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WHY CAN NO ONE ELSE BE ON PAR WITH THE COMPANIONS?

Question:

There are some narrations which say: At a time when religious innovations are widespread and heresy is on the attack, some of the righteous among the God-fearing believers who try to conform to God’s laws of religion and life, may attain to the rank of the Companions, or even be more virtuous. Are these narrations authentic? If so, what is their true meaning?

Answer: It is decisively proven that the Ahl al-Sunna wa’l-Jama‘a (the majority of Muslims who follow the way of the Prophet and his Companions) are unanimously agreed that, after the Prophets, the Companions are the most virtuous of mankind. Therefore, the authentic parts of the narrations such as the one above have to do with [not virtuousness in general but] with some particular virtues. One less virtuous may excel a more virtuous one in some particular virtues. From the viewpoint of general superiority, no one can be on a par with the Companions, whom God describes as having praiseworthy qualities at the end of the sura al-Fath in the Quran, and whom the Torah and Gospel predicted and praise highly. Out of many reasons for their superiority, for the time being I shall mention only three:

First reason: The companionship of the Prophet and being taught by him is such an elixir that one who is honored with it even for a minute may receive as much enlightenment as another can in years of spiritual journeying. For companionship and the Prophet’s education is the cause of being colored with the color of the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, and receiving his reflections. As is known, by following the Prophet and being illumined by the greatest light of Prophethood, one can rise to the highest of the spiritual levels. This is like a servant of a great king reaching through servanthood and absolute allegiance to the king to the rank which even an ordinary king cannot. For this reason, even the greatest of the saints cannot rise to the same degree as the Companions. Even those saints who, like Jalal al-din al-Suyuti, have conversed with God’s Messenger many times while awake, cannot be on a level with the Companions. For the Companions were illumined by the light of the Prophethood of Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings; he lived among them and communed with them as a Prophet. Whereas, the saints who see God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, after his death, are honored with the light of his sainthood. That is, God’s Messenger manifests himself to them as a saint, not as a Prophet, because Prophethood ended with his death. Since this is so, those two types of communication with God’s Messenger differ from each other to the extent of the difference between Prophethood and sainthood.

It shows what an enlightening elixir is the Prophet’s conversation and companionship that a primitive Bedouin who had been so wild and hard-hearted as to bury his girl alive, was honored with an hour of the Prophet’s companionship and became so compassionate and tender-hearted that he no longer trod on even an ant. Savage and ignorant persons were honored with the Prophet’s conversation and companionship only for one day and then went as far as India and China to teach truths and guide people to human perfections.

Second reason: The absolute majority of the Companions were at the highest degrees of human perfections. For at that time, through the great revolution of Islam, good and truth were seen in all their beauties, and evil and falsehood, in all their ugliness, and they were actually experienced. Such a difference was apparent between good and evil and such a distance opened between truth and lying that they drew apart and were distant from each other to the extent that belief is distant from unbelief and Paradise is from Hell. The Companions, who by nature had lofty emotions, were enamored of moral virtues and inclined to dignity and glory, never approached evil and falsehood voluntarily, nor fell to the level of Musaylima the Liar, who was the sample and herald of lying, evil and falsehood and became a laughing stock through his ridiculous words. Witnessing the degree of the Beloved of God, the highest of human perfections, who is the sample and herald of truth, right and good, the purity of the Companions’ nature impelled them to exert all their strength and efforts to follow him.

It sometimes happens that due to their dreadful results and detestable effects, people (far from buying them) flee in disgust from certain things in the market of human civilization and the ‘shop’ of human social life, while as if beneficial cures or brilliant diamonds, certain other things are in much demand and draw everybody’s attention because of their good effects and valuable results. Everybody does his utmost to buy them. Likewise, since in the market of human social life at the Age of Happiness, the ‘articles’ like unbelief, lying and evil yielded results like eternal doom and torment and produced base laughing- stocks like Musaylima the Liar, it was certain that the Companions, who were enamored of high moral qualities and praiseworthy virtues, fled from them in disgust as from a killing poison. And surely, the Companions, with their pure natures and elevated characteristics, would, with all their strength, feelings, and faculties, be desirous of, and customers for, truth, right, and belief, which result in eternal happiness and have produced illustrious fruits like God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, as if they were most beneficial cures and most precious diamonds. However, since then, the distance between truth and lying has gradually become so slight that they are now standing side by side in the same shop and being sold together. Social morality has been corrupted. Political propaganda has encouraged lying and made it in demand. At a time when the awesome ugliness of lying remains concealed and the brilliant beauty of truths is no more visible, who could claim to have the same degree of strength, firmness and meticulousness as the Companions had in justice, truthfulness and moral sublimity? In order to clarify the matter to some degree, let me describe an experience of mine:

Why can even the greatest saints reach the degree of Companionship?

Once it occurred to me why certain saints with extraordinary qualities like Muhy al-Din al-‘Arabi cannot reach the degree of the Companions. While reciting one day during the prostration in the prayer, Glorified be my Lord, the Highest, some portion of the full meaning of this phrase was unveiled and its truth revealed to me. I thought: If only I were able to perform a single prescribed prayer as perfectly as I discovered the meaning of worship. I came to understand after the prayer that that experience was to guide me to perceive why it is impossible to reach the degrees of the Companions. In those mighty social revolutions brought about by the lights of the wise Qur’an, the opposites were completely separated from each other and evils with all their darkness, details and consequences, and good and perfections with all their lights and results, stood face to face. Thus, in that exciting, stimulating time, together with revealing all the levels of their meanings in all their freshness, bloom and originality, all words and phrases of recitation, praise, and glorification stirred up and awakened all the feelings and spiritual faculties of the people who were fully experiencing that mighty revolution in all its stages, and caused even senses like those of fancy and imagining to be fully awake to receive and absorb the various meanings of those phrases in accordance with their kind of perception.

It is because of such reasons as those that when the Companions, all of whose senses were awakened, and faculties alert, pronounced the blessed words and phrases containing all the lights of faith and glorification, they pronounced them in all their meanings and derived their shares with all their faculties.

Whereas, with the passage of time after that bursting forth and revolution, people have gradually lost the taste and pleasure they have received from those blessed phrases because, due to much familiarity and loss of sensitivity, their faculties have fallen into sleep and their senses into heedlessness. Since what has remained of those ‘fruits’ is only some moisture because of superficiality, only through a reflective and contemplative operation can those faculties and senses be restored to their former state. For this reason, others cannot attain in forty days, even in forty years, the degree and virtue which a Companion reached in forty minutes.

Third reason: When compared to sainthood, Prophethood is like the sun in relation to its images in mirrors. Thus, as much higher in rank Prophethood is than sainthood, so too, being the servants of Prophethood and the planets around that sun, the Companions must be greater than saints to the same degree. Even if a saint attains to the rank of absolute truthfulness and loyalty and succession to the Prophet, which is the highest rank of sainthood belonging to the Companions, he cannot reach the degree of the Companions. Out of many aspects of this third reason, I will explain only four:

First aspect: No one can reach the Companions in ijtihad, that is, in deduction from God’s Word of His ordinances and the things He approves of. For the mighty Divine revolution at that time aimed at learning and understanding God’s commandments and the things of which He approves. All the minds were concentrated upon deducing the Divine ordinances, and all of the hearts wondered what their Lord wanted from them. All the events and circumstances impelled people to that, and conversations, discussions and stories occurred in a way to teach Divine ordinances and wishes to some extent and perfected the capacities of the Companions and enlightened their minds, and since their potentials to make deductions and exercise ijtihad were as ready to ignite as matches, a modern man of the same intelligence and capacity as the Companions cannot attain in ten or even a hundred years to the level of deduction and ijtihad which the Companions reached in a day or a month. Because, at present, people consider worldly happiness rather than eternal happiness, they turn their attentions to other aims. Since the struggle to make a living in lack of reliance on God has bewildered and stupefied the spirits, and naturalistic and materialistic philosophy has blinded the intellects, the social environment does not strengthen people’s minds and capacities in exercising ijtihad, rather it scatters and confuses them. While discussing ijtihad in The Twenty-seventh Word, I explained why at the present time one of the same intelligence as Sufyan ibn Uyayna, could not obtain in a hundred years what Sufyan obtained in ten.

Second aspect: No one can reach through sainthood the rank of the Companions in nearness to God. For God Almighty is nearer to us than everything, while we are infinitely far from Him. One can acquire nearness to Him in two ways:

One is through God’s favor to make one near to Him and making one realize His nearness. Through companionship with, and succession, to the Prophet, the Companions were endowed with this sort of nearness.

The second is through continuous promotion to higher and higher ranks until honored with nearness to God. Most of the saints follow this way and make a long spiritual journey in their inner world and through the outer world.

The first way is purely a gift of God; it does not depend upon one’s own efforts. Nearness to God in this way is realized through attraction of the Merciful One and being beloved by Him. This way is short but extremely elevated and sound, perfectly pure and free of obscurities. The other is long and depends on one’s own endeavors, and it has obscurities. Even if the one following it is endowed with miracle-like wonders, this way is inferior to the former in acquiring nearness to God Almighty.

Consider this example:

One can experience yesterday once more in two ways. Either, without following the course of time, one rises by a sacred spiritual power to a position from which one can see the whole of time, including yesterday and today, as a single point. Or, following the course of time, one lives the whole of the year and reaches the same day next year. Despite this, one cannot preserve yesterday, nor prevent it from slipping by.

As in the example, one can pass from the outward observation of religious commandments to realization of their truth in two ways. Either, without entering the intermediate world of religious orders, one submits oneself to the attraction of truth and finds it directly in its outward aspect; one sees the outward and inward combined into a single unity. Or, one is initiated into a spiritual way and promoted to higher and higher ranks one after the other.

However successful in self-annihilation and killing the evil-commanding self, the saintly people are never able to reach the Companions. Because, since the Companions were purified and their souls refined, they were honored with all varieties of worship and sorts of praise and thanks-giving with the multiple inborn faculties which selfhood has. Whereas, after the annihilation of selfhood, the worship of the saints acquires some sort of simplicity.

Third aspect: No one can reach the Companions in merits of deeds, rewards for actions, and virtues pertaining to the Hereafter. Just as through keeping an hour of watch and guard on a dangerous point under perilous conditions, a soldier can gain the merits of a year of worship or of being martyred by a bullet, he attains in a minute to the rank of some sort of sainthood which others can only reach in no less than forty days, so too, the services of the Companions in the establishment of Islam and propagation of the commandments of the Qur’an, and their challenging the whole of the world for the sake of Islam were so meritorious and rewarding that others cannot gain in one year the merits which they acquired in a minute. It may even be said that every minute of theirs is equal to the minute of that soldier martyred while in that sacred service. Every hour of theirs is like the hour of watch of a self-sacrificing soldier under perilous conditions, which though it seems a small act, is extremely valuable and meritorious. Since the Companions formed the first line in the establishment of Islam and dissemination of the lights of the Qur’an, according to the rule The cause is like the doer, they are given a share from the rewards of all the Muslims until the Last Day. The Muslims’ calling on them God’s peace and blessings saying, O God, bestow blessings and peace on our master Muhammad and on his family and Companions, shows that the Companions have shares in the rewards of all Muslims [without causing any reduction from the Muslims’ rewards]. Just as an insignificant characteristic in the roots of a tree takes on a great form in the branches of trees and is larger than the largest branch, and just as a small amount at the beginning gradually becomes a big mass, and just as a little point in the center forms a wide angle in the circumference, so too, since the Companions formed the roots of the blessed, illustrious tree of Islam, since they were among the leaders of the Muslim community and first in establishing their traditions, and since they were the nearest to the center of the Sun of Prophethood and the Lamp of Truth, their few actions become multiplied and their little service is huge in consequence. To reach them requires to be a Companion.

Fourth aspect: The reward of a deed changes according to the circumstances in which it is done and the purity of intention in the heart of its doer. Endeavoring in the way of God, for example, in severe circumstances such as fear, threats and shortage of necessary equipment, and purely for the sake of God without aiming at any worldly profit, is much more rewarding than the same action performed in a free and promising atmosphere.

The Companions accepted and defended the religion of God in the severest circumstances of all times. The opposition was extremely inflexible and unpitying. As Abu Bakr is reported in Musamarat al-Abrar by Muhyi al-Din ibn al-‘Arabi, to have told ‘Ali after the death of the Prophet, the early Companions did not dare to go out except at the risk of their lives. They always feared that a dagger would be thrust at them from the front or from behind. Only God knows how many times they were insulted, beaten and tortured. Especially the weak and slaves such as Bilal, ‘Ammar, and Suhayb were tortured almost to death and the young, like Sa‘d ibn Abi Waqqas and Mus‘ab ibn ‘Umayr, were beaten, boycotted and imprisoned by their families. None of them ever thought of renouncing their religion, nor did they oppose God’s Messenger in any of his commands. They forsook for the sake of God everything they had; they left their homes, their native lands and belongings and emigrated to another land. The believers of Madina welcomed them enthusiastically and protected them; they shared with them everything they had. They fulfilled their covenant with God willingly; sold their goods and souls to God in exchange for belief and Paradise, and never broke their word. This gained them so high a rank in the view of God that no one can attain it until the Last Day.

The severity of circumstances, along with other factors mentioned and unmentioned, made the Companions’ belief strong and firm beyond compare. To cite an example, God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, once entered the mosque and saw Harith ibn Malik sleeping there. He woke him up. Harith asked: ‘May my father and mother be sacrificed for your sake, O Messenger of God! I am ready to carry out your orders!’ God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, asked him how he had spent the night. Harith answered: ‘I have spent the night as a true believer.’ The Messenger asked again: ‘Everything which is true must have a truth (proving it). What is the truth of your belief?’ Harith replied: ‘I fasted during the day, and prayed to my Lord in utmost sincerity all night long. Now I am in a state as if I were seeing the Throne of my God and the recreation of the people of Paradise in Paradise’. The Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, concluded: ‘You have become an embodiment of belief.’ 1

The Companions became so near to God that ‘God was their eyes with which they saw, their ears with which they heard, their tongues with which they spoke and their hands with which they held.’

 

1. Haythami, Majma‘ al-Zawa’id, 1.57; Hindi, Kanz al-‘Ummal, 13.353.


Recommended Readings:
Were all the companions free of lying?

Last Updated on November 13, 2000

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