Why can no one else be on par with the companions?
There are some narrations which say: At a time when religious innovations
are widespread and heresy is on the attack, some of the righteous among the
God-fearing believers who try to con-form to God’s laws of religion and life,
may attain to the rank of the Companions, or even be more virtuous. Are these
narrations authentic? If so, what is their true meaning?
Answer: It is decisively proven that the Ahl al-Sunna wa’l-Jama‘a (the majority
of Muslims who follow the way of the Prophet and his Companions) are unanimously
agreed that, after the Prophets, the Companions are the most virtuous of mankind.
Therefore, the authentic parts of the narrations such as the one above have
to do with [not virtuousness in general but] with some particular virtues. One
less virtuous may excel a more virtuous one in some particular virtues. From
the viewpoint of general superiority, no one can be on a par with the Companions,
whom God describes as having praiseworthy qualities at the end of the sura al-Fath
in the Qur’an, and whom the Torah and Gospel predicted and praise highly.
Out of many reasons for their superiority, for the time being I shall mention only
First reason: The companionship of the Prophet and being taught by him is
such an elixir that one who is honored with it even for a minute may receive
as much enlightenment as another can in years of spiritual journeying. For companionship
and the Prophet’s education is the cause of being colored with the color of
the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, and receiving his reflections.
As is known, by following the Prophet and being illumined by the greatest light
of Prophethood, one can rise to the highest of the spiritual levels. This is
like a servant of a great king reaching through servanthood and absolute allegiance
to the king to the rank which even an ordinary king cannot. For this reason,
even the greatest of the saints cannot rise to the same degree as the Companions.
Even those saints who, like Jalal al-din al-Suyuti, have conversed with God’s
Messenger many times while awake, cannot be on a level with the Companions.
For the Companions were illumined by the light of the Prophethood of
Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings; he lived among them and communed with them
as a Prophet. Whereas, the saints who see God’s Messenger, upon him be peace
and blessings, after his death, are honored with the light of his sainthood.
That is, God’s Messenger manifests himself to them as a saint, not as a Prophet,
because Prophethood ended with his death. Since this is so, those two types
of communication with God’s Messenger differ from each other to the extent of
the difference between Prophethood and sainthood.
It shows what an enlightening elixir is the Prophet’s conversation and companionship
that a primitive Bedouin who had been so wild and hard-hearted as to bury his
girl alive, was honored with an hour of the Prophet’s companionship and became
so compassionate and tender-hearted that he no longer trod on even an ant. Savage
and ignorant persons were honored with the Prophet’s conversation and companionship
only for one day and then went as far as India and China to teach truths and
guide people to human perfections.
Second reason: As is explained during the discussion on ijtihad
in The Twenty-seventh Word, the absolute majority of the Companions were at
the highest degrees of human perfections. For at that time, through the
great revolution of Islam, good and truth were seen in all their beauties,
and evil and falsehood, in all their ugliness, and they were actually
experienced. Such a difference was apparent between good and evil and such a
distance opened between truth and lying that they drew apart and were
distant from each other to the extent that belief is distant from unbelief
and Paradise is from Hell. The Companions, who by nature had lofty emotions,
were enamored of moral virtues and inclined to dignity
and glory, never approached evil and falsehood voluntarily, nor fell to the
level of Musaylima the Liar, who was the sample and herald of lying, evil
and falsehood and became a laughing stock through his ridiculous words. Witnessing
the degree of the Beloved of God, the highest of human perfections, who is the
sample and herald of truth, right and good, the purity of the Companions’ nature
impelled them to exert all their strength and efforts to follow him.
It sometimes happens that due to their dreadful results and detestable effects,
people (far from buying them) flee in disgust from certain things in the market
of human civilization and the ‘shop’ of human social life, while as if beneficial
cures or brilliant diamonds, certain other things are in much demand and draw
everybody’s attention because of their good effects and valuable results. Everybody
does his utmost to buy them. Likewise, since in the market of human social life
at the Age of Happiness, the ‘articles’ like unbelief, lying and evil
yielded results like eternal doom and torment and produced base laughing- stocks like
Musaylima the Liar, it was certain that the Companions, who were enamored
of high moral qualities and praiseworthy virtues, fled from them in disgust
as from a killing poison. And surely, the Companions, with their pure natures
and elevated characteristics, would, with all their strength, feelings, and
faculties, be desirous of, and customers for, truth, right, and belief, which
result in eternal happiness and have produced illustrious fruits like God’s
Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, as if they were most beneficial
cures and most precious diamonds. However, since then, the distance between
truth and lying has gradually become so slight that they are now standing side
by side in the same shop and being sold together. Social morality has been corrupted.
Political propaganda has encouraged lying and made it in demand. At a time when
the awesome ugliness of lying remains concealed and the brilliant beauty of
truths is no more visible, who could claim to have the same degree of strength,
firmness and meticulousness as the Companions had in justice, truthfulness and
moral sublimity? In order to clarify the matter to some degree, let me
describe an experience of mine:
Why can even the greatest saints reach the degree of Companionship?
Once it occurred to me why certain saints with extraordinary qualities like
Muhy al-Din al-‘Arabi cannot reach the degree of the Companions. While
reciting one day during the prostration in the prayer, Glorified be my Lord,
the Highest, some portion of the full meaning of this phrase was un-veiled
and its truth revealed to me. I thought: If only I were able to perform a
single prescribed prayer as perfectly as I discovered the meaning of
worship. I came to understand after the prayer that that experience was to guide me to perceive why it is
impossible to reach the degrees of the Companions. In those mighty social revolutions
brought about by the lights of the wise Qur’an, the opposites were completely
separated from each other and evils with all their darkness, details and consequences,
and good and perfections with all their lights and results, stood face to face.
Thus, in that exciting, stimulating time, together with revealing all the levels
of their meanings in all their freshness, bloom and originality, all words and
phrases of recitation, praise, and glorification stirred up and awakened all
the feelings and spiritual faculties of the people who were fully experiencing
that mighty revolution in all its stages, and caused even senses like those
of fancy and imagining to be fully awake to receive and absorb the various meanings
of those phrases in accordance with their kind of perception.
It is because of such reasons as those that when the Companions, all of whose
senses were awakened, and faculties alert, pronounced the blessed words and
phrases containing all the lights of faith and glorification, they pronounced
them in all their meanings and derived their shares with all their faculties.
Whereas, with the passage of time after that bursting forth and revolution,
people have gradually lost the taste and pleasure they have received from those
blessed phrases because, due to much familiarity and loss of sensitivity, their
faculties have fallen into sleep and their senses into heedless-ness. Since
what has remained of those ‘fruits’ is only some moisture because of superficiality,
only through a reflective and contemplative operation can those faculties and
senses be restored to their former state. For this reason, others cannot attain
in forty days, even in forty years, the degree and virtue which a Companion
reached in forty minutes.
Third reason: When compared to sainthood, Prophethood is like the sun in
relation to its images in mirrors. Thus, as much higher in rank Prophethood
is than sainthood, so too, being the servants of Prophethood and the planets
around that sun, the Companions must be greater than saints to the same degree.
Even if a saint attains to the rank of absolute truthfulness and loyalty and
succession to the Prophet, which is the highest rank of sainthood belonging
to the Companions, he cannot reach the degree of the Companions. Out of many
aspects of this third reason, I will explain only four:
First aspect: No one can reach the Companions in ijtihad,
that is, in deduction from God’s Word of His ordinances and the things He
approves of. For the mighty Divine revolution at that time aimed at learning
and understanding God’s commandments and the things of which He approves.
All the minds were concentrated upon deducing the Divine ordinances, and all
of the hearts wondered what their Lord wanted from them. All the events and
circumstances impelled people to that, and conversations,
discussions and stories occurred in a way to teach Divine ordinances and wishes
to some extent and perfected the capacities of the Companions and enlightened
their minds, and since their potentials to make deductions and exercise ijtihad
were as ready to ignite as matches, a modern man of the same intelligence and
capacity as the Companions cannot attain in ten or even a hundred years to the
level of deduction and ijtihad which the Companions reached in a day or a month.
Because, at pre-sent, people consider worldly happiness rather than eternal
happiness, they turn their attentions to other aims. Since the struggle to make
a living in lack of reliance on God has bewildered and stupefied the spirits,
and naturalistic and materialistic philosophy has blinded the intellects, the
social environment does not strengthen people’s minds and capacities in exercising
ijtihad, rather it scatters and confuses them. While discussing ijtihad in The
Twenty-seventh Word, I explained why at the present time one of the same intelligence
as Sufyan ibn Uyayna, could not obtain in a hundred years what Sufyan obtained
Second aspect: No one can reach through sainthood the rank of the Companions
in nearness to God. For God Almighty is nearer to us than everything, while
we are infinitely far from Him. One can acquire nearness to Him in two ways:
- One is through God’s favor to make one near to Him and making one realize
His nearness. Through companionship with, and succession, to the Prophet, the
Companions were endowed with this sort of nearness.
- The second is through continuous promotion to higher and higher ranks until
honored with nearness to God. Most of the saints follow this way and make a
long spiritual journey in their inner world and through the outer world.
The first way is purely a gift of God; it does not depend upon one’s own
efforts. Nearness to God in this way is realized through attraction of the Merciful
One and being beloved by Him. This way is short but extremely elevated and sound,
perfectly pure and free of obscurities. The other is long and depends on one’s
own endeavors, and it has obscurities. Even if the one following it is endowed
with miracle-like wonders, this way is inferior to the former in acquiring nearness
to God Almighty.
Consider this example:
One can experience yesterday once more in two ways. Either, without
following the course of time, one rises by a sacred spiritual power to a
position from which one can see the whole of time, including yesterday and today, as a single
point. Or, following the course of time, one lives the whole of the year and
reaches the same day next year. Despite this, one cannot preserve yesterday,
nor prevent it from slipping by.
As in the example, one can pass from the outward observation of religious
commandments to realization of their truth in two ways. Either, without
entering the intermediate world of religious orders, one submits oneself to
the attraction of truth and finds it directly in its outward aspect; one
sees the outward and inward combined into a single unity. Or, one is
initiated into a spiritual way and promoted to higher and higher ranks one after the other.
However successful in self-annihilation and killing the evil-commanding self,
the saintly people are never able to reach the Companions. Because, since the
Companions were purified and their souls refined, they were honored with all
varieties of worship and sorts of praise and thanks-giving with the multiple
inborn faculties which selfhood has. Whereas, after the annihilation of selfhood,
the worship of the saints acquires some sort of simplicity.
Third aspect: No one can reach the Companions in merits of deeds, rewards
for actions, and virtues pertaining to the Hereafter. Just as through keeping
an hour of watch and guard on a dangerous point under perilous conditions, a
soldier can gain the merits of a year of worship or of being martyred by a bullet,
he attains in a minute to the rank of some sort of sainthood which others can
only reach in no less than forty days, so too, the services of the Companions
in the establishment of Islam and propagation of the commandments of the Qur’an,
and their challenging the whole of the world for the sake of Islam were so meritorious
and rewarding that others cannot gain in one year the merits which they acquired
in a minute. It may even be said that every minute of theirs is equal to the
minute of that soldier martyred while in that sacred service. Every hour of
theirs is like the hour of watch of a self-sacrificing soldier under perilous
conditions, which though it seems a small act, is extremely valuable and meritorious.
Since the Companions formed the first line in the establishment of Islam and
dissemination of the lights of the Qur’an, according to the rule The cause
is like the doer, they are given a share from the rewards of all the Muslims
until the Last Day. The Muslims’ calling on them God’s peace and blessings saying,
O God, bestow blessings and peace on our master Muhammad and on his family and
Companions, shows that the Companions have shares in the rewards of all Muslims
[without causing any reduction from the Muslims’ rewards]. Just as an insignificant
characteristic in the roots of a tree takes on a great form in the branches
of trees and is larger than the largest branch, and just as a small amount at
the beginning gradually becomes a big mass, and just as a little point in the center forms a wide angle in the circumference, so too, since the Companions
formed the roots of the blessed, illustrious tree of Islam, since they were
among the leaders of the Muslim community and first in establishing their traditions,
and since they were the nearest to the center of the Sun of Prophethood and
the Lamp of Truth, their few actions become multiplied and their little service
is huge in consequence. To reach them requires to be a Companion.
Fourth aspect: The reward of a deed changes according to the circumstances
in which it is done and the purity of intention in the heart of its doer. Endeavoring
in the way of God, for example, in severe circumstances such as fear, threats
and shortage of necessary equipment, and purely for the sake of God without
aiming at any worldly profit, is much more rewarding than the same action performed
in a free and promising atmosphere.
The Companions accepted and defended the religion of God in the severest
circumstances of all times. The opposition was extremely inflexible and unpitying.
As Abu Bakr is reported in Musamarat al-Abrar by Muhyi al-Din ibn al-‘Arabi,
to have told ‘Ali after the death of the Prophet, the early Companions did not
dare to go out except at the risk of their lives. They always feared that a
dagger would be thrust at them from the front or from behind. Only God knows
how many times they were insulted, beaten and tortured. Especially the weak
and slaves such as Bilal, ‘Ammar, and Suhayb were tortured almost to death and
the young, like Sa‘d ibn Abi Waqqas and Mus‘ab ibn ‘Umayr, were beaten,
boycotted and imprisoned by their families. None of them ever thought of
renouncing their religion, nor did they oppose God’s Messenger in any of his commands. They
forsook for the sake of God everything they had; they left their homes, their
native lands and belongings and emigrated to an-other land. The believers of
Madina welcomed them enthusiastically and protected them; they shared with them
everything they had. They fulfilled their covenant with God willingly; sold
their goods and souls to God in exchange for belief and Paradise, and never
broke their word. This gained them so high a rank in the view of God that no
one can attain it until the Last Day.
The severity of circumstances, along with other factors mentioned and unmentioned,
made the Companions’ belief strong and firm beyond compare. To cite an example,
God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, once entered the mosque and
saw Harith ibn Malik sleeping there. He woke him up. Harith asked: ‘May my father
and mother be sacrificed for your sake, O Messenger of God! I am ready to carry
out your orders!’ God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, asked him
how he had spent the night. Harith answered: ‘I have spent the night as a true
believer.’ The Messenger asked again: ‘Everything which is true must have a
truth (proving it). What is the truth of your belief?’ Harith replied: ‘I fasted
during the day, and prayed to my Lord in utmost sincerity all night long. Now
I am in a state as if I were seeing the Throne of my God and the recreation
of the people of Paradise in Paradise’. The Messenger, upon him be peace and
blessings, concluded: ‘You have become an embodiment of belief’ .
The Companions became so near to God that ‘God was their eyes with which
they saw, their ears with which they heard, their tongues with which they spoke
and their hands with which they held.’
1. Haythami, Majma‘ al-Zawa’id, 1.57; Hindi, Kanz al-‘Ummal, 13.353.