Tābiʿūn (Arabic: التابعون) refers to Muslims who have met or talked to one or more of the Prophet Muhammad's (s) companions, but did not meet the Prophet (s) himself. The term comes from some verses of the Qur'an and some hadiths from the Prophet (s).
The exact number of Tabi'in is not known. They contributed to the formation of different political, intellectual, and literary currents, and the development of hadith sciences, exegesis of the Qur'an, jurisprudence, biographies, wars of the Prophet (s), and historiography.
The Arabic word, "tabi'un" is a plural form of "tabi'" or "tabi'i". For most of the Muslim scholars, for a person to count as a Tabi'i it suffices that he met one or more of the Sahaba. But according to al-Khatib al-Baghdadi, it is also required to have companionship and talk to the Sahaba, unlike the case of the Sahaba in which merely meeting the Prophet (s) suffices for being one of the Sahaba.
Ibn Hibban believed a Tabi'i should be at an age when he or she is able to memorize hadiths from the Sahaba. This is why, Khalaf b. Khalifa does not count as a Tabi'i, although he had met 'Amr b. Hurayth when he was a child.
Some people believed that for a person to be one of the Tabi'un, it is required, in addition to hearing hadiths from the Sahaba, to enjoy a faculty of discernment, but undoubtedly the most crucial requirement is to have met a Sahabi. Ibn Salah maintains that to count as a Tabi'i, it is sufficient to have met a Sahabi. The view is also espoused by Ibn Hajar.
Some people have mentioned a number of the Tabi'un who did not hear hadiths from the Sahaba. They believe that the requirement of meeting comes from a hadith from the Prophet (s): "good for anyone who saw me and believed in me, and good for anyone who saw a person who saw me".
Some of the Tabi'un are referred to as "Mukhaḍramūn" (مُخَضْرمون) in that they were alive in the period of Jahiliyya and the emergence of Islam and converted to Islam, without meeting the Prophet (s). They include Abu 'Amr al-Shaybani, Suwayd b. Ghafla al-Kindi, 'Amr b. Maymun al-Awdi, 'Abd Khayr b. Khaywani, Abu 'Uthman al-Nahdi, and Rabi'a b. Zurara. Some people take them to be among the Sahaba, but others take them to be senior members of the Tabi'in. They are said to be 20 or 42 people.
In Quranic Verses and Hadiths
The term, "Tabi'un", comes from the verse 100 of Qur'an 9. In this verse, the phrase, "الَّذِينَ اتَّبَعُوهُم" (those who followed them [i.e. the Sahaba]), is not used as a terminology, since there were some people from the Sahaba among "the foremost people from Muhajirun and Ansar" as well.
The term might have its origin in a word from the Prophet (s) concerning Uways al-Qarani: "the best person from 'Tabi'un' is a man called Uways". The term was later generalized to anyone who did not meet the Prophet (s) and learned the laws of sharia from the Sahaba by hearing hadiths from them.
Political, Scientific and Cultural Roles
Historically speaking, the role of Tabi'un in the formation of different intellectual and literary currents cannot be overlooked. In addition to their contributions to the formation of hadith sciences, the Tabi'un also established the exegesis of the Qur'an, jurisprudence, biographies, writing about wars of the Prophet (s), and historiography. Many orientalists have highlighted the role of Tabi'un and Sahaba, especially in the formation of chains of transmissions of hadiths from the Prophet (s).
There is an indefinite number of Tabi'un, because there were about 114000 Sahaba when the Prophet (s) passed away, and since for a person to count as a Tabi'i it suffices that he has met one of the Sahaba, and the Sahaba lived in different areas. Moreover, some of the Sahaba were still alive until the end of the 1st century AH (early 7th century), and the last Tabi'i died in 180/796. Thus, the Tabi'un are innumerable.
There are generations of the Tabi'un. Some people, such as Ibn Habban, take all the Tabi'un to be one and the same generation because of their commonality in meeting the Sahaba. However, Muslim has classified the Tabi'un into three generations and Muhammad b. Sa'd has classified them into four generations. Ibn Sa'd has also provided another classification of the Tabi'un on the basis of their cities and residences, such as the ones from Basra, those from Medina, and those from Kufa.
Al-Hakim al-Nishaburi has classified the Tabi'un into 15 generations, the first of which are those who met the Sahaba to whom the Prophet (s) had given the good news of going to the Heaven.
According to some researchers, the Tabi'un can be classified into seniors, average, and juniors. The seniors have transmitted hadiths from senior Sahaba. The average Tabi'un have met the Sahaba and have transmitted hadiths from some prominent Sahaba, and juniors transmitted hadiths from younger Sahaba; they usually died later than the rest of the Tabi'un.
There are some transmitters of hadiths in the generation of the Tabi'un who never transmitted hadiths from the Sahaba, such as Ibrahim b. Suwayd al-Nakha'i. There are some Tabi'un who have been mentioned as the generation following the Tabi'un, such as Abu l-Zannad 'Abd Allah b. Dhakwan.
The Tabi'un according to the Sunni Muslims
According to Sunni Muslims, the Tabi'un carry the knowledge of the Sahaba, propagate the religion after the Sahaba, and count as the best group of the Islamic Umma after the Sahaba. They appeal to the verse 100 of Qur'an 9 as well as a hadith from the Prophet (s) according to which: "the best people are my contemporaries, and then the ones who follow them, and then the ones who follow the latter".
There is a disagreement among Sunni Muslims with respect to the most virtuous person from the Tabi'un.
The Seven Jurists
7 highest-ranking people from the Tabi'un came to be known as the "Seven Jurists" (or "al-Fuqaha' al-Sab'a"). The Tabi'un who have issued more fatwas than others are Hasan al-Basri and 'Ata' b. Abi Ribah.
- 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, and He has prepared for them gardens with streams running in them, to remain in them forever. That is the great success.
- And [also for] those who came in after them, who say, ‘Our Lord, forgive us and our brethren who were our forerunners in the faith, and do not put any rancour in our hearts toward the faithful. Our Lord, You are indeed most kind and merciful.’
- The material for this article is mainly taken from تابعین in Farsi WikiShia.