The following article below is a transcribed interview conducted with Umm ‘Abdullah, the wife of Shaykh ibn Uthaymeen. It’s a great question and answer session because you get an inside look into everyday greatness. Insha’Allah, we can benefit from the Shaykh’s example as well as his wife’s, who I immensely respect for seeing her role throughout the discussion as one who helped the Shaykh in seeking and propagating knowledge. I’ve taken this article from the blog Behind a Curtain (which is on my blogroll list) and edited for better readability.
All Praise is due to Allaah, and may the salaah and salaam be on Prophet Muhammad, his household, the noble companions, and those who follow them until the Day of Resurrection.
Question 1: Was there any change in the motivation of the Shaykh regarding ‘ilm(knowledge), dawah, and worship between his youth and his elder years?
Answer: I did not find any diminishing or weakness in his motivation in knowledge, dawah, and worship despite his advancing age. On the contrary, his busy schedule continued to increase with time, as was the case with his worship and call, to the extent that during his intense illness, he was not negligent with one moment; he would spend every second in the remembrance of Allah subhaanallaahu wa ta’aala, worshipping Him, teaching, or directing.
Question 2: What did you see that was amazing in the Shaykh’s life?
Answer: His life was an example to follow, especially his patience and motivation to seek the knowledge as well as teach and desseminate it. Also, his piety was something that those who were not close to him may not have known about.
Question 3: How did the Shaykh interact with his children in their private lives?
Answer: His dealings with his sons and daughters fell into two stages. First, in their childhood, he was keen on being close to them, taking care of them, raising some of the Islamic principles in them, and following their educational achievements. In addition, he made sure to direct, admonish, and incite them. For instance, he would sometimes take the children with him to the masjid to perform some of the fardh prayers. Also, he would encourage them to fast some of the days of Ramadan. Furthermore, he would incite them to memorize some of the short surahs of the Qur’aan and reward them on that. In the stage of youth and maturity, he was firm concerning their fulfilling of the religious obligations and disciplining in cases of negligence. He would couple that with direction and leniency. At certain times, he was not hesitant to do what was sufficient to change or correct their mistakes. In addition, he used to put full trust in them to do certain things so they could learn to depend upon themselves; he used to continuously encourage them on righteousness and check on them regarding that.
Question 4: Why did the Shaykh not use henna on his beard?
Answer: Maybe he did not have the time to do that. I think I heard him saying something to this effect.
Question 5: When did the Shaykh’s anger intensify, and how did he deal with your anger?
Answer: His anger used to intensify if the inviolable matters of Allaah were violated. Regarding my anger with the children, he would try to calm me down first, and then give the admonition to the one that was mistaken. In general, he was quiet and did not anger quickly; when he did, his anger would quickly dissipate, and this is from the favors of Allaah upon him, something which I wished for the like of his condition.
Question 6: How did he get up from his sleep? Did he depend on an alarm clock, or would he ask someone to wake him?
Answer: He used to depend upon Allaah, then the alarm clock and then us. Usually, he awoke before the alarm, and before I would go to wake him.
Question 7: Would the Shaykh ever go out with his family for a picnic?
Answer: Yes, the family used to have a weekly picnic on Fridays after salaat al-jumu’ah; we would go to an area in the wilderness close-by and bring our lunch. He utilized this time to share in some activities with the children, like foot-racing and solving puzzles. Also, he would bring a small rifle and compete with his children in aiming and shooting.
Question 8: How did the Shaykh fast during the year?
Answer: The Shaykh consistently fasted three days each month throughout his life. In addition, he would fast six days in Shawwal, the ten days of Dhul-Hijjah, and the day of ‘Aashooraa’.
Question 9: How did the Shaykh select the names of his children?
Answer: He used to choose names like ‘Abdullaah and ‘Abd ar-Rahman; he left the rest for consultation amongst us. We would pick a name and present it to him; he would either agree or ask us to select another. These are the names of two of his sons.
Question 10: What were some of the things that would please the Shaykh?
Answer: There is no doubt that the Shaykh’s happiness used to increase whenever he saw the strength of Islam and Muslims. Regarding happiness at home, it was manifested in meetings with his family and children. You would also see the signs of pleasure and happiness on him upon receiving his grandchildren. He used to open his cloak to allow them to enter underneath and then inquire about them a few times before reopening it; he would do this several times. Later, he would take them to his library where he kept a special kind of sweets they used to call “halawat abooye” (my father’s sweets). We were keen to ensure that they would not find it, except with him. In addition, despite his busy schedule, he made sure to visit his grandchildren at their homes or in the hospital if any of them were ill; this would have a great influence on them and their patents.
Question 11: How many children did the Shaykh have?
Answer: The Shaykh had five sons and three daughters.
Question 12: Who amongst his children was the closest to his heart?
Answer: The Shaykh used to deal justly with his children in all affairs, major and minor. If he found any kind of distinction between them, he would never declare it openly because this is not from justice. If he was keen to be just in matters lighter than this, then what should we expect here?
Question 13: Who amongst his children was most affected by his death?
Answer: All of them were, and the reality of the matter is that I used to feel that we were not alone in this as he was a father to Muslims around the world, who all felt a great shock by his death.
Question 14: Who is his youngest child?
Answer: The youngest is a daughter who is 21 years old.
Question 15: What were the steps the Shaykh took in seeking knowledge, and what was your role in that?
Answer: The Shaykh began teaching in the Grand Mosque in Unayzah following the death of his Shaykh, ‘Abd ar-Rahman ibn Naasir as-Saa’di even before I married him. At that time, he used to consider himself a student of knowledge. Concerning my assistance, it was manifested in not distracting him from seeking knowledge and propagating it. I used to serve and make available to him what would support his efforts. I would also follow the children and take care of them, except in matters that required his notification so that he could direct, admonish, and seek a solution.
Question 16: How did he reconcile between the daw’ah, which took most of his time, and his familial and social responsibilities?
Answer: He used to organize his time and gave this great attention. For instance, he would dedicate time for teaching, fatwa, daw’ah, worship, the family, the children, social responsibilities, and upholding the ties of kinship. If he, at certain times, was unable to directly share in some of these responsibilities, he was still keen to share even by phone.
Question 17: What was his policy regarding educating and directing his children?
Answer: His policy was education; however, he did not force his children to seek a specialty, but instead used to consult with them regarding this decision. The obvious proof is that his children graduated from different types of colleges, some shar’i, others military, and also educational.
Question 18: Taking into consideration the Shaykh’s work and commitments, this inevitably led to him being away from home and the family. What was your role regarding this matter, and how did you cover for his absence?
Answer: Even if he was away from home whether for teaching and propagating inside Unayzah or while traveling, he used to follow up with his children through phone calls and by checking on their affairs upon his return. My role is not even worth mentioning because we always felt his presence with us. In general, I used to make the children feel their father’s responsibilities were great and his works many. As such, I would incite them to be patient on that, and he used to compensate them on his return.
Question 19: Could you tell us about his worship at home?
Answer: He was keen to perform the as-sunan ar-rawatib (regular sunnah prayers), except in limited circumstances. He used to wake up in the latter part of the night as much as possible and then make the witr before fajr, in addition to the remembrances and istighfar that he did not discontinue.
Question 20: What was his daily program? For example, when did he sleep and wake, and when did he eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner?
Answer: The Shaykh used to get up in the last third of the night, praying as much as Allaah wished and then make the witr before the adhan of fajr. Following the adhan, he would pray the regular sunnah of fajr. Next, he would wake his family before going to perform salaat al-fajr at the masjid. He would then return home to read his daily remembrances in the courtyard as well as some of the Qur’aan until about sunrise. He would then sleep till about 8am. This was on the days that he was not teaching at the university. After waking again, he would eat some breakfast and then finish his work and readings in his study. He would also pray salaat ad-duhaa before going to the masjid for salaat adh-dhuhr. Upon his return, he would eat lunch with his family at about 1:30pm. Next, he would take phone calls until about 20 minutes before ‘asr. He would then rest for fifteen minutes or less before going to the masjid to pray ‘asr and meet the needs of people who went to the masjid knowing he would be there. He would return to his study after addressing the people’s needs to read before going again to the masjid for maghrib and his daily classes that would last until isha. Usually he would return home after that to eat a light dinner before going to his study to either give lectures outside of the Kingdom via telelink or hold meetings. This was almost his regular schedule throughout most the year, although it would change during some seasons such as Ramadan, Hajj, and the summer break.There were also some weekly commitments, and these would take place either at home or outside. Some of his weekly commitments included: Wednesday night meetings with the judges, meetings with the imams that were scheduled to give the khutbah of jumu’ah in the masajid, meetings with university staff and professors, and meetings with the people of hisbah (those that enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong) until 11 or 12 pm then he would go to sleep.
Question 21: What was his schedule during Ramadan, especially after iftaar?
Answer: During Ramadan, the Shaykh had a different schedule. He would spend most of the time at the masjid reciting Qur’aan and meeting the needs of the people. Also, he would invite some of the students of knowledge and the poor to eat iftaar at our home. After salaat al-isha, he would return home for dinner and to give fatawa over the phone. In addition, many people would visit our house to either say salaam to the Shaykh or seek a fatwa.
Question 22: Where did the Shaykh like to spend his rest time?
Answer: In reality, the Shaykh did not know rest time; all of his time was busy. Even when he was sitting with us, the phone sometimes would ring, and he would spend a long time addressing the call. His rest time was in propagating the knowledge, meeting people’s needs, and fatawa.
Question 23: How many hours a day did the Shaykh sleep?
Answer: The connected time did not exceed 3 to 4 hours. In total, it did not exceed 6 hours daily.
Question 24: Who amongst the students of the Shaykh did he praise, mention often,and was pleased with their visits?
Answer: He looked the same upon all of his students. All of them were like his sons, and he did not praise any of them in particular, but he looked upon them equally when he would meet or welcome them to the house. Also, he would share in their special occasions, meetings, trips, or support them if they were in need of something.
Question 25: How did the Shaykh’s family deal with his asceticism and piety?
Answer: We used to see him as an example in all things, and we used to revere his asceticism and piety, which would comfort us since he did not like any unnatural mannerisms nor did he want that around him. He was a simple person who liked ease in all of his matters.
Question 26: Did he cry upon the death of Shaykh ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ibn Baaz?
Answer: He was greatly affected by the death of his Shaykh, from whom he took knowledge. Everyone around him felt the extent of the profound impact it had. May Allaah make us meet them all in the Paradise of bliss.
Question 27: Did he travel for other than seeking knowledge?
Answer: No, he did not travel except to seek knowledge. He used to travel to Makkah for ‘Umrah, where he would dedicate times for duroos (talks). In addition, he went to Riyadh and Ta’if to attend the meetings of the Grand Scholars Committee, where he would also schedule duroos and lectures.
Question 28: Can you tell us about the apparent generosity of the Shaykh with those in need?
Answer: We used to feel his care for the people in need, whether they were distant or close. For instance, he used to check on the affairs of his family and relatives that were in need. Also, he would do the same with his neighbors, helping them in all that they needed, comforting them concerning their worries, and sharing in their joyous occasions.
Question 29: What did you learn from the Shaykh? Did you learn matters of fatawa? Did you ever give fatawa?
Answer: I learned from the Shaykh everything that relates to the affairs of this life, whether from the social or legal aspects. Concerning giving fatawa, I would not even dare to do this. I only used to present the questions I received to him and then relate the answers and fatawa to those that had asked.
Question 30: Before the Shaykh’s death, what did he admonish his household and beloved ones with?
Answer: The Shaykh did not give a specific direction before his death, but throughout his life, he would direct everyone to that which benefited them in their life and in their deen (religion).
Question 31: We would like an admonition from you to the wives of the callers and students of knowledge.
Answer: They should preserve their husbands, openly and secretly. In addition, they should prepare for them the best situations and conditions to continue providing their duties of dawah and knowledge. Also, I incite them that they should not be bothered by the busy schedule of their husbands and their time spent traveling, seeking knowledge, reading, and doing dawah. By Allaah’s Will, they are sharing in the reward.
Question 32: Could you tell us about the way the Shaykh used to receive his guests?
Answer: He would receive his guests with simplicity and a real sense of welcoming. He ensured that they felt like guests, and no day passed, except that he brought a guest either for lunch, dinner or in between. We were pleased with his guests and would honor them.
Question 33: What about a rare and pleasing encounter he had with his children or neighbours?
Answer: The Shaykh acted with simplicity towards his children and neighbors and all those surrounding him. And one of those rare and nice occasions is that the Shaykh( ) used to record some short recitations and nasheeds for his children and sometimes in the presence of one of the neighbors’ kids. He then would re-play the cassette to them during some meeting with them at older ages. We even still keep some of these recording to this date.
Question 34: What is your advice to those that spread mischief in our Kingdom?
Answer: We ask Allaah to preserve our land and to continue to bestow upon us the favor of security and safety. The Shaykh would often repeat and mention that he does not know any nation on the face of the earth that applies the sharee’ah and holds to the correct creed like this one. Similarly, he used to incite us to deal with affairs using wisdom, good admonition, and leniency instead of resorting to violence.
Question 35: Is there anything that the Shaykh asked you to do that seemed strange and made you feel hesitant?
Answer: It may be unknown to most that I was illiterate and did not receive any kind of formal education. When I first married the Shaykh, I was fully busy in his service and in providing him the correct, comfortable environment to seek knowledge and teach. After we had our children, I was busy with them, and it took all my time to raise them, in addition to the time I used to spend to help and support the Shaykh in seeking knowledge. After the children grew up and my responsibilities began to ease slightly, I was surprised that the Shaykh began to incite me to join the schools for the elderly. Although hesitant at first, I decided to join. During this period, he followed my achievements and would not accept for any of my sons to sign my transcripts of record. He would say, “I am the one to sign for all that relates to your academic achievements.” This moment of learning is a period that can not be forgotten because of the great, innumerable benefits.
Question 36: What kinds of gifts would the Shaykh give you, his children, and people in general?
Answer: During his lifetime, he would not withhold anything from those that were close and those that were distant, to the best of his ability. The greatest gift he used to give us was his dawah and du’aa; I ask Allaah to accept his du’aa, hold them for him in his good record, and bestow upon us the ability to be righteous to him after his death.
Question 37: Did the Shaykh relate to you anything nice that occurred in the masjid?
Answer: He would always tell us those things that he thought were fit to mention.
Question 38: When did the Shaykh travel for dawah, and how would you deal with him concerning that?
Answer: I used to incite and encourage him as well as make things easy for him by providing him what he needed. In general, his trips were few, and I used to join him on most of them. Concerning travel outside of the Kingdom, he did not leave the country, except to seek treatment in America for ten days, and I joined him during that.
Question 39: Could you tell us about the Shaykh’s use of the internet when it was first introduced to the Kingdom?
Answer: He was one of the earliest to hasten to benefit from this service and tried to utilize it to desseminate, propagate, and serve the Islamic knowledge. There is nothing more evident of this than the establishment of his website, which contains all of his works. His site is currently supervised by the charitable organization that was setup after his death.
Question 40: When did the Shaykh buy the automatic, telephone answering machine?
Answer: From the things that are unknown to many is that the Shaykh was seen and had interest in modern electronic instruments. There were those that used to provide him with the newest technology, such that you would often find with him some electronics that had not yet been released to the open market; examples include: electronic watches, instruments that could determine the direction of the qiblah, audio recording devices, mobile phones, and automatic telephone answering machines among many other gadgets. He acquired the automatic answering machine as soon as it became available in the Kingdom. He used it a great deal, often programming it and recording the messages himself, to the extent that when he would travel, he would leave a detailed message on how to contact him while he was away. He was in that, a reference to all of us.
Question 41: Did the Shaykh buy newspapers, and how did he learn about local and national news?
Answer: We used to receive one of the newspapers at our home as a gift, and he would look at it if he had time. Sometimes he would ask us for scissors to clip out important articles or news so he could keep it. Also, he would hear the news on the radio, especially during breakfast around 7 or 8 in the morning when he would listen to either the Qur’aan broadcasting station from Riyadh or the BBC. In addition, he would listen sometimes at length to the analysis of the news if there were important developments.
Interview conducted by Sister Maha bint Husein ash-Shammar & published in “Al-Mutamayyizah” Magazine
Issue No. 45, Ramadhan, 1427. Confirmed & Presented in English by Dr. Saleh As-Saleh
Transcribed from the audio presentation by Br. Abu Abdullah Al-Amreeki Reviewed and finalized by Dr. Saleh As-Saleh January 7, 2007