The Salaf have understood the Deen of Allaah as well as the essence of this life and its inescapable leading to the Hereafter, so they felt aversion for the distractions and the tribulations of the world. They found no sleep and their heart kept away from desires. They kept above the insignificant concerns of life. Their biographies abound with stories that show their striving in righteousness, repentance and their strong will in worship and humbleness.
Al-Hasan al-Basri said, "Whoever competes with you in the Deen then try to surpass him, and whoever competes with you in the matters of this life then throw it back at him." Whenever he missed a Salah in congregation, ibn `Umar used to fast one day, pray for one whole night and free a slave.
Abu Musa al-Ash`ari used to apply himself so much in worship at the end of his life that he was told, "Why don't you slow down and be gentle with yourself?" He replied, "When the horses are released for a race and are close to the finish line, they give all the strength they have. What is left of my life is less than that." He maintained the same level of devotion and worship until he died.
Mawriq al-`Ajli said, "I did not find an example, for the believer in this life, better than a man on a plank in the sea, imploring, 'O Lord, O Lord', hoping that Allaah would save him."
Usamah said, "Whenever you see Sufyan ath-Thawri, it is as if you see someone in a ship fearing to drown. One would often hear him say, 'O Lord save me, save me!" Fatimah bint Abdil Malik, the wife of the Khalifah `Umar ibn `Abdil-Aziz said, "I have never seen a person offering a salah or fasting more than he did, or a person fearing the Lord more than him. After offering Salat-ul-Isha, he would sit down and cry until he becomes sleepy, then he would wake up again and continue crying until sleep overtakes him."
Amir ibn Abdullah was once asked, "How can you tolerate being awake all night, and thirsty in the intense heat of the day?" He replied, "Is it anything more than postponing the food of the day to nighttime, and the sleep of the night to daytime? This is not a big matter." When the night came, he would say, "Remembrance of the heat of hellfire has taken sleepiness from me." And he would not sleep until dawn.
Ahmad ibn Harb said, "I wonder how the one who knows that above him, paradise is being embellished, and below him, the hell-fire is being kindled, and yet sleeps between them!" Waqi` said, "Al Amash was almost seventy years old and he never missed the first takbirah (for salaah in the masjeed). I used to visit him frequently for more than two years and never saw him make up for even one rakah."
Abu Hayan related that his father said, "Ar-Rabi` ibn Khuthaym was crippled and used to be carried to the congregational salah. So people told him, "You have an excuse (for not coming)." He said, "I hear 'hayya `alas-salah', the call to salah; so if you can come to it even by crawling, do so", paraphrasing a hadeeth.
Abull-Mawahib ibn Sarsari said concerning Imam Abul-Qasim ibn Asakir, "I have never seen the like of him, and none had encompassed as many good characteristics as he did concerning his adherence to one way for forty years, making salah in the first row unless he had an excuse, i`tikaf during Ramadan and the ten days of Thul-Hijjah, and the lack of desire to accumulate properties and build houses, as he forbade himself these. He turned away any position of imam or speaker, though they were offered to him, and he devoted himself to enjoin good and forbid evil, and he would not fear anyone in that."