The Companions of Prophet Muhammad
(peace be upon him)
Abd al-Rahman ibn Sakhr Al-Azdi
The Memory of the Revelation Era
Abu Hurairah (Arabic: أبو هريرة), (also known as `Abd al-Rahman ibn Sakhr Al-Azdi (Arabic: عبدالرحمن بن صخر الأزدي), Abu Hurayrah, or Abu Horaira) (603 – 681) was a companion of the Islamic prophet Muhammad and the narrator of Hadith most quoted in the isnad by Sunnis.
Abu Hurairah spent 3 years in the company of the Prophet and went on expeditions and journeys with him It is estimated that he narrated around 5,375 ahadith.
Abu Hurairah was born in Baha, Yemen into the Banu Daws tribe from the region of Tihamah on the coast of the Red Sea. His father had died, leaving him with only his mother and no other relatives. His name at birth was Abd al-Shams (servant of the sun). However, as a child, he had a cat and became known as “Abu Hurairah” (which literally means “Father of the Kitten” or more idiomatically “Of the kitten”).
According to other versions, after embracing Islam Abu Hurairah looked after the mosque and Prophet Muhammad. He made it a regular habit to give the left over food to the stray cats. Gradually the number of cats around the masjid (mosque) increased. He loved to caress and play with them. Hence he got the name Abu Hurairah – Father (care taker) of kitten.
As a young man, he worked for Bushra bint Ghazwan.
In speeches and lectures, in Friday khutbahs and seminars, in the books of hadith and sirah, fiqh and ibadah, the name Abu Hurairah is mentioned in this fashion:
“On the authority of Abu Hurairah, may Allah be pleased with him, who said: The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said …”.
Through this phrase millions of Muslims, from the early history of Islam to the present, have come to be familiar with the name Abu Hurairah.
Abu Hurairah embraced Islam through Tufayl ibn Amr the chieftain of his tribe. Tufayl had returned to his village after meeting Muhammad and become a Muslim in the early years of his mission. Abu Hurairah was one of the first to respond to his call, unlike the majority of Tufayl’s tribesmen.
Abu Hurairah accompanied Tufayl to Mecca to meet Muhammad who renamed him Abd al-Rahman (servant of the Merciful, one of the 99 Names of God). Abu Hurairah then returned to his tribe for several years.
Medina and Mecca
In 629 he went to Medina with some others from his tribe. Since Muhammad was absent due to the Battle of Khaybar, he stayed in the masjid.
He had a wife named Bushra; the proof of this is in Fadi’l Aa’mal.
His mother, Maymouna Bint Subaih, who was still a polytheist, was with him. He prayed for her to become a Muslim, but she refused. Sunni sources report:
One day, he again invited his mother to believe in the One God and His Prophet. She answered with some bad words about the Prophet. Abu Hurairah went to the Prophet with tears in his eyes. “Why are you crying, Abu Hurairah?” asked the Prophet. “I always invite my mother to Islam, and she always refuses,” said Abu Hurairah. “I asked her again today. But she said some things about you that made me sad. Can you pray to Allah for her to turn to Islam?” The Prophet prayed for Abu Hurairah’s mother to accept Islam.
When Abu Hurairah went home, he found the door closed. He heard the splashing of water. He tried to enter the house, but his mother said, “Wait a minute. Don’t come in yet.” Then she got dressed and said, “You can come in now.” When Abu Hurairah went inside, his mother said, “I declare that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is His Servant and Messenger.” Abu Hurairah again went to the Prophet crying. But this time his tears were tears of joy. “I have good news, Rasul’Allah,” he said. “Allah has answered your prayer and guided my mother to Islam.”
Abu Hurairah, with other Muslims, suffered from hunger when the Muslims were poor in Medina.
When I was afflicted with severe hunger, I would go to a companion of the Prophet and asked him about an ayah of the Qur’an and (stay with him) learning it so that he would take me with him to his house and give food. One day, my hunger became so severe that I placed a stone on my stomach. I then sat down in the path of the companions. Abu Bakr passed by and I asked him about an ayah of the Book of God. I only asked him so that he would invite me but he didn’t. Then Umar ibn al-Khattab passed by me and I asked him about an ayah but he also did not invite me.
Then the Messenger of Allah passed by and realized that I was hungry and said: “Abu Hurairah!” “At your command” I replied and followed him until we entered his house. He found a bowl of milk and asked his family: “From where did you get this?” “Someone sent it to you” they replied. He then said to me: “O Abu Hurairah, go to the Ahl as-Suffah and invite them.” Abu Hurairah did as he was told and they all drank from the milk. Abu Hurairah then spent one year and ten months with Muhammad in Medina, before the Prophet’s death on 8 June 632 in Medina.
Abu Hurairah had an excellent memory which is why he was able to narrate so many hadith.
“Narrated Abu Huraira: I said, ‘O Allah’s Apostle! I hear many narrations from you but I forget them.’ He said, ‘Spread your covering sheet.’ I spread my sheet and he moved both his hands as if scooping something and emptied them in the sheet and said, ‘Wrap it.’ I wrapped it round my body, and since then I have never forgotten a single Hadith.” Abu Huraira helped pass and teach the religion of Islam on through narrating the traditions of the Prophet to the early Muslims.
While on the road to Makka for pilgrimage the wind blew so hard that ‘Umar asked: “Can anyone narrate to us something [from the Prophet] about the wind?” None of those present could answer. When news of this reached Abû Hurayra, he rode up to ‘Umar and said: “Commander of the Believers! I was told that you asked about the wind, and I myself heard the Prophet say: ‘The wind is a spirit from Allâh. It brings mercy and it brings torment. Therefore, when you experience it, do not curse it but ask Allâh for its goodness and seek refuge in Him from its harm.’”
Death and legacy
Abu Hurairah died in 681 or 59 AH at the age of 78 and was buried at Al-Baqi’.
Of the hadith held as authentic by the Sunnis, Abu Hurairah is the most quoted person in men. Next to him come the names of such companions as Abdullah ibn Umar, Anas ibn Malik, Jabir ibn Abdullah, Abu Said al-Khudri and Aisha (the youngest wife of the Prophet) all of whom transmitted over a thousand sayings of Muhammad.
He is quoted saying
“I grew up as an orphan. I emigrated as a poor person. I used to serve Gazevan’s daughter, Bushra. I served others when they stopped on the road. I drove the camels on the road. Then Allah made it possible for me to marry Bushra. Praise be to Allah who has strengthened His religion and made me an imam (leader).”
His daughter married Said ibn Al-Musayyib.
Sunni view of Abu Huraira
A majority of the Sunni scholars consider Abu Hurairah to be one of the major trustworthy narrators of Hadith. They believe that he was blessed with an unfailing memory, a miracle from God that was bestowed upon him after Muhammad prayed for him. They depict him as a man living an ascetic and humble life, cherishing knowledge and worship. They also disagree with the Shia belief that he harbored any ill will against the Ahl al-Bayt.
Shi’a view of the Sahaba
Shi’a tradition rejects the authenticity of Abu Hurairah’s hadith, seldom accepting only when there are similar hadith narrated by Sahabah (companions) and family of Muhammad who are considered reliable by Shi’a. They consider him an enemy of Imam Ali, Imam Hassan and Imam Hussain, due to having been in favor of Mu’awiya according to Shia sources, and thus hold him in low regard.
Abu Hurairah: The Memory of the Revelation Era
It is true that a person’s intelligence reckons against him, and those who own extraordinary gifts often pay the price at a time when they should receive a reward or thanks. The noble Companion Abu Hurairah is one of those. He had an unusual gift which was his strong memory.
He was good in the art of listening and his memory was good in the art of storing. He used to listen, understand, and memorize; then he hardly forgot one word, no matter how long his life lasted. That is why his gift made him memorize and narrate the Prophetic traditions (Hadiths) more than any of the Companions of the Messenger (peace be upon him).
During the period of Al-Wada’iin, the writers who were specialized in telling lies about the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) misused Abu Hurairah’s wide reputation for narrating about the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) , and whenever they fabricated a hadith they used to say, “Abu Hurairah said….” By so doing they were attempting to make Abu Hurairah’s reputation and status as a narrator about the Prophet (peace be upon him) questionable.
However, because of the extraordinary efforts exerted by great reverent people who devoted their lives to serve the Prophetic Hadith and reject every falsehood, Abu Hurairah (radhi Allahu ‘anhu) was saved from the lies and fabrications that the vicious wanted to infiltrate into Islam through him and to make him bear their sins.
Now, when we hear a preacher, lecturer or the one who delivers the Friday sermon saying this transmitted expression, “Narrated by Abu Hurairah (RA):
The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said,
“I say when you hear this name in that form, or when you meet it many times in books of hadith, biography, jurisprudence, and religious books generally, you have to know that you are meeting the most interesting personality of the Companions with regard to his ability and talents of listening because of the wonderful traditions and wise instructions that he memorized about the Prophet (peace be upon him), which was his great fortune and incomparable gift.
Having this gift (May Allah be pleased with him), he was naturally one of the Companions who were most capable of vividly reminding you of those days when the Messenger (peace be upon him) and his Companions were living and of transporting you to that horizon which witnessed the glorious deeds of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his Companions who gave vitality and significance to life and led to the right path.
So if these lines have moved your curiosity to get introduced to Abu Hurairah and hear some things about him, here is what you want.
He was one of those who reflected the Islamic revolution and all the tremendous changes that it brought about. He changed from a workman to a master, from a lost man in the crowd to an Imam and outstanding man, from a worshiper of accumulated stones to a believer in Allah, the One, the Irresistable.
He said: I was brought up as an orphan, and I emigrated as a poor man. I worked for Busrah Bint Ghazwaan for my daily food. I used to serve them when they dismounted, and walked near them when they rode. And now Allah has married her to me. All praise to Allah Who made the religion our support and made Abu Hurairah an Imam.
It was A.H. 7 when he went to the Prophet (peace be upon him), while the latter was in Khaibar, and embraced Islam. From the time he pledge allegiance to the Prophet (peace be upon him), he would not part from him except to sleep. Thus were the four years in which he lived with the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) from the time he embraced Islam till the Prophet died. We say that those four years were very long, full of virtuous words, deeds, and listening.
By virtue of his good nature, Abu Hurairah was able to play a prominent role by which he could serve the religion of Allah. There were many war heroes among the Companions. There were many jurisprudents, propagators of the faith, and teachers, but the milieu and people lacked writing and scribes.
In that time, mankind – not only Arabs – was not much concerned with writing. It was not a sign of development in any society. It was the same even in Europe not so long ago. Most of its kings, with Charlemagne at the top of the list, could not read or write, although they were intelligent and capable at the same time.
Let us go back to our talk about Abu Hurairah. He realized by his nature the need of the new society that Islam was building for those who would keep its legacy and teachings. There were scribes among the Companions who used to write, but they were few. Besides, some of them had no free time to be able to write every hadith that the Messenger uttered.
Abu Hurairah was not a scribe, but learned by heart, and he had this necessary free time, for he had no land to plant or commerce to take care of. Believing that he had embraced Islam late, he intended to compensate for what he had missed by accompanying and sitting with the Messenger (peace be upon him).
Besides, he himself knew the gift Allah had bestowed on him, which was his broad, retentive memory, which became even broader and stronger after the Messenger (peace be upon him) had invoked Allah to bless it for him. Then why should he not be one of those who took the burden of keeping this legacy and transmitting it to the corning generations ? Yes, this was the role that his talents made possible for him to play, and he had to play it without flagging.
Abu Hurairah was not one of the scribes, but, as we said, he had a strong memory that made him retain things in his mind very quickly. He had neither land to plant nor commerce to keep him busy; hence he used to not part from the presence of the Messenger, neither in travel nor at other times.
Thus, he devoted himself and his precise memory to memorizing the hadiths and instructions of the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him). When the Prophet (peace be upon him) died, Abu Hurairah kept narrating his traditions, which made some Companions wonder how he could know all those hadiths? When did he hear them?
Abu Hurairah (RA) shed light on this phenomenon, as if defending himself against the doubts of some of the Companions.
He said: You say that Abu Hurairah narrates much about the Prophet (peace be upon him) and that the Muhaajiruun who preceded him to Islam do not narrate those traditions. But my friends among the Muhaajiruun were busy with their contracts in the market, and my friends among the Ansaar were busy with their lands. I was a poor man, always sitting with the Messenger of Allah, so I was present when they were absent, and I memorized if they forgot.
Besides, one day the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “Whoever spreads his garment till I finish my speech, then collects it to his chest, will never forget whatever I’ve said!” Therefore, I spread my clothes and he directed his speech to me, then I collected it. By Allah, I did not forget what he said to me later on. By Allah, I would have narrated nothing at all, but for a verse of Allah’s Book:
‘’Surely those who conceal the manifest Revelations and the guidance which We have revealed, after We have made it clear for the people in the Book, those it is who shall be cursed by GOD and by those who curse.’’> [2:159]
This was the way Abu Hurairah explained the reason for being unique in narrating so many hadiths about the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him). First, he had the time to accompany the Prophet more than any one else. Second, he had a strong memory blessed by the Messenger so it became stronger. Third, he did not narrate because he was fond of narrating but because spreading those traditions was the responsibility of his religion and life; otherwise he would be a concealer of the good and right, negligent of his duties, and would deserve the punishment of the negligent.
For these reasons he kept narrating, and nothing could stop or hinder him, even when Umar, the Commander of the Faithful, told him, “Stop narrating about the Messenger of Allah, or I’ll send you to the land of the Daws” — the land of his people. But this prohibition from the Commander of the Faithful was not an accusation of Abu Hurairah, but a support of a theory Umar was adopting and stressing, that the Muslims during this very period should read and memorize nothing but the Qur’aan so that it would settle in their hearts and minds.
The Qur’aan is Islam’s book, constitution and dictionary. Narrating about the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) abundantly, especially in those years that followed his death when the Qur’aan was being compiled, caused unnecessary confusion. That is why Umar used to say, “Get busy with the Qur’aan; it is Allah’s words. He also used to say, “Narrate a little about the Messenger of Allah but for what can be followed.”
When he sent Abu Muusaa Al-Ash’ariy to Iraq, he said to him, “You are going to people where you can hear the sound of the Qur’aan in their mosques as if it were a drone of bees. Let them do what they are doing and don’t occupy them with traditions. I’m your partner in this.”
The Qur’aan had been compiled in a warranted way such that nothing had crept into it. But Umar could not guarantee that some traditions were not slanted, forged, or taken as a way to tell lies about the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) and thus harm Islam.
Abu Hurairah appreciated Umar’s point of view, but he was also sure of himself and his honesty. He did not want to conceal anything of the traditions or knowledge that he thought would be a sin to conceal. Hence, whenever he found a chance to unload the traditions he had heard or understood from his breast, he did so.
An important reason which played a prominent role in provoking troubles around Abu Hurairah for talking about and narrating many traditions was the fact that there was another narrator in those days who used to narrate and exaggerate about the Messenger (peace be upon him), and the Muslim Companions were not certain of his traditions. This narrator was Ka’b Al-Ahbaar, who was a Jew who had embraced Islam.
Once Marwaan Ibn Al-Hakam wanted to examine Abu Hurairah’s ability to memorize. He invited him to sit with him and asked him to narrate about the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) while a scribe sat behind a screen and was told to write whatever Abu Hurairah said. After a year, Marwaan invited him once again and asked him to narrate the same traditions the scribe had written. Abu Hurairah had not forgotten a single word!
He used to say about himself, “No one among the Companions of the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) narrates about him more than I do except Abdullah Ibn Amr Ibn Al-’Aa. He used to write, but I didn’t.”
Imam Ash- Shaafiy (RA) said about him, “No one in his period was more capable of narrating traditions with such a memory than Abu Hurairah.”
Al-Bukhaari (RA) said, “Almost eight hundred or more Companions, followers (the generation after the Companions) and people of knowledge narrated through Abu Hurairah.” Thus, Abu Hurairah was a big, immortal school.
Abu Hurairah (RA) was an ever-and oft-returning worshiper who used to take turns with his wife and daughter in praying the whole night. He prayed one third of the night, his wife another third, and his daughter a third. Thus, not one hour of the night passed in Abu Hurairah’s house without prayers.
In order to be free to accompany the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him), he suffered the cruelty of hunger like nobody else. He used to talk about the times when hunger was so cruel that he would put a stone on his stomach, press his liver with his hand, and fall in the mosque while twisting that stone such that some of his friends thought that he was epileptic, but he was not.
When he embraced Islam, he had only one continuously oppressing problem that would not let him sleep. That problem was his mother, for from that day onwards she refused to embrace Islam. Not only that, but she also used to hurt her son by speaking ill of the Messenger of Allah. One day she spoke to Abu Hurairah about the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) in a way that he hated. So, he left her crying and sad and went to the Messenger’s mosque.
Let us listen to him narrate the rest of the story:
I went to the Messenger of Allah crying and said,
“O Messenger of Allah, I used to call Umm Hurairah to Islam, and she used to refuse. Today, I called her, but she spoke to me about you in a way that I hated. Invoke Allah to guide Umm Hurairah to Islam.”
So the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said,
“O Allah, guide Umm Hurairah.”
Then I ran out to give her the good news about the Messenger of Allah’s invocation to Allah. When I arrived at the door, I found it closed, and I heard the sound of water. She called,
“Stay where you are, Abu Hurairah.”
Then she put on her shift and veil and she came out saying,
“I bear witness that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is His slave and Messenger.”
So I hurried to the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) crying out for joy as I had cried for sadness and I said, “Here is good news, O Messenger of Allah. Allah has answered your invocation. Allah has guided Umm Hurairah to Islam.” I added,
“O Messenger of Allah, invoke Allah to make all the believers love me and my mother.”
“O Allah, make every believer love this slave of Yours and his mother.”
Abu Hurairah led the life of a worshiper and fighter. He did not miss a battle or a pious deed. During the caliphate of Umar Ibn Al-Khattaab, he made him governor of Bahrain.
Umar, as we know, used to call his rulers sternly to account. If he made one of them governor when he had two garments, on the day he ceased to govern , he should still own no more than those two garments, and it would be better to leave office with only one! But if he left Office with any display of wealth, he would not escape Umar’s reckoning, even if the source of his fortune was halaal. It was another world that Umar filled with wonders and miracles.
When Abu Hurairah was made governor of Bahrain, he saved some money from halaal sources. However, Umar knew and invited him to Al-Madinah.
Let Abu Hurairah narrate the quick conversation that took place between them: Umar said to me, “O the enemy of Allah and His Book, did you steal the money of Allah?” I said, “I am not the enemy of Allah or His Book. I am the enemy of their enemy. Besides, I am not the one who steals the money of Allah!” He said, “Then how did you gather 10,000?” I said, “I had a horse that had foaled repeatedly.” Umar said, “Put it (the money) in the Bait Al-Maal (the treasury).”
Abu Hurairah gave the money to Umar and raised his hands towards the sky saying:
“O Allah, forgive the Commander of the Faithful.”
After a while Umar called Abu Hurairah and offered him the governorship again. However, he refused and apologized. Umar asked why.
Abu Hurairah said,
“So that my honor would not be at stake, my money would not be taken, and my back would not be beaten.”
“I’m afraid I would judge without knowledge or speak without patience.”
One day, his yearning to meet Allah intensified. While his visitors were invoking Allah to cure him of his disease, he was imploring Allah saying, “O Allah, I love to meet You, so love to meet me.”
In A.H. 59, he died at the age of 78. His calm body was buried in a blessed place among the reverent inhabitants of Al-Baqi.
Returning from his funeral, the people kept reciting many of the traditions that he had taught them about the noble Messenger. One of the recent Muslims asked his friends, “Why was our deceased sheikh called Abu Hurairah?” His knowing friend answered, “In the pre-Islamic time his name was ‘Abd Shams.
When he embraced Islam, the Messenger (peace be upon him) called him ‘Abd Ar-Rahman. He used to be sympathetic towards animals. He had a cat that he used to feed, carry, clean, and shelter, and it used to accompany him as if it were his shadow. Thus, he was called Abu Hurairah, which means father of the small cat. May Allah be pleased with him.”