[ Part One of a series of inspiring articles from a recorded lecture entitled, “Min Ma’een al-Imaam Ahmad” (“Benefits from the Life and Works of Imam Ahmad”) by Shaykh Saalih Aal ash-Shaykh (may Allaah preserve him) ]
Dedicating One’s Youth to Worship
Since his childhood, Imam Ahmad (may Allaah have Mercy on him) could be seen with signs of nusuk on him. [The term nusuk will be explained shortly.] Ma’roof Al-Karkhee (may Allaah have Mercy on him) said, “I saw Ahmad ibn Hanbal when he was a young boy, and he had signs of nusuk on him. I used to hear him making statements that were full of benefit.”
This statement describes how he was upon guidance even as a young boy. He used to be seen with signs of nusuk on him. What is meant by nusuk is worship and acts of obedience. The effects of worship and obedience are not only physical ones seen in the appearance and dress, but their effects are also found in one’s speech, manners, in the acts of worship and obedience themselves, and in one’s preference for the next life over this one.
Imam Ahmad said about his own self, “I did not marry until after I reached 40 years of age.” His companions said that this was because he used to be busy traveling to seek knowledge before that. He went to Makkah, and from there to San’aa’. There is a story about this trip:
He set out with his companion, Yahyaa ibn Ma’een, for Hajj. He said to Yahyaa, “When I finish Hajj, verily I am going to Yemen to meet the scholar of Yemen, the scholar of Hadeeth, ‘Abdur-Razzaaq ibn Hammaam As-San’aanee.” As-San’aanee died in the year 210 after Hijrah.
When they reached Makkah, they found that ‘Abdur-Razzaaq was making Hajj that year as well. So Yahyaa knew who he was and met him. He saw him going around the Ka’bah, and since he knew him, he went and greeted him. Yahyaa said to ‘Abdur-Razzaaq, and they knew each other, “This is Ahmad ibn Hanbal” So ‘Abdur-Razzaaq became happy about this and said, “It has reached us that he is a person who has a lot of goodness.”
When they prayed their two rak’ahs after making tawaaf, Yahyaa said to Imam Ahmad, “Ahmad, our provisions for the journey to San’aa’ have been used. And here is ‘Abdur-Razzaaq, so let us stay with him so we can take some narrations from him.”
Ahmad said to Yahyaa ibn Ma’een, “My intention is still present, and I will not oppose it. So I will continue on to San’aa’.” This shows the effects of his commitment to the hardships of seeking knowledge. A trip to San’aa’ in that time was not made in cars or airplanes or the likes, rather it was only made with great hardships, the realities of which can not be described.
Ma’roof said, “I saw Ahmad ibn Hanbal when he was a young boy and he had signs of nusuk on him.” In reality, this is what we should see in our children, that they work hard to correct themselves in their youth, in their early years. Because at this, if they do not build upon this foundation with what is correct, with acts of worship and obedience, then it will be very difficulty after that, except for those whom Allaah, the Mighty and Exalted, excludes.
Whoever holds to His Religion in his youth, firmness will return to him. Someone being devout or obedient is not just a claim or a verbal ascription to something, nor is it something seen only from the outside. Rather devoutness in the Religion entails one taking on serious rituals, he must worship, and he must be obedient.
This leads us to the story when Imam Ahmad once hosted one of his students in Hadeeth, ‘Abdus-Samad ibn Sulaymaan. When he was hosting him in his house, and it came time to sleep, he brought him some water to make wudhoo’ from or for general use. Then he went to sleep. When the morning came, Imam Ahmad saw that all of the water was still there, so he asked about it. ‘Abdus-Samad replied, “I did not use the water.” Imam Ahmad said, “A student of the narrations who does not do anything at night?!”
He meant, “All the way to the morning, you did not pray in the night?! You did not worship!? You did not even pray two rak’ahs?!” ‘Abdus-Samad replied, “Verily I am a traveler.” He said, “Even as a traveler!” Meaning, “Where is the witr? Where is the prayer?”
So without a doubt, if this was important in that day and time for cultivating one’s soul and getting set in the proper direction, then we are in more need of it today. This is the case especially with the youth who seek knowledge, those holding tight to their guidance, those who show outward signs of righteousness, and those who are keen in doing good deeds. 
One must keep his soul tied to some acts of worship. No doubt, one must keep his soul tied to some acts of obedience. If you force the soul to be obedient, it will become obedient. If you abandon it, then it will be a soul that gravitates toward wrongdoing.
It has been related that the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alayhe wa sallam) said (what means):
“Whoever shows enduring patience, Allaah will make him firm upon patience. Whoever seeks knowledge, Allaah will teach him. Whoever hunts for good, he will be given it. Whoever expects evil, he will be made to fall into it.” 
Therefore, this description of Imam Ahmad proves that he had an upbringing based on obedience to Allaah and acts of worship, so much so that he used to force his soul to shun many worldly things and to take on great hardships. The result of this was that he established his soul firmly upon obedience to Allaah, the Mighty and Exalted.
 This paragraph was updated to correct a mistake in the original translation. (1435-06-23)
 The first part of this hadeeth, “Whoever shows enduring patience, Allaah will make him firm upon patience,” it is found in Saheeh Al-Bukhaaree, on the authority of Aboo Sa’eed Al-Khudree (may Allaah be pleased with him).
Continue reading this series…
Part Two – Speaking Only About Beneficial Matters
Or go to the Index of articles in this inspiring series.
Translation, Titles, and Footnotes by: Moosaa Richardson
Originally published on Bakkah.net: 1423-05-16