The Importance of studying the biographies of the Salaf—An observation of Imaam Ibnul Jawzi (rahimahullaah) during his era
In The Name of Allaah, The Most Merciful, The Bestower of Mercy
Imaam Ibnul Jawzi (rahimahullaah) stated:
I saw that only just being preoccupied with studying fiqh and listening to (transmission) of hadeeth is not enough in rectifying the heart, except (when) combined with (narrations on the subject matter of) softening the hearts and looking into the biographies of the pious predecessors. As for having knowledge of halaal and haraam only, it does not have a great strength in softening the heart; rather the softening of the heart is by way making a mention of the Ahaadeeth on the subject matter of softening the heart and the stories of the pious predecessors. That is because they (i.e. the pious predecessors) grasped the intent behind narrating (ahadeeth)–they showed the tangible obligated actions by way of them, a taste of their meanings and the goals behind them. And there is nothing that will make you experience this, except after cultivation and experience; because I find that the ambition of the majority of the Muhadditheen and the students of hadeeth is [focused on acquiring hadeeth that has the closest chain of transmission from the Prophet (sallal-laahu-alayhi-wasallam) and gathering numerous authentic Ahaadeeth on a particular subject matter in the religion etc]. And the majority of the jurists (focus on) the science of debate and that which gives one the upper hand; so how can the heart be softened through these affairs? Indeed, a group of the pious predecessors aspired to see that a righteous slave should look to his character and upright guidance and not (merely) the knowledge he has acquired. That is (because) his character and upright guidance are the fruits of his knowledge.
So understand this! The student of Hadeeth and Fiqh should combine (seeking after hadeeth and fiqh) with studying the lives of the pious predecessors and the Zuhhaad (i.e. those who abstained from the permissible unnecessary worldly pleasures), so that it can be a means to softening the heart. Indeed, books have been compiled regarding the affairs and manners of each one of those well-known outstanding men (of piety). A book has been compiled regarding the affairs of Al-Hasan (Al-Basri), Sufyaan Ath-Thawri, Ibraaheem Bin Adham, Bishr Al-Haafiy, Ahmad Bin Hanbal, Ma’roof and other than them amongst the scholars and the Zuhhaad.
[Slightly paraphrased and abridged. Saydul khaatir of Imaam Ibnul Jawzi. Page 171. Daar Ibn Rajab. 1st edition 2003]