It is unanimously agreed upon, by historians, legal specialists and theologians of all groups, that the Prophet himself never commanded his followers to celebrate his birthday, nor was this practice known for the first few centuries of Islam. Therefore, the question arises as to how this practice was instituted and who were the first group to think of the idea of celebrating the birthday of the Prophet .
The Origin of the Mawlid
The first mention ever made of the mawlid celebrations in any historical work comes in the writings of Jamāl al-Dīn Ibn al-Ma’mūn, who died 587 AH/1192 CE. His father was the Grand Vizier for the Fatimid Caliph al-Amir (ruled 494-524 AH/1101-1130 CE). Although the work of Ibn al-Ma’mūn is now lost, many parts of it were quoted by later scholars, in particular the most famous medieval historian of Egypt, al-Maqrīzi (d. 845/1442) in his monumental Mawā’īẓ al-i’tibār fī khiṭaṭ Miṣr wa-l-amṣār (shortened to the Khiṭaṭ). Al-Maqrīzi’s book is the standard source of information for Fatimid and early Mamlūk Egypt. What makes this work stand out above many others is not only its comprehensiveness, but also the fact that al-Maqrīzī quotes from many earlier references that are now lost, and also takes great care to cite his source, a practice very rare for the time.
Al-Maqrīzī relies upon the work of Ibn al-Ma’mūn for information regarding the social, political and religious policies of the Fatimids during the early part of the sixth century, which was the period that Ibn al-Ma’mūn’s father worked for the Fatimid Caliph. Due to the high position that his father enjoyed, Ibn al-Ma’mūn provided many details that outside historians could not possibly have been privy to.
Before proceeding, it is important to point out some facts regarding the Fatimid dynasty. This dynasty had established itself as a rival dynasty to the Abbasids in Baghdad. They had conquered Egypt in 358 AH/969 CE, and established the modern city of Cairo. They claimed descent from the Family of the Prophet (a claim that all others deemed to be fabricated), and followed the Sevener Branch of Shi’ite Islam, also known as ‘Ismailism’. Their beliefs and customs were so different from other branches of Islam that all Sunnis and even many other non-Ismaili Shi’ite groups deemed them outside the fold of the religion. The Ismailis had reinterpreted the five pillars of Islam to such a level that they would not conform to the regular rituals that other Muslims are accustomed to (such as the five daily prayers). The intellectual (and at times even biological) descendants of the Fatimid caliphs in our times are many. In particular, the Ismaili Aga Khan Imams and the Bohri Imams both trace their direct lineage to the Fatimid caliphs, and the group known as the Druze also are an offshoot of the Fatimid dynasty. It was this dynasty that first initiated the celebration of the mawlid.
To return to our topic, Al-Maqrizi, in his Khiṭaṭ, quotes Ibn al-Ma’mūn as follows, writing about the events of the year 517 A.H.:
Next, the month of Rabī’ al-Awwal arrived, and we shall begin [the events of this month] by mentioning the thing for which it has become famous, namely, the birthday of the Master of the first and last, Muhammad, on the thirteen [sic.] day. And by way of charity, the Caliph presented 6000 dirhams from the fund of najāwa [an Ismailite tithe], and from the dar al-fitra he presented 40 dishes of pastry, and from the chambers of the trustees and caretakers of the mausoleums that lie between the Hill and Qarafa, where the Al al-Bayt lie, he gave sugar, almonds, honey, and sesame oil [as a gift] to each mausoleum. And [his Vizier] took charge of distributing 400 pounds (ratl) of sweets, and 1000 pounds of bread.
The wording of the paragraph clearly suggests that the mawlid was a clearly established practiced by this time.
Another early source that mentions the mawlid is the work of Ibn al-Ṭuwayr (d. 617/1220), in his work Nuzhat al-Muqlatayn fī Akhbārt al-Dawlatayn. Ibn al-Ṭuwayr worked as a secretary for the Fatimid dynasty, and witnessed the change of power from the Fatimids to the Ayyubids, at the hand of Salaḥ al-Dīn al-Ayyūbi, which occurred 567/1071. His skills were so appreciated that he ended up working for the government of Ṣalāh al-Dīn as well. Ibn al-Ṭuwayr also describes the pageantry and pomp associated with the mawlid. He describes in detail [see: Nuzhat, p. 217-219] the large amounts of foods that were distributed on this day, especially around the famous mausoleums of Cairo (some of which would have been considered by the Fatimids as being those of their Imams). The focus of the pageantry, of course, was the palace of the Caliph, and only the elite would get to attend. The celebrations of the day worked their way up to the appearance of the Caliph (who was the living Imam for the Ismailites) from a palace window, his face covered in a turban. He himself would not deign to speak – rather, his private attendants would signal to the audience that the Caliph had returned their greetings and seen their love for him. From the courtyard pavilion various reciters and preachers would address the audience, finally culminating in the address of the khatib of the Azhar Masjid (which of course, at that time, was the epitome of Ismaili academics).
The mawlid was not the only celebration that was sponsored by the Fatimids. Al-Maqrīzi, in his Khiṭaṭ [vol. 1, p. 490], has an entire section dedicated to Fatimid holidays. He writes, under a chapter heading entitled, “The mentioning of the days that the Fatimid Caliphs took as celebrations and festivals throughout the year, upon which the situation of the people would be improved and their benefits increased,”
The Fatimid Caliphs had, throughout the year, a number of festivals and celebrations. These were: 1. New Year’s Eve, 2. Beginning of the year celebrations, 3. The Day of ‘Āshūrā’, 4. The birthday of the Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam, 5. The birthday of ‘Alī, 6. The birthday of al-Ḥasan, 7. The birthday of al-Husayn, 8. The birthday of Fāṭima al-Zahrā’, 9. The birthday of the current Caliph, 10. The first day of Rajab, 11. The fifteenth day of Rajab, 12. The first day of Sha’bān, 13. The fifteenth day of Sha’bān, 14. The festival of Ramaḍān, 15. the first day of Ramaḍān, 16. The middle of Ramaḍān, 17. The end of Ramaḍān, 18. The Night of the Khatm, 19. The Day of Eid al-Fitr, 20. The Day of Eid of Sacrifice, 21. The Day of Eid al-Ghadīr, 22. The ‘Cloth of Winter’, 23. The ‘Cloth of Summer’, 24. The Day of the ‘Conquest of the Peninsula’, 25. The Day of Nawrūz [Persian festival], 26. The Day of Veneration [Christian], 27. Christmas [Christian], 28 Lent [Christian]
As can be seen, the Fatimids loved their celebrations! The reason why they had so many celebrations is obvious, and is hinted at by al-Maqrīzi in his title. As the main rival to the ‘Abbāsid dynasty, the Fatimids were desperate to try to legitimize their rule in the eyes of the masses, and one of the ways to do so was to shower them with gifts on these days, and to provide an outlet for them to be merry and enjoy. Al-Maqrīzi mentions in detail the types of gifts that would be showered on the people on each of these days, sometimes exotic dishes of meat and bread, most of the time pastries and sweets, and even (on the ‘Cloth’ days) special types of clothes. Anyone who has been to Cairo can attest to the pomp of Fatimid structures, but it wasn’t only through architecture that the Fatimids wished to prove their superiority over the Abbasids.
Another thing to note is that there are many pagan festivals listed as well, for the Zoroastrian and Christian citizens. All of this was done to appease these minorities and prevent them from rebelling against the stage.
A number of factors need to be discussed here.
1) From the above, it appears that the Faṭimids instituted a number of key yearly celebrations, all of which involved much pomp and pageantry. The primary celebrations were the mawlids of the Prophet and Imams, and also the celebration of the day of Ghadīr Khumm (the day that Shi’ites of all stripes believe the Prophet designated ‘Alī b. Abī Ṭālib to be the heir apparent). As mentioned earlier, the primary purpose of so much pageantry was to ingratiate themselves with the masses. Such public celebrations would have been anticipated as public holidays, and as days to revel and enjoy good food and sweets, compliments of the government.
2) We can also venture a rough guess regarding the era that the mawlid was introduced. Without any other sources, it is impossible to reconstruct a precise date on which the Faṭimids initiated the mawlid. However, recall that al-Maqrizī’s history (the Khiṭat) is merely a compilation of numerous histories that are now missing. Many of these histories, such as those of Ibn al-Ma’mūn and Ibn Ṭuwayr, were written by eyewitnesses. Modern scholars have analyzed the sources of al-Maqrīzi’s history, and shown that for each era, al-Maqrizī relied on specific authors. For events of the third, fourth and fifth centuries, al-Maqrizī took from authors of other works; it was only for events of the sixth century that he quoted Ibn al-Ma’mūn. Therefore, since the first suggestion of the mawlid occurs in the chronicles of Ibn al-Ma’mūn, we can safely venture the hypothesis that the mawlid was first celebrated around the turn of the sixth hijrī century.
3) All of the mawlids introduced by the Fatimids centered around the Family of the Prophet, except for the mawlid of the Prophet himself. The Shi’ite nature of the Fatimid Dynasty, along with the other celebrations that were practiced, makes it quite clear that the entire concept of celebrating birthdays was a Shi’īte one aimed at exalting the status of the Imams. In fact, these source books mention that on the days of these other mawlids, most of the ceremonies took place around the mausoleums and graves of the Fatimids, and it was at these places where much of the food was distributed. Hence, the Fatimids clearly wished to promote the cult of the Imams and ‘Ahl al-Bayt’, and aggrandize their religious figures. When the Fatimid dynasty collapsed, the other mawlids were simply forgotten, as they held no significance for Sunnis, but the mawlid of the Prophet continued. In other words, the mawlid was originally an Isma’ili Shi’ite festival, even though eventually it lost the tarnish of its Shi’ite origins.
4) The earliest reference (that of Ibn al-Ma’mūn) specifically states that the mawlid was celebrated on the 13th of Rabi’ al-Awwal. Scholars have said that this is either an error (and what proves this is that the later Ibn al-Ṭuwayr correctly writes that it was celebrated on the 12th of Rabī’ al-Awwal), or that it was initially instituted on the 13th, but within a generation was changed to the 12th. In either case, by the middle of the sixth century, the mawlid was an official holiday in Fatimid Egypt.
The question then arises: how did the mawlid spread to Sunni lands, and who was the first to introduce it to lands East and West of Fatimid Egypt? That shall be the topic of the third and final part to this article, insha Allah.
 The modern Egyptian author Hasan al-Sandubi, in the only monograph in Arabic on the subject, suggests that th Fatimid Caliph al-Mu’izz was the first to initiate this celebration, but there is absolutely no evidence that he brings to back this claim. Al-Mu’izz ruled from 341 to 365 A.H.
 See the editor’s introduction to Nuzhat al-Muqlatayn, p. 3, where he lists al-Maqrizī’s sources for every era.
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Every Muslim knows the Kaaba, but did you know the Kaaba has been reconstructed several times? The Kaaba that we see today is not exactly the same structure that was constructed by Prophets Ibrahim and Ismail, may the peace and blessings of Allāh be upon them. From time to time, it has needed rebuilding after natural and man-made disasters.
Watch to learn ten things that most people may not know about the Ka’aba, based on the full article Ten Things You Didn’t Know About the Ka’aba.
Emotional Intelligence: A Tool for Change
Why do we consider emotional intelligence to be half of the Prophetic intellect? The answer lies in the word “messenger.” Messengers of Allah are tasked with the divine responsibility of conveying to humanity the keys to their salvation. They are not only tasked with passing on the message but also with being a living example of that message.
When ʿĀʾishah, the wife of the Prophet ﷺ, was asked to explain the character of the blessed Prophet ﷺ, her reply was, “His character was the Qurʾān.” We are giving emotional intelligence a place of primacy in the construct of Prophetic intelligence because it seems implausible that Allah would send a messenger without providing that messenger with the means necessary to exemplify and transmit the message to others. If the Prophets of Allah did not have the necessary knowledge and skills needed to successfully pass on the message to the next generation, the argument would be incomplete. People could easily excuse themselves of all accountability because the message was never conveyed.
We also see clear examples in the Qur’ān that this knowledge was being perpetually perfected in the character of the Prophet ﷺ. Slight slips in his Emotional Intelligence were rare, but when they did occur, Allah gently addressed the mistake by means of revelation. Allah says in the Qurʾān, “If you (O Muḥammad) were harsh and hardhearted, then the people would flee from you.” This verse clearly placed the burden of keeping an audience upon the shoulders of the Prophet ﷺ. What this means is that the Prophet ﷺ had to be aware of what would push people away; he had to know what would create cognitive and emotional barriers to receptivity. When we study the shamāʾil (books about his character), we find that he was beyond exceptional in his ability to make people receptive. He took great care in studying the people around him and deeply understanding them. Only after the Prophet ﷺ had exhausted all the means of removing barriers to receptivity would the responsibility to affirm the message be shifted to those called to it.
Another example of this Prophetic responsibility can be found in the story of Prophet Mūsa when he was commissioned to call Pharaoh and the children of Israel to Allah. When Allah informed him of the task he was chosen for, he immediately attempted to excuse himself because he had a slight speech impediment. He knew that his speech impediment could potentially affect the receptivity of people to the message. He felt that this disqualified him from being a Prophet. He also felt that the act of manslaughter he committed might come between the people and guidance. All of these examples show that Allah’s Prophets understood that many factors can affect a person’s receptivity to learning something new, especially when the implications of that new information call into question almost every aspect of a person’s identity. History tells us that initially, people did not accept the message of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ; they completely rejected him and accused him of being a liar.
One particular incident shows very clearly that he ﷺ understood how necessary it was for him to remove any cognitive or emotional barriers that existed between him and his community. When the people of his hometown of Makkah had almost completely rejected him, he felt that it was time to turn his attention to a neighboring town. The city of Ṭā’if was a major city and the Prophet ﷺ was hopeful that perhaps they would be receptive to the message. Unfortunately, they completely rejected him and refused to even listen to what he had to say. They chased him out of town, throwing stones at him until his injuries left him completely covered in blood. Barely making it outside the city, the Prophet ﷺ collapsed. Too weak to move, he turned his attention to his Lord and made one of the most powerful supplications made by a Prophet of Allah.
“اللهم إليك أشكو ضعف قوتي، وقلة حيلتي، وهواني على الناس، يا أرحم الراحمين، أنت أنت رب المستضعفين وأنت ربي، إلى من تكلني؟ إلى عدو يتجهمني؟ أو إلى قريب ملكته أمري؟ إن لم يكن بك علي غضب فلا أبالي، غير أن عافيتك أوسع لي، أعوذ بنور وجهك الذي أشرقت له الظلمات، وصلح عليه أمر الدنيا والآخرة، من أن ينزل بي غضبك، أو يحل علي سخطك، لك العتبى حتى ترضى، ولا حول ولا قوة إلا بك”
“Oh Allah, only to You do I complain about my lack of strength, my insufficient strategies, and lowliness in the sight of the people. You are my Lord. To whom do you turn me over? Someone distant from me who will forsake me? Or have you placed my affair in the hands of my enemy? ”
The Prophet ﷺ felt that he was the reason why the people were not accepting the message. His concern that “my low status in the eyes of the people,” informs us that he understood that people naturally judge the seriousness of a message based on the stature of the message bearer. The people of Ṭā’if were extremely ignorant, so much that they adamantly refused to enter into any dialogue. In reality, this was not due to any shortcoming of the Prophet ﷺ; he demonstrated the best of character and displayed extreme patience in the face of such ignorance. But the beginning of the supplication teaches us what he was focused on: making sure that he was not the reason why someone did not accept the message.
Because his message was not geographically restricted like that of other Prophets, those who inherited the message would have the extra burden of transferring the message to a people with whom they were unfamiliar. The intelligence needed to pass the message of the Prophet Muḥammad ﷺ around the world included an understanding of the cultural differences that occur between people. Without this understanding effective communication and passing on of his message would be impossible.
A sharp Emotional Intelligence is built upon the development of both intra- and interpersonal intelligence. These intelligences are the backbone of EQ and they provide a person with emotional awareness and understanding of his or her own self, an empathic understanding of others, and the ability needed to communicate effectively and cause change. Emotional Intelligence by itself is not sufficient for individual reform or societal reform; instead, it is only one part of the puzzle. The ʿaql or intellect that is referenced repeatedly in the Qurʾān is a more comprehensive tool that not only recognizes how to understand the psychological and emotional aspects of people but recognizes morally upright and sound behavior. After that this intellect, if healthy and mature, forces a person to conform to that standard. Therefore, we understand the ʿaql to be a comprehensive collection of intelligences analogous to Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences theory.
Taking into consideration the extreme diversity found within Western Muslim communities, we see how both Moral Intelligence and Emotional Intelligence are needed. Fostering and nurturing healthy communities requires that we understand how people receive our messages. This is the interpersonal intelligence aspect of EQ. Without grounding the moral component of our community, diversity can lead to what some contemporary moral theorists call moral plasticity, a phenomenon where concrete understandings of good and evil, right and wrong, are lost. Moral Education (Moral Education, which will be discussed throughout the book, is the process of building a Morally Intelligent heart) focuses on correcting the message that we are communicating to the world; in other words, Moral Intelligence helps us maintain our ideals and live by them, while Emotional Intelligence ensures that the message is effectively communicated to others.
My father would often tell me, “It’s not what you say, son; it’s what they hear.”
Interpersonal understanding is the core of emotional intelligence. My father would often tell me, “It’s not what you say, son; it’s what they hear.” From the perspective of Emotional Intelligence, this statement is very accurate. The way we interpret words, body language, verbal inflections, and facial expressions is based on many different factors. The subtle power of this book lies in the simple fact that your emotional intelligence is the primary agent of change and thus the most powerful force you have. You must understand how people perceive what you are communicating to them. What is missing from my father’s statement is the primacy of Moral Intelligence. Throughout this book, I attempt to show how the Prophet Muḥammad ﷺ demonstrated a level of perfection of both of these intelligences.
*With the Heart in Mind is available for pre-order at https://www.qalam.foundation/qalambooks/with-the-heart-in-mind
Bayhaqī, Shuʿb al-ʾĪmān, vol. 3, p. 23.
 Ibn Kathir, al-Bidāyah wa al-Nihāyah, vol. 3, p. 136.
The Languages of the Sahaba
Arabs – during the time of the revelation- were known as an illiterate nation for whom the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was sent from among themselves. Yet, there are instances in the prophetic hadiths that draw attention to some literate companions who were even able to speak and write in more than one tongue. In this article, we shed light at samples of the companions who were multilingual.
The Prophetic stand towards foreign languages:
One hadith is well known among current Muslims in which the Prophet ﷺ says: “Whoever learns a language of a people (other than Arabic), he becomes safe from their wickedness”. Although this saying is well known among Muslims, the fact is that it is not a hadith of the Prophet ﷺ. Hadith scholars say it is root-less, fabricated, but its meaning is sound. Another fabricated hadith is the one that goes “Seek knowledge even in China”. Some people deduce that one cannot seek knowledge in China without being able to communicate with the Chinse in their own language.
Although these two fabricated hadiths are well known, there is no real need for them to establish the importance of learning a foreign language as perceived by the Prophet ﷺ and the companions in their dealings. After all, the Prophet’s tradition (Sunnah) is not just verbal hadiths; it includes his dealings and actions. Prophet Muhammad ﷺ is known to have used messengers to carry his messages to kings and emperors after the 6th year of Hijra. He sent Hatib ibn Abi Baltaa to Egypt because he was knowledgeable about Greek that was spoken by the rulers in Egypt at that time. He also sent Jaafar Ibn Abi Talib to the king of Abyssinia, because Jaafaar learned their tongue while he was there in the first Hijra, where he spent more than 10 years there. The Prophet ﷺ even ordered some of his companions to learn the tongue of the Jews so as to translate for him the messages they used to send to him.
In addition, he ﷺ used very few non-Arabic words in his hadiths that were known to his interlocutors. In Al Bukhari, Um Khalid (the daughter of Khalid bin Sa`id) who was a very young child narrated “I went to Allah’s Messenger ﷺ with my father and I was wearing a yellow shirt. Allah’s Messenger ﷺ said, “Sanah, Sanah!” (`Abdullah, the narrator, said that ‘Sanah’ meant ‘good’ in the Ethiopian language). I then started playing with the seal of Prophethood (in between the Prophet’s shoulders) and my father rebuked me harshly for that. Allah’s Messenger ﷺ said. “Leave her,” and then Allah’s Messenger ﷺ (invoked Allah to grant me a long life) by saying (thrice), “Wear this dress till it is worn out and then wear it till it is worn out, and then wear it till it is worn out.” (The narrator adds, “It is said that she lived for a long period, wearing that (yellow) dress till its color became dark because of long wear.”)
In another hadith, The Prophet ﷺ said, “Near the establishment of the Hour, there will be the days of Al-Harj, and the religious knowledge will be taken away (vanish i.e. by the death of Religious scholars) and general ignorance will spread.” Abu Musa said, “Al-Harj, in the Ethiopian language, means killing.”
These rare instances of using non-Arabic words in the Prophet’s speech do not mean that he knew foreign languages. Rather, it means that he knew a few words that were known to most people to whom he spoke. He used them for recreation purposes (the case of Um Khalid), or for drawing attention to the importance of the idea (the case of Abu Musa).
- Abu Huraira:
There different instances where Abu Huraira spoke Faris (Persian). In Al Bukhari, Hilal ibn Usamah quoted Abu Maimunah Salma, a client of the people of Madinah, as saying:
While I was sitting with Abu Huraira, a Persian woman came to him along with a son of hers. She had been divorced by her husband and they both wanted custody. She said: Abu Huraira, speaking to him in Persian, my husband wishes to take my son away. Abu Huraira said: Cast lots for him, saying it to her in a foreign language. Her husband came and asked: Who is disputing with me about my son?
Abu Huraira said: O Allah, I do not say this, except that I heard a woman who came to the Messenger of Allah ﷺ while I was sitting with him, and she said: My husband wishes to take away my son, Messenger of Allah, and he draws water for me from the well of Abu Anabah, and he has been good to me. The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: Cast lots for him. Her husband said: Who is disputing with me about my son?
The Prophet ﷺ said to the boy: This is your father and this your mother, so take whichever of them you wish by the hand. So he took his mother’s hand and she went away with him.
In addition to Persian, Abu Huraira is reported to have spoken in Abyssinian. In Al Bukhari, Abu Salama narrated that ‘Abd al-Rahman bin ‘Auf reported Allah’s Messenger ﷺ as saying:
There is no transitive disease, but he is also reported to have said: A sick person should not be taken to one who is healthy. Abu Salama said that Abu Huraira used to narrate these two (different hadiths) from Allah’s Messenger ﷺ, but afterwards Abu Huraira became silent on these words:” There is no transitive disease,” but he stuck to this that the sick person should not be taken to one who is healthy. Harith b. Abu Dhubab (and he was the first cousin of Abu Huraira) said: Abu Huraira, I used to hear from you that you narrated to us along with this hadith and the other one also (there is no transitive disease), but now you observe silence about it. You used to say that Allah’s Messenger ﷺ said: There is no transitive disease. Abu Huraira denied having any knowledge of that, but he said that the sick camel should not be taken to the healthy one. Harith, however, did not agree with him, which irritated Abu Huraira and he said to him some words in the Abyssinian language. He said to Harith: Do you know what I said to you? He said: No. Abu Huraira said: I simply denied having said it. Abu Salama said: By my life, Abu Huraira in fact used to report Allah’s Messenger ﷺ having said: There is no transitive disease. I do not know whether Abu Huraira has forgotten it or he deemed it an abrogated statement in the light of the other one.
So, while Abu Huraira used Persian in the first Hadith for communication purposes, he used Abyssinian in the second for expressing his anger. Did he try to conceal his anger by holding his tongue in Arabic, and releasing it in a foreign language? This may be the case.
- Zaid ibn Thabit:
Zaid is known as on the geniuses of the companions. He was the one entitled with the responsibility of collecting the Quran during the time of Abi Bakr and the time of Othman Ibn Affan. He tells us about how the Prophet (ﷺ) ordered him to learn a foreign language.
Narrated Zayd ibn Thabit: The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) ordered me (to learn the writing of the Jews), so I learned for him the writing of the Jews. He said: I swear by Allah, I do not trust Jews in respect of writing for me. So I learned it, and only a fortnight passed before I mastered it. I would write for him when he wrote (to them), and read to him when something was written to him.
The hadith indicates that Zaid learnt Syriac/ Aramaic which the Jews used in their writings. Zaid states that only 15 days were enough for him to master the language. It seems that Zaid focused more on the orthographic system rather than the phonic system because he does not tell us about instances where he used Syriac/ Aramaic in speaking.
- Salman The Persian:
As Salman was a native speaker of Persian, he was the first choice for the companions when they wanted to communicate with Persians. Narrated Abu Al-Bakhtari: “An Army from the armies of the Muslims, whose commander was Salman Al-Farisi, besieged one of the Persian castles. They said: ‘O Abu ‘Abdullah! Should we charge them?’ He said: ‘Leave me to call them (to Islam) as I heard the Messenger of Allah ﷺ call them.’
So Salman went to them and said: ‘I am only a man from among you, a Persian, and you see that the Arabs obey me. If you become Muslims then you will have the likes of what we have, and from you will be required that which is required from us. If you refuse and keep your religion, then we will leave you to it, and you will give us the Jizyah from your hands while you are submissive.’ He said to them in Persian: ‘And you are other than praiseworthy and if you refuse then we will equally resist you.’ They said: ‘We will not give you the Jizyah, we will fight you instead.’ So they said: ‘O Abu ‘Abdullah! Should we charge them?’ He said: ‘No.'” He said: “So for three days he called them to the same (things), and then he said: ‘Charge them.'” He said: “So we charged them, and we conquered the castle.”
We can deduce from the story of Salman that in seeking the last prophet, he knew some other languages, especially Syriac/ Aramaic as he used to serve Jewish and Christian monks and read their books. It is also narrated that a group of Persians asked Salman to translate the opening chapter of the Quran (Al Fatiha) for them to be able to understand its meaning. It is reported that he translated it or part of it. If this is true, then Salman would be the first translator of the meanings of the Quran –or part of it- in history.
- ‘Abdur-Rahman bin Hatib
Although we know very little about ‘Abdur-Rahman bin Hatib , he is reported in Al Bukhari to have saved a non-Arab woman from the punishment for adultery. It was during the reign of Uman Ibn Al Khattab that a Persian woman was forced to commit adultery. She came to Umar, and ‘Umar said in the presence of ‘Ali, ‘Abdur-Rahman, and ‘Uthman, “What is this woman saying?” (the woman was non-Arab) ‘Abdur-Rahman bin Hatib said: “She is informing you about her companion who has committed illegal sexual intercourse with her.” Umar realized that she didn’t know that adultery was prohibited in Islam and that she was complaining from her companion who forced her to commit it. So Umar released her.
- Abu Jamra Al Basri
Abu Jamra is not one of the companions. He is one of the Tabieen (followers). He used to keep the company of Ibn Abbas, and while Ibn Abbas is known as the turjuman (interpreter) of the Quran, Abu Jamra was the inter-lingual interpreter of Ibn Abbas. Abu Jamar said – as narrated in Al Bukhari, “I was an interpreter between Ibn ‘Abbas and the people.” Based on four instances of using translators (The Roman translator at the palace of Heraclius in Abu Sufian’s account, the hadith by Zaid ibn Thabit, the account of Abdur-Rahman ibn Hatib and the account of Abu Jamara), Al-Bukhari commented that “a ruler should have two interpreters.”
These are just some instances of companions and followers who are narrated to have spoken or written in foreign languages. It is strongly believed that there were numerous cases of other bilingual transactions in the early Muslim community, but they were not recorded as they were not relevant to religious matters. Learning foreign languages then is deeply rooted in the Islamic tradition, and we do not need to go to China to prove this.
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