Fudayl Ibn 'Iyadh: The Journey of Love and Repentance

From a highway robber, Fudayl Ibn Iyad later became one of the most outstanding scholars in our Islamic tradition. What moved him to make a drastic change? How was he able to turn over a new leaf? What could we learn from his story?
by Ustaz Muhammad Abdul Mateen Bin Hisham 2023-02-27 • 21 min read
Upon graduating from Madrasah Aljunied Al-Islamiah, Ustaz Mateen pursued his studies at Al-Azhar University and graduated with a degree in Islamic Theology, specialising in Creed and Philosophy.
2023-02-27 • 21 min read

The Story of Fudayl Ibn Iyad

fudayl, repentance, love, islam, heist, robber

In the famous work on history and biography, Siyar A’lam An-Nubala’ (lives of the noble figures) by Imam Az-Zahabi, the writer narrated a description about Fudayl Ibn Iyad, which said:

I have witnessed the most knowledgeable, pious and chaste of people; (they are) Waki’, Fudayl Ibn Iyad, and Ibn Mubarak.

His own contemporary, Abdullah Ibn Mubarak, who is also highly regarded by the people of his time and today to be knowledgeable and trustworthy, testified:

I believe there's no one left alive on the surface of this world who is better than Fudayl Ibn Iyad.[1]

Fudayl Ibn Iyad is no stranger to our Islamic tradition. He is a scholar and a virtuous figure who is known for his wisdom, trustworthiness, piety and spirituality. However, contrary to what many might think, he wasn’t born on a silver platter, nor was he brought up with a prestigious religious education. As a matter of fact, he was once the head of a highway robbery syndicate.

How did someone who is known for delinquency and misdeed not only turn over a new leaf but reach an excellent level of virtue and is remembered today for his immense contributions and good deeds? What could’ve motivated him to change? What were the hurdles he had to face?

fudayl, repentance, love, islam, heist, robber, samarkand, fudayl iyad


Fudayl was born around a century after the Hijrah of the Prophet s.a.w, in Samarkand, present-day Uzbekistan. Being part of the silk road, merchants and travellers in those areas used to journey together in caravans between cities and towns. 

Although these roads were common pathways for people to travel, governments did not provide upkeep as much as they were in the towns and cities.[2] This meant that it was not uncommon for outlaws to be present in isolated areas. Hence, travelling together was the safer option. However, there was no guarantee a caravan could be safe from highway robbers. 

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Today, a lot of heist-genre films can give us an idea of how these fail-proof robberies were planned out skillfully. During his youthful days, Fudayl was the head of his group of highwaymen. Imam Az-Zahabi narrated about Fudayl:

Fudayl Ibn Iyad was a clever person who (once) robbed people along the road between Abiward (an ancient Sassanid city, present-day Turkmenistan) and Sarakhs (a city in present-day Iran)..

Falling in love

Amidst his turbulent life, Fudayl came across a young maiden whom he fell in love with and longed to chance upon again. Instead of planning for the next heist, it became his priority to cross paths with her again. His motivation to amass wealth was extinguished by the pure and calm flame of love for someone dear to his heart. 

fudayl, repentance, love, islam, heist, robber, fudayl iyad

This feeling began to govern his thoughts and movements. While observing the road and the caravans to map out the following heists, Fudayl set himself in locations that allowed him to see the young lady from afar. 

According to the late Syrian scholar, Shaykh Al-Bouti[3], a pure sense of love (not to be mistaken for lust and desires) is the first step for a person to reach God, regardless of where it is directed or inclined to. He explains the reason is that the path of love is one. What matters is for the person to not cease his or her journey to one of the ‘destinations’ and settle upon it, but to continue walking on that path and to know that the Absolute and First beloved is at the end of that path - Allah s.w.t.

Islam is a beautiful religion where love plays a central role in our faith. For instance, the innate feeling of love we experience in life, such as the love for our spouses, is part of His signs to help us discover our Creator, Allah s.w.t.

 The Quran says:

وَمِنْ ءَايَـٰتِهِۦٓ أَنْ خَلَقَ لَكُم مِّنْ أَنفُسِكُمْ أَزْوَٰجًا لِّتَسْكُنُوٓا۟ إِلَيْهَا وَجَعَلَ بَيْنَكُم مَّوَدَّةً وَرَحْمَةً ۚ إِنَّ فِى ذَٰلِكَ لَـَٔايَـٰتٍ لِّقَوْمٍ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ

And of His signs is that he created for you from yourselves mates that you may find tranquillity in them; and He placed between you affection and mercy. Indeed in that are signs for people who give thought.

(Surah Ar-Rum, 30:21)

This allows us to not only have a more blissful life with our loved ones but it also establishes in us a more fulfilling sense of purpose in loving another.

Read: Muslim SG | Why Is Love So Important?

fudayl, repentance, love, islam, heist, robber, fudayl iyad

Our faith does not tell us to give up or disregard any kind of ‘worldly’ love. Rather, the love we experience in this world should lead us to love Allah s.w.t. even more. In other words, our love for Allah s.w.t. should be even greater than the love for His creations. This is beautifully encapsulated in the verse:

وَمِنَ ٱلنَّاسِ مَن يَتَّخِذُ مِن دُونِ ٱللَّهِ أَندَادًا يُحِبُّونَهُمْ كَحُبِّ ٱللَّهِ ۖ وَٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوٓا۟ أَشَدُّ حُبًّا لِّلَّهِ

Still, there are some who take others as Allah’s equal—they love them as they should love Allah—but the (true) believers love Allah even more

(Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:165)

As the days passed by, Fudayl yearned, even more, to actually meet the young lady. One night, he finally set out to the place where she resided. Without knocking on the door, he climbed the wall that surrounded her house. As he sat on top of the wall, Fudayl heard a voice reciting the Quran in the middle of the night:

أَلَمْ يَأْنِ لِلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوٓا۟ أَن تَخْشَعَ قُلُوبُهُمْ لِذِكْرِ ٱللَّهِ وَمَا نَزَلَ مِنَ ٱلْحَقِّ وَلَا يَكُونُوا۟ كَٱلَّذِينَ أُوتُوا۟ ٱلْكِتَـٰبَ مِن قَبْلُ فَطَالَ عَلَيْهِمُ ٱلْأَمَدُ فَقَسَتْ قُلُوبُهُمْ ۖ وَكَثِيرٌ مِّنْهُمْ فَـٰسِقُونَ

Has the time not yet come for the believers’ hearts to be humbled at the remembrance of Allah and what has been revealed of the truth, and not be like those given the Scripture before— who were spoiled for so long that their hearts became hardened. And many of them are rebellious.

(Surah Al-Hadid, 57:16)

The divine words of Allah s.w.t. reached him deeply as he was already overwhelmed in the state of love, liberated from the clutches of his desires. The verse struck him. He paused and then climbed back down from the walls while repeatedly uttering to himself, as if answering the verse, “certainly my Lord..the time has come”.

fudayl, repentance, love, islam, heist, robber, fudayl iyad

That night became a life-changing moment for Fudayl. Everything was as clear as day. He committed himself to the path laid before him, saying “O Allah, i truly repent to you, and I declare my repentance by being near to your sacred House of worship (Al-Bayt Al-Haram)”.[4]

Walking on the path of repentance

Fudayl left everything that night. He left his infamous title of being the head of a highway robbery syndicate, his ambitions of amassing wealth from stolen goods, and even the young lady he once yearned to meet. He committed himself to repentance from his former life by journeying to Makkah. 

Repentance is not only for the pious. In fact, it is exactly for people who have wronged themselves and others. Even if our sins are as big as mountains, we should not let them overwhelm us as if to give up on life, but to look upon the mercy of Allah s.w.t. and sincerely return to him. 

Read: Muslim SG | Repentance in Islam

A sense of guilt for our shortcomings is not necessarily negative or harmful to our well-being. The companion of the Prophet, Abdullah Ibn Mas’ud r.a. said:

إِنَّ الْمُؤْمِنَ يَرَى ذُنُوبَهُ كَأَنَّهُ قَاعِدٌ تَحْتَ جَبَلٍ يَخَافُ أَنْ يَقَعَ عَلَيْهِ وَإِنَّ الْفَاجِرَ يَرَى ذُنُوبَهُ كَذُبَابٍ مَرَّ عَلَى أَنْفِهِ

Verily, the believer views his sins as if he were sitting under a mountain, fearing it will fall upon him. The wicked views his sins as if they were a fly passing over his nose.

(Sahih Al-Bukhari)

fudayl, repentance, love, islam, heist, robber, fudayl iyad

This constant state of vigilance is what helped Fudayl Ibn Iyad to continue walking on the path of repentance. The closer he was to Allah s.w.t. in remembering and exalting Him, the more he developed his sense of fear (khauf) of Allah and sadness (huzn) for the shortcomings in his previous life.[5]

Fear of Allah s.w.t. is not the same as having fear of His creations. It helps us to draw closer to Him. Ibn Al-Qayyim states:

"The heart in its journey towards Allah s.w.t. is like a bird whose head is love, and hope and fear are its two wings."

Both fear and hope for Allah s.w.t. are important for the development of our soul, and it should meet the right balance.

Read: Muslim SG | 3 Things To Know About Hope In Islam

When life is easy and granted to our liking, it can be easy to become complacent. In times like these, it is helpful to reflect on our shortcomings and how far we are from being perfect.

Fudayl was able to be consistently vigilant of his shortcomings by reciting and reflecting on the Quran, establishing a discipline for the remembrance of Allah s.w.t, contemplating his fate in the hereafter, and recalling back his regrettable younger days in Samarkand.[6]

Developing his intellectual rise

On his way to fulfil his promise in Makkah, Fudayl stopped by Baghdad and then to Kufah, two important cities that were the central hub for knowledge and civilisation at that point in time. He stayed for some years to learn about the religion and master its sciences. 

fudayl, repentance, love, islam, heist, robber, baghdad, kufah, fudayl iyad

Repentance is not a self-destructive path where a person rejects the pleasures of life to seek retribution. In essence, repenting means to return back to Allah s.w.t, and it should be on the basis of knowledge. When a person wants to make a ‘hijrah’ in his or her life, there is no shortcut but to start by learning about the religion.

The first verse revealed upon the Prophet s.a.w. enjoins us to read, which is key to attaining knowledge. Allah s.w.t. says in the Quran:

ٱقْرَأْ بِٱسْمِ رَبِّكَ ٱلَّذِى خَلَقَ

Read, in the Name of your Lord Who created—

(Surah Al-’Alaq, 96:1)

Read: Muslim SG | The Importance of Seeking Knowledge in Islam

Fudayl was sincere, and so dedicated in his pursuits that he eventually became recognised for his knowledge, wisdom and piety, during his later years in Kufah. Many scholars of hadith attributed him to be ‘trustworthy’ (thiqah) - a strict condition and praiseworthy status for narrators of hadith.

Amongst the many testimonies about his knowledge and piety, Ibn ‘Ammad narrated Ibn Nasir Ad-Deen, who described Fudayl as follows:

Fudayl Ibn ‘Iyad - Abu Ali At-Tamimi Al-Khurosani, (was) the Imam of the sacred house, Shaykhul-Islam, the exemplary of scholars and noble figure. (Imam) As-Shafi’i and Yahya Al-Qattan, amongst others, learnt (narrated) hadiths from him. He was a faithful, impressive, trustworthy, noble, devoted, ascetic, and dignified imam.[7]

fudayl, repentance, love, islam, heist, robber, fudayl iyad

Fulfilling his promise

After spending a number of years in Kufah learning about the religion and its sciences, Fudayl has finally moved on and reached Makkah for the Hajj season. He was now a changed person, and yet, Fudayl was never deluded by the praises he received. He had come to terms with his past by accepting that it happened, but never forgot about his shortcomings. He remained vigilant and aware of himself.

fudayl, repentance, love, islam, heist, robber, fudayl iyad, makkah

Being conscious of our shortcomings is important to help us avoid making the same mistake or worse, becoming narcissistically self-conceited. Allah s.w.t. says in the Quran:

فَلَا تُزَكُّوٓا۟ أَنفُسَكُمْ ۖ هُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِمَنِ ٱتَّقَىٰٓ

So do not (falsely) elevate yourselves. He knows best who is (truly) righteous.

(Surah An-Najm, 53:32)

Ibn ‘Ata’illah once said in his famous aphorisms of wisdom:

أجهَلُ الناس مَنْ ترك يقين ما عنده لظنِّ ما عند الناس

The most ignorant of people are those who abandon what he certainly knows of himself for what people suspect he is

In other words, he who abandons what he certainly knows (yaqeen) of himself of his flaws and shortcomings for the praises of others (dzon) is ignorant. 

However, such a method of self-reflection is not the same as being haunted by our past, which could cripple us from becoming better versions of ourselves. This could result from self-denial or the inability to see a higher purpose in life's tribulations.

Fudayl embodied this value and discipline, which can be seen from testimonies of his state during the day of Arafah. It was narrated how people saw Fudayl was crying over his shortcomings: “Truly I am ashamed of myself, even if You (O Allah) have forgiven me”[8]

fudayl, repentance, love, islam, heist, robber, fudayl iyad, makkah

Fudayl Ibn Iyad spent his remaining years in Makkah with his family until his death. He had a son, Ali, who was also known for his knowledge and piety, a trait he developed from the upbringing of his father. More importantly, Fudayl fulfilled his promise and contributed immensely to the Islamic tradition.

This is a story about love and repentance. A servant’s journey back to His Lord. In Islam, it is never too late to return back to Allah s.w.t, The One who created us, brought us into this world and allowed us to experience joy, happiness and laughter, because of His wisdom, mercy and love. 

There are many other inspiring stories of hope and resilience, such as the case of Sayyidina Umar Ibn Al-Khattab r.a, who once tried to kill the Prophet, but ended up being one of his closest companions that is revered by many today.

It can be difficult to change. More often than not, it is better to take gradual steps than drastic ones. Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. taught us that the best kind of deeds are those that are consistent, even if they are small. This way, the changes that are made in one's lifestyle can last longer. 

Fudayl taught us that we must commit wholeheartedly when the situation demands it. He was able to see the end of that path (goal) and thus work towards it.

If the path of repentance feels overwhelming, seek counsel from our Asatizah. Just as how Fudayl Ibn ‘Iyad returned to Allah s.w.t. from experiencing pure love, may we too be granted the pleasure of walking the path of love and be guided back to Him.

وَالَّذِينَ جَاهَدُوا فِينَا لَنَهْدِيَنَّهُمْ سُبُلَنَا

As for those who strive in Our cause, We will surely guide them along Our Way. And Allah is certainly with the doers of good.

(Surah Al-’Ankabut, 29:69)

And Allah knows best.

fudayl, repentance, love, islam, heist, robber, fudayl iyad

Some key points from the article:

1. An excellent end can come from humble beginnings
2. Love and desires are not the same
3. The love we experience in this world should lead us back to Allah s.w.t.
4. Repentance is to return
5. The path to reach Allah s.w.t. should be based on knowledge
6. Fear and hope for Allah are two important factors to help us ascend from our baser-desires
7. Do not be self-conceited by our good deeds



[1] Imam Shamsud-din Ibn Ahmad Az-Zahabi, Siyar A’lam An-Nubala’ (Lives of The Noble Figures), Muassasah Ar-Risalah, 1982

[2] https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/silk-road/ 

[3] Muhammad Saeed Al-Bouti, Syakhsiyat Istawqofatni (Personalities That Amazes Me), Dar Al-Fikr, 2011

[4] Imam Shamsud-din Ibn Ahmad Az-Zahabi, Siyar A’lam An-Nubala’ (Lives of The Noble Figures), Muassasah Ar-Risalah, 1982

[5] Muhammad Saeed Al-Bouti, Syakhsiyat Istawqofatni (Personalities That Amazes Me), Dar Al-Fikr, 2011

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibn ‘Ammad, Shazaratuz-Zahab (Fragments of Gold)

[8] As-Sharif Muhammad Ibn Al-Hasan Al-Wasiti, Majma’i’-ahbab wa tazkiratu ulil-albab (Confluence of The Beloveds and The Remembrance of People of Reason), Dar Al-Minhaj, 2008


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