Abu Dharr Al Ghifari (d. 32H) أبو ذر الغفاري
The strength of character in Abu Dharr had unholy origins. Belonging to a north-Hijazi unruly tribe called Ghifar who lived by terror raids, robbery and pillage; and hence better known as thugs, he outshined his tribal members in loot and plunder. Some of his daring raids on passing caravans or pasturing cattle were carried on all by himself, singly. That remained until his blood cooled down. Once in his twenties, he began to look at his past with regretful eyes, and the pendulum swung to the other extreme. He took to asceticism, spending a good part of his nights in devotion to a God he little recognized. As he described later, he would stand in vigil at night until his steely legs could stand it no more and he fell down like a log to be woken up by hot sunrays. “To whom did you address your prayers those days?” he was asked. “To God,” he replied tersely. “In what direction,” asked he who perhaps did not know the direction to his Lord. “In whatever direction He led me too,” answered Abu Dharr.
Although not confirmed, it was perhaps his new turn that, watched with curiosity in the beginning, but turned suspicious after a while, which led to differences between himself and his tribe and Abu Dharr walked away in a huff. They couldn’t make compromises over bread and butter, and he would not over his new found comfort for the soul. He went to his uncle who lived in another area of Najad. His mother and a brother faithfully accompanied him; faithfully because may be his mother had no choice except to follow the beloved first son, but the brother, Unays, a poet of fair distinction, could have stayed back if he so wished. Another report says that Abu Dharr had to leave his tribe because of starvation that had struck them.
However, the new home did not match with the temperaments of Abu Dharr of that time. A trivial remark by his uncle about his brother Unays led him and company to say goodbye. His uncle covered his face with a cloth and cried when Abu Dharr was leaving, but the repentant robber seemed to still carry a stony heart in his breast.
The hermit decided to live in a place not far away from Makkah, where, after a while, a traveler told him over a cup of coffee that his ideas and practices sounded similar to those of the Prophet who had appeared in Makkah: he too talks of one God, need for spirituality, service to the people, and so on, except that he claims that he is God's envoy. Little did the traveler realize that as he left with the fire in the tent’s hearth cooling down, he had set fire to the hermit’s heart. It wasn’t too long before Unays was sniffing around while doing business in Makkah, trying to get some details about the claimant to Prophethood. He informed the eager hermit at his return that the claimant did seem to have some text that definitely did not sound like poetry nor soothsaying .. much different .. and, who knows, better .. and, who could say .. perhaps true in his claim!
The vague report added anxiety to anxiety. “Look after things, and let me check myself,” said Abu Dharr and left hardly able to conceal his anxiety. Magnet was pulling magnet.
At Makkah he stayed as God's host in the Grand Mosque and no one paid any attention until he inquired about the Saabi, as the Prophet was then known. The pagan inquired must have had an eye for the spiritually brightened faces. “Here, this is another Saabi”, he shouted out. The by-standers pounced on him with shoes, headbands, whips, whatever implements that could be grabbed, and left him unconscious. When on his own, he dragged himself to the Zamzam well, washed his wounds, and drank to his fill.
He had learnt prudence, and sealed his lips thereafter except on an occasion, almost after a month on life on Zamzam water, as he lay between the Ka’bah coverings and its walls, in a moonlit night, trying to get some sleep, when two women appeared. Almost every home had put off the lights and the occupants had retired to beds. The two were supplicating to Isaf (male deity) and Na’ila (female), while they went around the Ka’bah cube. The foolish address to stone idols irritated him and he muttered, “Marry off one to the other.” Though taken by surprise, and somewhat alarmed at the voice from obscure origins, they were nevertheless hurt at the insolent words for the two lord God of theirs. A second hurling of the same insolent words, but without identity of the person concealed behind the Ka’bah cloth, led them to walk away distraught. The Prophet and the second of the two, Abu Bakr were, following their habit of late visits to the House, happened to be coming in. “What disturbs you?” inquired the Prophet. “Unrepeatable words against our Lords, by a Saabi’ between the Ka’bah and its covering,” they said.
The two came down, did their circumambulation and offered their Prayers. When they had finished, Abu Dharr presented himself. He was the first in Islam to say, “Salamu `alaykum” and to receive the answer, “Wa alayka al-salam.” Upon inquiry when he answered that he was so and so of the Ghifar tribe, the Prophet gestured with his fingers on the forehead. Several interpretations have come about the gesture, but none satisfactory. However, perhaps it was too late at night that Abu Dharr did not bring up the question of Islam. After a few other details, Abu Bakr invited him home and perhaps that was one good meal that Abu Dharr had after 30-day stint with Zamzam which had fattened him anyway. After all, the future of a future hermit of Islam could not have had a beginning less miraculous. We have not heard of anyone fattened by Zamzam alone.
`Ali found him in the Haram next day and took him home. But no questions were asked and answered. Abu Dharr’s Saabi experience must have held his tongue. But on the third night he could not hold his silence. `Ali agreed to lead him to the person he was inquiring about. He was to follow him with no sign of acquaintance. “If I feel suspicious, I shall stop as if I need to pass urine (or maybe he said, “as if tying my shoe strand”) and you will keep going,” he instructed him, giving some indication of how dangerous it was to let anyone know they knew the Prophet. Some reports suggest he was then in hiding.
Embracing Islam as one of the earliest of Muslims, added fuel to Abu Dharr’s fire. But it was all cold now; although at high pressure. He was instructed to keep his Islam secret, but he thought he was being thought weak. Either early on, or some time later, (since Abu Dharr could have been backpacking for Makkah every now and then), he promised that he will not relent to brute power. He went into the Holy House and shouted out right before a group of the Quraysh, “I bear witness that there is no Lord save Allah and that Muhammad is His Messenger.” It was `Abbas b. `Abd al-Muttalib who intervened when they were beating him furiously for the audacity to announce his Islam before them. “Are you beating one of the Ghifar? Are you risking your trade?” said `Abbas while retrieving him. But Abu Dharr was angrier with the Quraysh than they were with Islam and Muslims. Next day when a good number (and most probably others of the Quraysh) had gathered at the Haram, he repeated his claim. Once again they pounced upon him to beat him blue, and once again `Abbas happened to pass by and drove economic sense into the hot pagan heads. Even though a Muslim, Abu Dharr was still a Ghifari. An Arab tribe’s sense of honor crossed religious bounds. The Quraysh would have had to pay dearly had Abu Dharr died or was severely injured. According to some reports the Prophet had earlier to the experiment expressed the fear that he was risking his life. Abu Dharr replied, in effect, “If life, then life. One has to die I suppose, if he has to die.”
Unsure of the sequence of later events, we know for sure that he lived in the `Usfan Mountains along with his mother and brother who had turned Muslims. The tribal adventurous profession was still in his blood, and he was angry with the Quraysh. Any small group crossing his territory risked attack, capture, and extraction of price if not Muslim. Apart from revenge, it provided the means of subsistence to someone who was not allowed to live in peace at Makkah. Either at the beginning, or perhaps some time later the Prophet suggested that he could return to his tribe, work upon them and wait until he heard that he too had left Makkah.
It is not clear what held back Abu Dharr and whether he visited the Prophet often at Madinah. He seems to have been able to convert half of the Ghifar tribe to Islam. It must have been a tough task. The rest promised to enter into the pledge only on the Prophet's hand, which they did just before the Trench battles in the fifth year after Hijrah. While his tribesmen returned, Abu Dharr stayed back at Madinah where he seems to have gotten quite close to the Prophet. He had the courage to refer to him as “My Friend,” who responded, as he himself reports, “The Prophet never met me but took my hand into his.”
But, it is likely that he shifted alone – sans his mother, brother, and perhaps a wife. This is apparent from the significant incident of the Prophet coming out of his house to find him asleep in the Mosque. He prodded him with his toe, the prodding of a beloved. When he sat up he said, “I see you sleeping here?!” He replied, “Where else? Seeing that I have no place but this house (of God),” replied Abu Dharr. But, there seemed to have been another purpose for kicking him out of sleep. The asked, “What will you do when you are sent out of here?” He betrayed his knowledge of Islam when he replied, “Well, I shall head to Syria, the refuge of the immigrants, the Field of Resurrection, the land of the Prophets . I shall be one of its residents.” He asked, “What will you do when you are expelled out of it?” He replied, “Then I shall return here, the town of my house and my family.” The Prophet asked, “What will you do if you are asked to quit a second time?” He replied, “I shall pick up my sword and fight out to death.” The Prophet grinned and cooling him down with the touch of his hand asked, “May I not tell you about something better than that?” He replied, “Sure, may my parents be sacrificed for you.” He said, “Follow them wheresoever they lead you to. Be driven to wheresover they drive you until you meet me while you are in that state.”
Perhaps to emphasize, the Prophet put it another way for Abu Dharr. It was when he so repeatedly recited the verse in a night Prayer, “Whoever fears Allah, He finds a way for him and feeds him from sources he did not imagine,” that Abu Bakr tells us he really felt fatigue. But the Prophet told him after the Prayer, “If the people took this verse alone in good earnest, it would suffice them.” Then he added, “What will you do if you are expelled from Madinah?” He answered, “To the wide spaces and bounties. I shall become a pigeon among the pigeons of Makkah.” He was asked, “What if you are turned out of it also?” He replied, “To the wide spaces and bounties: the holy land, the land of the Prophets, Syria.” He asked, “What if you are expelled from there?” Abu Dharr answered, “By Him who sent you with the Truth, I shall place my sword on my shoulder.” He said, “Why not something better than that: listen and obey, even if a disfigured Abyssinian.”
For the moment he remained in service, and on one occasion was appointed Governor of the town in the Prophet’s absence.
Abu Dharr missed the battles fought before fifth year after Hijrah. But he was there in the Hunayn campaign of the eighth year leading his tribe Ghifar. He was also there, close to the Prophet during the Makkan fall. A report says that apart from Fatimah, it was he who screened the Prophet while he bathed on that day.
His participation in the Tabuk campaign makes an interesting story. The distance, the heat and the hardships of an impoverished army was too much for the hypocrites. They began to fall back. Whenever one of them fell back, they would inform the Prophet. He would say, “Let him. If there is any good in him, he will rejoin. If not, good riddance.” Abu Dharr’s lean camel failed him too. Gradually he fell back. The Prophet was told, “Abu Dharr has fallen back too.” He tried hard to coax his camel to speed up. Ultimately, he gave up, took the tough decision, took down his pack, placed on his back and began to leg it to catch up with the main army. When a silhouette became visible, the men said, “Someone’s coming up.” The Prophet could not conceal his love. He said, “Be it Abu Dharr.” And, when it became clear it was Abu Dharr, he made the famous comment about him, “May Allah show mercy to Abu Dharr. He walks alone, will die alone, and will be raised up alone.”
In the history pages Abu Dharr next appears in Syria. He had been instructed by “his Friend” that when Madina’s expansion grows up to Mount Sil`, (a little outside Madinah in the north), he better leave for Syria. So, when troops were being raised for Syrian expeditions, he got his name registered. But, after the dust of war had settled, the booty came in huge amounts, the rich men began to feel unsettled because of him. While everyone was enjoying the riches that the Islamic world from Syria to Yemen inherited from the Romans and Persians, Abu Dharr was critical of it and critical of the inheritors. He had been trained differently, by none other than “his Friend.” He had told him on one occasion: “Be kind upon the poor and humble (masaakeen), seek their company, look at those below you and not at those above you, do good to the kin, say the truth even if bitter ..”
On another occasion he told Abu Dharr: “They are the losers, by Allah, they are the losers.” Upon asking who, he answered, “The rich, unless they spend this way and that way.”
How well the Prophet knew him and how much he loved him is apparent from the fact that once, perhaps out of financial pressures, he insisted on the Prophet the whole night (perhaps in a journey) that he should entrust him a (state) job, but he kept refusing. He said he found him weak. But, was Abu Dharr weak? The former robber, who could organize raids and drive terror into the hearts singly, weak? He who could descend from the mountains at lightening speed and speed away with the cattle of his desire, or capture men and extract the price for freedom? Was the tough man of a tough tribe, who had all along lived by loot, plunder and pillage, weak? Yes, he was weak, perhaps because he was a godly man now; and a godly man is weak against manipulations that a governmental officer has to face while discharging duty.
Whatever was meant, the Friend also told him, “Abu Dharr, I approve of that for you which I approve for myself.” He also advised him never to take charge of the wealth of the orphans. In this case of course, the reason is obvious: taking charge of the wealth of the orphans, especially when one has to draw his wages, without which he may not be able to pay full attention, entails a responsibility that every believer would be scared of. A second responsibility is to pay enough attention. But what is enough? One can be at liberty to neglect one’s own financial affairs. But can he do that with the wealth of the orphans?
Far from taking anything for a service rendered, the Prophet forbade him common charity. And he did it with complete gravity. He said, “Would you like to enter into a pledge with me?” Abu Dharr immediately outstretched his hand. He said, “Give me the pledge that you will never ask anyone. Even if a whip falls down, you will not ask anyone to pass it on to you but rather, will descend down the beast to retrieve it.” Once, while on a walk together, the Prophet asked Abu Dharr, “Can you see Mount Uhud.” Abu Dharr began looking at the sun to guess whether, if the Prophet sent him to the Mount, he would be able to return before sunset.” The Prophet said, “If I had gold equal to Mount Uhud, I would not like to keep any of it past three days.”
Having placed himself in the service of the Prophet, after his own migration to Madinah, and, being so close with the Prophet as to have the courage to mention him as “My friend,” Abu Dharr was at the spring of knowledge. Enjoying greater freedom with the Prophet than many others, he would ask him questions persistently. We might place before ourselves the following as an example. He reports, ‘Once I entered the Mosque to find the Prophet alone there. I asked him: “Messenger of Allah. (How about) the Prayers that you have commanded?” He said: “Prayer is the best thing. Therefore, Pray as much as you can.” I asked: “Which is the most virtuous deed.” He said: “Belief in Allah and Jihad in His path.” I asked: “Which believer is the best?” He replied: “The best of them in his behavior.” I asked him: “Which Muslim is the most submitted?” He said: “One from whose tongue and hands other Muslims feel secure.” I asked him: “Which emigration is the best?” He replied: “He who gave up evil deeds.” I asked him: “Which is the best Prayer?” He said: “The one in which the standing is the longest.” I asked: “Which fast is the best?” He replied: “The obligatory ones which are best rewarded. And Allah has great quantities of reward.” I asked him: “Which Jihad is the best?” He said: “He who slaughtered his beast and spilt his own blood.” I asked him: “Which freeing (of a slave) is best?” He replied: “The most expensive and the best among his folk.” I asked him: “Which charity is the best?” He said: “The efforts of the least possessed and handing over in secret to the needy.” I asked him: “Which is the most magnificent verse revealed to you?” He replied: "Ayah al-Kursi," Then he added: “Abu Dharr. The seven heavens are no more before the Kursiyy than a grain of sand in a patch of land. And the Kursiyy is no more before the `Arsh than a grain of sand in a patch of land.” I asked him: “How many Prophets have there been?” He said: “A hundred and twenty-four thousand.” I asked: “How many of them were Messengers?” He replied: “Three hundred and thirteen: a great lot and a good lot.” I asked him: “Who was the first?” He said: “Adam.” I asked: “Was he a Messenger too?” He replied: “Yes. Allah created him with His Hand, blew into him His spirit, and then straightened him up.” Then he added: “Abu Dharr. Four of them were Syriacs: Adam, Shith, Khanukh, i.e., Idris, who was the first to write with a pen, and Nuh. Four from the Arabs: Hud, Shu'ayb, Saleh and your own Prophet, O Abu Dharr The first Prophet among the Israelites was Musa and the last `Isa.The first Messenger was Adam and the last Muhammad.” I asked: “Messenger of Allah. How many books did Allah reveal?” He replied: “A hundred and four books: to Shith fifty, to Khanukh thirty, to Ibrahim ten. To Musa He revealed ten books before He revealed the Tawrah. And He revealed the Tawrah, the Injil, the Zabur and the al-Furqan.” I asked: “What was in the Scriptures of Ibrahim.” He replied: “(Allegories and paradigms) such as, ‘O proud, tyrannous, conceited king! I haven’t appointed you to amass wealth upon wealth. I have placed you in that position so that you may attend to the complaints of the oppressed. I myself do not reject the petition of the oppressed, even if it were to be from an unbeliever.’ And, ‘An intelligent man should divide his time into parts: A part in which he will address himself to his Lord. A part in which he will take stock of his deeds, another in which he will ponder over the creation of Allah, and a part devoted to earning his livelihood...’ And, ‘An intelligent man might not engage himself except in three things:
Preparing for the Hereafter, working for the livelihood or enjoying that which is not forbidden.’ And, ‘An intelligent man ought to well understand his times, busy himself with his own affairs, safeguard his tongue; and surely, whoever realized that his words are equal to his deeds, will speak little but about affairs of importance.’” I asked him, “What was in the Scriptures of Musa?” He said, “Alert words (`ibar) such as: ‘I wonder at him who is certain of death yet opts for pleasure...’” I asked him, “And do we have such things in our Scripture?” He said, “Yes,” and recited these verses (87: 14-19), `Surely he prospered who cleansed, remembered his Lord’s Name and Prayed. But you prefer the life of this world, whereas, the Hereafter is better and longer lasting. This is in the Scriptures of old - Scriptures of Ibrahim and Musa.’”
I said: “Messenger of Allah. Advise me.” He said: “I direct you to observe taqwa, for it is the kingpin of all your affairs.” I said: “Tell me more.” He said: “Recite the Qur’an and remember Allah much. You will be remembered in the heavens and it will be a source of light in this life.” I said: “Tell me more.” He said: “Avoid much laughter, for it deadens the heart and takes away the light of your face.” I said: “Tell me more, O Messenger of Allah.” He said: “Observe silence for it drives away Satan and helps you in religious causes.” I said: “Tell me more.” He said: “Look at him who is below you and not at him above you, for it is hoped that this way you will not belittle Allah's favors to you.” I said: “Tell me more.” He said: “Love the poor (masakin) and keep their company. This is another way by which it is less likely that you will belittle Allah's blessings on you.” I said: “Tell me more.” He said: “Join the kin even if they cut you off.” I said: “Tell me more.” He said: “Speak the truth, even if it were to sound bitter.” I said: “Tell me more.” He said: “Do not fear the censure of the critics in religious matters.”
The Prophet also told him, “I see what you do not see, and hear what you do not hear. The heaven is creaking, and it is right of it that it should creak. There is not a space of four fingers but there is an angel with his forehead on the ground, in prostration before Allah. If you knew what I know, you would laugh less and cry more, and you would not have laid with women in your beds, but would go out into the open spaces, supplicating to Allah.”
How close he was with the Prophet can be judged from the fact that several times he took Abu Dharr as the pillion rider of his beast. Once while he was behind the Prophet's donkey he asked him: “Abu Dharr! What if starvation strikes the people to the extent that you are not able to get up and walk to the Mosque? What will you do?” Abu Dharr replied: “Allah and His Messenger know best.” He said: “Abstain (from asking).” Then he asked: “Abu Dharr! What if death strikes, so that homes turn into graveyards? What will you do?” Abu Dharr replied: “Allah and Messenger know best.” He said: “Observe patience.” Then he asked: “Abu Dharr! What if people start killing each other so that grinding stones are dipped in blood? What will you do?” Abu Dharr replied: “Allah and His Messenger know better.” He said: “Remain in your house and lock the door from within.” He asked: “What if I am not left alone?” He replied: “Then go to the people you belong to and be with them.” Abu Dharr asked: “Should I take up the arms?” He replied: “Then you will be one of the participants. Rather, if you fear the shine of the sword then throw a corner of your shroud over your face in order that (the assaulter kills you and) bears your sins and his sins.”
He also narrates: “Once I was in the company of the Prophet (saws) when we saw two goats locked in combat. The Prophet (saws) asked: ‘Do you know what they are quarrelling about?’ I said, ‘No. I do not.’ He said, ‘But Allah knows and He will render justice between them.’” Another well-known report is narrated by Abu Dharr that he, Abu Bakr, ‘Umar and ‘Uthman, all heard a handful of pebbles that the Prophet had picked up, sing Allah's glory.
Abu Dharr was also taught things that many missed. The most important Hadith of all times for those who visit the Makkan Mosque is narrated by Abu Dharr: “Let not anyone Pray immediately after sunrise, nor between the `Asr and Maghrib Prayers, except in Makkah.”
Despite all the seriousness that preparation for the Hereafter requires, the Prophet did not miss the salt of life, humor. When he appeared in Madinah, the Prophet asked him, either jokingly, or having forgotten his name, “Are you Abu Namlah?” (ant’s father)? For a moment Abu Dharr couldn’t follow. He said, “I am Abu Dharr.” (Apart from other meanings, dharrah in Arabic is for an ant). Abu Dharr himself employed humor when he could, perhaps forcing him to it. When someone asked him whether he was Abu Dharr, he replied, “So say my homefolk.” And when he was asked about his daughter whether she was his daughter, he replied, “So says her mother.”
His Friend not only taught Abu Dharr, but also helped cleanse his heart of every Jahiliyya idea, concept or practice. One of his dark-skinned slaves complained to the Prophet about Abu Dharr’s ill-thought words hurled at him. Abu Dharr had rebuked him by taunting him with words, “You, the son of a non-Arab woman.” The Prophet was upset. Wasn’t it just a decade earlier that a master could hurl any abuse at his slave? Could he not hurl shoes and slaps at him, and the slave took it as an affair of common occurrence. But that was a decade earlier. Now Islam had come. The Prophet was upset.
The Prophet: “Is it true that you abused him?”
Abu Dharr: “Yes.”
The Prophet: “Is it true that you abused his mother?”
Abu Dharr: “But, whoever abuses, does it through the mother and father.”
Abu Dharr: “At this time, and in this advanced age of mine!?”
The Prophet: “Yes.”
(According to another report, “Arabism (or perhaps Bedouinism) has not yet left you.”)
Those words reduced Abu Dharr’s soul to ashes. He was simply stunned. Despite all the hard work, a trace of Jahiliyyah in him. It was unbearable. Straight he went to his slave, placed his cheek on the ground, and asked him to place his foot on his face. That he rightly decided to be the right way to remove Arab Jahiliyyah from within the depth of his mind. It was a tough measure, that no one will ever attempt. It required an Abu Dharr to do
Such were the teaching with which Abu Dharr arrived into Syria. He did not approve of the wealth and its trappings. He knew it would do them immense harm. He began to work against the trend in complete earnestness. He did not preach abstinence but complete avoidance of wealth, especially gold and silver. As expected, people began to follow the Companion of the Prophet, who, as they thought, was preaching poverty.
The rich began to complain to the Governor of Syria, Mu`awiyyah b. Abu Sufyan about his blunt and unconditional criticism of wealth. Having tried and failed at his personal level, Mu`awiyyah sent across `Ubadah b. Thamit, Abu Darda’, `Amr b. al-`Aas, and Umm Haraam. Abu Dharr treated them uncharitably. Without being insolent, he scolded `Ubadah for having come along for such a purpose at all, reminded Abu Darda’ of his late entry into Islam, `Amr for having lost the opportunity to the Prophet's company and, Umm Haraam, “Well,” he said, “aren’t you just a woman?”
When he was gifted 300 Dinar by a rich acquaintance it was promptly returned, almost with a rebuke. Mu`awiyyah tested him with a big sum. The deliverer turned up next morning to say that it was delivered to him by mistake. Abu Dharr told him that it had all been distributed by the night itself and may touch upon him again after sometime, for a stroke of good luck to return him the sum.
Having tried his best to contain Abu Dharr, and persistently receiving complaints from the elite, Mu`awiyyah wrote to `Uthman B Affan (the third Caliph), who thought it prudent to get Abu Dharr back to Madinah. But, no sooner was he there that he began to work on his one-man project: severe criticism of wealth and the wealthy. Ahnaf b. Qays reports: I was in Madinah and found that people were avoiding a certain personality. I asked him who he was and he said he was Abu Dharr. “Why do the people flee from you?” I asked. He replied, “I prohibit them the treasures that the Prophet prohibited them.” He also reported: One day I found a group of Quraysh sitting together. A man turned up. He was coarse of countenance, course of gait, course of clothes. He stood over them and, after a while said, “Give glad tidings to the hoarders (of wealth) of stamping with the fire of Hell. It will be placed on the breast and it will emerge from his shoulder blades. It will be placed on the shoulder blades and will emerge from the breast.” I noticed that the folks lowered their heads. Not one of them spoke a word. The man who had spoken those words turned back. I followed him. He sat down a little distance away. I told him, “I don’t think they liked to hear what you told them.” He replied, “These are a heedless people.” That was Abu Dharr.
And that was Abu Dharr’s stand. He was not criticizing but that which the Prophet had warned against. He had said that they will cut each other’s throat for worldly gains, which indeed Abu Dharr foresaw as his Friend did. So he continued with his campaign and ultimately complaints began pouring in to `Uthman and he had to take notice. He tried to pacify both the parties, but Abu Dharr would not yield. When Ka’bah (al-Ahbaar) said in the presence of `Uthman that there was no harm in wealth after its zakah had been paid, Abu Dharr struck him on his head with a rod, splitting it and thundered, “O, the son of a Jew! I have heard the Prophet say, ‘I do not wish that if I had gold the size of Mount Uhud except that I should spend it off leaving perhaps a tiny amount with me.’” Then he asked `Uthman three times whether he too had heard the Prophet say that or not. `Uthman admitted that he had. Obviously, Ka`b had his own legitimate point of view. In fact, Ka`b was himself no less than a hermit. His expressed his own opinion about wealth in words, “When Allah loves a man He folds the earth around him in order to raise his rank in Paradise, and when He dislikes an unbelieving person, He spreads the world around him until it takes him down to the bottom-most of Hellfire.” But what were the limits, that was in question.
While others considered the legal point of view, Abu Dharr considered the Sunnah point of view. For him, a Prophetic word was the law. Another incident makes Abu Dharr’s point of view clearer. When he gave the news to a group of Quraysh about those who hoarded gold and silver of severe torture in Hellfire with the very wealth they hoarded, Ahnaf asked him about what was he saying to the Qurayshis. He replied, “I said nothing except what they had heard from their Prophet.” Thereupon Ahnaf asked him, “What do you say about the grants (given by the government)?” He replied, “Accept them. But if you have to pay the price of your religion, drop them.”
Abu Dharr was of the opinion that any wealth over and above one’s needs is treasure. It is said that Zayd b. Wahab passed by Abu Dharr who was then living in Rabdha (some 20 km off in the north of Madinah). He asked him, “What brought you here.” Abu Dharr replied, “I was in Syria. But I and Mu`awiyyah disagreed over the treasure-verses (Tawbah: v. 34-35). I said it applies to every kind of wealth. Mu`awiyyah said it applied to the people of the Book. He complained to (the Khalifah) `Uthman. He asked me to come back to Madinah. But when I arrived at Madinah people followed me like flies. I complained to `Uthman. He told me to go a little out of Madinah, but not too far. But I shall not give up saying what I was saying.”
His campaign against the world and its enticement went with him wherever he went. Sufyan Thawri reports having heard Abu Dharr (in Makkah): “People, will you not listen to someone who is your true advisor?” They gathered around him. He said, “Will you not, if you are in a journey take suitable provision with you? Listen! This life is a journey to a distant destination: the Day of Judgment. So take with you Hajj against major affairs, fast for a hot long day, do two cycles of Prayer in the darkness of night for the sake of darkness of the grave. Say a good word, or save a bad word for the Day of Standing. Spend from you wealth to escape hardships of that Day; divide the world into two sessions: a session to earn for the Hereafter, and a session to earn the lawful - a third will harm you and not benefit you. Convert your world into two Dirhams: one you spend on your family and another saved for the Hereafter – a third will harm you and not benefit you..” Then he declared in a loud voice, “People! Greed destroyed you, but you will never, ever achieve (your objectives).”
On the other hand, wealth was flowing in from the conquests. It was distributed by the Treasury and everybody’s hands were full. What was to be done with it? But Abu Dharr was firm. “You do what you will, but keep no big cash on hand,” was his point of view. And then the crowds – they were with him wherever he went. That is what took him to Rabdha.
However, his coach arriving at Rabdha did not mean disobedience of `Uthman. He believed in full obedience of the Ameer. When some mischievous men went to see him to coax him into rebellion against `Uthman, (perhaps provoking him by saying that `Uthman was indulging in expending on his own kin), Abu Dharr refused to listen any further on grounds that Ameer’s obedience was necessary under all conditions. He told them that if `Uthman asked him to walk from one end of the horizon to the other end, he would obey him. In fact, when Abu Dharr went to Hajj, while `Uthman was also there, and learnt that the latter had done four cycles of Prayer in `Arafat, he protested, “I did Hajj with the Prophet, he did two cycles. I did Hajj with Abu Bakr and `Umar and they did two cycles. From where did `Uthman bring in four cycles?” Then he stood and offered four cycles of prayer. Astounded, someone asked him, “But weren’t you protesting over four?” He answered, “Yes. But one has to obey the Ameer.”
It was a small place near Madinah, a government pasture land for Madinan cattle, where a young dark Abyssianian was in charge. A few scattered huts housing some five or six families dotted the landscape. The officer asked Abu Dharr to lead in the Prayer, an obvious thing; but he refused saying that the Prophet had taught him to obey the Ameer, and the young man remained the Ameer.
When Abu Darda’ learnt of Abu Dharr leaving Madinah, he sought Allah’s refuge and remarked that if Abu Dharr were to severe one of his arms he would not complain after he had heard the Prophet say, “No greenery has shaded a man, nor a dust carried anyone more truthful of his tongue than Abu Dharr.” Yet, it was the same Abu Darda’ whose construction of a house to live (perhaps the only one) was censured by Abu Dharr.
The hermit who arrived at Rabdha built no house. He pitched his hermitage – a simple coarse cloth tent for himself and his not so good looking (in fact, as one reporter says, “formless”), nor very well-behaving dark wife. He had lost all his children in their childhood except for a daughter. When suggested that he could marry another woman (for children) he replied that he preferred a woman who obeyed him over a woman who might not; although, as incidents tell us, sometimes she treated him quite roughly. On one occasion, after failing to subdue the spirited woman, he accepted defeat, merely explaining to the guest, “You know, women have been created out of the rib, and so, you must expect some crookedness in them.” She often pestered him to move back to Iraq for material reasons, the desert tent-life being tough on her, as it can be for anyone, Bedouins not excluded. But he refused on grounds that he had heard his Friend say that the Bridge was slippery, that only those who remained light will cross over. However, he did move between Madinah and Rabdha quite often, fearing that the Hadith about return (of the weak in faith) to the deserts after their emigration to Madinah would become applicable to him.
On yearly governmental grant of some 4000 Dirham, which every citizen received, he added some goats and camels which he and his slave tended. He spent most of the grant for yearly expenses, and broke the remaining in small coins to be spending them for odd needs. As small coins they were quite a bit heavy but he carried them anyway. He was seen wearing an expensive piece of cloth, one of a pair, while the other was seen on his slave. When inquired he explained that so was the instruction of his Friend.
Once he had guests. He told his shepherd, “Bring me the best of camels I have.” When the man brought an old one Abu Dharr told him: “You are not honest with me.” The shepherd said: “True. I spotted the best of the camels, but I was reminded of the day when you’ll need it most and hence kept it back.” Abu Dharr remarked: “The day I’ll need it most will be the day I’ll be lowered into the grave.”
He lived by every Sunnah of the Prophet. One day somebody came to see him, and in his haste broke the wall of a water-hole he was making in the ground. He was angry. But he sat down, right in the mud. Then, to the shock of the man, lay down right there. When inquired he said, “The Prophet told me: “When one of you gets angry, let him sit down if he is standing. If that does not cool him, let him lie down.”
I have forbidden oppression unto Myself and have made it unlawful unto you, therefore do not oppress each other. O My slaves, all of you are misguided save him whom I have guided. Therefore seek guidance of Me, I shall guide you. O My slaves, all of you are hungry save him who I have fed. Therefore ask food of Me and I shall feed you. O My slaves, all of you are naked save him I have clothed. Therefore seek clothes of me and I shall clothe you. O My slaves, you sin by the day and by the night and I forgive all your sins. Therefore, seek forgiveness of Me and I shall forgive you. O My slaves, you can never be in a position to harm Me that you might (attempt to) harm Me, neither can you ever be in a position to benefit Me so that you might (try and) benefit Me. O My slaves, were the first of you and the last of you, the men of you and the jinn of you to become as pious as the most pious of you, that will not cause increase in My kingdom in the least. O My slaves, were the first of you and the last of you, the men of you and the jinn of you to become as corrupt as the most corrupt of you, that will not cause decrease in My kingdom in the least. O My slaves, were the first of you, the last of you, the men of you and the jinn of you to gather in a plain field and ask Me, and I were to grant everyone of you what he asked for, that would not cause a decrease in My kingdom more than what would if a needle were to be dipped into the sea. O My slaves, it is nothing but your own deeds that I keep record of and then return them to you (in the form of retribution, good or bad). Therefore, let him who finds good, thank Allah, and let him who finds it different, may blame none but himself.”
It is not that Abu Dharr was not aware of those statements of the Prophet which give hope to the sinners. He did. In fact he is the narrator of that famous Hadith in whose explanations volumes have been written. It has Abu Dharr saying, “One night when I came out of my house I found the Prophet strolling alone. I guessed he wanted to be alone. So I kept walking in the shadows of the moonlight. But the Prophet spotted me and enquired, ‘Is that Abu Dharr?’ I said, ‘Yes, may I sacrifice myself for you.’ He said, ‘Come.’ We strolled together quietly for a while when he said, ‘The richest will be the poorest on the Day of Judgment, save him who gave of His bounty and spent it in every direction, but also came up with other good deeds.’ We strolled again quietly for a while. Then he said, ‘Be seated here.’ He made a circle with the help of stones and said: ‘Remain in here until I return.’ He walked ahead into the craggy field until he disappeared. He remained unseen for quite a while. Then I heard him saying as he approached me, ‘Even if he committed adultery and theft!’ When he reached me I could not restrain myself. I asked him, ‘Apostle of Allah. May I sacrifice myself for you. Who was it speaking to you there in the craggy field? I heard someone replying to you.’ He said, ‘That was Jibril. He met me a little beyond that stony patch. He told me to give the good news that whoever died in a state in which he associated not aught with Allah will enter Paradise.’ I (the Prophet) asked him, ‘Jibril! Even if he committed adultery and committed theft?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ At that I again enquired, ‘Even if he committed adultery and theft?!’ Jibril said, `Yes’! I repeated, `Even if he committed adultery and theft?’ He said, `Yes. And even if he drank wine.’”
So, Abu Dharr was well-aware of statements of this kind; and indeed, he was well-aware of their meaning also. It is the deeper understanding, and realism of a good degree that led him to adopt the ascetic ways and take that position on wealth.
At Rabdha his poverty was not hidden from any. Someone suggested that he could obtain a piece of revenue land like so many others known to him had done. He replied that a good drink of water or some milk was good enough for him, and perhaps, a piece of bread once in a week. He said that those were his meals during the time of the Prophet, and so they will remain after him. Little wonder his wife suggested they should move to Iraq, but greater wonder she hung along with him despite his firm refusals. Obviously, she could not but have been touched by her husband’s remarkable faith. After his death somebody arrived all the way from Basrah to his widow asking about his devotions. The reply was simple, but not so simple to follow as an example: “He spent most of the day in deep thought.”
A confident beginning and a true following promised confident end. Abu Dharr had no problem in claiming that he will be closest to the Prophet in the Hereafter. He had promised that he who remained unchanged after him will be closest to him, and he, Abu Dharr had not changed a bit after him. In his life he avoided meeting anyone who did not measure up to his standards. Even when Abu Musa Al-Ashari dropped in to see him, Abu Dharr told him to be off. It was a scene. Abu Musa saying, ‘My brother, my brother,’ and trying to hug Abu Dharr, but the latter freeing himself and saying, “Off be with you,” until tears flowed and the walls came down. When Abu Hurayrah came down he received the same treatment. “Isn’t it true,” asked Abu Dharr “that you accepted to be a governor?” He answered in a yes. “Then,” asked Abu Dharr, “Did you build a house or set up a farm?” Abu Hurayrah replied, “No.” Abu Dharr relented, “Then you are my brother, my brother.” When Salaman al-Farsi arrived to see him, he treated him similarly. Salman al-Farsi was either average of height, or somewhat diminutive, while Abu Dharr was a massive personality, some say, dark. So, Salman had a difficult time hugging him until Abu Dharr relented.
Now we have come to the sad end of our story. When Abu Dharr’s death arrived, his wife began to cry. He asked why. She said, “you are dying in the desert while I do not have a piece of cloth to shroud you”. He said, “Stop weeping and be of good cheer. I have heard the Prophet say, ‘None of a pair will die, who had observed patience over the death of two or three of their children, but will never see Hellfire.’ I also heard him say addressing a group of people including me, ‘One of you will die in a deserted patch of land in the presence of a group of true believers.’ Now, none of that group he addressed is alive. And they all died in towns or villages. I am remaining. So, look out at the road.’ She said, ‘The Hajj caravans have all left and the road is bare (of any traveler).’ He insisted that I should watch the road. ‘So,’ she reports, ‘I would in turn climb up the dune and come down to look after him. While we were in that state, a caravan appeared who were as if flying. In a moment they were on my head and asked me what the matter was. I said, “One of the Muslims is dying. Would you like to bury him?” They asked who it was and when told it was Abu Dharr, they asked, “The Prophet's Companion?” I said yes. They began to say, “May our parents be sacrificed for him,” and rushed in.
He told them, “Be of good cheer. I have heard the Prophet say to a group of people of whom I was one, ‘One of you will die in a deserted patch of land in the presence of a group of true believers.’ Now, they have all died. By Allah, I do not have a piece of cloth to be shrouded, nor my wife. I abjure that none will offer his sheet of cloth who has ever been a governor, a leader, a (governmental) messenger, or in charge over a people. There is none of this class of men but soiled himself, more or less.’ One of the Ansar said, ‘I shall shroud you in pieces of cloth that my mother spun for me.’
Abu Dharr agreed. They waited until he died. The Ansari shrouded him. They washed and buried him. They were all Yemenis - of the land of the faithful.
They had done a good deed to Abu Dharr. But Abu Dharr had not forgotten to take notice of it, previous to its occurrence. He had ordered his daughter to slaughter a goat and be ready with the meals. When they had buried him she was to tell them that Abu Dharr had abjured that they will not leave before having the meal. They were 14 in number, everyone a renowned Muslim, and two of them leading scholars in Fiqh. After his death the family shifted to Madinah.
Abu Dharr joined his Friend. The Prophet had said when he had asked, “A man loves someone but is unable to come up with similar deeds. Where will he be (in the Hereafter)?” He answered, “You will be with him Abu Dharr whom you love.” But it wasn’t him alone that he could have met up in the heavens. The `Isa of this Ummah must have met the `Isa of the Israelites. The Prophet had said that Abu Dharr was quite similar to `Isa in his other worldliness. `Umar Ibn al-Khattab asked him whether he could be informed of this and the Prophet said yes, hence that was one person that Abu Dharr used to say that he longed to meet.
Of several, one of his wise sayings reveals his depth of knowledge: “Like little salt in a large quantity of food, little supplications would suffice if supported by large amount of good deeds (towards others).
`Ali said about him that he had mastered a (kind of) knowledge that men could not obtain from him, and so it remained contained within him.
It has been said, “The most kind upon my Ummah is Abu Bakr, the toughest in religious matters is `Umar, the most modest `Uthman, the most learned of the Qur’an, Ubay b. Ka`b, the most learned of inheritance rules, Zayd b. Thabit, the best judge `Ali ibn abi Talib, the most knowledgeable of the lawful and unlawful, Mu`adh ibn Jabal, the most knowledgeable, `Abdullah ibn `Abbas, the most trustworthy Abu `Ubaydah ibn al-Jarrah, and the most truthful of the tongue: Abu Dharr.
Today, past these centuries, is there anyone who would like to listen to the truest of the tongues?
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