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The Sahāba's Level

Of Superlative Learning

By GF Haddad

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Imam Ahmad said: "Know that the Religion is nothing but imitation itself (al-dīnu innama huwa al-taqlīd ). This imitation is for the Companions of the Messenger of Allah, upon him and them blessings and peace."

Were all the sahāba at an equal level
of superlative learning?

by Sh. G. F. Haddad

Wa ʿalaykum as-Salam wa rahmatullah wa barakatuh:

Were all the sahāba at the level of mujtahid? Is it possible that a later generation scholar to be better then a sahabi in terms of knowledge?

To address the second question first, "Is it possible that a later scholar be better then a Sahabi in terms of knowledge":

After the glowing praise Allah Most High in the Holy Qur'an gave the Sahāba with respect to both knowledge and piety, saying their archetypes were mentioned even in the other revealed Scriptures, calling them the best of all paradigmatic[1] generations in the history of mankind (khayru ummatin ukhrijat lin-nās ) and stating over and over that they were purified and taught by no less than the Seal of Prophets himself;

And after the Holy Prophet, Allah bless and greet him, called them "the witnesses of Allah on earth" (al-Bukhari and Muslim) and "the trustkeepers for my Community" (Muslim and Ahmad), guaranteed Paradise for "Those that follow that which I and my Companions follow" (mass-transmitted), and explicitly said "I recommend to you my Companions, *then* those that come after them" (al-Tirmidhi, hasan sahīh), it is impossible to over-emphasize the superiority of the Companions to all subsequent generations including the greatest Mujtahid Imams, not only in piety but also in knowledge.

Sahabi is a God-given higher level than the acquired level of Mujtahid; and a Companion's position on a legal matter forms a binding legal proof among the Companions, the Tabiʿin, and the Mujtahid Imams, according to the two Hafizs al-ʿAla'i in Ijmal al-Isaba fi Aqwal al-Sahāba and Ibn al-Qayyim in Iʿlam al-Muwaqqiʿin. Since, therefore, later generation scholars have to follow the Companions in terms of knowledge, how can it be possible that a later generation scholar be better then a sahabi in terms of knowledge? High adāb[2] dictates that we firmly dismiss such a scenario.

Most of the Sahāba did not have a single student recorded by posterity (their definitive catalogue, al-Isaba fi Taʿyin al-Sahāba of Hafiz Ibn Hajar contains only about 12,000 entries), yet Ibn ʿAjlan al-Andalusi said: "None was granted a greater blessing, *after the Sahāba*, than that granted to Suhnun in his (900!) disciples." Similarly, Imam ʿAbd Allah al-Haddad in his Nafa'is al-ʿUlwiyya said: "We do not give anyone precedence over al-Faqih al-Muqaddam *after the Sahāba*."

As for the first question, "Were all the sahāba at the level of mujtahid?" we can now rephrase it in light of the preceding to read: "Were all the sahāba at an equal level of superlative learning?"

Some Companions were specifically praised and recommended as guides by their teacher the Holy Prophet ﷺ upon him and them blessings and peace, at different levels and at the exclusion of others, among them the Four Rightly-Guided Caliphs (most emphatically the first two), Ibn Masʿud, ʿAmmar ibn Yasir, Muʿadh ibn Jabal, Abu ʿUbayda ibn al-Jarrah, and Ubay ibn Kaʿb.

Hence, while the Companions as a whole play a major role in the elucidation and determination of legal rulings, it can be said that they do so at different levels. Not all of the Companions gave fatwa but rather a very small number of them such as the Four Rightly-Guided Caliphs, Zayd ibn Thabit, Ibn Masʿud, Abu Musa al-Ashʿari, ʿA'isha the Mother of the Believers, Ibn ʿAbbas, Ibn ʿUmar, and Abu Hurayra, Allah be well-pleased with them.

Among the Companions alone, 30 narrate from our Mother ʿA'isha including senior elders such as her sister Asma' bint Abi Bakr and al-Zubayr ibn al-ʿAwwam, as well as learned Imams such as ʿAbd Allah ibn ʿAbbas, ʿAbd Allah ibn ʿUmar, Anas ibn Malik, Abu Hurayra, and Abu Musa al-Ashʿari.

Al-Hakim al-Tirmidhi said in Nawadir al-Usul (Asl 222): "Not everyone that met the Prophet ﷺ upon him blessings and peace, and followed him or saw him once is meant by the hadith 'My Companions are like the stars, whomever of them you follow, you shall be guided,' but only those that studiously kept his company morning and evening, received his conveyance of the Revelation, took from him the Law that became the path of the Umma, and looked to him for the ethics of Islam and to his noble traits. *Those* became, after him, the Imams and proofs in which resides right guidance and in whose path is found right emulation and in them is safety and right belief."

But the Imams of Fiqh including the Four Imams said otherwise, as they did not exclude *any* of the Companions from the level of paradigm, as shown by their explicit legacy:

Imam Ibrahim al-Nakhaʿi said: "If the Companions made ablution to the wrists I swear I would have done the same, even as I read the verse of ablution as stating {to the elbows} (5:6)." In Ibn Abi Zayd al-Qayrawani, al-Jamiʿ fil-Sunan (p. 150 §18).

Imam Abu Hanifa said: "As for the Companions of the Messenger of Allah, upon him and them blessings and peace, I follow the position of whomever I wish among them nor do I differ from the position of all of them. I only need investigate the positions of those who come after them: the Tabiʿin and subsequent generations." In Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr, Jamiʿ Bayan al-ʿIlm (2:908).

Imam Malik said: "The Companions differed in the branches of the Law and split into factions (tafarraqū ), yet EACH ONE OF THEM WAS CORRECT IN HIMSELF." I emphasized it because such a statement requires dhawq, anat and ʿilm  to understand. Narrated from Imam ʿAbd Allah ibn ʿAbd al-Hakam by Abu Nuʿaym in the Hilya (1985 ed. 6:322) and thus cited by Qadi ʿIyad in Tartib al-Madarik (Morocco Awqaf ed. 1:214) and Ibn Taymiyya in Majmuʿ al-Fatawa (30:79) and al-Fatawa al-Kubra (5:18). Al-Dhahabi in the Siyar (Fikr ed. 7:414) said: "Its chain of transmission is fair."

Imam Malik's Muwatta' as narrated by Yahya al-Laythi has almost as many Companion-reports (613) as Prophetic hadiths (822) while Imam Muhammad ibn al-Hasan's Muwatta' has even more Companion-reports (628) than Prophetic hadiths (429).

Imam al-Shafiʿi said concerning the Companions: "Their opinion for us is better than our opinion to ourselves." (In Ibn al-Qayyim, Iʿlam al-Muwaqqiʿin ʿan Rabb al-ʿAlamin 2:186-187). He also said, in reply to the question which Companion should be followed if there is variance among their opinions on a single issue: "One of them can be followed if I do not find a Qur'anic proof, nor a Sunna, nor Consensus, nor anything tantamount to the above, or inferable by analogy." (Al-Shafiʿi, Risala §1805).

The strictest advocate for absolute taqlīd of the Sahāba was Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal. To al-Sayrafi who was asking him whether it is permissible to examine the variant positions of the Companions "in order to know which is correct so that we may follow it" Ahmad replied: "It is not permissible to cross-examine the Companions of the Messenger of Allah!" Al-Sayrafi said: "Then what do we do?" He replied: "You imitate whomever of them you like!" (tuqallidu ayyahum ahbabta ). In Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr, Jamiʿ Bayan al-ʿIlm (2:909 §1705).

Imam Ahmad also said: "Know that the Religion is nothing but imitation itself (al-dīnu innama huwa al-taqlīd ). This imitation is for the Companions of the Messenger of Allah, upon him and them blessings and peace." Narrated through Abu Muhammad al-Barbahari by Ibn Abi Yaʿla in Tabaqat al-Hanabila (1:29).

Blessings and peace on the Prophet, his Family, his Companions, and their muqallids who imitate them to the Day of Resurrection.

GF Haddad
[SP 2007-07-24]



Related texts
link-in The Hadith: "My Companions Are Like The Stars"

  1. Paradigm: a typical example or pattern of something; a pattern or model: society's paradigm of the ‘ideal woman’. (English Dictionary)

  2. a. The Significance and Merits of Adab
    b. What is Adab? | Adab In Islām


* Living Islam – Islamic Tradition *