The Exemplary Status of the Companions: Upholding Their Legacy and Lessons

The Exemplary Status of the Companions: Upholding Their Legacy and Lessons
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It is important to note that the early followers who embraced the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) and supported his mission are known as “Sahaba.” Sahaba, an Arabic term, is the plural of “sâhib/sahâbî.” “Sâhib” encompasses various meanings, including being present alongside someone, accompanying them, being a companion, or a fellow traveler. It signifies being in the company of the Prophet (pbuh), walking the path together, and journeying alongside him. Such a companion can sometimes hold greater significance than a sibling, as siblings may not always share one’s journey. The esteemed Sahaba, through their dedication to the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah, their sacrifices, and their service to the faith, have rightfully earned the title of “Companions.” Upon embracing Islam, they pledged to obey the Prophet in times of difficulty and ease, in matters they found agreeable and disagreeable, and remained steadfast in this commitment until the end of their lives.

Allah (exalted is He), who sent His Prophet as a distinguished personality through his message, his declarations, and his representation, has also created and selected the community of companions, the Sahaba, with a special disposition and stature, it would be accurate to say. Setting aside the praises and commendations of the Quran and Sunnah for the Sahaba, even just from the perspective of their demonstrated high performance, we can easily state the following: Just as Allah sent a distinguished individual endowed with superior qualities as a Prophet, similarly, the Sahaba are a distinguished community sent with special attributes.

The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) instilled in the souls of the Sahaba such that he unearthed and developed every virtue and characteristic within their essence. Their unwavering faith, along with the purity and sincerity in their worship and obedience, blossomed through this development. Those who once worshipped idols during the period of ignorance shed all traces of polytheism, directing their hearts solely towards the One and Only, the Absolute Deity, becoming devout worshippers and ascetics. To the extent that some contemplated renouncing worldly lawful pleasures – their carnal desires – to fully dedicate themselves to the Divine and detach from worldly concerns. However, as in all matters, the Messenger of Allah guided them on the Straight Path in this regard as well, clarifying that this was not the correct approach.

Picture a group of individuals emerging from the heart of the desert, confronting the superpowers of their era – the Romans and the Persians – and triumphing over their mechanized units. Throughout their endeavors, they steadfastly adhered to principles of justice and equity. Wherever their footsteps led, they erected pillars of righteousness, uplifting and preserving the truth. They bestowed rights, fairness, and humanity upon every land they traversed.

Our revered Sahaba turned to the Prophet (pbuh) and his teachings with unwavering dedication, deriving immense benefit from his unparalleled attributes. A man who, in the ignorance of the past, would have buried his daughter alive, underwent a remarkable transformation after just a few days in the company of the Prophet. Enveloped by the presence of Allah’s Messenger, attentively absorbing the precious words flowing from his blessed lips, he was adorned with unshakeable faith and submission, noble morality, and compassion. Faith permeated their very being. The seed of faith, akin to a heavenly tree Tooba, once planted in their hearts, flourished and bore fruit. They experienced the truths of religion in a profoundly distinct manner, feeling them with an intensity unique to their souls. The faith that entered their hearts did not remain mere theory but manifested in all their actions and behaviors.

The exchange between the Messenger of Allah and Haris bin Malik al-Ansari vividly illustrates the inner essence and profound spirituality of the Sahaba community. When Haris professed his genuine belief in Allah, the Messenger of Allah inquired, “Everything has a reality. What is the reality of the faith you claim to have?” Haris responded, “I have detached myself from worldly life, remaining awake at night in worship and fasting during the day, leaving me thirsty. My state of mind is such that it feels as though I am beholding the Throne of my Lord… I envision Paradise and witness how its inhabitants interact… I perceive Hell and hear the cries and screams of its dwellers…” Upon hearing this, the Prophet declared, “This is a believer whose heart is immersed in nur (divine light)!” In another narration, he remarked, “O Haris! You have grasped what needed to be grasped, you have attained enlightenment. Continue exactly as you are!”[1]

Perhaps not all of the Companions openly divulged the depth of their faith. They harbored secrets between themselves and Allah, keeping them hidden from others. Similarly, they concealed their love, longing, and devotion in worship and obedience. However, upon examining their life stories and their struggles in the path of Allah, we grasp how they attained the zenith of faith. Their faith resembled oceans, their clarity matching their profound depth. Initially, one might assume the water only reaches the knees, but upon stepping in, they find themselves completely submerged, unable to touch the bottom. Its clarity veils its depth. Such was the faith of the Companions.

Truly, every remarkable individual possesses their own unique influence, impact, and allure, akin to the gravitational forces exerted by celestial bodies in proportion to their mass. For instance, Earth’s gravity maintains the Moon in its orbit. The Sun, with its immense size, exerts a gravitational pull on Earth far greater in magnitude. Similarly, great personalities wield a gravitational pull commensurate with their eminence and worth. The Messenger of Allah possessed such a sacred magnetism that once someone entered his orbit, they found themselves unable to depart, much like planets orbiting the Sun. The distinctive attributes of the Messenger of Allah would permeate and profoundly affect them as well.

The extraordinary vertical ascent of Companions like Amr Ibn Al-As, Khalid Ibn Al-Walid, Ikrimah Ibn Abi Jahl, and Abu Sufyan after embracing Islam is truly remarkable. Consider Amr b. Al-As, whose deeds during the pre-Islamic era are well-documented. Yet, upon converting to Islam and spending a brief period with the Messenger of Allah, he underwent a profound transformation. When it came to the distribution of spoils after a battle, he declined his share, stating, “O Messenger of Allah, I did not embrace Islam for this.”[2] Khalid Ibn Al-Walid, who dedicated his life to the battlefield, left behind nothing but his horse, sword, and shield upon his demise. Observing his state, Said Ibn Zayd remarked, “He lived as a man praised by people, and he died as a loss to Islam.”[3] Ikrimah, wounded and lying in his tent during the Battle of Yarmouk, briefly sat up and said, “Is that you, O Messenger of Allah?” Each of these individuals epitomizes heroes of a vertical spiritual and moral ascent during their lifetimes.

Just as the dawn of the Ottoman era heralded the emergence of exemplary individuals, throughout history, the spirit of the Companions has been manifested, giving rise to exceptionally noble souls. Even today, there exist individuals whose faith and way of life serve as beacons for others. There are devoted souls who embark on migrations to unknown lands in service to their faith and humanity, and Allah will surely reward the merit of each of these individuals. However, amidst all these, the place and status of the Companions remain distinct and unparalleled. It is impossible to find a community that serves as a comparable example, for a community blessed with the presence of Prophet Muhammad Mustafa (pbuh) stands unmatched. In a profound sense, the Companions were deeply enamored with Allah and the Hereafter; their love for Allah consumed them entirely. Thus, Hasan al-Basri remarked, “If you had seen them, you would have called them mad; and if they had seen you, they would have said you do not believe.”[4]

From this perspective, it is imperative that we constantly remember and acknowledge the exceptional exemplariness of the Companions, allowing their example to guide and inspire us in our own lives. However, at the same time, we must not overlook the fact that there are other truth-seekers destined to follow in their footsteps, thereby ensuring that we do not succumb to despair. By deeply acquainting ourselves with the lives of the Companions, we come to understand our own limitations and recognize when it is necessary to take a step back. Witnessing the sprouts that have emerged from the soil grow into full stalks, we can then confidently declare, “Why shouldn’t it happen again!” and thus escape from the clutches of despair.

Rest assured that the closer you become acquainted with the Companions, the deeper your admiration and affection for them will grow. This journey is intricately linked to your personal development. As you progress and refine your faith, discernment, understanding, emotions, and awareness, you will gain a deeper insight into their greatness. With this understanding, your sense of loyalty towards them will intensify. Immersing yourself in their captivating world, you will lose yourself and discover your true essence. Yet, even as you unearth your authentic self, you will always perceive them leading the way. No matter how swiftly you advance, you will always find their influence guiding you forward. Therefore, do not distance yourself from their world. If one eye is focused on yourself, let the other be fixed on the radiant aura enveloping the Messenger of Allah.[5]

It is with a sense of remorse that I must acknowledge how we have inadvertently diminished the stature of the Companions through our own superficiality. Our understanding of nobility, worship, sacrifice, and valor has obscured our perception of the true greatness of the Companions. Instead of portraying them in their own essence, brilliance, and transparency, we have depicted them with alterations and likened them to ourselves. Rather than striving to perceive them in their full grandeur, we have attempted to interpret them through our limited lens. In my humble opinion, we need to gather all that has been said about them, both old and new, and reexamine their lives within this framework of harmony. This process will also serve as a reflection on ourselves, revealing where we currently stand and where we ought to stand in the practice of our faith.

In essence, what we require today is to revitalize Islam in the manner exemplified by the Companions, embodying their faith, inner depth, connection with Allah, magnanimity, generosity, worship, and devotion. We should emulate them as our role models, endeavor to emulate their virtues, present them as shining examples to all, and ignite the desire to emulate their noble traits. Any contemporary revival must adhere to the path of emulating the Companions. By understanding the Companions correctly and taking them as our guides, we too can, in due course, produce commendable examples from within ourselves and thereby serve as models for others.

[1]  Ma’mer bin Rashid, al-Jami, 11/129; Tabarani, al-Mu’jam al-Kabir, 3/266.

[2]  Ibn Abi Shaybah, Musannaf 12/288, hadith no: 23618; Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Musnad, 29/338, hadith no: 17802.

[3]  Ali Al-Muttaqi, Kanz Al-Ummal, 13/368.

[4]  See: Abu Nuaym, Hilyat al-Awliya, Cairo 1974, 2/134.

[5] The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) symbolizes the full moon, radiating with its luminous light, while his companions are likened to the halo surrounding the moon.