How much care did the companions show in following the sunna?
The Companions, may God be pleased with them all, were absolutely
obedient to God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, never thinking
to oppose him in any word, action or decision of his. They were so imbued
with love of the Messenger that they did their utmost to imitate him in
every step he took. This was, in fact, the order of the Qur’an, according to
which submission to the verdicts of the Messenger is something directly
related to belief:
But no, by your Lord! They will not believe till they make
you the judge in disputes between them, then they shall find in themselves
no impediment touching your verdict, but shall surrender in full submission.
The following examples are only a few out of many that show the degree of
submission the Companions showed to the Sunna.
• Shortly before his death, God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and
blessings, raised an army, and appointing ‘Usama to its command, ordered
him: Advance as far as the place where your father was martyred, and
strengthen our rule there.41
The Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, took to his bed before
the departure of the army. When ‘Usama visited him in his bed, he prayed for
him. The army was just about to set out when God’s Messenger said farewell
to the world. Abu Bakr became the Caliph. Despite the uprisings in various
parts of ‘Arabia, Abu Bakr showed no hesitation about despatching the army.
So, the Caliph Abu Bakr accompanied the army on foot to the out-skirts of
Madina and said: ‘By God, even if wolves were to attack us from all
directions, I will not lower that flag hoisted by God’s Messenger, upon him
be peace and blessings.’42
• The death of God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, shocked
the Muslims in Madina. Everybody was consumed with grief. The election held
at that critical point to choose the Caliph, caused little dissension among
the Companions. Abu Bakr shouldered a very heavy task. The army under the
command of ‘Usama was waiting to be sent. News of uprisings came from
various parts of the country. There were little groups offended at the
election of the Caliph. It was just at this juncture that Fatima, the
beloved daughter of the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, came to
Abu Bakr to demand the Prophet’s share in the land of Fadak. Abu Bakr did
not want to offend Fatima, equally he was deter-mined to remain faithful to
the Sunna. He used to say: ‘I cannot forsake anything that God’s Messenger
did.’43 He had heard something from the Messenger, which Fatima had not: We,
the community of the Prophets, do not bequeath anything. Whatever we leave,
• After the conquest of Makka, people from all parts of Arabia entered
Islam in throngs but many of those new converts were, of course, not as
devoted to Islam as the Companions in Madina. While some of them apostatized
under the leadership of false prophets such as Musaylima the Liar and
revolted against Madina, there were still others who showed signs of revolt
in refusing to pay the prescribed alms-tax. Abu Bakr did not give in to the
de-mands of any of the rebellious parties and re-established peace and
security in Arabia.
• ‘Umar, the second Caliph, was known as ‘the one who submits himself to
truth’. Unaware of the Prophet’s decree, he judged, through his own
reasoning, on the money to be paid as a recompense for cutting a finger. A
Companion opposed him, saying: ‘O Commander of the Faithful! I heard God’s
Messenger say: The blood money for both of the hands together is the same
amount as that paid for a life. So, this amount is shared out equally among
the fingers, as ten camels for each.’45 ‘Umar gave up his opinion
immediately and said to him-self: ‘O son of Hattab! How dare you judge,
through your own reasoning, on a matter God’s Messenger decreed?’
• Abu Musa al-Ash‘ari went to visit ‘Umar in the office of Caliphate. He
knocked on the door three times but there was no answer. After Abu Musa
left, ‘Umar opened the door and asked who had knocked on the door. On
discovering that it was Abu Musa al-Ash‘ari, ‘Umar sent for him and asked
why he had left. Abu Musa answered: ‘God’s Messenger said: When you visit
someone, knock on the door. If you are not allowed to enter after you knock
on it the third time, return. ‘Umar asked Abu Musa if he could bring a
witness to corroborate this hadith which he did not know. Abu Sa‘id al-Khudri
testified on behalf of Abu Musa al-Ash‘ari and ‘Umar conceded.46
• When ‘Umar was stabbed while prostrating in the mosque, they asked him
if he wanted to designate someone as his successor. ‘Umar answered: ‘If I
designate, it is true that one who is better than me did so. If I do not
designate, still it is true that one who is better than me did not do so.’47
By this, ‘Umar meant Abu Bakr and God’s Messenger respectively. ‘Umar was
certain to prefer the choice of the Messenger, upon him be peace and
blessings. However, in order to prevent a possible disagreement among the
Muslims, he left the mat-ter to a consultative committee he formed.
• When ‘Umar saw Zayd ibn Khalid al-Juhani performing a supererogatory
prayer after the afternoon prayer in mosque, he reproached him for doing
what God’s Messenger had not done. Zayd ibn Khalid responded to him: ‘Even
if you were to break my head into pieces, I will never give up this prayer
of two rak‘ah because I saw God’s Messenger perform it.’48
As reported from Umm Salama, Mother of Believers, one day God’s
Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, could not perform the
supererogatory prayer of two rak‘ah after the noon prayer because he was
busy with the expedition visiting him. He performed that prayer after the
afternoon prayer.49 Zayd ibn Khalid al-Juhani must have seen God’s Messenger
performing it then.
• The fourth Caliph ‘Ali once drank water while standing. Maysara ibn
Ya‘qub asked him critically: ‘Are you drinking while standing?’ ‘Ali
answered: ‘If I drink while standing, it is because I saw God’s Messenger do
so. If I drink while sitting, it is because I saw God’s Messenger do so.’50
Whatever the Companions witnessed in God’s Messenger, upon him be peace
and blessings, they tried to imitate it.
• A Muslim is permitted, instead of washing his feet in ritual ablution,
to wipe the upper surface of light thin-soled boots worn indoors (or inside
overshoes) with wet hands. To illustrate that it is not permissible to judge
through personal reasoning on a matter established in the Sunna, ‘Ali said:
‘If I had not seen God’s Messenger wipe the upper surface of his light
thin-soled boots, I would deem it more proper to wipe their soles.’51
• In Islam, if a man murders another by mistake, the heirs of the
murderer must pay the blood-money. ‘Umar was of the opinion that a wife
cannot inherit the blood-money due to her husband. However, Dahhak ibn Abi
Sufyan informed him that when Ashyam ibn Dibabi died, God’s Messenger gave
to his wife out of his blood-money. ‘Umar declared: ‘From now on, wives will
inherit the blood-money of their husbands.’52
• Abu ‘Ubayda ibn Jarrah was the commander of the armies fighting in
Syria. When ‘Umar went to visit him, pestilence had already broken out in
Amwas, where Abu ‘Ubayda was. Before ‘Umar entered the city, ‘Abd al-Rahman
ibn al-‘Awf warned him: ‘I heard God’s Messenger say: If you hear that
pestilence has broken out in a place, do not enter it. If you are already in
the place where pestilence has broken out, do not leave it.53 ‘Umar, so
obe-dient to the Sunna of the Prophet, therefore returned before he could
see his faithful friend for the last time before his death.
41. I. Sa‘d, Tabaqat, 2.190.
42. Suyuti, Tarikh al-Khulafa’, 74.
43. Bukhari, “Fara’id,” 3.
44. Bukhari, “Khums,” 1; Muslim, “Jihad,” 52.
45. I. Hanbal, 4.403; Hindi, Kanz al-‘Ummal, 15.118.
46. Muslim, “Adab,” 7/33; I. Hanbal, 3.19.
47. Bukhari, “Ahkam,” 51.
48. I. Hajar, Fath al-Bari’, 3.83.
49. Bukhari, “Mawaqit,” 33.
50. I. Hanbal, 1.134.
51. Abu Dawud, “Tahara,” 63.
52. Abu Dawud, “Fara’id,” 18; I. Ma’ja, “Diyat,” 12; Tirmidhi, “Fara‘id,”
53. Bukhari, “Tib,” 30; I. Athir, Usd al-Ghaba, 3.48.