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The Prophet’s Companions

The twenty-ninth book is on the ‘Merits of the Companions’ (KitAb FazA’il Al-SahAbah) of the Prophet. It praises Muhammad’s ‘Companions,’ his lieutenants and relatives like AbU Bakr, ‘Umar, and ‘UsmAn; members of his family like FAtima, ‘AlI, Hasan, and Husain; his wives like KhadIja, ‘Aisha, Salama, and Zainab; and some loyal ansArs and other men associated with events and occasions important in the eyes of the Muslims of the days of the Prophet, like the Battle of Badr and the ‘Oath of Allegiance under the Tree’ (Bay’at al-RizwAn) at Hodeibia in March A.D. 628 (those who took this oath were promised by Muhammad that they would never enter the fire of hell).

All of these people are praised not because they had a larger vision or a deeper humanity or a wider sense of justice than others but solely on one basis: their loyalty and utility to Muhammad’s person and cause. In totalitarian ideologies and creeds, faith and loyalty to the leader are the supreme virtues. The followers need have no other. To be saved, it is enough to be subservient.

The Merits of Abu Bakr Siddiq

The original name of AbU Bakr SiddIq was ‘Abdu’l Ka’bah. Muhammad changed his name to ‘Abdu’llah Ibn AbI QuhAfa, but he soon came to be known by another name, AbU Bakr, ‘the father of the maiden,’ the maiden being ‘Aisha, whom Muhammad betrothed when she was six and married when she was nine. AbU Bakr became Islam’s first KhalIfa after Muhammad.

Muhammad had a high regard for AbU Bakr’s services. ‘If I were to choose as my bosom friend I would have chosen the son of AbU QuhAfa as my bosom friend,’ Muhammad said (5873). When Muhammad was asked whom he loved best, he answered: ‘ ‘Aisha, ‘Aisha’s father, AbU Bakr, and ‘Umar in that order’ (5876).

There are ahAdIs justifying the succession of AbU Bakr that may have been manufactured by their authors, even half-believingly, during the conflict around the question of succession that arose after Muhammad’s death. A woman came to Muhammad during his last sickness and asked him whom she should go to when he was no longer there. ‘To AbU Bakr,’ Muhammad answered (5878). ‘Aisha’s report is even more to the point: ‘Allah’s Messenger in his last illness asked me to call AbU Bakr, her father, and her brother too, so that he might write a document, for he feared that someone else might be desirous of succeeding him’ (5879).

AbU Bakr came to power through a coup d’etat. As soon as Muhammad died, the struggle for power began in earnest. ‘AlI and ‘AbbAs, the Prophet’s cousin and uncle, respectively, made the most of his dead body; they kept it to themselves and allowed no one else to take a hand in preparing it for burial. They locked the room from inside and secretly buried the body during the night in the very room in which he had died. Even ‘Aisha, his favorite wife, was kept in the dark about it-she was sleeping in another hut at this time.

Outside, the struggle raged between the ansArs and the Emigrants. The ansArs met in the hall of Banu SA’ida to choose Sa’d b. ‘UbAda, one of their own tribesmen, as the chief. When AbU Bakr and ‘Umar got wind of this, they hurried to the spot with their own supporters. AbU Bakr told the Medinans that the Quraish were the ‘best of the Arabs in blood and country,’ and that the ‘Arabs will recognize authority only in this clan of Quraish.’ He told them: ‘We are the Ameers; and you are our Wazeers.’ When this drew a protest from the ansArs, it was proposed that each party should choose its own separate Ameer. But this was not acceptable to the Meccan party, and AbU Bakr was ‘chosen’ as the Ameer of Islam. ‘In doing this, we jumped on Sa’d b. ‘UbAda and someone said that we killed him. I said, ‘God kill him,’ ‘ ‘Umar reports according to Ibn IshAq.1 The story is repeated by TabarI.2

The next day, AbU Bakr declared himself the KhalIfa of Islam.

The Excellent Qualities of ‘Umar B. Khattab

‘Umar b. KhattAb and AbU Bakr were an inseparable pair. ‘I came and there came too AbU Bakr and ‘Umar; I entered and there entered too AbU Bakr and ‘Umar; I went out and there went out too AbU Bakr and ‘Umar,’ Muhammad observed (5885).

‘Umar was loyal to Muhammad. Once, while asleep, Muhammad found himself ‘in Paradise and a woman performing ablution by the side of a palace.’ When he inquired, he was told that it (it is not clear whether it stands for the woman or the palace or both) was for ‘Umar. So Muhammad thought of ‘Umar’s feelings and turned back and went away. ‘Umar wept when he was told about it. ‘Could I at all feel any jealousy about you?’ he said to Muhammad (5898).

‘Umar was fanatical, narrow-minded, and strong in his hatred. Once Muhammad was persuaded to offer a funeral prayer for someone whom the Muslims called a hypocrite. ‘Umar ‘caught hold of the clothes of Allah’s Messenger and said: Allah’s Messenger, are you going to offer prayer, whereas Allah has forbidden to offer prayer for him?’ (5904). But Muhammad persisted. And lo, as he prayed, Allah revealed the following verse: ‘Nor do thou ever pray for one of them that dies, nor stand at his grave; for they rejected God and His Apostle, and died in a state of perverse rebellion’ (QurAn 9:84). Islam carried its hatred of its enemies even beyond the grave.

In fact Allah vindicated ‘Umar more than once. The Muslim doctors mention fifty cases in which ‘Umar’s ideas became QurAnic revelations. ‘Umar, however, modestly mentions only three. ‘My Lord concorded with my Judgments on three occasions. In case of the Station of IbrAhIm, in case of the observance of the veil, and in case of the prisoners of Bardr’ (5903).

The first instance refers to the fact that Muhammad and his followers prayed facing Jerusalem, the place of the Jewish Temple, during the first fifteen months of their stay in Medina. Later on, by a divine injunction, the direction was changed to Mecca, a course which ‘Umar had advocated even earlier.

We have already recounted the incident about the veil in our discussion of the ‘Book of Salutations and Greetings,’ and shown how the divine injunction merely corroborated what ‘Umar already stood for.

The third incident refers to the Quraish prisoners, one of whom was the Prophet’s uncle, ‘AbbAs. Bakr had advised that they be freed for ransom, and ‘Umar that they be killed. Muhammad accepted Bakr’s advice in this particular case, but Allah concorded with the general approach of ‘Umar. In fact, Allah chided the Prophet and told him that greed for gain in the shape of ransom should have no part in his calculations, and that his first duty as a Prophet was to engage in slaughter in the land: ‘It is not for a Prophet to have captives until he has made slaughter in the land. . . . Had it not been for a previous ordainment from Allah, a severe penalty would have reached you for the ransom you took’ (QurAn 8:67-68).

‘Umar is highly honored in Islamic history for his role in the spread of Arab imperialism. True, its real founder was Muhammad himself, a founder par excellence, who provided it with a theory, an ideology, a continuing motive, and the necessary religious rhetoric, successfully working out a grand model for his successors to imitate. But after him, ‘Umar’s contribution too was considerable. He forged new instrumentalities, provided a new taste for booty, a new incentive. He put every Arab, even including newborn babes, on the state’s payroll. An Arab, he made it clear, had no other function except to be a coloniser and a soldier of Islamic imperialism.

This role of ‘Umar’s is brought out in several ahAdIs. In a dream Muhammad saw himself drawing water from a tank. Then AbU Bakr took hold of the leather bucket, but he drew only ‘two buckets’; there was also ‘weakness in his drawing.’ Then ‘Umar took over with real strength. ‘I did not see a person stronger than he drawing water,’ said Muhammad (5890-5896). These ahAdIs, we are told, refer to ‘Umar’s future role in the spread of Muslim hegemony.

In the Muslim annals, we find that ‘Umar needed no great provocation to flourish his sword but was no great warrior on the battlefield. In the lists of the slayers of the polytheists in the Battles of Badr and Uhud, his name appears only once. But if a man was a captive or was otherwise in his power, then ‘Umar was quite brave with his sword. He met Mabad ibn Wahb, a Meccan who was captured in the Battle of Badr, and said to him tauntingly, ‘Well, you are beaten now.’ The man said, ‘Nay, by LAt and Uzza.’ ‘Is that the manner of speech for a captive infidel towards a Believer?’ asked ‘Umar as he cut off his head with his sword.3

On another occasion, as we have already seen, ‘Umar advised similar treatment for seventy other prisoners. ‘Hand them over to us so that we may cut off their heads,’ he told Muhammad. ‘Give ‘Aqil [AlI’s brother] to ‘AlI that he may cut off his head, and hand over such and such relative to me that I may cut off his head,’ he said (4360).

Killing captives in cold blood was cruel enough. But why should a man be made to slay his own kith and kin so pointedly? This agreed with the requirements of the new creed, which weakened a man’s old ties and strengthened his new ones as a means of increasing his ‘ummah consciousness.’ This was also the most effective way of proving one’s loyalty to the new creed and the new leader. If one killed a parent or a brother or a cousin for the sake of Allah, it was something to be proud of. It was a feather in one’s ideological cap. The same psychology was at work when ‘Umar, on another occasion, tried to persuade AbU Jandal, the son of Soheil, to kill his own father because the father was merely one of the ‘idolators whose blood is equivalent to that of dogs.’ The story is quoted in full in Mirkhond’s biography of the Prophet.4

‘Umar was fortunate in this respect. The only man he was able to slay in the Battles of Badr and Uhud was his maternal uncle. ‘You are under the impression that I killed your father,’ ‘Umar said to Sa’Id b. al-‘As. ‘As a matter of fact I killed my maternal uncle al-‘As b. HashAm b. al-MughIra,’ he said, trying to correct Sa’Id’s mistaken impression.5

It is difficult to accept this attitude, so contrary to human nature and custom. But there is nothing unusual about it. The same things have taken place in our own time under Communism. Only a few decades ago, in Russia and even in China, members of the Party were encouraged to denounce their parents and close relatives and inform on them. It was supposed to strengthen their ‘class consciousness.’ Those who indulged in such unfilial behavior were honored as heroes. Similar ideologies and attitudes lead to similar values and usages.

The ethics of this practice was valid for the followers but not necessarily for the Prophet. And though he sent his parents and uncle to hellfire, he was more considerate toward his living kinsmen. He was kind to Abu’l ‘As b. al-RabI, his son-in-law, who was taken prisoner in the Battle of Badr, releasing him without any ransom. In the same battle, Muhammad also ordered his followers not to kill any member of the BanU HAshim, the family to which he belonged, and also to spare his uncle, al-‘AbbAs. But one Muslim, AbU Huzayfa, who had participated in the slaying of his own father, did not like this. ‘Are we to kill our fathers and sons and our brothers and our families and leave al-‘AbbAs? By Allah, if I meet him I will flash my sword in him,’ he said aloud.

When this reached the ears of Muhammad, he was much troubled. ‘O AbU Hafs, ought the face of the apostle’s uncle to be marked with the sword?’ he said to ‘Umar, who replied, ‘Let me off with his head! By Allah, the man is a false Muslim.’ AbU Huzayfa used to say, ‘I never felt safe after my words that day. I was always afraid unless martyrdom atoned for them.’ He was killed as a martyr in the Battle of al-YamAma. This story is narrated by Ibn IshAq.6

‘Usman B. ‘Affan

‘UsmAn b. ‘AffAn converted to Islam because of his love for Ruqayya, one of the daughters of Muhammad, whom he married. After she died, Muhammad gave him another of his daughters, Umm KulsUm.

According to Muslim tradition, ‘UsmAn was somewhat of a dandy. When the Emigrants went to Medina and built their mosque with voluntary labor, it was complained that he shirked manual work while one ‘AmmAr, a convert from the proletarian strata, was burdened with work that was too heavy. ‘UsmAn became the third KhalIfa of Islam and died, in the tradition of many other Muslim KhalIfas, at the hands of his brethren in faith.

‘Aisha reports that the Prophet would receive Bakr and ‘Umar while lying in bed with his thigh or his shank uncovered. But when ‘UsmAn came, he arranged his clothes and covered his thigh and shank, saying, ‘Should I not show modesty to one whom even the Angels show modesty’ (5906).

From this hadIs, some Muslim doctors have derived a rule of decorum that when one is receiving a visitor, ‘the thigh of a person is not that part of the body which should be necessarily covered.’ Other doctors of theology and law, with great ingenuity, did not agree with this conclusion. From the arguments advanced on both sides, one can get the feel of Islamic scholarship at work, the order of truth it deals with, and its way of arriving at truth. It can be subtle about nothing, and its concerns are mostly with trifles.

There is another interesting hadIs given under this head. ‘Allah’s Messenger was in one of the gardens of Medina [he had seven], reclining against a pillow-a person came asking for the gate to be opened, whereupon he said: Open it for him and give him glad tidings of Paradise and lo, it was AbU Bakr.’ ‘Umar and ‘UsmAn also visited the Prophet under the same circumstances and received the same tidings (5909). Here we have in one hadIs the trinity of successive KhalIfas with the promise of Paradise in store for each.

‘Ali B. Abi Talib

‘AlI b. AbI Talib was the cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad. There were several ahAdIs to support the claim that the supreme position in Islam rightfully belonged to him and his family by inheritance. Muhammad had once told ‘AlI: ‘You are in the same position with relation to me as Aaron [Harun] was in relation to Moses but with this explicit difference that there is no prophet after me’ (5913).

Another hadIs tells us whom Muhammad regarded as his family and, therefore, as the rightful heirs of at least his secular powers. In a mubahala (trial by prayer and curses) with the Christians, Muhammad had said: ‘Let us summon our children and your children.’ For his part the Prophet called ‘AlI, FAtima, Hasan, and Husain. ‘O Allah, they are my family,’ he said (5915).

According to another hadIs, almost on his deathbed Muhammad told the believers: ‘I am leaving behind you two weighty things: . . . the Book of Allah . . . [and] the members of my household. I remind you of your duties to the members of my family.’ The definition of ‘the members of my family,’ or ‘people of the house’ (ahlul-bait), is such that it excluded the Prophet’s wives but included those for whom zakAt was forbidden; i.e., ‘AlI, ‘Aqil, Ja’far, and ‘AbbAs and their offspring (5920).

Another hadIs also ‘proves’ ‘AlI’s claim. On the day of Khaibar, Muhammad said he would give the standard to a person who ‘loves Allah and His Messenger and Allah and His Messenger love him too.’ Then he called ‘AlI, whose eyes were inflamed, and applied his own saliva as a cure. Then the Prophet told him: ‘Fight with them until they bear testimony to the fact that there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet.’ ‘AlI accepted the responsibility and told the Prophet: ‘I will fight them until they are like us’ (5915, 5918).

Now in granting ‘AlI the banner of victory, to the exclusion of Bakr and ‘Umar, was not the Prophet symbolically granting him the future leadership of Islam,7 a leadership which ‘Umar coveted in his heart? ‘Never did I cherish for leadership but on that day [the day of Khaibar],’ ‘Umar says (5917).

Allah is partial. The fact that He and His Messenger loved ‘AlI made many things different for him. Acts of omission and commission which were punished in others were overlooked in ‘AlI. After a battle fought under his general command, he took a slave-girl for himself even before the holy one-fifth had been made over to the Apostle’s exchequer, a serious lapse inviting secular as well as divine punishment. KhAlid b. WalId, the second-in-command, complained to Muhammad. The Prophet was furious, ‘his face becoming red with anger,’ at the complaint. He would not even entertain such an accusation against ‘AlI, for ‘ ‘AlI loves Allah and His Messenger, and Allah and His Messenger love ‘AlI’ (TirmizI, vol. II, hadIs 1582).8 What would you say of the state of justice when the authorities refuse even to record the first report?

In a battle, ‘AlI was both brave and cunning. During the Battle of the Ditch, ‘Amr b. ‘Abdu Wudd, a man of ninety years, and ‘AlI agreed to meet in single combat. At one point in the contest, ‘AlI said to ‘Amr: ‘Have we not agreed that no one should come to my or to thy aid.’ ‘Amr asked: ‘Then what has happened?’ ‘AlI replied: ‘See, thy brother is coming behind thee.’ As ‘Amr looked to his rear, ‘AlI ‘snatched an opportunity to strike that accursed man.’ ‘Amr exclaimed: ‘Boy, thou hast deceived me.’ But the ‘lord and receptacle of victory exclaimed: War is a deception.’ The story is given by Mirkhond.9

‘AlI was not only Muhammad’s best general, he was also his executioner. While Muhammad awarded the punishments, ‘AlI was often chosen to execute them. He was asked to flog people found guilty of drinking (4231) or of fornication (4225); he also beheaded people on the orders of the Apostle (6676). But the most gruesome case was that of the captives of the BanU Quraiza, eight hundred strong, who were all beheaded in a single day in the market of Medina by ‘AlI and Zubair (see above p. 112). ‘The apostle of God ordered a trench to be dug in a suitable place, and as they [the prisoners] were brought out in squads . . . ‘AlI and Zubair set about striking off their heads, by order of his lordship the apostle. . . . On that day ‘AlI and Zubair were till the evening engaged in slaying the BanI Quraiz, and when the night set in, the lamp of life of those who yet remained [to be executed] was extinguished by torchlight,’ Mirkhond records in his Persian biography of the Prophet.10

Sa’d B. Abi Waqqas

Sa’d b. AbI WaqqAs joined Muhammad when he was only thirteen and accompanied him on almost all his campaigns. He was one of those ten men who had been promised Paradise during their own lifetime by Muhammad. He worked as a doorman or sentinel for Muhammad during the night. After he was appointed to this responsibility, ‘Aisha tells us, ‘Allah’s Messenger slept such a sound sleep that I heard the noise of his snoring’ (5925).

Sa’d was also the impetus for several QurAnic verses. We give one example. His mother took an oath that ‘she would never talk with him until he abandoned his faith, and she neither ate nor drank and said: Allah has commanded you to treat well your parents and I am your mother and I command you to do this.’ This, however, was the old polytheistic morality. But Allah now taught a new code and revealed the following verse of the QurAn: ‘We have enjoined on man kindness to parents: but if they strive to force thee to join with Me anything of which thou hast no knowledge, obey them not’ (29:8; hadIs 5933).

The Merits of Zaid B. Haris

Zaid b. Haris was the adopted son of Muhammad and participated in most of his expeditions. Muhammad saw Zaid’s wife half-uncovered and felt a great attraction for her. Though the whole matter caused a great scandal, he got Zaid to divorce her and married her. This was facilitated by the descent of a revelation from the High Heaven (QurAn 33:36-40). Until now, following the old Arab custom, Zaid was socially known as the son of Muhammad; but after this marriage, he again began to be called by the name of his natural father. This too was dictated by a revelation from Allah: ‘Call them by the name of their fathers. This is more equitable with Allah’ (QurAn 33:5; hadIs 5956).

The Merits of Khadija

In the list of merits, only four wives of the Prophet are mentioned: KhadIja, ‘Aisha, Salama, and Zainab.11 KhadIja was Muhammad’s first employer and, though senior to him in age by fifteen years, his first wife; she was also the first to encourage him in his apostolic mission. According to Muhammad, KhadIja was the best of the women of her time, just as Mary, the daughter of Imran, was the best of the women of her time (5965).

‘Aisha says: ‘Never did I feel jealous of any woman as I was jealous of KhadIja. She had died three years before he [Muhammad] married me. I often heard him praise her, and his Lord . . . had commanded him to give her the glad tidings of a palace of Jewels in Paradise, and whenever he slaughtered a sheep he presented its meat to her female companions’ (5971). Once, in a fit of jealousy, ‘Aisha told Muhammad: ‘Why do you remember one of those old women of the Quraish with gums red and who is so long dead-while Allah has given you a better one in her stead?’ (5976).

The Merits of ‘Aisha

The chapter on ‘Aisha is the longest. A daughter of AbU Bakr, she was betrothed to Muhammad when she was six years old and he was fifty. The marriage was consummated when she was nine. Muhammad had a very soft spot for her. ‘The excellence of ‘Aisha as compared to women is that of TharId [a dish of very thin bread soaked in a broth of meat and sometimes vegetables which Muhammad very much relished] over all other food,’ Muhammad said (5966).

He told her sentimentally: ‘I saw you in a dream for three nights when an angel brought you to me in a silk cloth and he said: Here is your wife’ (5977). On another occasion, he told her: ‘I can well discern when you are pleased with me and when you are annoyed with me. . . . When you are pleased with me you say: ‘No, by the Lord of Muhammad,’ and when you are annoyed with me, you say: ‘No, by the Lord of IbrAhIm’ ‘ (5979).

According to a hadIs on ‘Aisha’s own authority, ‘People sent their gifts when it was the turn of ‘Aisha seeking thereby the pleasure of Allah’s Messenger’ (5983). A time-honored practice. When people want to please an official or any person in authority, they try to please his son or his wife or even his butler, though a strict code might call this bribery.

‘Aisha also narrates what modern newsmen would call a human-interest story. The other wives of Muhammad sent FatIma, his daughter, to him. Muhammad saw her when ‘he was lying with me in my mantle,’ ‘Aisha narrates. FatIma told Muhammad: ‘Allah’s Messenger, verily, your wives have sent me to you in order to ask you to observe equity in case of the daughter of AbU QuhAfa.’ ‘O daughter, don’t you love whom I love?’ Muhammad replied with a counterquestion. She said yes; and having been thus silenced, she went back. The wives wanted her to go again but she said: ‘By Allah, I will never talk to him about this matter.’

Then they chose Zainab to represent them. Zainab too was a favorite wife of Muhammad, someone ‘who was somewhat equal in rank with me in the eyes of Allah’s Messenger,’ as ‘Aisha puts it. Muhammad received her ‘in the same very state when FatIma entered.’ She too told him that the other wives had sent her to seek “equity in the case of the daughter of AbU QuhAfa.’ Muhammad made no answer. But, in the words of ‘Aisha, ‘she [Zainab] then came to me and showed harshness to me and I was seeing the eyes of Allah’s Messenger whether he would permit me. Zainab went on until I came to know that Allah’s Messenger would not disapprove if I retorted. Then I exchanged hot words until I made her quiet. Thereupon Allah’s Messenger smiled and said: She is the daughter of AbU Bakr’ (5984).

Another hadIs throws some more light on Muhammad’s conjugal life and also on the life of the women around him. ‘Aisha reports that ‘when Allah’s Messenger set out on a journey, he used to cast lots amongst his wives’ to determine which of them would accompany him. Once, as luck would have it, Hafsa and ‘Aisha were selected. ‘When it was night Allah’s Messenger used to travel on camel with ‘Aisha.’ But Hafsa asked ‘Aisha if she would agree to change seats with her, for then ‘you would see what you do not generally see and I would see what I do not generally see.’ ‘Aisha generously agreed, but when she saw Hafsa and the Prophet together she fell into a tantrum (5991). The translator explains that though ‘Aisha’s position was eminent and exalted, she was yet a woman and ‘thus could not be absolutely free from envy.’ About Muhammad’s own behavior, he says that ‘in journey it is not compulsory to observe perfect equity amongst women in all respects’ (note 2734). A rule within a rule, but all very convenient.

Even during his last illness, Muhammad was thinking of ‘Aisha. ‘Where I would be tomorrow, where I would be tomorrow?’ he inquired, thinking that the turn of ‘Aisha was not near. ‘And when it was my turn, Allah called him to his heavenly home and his head was between my neck and chest,’ ‘Aisha tells us (5985).12

Once Muhammad told her: ‘ ‘Aisha, here is Gabriel offering you greetings.’ She replied: ‘Let there be peace and blessing of Allah upon him,’ and added: ‘He sees what I do not see’ (5997). One may wonder whether she always believed in Muhammad’s angels, but certainly she enjoyed her role as the Prophet’s favorite wife.

In fact, ‘Aisha knew her Prophet a little too well. There is an interesting story narrated by Ibn IshAq. During his last illness, just a few days before his death, Muhammad found ‘Aisha crying with headache. Muhammad said to her: ‘Would it distress you if you were to die before me so that I might wrap you in your shroud and pray over you and bury you?’ ‘Aisha replied: ‘Methink I see you if you had done that returning to my house and spending a bridal night therein with one of your wives.’ The Apostle smiled and then his pain overcame him as he was going the round of his wives, until he was overpowered in the house of MaimUna. He then ‘called his wives and asked their permission to be nursed in my house, and they agreed,’ ‘Aisha adds.13 And there Muhammad died in her bosom.

The Merits of Fatima

FatIma was Muhammad’s daughter by his first wife, KhadIja. She was married to ‘AlI, his cousin. She had two surviving sons, Hasan and Husain, from whom are descended the posterity of Muhammad, known as the Saiyids, meaning ‘masters.’

Stating the position of Muslim theology, the translator assures us that FatIma ‘is undoubtedly the chief of the ladies of Paradise and her two sons ImAm Hasan and Husain are the chiefs of the young people of Paradise’ (note 2751). Muhammad himself called her al-batUl, ‘the virgin.’

The ahAdIs on FatIma tell us an interesting story. After Mecca was conquered, ‘AlI sent a proposal of marriage to the daughter of the late AbU Jahl, an adversary of Muhammad and important chief of the BanU MakhzUm. FatIma, his wife, complained about it to Muhammad. Muhammad put his foot down on the proposal and declared from the pulpit: ‘I would not allow them; I would not allow them; the only alternative is that ‘AlI should divorce my daughter [and then marry their daughter], for my daughter is part of me. He who disturbs her disturbs me and he who offends her offends me’ (5999).

So it seems that if the father of a woman had sufficiently strong influence, her husband could not marry another woman in spite of the custom of polygamy. In the case of KhadIja, she had the influence in her own right and as an employer held all the strings in her hands. Therefore, even though she was very much older than Muhammad, she was his only wife while she lived. It was only after her death that Muhammad started on his practice of polygamy.

The Merits of Zubair and Talha

Zubair embraced Islam when he was fifteen or sixteen. He was Muhammad’s cousin and AbU Bakr’s son-in-law. Thanks to his political connections, he later became the richest person in Arabia. He was the proud owner of a thousand slaves-a number unknown in pre-Muslim Arabia. Slavery in earnest and on such a large scale began with the advent of Islam.

About Zubair Muhammad said: ‘For every prophet there is a helper and my helper is Zubair’ (5938). In the battle over the succession that raged later on, Zubair fought against ‘AlI with the help of ‘Aisha and was killed at the age of sixty-four by one of the partisans of ‘Ali.

During the Battle of Uhud, Talha saved the life of Muhammad, and subsequently he took part in all the campaigns led by Muhammad. On the day of the Battle of Camel (in which ‘Aisha, sitting on a camel, led rebel forces against ‘AlI), Talha was murdered by one MarwAn b. Hakam in revenge; for it was alleged that he had a hand in the murder of ‘UsmAn, the third KhalIfa.

The Merits of Sa’d B. Mu’az

When Sa’d b. Mu’az died as a result of wounds received at the Battle of Badr, Muhammad said that ‘the Throne of the most Gracious shook at his death’ (6033-6035). Most Muslim traditionalists take this literally, but some regard it as a metaphor denoting Allah’s joy at receiving a beloved friend in His heavenly home.

There are other traditions about him, some of them recorded by Ibn IshAq. Sa’d was a fat man, but his bier was very light to carry. Muhammad said that unseen angels were giving him their shoulder. On the same occasion he also said: ‘Every wailing woman lies except the one who wept Sa’d b. Mu’az.’14 Sa’d was a chief of the BanU Aus, who embraced Islam at Medina after the first pledge at Al-‘Aqaba. Seen through less-believing eyes, he was treacherous and a fanatical sadist. On the day of the Battle of Badr, he was guarding Muhammad’s hut along with some other ansArs. He watched with displeasure as the Muslim soldiers laid their hands on the prisoners. ‘You seem to dislike what the people are doing,’ Muhammad said to him. ‘Yes,’ he replied. ‘By God, it is the first defeat that God brought on the infidel and I would rather see them slaughtered than left alive,’ he added, according to a tradition quoted by Ibn Ishdq.15

The conspiracy to murder Ka’b ibn Ashraf, the poet, was worked out in consultation with Sa’d b. Mu’az. He also played a prominent part in causing the slaughter of eight hundred men of the Bang Quraiza, the erstwhile allies of his own tribe, the Aus.


One night Muhammad heard the sound of BilAl’s steps before him in Paradise. The next day, he asked him to narrate the act by which he hoped to receive such a good reward. BilAl replied that he had done nothing so deserving except that ‘I perform complete ablution during the night or day I observe prayer with that purification what Allah ordained for me to pray’ (6015).

Consistent with his lowly position, this is all the notice BilAl receives in the ‘Book of the Companions’ (in fact it is the shortest notice in the whole book). We would have skipped over him altogether but for the fact that he exemplifies a certain moral. He was an Abyssinian slave who was persecuted by his master, Umayya b. Khalaf, in Mecca. Since the Arab custom allowed manumission, he was ransomed by AbU Bakr and then converted to Islam.

We are glad that BilAl escaped his alleged persecution, but what does this ‘conversion to Islam’ mean? Did he become a better man? Did he became more forgiving, more kind and compassionate, less of a persecutor in his own turn? The brief references we have to him in the annals of early Islam hardly give us that impression.

‘Abdul-RahmAn, an important Companion, tells us a story which is narrated by Ibn IshAq and repeated by TabarI. On the day of the Battle of Badr, ‘Abdul-RahmAn ‘was carrying coats of mail’ which, he said, he ‘had looted.’ Just at that time he encountered his old friend Umayya b. Khalaf and his son. Umayya, who belonged to the routed army of the Quraish, saw that he might have a chance of saving his life if he fell into the hands of ‘Abdul-RahmAn as a prisoner, a state which would give him protection and from which he could be redeemed by paying an appropriate ransom. ‘O ‘Abdul-RahmAn,’ he said, ‘won’t you take me a prisoner, for I am more valuable than the coats of mail which you have.’ ‘Abdul-RahmAn in turn replied, ‘By God, I will.’ Then he threw away the coats of mail and took his friend and his friend’s son, now his prisoners, by their hands.

Just then, BilAl saw his old persecutor and began to shout: ‘The arch-infidel, Umayya b. Khalaf! May I not live if he lives.’ The Muslims gathered. In vain did ‘Abdul-RahmAn claim immunity for his prisoners. BilAl kept shouting, and the Muslims ‘hewed them to pieces with their swords until they were dead.’ In later days, ‘Abdul-RahmAn used to say, ‘God have mercy on BilAl. I lost my coats of mail and he deprived me of my prisoners.’16

There is another instance of the same kind denoting a sadistic pleasure in cruelty for its own sake. At the Battle of Khaibar, after the great carnage of the day, Muhammad ordered BilAl to bring to him SafIyya, the young wife of the chief of the vanquished tribe, whose husband, father, and brother had just been murdered. BilAl brought her and her cousin across the battlefield, which was littered with the corpses of their kith and kin. They cried in pain and horror. BilAl explained that he did it on purpose; he ‘wished to see their grief and anger stirred up.’17

Most conversions carried out by the soldiers and priests of proselytizing religions are of this nature. They bring no change in the individual.18 In fact, often they make him worse. But organized conversions are now, as they have always been, part of an aggressive politics.

The Merits of Abu Dujana

Anas reports: ‘Allah’s Messenger took hold of his sword on the Day of Uhud and said: Who would take it from me? Everyone present stretched his hand saying: I would do it. He [Allah’s Apostle] said: Who would take it in order to fulfil its rights? Then the people withdrew their hands. SimAk b. Kharasha AbU DujAna said: I am here to take it and fulfil its rights. He took it and struck the heads of the polytheists’ (6040).

The Two ‘Abdullahs

The names of two ‘Abdullahs also appear on the merit list. One of them was the son of ‘Umar; the other was the son of Zubair by Asma, the daughter of Bakr. Both were killed by the Umayyad general HajjAj. The general even led the funeral prayer for ‘Abdullah b. ‘Umar after contriving to murder him. The body of ‘Abdullah ibn Zubair was found hanging outside Medina on the road to Mecca (6176). He died when he was seventy-two after having been a Khalifa of a sort for nine years.

The Merits of Anas and Huraira

On the list of merits also appear the names of Anas, Muhammad’s servant and bodyguard for ten years, and Huraira, to whom we owe a disproportionately large number of traditions. Huraira in his own lifetime was known as Huraira the liar. He explains: ‘You are under the impression that AbU Huraira transmits so many ahAdIs from Allah’s Messenger. . . . I was a poor man and I served Allah’s Messenger . . . whereas the immigrants remained busy with transactions in the bazaar. . . . I never forgot anything that I heard from him [Muhammad]’ (6083).

The Merits of Hassan B. Sabit

An interesting person on the merit list is HassAn b. SAbit, a poet whom Muhammed employed for replying to the lampoons against him by unbeliever poets. Muhammad said to him: ‘Write satire against the unbelievers; Gabriel is with you’ (6074). On another occasion, Muhammad told him: ‘HassAn, give a reply on behalf of the Messenger of Allah.’ And to Allah Himself, he petitioned: ‘O Allah, help him with RUh-ul-Qudus [the holy spirit]’ (6073).

‘Aisha gives us a fuller version of the story. According to her, Muhammad had said: ‘Satirise against the Quraish, for the satire is more grievous to them than the hurt from an arrow.’ With that end in view, Muhammad sent for two poets, Ibn RawAha and Ka’b b. MAlik, and commissioned them to write satires. Unsatisfied with their compositions, the Prophet next sent for HassAn b. Sabit, who told him: ‘Now you have called for this lion who strikes the enemies with his tail. . . . I shall tear them with my tongue as the leather is torn.’ He then declared his intention to satirize AbU SufyAn. ‘Permit me to write satire against AbU SufyAn,’ he said to Muhammad. But there was a difficulty: how could it be done successfully without involving the Prophet, for Muhammad and AbU SufyAn shared the same lineage? AbU Bakr was appointed to help HassAn with the lineage of the Quraish, which he knew very well. Understanding the intricacies, HassAn then went to Muhammad and assured him: ‘By Him Who has sent you with Truth, I shall draw out from them your name as hair is drawn out from the flour.’

HassAn gave Muhammad complete satisfaction. ‘I heard Allah’s Messenger saying: HassAn satirised against them and gave satisfaction to the Muslims and disquieted the non-Muslims,’ says ‘Aisha (6079, 6081).

Muhammad was grateful to HassAn, who was not altogether cut when he later took an active part in the scandal against ‘Aisha, though all the participants were flogged. ‘Aisha was the first to excuse HassAn. ‘Leave him for he defended Allah’s Messenger,’ she said (6075).

Muhammad was opposed to poets and poetry, but when they were in his service, it was a different matter.

Muhammad at the Center

Muhammad is at the center of everything. He tells his followers: ‘I am a source of safety and security to my Companions. . . . and my Companions are a source of security for the Ummah‘ (6147).

As things converge toward Muhammad, they become better, but as they proceed further away from him, they decline in status as well as in quality and authenticity. ‘The best of my Ummah would be those of the generation nearest to mine. Then those nearest to them, then those nearest to them’ (6150). In this ranking and ordering, the Prophet comes first; then come his Companions; then come the successors of the Companions (tAbi’Un). Muslim divines have not been idle, and they have worked out the exact period of each era. According to one important opinion, the first period is coextensive with the life of the Companions (i.e., 120 years, as the last Companion died in A.H. 110); the second period extends till the life of the successors of the Companions (UP to A.H. 170); and the third is coextensive with the life of those who followed the successors (till A.H. 220).

At the end of the book, the Prophet warns the coming generations of Muslims: ‘Do not revile my Companions, do not revile my Companions’ (6167).


  1. SIrat RasUl Allah, p. 279. 

  2. ‘Umar with his party also went to the house of ‘AlI, where HAshimites had forgathered. ‘Either take the vow of obedience to AbU Bakr, or I shall put this house to fire and burn you all,’ ‘Umar threatened them. Zubair, with a sword in his hand, walked toward him but his foot got entangled in the carpet. ‘Umar’s men jumped on him and brought him under control (TArIkh TabarI, vol. I, p. 529). Eventually, when ‘AlI submitted to AbU Bakr’s Caliphate, AbU SufyAn taunted him that ‘only two ignoble things would bear their beatings and injustice so patiently: A tent nail and a village donkey’ (Ibid., pp. 527-528). 

  3. WAqidI, quoted in Muir, Life of Mahomet, vol. III, p. 110. 

  4. Mirkhond, Rauzat-us-Safa, vol. II, part II, p. 507. 

  5. SIrat RasUl Allah, p. 739. 

  6. Sirat RasUl Allah, p. 301. 

  7. After Muhammad’s death, ‘AlItes are sure that he meant to bestow the Caliphate on ‘AlI, but ‘AlI himself was not so sure while the Prophet lived. When Muhammad was dying, ‘AbbAs, his uncle, took ‘AlI aside and told him: ‘In three nights you will come under the sway of their rod. I know how the faces of the sons of ‘Abdul-Muttalib look when they are on the verge of death; it appears to me that the Prophet will not survive. Let us, therefore, go to him and ask him who should inherit the Caliphate.’ But ‘AlI declined, saying: ‘I shall never do it, for if he says ‘no’ to us now, people will never give us the Caliphate again.’ (TabaqAt, vol. II, pp. 292-293; TArIkh TabarI, vol. I, p. 521). 

  8. On another occasion, involving a complaint of a similar nature, Muhammad said in anger: ‘Indeed, ‘AlI is from me, and I am from ‘AlI’ (TirmizI, vol. II, hadIs 1569). 

  9. Rauzat-us-Safa, vol. II, part II, p. 456. 

  10. Ibid., pp. 477-478. 

  11. Muhammad married many women. Mirkhond gives us an account of eleven wives and four concubines. At-TabarI mentions twenty-three names besides five more to whom proposals were made but without success. With some women, the marriage was not consummated. For example, one Asma’bint Alna’man was found leprous and, therefore, dispatched home. Another woman, Shanba’ hint ‘Umar alghafaria, probably a Quraiza or a KinAna, newly married, developed doubts about the apostleship of Muhammad when his infant son, IbrAhIm, died. She was turned out. Muhammad also married a sister of DihyA KalbI whose youthful beauty had made such an impression on the Prophet that even Gabriel used to come to him in his likeness.

    ‘Aisha tells us that the Prophet loved three things foremost: women, perfumes, and food. Muhammad himself says that ‘women, and the perfumes are the only delights of the world that I care about.’ Another tradition makes him prefer women to everything else. Muhammad says: ‘JibrIl came to me with a pot; I ate from it, and I was granted the strength of forty men for coition.’ (TabaqAt, vol. II, pp. 147. 164). 

  12. Just before Muhammad died, ‘Aisha’s brother came in the room holding a green twig in his hand. Muhammad looked at it intently. ‘Aisha took the hint, took the twig from her brother’s hand, put it in her mouth, chewed it to make it soft and gave it to the Prophet. He cleansed his teeth and then he died. ‘The Prophet died in my room, on my day, and in my bosom, and even, in the last moment of his death, our salivas mingled,’ says ‘Aisha counting these things as ‘gifts and blessings from Allah’ (Sahih BukhArI SharIf, hadIs 1650; TabaqAt, vol. I, p. 282). 

  13. SIrat RasUl Allah, pp. 678-679. 

  14. SIrat RasUl Allah, p. 469. 

  15. Ibid., p. 301. 

  16. SIrat RasUl Allah, pp. 302-303. 

  17. W. Muir, Life of Mahomet, vol. IV, p. 68. 

  18. Most conversions are of this kind. There is a telling example. When Mecca was conquered, ‘Akrama, the son of AbU Jahl, a strong opponent of Islam, decided to become a Muslim. He promised Muhammad: ‘I swear by God that for every dirham I spent during the time of ignorance to obstruct the religion of God the Most High, I shall disburse two for the promotion thereof, and that for every one of the friends of God the Most High whom I have murdered during the time of my infidelity, I shall slay two of His foes’ (Mirkhond, vol, II, pp. 611-612). Muhammad found nothing exceptionable in this.