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Righteousness of the Companions of the Prophet (s)

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ʿAdāla of Ṣaḥāba (Arabic: عدالة الصحابة) or righteousness of the Companions of the Prophet (s) is theory of the majority of Sunni Muslims to the effect that all companions of the Prophet are righteous and will go to the Heaven. On this theory, it is not permissible to criticize or object to the Companions, and their hadiths are accepted without any inquiries or modifications. Shiite scholars and some Sunni scholars reject the theory of righteousness of the Companions, treating them in the same way as they treat other Muslims.

Proponents of righteousness of the Companions have appealed to verses of the Qur'an as well as hadiths from the Prophet (s), including the Verse of Ridwan[1] according to which God was pleased with the Companions. To the contrary, opponents of the theory suggest that such verses are restricted to those of the Companions who were present in the Pledge of Ridwan and then remained steadfast in their covenant. Moreover, according to opponents, the theory of righteousness of the Companions is in conflict with Quranic verses according to which some of the Prophet's Companions were hypocrites. The theory of righteousness of the Companions has been challenged on grounds of unjust or wrong behaviors on part of some companions of the Prophet (s), such as apostasy, drinking wine, cursing 'Ali, murdering other Muslims, and their military expeditions against each other.

Some Shiite scholars believe that the theory of righteousness of the Companions was proposed in order to justify the caliphate of the three caliphs and legitimize the kingdom of Mu'awiya b. Abi Sufyan. Consequences of the theory are said to consist in the establishment of the theory of the Companions's ijtihad, disputes among Muslims, authoritativeness of the Companions's understanding of the Qur'an and the tradition, authoritativeness of sayings and practices of the Companions, and acceptance of hadiths transmitted by the Companions without applying the principles of criticism and praise (al-jarh wa l-ta'dil).

Who Are the Companions?

Main article: Sahaba

The Companions are people who met the Prophet (s), and believed in him and remained Muslims when they passed away. And "meeting" here means seeing, companionship, and union between two people, even if they never talked to each other. Some qualifications and conditions were added to this definition, including the companionship with the Prophet (s) being long, having memorized some of his hadiths, and fighting or being martyred alongside the Prophet (s). However, some others rested content with mere companionship or having seen the Prophet (s) in order for a person to qualify as a Sahabi. According to ibn al-Hajar al-'Asqalani, a prominent Sunni scholar in seventh and eighth/thirteen and fourteen centuries, the first definition is what is accepted by scholars.

According to some sources, when the Prophet (s) passed away, the number of his Companions amounted to 114000 people. Those who met the Prophet (s) during childhood are called "Sahaba Sighar" (young Companions) and women who met the Prophet (s) are called "Sahabiyyat."

Elaboration of the Theory

According to the majority view of Sunni scholars, all Companions are righteous. Ibn al-Hajar al-'Asqalani has claimed that the view is a matter of consensus among Sunnis, referring to its opponents as few heretics. Moreover, he quoted Ibn Hazm (d. 456/1063) as saying that all Companions will enter the Heaven, and none of them will enter the Hell.

Notwithstanding this, al-Maziri (d. 530/1135), a Sunni scholar, accepts the righteousness of those of the Companions who accompanied, honored, and helped the Prophet (s), and followed "the light revealed to him." Some other Sunnis treat the companions of the Prophet (s) similarly to other Muslims, holding that mere companionship with the Prophet (s) does not guarantee righteousness.

According to Ahmad Husayn Ya'qub, righteousness of the Companions amounts to the impermissibility of making false claims against, or criticizing, the Companions, even if they have made mistakes. In his preface to Usd al-ghaba, ibn Athir writes: "all Companions are righteous, and they cannot be criticized." Thus, some Sunni scholars have suggested that one who criticizes a Sahabi counts as an unbeliever.

However, some people take "righteousness of the Companions" to consist in a characteristic in virtue of which their hadiths are deemed acceptable. According to al-Khatib al-Baghdadi, a hadith attributed to the Prophet (s) can be acted upon only if righteousness of its transmitters is proved, except in the case of the Companions, because their righteousness is already established as God has considered them as righteous and pure.

Arguments by its Proponents

In order to establish the righteousness of the Companions, Sunnis have appealed to verses of the Qur'an and hadiths from the Prophet (s), including:

  • Quranic verses according to which God is pleased by the Companions, such as the verse "The early vanguard of the Emigrants and the Helpers and those who followed them in virtue—Allah is pleased with them and they are pleased with Him"[2] as well as the verse "Allah was certainly pleased with the faithful when they swore allegiance to you under the tree." [3]. Sunni scholars take God's being pleased by the Companions as evidence for their righteousness, saying that if God is pleased by someone, He will never be angry of him. According to Shiite scholars, these verses do not indicate the righteousness of all Companions, since the former verse apparently refers to some of Emigrants and Helper, rather than all Companions. And the latter verse refers to those of the Companions who were present in the Pledge of Ridwan and remained steadfast on their pledge, rather than all Companions. Moreover, the theory of righteousness of all Companions is incompatible with the verse "There are hypocrites among the Bedouins around you and among the townspeople of Madinah, steeped in hypocrisy."[4], since it refers to some Companions as hypocrites.
  • Quranic verses in which Muslims are characterized as the best nation and middle nation, such as "You are the best nation [ever] brought forth for mankind"[5] and "Thus We have made you a middle nation"[6]: some Sunni exegetes have interpreted "middle nation" as righteous nation, and then claimed that although the word "nation" (umma) is general, it is meant to refer only to the Companions. Thus, the verse is revealed about the companions of the Prophet. However, Shiite scholars maintain that the verse is concerned with the practice of some, not all, of the Prophet's companions because of whom the Prophet's nation was deemed the best by God.
  • The hadith of "my companions are like stars": in this hadith, the Prophet's companions are likened to stars; thus, no matter which one of them is followed as a role-model, one would be guided to the right path. According to Shiite scholars and some Sunni scholars, the hadith is fabricated, and is incompatible with Quranic verses and other hadiths from the Prophet (s).

Moreover, some people have tried to establish the putative righteousness of the Companions by making recourse to other Quranic verses as well as hadiths such as "the best age is my age" and "do not curse my companions." However, the existence of hypocrites and apostates among the Prophet's companions prevent these verses and hadiths from encompassing all Companions. For example, according to Quranic exegetes, the Verse of Naba', "If a vicious character brings you some news, verify it," was about Walid b. 'Uqba who was a Sahabi.

Practice of the Companions

Shiite scholars and some Sunni scholars believe that the practice of some of the Companions is in conflict with the theory of their righteousness. According to Sayyid Muhsin al-Amin, some of the Companions such as 'Ubayd Allah b. Jahsh, 'Ubayd Allah b. Khatal, Rabi'a b. Umayya, and Ash'ath b. Qays became apostates. Moreover, a hadith from the Prophet (s) cited in Sahih al-Bukhari prognosticates the apostasy of a number of his companions.

Furthermore, there are vicious behaviors on part of some Companions as cited in books of history—behaviors such as drinking wine, cursing 'Ali, uprising against the just Imam, and murdering other Muslims. For example, Busr b. Artat murdered about 30,000 people from among the followers of Imam 'Ali (a), Mughira b. Shu'ba cursed Imam 'Ali (a) on his minbar for about nine years, Khalid b. Walid martyred Malik b. Nuwayra and in the same night, he had intercourse with his wife, and Walid b. 'Uqba drank wine. Al-Shafi'i is quoted as saying that from among the Prophet's companions, testimonies of Mu'awiya b. Abi Sufyan, 'Amr b. 'As, Mughira b. Shu'ba, and Ziyad b. Abih were to be rejected.

Moreover, the fact that the Companions killed each other in the Battle of Jamal, in which two groups of the Companions combated each other, is incompatible with the theory of righteousness of the Companions. Ibn Abi l-Hadid, a Sunni Mu'tazila, believed that those who started the Battle of Jamal will go to the Hell, except 'A'isha, Talha, and Zubayr because of their repentance. He believes the same about the army of Syria in the Battle of Siffin because of their insistence on their aggression. In line with other Mu'tazilites, he takes Khawarij to be inhabitants of the Hell.

Motivations and Consequences

Shi'as reject the theory of righteousness of all Companions, holding that the Companions should be treated as the same as other Muslims, since one's righteousness cannot be proved merely by his companionship with the Prophet (s). In their view, all companions of the Prophet (s) could not reach a degree of piety that they could be characterized as righteous (refusing from major sins and not insisting on minor sins), since according to sources of Islamic history, some Companions expressed their belief in Islam merely out of fear, compulsions, or the reconciliation of hearts. They believe that the theory of righteousness of the Companions is partly motivated by the following:

  • Justification of the caliphate of the first three caliphs,
  • Giving immunity to the Companions and preventing others from criticizing them,

Moreover, the theory of righteousness of the Companions is said to have repercussions such as the construction of the theory of ijtihad of the Companions in order to justify some behaviors of the Companions, giving authoritativeness to their understanding of the Qur'an and the tradition as well as their sayings and practice, accepting hadiths transmitted by them without applying the principles of criticism and praise (al-jarh wa l-ta'dil), and disputes among Muslims.

Bibliography

The issue of righteousness of the Companions is a matter of dispute between Shi'as and Sunnis, featuring in works on the Companions, exegeses of the Qur'an, and theology. Moreover, the Shi'as wrote independent books on the matter, including:

  • 'Adalat-i Sahaba (righteousness of the Companions) by Sayyid 'Ali Milani, a Shiite scholar of the fourteenth/twentieth century, in Persian: the book criticizes the grounds of the theory of righteousness of the Companions. The author appeals to certain Quranic verses, cases in which major sins were committed by some Companions, and quotes from prominent Sunni scholars in order to show that some Companions were not righteous.
  • 'Adalat-i Sahaba dar partuw-i Qur'an, sunnat, wa tarikh (righteousness of the Companions in light of the Qur'an, the tradition, and history) by Muhammad Asif Muhsini, a Shiite authority. In this book, righteousness of the Companions is considered from the viewpoint of bringing proximity among different Islamic denominations. The book is mainly concerned with the notion of "Companions" for Shiite and Sunni scholars and the existence of viciousness and hypocrisy in some Companions given some Quranic verses. The author also rejects a view attributed to the Shi'a according to which all Companions are unbelievers.

Other books written in critique of the theory of righteousness of the Companions include Nazariyya 'adalat al-Sahaba wa l-marja'iyya al-siyasiyya fi l-Islam (theory of righteousness of the Companions and political authority in Islam) by Ahmad Husayn Ya'qub, 'Adalat-i Sahaba (righteousness of the Companions) by Sayyid Muhammad Yathribi, Barrasi-yi nazariyyaa-yi 'adalat-i Sahaba (consideration of the theory of righteousness of the Companions) by Ghulamhusayn Zaynali, and Nazariyya-yi 'adalat-i Sahaba (theory of righteousness of the Companions) by the research group of Ahl al-Bayt World Assembly.

Notes

  1. Qur'an 48:18
  2. Qur'an 9:100
  3. Qur'an 48:18
  4. Qur'an 9:101
  5. Qur'an 3:110
  6. Qur'an 2:143

References