Abu Hurayrah (603–681 CE) أبو هريرة
His real name was `Abd Shams (Worshipper of the Sun), but it was changed to `Abd al-Rahman ibn Sakhr by the Prophet . He was of the Daws tribe, a Companion of the Prophet Muhammad and a prolific narrator of Hadith. It is said that either he was fond of, or was once spotted with a kitten which became the reason for earning the nickname “Abu Hurayrah” meaning “he of the kitten.” He was born in Yemen in the Tihamah region on whose border lies the Red Sea. Not much is known about his private life or family except that he had a mother. He embraced Islam through Tufayl ibn `Amr, the chief of his tribe, who had come back to the settling after having met the Prophet and embraced Islam at Makkah. In one of his journeys he accompanied him to Makkah and embraced Islam there. Thus, Abu Hurayrah’s entry into Islam was in the early days while his fellowmen delayed their Islam. However, he migrated to Madinah only in the seventh year after Hijrah apparently with his mother who had not embraced Islam. He himself was a little over 33 at that time. Since the Prophet was away at Khayber, he stayed among the Ahl Al-suffah. He was single without a wife or child. He encouraged his mother to become a Muslim, but she refused. He was quite concerned about his mother who refused to budge. One day, he reported to the Prophet with tears in his eyes and explained that his persuasion had failed and there was no chance she would give in. Further, she had said things about the Prophet that he wouldn’t like to hear. He asked him to supplicate for her. The Prophet agreed and when Abu Hurayrah went home, he found her bathing in order to recite the testimony. He had just wiped the tears of grief off his eyes that began to flow again from joy.
After the Prophet's return from Khayber, Abu Hurayrah clung to him until he died (i.e., for about two years) like no one else, despite having to pass his days in extreme hunger and deprivation. He admitted that he went hungry for such long stretches that he would ask the Prophet's Companions about a verse of the Qur’an in pretention, hoping that the man would take him home for dinner. On one occasion, he found no luck with Abu Bakr who was passing by and who moved on after answering his question. Then `Umar happened to show up and he asked him too. But he too answered his question and then moved on. Finally, the Prophet passed by and realized that I was hungry. He said: “Abu Hurayrah!” He said, “At your service.” He told him to follow, until he took him into his house. Upon entering, they discovered that someone had gifted a bowl of milk. “Abu Hurayrah,” the Prophet said, “Go get the Ahl Al-suffah. Abu Hurayra’s heart sank: this little bowl and the dozens on the Platform! But he had to do as told. They came in, in turns, drank from the bowl and left. Then the Prophet made him drink, and drink, and drink, until the milk could burst from his veins. Once, the Prophet allowed two dates each to a group of the Ahl Al-suffah. Abu Hurayrah chewed one and reserved one. He asked him why he had done that. He said it was for his mother. He told him, “Eat it, I’ll give you two more.”
Bukhari reports him as saying, “I said to the Apostle, ‘I hear a lot from you but I forget.’” He said, ‘Spread your cloak,’ which I did. He moved his hands as if filling it with something and then said, ‘Take it and wrap it around yourself.’ I did, and thereafter I forgot nothing that I heard from him.” It is also recorded that he said, “People are surprised that I narrate many ahadith.Well, had it not been for the Qur’anic verse, I would not have narrated any Hadith. It says (2: 159), ‘Indeed, those who conceal the clear signs and guidance that We have sent down, after We have made them clear to the people in the Book, they, such of them, are cursed by Allah and cursed by those who curse.’ The thing is, my Muhajir brothers were busy in the market, while the Ansar were busy in the fields. But I stuck to the Prophet, satisfied with what little would fill my stomach, thus being in attendance when others were not. Further, I used to memorize, while they did not.” All in all, he spent four years and a few days in the Prophet's close company.
After the Prophet's death, he took part in the battles against the apostates and deniers of zakah. At the time of Abu Bakr, he was in Jihad. He was there in the famous Yarmuk battle that decided the fate of the Romans. During the time of `Umar, he was appointed Governor of Bahrayn Province (the Eastern part of the Peninsula) but was removed after two and a half years. `Umar never kept anyone in any important position for long, he kept rotating the job An amazing incident took place when Abu Hurayrah returned to Makkah with much wealth. `Umar's asked him where he had got it from. He informed him that, in his spare time, he traded and earned profits, in addition to piling up his own salary. `Umar's remarked, “Nay! I believe since you were the Governor, they traded with you on favorable terms in order to win your favor. You better cut it into two and deposit one half in the governmental treasury.” Now, Abu Hurayrah was an Arab, who will give away a large sum as a gift, but from whom not a penny can be taken by force. If he willed, Abu Hurayrah could have told `Umar's, “Nothing doing, I have earned it the Halal way, and will only give in charity whenever I wish.” After all, Abu Hurayrah was not a modern-day governor who has to build roads, bridges, schools, hospitals and airports. His governorship would not have cost him more than an hour or two per day. But he did not say any such thing. Probably he saw some justification in `Umar's conclusion, and, further, being a Hadith scholar, who had been through the phase when he fell on the ground because of hunger, and people pressed their feet on his neck under the impression that this was an epilepsy attack.. he had been through all that, and had little regard for money. Moreover, he must have thought, to get rid of one-half is not such a bad idea from the point of accountability in the Hereafter. Therefore, he cheerfully deposited one half of what he had brought from Bahrayn. Of course, `Umar trusted him. He offered Abu Hurayrah the post once again, but Abu Hurayrah turned down the offer.
As a result of the Prophet's supplication, he had a prodigious memory. The secretary of Marwan (the Madinan Governor) reports that once Marwan asked Abu Hurayrah to dictate ahadith on a particular topic while his secretary wrote them down. After a year Marwan placed his secretary to sit behind the curtain with the older collection (containing a hundred or so of the ahadith), and told Abu Hurayrah that he had lost the collection, could he dictate the same ahadith once more? To surprise, Abu Hurayrah did it, without moving a single syllable from one place to another, exactly as he had narrated a year ago.
`Umar, however, was not always happy with the Companions narrating ahadith perhaps because he was afraid the newly converted would get confused between it and the Qur’an. Once he warned Abu Hurayrah: “Either you will stop narrating Hadith or I’ll exile you to Daws.” He also warned Ubay ibn Ka`b (a former Jew), “Either you will stop narrating hadith or I’ll exile you to the lands of the monkeys.” Yet, he had allowed Abu Hurayrah to express his juridical opinions. Somebody asked Abu Hurayrah about eating out of meat gifted to a Hajee, which was from an animal hunted down by a non-Hajee. He allowed it (although hunting is disallowed for a Hajee). Then he mentioned his opinion to `Umar. He remarked, “Had you given another opinion, I would have punished you.”
Consequent to the historical circumstances of the past, and Abu Hurayra’s choices, he was the person who quoted most; more than 5,000 ahadith being documented in the Musnad of Ahmad itself. The Sahihayn have altogether 326 ahadith that originate from him. He was followed in numbers by `Abdullah ibn `Umar, Anas ibn Malik, `A’isha, Jabir ibn `Abdullah and Abu Sa`eed al-Khudri. He used to say, “There was a time when I was a cameleer tending the camels of Bushra, to satisfy my stomach. Praise to Allah that He made it possible for me to marry Bushra, and lead people in Prayers.” Yet, he did not narrate all that he had heard from the Prophet . He said, “I have saved two vessels of knowledge. I speak out of one. If I spoke out of the other, people will slaughter me.” The allusion was to the predictions the Prophet had made about the political upheavals that would take place after him. Had Abu Hurayrah begun to speak about who was right and who wrong, in the light of what he had heard from him, the activists would have gone after him. Naturally, he was a much respected person during his life. In fact, some Companions quoted from him and their jurists wished to hear how Abu Hurayrah judged. Not surprisingly, he led in the funeral Prayer of `Aisha Bint Abu Bakr, and, even of Hafsa (the Prophet's wife) with her brother, Ibn `Umar, a well-known pious person and nominee to the Khilafah, alive, praying behind him. He also led the funeral Prayer of Umm Salamah (another wife of the Prophet) when she died.
Abu Hurayrah is a glaring proof of the authenticity and trustworthiness of the ahadith. If they were forged during the late first and early second Islamic century, by a group of forgers, and fastened to his name, as the Orientalists and their Eastern tail-polishers allege, surely, the forgers would not have used Abu Hurayrah’s name. They would have chosen for such a cause someone like Bilal, or `Ammar ibn Yasir, who were in the company of the Prophet from day one of Islam, so to say, and lasting full 23 years. Anything forged in the name of the earliest Muslims, stood better chance of acceptance as genuine than those fastened to Abu Hurayrah who was not destined to receive the Prophet's company but for just above four years. Further, the forgers would have evenly distributed their forgeries among many, especially among the `Ashara al-Mubashshara, the widely respected ten Companions, instead of fastening 5,000 narratives on a single man and arousing suspicion. Finally, the narratives of Abu Hurayrah widely corroborate those narrated by other Companions and are supported by historical evidences. But, there are people, in every society, who are more likely to move on the lines drawn by idiots using their tongue-skills, than by the lines drawn by a True Prophet, and a True Companion.
Abu Hurayrah had a wide shoulder, brown colored body, a gap between his front two teeth, two pleats of hair dangling, and a beard dyed red. Not much is known about his wife and children except that he had married his former employer, Bushra, and that one of his daughters was married to Saeed ibn al-Musayyib. Abu `Uthman al-Nahdi said, “I was Abu Hurayrah’s guest. At night, I found him, his servant and his wife going into Prayers in turns. One of them would be in Prayers for one-third of the night, while the other two slept. Then he would wake up one of the other two and go to bed himself.” Abu Hurayrah died in 681H at the age of 78. (The article will be expanded, Allah willing, with the next revision: Au.).
See related articles
- Ahl Al-Suffah
- Abu bakr