By Imam Kareem Abu Zaid
At one time this Message [of calling people to Islam and training people as Muslims] created a generation without any parallel in the history of Islam, even in the entire history of man, the generation of the Companions (ra) of the Prophet (saw). After this, no other generation of this caliber was ever again to be found. It is true that we do find some individuals of this caliber here and there in history, but never again did a great number of such people exist in one region, as was the case during the first period of Islam.
What are the factors behind such unprecedented personalities? These companions were put under unbearable forms of torture, but they continued to resist and persist without any compromise. What are the major factors behind such unmatched persistence that the companions of the prophet (saw) were known for in history? Some of these factors include: 1) their unshakable belief in Allah (swt), 2) their wholehearted love for the Prophet (saw), 3) their clear sense of responsibility, 4) their unwavering belief in the hereafter, 5) the Quran being freshly revealed, and 6) the good tidings of success that they received from Allah (swt).
BELIEF IN ALLAH
When the Companions said the shahadah they really meant it from their hearts and their belief in Allah (swt) and His Messenger (saw) was unshakable. They understood the immense power of their Creator, and their understanding of His Attributes was firmly engraved within.
[The verses of the Quran] would correct their mistakes, either of understanding or of practice, bring them closer to Allah, and would explain to them the wisdom of the various aspects of universe in the light of Allah's attributes. Thus they clearly realized that every moment of their lives was under the continuous guidance and direction of the Almighty Creator and that they were traversing the path of life under the wings of Allah's mercy. Because of this sense of constant relationship with Allah, their lives were molded in the sacred pattern that He Himself had chosen for them (Qutb, 14).
The Companions cherished in their hearts the love of Allah (swt), which is the basis for all worship. In regards to the love of Allah (swt), Ibn Al-Qaym Al-Jozee said: “It is a stage that all of those who are striving and competing are competing for it and it is a kind of life that if you are missing it you are one of the dead. It si a light that if you are without it you are in and ocean of darkness. It is a medicine or cure that if you are without it, your heart becomes a place of sicknesses. It is a sweetness or pleasure that id you are without it, life becomes a thing of worries and pain.
LOVED THEIR LEADERSHIP
In addition to the strong belief in Allah (swt), the Companions wholeheartedly loved the Prophet (saw). The leader that they experienced was one of perfect morals; his character was unmatched by anyone in his time or even times to come after. He was a man of the highest nobility, honesty, integrity, abstinence, perseverance,… The list goes on. Prior to the advent of Islam, people used to give their money to the Prophet (saw) for safekeeping. A classic case of his reputation (even at the time when he first began to speak of Islam) is when he climbed the mountain of Safah and asked his notables if they would believe him if he told them that an army was coming to attack them on the other side. They all responded in the affirmative, due to their experiences with him, which had led them to nickname him, "as-siddiq & al-amin."
The Prophet (saw)'s qualities were as such that even his dire enemies testified to them. One such enemy was Abu Jahl who used to continuously say to him, "O Muhammad, we are in no position to belie you, we rather, disbelieve what you have brought us (Islam)." The Prophet (saw) once responded to Ubai bin Khalaf's threat to kill him; by saying that he (saw) would inshallah kill Ubai. Ubai is known to have remarked, "I am convinced [that Muhammad (saw)] would be able to kill me even if he spat on me." Why would his enemies shudder at any threatening words received by the Prophet (saw)? This is because he was known for nothing less then truth; whatever he uttered was bound to be true.
On the other hand, the Companions experienced the sweetness of their leader's character. They cast their lives into their model of perfection - the Prophet (saw). Thus they became the practical demonstrations of his teachings. the Companions thus proved that the life instructed by the Prophet (saw) was not one of inconsistency to human nature, instead, it was one that was molded to the fitra (nature) of humankind. It was one that successfully transformed people from the peak of ignorance to the peak of human nobility. Al-Qadiri, in Muhammad, Encyclopedia of Seerah, writes, “This living model inflamed their hearts and minds with a passion that had been purged of all the impurities of self-centeredness; it changed the criterion of their thoughts and actions; it deflected the course of their loyalties; it radicalized their attitude towards the value and relevance of human life; and it revolutionized their concept of good and evil, friendship, and enmity, respect and humiliation. In short, the entire pattern of their life, ranging from Personal problems to international issues, [underwent] a sea of change (537)”.
This transformation took place to such an extent that they became the epitome of moral perfection in human history. The Prophet (saw) taught them to uphold mutual sacrifice and compassion, which became the essence of their characters, and the basis of the most deeply rooted brotherhood. Allah (swt) says about them, “ "Those who had established their home in Madinah and had accepted the faith before the coming of the refugees, they love those who come to them for refuge and do not hanker after that which is given to the refugees, butt give them preference over their own selves, even when they themselves are poor. Those who are rescued from the covetousness of their own selves (those who are embodiments of sacrifice and benevolence) it is these who will be successful" (59:9).
The companions did the opposite of the following ayah of Surah Tawbah: “Say if you love your parents and our children and your brothers and our wives and your relatives and the wealth that you earn and the business that you fear a loss in and the dwellings that please you if they are dearer to you then Allah and His Messenger and striving in the path of Allah then wait until Allah brings His command (the punishment). Allah does not guide the people who are fasiq (those outside the obedience of Allah).(9:24)
The Prophet (saw) was dearer to the companions any of their possessions or even their own life. They were selfless and willing to sacrifice anything and everything for their deen and its leader. Bukhari (2;563) gives an account of Abu Bakr bin Abi Quhafa, whose body was bleeding excessively due to the blows of 'Utbah bin Rabi'a, a Mushriqun. Even at this stage of nearing death, he could only think of the well being of the Prophet (saw). He told his people that he would never eat or drink until they informed him whether or not the Prophet (saw) was safe and well.
The Companions would follow all actions of their leader unquestionably, though later they would inquire him to his intent for the sake of understanding the deen. For example, Abu Sa'eed reports that the Prophet (saw) during salat removed his shoes, and the people behind him in prayer did likewise. After salah was over, he (saw) asked, "Why did you remove your shoes?" They said, "We saw you remove yours." The Prophet (saw) then explained how Gibrael (as) came to him and told him that there was najasah on his shoes and thus he removed them…. (related by Abu Dawud, Ahmad, al-Hakim, Ibn Hibban, and Ibn Khuzaimah).
SENSE OF RESPONSIBILITY
In addition to the belief and love of Allah (swt) and the Prophet (saw), the early Muslims knew that they were to shoulder the heavy responsibility of living and spreading the deen of truth. From day one they had this very clear vision of accepting Islam - which would mean an entire way of life would have to be adopted, against all odds of the present society.
The sense of responsibility that the Companions felt in relation to one another is best described in the following hadith: Nu'man ibn Bashir reports that the Prophet (saw) said, "The example of the believers is like a person whose entire body grows restive if he suffers from an eye-pain or a headache" (Muslim).
The Companions knew that in every situation at all odds, they would have to respond with an immediate obedience to the commands of Allah (swt). A prime example of such an action can be seen in the companion Hanzala Al-Ghaseel. At the call to fight in the Battle of Uhud, Hanzala was just newly married, and he left his wife's bed immediately. He did not even spare the time for ghusl, and he ran to Al-Jihad. On the Battlefield he found his way to the idolater leader, Abu Sufyan, and had almost killed him, when Allah wrote his martyrdom. Hanzala was killed by Shaddad bin Al-Aswad.
The Companions took great responsibility in their learning; they did not recite the Quran for acquiring culture, information or knowledge, enjoyment, or to solve any problems. They recited the Quran only for finding out what Allah (swt) had ordained for their lives, both individually and collectively. At the most they would recite ten verses, memorize them, and then act upon them. As they looked to the Quran as an instruction of action, they also achieved remarkable levels of spiritual fulfillment and of knowledge. Continuing on this path, responsibilities became innate; their personalities became live examples of faith (Qutb, 13-14).
FIRM BELIEF IN THE HEREAFTER.
The Companions loved and felt a strong responsibility towards Allah (swt) and the Prophet (saw). Their sense of responsibility, however, was founded upon their unshakable belief in the Hereafter. Each of their Worldly actions, whether large or small, were determined by the effect they would bring about upon the book that they would receive on the Day of Judgment. They knew that they would have to account for all of their deeds in front of Allah (swt). They also knew that their actions were paving their future destination (either towards Paradise (Jannah) or towards Hell Fire (Jahannam)). Thus, they had to rush to do good deeds so that they could attain the everlasting beauty of Jannah, and remain far from the unimaginable punishment of Jahannum. Allah (swt) says of them that they were even skeptical of the acceptance of their good actions:
"… who give that (their charity) which they give (and also do other good deeds) with their hearts full of fear (whether their alms and charities, etc., have been accepted or not), because they are sure to return to their Lord" (26:30).
With such firm belief in the life to come, the Sahabah took the pains of this life lightly. The Quranic injunctions in regards to their personal conduct, worldly possessions, families, etc… were all new for them, but they were so ready in surrendering to Allah (swt) unquestionably that the difficult became easy for them because they were complying to the orders, and they knew of the reward that the Lord held for their efforts.
Thus, when they had attained the highest pinnacle of moral development and become proof against the inducements of Satan and of their own baser self, when they had learned to prefer the future good to the immediate good and had been transformed into lovers of the Hereafter even while living in this world, when neither poverty could be a barrier in their path nor could riches make them vain, when they had become meek, yet unbending before power, and when they had come to be the dispensers of justice among men even though it might go against themselves, their own kith and kin, God made the whole world subservient to them and appointed them the Defenders of the Faith (Nadwi, 54).
They knew that the weight of such afflictions was nothing in comparison to that of the hereafter. Such firm belief molded individuals who took lightly and in some cases even became completely indifferent to the hardships of life. Allah (swt) gave them the reward of being the leaders of this deen. An unmatchable reward waited for them in the Hereafter. The abode where they were to reside in forever and ever.
A FRESH REVELATION
Besides the belief in Allah (swt) and the Prophet (saw), the strong sense of responsibility, and the firm belief in the hereafter, The Companions had the blessing of living at the time of the Quran's revelation. They were the first receivers of the Message, and they obtained it in stages at the appropriate turns in life. At their times of trial, Allah (swt) sent to them a forceful message of support and encouragement. The Quran would inspire and arouse the believers to remain strong in their paths of endurance. Allah (swt) would remind of the fact that if one struggled in His Path and faced hardship, and then He would help. "Or think you that you will enter Paradise without such (trials) as came to those who passed away before you? They were afflicted with severe poverty and ailments and were so shaken that even the Messenger and those who believed along with him said, 'When (will come) the Help of Allah?' Yes! Certainly, the Help of Allah is near!" (2:214).
Additionally, the test would come in every kind of situation, so as to determine if the individual strives continuously in placing his Lord above himself. The Companions had the greatest of tests and the pains they experienced purified them by increasing their ability of self sacrifice. Allah (swt) says: "Alif-Lam-Mim. Do people think that they will be left alone because they say: 'we believe’ and will not be tested. And We indeed tested those who were before them. And Allah will certainly make (it) known (the truth of) those who are true, and will certainly make (it) known (the falsehood of) those who are liars, (although Allah knows all that before putting them to test)" (29:1-3).
The noble companions modeled their lives after the pure Quran. It was the only source from which they quenched their thirst, and it is this factor that made them distinct individuals in history (Qutb, 12). They had an untainted version of the Quran, which the Prophet (saw) did not allow any other source to be mixed with. For example, Umar (ra) brought some pages from the Torah to the Prophet (saw), and the latter was displeased, and said, "By Allah, even if Moses had been alive among you today, he would d have no recourse except to follow me."
The companions desired to implement the injunctions of the Quran immediately. A prime example is that of Abu Talha (recorded in Bukhari), who was the wealthiest among the Ansar. Out of his date-orchards, his favorite was the one located in front of Masjid-I-Nabwi. Upon the revelation of (3:92), "By no means shall you attain righteousness unless you give (freely) of that which you love," Abu Talha went to the Prophet (saw). Abu Talha gave his favorite wealth - this orchard - in the Cause of Allah. The Prophet (saw) advised him to distribute it amongst his most needy relatives, which he did immediately.
The Companions experienced the Quranic revelation in front of their very eyes; they would see the Prophet (saw) break into sweat, after which the Prophet (saw) would convey the wahi to them. Imagine the impact of experiencing the delivery of a divine message! Not only did the Companions witness the delivery of the wahi, but they also experienced the best reciter and implementer of it. According to Aisha (ra) the character of the Prophet (saw) was the Quran. These strong Quranic ties they had shaped the personalities of the Companions.
TIDINGS OF SUCCESS
What other factor gave the companions the strength to withstand all of the tortures by the kuffar? Last but not least, the Companions had the good tidings of success that would result if their efforts were consistent and sincere. Allah (swt) would give them the news of ease to come as a reward of their patience and perseverance. For example, to those who had migrated to Abyssinia, Allah revealed the following:
"And as for those who emigrated for the cause of Allah, after suffering oppression, We will certainly give them goodly residence in this world, but indeed the reward of the Hereafter will be greater, if they but knew" (16:41)
Allah (swt) would also bestow upon the believers the news of victory, even prior to the event itself. For example, "And, verily, Our Word has gone forth of old for Our slaves, - the Messengers, that they verily would be made triumphant. And that Our hosts, they verily would be the victors. So turn away (O Muhammad) from them for a while, and watch them and they shall see (the punishment)! Do they seek to hasten on Our torment? Then, when it descends into their courtyard (i.e. near to them), evil will be the morning for those who had been warned" (37: 171-177)
Another example is that of prior to the Battle of Badr, Allah (swt) promised the Prophet (saw) either the caravan of goods, or the booty; it was as if the Prophet (saw) could see the enemy lying prostrate even prior to his preparation of his military. Additionally, Allah (swt) portrayed the enemy to be of smaller size to the Muslims so that their hearts would not become weak out of fear. Allah (swt) said:
"Remember in thy dream Allah showed them to thee as few: if He had shown them to thee as many, ye would surely have been discouraged, and ye would surely have disputed in (your) decision: but Allah saved (you) for He knoweth well the (secrets) of (all) hearts" (8:43).
The Companions were continuously, at every stage of their encounters, given guidance by Allah (swt), Himself, and His Prophet (saw). Allah (swt) told the stories of prophets of the past so that they could take heed. For example, in the context of Yusuf (as)'s story, Allah (swt) said, "Verily, in Yusuf and his brethren there were Ayat (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.) for those who ask" (12:7).
Here, Allah (swt) is alluding to how the Makkans would face the similar future as the brothers of Yusuf (as). More specifically, they would plot, and fail, only later to have no choice but to surrender to the true leader (the Prophet (saw)). Additionally, the stories of the past were linked to them so that they would not feel that they were in this struggle alone. Allah (swt) would convey that what befell the people before them was similar to their own trials. Allah (swt) says,
"And those who disbelieved, said to their Messengers: 'Surely, we shall drive you out of our land, or you shall return to our religion!' So their Lord inspired them: 'Truly, We shall destroy the Zalimun (polytheists, disbelievers and wrong-doers). And indeed, We shall make you dwell in the land after them. This is for him who fears standing before Me (on the Day of Resurrection or fears My punishment) and also fears My threat" (14:13, 14).
Allah (swt) would thus give strength to the believers so that they could extend their influence across the earth. The Companions had such strong faith that Allah (swt) would make them the sovereigns of the land, that they would persevere and tolerate all kinds of tortures and humiliations.
An example of a companion who asked for victory is as follows: Khabbab bin Al-Aratt asked the Prophet (saw) to make dua for him that Allah (swt) alleviates him from his sufferings. The Prophet (saw) became reddened and said that victory will only come to the true believer when he deserves it. The believer has to undergo all difficulties, fearing none but Allah (swt), until His deen is established. The establishment of the deen would truly take place, and one day peace would replace the hardship. But the believer has to stretch out this period with the highest degree of patience. - It is this advice that the Companions took to heart, and even died for.
I would like to conclude by saying that, we do have the same resources that made them, yes we do.
1) We can begin to learn about our creed, Allah Subhanaho Watallah, his Oneness, names and attributes, the knowledge that will drive us to be sincerity.
2) we can begin to study the biography of our Messenger Mohamed Peace be upon him which will lead us to love him dearly, the love that will drive us to adhere to his Sunnah.
3) We can begin learning about the hereafter which will drive us to work for it in this world.
4) We can begin to have a fresh bond Quran, by learning it and understanding the way that they understood it.
5) And, we certainly can joy in all the glad tidings quoted in Quran and the Sunnah, the glad tiding of Victory and Success for the believers in this world and the hereafter.
Imam Karim Abuzaid
About the writer:
Imam Karim Abuzaid
Imam of the Colorado Muslim Society. (CMS)
Master in Assoul-Al-Deen, Fundamentals of Islam, Quranic and Hadeeth Sciences from the American Open University, Alexandria, VA.