives, and spiritual states.

He was an exemplar of ethical conduct and refused to allow any form of self-deception. He taught his disciples to follow reason and avoid emotionalism.

His major opponent was Ahmad ibn Hanbal d. Ibn Hanbal criticized al-Muhasibi for his rationalism and his use of dialectical reasoning. He incited his followers in Baghdad to intimidate al-Muhasibi and prevent people from attending his lessons. He called his theory the "science of hearts. It includes the conscience sirr , which is the spiritual center of the soul, and the nafs, which is the "psyche," "self," or "ego. The key to taming the "commanding nafs " is self-examination muhasaba.

Through self-examination, the "commanding nafs " is transformed into the "self-blaming nafs " al-nafs allawwama. At this stage, one becomes aware of the damage that has been done to oneself and others by allowing the nafs to control one's life.

But the "self-blaming nafs " is still egoobsessed. Its overly critical attitude can lead to self-hatred and even suicide. In this final stage, the soul is at peace because it has transcended the human ego and is now controlled by God. This is the meaning of al-Muhasibi's aphorism, "Be God's or be nothing.

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Harith al-Muhasibi

His parents apparently left for Baghdad shortly after his birth, perhaps attracted by the many opportunities afforded by the newly founded capital. He led a normal life, owned a beautiful house, and liked sumptuous clothes. These habits had been adapted from the life-style of Christian monks. But whereas Christian monks used to live in seclusion, a Muslim ascetic felt obliged to remain an active member of his community.


Al-Harith al-Muhasibi (d. 243 A.H) – Part One

Recently I wrote a paper regarding one of the works of an early Sufi and scholar of kalam , al-Harith b. Asad al-Muhasibi d. Al-Muhasibi is one of the first people who combined between Sufism and kalam — the general norm for the first five centuries of the hijra was that these two trends were distinct and separate from one another. Most early Sufis had little to do with kalam , and the greatest luminaries of early kalam were not known for their tasawwuf. It was only after Abu Hamid al-Ghazali that such a marriage between Sufism and kalam became the norm, such that in our times it is hardly possible to find a person who is involved in one without the other. Of course, even in the first few centuries, there were a handful of exceptions, al-Muhasibi being perhaps one of the more famous ones, and definitely the earliest.



He was born in Basra in It was his characteristic property. He was a founder of Sufi doctrine, and influenced many subsequent theologians, such as al-Ghazali. His parents left Basra for Baghdad shortly after his birth, perhaps inclined to the economic opportunities in the new capital.

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