The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him and his family) said,
من أخلص لله أربعين صباحا ظهرت ينابيع الحكمة من قلبه على لسانه
When someone devotes himself purely to Allah for forty days, the springs of wisdom will gush forth from his heart and appear on his tongue.
– Narrated by Hannād ibn al-Sariyy in Kitab al-Zuhd and Abu Nu’aym in Hilyat al-awliya on the authority of Abu Ayyub al-Ansari.
Alternative possible meaning or translation: “When someone remains sincere to Allah for forty mornings…”
Excursus: Who was Hannād ibn al-Sariyy, author of the hadith collection Kitab al-Zuhd?
He was the teacher and shaykh of Imams: Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud, al-Tirmidhi, al-Nasa’i, Ibn Majah, Ibn Abi al-Dunya, and Abu Hatim al-Razi.
He was the student of: Abdullah ibn Mubarak, Fudayl ibn ‘Iyad, Sufyan ibn Uyayna, Waki’ ibn al-Jarrah, Yahya ibn Mu’in, and Shurayk ibn Abdullah, among others.
Al-Dhahabi said: “He is the imam, the proof (hujja), the paragon, the adornment of the worshipers.”
Abu Hamid al-Isfarayini said: “I heard Ahmad ibn Hanbal being asked: Who shall we write hadith from in Kufa?
He said: Go to Hannād!”
Al-Marwadhi said: Ibn Hanbal said: “There is no one in all of Kufa like Hannād. He is their shaykh.”
Qutayba ibn Sa’id said: “I have never seen Waki (the teacher of Imam Shafi’i) venerate anyone like he venerated Hannād.”
Ahmad ibn Salamah al-Naysaburi said: “Hannād was a man who cried frequently. One day he finished reading (hadith) to us, and he renewed his ablutions and went to the masjid and prayed until noon, and I was there with him in the masjid. Then he went home and renewed his ablutions, and came and led us in the Dhuhr Prayer. Then he kept standing in extra prayers until Asr, raising his voice with the Qur’an and crying profusely. Then he led us in ‘Asr prayer, and then took the Qur’an and read it until he led us in Maghrib prayers.
I said to one of his neighbours: How much worship he is able to bear!
He said: This has been his worship in the daytime for the past 70 years. What would you say if you had seen his worship at night?”
He never married and was nicknamed “the Monk of Kufa.”
“We appointed with Musa a time of thirty nights and We completed them with ten more, so the appointed time of his Lord was complete: forty nights” (7:142)
Shaykh Najm al-Din al-Kubra said in his tafsir of 7:142:
In this is an indication that the promise was in reality forty nights, even though outwardly it was thirty nights, because He (most high) said: “We completed them with ten more.” So the completion is in forty, and thirty is deficient. The evidence of this is that He (most high) said: “We appointed with Musa a time of forty nights” (2:51). He showed the promise to be thirty nights because of the weakness of humanity, so He promised thirty and then completed it with the ten others.
It also indicates that the forty is a unique number for the Prophets to deserve to hear the speech of Allah, just like it is a unique number for the appearance of wisdom from the hearts of the Friends of Allah. He (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “When someone devotes himself purely to God for forty days, the springs of wisdom will gush forth from his heart and appear on his tongue.”
And the wisdom in choosing the number forty is that it contains the perfection of perfection, as we had explained in the commentary on the verse in Sura al-Baqara.
Excursus: Who was Shaykh Najm al-Din al-Kubra?
Imam al-Yafi’i said: “The hadith scholar, the paragon of the hadith scholars and the imam of the spiritual wayfarers, the champion of the Sunna, Najm al-Din al-Kubra.”
Al-Dhahabi said: “The shaykh, the imam, the complete scholar (‘allaama), the hadith master, the martyr, the Shaykh of Khorasan, Najm al-Din al-Kubra of Khawarim, the Sufi… He traveled to seek the hadith (then al-Dhahabi mentioned the scholars that he took hadith from, and those that took from him). He was a Shafi’i, an imam in the Sunna… He was a man of hadith and Sunna, a refuge to the strangers, of great honor, he did not fear the blame of anyone, for the sake of Allah. It is said that he wrote a commentary on the Qur’an in 12 volumes. Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, the author of the great number of works, went to him.”
Ibn al-‘Imad al-Hanbali wrote: He traveled to the different lands, riding and on foot, and met so many shaykhs that they cannot be counted. He took the Sufi cloak of the Nahrajuri way from shaykh Ismail al-Qusri, and that of the Suhrawardi way for the blessing, from shaykh Abu Nasir Ammad ibn Yasir.”
The story of Fakhr al-Din al-Razi’s visit to Shaykh Najm al-Din al-Kubra is recorded by Ibn Taymiyyah, via one of Kubra’s students. He describes how Razi failed to submit to Kubra’s conditions and left empty handed, whereas another scholar who had been a Mu’tazilite accepted Kubra’s conditions and became his disciple and was given spiritual openings and became a Knower of Allah. On that see Ayman Shihadeh, “The Mystic and the Sceptic in Fakhr al-Din al-Razi,” Sufism and Theology, Edinburgh University Press, 2007.
“We appointed with Musa a time of forty nights” (2:51)
Shaykh Najm al-Din al-Kubra said:
The number for the appointment was forty because of its perfection. That is because the degrees of numbers are four: single digits, tens, hundreds, and thousands.* And the ten in itself is complete, for He (most high) said: “That is a complete ten” (2:196). If the ten is multiplied by four, which is the most complete of (the number of) the degrees of numbers, you get forty, which is the perfection of perfection.
It is also the number of days that the mud of Adam (peace be upon him) was left to dry, for He (most high) said: “I fixed the mud of Adam with My hands for forty days.” The number forty, then, has a uniqueness and an efficacy that is not present in other numbers.
In the authentic tradition on the authority of Abdullah ibn Masud (may Allah be pleased with them), who said:
“Each if you is brought together inside his mother for forty days, then he becomes a clinging object for an equal number of days, and then a lump for another equal numbers of days….” (Narrated by Bukhari, Muslim and others).
The spirit is a treasure, and the body is like a knot spell that was made over the treasure. Just as the number forty was chosen to tie this spell, likewise it will be untied through the number forty. “That is Allah’s way which has passed before, and you will find no change to Allah’s way” (48:23).
And it is because of this reality that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “When someone devotes himself purely to God for forty days, the springs of wisdom will gush forth from his heart and appear on his tongue.”
* Note: The degrees of the Abjad system of letters and numbers are four: single digits, tens, hundreds, and thousands.
We have heard one of the blessed shaykhs, a student of shaykh Salih al-Ja’fari, may Allah be pleased with them both, say: “Whoever recites his shaykh’s litanies perfectly and completely for forty straight days, will be transformed.”