Initially the term sahaba was restricted to those who were often in the company of Muhammad but later it was extended to the faithful who had seen him for only a short time, or at an early age. ’Amir b. Wathil al-Kinani Abu’l-Tufail, who must have been only a child, died shortly after 100 A.H. and is considered to be the last of the Companions.
The sahaba occupy a high rank in the estimation of Sunni Muslims as hadiths and the establishing of Islam are handed down from them. To revile them is considered a great crime. Commending his companions Muhammad is related to have said “My companions are like stars by which roads are found, for whichever companion you follow you will find the right road.” Because of their role in Islam they are honoured with the epithet radiya ‘llahu ‘anhu ‘Allah be pleased with them”.
The first four caliphs occupy the highest places and with six other sahaba share the pre-eminence of being promised Paradise by Muhammad. These ten are called Al-Ashara ‘l-Mubashshara and are named as Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, ‘Uthman, ‘Ali, Talha, Zubair, ‘Abd al-Rahman b Awf, Sa’d b. Abi Waqqas, Sa’id b Zaid. In some lists Muhammad is also included as the tenth while in others he is absent and is replaced by Abu ‘Ubaida b al-Djarrah.
It was the sahaba who were responsible for taking away the rights of ‘Ali and his family which formed the contrast between Sunni and Shia’ Islam.
In the Sunni Traditions the virtues of the sahaba receives assiduous attention although the hadiths are said to display many variations, one from another. The most famous of the works on the sahaba are: Abu ’Abd Allah b Manda (died 395 AH), and Abu Nu’aim al-Afghani (died 581), which in turn have been critically compiled, corrected and supplemented by Ibn al-Athir (died 630) in his comprehensive five volume work Usd al-ghaba fi ma’rifat al-Suhaba
The ten who were promised Paradise – Al-Ashara ‘l-Mubashshara
The importance of Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, ‘Uthman, ‘Ali has been recorded in a relevant section on this web-site.
Talha ibn Ubayd-Allah (died 656), was a cousin of Abu Bakr
He was one of the eight early converts becoming a Muslim when he was 18 years old. He was a renowned warrior and was involved in all the major battles in which Muhammad himself participated. At the battle of Uhud he was severely wounded acting as a human shield defending Muhammad from the attacks of the Quarraish,
He was also extremely rich and according to al-Masudi, he made 1,000 dinars a day from his business ventures in Iraq. He also owned lots of real estate in Medina, and had many servants. Even in the lifetime of Muhammad he had considerable wealth as can be seen by reading the hadith of Bukhari Volume 6, Book 60, Number 76.
When Ali was chosen caliph by a combination of leaders in Medina he was confronted by two parties claiming a right to the caliphate one of these parties consisted of Talha, Zubair and Muhammad’s wife Ayesha. In 656 this group made their way with a large following into Persia. Ali, met the opposing force with his own army at Basrah and completely defeated Talha, Zubair and Ayesha – this battle is known as the Battle of the Camel. Talha was shot by an arrow and later died of his wounds; he was 64.
Zubair b al’Awwam Al-Hawari – ‘my Apostle’
Zubair was a cousin of Muhammad and a nephew of Khadijah. According to tradition he was the fifth convert to Islam and was said to recognise Muhammad as a prophet when still a child. He was one of the early Muslims who because of hardships emigrated to Abyssinia for a while. He took part in all the major early battles during Muhammad’s career and was renowned for his gallantry.
Muhammad gave him the epithet Al-Hawari (apostle) on account of his services as a spy in the conflict with the Jewish Quraiza tribe with the words “Every prophet has an apostle and my apostle is al-Zubair”.
One of his wives was Asma, the daughter of Abu Bakr and the half-sister of the Prophet’s favourite wife, Ayesha. He had at least ten sons and several daughters, his most famous sons were Mus’ab, Abdullah, Hamza and Urwa, the latter was a significant narrator of Islamic tradition.
Caliph Umar in his last hours chose a committee of six to elect the next caliph (Uthman) and Zubair was included along with Ali, Uthman, Abd ar-Rahim, Talha, and Sa’d b. Waqqas. By the very nature of being included in the committee he was reckoned a legitimate competitor for the succession.
It is said Muhammad gave him special permission to wear silk. He owned and invested in numerous properties in various cities – Medina, Fostat, Alexandria, Basra, and Kufa. He had a good number of slaves and had 40 million dirhams but he also had great debts.
Abd al-Rahman b. Auf
His real name was Abdul ‘Amr (servant of ‘Amr) but was renamed Abdur Rahman (servant of the most Merciful”). at the time of his conversion.
He was one of the first eight to accept Islam and was also one of the committee of six chosen by Umar in his last hours to elect the next caliph (Uthman). He also was one the first fifteen who emigrated to Abyssinia to escape the opposition of the Meccan Qurraish.
Sa’d b. Abi Waqqas – ‘The Knight of Islam’
Sa’d b.Abi Waqqas was a maternal uncle of Muhammad as he belonged to the Bani Zuhrah, the clan of Amina, Muhammad’s mother. He converted in the very early stages of Islam at Mecca and when he became a Muslim his mother flew into a rage and refused food and drink until he reverted back to his ancestral faith. Unmoved he remained firm to his convictions and his mother eventually accepted this decision.
The following two verses are said to have related to this incident: “And We have enjoined on man (to be good) to his parents: in travail upon travail did his mother bear him, and in years twain was his weaning: (hear the command), “Show gratitude to Me and to thy parents: to Me is (thy final) goal. But if they strive to make thee join in worship with Me things of which thou hast no knowledge, obey them not; yet bear them company in this life with justice (and consideration), and follow the way of those who turn to me (in love): in the end the return of you all is to Me, and I will tell you the truth (and meaning) of all that ye did.”(Luqman 31:14-15)
Sa’d pursued the trade of manufacturing arrows and is renowned as the first one to shed blood in the cause of Islam. He is said to have struck an unbeliever with the jaw-bone of a camel while he was attending his prayers. He went on to fight during the lifetime of Muhammad at the battle of Bedr where his brother Umair was killed and he was selected as an archer at the battle of Uhud.
In ‘Umar’s caliphate he commanded the large army which encamped against the Sassanian Persians on the frontier of Arabia and Persia. The two sides engaged each other for several days until this battle of Qaadsiya resulted in victory for Sa’d who then went on to take the capital Ctesiphon in AH 16/637 along with countless booty. For this he was honoured with the title ‘the Knight of Islam’
This was the period of the foundation of Kufa and here Sa’d made a strong military camp which in course of time grew into a great city and he was made the first governor of the city. He made a splendid palace here but was rebuked by ‘Umar for this ostentatious luxury. He was dismissed from this position as he was deemed unjust and tyrannical by the citizens of the city.
Despite this criticism, the dying ‘Umar (23AH/644) appointed him to be one of the companions known as the ‘Committee of Six’ who were selected to choose the next caliph. He was restored to the governorship of Kufa by ‘Uthman but was soon dismissed and after the assassination of ‘Uthman was recommended to the position of Caliph, which he declined. He declined to pay homage to ‘Ali and died in 55AH/674, having a mansion with an amassed fortune.
Sa’id b Zaid
Sa’id b Zaid is perhaps the least known of the ten that are called Al- Ashara ‘l-Mubashshara. Both he, when he was about twenty years old, and his wife Fatima b Khattab (brother of ‘Umar), became Muslims. ’Umar’s conversion began with a chain of events following him over-hearing Sa’d and his wife reciting the Quran.
In his early career, he served as the secretary of the Prophet and recorded the verses of the Quran at Muhammad’s behest. He took part in most of the battles when Muhammad was alive and was instrumental in destroying the Roman and Persian empires, particularly at the Battle of Yarmuk. He died in Medina at the age of 73.
Abu ‘Ubaidah Al-Amin
Included in some of the lists one of the ten believers to whom Muhammad promised Paradise. Also known as Al-Amin on account of his unselfishness. He also distinguished himself by his acts of bravery.
He embraced Islam very early and lived through the troublesome times in Mecca and along with over 100 others migrated to Abyssinia for a while. After his return he moved to Medina about the same time as Muhammad.
At the battle of Uhud (625) he guarded Muhammad who had been injured as two links of his armour had penetrated his cheeks. He accompanied Muhammad on all his campaigns and led the troops on several expeditions.
After the death of Muhammad he paid a prominent part in the election of the first caliph. Abu Bakr later sent him to head a number of troops in Syria. When ‘Umar became caliph he was the supreme commander of the Syrian army which conquered Damascus, Hims and Antioch. He died in 18 A.H/639.
Others who are considered as belonging to the sahaba
Other categories among the sahaba are categorised according their activities in Muhammad’s enterprises:
The Companions who fled to Abyssinia
The Companions involved in the Treaty of ‘Aqabah
The soldiers at the Battle of Badr
Those who joined Islam between Badr and the Treaty of Hudaibiya
Those who joined after the Treaty of Hudaibiya before the conquest of Mecca
Those who embraced Islam after the conquest of Mecca.
Those who were children at the time of Muhammad and had seen him.