Shia Islam: The Righteousness of the Prophet’s Companions /19

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Shīʿa Islam: History and Doctrines / Ayatullāh Jaʿfar Subḥānī

The Righteousness of the Prophet’s Companions
The Companions of the Prophet, known in Arabic as the Ṣaḥāba, are those people who were with the Prophet, some of whom sacrificed their lives and wealth for the sake of Islam. They strengthened the pillars of Islam through their jihād and endured hardships to promote the religion. Without their courage and determination, Islam could not have made any headway. And had they not risked their lives, Islam would not have existed like today.
The Qur’an and the Prophet’s words are two main sources to learn about religious issues. No Muslim should make judgment about religion without referring to these sources. If not, he is a hypocrite trading under the guise of religion.
The Qur’an and the Prophet’s tradition have heaped praise on the Prophet’s Companions for following him. Everyone wishes to have been one of them to experience their contacts with the Prophet. Anyone studying Qur’anic verses related to those who vowed allegiance to the Prophet in Ḥudaybiyya could not contain his tears welling up his cheeks. Three of these verses are as follows:
‘The early vanguard of the Emigrants and the Helpers and those who followed them in virtue, – Allah is pleased with them and they are pleased with Him, and He has prepared for them gardens with streams running in them, to remain in them forever. That is the great success.’ (Q9:100)
‘Allah was certainly pleased with the faithful when they swore allegiance to you under the tree. He knew what was in their hearts, so He sent down composure on them, and requited them with a victory near at hand.’ (Q48:18)
‘Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah, and those who are with him are hard against the faithless and merciful amongst themselves. You see them bowing and prostrating [in worship], seeking Allah’s grace and [His] pleasure. Their mark is [visible] on their faces, from the effect of prostration. Such is their description in the Torah and their description in the Evangel. Like a tillage that sends out its shoots and builds them up, and they grow stout and settle on their stalks, impressing the sowers, so that He may enrage the faithless by them. Allah has promised those of them who have faith and do righteous deeds forgiveness and a great reward.’ (Q48:29)
After reviewing these verses from the Qur’an, how could anyone describe the Companions as hypocrites or unbelievers? Such a description would mean that the Prophet had failed to train Companions during his 23 years of Prophethood. Those who promote these views and attribute them to the Imāmiyya are either unaware of the history of Islam or are levelling biased accusations against the Shīʿa. Promotion of these thoughts and attributing them to the Shīʿa will have no other result than fanning the flames of enmity in the Muslim community. In that event, enemies will also fish in muddy waters.
Therefore, I am surprised that the writer Abū al-Ḥasan Nadawī accuses Shīʿa of these false beliefs in his book Suratān Mutaʿāriḍatān.
In responding, however, we don’t need to go far. We can look at the Banū Hāshim family. The majority of them had accepted Islam and remained firm in their convictions even after the departure of the Prophet. Among them were Abū Tālib, the Prophet’s uncle, Ṣafiyya, the Prophet’s aunt, Fāṭima bt. Assad, Ḥamza and ʿAbbās, both uncles of the Prophet, not to mention Jaʿfar, ʿAqīl and Tālib, the Prophet’s cousins; ʿUbayda b. Ḥārith, the martyr of Badr, Abū Sufyān b. Ḥārith, Nawfal b. Ḥārith and Jaʿda. In addition to them, a large number of prominent figures embraced martyrdom in the Badr and Uḥud wars. Other renowned figures were killed in the Battle of the Trench. The following verse is in praise of those who stuck to their beliefs and never deviated from the right path:
‘Among the faithful are men who fulfil what they have pledged to Allah. Of them are some who have fulfilled their pledge, and of them are some who still wait, and they have not changed in the least.’ (Q33:23)
The verses Q3:173 and Q59:9 testify that the Prophet had succeeded in his invitation of people to Islam and he managed to cleanse the Arabian Peninsula of idolatry and polytheism.
In addition to these verses, the remarks by Imam ʿAlī and his sons, Ḥasan and Ḥusayn, in praise of Companions provide the best reasons in favour of Shi’ism. To know the clear position of Imam ʿAlī about the Companions of the Prophet, we review his remarks here:
After Imam ʿAlī invited the Iraqi people to jihād he found them half-hearted and lax. In a sermon, he said:
‘Where are my brethren who took the (right) path and trod in rightness. Where is ʿAmmār? Where is Ibn at-Tayyihān? Where is Dhū al-Shahādatayn? And where are others like them from among their comrades who had pledged themselves to death and whose (severed) heads were taken to the wicked enemy? Oh my brothers, who recited the Qur’an and strengthened it, thought over their obligation and fulfilled it, revived the sunna and destroyed innovation! When they were called to jihad they responded and trusted in their leader then followed him.’ (Nahj al-Balāgha, Sermon no. 182)
Imam Sajjād used to recite prayers in praise of the Companions of the Prophet. His prayers started with the following phrases:
‘O God, and as for the Companions of Muhammad specifically, those who did well in companionship, who stood the good test in helping him, responded to him when he made them hear his messages’ argument, separated from mates and children in manifesting his word, fought against fathers and sons in strengthening his prophecy, and through him gained victory; those who were wrapped in affection for him, hoping for a expect a commerce that will never go bankrupt (Q35:29) in love for him;’ (Ṣaḥīfa Sajjādiyya)
Taking these verses and references into account, nobody can accuse the Shīʿa of insulting the companions.
The difference between Shīʿa and Sunnī
The sticking point between the Imāmiyya and Sunnī Muslims revolves on this question: Do all of those who went to the Prophet and stayed with him for several days gain this status? Did they commit no other offense until the end of their life? Or did the people around the Prophet also include unjust and hypocritical people? How is it possible that a nation, plunged in polytheism, hypocrisy, sin and corruption before the arrival of the Prophet, would change so that not a single member would commit any sins for the rest of his life? Should we not conduct research on them to see if they were considered as infallible until the end?
Sociology and human experience say the Prophet’s influence on his society has not been due to any miracle, and has been achieved through enjoining good and forbidding evil. The prophet can guide a large group of his companions and such that they will remain just and pious until the end. But at the same time, it is been impossible to lead a nation so deep in sin and corruption. To that effect, two opposing standpoints are raised:
Those who say that the Companions of the Prophet number around a hundred thousand individuals, including fifteen thousand who are well-known as just and promoters of justice. Any possibility of committing sins is ruled out for them.
On the other hand are those who say that, while they respect those who have been with the Prophet, there is no reason to suppose that they are infallible. Therefore, they say, the Companions must be divided into two groups: just and unjust ones.
Now, we have to see which view is confirmed by the Qur’an, the traditions of the Prophet and history. Are all of them eternally righteous, such that being in company of the Prophet acted like a magical elixir which converted copper into gold immediately and just being in his company is enough to receive complete guidance? Now we seek answers from the Qur’an.
The Qur’an’s view of the Prophet’s Companions
To grasp the Qur’an’s judgment about the Companions of the Prophet we must study all verses related to this subject. It would be inappropriate to content ourselves only with the verses that praise them. All aspects must be first be studied before making any decision. In the beginning of the discussion, we referred to the verses which praise the Companions of the Prophet. Now let’s see what other verses say in this regard. In different sections, the Qur’an divides the Companions of the Prophet, in addition to the righteous ones, into the following categories:
Known hypocrites (Q63:1)
Hypocrites unknown to even the Prophet (Q9:101)
Insincere ones (Q33:11)
The Naive influenced by those who spread sedition (Q9:47)
Those mixing good and bad deeds (Q9:102)
Those who risk losing their belief in difficult conditions (Q3:154)
Sinners whose testimony is not accepted (49:6)
Those who pretend to be believers while their hearts are empty of faith (Q49:14)
Those whose hearts could be won through alms in order to remain allied with Muslims. (Q9:60)
Those who evade confrontation with apostates (Q8:15)
The reference to these ten groups indicates that the Companions of the Prophet were not all on the same wavelength. Even though there were righteous figures among the Companions of the Prophet, there were also these groups of people who, at the very least, were not firm in their convictions. These ten well-defined groups cannot be ignored.
Ibn Hishām says during the Battle of Uhud, ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿUbayy and 700 of his followers withdrew from the battlefield after his views about the war were rejected. (Ibn Hisham, Sīra, 2/64) Therefore, how can anyone consider all Companions of the Prophet as just and honest without exception?
These verses encourage us to study the Companions of the Prophet and not consider merely having been in the company of the Prophet as an indication of their righteousness. Even the verses we initially mentioned in praise of the Companions of them do apply to them collectively. If we find evidence that some of them deviated, then we have grounds to reconsider our praise for some of them and do not consider these individuals as having been righteous forever.
A chapter in Bukhārī’s Ṣaḥīḥ can prove the truthfulness of what we say (Ṣaḥīḥ Bukhārī, tradition no. 6606). There must have been impious people who had finally repented and became firm believers. But the contrary is also correct. There might have been pious people who had deviated from the right path later on.
Now, we will take a look at the verses of Sūrat al-Fatḥ to know the context in which the Companions were praised and see if this applies to them forever more. In verse 18 of the sūra, ‘Allah was certainly pleased with the faithful when they swore allegiance to you under the tree. He knew what was in their hearts, so He sent down composure on them, and requited them with a victory near at hand.’ The Arabic text of this verse makes clear that God has been satisfied with them during a specific period of time. But does this mean they remained as pious as they were until the end? Each individual case must be studied and every possible fault has to be taken into account. Verse 29 of the same sūra reads:
‘Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah, and those who are with him are hard against the faithless and merciful amongst themselves. You see them bowing and prostrating [in worship], seeking Allah’s grace and [His] pleasure. Their mark is [visible] on their faces, from the effect of prostration. Such is their description in the Torah and their description in the Evangel. Like a tillage that sends out its shoots and builds them up, and they grow stout and settle on their stalks, impressing the sowers, so that He may enrage the faithless by them. Allah has promised those of them who have faith and do righteous deeds forgiveness and a great reward.’ (Q48:29)
So it is clear that not everyone was promised such recompense and it only applied to a limited group of the Companions. Therefore, there are some individuals whom we do not know if they remained as pious as they were until the last days of the Prophet’s lifetime.
The following verse applies to all Companions: ‘And (there is a share for) those who came after them, saying, ‘And [also for] those who came in after them, who say, ‘Our Lord, forgive us and our brethren who were our forerunners in the faith, and do not put any rancour in our hearts toward the faithful. Our Lord, You are indeed most kind and merciful.’’ (Q59:10)
But those whose deviation has been proven based on verses and other strong evidence could not be considered just and righteous. Therefore, the Imāmiyya neither rejects the Companions nor accuses them of sinflness. It only studies their history based on the Qur’anic verses; those who remained faithful to the Prophet until the end are praised and the Imāmiyya ask God to bless those whose life is unknown, without following their aḥādīth. However, the third group whose deviation has been proven is ostracized and their words are of no value.

How some historical facts were concealed
After misdeeds of some Companions were unveiled, a group of Umayyad caliphs and their followers indulged in falsifications and said: ‘Now that God has cleansed our sword of their blood we had better keep our tongue from heaping scorn on them.’
They meant that nobody could speak ill of Muʿāwiya b. Abī Sufyān, Ṭalḥa, Zubayr, ʿAmr b. al-ʿĀs, Mughīra b. Shuʿba, Ziyād b. Abīh or tens of other criminals. These words – attributed to ʿUmar b. ʿAbd al-aziz or Ḥasan Al-Baṣrī – imply that no blood should have been spilt at the battles of Jamal, Ṣiffīn or Nahrawan, which were prosecuted by the divinely-appointed Imam. This equals a flagrant denial of the caliphate of Imam ʿAlī and his leadership. Killing these criminals and sinners who were in open rebellion and destroying Islam was essential.
Here, we shall introduce some of criminals of that time. No researcher can conceal their crimes and sins:
Muʿāwiya b. Abī Sufyān
It is not an easy task to enumerate the crimes committed by Muʿāwiya b. Abī Sufyān. However, the scholar Jāḥiẓ has an interesting description of him. He speaks about the Umayyad and the sins they have committed. Regarding Muʿāwiya, he says:
‘Muʿāwiya took maintained a monopoly on power and refused to consult the Muslims. He ignored the objections of Emigrants and Helpers. The irony is that he named the year he took power as the ‘Year of Union’ while it was a year marked with division, tyranny and bloodshed. The consultative institution of the Imamate became a monarchy, and the Islamic caliphate became an empire. In the end, Muʿāwiya even stood against the Messenger of God; the Prophet had said: ‘The child born to an adulterous woman belongs to her husband.’ Therefore, Ziyād b. Abīh must be attributed to her mother’s husband but Muʿāwiya recognized him as his own brother in a bid to push ahead with his ambitious policies. Muʿāwiya’s father had had an affair with Ziyād’s mother. He killed Hujr b. ʿAdī, who was a faithful companion of the Prophet, gave control of Egypt to ʿAmr b.ʿĀs. As for his son, Yazīd, who lacked any qualifications, he named his successor-in-waiting and people were forced to pay allegiance to him him. He sacrificed divine instructions for nepotism.’ (Rasāʾil al-Jāḥiẓ, 294)
Moreover, his son Yazīd, whom he appointed as his successor, committed at least three terrible atrocities in as many years he served as the Caliph:
In the first year of his reign, he killed Ḥusayn b. ʿAlī.
In the second year, he sacked the city of Medina, killed a large number of the Prophet’s followers and authorized his troops to rape women and girls.
In the third year, he demolished the House of God by catapult, set fire to its curtains and killed a number of pilgrims. (Taṭhīr al-Jinān, 102)
Yazīd’s impudence reached a stage he recited a poem composed by Ibn Zabʿarī against the Muslims during the Battle of Uhud. It reads: : ‘The Hashemites toyed with monarchy; They seized it under cover of prophecy while there was no revelation from God.’ (Ibid)
ʿAmr b. al-ʿĀs
He once pitted people against ʿUthmān: ‘I used to provoke any shepherd I met on my way against ʿUthmān,’ he said. But after the murder of ʿUthmān, he joined forces with Muʿāwiya. (Ansāb al-Ashrāf) His volte-face vis-à-vis ʿUthmān was due to Muʿāwiya’s promise to make him governor of Egypt.
Marwān b. Ḥakam
He was a professed enemy of the Prophet’s Household. ‘The worst of men and the most hostile enemy to the Prophet’s Household was Marwān b. Ḥakam,’ says Ibn Ḥajar. (al-Ghadīr, 8/384)
Hākim Nīsābūrī quotes ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. ʿAwf as saying: ‘Any child born to the Companions of the Prophet was brought to the Prophet to be beatified. But when Marwān b. Ḥakam was taken there, the Prophet said: ‘This lizard is the son of another lizard and a cursed son from a cursed man.’
Walīd b. ʿUqba
He is a man who got drunk before performing his prayers. At that time he was governor of Kufa. He made mistake in his prayers and vomited violently in the prayer niche. (Ansāb al-Ashrāf, 5/33; Aḥmad, Musnad, 1/144).
Marwān and his children ruled the same way. One of Marwān’s sons was Walīd b. Yazīd b. ʿAbd al-Malik b. Marwān. He was reciting the Qur’an in the mosque when he heard his appointment as Caliph. He consulted the Qur’an for his new post and fell on this verse: ‘They prayed for victory, and every obdurate tyrant has failed…’ (Q14:15)
He was infuriated and pierced the holy book with arrows before saying: ‘Are you threatening me with such words as obstinate and tyrant? Yes! I am the same obstinate tyrant. When you met your God on Judgment Day tell Him that Walīd has torn you apart.’ (Ibn Athīr, al-Kāmil fī al-Tārīkh, 5/107)
Suyūṭī says: ‘Walīd b. Yazīd was a rebel. He was always drunk and practiced homosexuality. He even invited his brother Sulaymān to this act. He married his father’s wives.’ (Suyūṭī, Tārīkh al-Kulafāʾ)
Are such people – a number of whom are among the followers and Companions of the Prophet – suitable candidates to learn the religion from?

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