The two generations succeeding the companions

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Why do the two generations succeeding the companions have an exalted place in Islam?

In the many places in it where the Qur’an praises the Companions, it also mentions the blessed generations following in their way. For example:

The Outstrippers, the first of the Emigrants and the Helpers, and those who followed them in good-doing, God is well-pleased with them and they are well-pleased with Him; and He has prepared for them gardens underneath which rivers flow, therein to dwell forever; that is the mighty triumph. (al-Tawba, 9.100)

The blessed generation succeeding the Companions must, first of all, be among those who are praised in the verse together with the Companions; like the Companions, they were well-pleased with God: Whatever came to them from God, whether good or bad, blessing or misfortune, they did not change their attitude. Conscious of their servanthood before God, they worshipped Him in deep respect and reverence. Like the Companions, again, they loved God deeply and put their trust in Him to the utmost degree. God’s Messenger praised them, saying: Good tidings for those who have seen me and believed in me, and good tidings for those who see those who saw me!193

The holy generation succeeding the Companions followed in the footsteps of the Companions and showed them due respect. They cherished no rancor and enmity against the believers and wished everyone well. In the words of the Qur’an,

As for those who came after them, they say: ‘Our Lord, forgive us and our brothers, who preceded us in belief, and put not into our hearts any rancour towards those who believe. Our Lord, surely You are the All-Gentle, the All-Compassionate.’ (al-Hashr, 59.10)

As described in the surah al-Tawbah (9. 100), this blessed generation followed the Companions in good-doing, the Arabic original of which is ihsan. In addition to its meaning explained above, that is, respect, being well-wishing and altruistic, it also means as in the hadith: Good-doing (ihsan) is that you worship God as if you were seeing Him; if, however, you do not actually see Him, surely He sees you.194 This generation came at a time when Jewish conspiracies and hypocrisy caused great dissensions among the Muslims. At that critical juncture, they protected Islam, defended it, and practised it in deep consciousness and devotion. They became the referents of the Qur’anic verse:

Our Lord, in You we trust; to You we turn; to You is the homecoming. (Al-Mumtahana, 60.4)

Among them were those who performed every night hundreds of rak‘a (cycles) of prayer, who would recite the whole of the Qur’an every two or three days, who always did their obligatory prayers in congregation in a mosque, who, like Masruq, always slept in sajda (prostration) in front of the Ka‘ba, and who did not laugh loudly during their whole lives.

Uways al-Qarani is generally regarded as the greatest among the holy generation following the Companions. Although he was old enough to have seen the Prophet, he was not in fact able to see him. One day while sitting with his Companions, God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, advised them. If you see Uways al-Qarani, ask him to pray for you.195 ‘Umar asked, during his Caliphate, those who came from the Yemen for pilgrimage about Uways. When one year he found him among the pilgrims, he requested him to pray for him. Uncomfortable at being identified, Uways was never seen again among people196 until he was martyred in the Battle of Siffin on the side of ‘Ali, the Caliph.

There were many illustrious persons among this generation, like Masruq ibn al-Ajda’, Ata’ ibn Abi Rabah, Hasan al-Basri, Muhammad ibn Sirin, ‘Ali Zayn al-‘Abidin, Qasim ibn Muhammad and Muhammad ibn Munkadir, who were peerless in knowledge, piety and righteousness. Among them, Muhammad ibn Munkadir was called al-Bakka’, the one who cries much. He cried for fear of God so profusely that once his mother said to him: ‘O son! If I had not known you since childhood, I would think that you are crying for a sin you committed. Why do you cry so profusely?’197 Muhammad ibn Munkadir cried because he was deeply conscious of God’s Majesty, of the terror of the Day of Judgment and Hell.

He was, again, crying in his death-bed. When asked why, he replied: ‘I am afraid I will be included in the meaning of the verse, Yet there will appear to them from God that they never reckoned with (al-Zumar, 39.47).’

Masruq was one of those who worshipped God very earnestly. He used to sleep in prostration before Ka‘ba. When they suggested him repose in his last illness, he answered: ‘I swear by God that if someone appeared and told me that God would not punish me at all, still I would continue to pray him with the same earnestness as before.’ He did so because he was following the lord of mankind, who, when asked why he tired himself so much with praying, answered: Shall I not become a thankful servant?

Sa‘id ibn Jubayr was among the students of Ibn ‘Abbas. He fought against Hajjaj on the side of ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Kindi. In daytime he preached Islam, and spent the night praying. When finally he was seized, he was taken to the presence of Hajjaj. On the way, they spent a night in a monastery in a big forest. Sa‘id ibn Jubayr wanted to pray to God in the forest. The soldiers let him, thinking that wild animals would tear him to pieces. Sa‘id stood in prayer. The soldiers began to watch through the window and saw wild animals gathering in a circle around Sa‘id and also watching him.

They tortured him to take the oath of allegiance to Hajjaj, but he refused saying: ‘You are in the wrong, wronging the descendants of the Prophet. I will never take the oath of allegiance to you.’ Before he was put to death, he recited the verse which we recite during the animal sacrifice:

I have turned my face to Him who originated the heavens and the earth, a man of pure faith; I am not of those who associate partners with God. (al-An‘am, 6.79)

When they turned his face to another direction than the qibla (Masjid al-Haram in Makka), he recited:

To God belong the East and the West; Whithersoever you turn, there is the Face of God. (al-Baqara, 2.115)

They struck his neck with a sword and from his lips came out: ‘There is no god but God, Muhammad is the Messenger of God’.198

It was such persons as Sa‘id ibn Jubayr, Muhammad ibn Munkadir, Masruq ibn al-Ajda’ and Uways al-Qarani and many others of the same rank, who received the Traditions from the Companions and transmitted them to succeeding generations. Among them, the following few are also worth some fuller mention to recognize that blessed generation more closely:

193. Hakim, Mustadrak, 4.86; Haythami, Majma‘, 10.20; Hindi, Kanz al-‘Ummal, 11.530

194. Bukhari, “Tafsir,” 31/2; Abu Dawud, “Sunna,” 16; Muslim, “Iman,” 5-7.

195. Muslim, “Fada’il al-Sahaba,” 223–4.

196. Muslim, “Fada’il al-Sahaba,” 223–4.

197. Abu Nu‘aym, Hilya, 3.146.

198. Abu Nu‘aym, Hilya, 4.291–5; I. Kathir, al-Bidaya, 9.117.


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