By Shaykh Amin Kholwadia
The word tābiʿī literally means someone who follows. Muslims reserve the use of this word for those who met and followed the Companions of the Prophet (upon him blessing and peace). The word ṣaḥābī literally means someone who is a companion. Muslims reserve the use of this word for someone who met and followed the Prophet Muhammad (upon him blessing and peace).
ʿAlqamah was a great scholar from amongst the tābiʿī group of Muslims. ʿAbdullah ibn ʿUmar was a great scholar from amongst the ṣaḥābī group of Muslims. ʿAlqamah appears frequently as a narrator in the hadith chain of Abu Ḥanīfa. While comparing the juristic acumen (fiqh) of ʿAlqamah and Ibn Umar, Abu Ḥanīfa – who was a tābiʿī jurist himself – made the following remark:
“If it had not been for the merit of companionship (with the Prophet Muhammad, upon him blessing and peace), I would have said that ʿAlqamah is more juristically perceptive (afqah) than Ibn ʿUmar.”
For Abu Ḥanīfa – and other Sunni scholars – companionship (ṣuḥba) has a ranking that is above that of any acquired academic merit. This merit of companionship which Abu Ḥanīfa spoke of was not merely based on a simple romantic allegiance to the Companions. Nor was it a reaction to the socio-political factors of early Muslim history. It was based on a pristine understanding of popular Islamic facts. The parameters of Muslim theology were well-known by the time Abu Ḥanīfa came into learning Islam formally. Sunni principles were rooted in popular Islam. The principles of waḥī (revelation) were amongst those that were commonly accepted in the Muslim mind. What follows is a discussion about a Sunni principle in popular Islam.
A ḥadīth is a narration – of any sort – from the Prophet Muhammad (upon him blessing and peace).
One of the most popular and prized ḥadīth amongst all Muslims is known as the “Hadith of Jibril.”1 Muslims who adhere to the rules of taqlīd – following a particular school of legal thought – and those who do not; and those Muslims who wish to be known as progressive minded in the war-plagued modern world, they all love this hadith very dearly. Some quote the hadith because it calls Muslims to adopt a sense of iḥsān (excellence in worship); others quote the hadith on the pulpit during their Friday sermons. There are even those who use the hadith as a summary of Islam itself. Scholars of ḥadīth have written volumes on the commentary of this beautiful hadith. No Muslim dare doubt the veracity of this hadith as it speaks to the mind and soul of his religious intelligence. Even non-Muslim admirers of Islam hold this ḥadīth in high esteem. Abu Hurairah, a companion of the Prophet (upon him blessing and peace), had accepted Islam only three years prior to the Prophet’s leaving this world. Abu Hurairah is one of several companions who have reported this hadith. It follows that many of the earlier Companions must have witnessed the event of this ḥadīth. Hence, this hadith is part of popular Islam.
Sunni Muslims believe that only a nabī (a prophet) can be a recipient of communicable waḥī (revelation).2 Sunni Muslims also believe that Allah uses angels as agents who communicate the Divine Word and message. A non-nabī is not at all privy to communicable waḥī since he does not have the faculty to actually receive that level of rational communication. A non-nabī does not have the tools to receive wahī that has to be communicated to other human beings for the sake of procuring their salvation. Hence, tablīgh (conveying waḥī) is primarily a function of prophets and not of non-prophets. In order for a non-prophet to qualify for the function of tablīgh, he/she would have to be prepped to at least potentially receive communicable waḥī.
Waḥī comes from the All Mighty Allah Who sends it down to the world of angels who then act as agents or transmitters of waḥī. These angels are not visible to any human being – that is other than prophets. Jibrīl is the angel who is designated to bring waḥī to all prophets. The unlettered Prophet Muhammad (upon him blessing and peace) had coached the spiritual psyche of his companions with such great dexterity that they became equipped to carry the burden of tablīgh (conveying the message to others). As a favor to the Companions, Allah sent Jibrīl to visit them while the Prophet Muhammad (upon him blessing and peace) was still amongst them. The Companions of the Prophet Muhammad (upon him blessing and peace) saw Jibrīl with their own eyes and heard him with their own ears. The Prophet (upon him blessing and peace) asked ʿUmar, who went out looking for this person when he left the gathering, “Do you know who that was ʿUmar?” When Umar responded in the negative, the Prophet stated, “This was Jibrīl. He came to teach you your Dīn (religion).”
The ṣuḥba of the Prophet was so intense that it brought down Allah’s providence which came in the form of Jibrīl coming to teach them what he taught the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace). The companionship with the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) had now converted ordinary human beings into special human beings who were blessed with the witnessing of the arch angel Jibrīl.
A couple of years later, in his address at the Farewell Hajj, the Prophet (upon him blessing and peace) ordained every companion to carry the burden of tablīgh when he said, “Convey from me – even though it might even be one ayah (that you convey).”3 Through ṣuḥba, the ṣaḥāba were now equipped – actually – to carry the burden of tablīgh to other human beings.
Even though a ḥadīth is a narration from the Prophet Muhammad (upon him blessing and peace), Muslim scholars showed their unique juristic (fiqhī) acumen by naming this ḥadīth the Ḥadīth of Jibrīl. This is because this ḥadīth is not about what the ṣaḥāba narrated from the Prophet (upon him blessing and peace). It is about what the ṣaḥāba narrated from Jibrīl. The miracle of Prophet Muhammad (upon him blessing and peace) was that he stamped his spiritual legacy on the hearts of his companions so that they inherited some of his prophetic abilities also. So it is no wonder that Abu Ḥanīfa — and other heirs of the Companions – gave the Companions an academic ranking above the degree of juristic acumen (fiqh). We should follow suit if we love the Hadith of Jibrīl.
Text of the Ḥadīth of Jibrīl
“One day when we were sitting with the Messenger of Allah (upon him blessing and peace), there came to us a man whose clothes were of exceeding whiteness and whose hair was of exceeding blackness. There were no signs of travel upon him although none of us knew him. He sat down knee to knee opposite the Prophet (upon him blessing and peace), upon whose thighs he placed the palms of his hands saying, “O Muhammad, tell me what is Islām (Submission)?” The Messenger (upon him blessing and peace) answered him saying, “Islam is to testify that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is Allah’s Messenger, to perform the prayer, pay (the charity of) Zakāt, fast (the month of) Ramadan, and make the pilgrimage to the Holy House (Kaʿba) – if you can.” He said, “You have spoken truthfully.”
We were amazed that, having questioned him (upon him blessing and peace), he should corroborate him. Then he said, “Tell me what is Faith (Īmān)?” He (upon him blessing and peace) answered, “To believe in Allah, His Angels, His books, His Messengers, the Last Day, and to believe that no good or evil comes but by His Providence.” “You have spoken truthfully,” he said, and then, “Tell me what is Excellence (Iḥsān)?” He SAW answered, “To worship Allah as if you see Him, for if you do not see Him, yet He sees you.” “You have spoken truthfully,” he said, and then, “Tell me of the Hour.” He (upon him blessing and peace) answered, “The one questioned about it knows no better than the questioner.” He said, “Then tell me of its signs.” He (upon him blessing and peace) answered, “That the slave-girl shall give birth to her mistress, and those who were but barefoot, naked, needy herdsmen shall build buildings ever higher and higher.”
Then the stranger went away, and I stayed a while after he had gone, and the Prophet SAW said to me, “O ʿUmar, do you know the questioner, who he was?” I said, “God and His Messenger (upon him blessing and peace) know best.” He (upon him blessing and peace) said, “It was Jibrīl (Gabriel). He came to teach you your religion.”
This narration is from Ṣaḥīh al-Bukhārī
More to come…
1 – A translation of the text of this ḥadīth is cited at the end of this article
2 – In the case of the mother of Mūsā and Maryam, their waḥī was not at all communicated to others. In fact, their waḥī was meant to be kept hidden from people.
3 – The word āyā in this ḥadīth refers not only to any of the Qurʾān, but also a ḥadīth.