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Abu Eesa Niamatullah | The Messenger Was Born

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By Abu Eesa Niamatullah (Cross-posted from AE’s personal blog)

At a time when many Muslims will be debating the definitions of bid‘ah and the condemnation of people based upon whether they don’t celebrate the ‘Eed Milād’l-Nabi or do, where some will find excuse to mix and party and others will find reason to have a quiet reflective moment, perhaps it would be pertinent to remind ourselves exactly what this debate is all really about. The blessed Prophet and Messenger Sayyidina Muhammad (sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) was understood to have been born in the early half of the current month Rabī’l-Awwal in the year 570 or 571 CE.

There is not a single piece of evidence that categorically establishes the exact date of birth and indeed this was never an issue for the early scholars due to their lack of celebrating the particular birthday of the Prophet (‘alayhi-salātullāh). As one of my teachers used to say, “Why do people find this strange? I was born in the 20th Century and my family still have no idea when I was born, not even the year!” What is known for sure though is that the Prophet (sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) was born on a Monday and is indeed perhaps one of the reasons he fasted on a Monday as he (sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) stated and as collected in Sahīh Muslim.

We likewise fast on Mondays in celebration of his Sunnah. Yet within the discussion surrounding the birth of the Prophet, many people don’t get further than either the fact that we simply fast on a Monday as a result of it or on the other side, hold celebratory functions in which devotional songs are recited. Perhaps both parties would do well to not miss the wood for the trees and reflect upon an individual who simply cannot be reduced to a Mawlid gathering or a chain email warning of deathly innovation. Thus let us start and look at who then was born that great day!

The Description of the Prophet (sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam)

Physically speaking, the Prophet Muhammad (sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) was the most handsome of people. He was of medium height, not too tall and not too short, of medium build, of white going slightly red-brown skin colour, with a completely full head of shiny black slightly curly hair that would reach to his shoulders at its longest, hair which was sometimes dyed slightly red and/or yellow, a taut neck, an extended black thick beard with a few white hairs, firm un-raised cheeks, a fine slender nose, wide white eyes with a slight reddish tinge with strikingly black pupils, a flat chest and stomach, well-statured, thick heavy hands with slightly long fingers, very soft palms, smooth large feet, no excess fat or flesh on the heels, and a gait of one leaning slightly forward when he walked. May Allah jalla wa ‘alā bless and bestow peace upon him. He had a large back, broad shoulders, in between which slightly to the left one could see the Seal of Prophethood – a slightly raised piece of skin with a small grouping of hair. May Allah jalla wa ‘alā bless and bestow peace upon him.

When he met people, he would turn his whole body to meet them. He was the first to greet people, having a wide smile, with a face that was immersed in blessed light that shone and radiated like a bright moon. He had a firm handshake which he would not let go of until the other person let go yet at the same time was so gentle that if a small girl was to take his hand and lead him around the town, he would follow in tow. It was difficult for people to compose themselves in his presence due to the sheer awe of his countenance and the shock of how handsome he was. His gravitas and presence was such that despite his medium height, he seemed taller than those surrounding him. May Allah jalla wa ‘alā bless and bestow peace upon him.

He would love to wear cotton shirts, some similar to a thawb, short and long but never below the ankles, sometimes short-sleeved so that one could see his white clean arm-pits and sometimes long to his wrists. He disliked woollen garments except for the occasional use of a woollen over-garment, mostly white yet sometimes colourful garments particularly striped, sometimes red-striped, but never wore anything saffron in colour. He would wear a turban, sometimes a two-piece outfit with a sarong type lower garment, and would accept and wear the clothes of foreigners given to him as a gift. May Allah jalla wa ‘alā bless and bestow peace upon him.

The Demeanour of the Prophet (sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) He was always cheerful, of mild temperament and easy going, yet at the same time reflective and would spend much of his time looking down at the ground in contemplation. When he spoke, those sitting around him were so still that it seemed that birds were perched on their heads. When he fell silent, they talked but never argued in his presence. May Allah jalla wa ‘alā bless and bestow peace upon him.

He was neither rude nor coarse and did not shout or utter obscenities. His did not find fault with others nor lavishly praise them. He did not interrupt another’s speech. He would interact with those who sat with him in the best of ways: he would never frown at them, treat them harshly or turn away from them, he would not point out slips of the tongue nor reprimand one for any coarseness in speech or the likes, and he would make excuses for them as much as possible. Whoever mixed with him would think that he was the most beloved person to him due to the attention he received, his kindness and the sincere advice he was given. May Allah jalla wa ‘alā bless and bestow peace upon him. He would honour the leader of every people and put them in charge of their affairs. He would show respect to the people of nobility and excellence and he would divide his time amongst them in accordance to their religiosity, yet there wasn’t a soul who felt they were not able to approach him due to his humility and welcoming nature. He gave everyone who sat with him his due share such that none thought that another was more honoured than he. If any person sat with him or near him to ask of him, he was tolerant and remained so until that person himself turned away. When someone asked him for something he needed, he either departed with it or with some consoling words. He had the kindest and best behaviour of all people, being like a father to them. May Allah jalla wa ‘alā bless and bestow peace upon him. He was easy going, soft, close to people, he answered the calls of those who called him, judged those who required judgment, fulfilled the need of those who asked of him – never preventing them from asking him and never letting them go disappointed or empty handed. When his Companions desired a matter from him, he would agree with them and follow them; if he determined to do something, he would consult them. He would accept their good from them and overlook their mistakes. May Allah jalla wa ‘alā bless and bestow peace upon him.

He was the most truthful of people, the most honourable. The people of the earth fought him, employing all means at their disposal yet none of them ever accused him of lying. His friends and foes alike would not describe him except as the most gentle, generous and empowering individual to walk the face of the Earth. May Allah jalla wa ‘alā bless and bestow peace upon him. His generosity did not come about through effort, neither was it hard upon him, rather it naturally arose due to the purity of his soul and gentleness of spirit. He had the most giving of hearts by virtue of the righteousness of his spirit and the great good contained therein. Kindness would pour out of his heart for it was enveloped in every beautiful moral and in every excellence. It is sufficient to end with the fact that the very greatest and noblest of people would all say about the Prophet Muhammad, “I have never seen anyone, before him or after him, who was comparable to him.” May Allah jalla wa ‘alā bless and bestow peace upon him.

The Right of the Prophet (sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam)

Allah jalla wa ‘alā sent him as a Prophet and a Messenger to the entirety of the worlds of Jinn and Man. He was sent as nothing but a Mercy to these worlds, one blessed with wisdom and guidance, with a criterion to establish right from wrong, truth from falsehood, and to bring the people from darkness into light. He was sent as a favour to mankind, and was sent to be followed. He was sent to be emulated and loved, to become more beloved to us than our parents and our children, even more than our own souls.

It is in his cause that we are asked to sacrifice throughout our life for, and it is through his praise that we will attain the true success in this world and the Hereafter, by ultimately achieving the love of the Divine Himself. It is his Sunnah that we study, revise, memorise and implement. We then internalise it, promote it, then teach it, defend it, protect it and die for it. At this moment then, let us revive his Sunnah by not indulging in actions contrary to it, but by reflecting on the magnificence of the one who came with it and his attempts to keep the people straight upon its path. Let us reflect upon the actions of those supreme Companions whom Allah Himself is Happy with, and the way they acted upon the Sunnah and the way they remembered their guide and master and celebrated his coming. The Messenger was born and the world became illuminated as a result of that birth. Let us celebrate, not on the 8th, not on the 12th, not this month, and not even this year, but rather every single living moment of our lives as we now start to realise that we have been blessed beyond our wildest imagination to have even known of this great man: our master and leader, Sayyidina Muhammad. May Allah jalla wa ‘alā bless and bestow peace upon him.

* All of the above is based upon authentic narrations. Please see the “Commentary to the Shamā’il al-Muhammadiyyah”, Refi Shafi, Sunnah Publications, exp. release end of 2010 insha’Allāh for further information

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Amatullah

    February 28, 2010 at 7:03 AM

    Allahumma sali alaa Muhammad wa alaa aali Muhammad!

    Being in a Muslim country where they take the Mawlid pretty seriously, I couldn’t help but think how teaching the people about Rasul Allah sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam would benefit them more than having ‘mawlid sweets’ on street corners.

    Shama’il Muhammadiyyah is also a must have book, I’m really happy they’re coming out with an authentic version in English soon inshaAllah. Baarak Allahu feekum.

    • Avatar

      abu Rumay-s.a.

      February 28, 2010 at 2:26 PM

      what do you mean “authentic version”? does that imply that there are “unauthentic” versions? I recall seeing an old version from Lahore or somewhere in that vicinity.

      • Avatar

        Amatullah

        February 28, 2010 at 2:45 PM

        well, there are a number of weak, very weak and I think some fabricated narrations in the book. The copy I have is reviewed by Shaykh Albani rahimahullah so he goes through and mentions the authenticity of each narration.

  2. Avatar

    Mirza Shahbaaz Baig

    February 28, 2010 at 7:38 AM

    Barak Allaahu feek. Jazak Allaah khayr Ismail Kamdar and Shaykh Abu Eesa.

    How do we work on reconciling these differences, as minor as celebrating mawlid, which are by age becoming a line on stone educate people in a non offensive way?

    wassalam

  3. Pingback: The Messenger Was Born | allah.eu

  4. Avatar

    N.A.S.

    February 28, 2010 at 9:51 PM

    As Salamu Alaikum,

    What an amazing reminder! Brought tears to my eyes. May Allah reward you.

  5. Avatar

    Ibn Ameen

    March 1, 2010 at 3:23 AM

    daily sunnah insyallah my brother and sister :), Jazakallah Khair.

  6. Avatar

    steve

    March 1, 2010 at 3:23 AM

    What an amazing reminder! Brought tears to my eyes. May Allah reward you

  7. Avatar

    Sadaf Farooqi

    March 3, 2010 at 11:33 PM

    This article stirred my emotions uncontrollably, the way it described our beloved Messenger [صلى الله عليه و سلم]. Jazakum Allahu khairan for publishing this beautiful description of the most beautiful person!

  8. Pingback: SMILE!: The Prophet’s Smile Seminar Resources | Qabeelat Nurayn

  9. Avatar

    Ibrar Ahmad

    December 11, 2016 at 3:56 PM

    You should consider this verse of Quran 93:11

    وَأَمَّا بِنِعْمَةِ رَبِّكَ فَحَدِّثْ

    SAHIH INTERNATIONAL
    But as for the favor of your Lord, report [it].

    YUSUF ALI
    But the bounty of the Lord – rehearse and proclaim!

    Our Prophet Peace Be Upon Him is Bllessing for Whole Universe. So Why not we need to proclaim the most valuable the Prophet Peace be Upon Him .

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Ten Things You Didn’t Know About The Kaaba- Video

Dr Muhammad Wajid Akhter

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Kaaba

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.

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Emotional Intelligence: A Tool for Change

Imam Mikaeel Smith

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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.[1]” 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? [2]

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

[1]Bayhaqī, Shuʿb al-ʾĪmān, vol. 3, p. 23.

[2] Ibn Kathir, al-Bidāyah wa al-Nihāyah, vol. 3, p. 136.

 

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The Languages of the Sahaba

Antar Abdellah

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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 raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) 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).

Bilingual Sahaba:

  1. Abu Huraira:

There different instances where Abu Huraira raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) 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 raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. ‘Abdur-Rahman bin Hatib

Although we know very little about ‘Abdur-Rahman bin Hatib raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him), 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.

  1. 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.”

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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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