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Lessons in Staying Behind – Part 2: ‘What did Ka’b do?’

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After a long, tiresome journey, this great army has finally reached their destination. They are prepared to meet their enemy. But their leader, the leader of a nation, sits and recalls that one Companion dear to his heart is not among them.

Allah’s Apostle did not remember me till he reached Tabuk. So while he was sitting amongst the people in Tabuk, he said, ‘What did Ka’b do?’ A man from Banu Salama said, ‘O Allah’s Apostle! He has been stopped by his two Burdas (i.e. garments) and his looking at his own flanks with pride.’ Then Mu’adh bin Jabal said, ‘What a bad thing you have said! By Allah! O Allah’s Apostle! We know nothing about him but good.’ Allah’s Apostle kept silent.”

When a leader knows his followers well, and knows from among them one of good and diligence, he will also notice his absence. Although there were others who stayed behind, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) particularly mentioned Ka’b raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) out of care and seeking goodness for him as a true believer. This concern of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) for Ka’b in such a tense time, is in fact testimony to the virtue of Ka’b and his usual presence with the Muslims.

We know that our Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was a role model in every way, and leadership was no exception. It was from his custom to remember his followers, the Companions, ask about them in their absence, seeking to ensure their well-being in the affairs of this world, as well as in their faith. To carry the worries of an entire nation, as well as being in a place far away from home, in anticipation of an enemy, he remembered one man; he was truly a man of humanity.

Similar is the example of his companion, Thabit ibn Qays raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) who stayed away from the company of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), fearing that because of his loud voice, his deeds were nullified after the revelation of the second verse of Surat al-Hujurat (49:2). The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) noticed his absence, sent a messenger to seek him, and then sent him glad tidings that he was actually from the inhabitants of Paradise (Bukhari).

Scholars, community leaders, educators, and family leaders can easily have a great effect on the hearts of those under their care by simply asking about them consistently, advising them if they notice them straying and seek their well-being, particularly in the case of notable absence.

In the responses of the Companions around him, there are lessons. And in his silence to their replies, there are lessons.

The words of the first Companion who spoke were not a result of a personal grudge he had with Ka’b raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) that would have led him to find the situation an opportunity to get back at him. Neither were they words stemming from desire or pride. They were words spoken only out of ghayrah (praiseworthy protective jealousy) for this religion, in an effort to elevate the way of Allah and His Messenger, and advice to the Muslim nation as a whole.

His words are similar to those trustworthy scholars of Islam throughout the centuries, who spoke to point out a major mistake, error, or misguidance in the methodology of one of their counterparts in order to defend the religion and protect it. The truthful ones of such scholars are those who speak only in sincere advice to the Muslims, not wishing thereby to gain any personal benefit or avert from themselves personal harm.

It is a hideous mistake for us laymen to let our tongues loose in speaking about the inheritors of the prophets in ignorance, lies, mockery and for personal purposes, seeking attention, fame or attempting to lower their status and knowledge in the eyes of the Muslims.

As for the reply of Mu’adh ibn Jabal raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him), it was defense for his brother in his absence based on what he knew of him of previous good. Likewise, should be our reply in defense of our scholars and du’aat, from whom we have seen only virtue and knowledge when we see others jumping to attack them. We should not be quick to repeat every rumor spread about them, without first verifying and seeking the truth of the matter.  This is particularly applicable in our time when information, be it false of truthful, may reach thousands in a few seconds.

The Prophet’s ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) silence in this incident is evidence that he did not place blame on any of them, and that they both spoke for the sake of Allah. He ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) would not remain silent in response to a statement of falsehood.

Meanwhile, back in Madinah, Ka’b was engulfed in worry, as the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was on his way back to Madinah. How would he meet him? What would he tell him?

Kab bin Malik added, “When I heard that he (i.e. the Prophet ) was on his way back to Madinah. I became preoccupied in my concern, and began to think of false excuses, saying to myself, ‘How can I avoid his anger tomorrow?’ And I took the advice of wise member of my family in this matter. When it was said that Allah’s Apostle had come near, all the evil false excuses left my mind and I knew well that I could never come out of this problem by forging a false statement. It was then, that I decided firmly to speak the truth.

So Allah’s Apostle arrived in the morning, and whenever he returned from a journey., he used to visit the masjid first of all and offer a two-rak’at prayer therein and then sit for the people. So when he had done all that (this time), those who had failed to join the battle (of Tabuk) came and started offering (false) excuses and taking oaths before him. They were something over eighty men; Allah’s Apostle accepted the excuses they had expressed, took their pledge of allegiance asked for Allah’s forgiveness for them, and left the secrets of their hearts for Allah to judge.

The true certainty (yaqeen) and faith of Ka’b raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) illuminates this portion of his hadeeth. His faith in Allah led him to know and firmly believe that if he could escape the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) that day with a lie, he could not escape the punishment of Allah, the All-Knowing. Even if the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) believed his false excuse, Allah would be angry with him, and perhaps even revelation would descend from the heavens regarding his case, recited in the Quran until the Day of Judgment. He knew that it was Allah who heard the story of the woman who complained to the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and revealed verses about her complaint (Al-Mujadila 58:1).

Such thoughts of absolute certainty and faith, if established in our hearts, would ultimately lead us to give up everything that leads to the displeasure of Allah, even in the most dire of circumstances.

The Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) established the sunnah of starting with the masjid upon arrival from travel, praying therein 2 rak’ahs through his action as narrated in hadeeth. He would start with the House of Allah before his own, check on the affairs of the believers, then finally attend to his family.

In accepting the excuses of the hypocrites, although they were nothing but lies, our Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) taught us to only judge by what is visible to us on the outside. As for what is in the hearts, Allah is the only Judge. The rulings of this life are based on what appears to us, as for the reward or punishment of the hereafter, it is the result of what lies in the hearts.

As for the assumption of the hypocrites that they were saved by the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) seeking forgiveness for them, this forgiveness will be of no benefit to them as Allah says,

اسْتَغْفِرْ لَهُمْ أَوْ لَا تَسْتَغْفِرْ لَهُمْ إِن تَسْتَغْفِرْ لَهُمْ سَبْعِينَ مَرَّةً فَلَن يَغْفِرَ اللَّهُ لَهُمْ ۚ ذَ‌ٰلِكَ بِأَنَّهُمْ كَفَرُوا بِاللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِ ۗ وَاللَّهُ لَا يَهْدِي الْقَوْمَ الْفَاسِقِينَ

Ask forgiveness for them, [O Muhammad], or do not ask forgiveness for them. If you should ask forgiveness for them seventy times – never will Allah forgive them. That is because they disbelieved in Allah and His Messenger, and Allah does not guide the defiantly disobedient people. (al-Tawbah 9:80).

Taking into account the fact that the hypocrites seemed to get away with their excuses, would Ka’b go with the flow and take the ‘easy’ way out or would he really adhere to the truth once he faced the Prophet (sallaAllahu alayhe wasallam)?

How is our situation when we are about to speak in the presence of someone we respect, love and follow in almost their every word and deed? Would we suddenly forget that Allah hears and sees all, in an effort to please this person? Or would our love for Allah lead us to please Him alone, even if that meant the anger and annoyance of this highly esteemed person?

As for this truthful Companion, he said, “Then I decided firmly to speak the truth.”

Reflect, we shall, on our own answers until the next part, inshaAllah.

Mariam is of Middle Eastern origin, raised in North America, not quite settling in one specific place. After living up in the North of North America, she has shifted continents and currently residing in a rapidly flourishing, historical city located in the desert of Arabia. She is a recent graduate of the American Open University, with a Bachelors in Islamic Studies. She believes that regardless of where a person is, writing is a tool to reach out and express that which inspires, touches and affects them. So she writes; perhaps that which inspires her will be a source of good for at least one other person.

22 Comments

22 Comments

  1. Avatar

    MR

    May 14, 2010 at 12:58 AM

    There are three stories in the books of ahadeeth and seerah that always bring tears to my eyes. They are long, yet so touching: story of ifk, story of salman bin farsee and this story of ka’ab. So beautiful and so many lessons to learn from them! JazakiAllahu khayran.

  2. Avatar

    abu Abdullah

    May 14, 2010 at 3:10 AM

    Salamualaikum. jazak Allaah khayr. very beneficial article.

    PS either with chrome something is wrong or arabic font display here is messed up.

    • Avatar

      ali

      May 14, 2010 at 2:04 PM

      arabic font display looks fine in firefox…

      • Avatar

        AsimG

        May 18, 2010 at 3:47 AM

        2nd confirmation on the Arab text getting messed up on Chrome.

  3. Avatar

    Amatullah

    May 14, 2010 at 11:20 AM

    jazaaki Allahu khayran for this series Mariam, very beneficial.

  4. Avatar

    ali

    May 14, 2010 at 2:06 PM

    Jzakallah for this article, looking forward to the next parts

  5. Avatar

    sister

    May 14, 2010 at 6:24 PM

    jazakumallahu khairaa. Mashaallah.Our beloved prophet sallaAllahu alayhe wasallam always inquired about the missing shahabas..Subahanallah what an excellent leader!! Ka’b (radhiAllahu anhu) choose to face this in this duniya and not in aakhiraa.How much pain he would have felt all those time.May Allah cover and forgive our sins on the day of qiyamah.

  6. Avatar

    Sayf

    May 15, 2010 at 1:20 PM

    I love this series, remarkable work mash’Allah!

  7. Avatar

    Sadaf Farooqi

    May 16, 2010 at 12:48 AM

    Wonderful analysis. This series makes me introspective: how truthful am I? Would I have also told the truth before everyone, when liars and hypocrites were apparently getting away with their false excuses?

    May Allah be pleased with Ka’b Bin Malik. Ameen. I envy anyone who was loved by Allah’s Messenger [صَلى اللهُ عَليهِ وَسَلم]. Such fortunate people to have Prophet Muhammad miss their presence and ask about them!

    Jazakillahu khairan for the beautiful article, Mariam.

  8. Avatar

    Mariam E.

    May 16, 2010 at 2:24 PM

    Asalamu Alikum warahmatu Allah

    Jazakum Allah khayr for your comments. May Allah grant that we are among the truthful.

  9. Pingback: Lessons Learnt from K’ab Ibn Malik Staying Behind from Expedition to Tabuk « The lives of companions

  10. Avatar

    AsimG

    May 18, 2010 at 4:08 AM

    Asalaamu Alaykum,

    Sometimes we find ourselves in a desperate (not life or death) situation where lying would make everything easier and make all the problems go away. Without even thinking we let the lies roll off our tongue and sigh in relief when we’ve escaped.
    But what a great reminder that while we may escape the disappointment, punishment and/or anger from people in this world, we most surely have not escaped from Allah (swt) nor can we ever deceive Him.

    SubhanAllah, I’m just thinking of all that pressure that was on Ka’b’s (ra) shoulders and having to answer to greatest man ever to live while hearing person after person lie and then be forgiven. How easy would it have been to follow the crowd!

    Can’t wait for part 2 :)

  11. Avatar

    Hasan Yasir

    May 18, 2010 at 9:28 AM

    So what was spoken between Ka’b (RA) and the Prophet (SAW)? Is that the end of the hadeeth?

  12. Avatar

    Fatima

    May 26, 2010 at 6:05 AM

    Asalamu Alaikum wa rahmatullaah wa barakatahu ,
    There is no fleeing from Allah swt) but fleeing to Him , to His forgiveness and mercy
    Our Quran has the answers for every problem in life for every down fall and only throught the word of Allah swt) are we able to be uplifted ….. Alhumduillah Rabil Alaimeen , Jazakillah khayr Mariam masha’Allah great work your doing here reminding us of the reality of life in this duniah and the mercy of Allah Azza wa Jall through His beloved Prophet sallaAllahu Alayhe wa sallam

  13. Pingback: Lessons in Staying Behind – Part 3: When the Earth is Strange | MuslimMatters.org

  14. Pingback: Lessons in Staying Behind – Part 5: In Temptation, a Steady Heart | MuslimMatters.org

  15. Avatar

    Annie Ahmad

    July 15, 2010 at 12:00 AM

    As Salamu Alaikum Wa Rehmatulahi Wa Barakatuhu

    JazakAllah for this part of your article, such a thoughtful reflection.

    One should speak the truth, whatever be the consequences of it in this life, as we all believe that Allah SWT is All-Hearing and All-Seeing and we will be held accountable for our deeds in front of Allah SWT, and this life is temporary.

    We all need reminders of Allah’s mercy during these days, to keep our hopes high and faith strong. Very beautifully described the steadfastness and faith in Allah during difficult times.

    We need to learn lessons from the lives of the Noble Companions of Prophet Muhammad (sallaAllahu alayhe wasallam), may Allah SWT give us patience and strong faith in all our trials of this life. Ameen.

    I also liked, a very good and simple dua you have mentioned.

    “O Controller of the hearts, make my heart adhere firmly to Your religion.”

  16. Pingback: Lessons in Staying Behind – Part 6: ‘With Difficulty Comes Ease’ | MuslimMatters.org

  17. Pingback: পিছনে পড়ে যাওয়া থেকে প্রাপ্ত শিক্ষা- ২য় কিস্তিঃ ‘কা’ব এটা কী করল?’ (অনুবাদ) | আমার স্পন্দন

  18. Pingback: পিছনে পড়ে যাওয়া থেকে প্রাপ্ত শিক্ষা- ২য় কিস্তি: “কা’ব এটা কী করল?” (অনুবাদ) | আমার স্পন্দন

  19. Pingback: » Lessons in Staying Behind – Part 4: Unconditional Obedience

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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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