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Shaykh Salman al-Oadah | The Four Imams: Leaders of a Third Way

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If we look back on the lives of the four imams – Abū Hanifah, Mālik b. Anas, al-Shāfi`ī, and Ahmad b. Hanbal – we find that they were extremely tolerant people. They were respectful of their contemporaries, predecessors and the earlier generations of Muslims, whether they agreed with their views or not. Indeed, they followed the example of their predecessors in being tolerant of differences.

Allah says: “And those who came (into the faith) after them say: Our Lord! Forgive us and our brethren who were before us in the faith, and place not in our hearts any rancour toward those who believe. Our Lord! You are full of kindness, most merciful.” [Sūrah al-Hashr: 10]

The four imams — the leading scholars who founded the four canonical schools of Islamic Law — never allowed past disagreements to cause them to disparage or raise suspicions about the people of an earlier generation who held divergent views. Likewise, they never called for an inquest of their contemporaries who disagreed with them and they never got involved in their affairs except in a positive way.

The four imams certainly disagreed with one another and with other jurists of their day, but they always maintained their calm in debate and disagreed respectfully. They never permitted others who spread their ideas to use their teachings as a source of conflict or as a means to cause division.

It could possibly be that the principle they developed, of coexistence in the face of changing political and social circumstances, came as a result of their engaging with the substantial societal changes they witnessed during the era in which they lived. They recognized a need to develop a clear and precise approach to respond to such changes.

It can be observed that none of the four imams ever accepted an official political post, not as judge nor magistrate nor anything else. At the same time, they also never constituted themselves as a political opposition. They never gave their support to the government’s political opponents, even though all four imams times suffered government persecution on account of accusations that they did. However, a close examination of the imams’ historical circumstances shows that such accusations were baseless. Instead, they were victims of the old idea: “You are either with us or against us.”

Their insistence on intellectual autonomy is what brought such suspicion upon them, along with how unscrupulous people would sometimes manipulate their statements and interpret their juristic verdicts for various political ends.

In truth, the four imams represented a third way: neither aligning themselves with the interests of those in power nor with the political opposition. This allowed them to carry out a vital leadership role of their own in maintaining social stability in a society made up of a number of contending factions: between the ruling class and the populace, as well as between a bewildering array of ideological factions and intellectual movements, not to mention ethnic and tribal differences. After all this, we can understand how they were so good at tolerating the disagreements of their colleagues among the various schools of Islamic jurisprudence!

They all kept a measured distance from the various contending elements in society while remaining fully connected to society. This made it possible for them to be a point of stability and balance, which protected Islamic civilization from a great deal of conflict, strife, and social disintegration.

The role they played in their times is all the more needed today with our widening social and class disparity and a weakened culture of tolerance, conditions that promote conflict whenever conditions are ripe for it.

The presence of an autonomous knowledge-based mediating authority is needed to act as a a source of strength for the weak and a moderating influence on the strong, to arbitrate in matters, and to impart to society the values of tolerance and mutual understanding. There is a need for those who can speak out for justice and the inalienable rights that are needed to ensure peace and security in any country, and which can prevent violent factions and extremist movements of whatever persuasion from developing.

The world contains nations where you find a strong government and an equally strong civil society. They are held together by organizing principles and their vital, political, social, and charitable institutions. This is what makes the government strong through its people and the people strong through their government.

Most Muslim countries do not enjoy this balancing of institutional power, essential for stability and continuity, which comes from the presence of mediating institutions that are widely recognized and accepted on both an official and popular level, institutions whose role is often only appreciated when their loss leads to the erosion of society.

Ideological and partisan disagreements, religious differences, and other potential sources of division do not inevitably lead to conflict and strife. Allah says in the Qur’ān: “It is He who has spread out the Earth for all His creatures.” [Sūrah al-Rahmān: 10]

Within the sphere of Islam, matters are referred back to universal principles and the legitimate needs of life that Islam upholds. When such a reference becomes impracticable due to the severity of the disagreement tor disparity of the parties involved and the matter cannot be brought to a resolution through dialogue, there still remains a broader circle for coexistence: the one of: “knowing one another” referred to in the verse: “O humankind! Lo! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that you may come to know one another.” [Sūrah al-Hujurāt: 13]

This coming to know one another, this mutual and reciprocal knowledge of the other, is the foundation for social relationships necessitating goodwill, justice, and kindness.

It is possible that through such relationships you will realize your own best interests as well as those of the people you disagree with at one and the same time. We see this in so many aspects of life: commercial dealings, in public administration, health, development, and industry.

Returning to the four imams, it needs to be pointed out that the disagreements between them in Islamic Law were nothing compared to the disagreements that existed among the Companions and Successors. Moreover, they introduced through their own juristic efforts a number of opinions that were new to their generation. Therefore, it is wrong for anyone to claim that their views abrogate the views of their predecessors and exclude all views other than theirs.

The later scholars who worked within the framework of one of the four schools of law, though they did not usually go off in an entirely independent direction, never ceased to engage in choosing between different opinions and deducing new rulings on the basis of precedent. I have studied the legal preferences of the preeminent Hanbalī jurist Ibn Qudāmah, and found that he sometimes adopted a position that was at variance to what was adopted by all four schools of thought. He did so after acknowledging and discussing all of their received opinions. His judgments in these cases are often quite erudite and impressive.

We can find similar cases among the jurists of all four schools of law. This is because the views of the Companions, Successors, and other jurists are no less important than the views of the four imams. They were also from the earliest Muslim generations and theirs is a rich and valuable legacy which has been preserved for us in works like the Musannaf of `Abd al-Razzāq, the Musannaf of Ibn Abī Shaybah, and the writings of Ibn Mundhir.

When we look at the magnitude of the changes taking place in the world today, we can appreciate the value of there being such a broad spectrum of opinion during the earliest days of Islam. Their contributions should not be ignored, since they enrich our understanding of Islamic Law. Though there may have been times in the history of Muslim civilization that such a plurality of opinion was unnecessary for society to function, our present age is certainly not one of those times.

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Siraaj is the Operations Director of MuslimMatters as well as its new lead web developer. He's spent nearly two decades working in dawah organizations, starting with his chapter MSA in Purdue University, and leading efforts with AlMaghrib Institute, MuslimMatters, and AlJumuah magazine. Somewhere in there, he finds time for his full-time profession as a software engineer in Silicon Valley. He holds a bachelor's in Computer Science from Purdue University and a Master's certificate from UC Berkeley. He's very married and has 5 wonderful children

16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Pingback: Shaykh Salman al-Oadah | The Four Imams: Leaders of a Third Way | allah.eu

  2. Avatar

    abu Yunus

    May 10, 2011 at 1:24 AM

    Neither did the imaam say that you should leave the hadeeth and follow our opinion; something which many blind-followers of madhhabs do. In fact, they said the opposite. Hence, a lot of of claimants of these madhhabs are just that, they are not actual adherents.

  3. Avatar

    Ghazala

    May 10, 2011 at 1:34 AM

    Slamu ‘alaikum wr wb

    Jazakallahu khairan for an insightful article. May Allah give all these Imams Jannatul Firdaous. But I have always wondered why the difference of opinion of these Imams exists, when everything they say be it commands or prohibitions, rulings or justifications all can be traced back to the Qur’an and Sunnah. I have asked many many people and never been satisfied with the responses.

    Also why does one have to follow just 1 Imam and not all, for example Hanafi maslak says Qasar applies after distance ‘X’, while Hambali may say, it applies after distance ‘Y’ and both can be traced back to the Prophet. Why can I not shorten my Salah, say in one situation after dis. ‘X’ and in another situation after dis. ‘Y’ ?

    Thirdly why must one follow a Maslak. Simply following the Qur’an and Sunnah should suffice. To me if the Qur’an says it or the Prophet’s Sunnah or Hadith prove it or the Ijtima of scholars agrees upon it, I do it, otherwise I don’t. I do not follow any Maslak, am I wrong in that case?

    Please respond in detail as I have asked so many people including learned ones but I cannot understand any of this for the life of me, neither can I explain it to my children.

    Barak Allahu Feekum
    Ghazala

    • Avatar

      mohammad taha

      May 10, 2011 at 7:20 AM

      even i cannot understand the difference between the imams .what could have been the reason —maybe they could’nt ,meet each other ,or their works could not be mutually compared ,surely they were not arrogant not to learn each others point of view and looking forward to reconcile.

    • Avatar

      Siraaj

      May 10, 2011 at 7:25 PM

      Salaam alaykum Ghazala,

      Often looking at the same evidences, scholars might come to different conclusions about what was meant, or whether something was a requirement or a recommendation. Throughout time, our scholars have been exposed to various intellectual influences that affect the way they process the Qur’aan and Sunnah (not a bad thing), and this can lead to different conclusions when constructing rulings.

      The differences are really not the problem – the problem is how people deal with it. When differences are respected, then the mercy in them is apparent because it reminds us that we cannot be perfect and though we are imperfect, so long as we are trying to please Allah, we can expect that our actions will be accepted.

      When differences are not respected, the mercy turns into a nightmare of broken brotherhood and hyper partisan bickering in masjids, communities, and even ethnic groups.

      Siraaj

      • Avatar

        Abu Yusuf

        May 10, 2011 at 8:43 PM

        Brother memoni has indeed made a valid point about not letting the differences of opinion bifurcate communities or even split them asunder. Lots of minor things should not even be debated (where to hold the hands during salaah, to wag the index finger or hold it firm during tashhahhud, to eat Christian meat or stick only to Muslim-slaughtered meat, etc).

        One point to note about broad spectrums of opinions is that this does not mean acceptance of the dictums of clearly deviant branches such as the Isma’eelis, Rawaafid, Nusayrites, Saint-worshipping Sufis, etc. It only means acceptance of differences of opinion within the sunni methodology and aqeedah.

        I’m curious about the author of the article though. Had not Dr. Salman Aoudah fallen into disfavor and jailed by the erudite and forbearing scholar ibn Baaz and had not his tapes been banned and distribution of his literature condemned? I hope the case has eased upon the brother and unity and halcyon days exist.

    • Avatar

      Mezba

      May 11, 2011 at 9:59 AM

      Pick whichever ruling you like according to the situation – if they are all correct it shouldn’t matter. Islam came before the madhabs anyways, and I also read when one of the Imam was visiting another imam’s house, he prayed the way the host imam said, and not according to his own ruling. When people asked, he said it was to honour his host. So if the imams can pick and choose, so should we according to our situations. Quran says in Surah Taha Islam has not come to make our lives harder.

      • Avatar

        Siraaj

        May 11, 2011 at 5:29 PM

        Salaam alaykum mezba

        They aren’t all correct. They strove to find what is correct, but that doesn’t mean they always did. They strove to understand the truth according to their capacity and teach it to others. What is accurate to say is that they are not they are not held accountable for mistakes, nor are we in following them provided our goal is to please allah.

        Statements like “Islam came to make things easy” should be placed in better context – praying 5 times daily is not easy, as musa clearly understood and tried to have the prophet get a reduction, knowing well that he majority of people would not do it (and it’s true).

        Islam is submission to Allah and not situations. If our situation allows for options, then we can exercise those options as we like, but if not, then we should be careful of scapegoating multiple opinions to avoid a little discomfort.

        Siraaj

        • Avatar

          Nahyan

          May 12, 2011 at 12:42 AM

          @Siraaj – just wanted to bold in your response: we should be careful of scapegoating multiple opinions to avoid a little discomfort.. Well put.

          @Mezba – The fuqaha are rewarded even if they concluded incorrectly and rewarded doubly for coming to the right ruling. So validity doesn’t equal “correct”.

          The switching you’re talking about must have knowledge basis (if that applies to the situation) rather than being for convenience. Then we’re kinda writing our own customized Islam. Know what I mean?

  4. Avatar

    Sajjad

    May 10, 2011 at 8:24 AM

    Salam alaykum , Sis Ghazala, You have rightly said or indicated that the way is One, i would recommened you the lecture of brother bilal philips which itself is named as the way is one…

    Please find the lecture on islamhouse.com

    Here is the link :- http://www.islamhouse.com/d/files/en/ih_sounds/single/en_The_Way_is_One.mp3

  5. Avatar

    Answer

    May 10, 2011 at 10:13 AM

    Remember, all the scholars always claimed to be following the Quran and Sunnah. Once that is established, human beings being human beings, differ and see things differently (i.e. see the same evidence differently).

    This happens to us, for example, when someone asks you to rate an abstract painting. One person thinks it’s terrible while another thinks it’s great. There is no definitive way of saying why they differ… Differences are a mercy, and a God-sent.

  6. Avatar

    F

    May 10, 2011 at 11:21 AM

    Excellent article. If one look at the history of the Muslims over the last 1000 years, many of the problems have stemmed from an improper distribution of power between the various institutions. Therefore, we end up often with the khalifa/dictator who can do whatever he wants without any checks and balances.

  7. WAJiD

    WAJiD

    May 11, 2011 at 12:36 PM

    Asalaam Alaikum,

    Whilst I very much agree with the sentiments expressed in this article (i.e. independent scholarship is vital + the principle of accepting that there is a range of acceptable differences of opinion) I just wanted to point out that this statement is not historically accurate:

    “They never gave their support to the government’s political opponents, even though all four imams times suffered government persecution on account of accusations that they did.”

    Imam Abu Hanifa financially and morally supported the Abassids against the Umayyads during the revolution that overthrew the latter for the former. Although, the point br. Siraaj makes about them not getting excessively involved stands.

    • Avatar

      Siraaj

      May 11, 2011 at 5:34 PM

      Actually, this shaykh Salman al oadahs article, not mine.

  8. Avatar

    Hfzshk

    May 11, 2011 at 6:26 PM

    Rather than wondering why the differences, why not look at it as Allah azza wa jal in his infinite mercy has created men capable of making differing opinions as a mercy to human kind. Can you imagine if there was only one way and that was it? I known i would struggle like mad.

    Jazakallah

  9. Avatar

    Ghazala

    May 12, 2011 at 8:05 AM

    Jazakumullahu khairan everyone for your insightful input and also the link :)
    It is indeed wonderful to be part of a universal Muslim ‘Ummah. Alhamdulillah.
    Off tangent, I hope some one can soon come up with a program for the youth, esp. with Summer break in (today’s the last day for Universities, in the south) . Not just suggestions and advice but something that says, today- watch this video or read that article with links provided, books suggested…..

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#Islam

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

Kaaba
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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.

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Emotional Intelligence: A Tool for Change

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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

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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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