Companions of the Prophet (s)

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Early Islam

The Companions of the Prophet Muhammad (s), or Ṣaḥāba (Arabic: الصحابة), is the title of those Muslims who met the Prophet (s) and believed in him until their demise. The number of sahaba is counted as more than a hundred thousand individuals.

The majority of Sunni scholars believe that all the prophet's companions were just and righteous individuals (ʿĀdil), and hence, any mistakes they made or crimes they committed were because of an error in their individual ijtihad. According to Shias, the Sahaba were no different from the rest of the Muslims in this regard, and the veracity or justice of each companion would need to be established separately.

In the view of Shias, the best of the Prophet's (s) companions were Imam 'Ali b. Abi Talib (a) and his two sons, Imam al-Hasan (a) and Imam al-Husayn (a).


A companion of the Prophet (Sahaba) is anyone who met the Prophet (s), believed in him, and so died as a Muslim.[1] This includes those who left Islam when they met the Prophet and died as Muslims. The condition of 'meeting' as used in this context is inclusive of true companionship (regular interaction) with the Prophet (s), accompanying the Prophet (s), and crossing paths with the Prophet (s) even if no words were exchanged, or the other party did not physically see the Prophet (s) due to a cause such as blindness.[2]

Some people have included further conditions to the definition, such as companionship for a considerable period, memorizing narrations from him, fighting in wars and battles alongside the Prophet (s), and being martyred in the army of the Prophet (s). However, that which has been accepted and approved by the scholars is the original definition without these additional conditions.[3]

It is reported that the Prophet's companions numbered up to one hundred and fourteen thousand individuals.[4] Establishing whether or not someone was a companion could be done through tawatur (Widely reported narrations), Istifada (If such is recorded in three or more reports with different chains), shuhra (Being well-known to people) and al-khabar al-thiqa (Being reported by trustworthy narrators).[5] Those who had the good fortune of seeing the Prophet (s), but were young, are known as the 'minor companions' (Saḥāba al-Ṣighār).[6]

Era of the Companions

Since some of the companions lived almost up to the year one-hundred Hijri, the era of Sahaba is considered to be between the time after the Prophet's demise to the end of the first Islamic century.[7] The last companion to pass away in Kufa was Abd Allah b. Abi Awfa in the eighty-sixth year of Hijri. In Medina, the last of the companions to leave this world was Sahl b. Sa'd al-Sa'idi in the year ninety-one Hijri, while he was a hundred years old. Anas b. Malik was the final companion to die in the city of Basra in either ninety-one or ninety-three Hijri. The last companion in Syria was Abd Allah b. Yusr, who passed away in eighty-eight Hijri.[8]

Amir b. Wathila was the last of those who saw the Prophet (s).[9] He was a flagbearer in the government of al-Mukhtar b. Abi Ubayd al-Thaqafi, and died after one-hundred Hijri.[10]

Recording Companions

The study regarding the companions began in the first Islamic century (post-Prophetic migration) in the form of cataloging the works of companions (Fihrist) or listing their names (Tasmīya or Ismā'). The root of this practice (listing names) originates from the science of genealogy or is at least an extension of it, as it existed in pre-Islamic Arabia during the era of ignorance (Jahiliyya). As a result of this continuing tradition, recording the companions' names and their individual or tribal specifications was seen as an important endeavor. The investigation about the companions began to develop into an encyclopedia for Sahaba. When the writing of biographies was introduced, lists of those who had participated in wars or tribes which had martyrs and information of this kind started to be recorded. Events like the first and second allegiance of al-Aqaba, or who was martyred during the Battle of Badr, were documented. We see this type of documentation in the Sira of Ibn Ishaq and al-Maghazi of Musa b. 'Uqba.[11]

This approach of cataloging the works of companions (Fihrist) gradually developed, finally becoming very different and independent from the previous name listing (Tasmīya) method of documentation. The majority of books written about the biographies of hadith narrators under the topics of (narrator) history or tabaqat (listing the narrators in order of a particular criterion) are usually dedicated to the works authored by the companions (Fihrist). Al-Waqidi is a pioneering example of this occurrence. Although Waqidi's book (al-Tabaqat) is not available, his student, Ibn Sa'd, has brought a lot of the material from his teacher's work in his book, Al-Tabaqat al-kubra. In this book, Ibn Sa'd has mentioned most of the companions' names. However, the names and grouping have not been arranged in alphabetical order, as this method of ordering lists is a later development. The names have been arranged in what seems to be a geographical order, so, for example, first companions who resided in Mecca are mentioned, followed by those in Ta'if.[12]

Alongside such books, other independently organized materials under the name of Tasmiya or Asma' (listing names) was also produced. The oldest work written under this title was authored by 'Ubayd Allah b. Abi Rafi'. His book was titled Names of those who were martyred in the ranks of the Commander of the Faithful, 'Ali b. Abi Talib (a) in (the battles of)Jamal, Siffin and Nahrawan. The book itself no longer exists, but Qadi Nu'man al-Maghribi has brought it in his Sharh al-akhbar.[13]

Larger collections of works regarding the Sahaba have been collected with titles such as Ma'rifat al-sahaba (Knowing the Companions) and Mu'jam al-sahaba. In the third century, authors such as Ali b. Madyani (d. 234/848-9), Halwani Hasan b. Ali (d.242/856-7), 'Abbas b. Ya'qub al-Rawajini (d.250/864-5 or 271/884-5), Abdan, and Abu Muhammad 'Abd Allah b. Muhammad b. 'Isa Marvzi, and following them, Abu Mansur al-Bawardi (at the beginning of the fourth century) all authored books titled "Ma'rifat al-sahaba". The first book to be titled "Mujam al-sahaba" was written by Abu Ya'li al-Musili (d.307/919-20).[14]

In writing the books known as "Mu'jam", at times, the content was organized alphabetically according to the first letter of the word, and even the following letters of the word, on other occasions. The latter (all letters of the word being listed based on alphabetical order) became more common from the sixth century onwards.[15]

Justness of Companions

Sunni Muslims, all except a small group (whom Ibn Hajar refers to as the Mubtada'a), are known to hold the belief that the companions were just and righteous individuals.[16] However, apparently, it seems that not all Sunni scholars have accepted this view; hence, it is not correct to say that all Sunnis have this belief.[17] Ibn Abi l-Hadid, a Sunni Mu'tazilite scholar, says regarding those who instigated the Battle of Camel:

"According to the view of our companions, the Mu'tazilites, they are all doomed, except Aisha, Ṭalḥah, and al-Zubayr. They are not doomed because they repented from their deeds, and had they not repented, their punishment would have been the hellfire for their insistence in rebellion and treachery (against a rightful leader)".

Regarding the army of Syria in Siffin, he says:

"According to the view of our companions, the Mu'tazilites believe that they are all doomed for their insistence in rebellion and treachery (against a rightful leader), and they all died in this state, the leaders and the followers".

Regarding the Khawarij, Ibn Abi l-Hadid says:

"According to the view of our companions, the Mu'tazilites believe that without any dispute (among the scholars) they are in the hellfire. As a general principle, we the Mu'tazilites, consider every unrighteous and sinful person, who dies in the state of sin and infringement of God's commandments, to be hell-bound. And there is no doubt that every rebel and traitor against a rightful Imam (Imam al-Haqq) is unrighteous and sinful."[18]

Verses of the Holy Qur'an have also been used to argue for the righteousness and justice of the Sahaba. One particular verse which is often employed, is:[19]

This verse, however, does not indicate that all of the companions were just and righteous individuals, especially since the holy Qur'an mentions the unfavorable acts and characteristics of some companions. It mentions that some of them had a sickness in their hearts,[20] that a number of them would act as spies for the hypocrites, the fact that there are unrighteous and sinful individuals among them, and that the Prophet (s) was averse towards some of them. Therefore, it is not agreeable that God was pleased with such individuals, for He says in the Holy Qur'an "Indeed Allah will not be pleased with the transgressors"[21]

Secondly, their excellence over others and God being pleased with them is conditional to them believing and practicing good deeds, the reason being that the praise of the believers in this verse comes after condemning the hypocrites for their disbelief and evil works. Furthermore, in the other instances where God praises the believers, it is always done so while being conditional to them having faith and doing good deeds. If this were not the case, it would be a direct opposition to the clear message of verse ninety-six in Sura al-Tawba (repentance), where God states his displeasure with the transgressors. It also goes against verse one-hundred and twenty-three of surah Nisa, in which God states '…whoever commits evil, shall be requited for it…', and many other verses of the Qur'an.[22]

Another verse that has been used to establish that the companions of the Prophet (s) were all righteous and just[23] is:

Similarly, this verse also does not support the claim that all the companions of the Prophet were righteous and just since it is enough that a group would exist in this nation that has not existed in any other nation for it to qualify as the best of nations. In addition, if this verse was to establish the righteousness and justness of the entire Islamic nation, then we should not find any hypocrites and even apostates among their ranks, whereas we know this is clearly not the case.[24]

Shiite point of view

The Shias believe that the companions of the Prophet (s) are just like all other people, and the justice or veracity of an individual cannot be established purely based on them being one of the Sahaba.[25] Considering that the number of Sahaba has been recorded as one-hundred and fourteen-thousand, it is ordinarily impossible for such a large number of individuals to reach the acclaimed level of piety by abstaining from any major sins and not repeating any minor sins, with only a meeting with the Prophet (s) and believing in him. This is also given that different individuals had different reasons for accepting Islam; some chose freely to convert, while others converted out of fear and pressure, a group still out of their own interests or because they received motivations to do so.[26]

Lastly, some of the companions' actions are incompatible with the quality of being just and righteous. History is replete with examples of:

  • Companions going to war with a righteous Imam
  • (causing the) Killing of innocents
  • Usurping property
  • Slandering and cursing
  • Starting wars between Muslims
  • Sowing sedition and discord among the Muslim society while having an insatiable thirst for power.

As an example, the behavior of Marwan b. Hakam during the time of Uthman is very famous. Also, the inappropriate actions of Busr b. Artat, Mughira b. Shu'ba, and Walid b. Uqba, who were all apparently from Sahaba.[27]

In the view of the Shi'as, the best of the Prophet's (s) companions were Imam Ali b. Abi Talib (a) and his two sons, Imam al-Hasan (a) and Imam al-Husayn (a).[28]

See Also


  1. Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī, al-Iṣāba, vol. 1, p. 158.
  2. Shahīd al-Thānī, al-Riʿaya fī ʿilm al-dirāya, p. 339.
  3. See: Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī, al-Iṣāba, vol. 1, p. 159.
  4. Shahīd al-Thānī, al-Riʿaya fī ʿilm al-dirāya, p. 345.
  5. Shahīd al-Thānī, al-Riʿaya fī ʿilm al-dirāya, p. 342-343.
  6. Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī, al-Iṣāba, vol. 7, p. 679; vol. 8, p. 113.
  7. Shahābī, Adwār-i fiqh, vol. 1, p. 392.
  8. Shahābī, Adwār-i fiqh, vol. 1, p. 393.
  9. Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī, al-Iṣāba, vol. 3, p. 243.
  10. Shahābī, Adwār-i fiqh, vol. 1, p. 393.
  11. Hidāyatpanāh, "Dānish-i ṣaḥābanigārī", p. 5.
  12. Hidāyatpanāh, "Dānish-i ṣaḥābanigārī", p. 6.
  13. Hidāyatpanāh, "Dānish-i ṣaḥābanigārī", p. 6.
  14. Hidāyatpanāh, "Dānish-i ṣaḥābanigārī", p. 8, 9.
  15. Hidāyatpanāh, "Dānish-i ṣaḥābanigārī", p. 9.
  16. Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī, al-Iṣāba, vol. 1, p. 162.
  17. Amīn, Aʿyān al-Shīʿa, vol. 1, p. 113.
  18. Ibn Abī l-Ḥadīd, Sharḥ Nahj al-balāgha, vol. 1, p. 9.
  19. Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī, al-Iṣāba, vol. 1, p. 163.
  20. See: Qurʾān, 8:49.
  21. Qurʾān, 9:96.
  22. Ṭabāṭabāyī, al-Mīzān, vol. 9, p. 374-375.
  23. Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī, al-Iṣāba, vol. 1, p. 162.
  24. Amīn, Aʿyān al-Shīʿa, vol. 1, p. 114.
  25. Amīn, Aʿyān al-Shīʿa, vol. 1, p. 113; Shahīd al-Thānī, al-Riʿaya fī ʿilm al-dirāya, p. 343.
  26. Amīn, Aʿyān al-Shīʿa, vol. 1, p. 113.
  27. Amīn, Aʿyān al-Shīʿa, vol. 1, p. 114.
  28. Shahīd al-Thānī, al-Riʿaya fī ʿilm al-dirāya, p. 344.


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