Lecture 11 in the series: UNVEILING THE LESSER KNOWN COMPANIONS OF THE PROPHET (SAWA)
By: Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider on 2 October 2017 (Muharram 1439) at the Ahlul Bait (a.s) Islamic Centre, Ottery, Cape Town)
We have a Hadith from Rasulullah (SAWA), recorded as authentic in both Sunni and Shia resources, where he says that one should seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave. This means that seeking knowledge is a never-ending journey.
I want to share a personal experience in this regard. When I reached Qum many years ago, I came across a brother from the UK who was a lot more senior to me, armed with a Masters in Philosophy. I asked him when he became Muslim. He smiled and responded by saying that he is still becoming Muslim, because according to him, Islam is a continuous process of discovering truth and surrendering before that truth whenever and irrespective of wherever it is!!
Submission to truth is a continuous process. We never reach to a point where we can claim that we no longer need guidance and therefore no longer need to search for the truth. Quite the contrary, as this journey of seeking truth is everlasting.
SALMAN’S INSATIABLE THIRST FOR KNOWLEDGE
Let me introduce you to this unique personality from amongst of the companions of Rasulullah (SAWA). He is a very important personality to understand and is the manifestation of this endless struggle to seek Truth on any price, at anytime throughout his life.
Salman Farsi is all about committing his full existence to seeking truth, following truth and sacrificing himself for that truth on any price.
As you may have noted from this lecture series, I tend to start the discussion of a particular Sahabi by relaying their background before they became Muslim. Salman has a unique journey in this regard, and quite a long story associated with his background.
SALMAN’S EARLY YEARS OF DEVELOPMENT
To start with, he was blessed with a very long life, having lived for a minimum of 250 years according to conservative estimates. He is the first Persian to have accepted Islam, and was born somewhere in Isfahan. What is clear is that his father was very rich, and owned vast acres of farmlands. Thus, Salman’s early life was one of luxury and comfort.
History has recorded that Salman’s parents were Zoroastrians, which is an ancient Persian religion, but history is unclear whether he was a Zoroastrian, as he was deemed a rebel from an early age.
One day, while he was still young, his father sent him on a religious mission far from their home. This is where he encountered a monastery and as I said this nature of sincerely seeking truth was Salman’s nature from a very early age. He was never at peace with the Zoroastrian religion, so he went inside this monastery to figure out what on earth is going on.
SALMAN IS INFLUENCED BY CHRISTIANITY
He started engaging with the senior monks over there and as a result he became intrigued by Christianity, believing it to be a better religion than Zoroastrianism, but he said to these monks that he wants to meet the main leader of Christianity at its headquarters. They told him that their leader and headquarters are based in Syria.
Anyways, he returned home and informed his father about being introduced to Christianity. His father naturally became very upset, and it is reported that he was imprisoned and tortured. Salman managed to escape and ran away, leaving behind this life of comfort in search of truth!
Salman ended up in Syria, and met the head of Christianity. This is where Salman learned Christianity properly, and became the master of the old and new testaments. Salman is known for this, since he lived in Syria for many years.
SALMAN’S THIRST FOR KNOWLEDGE TAKES HIM FROM SYRIA TO IRAQ
Salman enquired from his teacher when he was on his deathbed, about where to go next to progress his thirst for knowledge on Christianity. His teacher in Syria suggested he move to Mosul in Iraq. This is the same city that was recently freed from ISIS terrorists. Historically, Mosul was a very big center for Christianity, and this is where Salman continued to pursue his religious education.
However, his teacher in Mosul also passed away and on his final moments he asked his teacher where he should go next to further his religious education. His teacher recommended a highly virtuous scholar in the city of Naseebain, but then after a while this scholar also died, and Salman was recommended to another city. What is clearly evident from this series of events is Salman’s insatiable thirst for knowledge and seeking the right path.
However, in all these journeys and exposure to scriptures of Christianity (old and new testaments) he came across special news that the final messenger of God (SWT) will appear in the Arabian Peninsula, and that this messenger will be the representative of ALL the prophets, Moses, David, Jesus and all other prophets. This is what Salman was looking for.
SALMAN’S LIFE JOURNEY OF SEEKING TRUTH LANDS HIM IN MADINA
Apparently, the last teacher of Salman told him in very clear words that he should go to a place called Yathrib where he will find the final messenger of God (SWT). Salman then embarked on this journey to Yathrib, but was unfortunately kidnapped en-route.
He was then made a slave where he was sold and resold, and in this process of being traded, he was sold to a Jew of Madina. This is how Salman ended up in Madina, and Rasulullah (SAWA) had just recently migrated to Madina. Indeed, Allah (SWT) is the best of planners and His plan works in mysterious ways!
This chain of events means that Salman did not participate in the Battles of Badr and Uhud. He heard about this Prophet (Muhammad (SAWA)) in Madina through his slave master, who insulted this Prophet (Rasulullah (SAWA)) when he spoke to Salman about him. Salman’s enquiring mind naturally made him wonder whether this is the same prophet that his teacher told him about.
SALMAN MEETS OUR BELOVED PROPHET MUHAMMAD (SAWA)
Salman recalled his teacher mentioning that this Prophet will have 3 distinguishing features:
1. He does not accept Sadaqa (charity) but does accept Hadiyah (gifts);
2. Between his 2 shoulders is a mark to signify that he is a Prophet of God (SWT).
Salman used to work on the date farm of this Jewish man. From here he took some dates when he visited Rasulullah (SAWA) and presented him these dates as Sadaqa. Rasulullah (SAWA) replied that he does not eat charity. So this was the first tick in the box for Salman!
Salman then returned the next day with more dates, and told Rasulullah (SAWA) that this is a gift to him ie. not charity. Rasulullah (SAWA) then accepted and they enjoyed these dates together.
Then, on the next day, Rasulullah (SAWA) was burying one of his companions in Jannatul Baqi, Madina. During this burial process, Salman is trying his level best and struggling to look at Rasulullah’s (SAWA) shoulders. Rasulullah (SAWA) was able to catch-on what Salman was looking for and hence removed his cloak. Salman then saw this mark and on this point he accepted Islam and became a devout follower of Rasulullah (SAWA).
Rasulullah (SAWA) together with some of the Sahaba helped pay the price for Salman to be freed as a slave from his Jewish slave master.
HADITH FROM RASULULLAH (SAWAS) ABOUT THE VIRTUES OF SALMAN
As I mentioned earlier, Salman was the first Persian to accept Islam and very knowledgeable through his more than 200 year journey until he met Rasulullah (SAWA). Bear in mind that Salman was Muslim for only the last 36 years of his life, due to him meeting Rasulullah (SAWA) only at this stage.
Rasulullah (SAWA) also introduced Salman as a scholar, praising his deep knowledge. You find those Hadith which very beautifully describes Salman. One of those special Hadith highlighting the virtues of Salman is where Rasulullah (SAWA) said that Paradise is fond of 4 people. They are Ali (a.s), Salman, Miqdad, and Abu Dharr.
There is another Hadith where Rasulullah (SAWA) said that Salman is fond of Paradise, but Paradise is fonder of Salman! This shows that the mindset of Salman was not about Heaven and Hell. He was looking for something else. Imam Ali (a.s) says that the worship of Salman was that of the free people, who worshipped Almighty Allah (SWT) because he truly believed that there is none other who is worthy of worship.
There are many other Hadith highlighting the virtues of Salman.
ARAB RACISM EXPERIENCED BY SALMAN
There are a few points to delve deeper in understanding this giant of a Sahabi by the name of Salman Farsi.
Some people could not tolerate the prominence of Salman in the eyes of Rasulullah (SAWA). Salman being a non-Arab (amongst the Arabs) was always requested by Rasulullah (SAWA) to sit next to him, giving Salman this importance and respect.
One of the people present spoke with contempt about Salman, remonstrating that where did this Persian come from all of a sudden and sits in front like a boss?! Rasulullah (SAWA) got very upset at hearing this, responding that Islam came to promote the message of one humanity, and the message of virtue, based upon Taqwa (faith in God), and not virtue based upon ethnic/national boundaries.
Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) then read for these people verse 13 from Surah Hujraat (chapter 49 of the Holy Quran), which breaks down these boundaries and highlights that those superior are the ones with superior faith, virtue and righteousness.
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُمْ مِنْ ذَكَرٍ وَأُنْثَىٰ وَجَعَلْنَاكُمْ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَائِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوا ۚ إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ أَتْقَاكُمْ ۚ ٌ
“O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you.”
According to some commentators of the Holy Quran, the last part of verse 38 of Surah Muhammad (chapter 47) was revealed in direct reference to Salman:
هَا أَنْتُمْ هَٰؤُلَاءِ تُدْعَوْنَ لِتُنْفِقُوا فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ فَمِنْكُمْ مَنْ يَبْخَلُ ۖ وَمَنْ يَبْخَلْ فَإِنَّمَا يَبْخَلُ عَنْ نَفْسِهِ ۚ وَاللَّهُ الْغَنِيُّ وَأَنْتُمُ الْفُقَرَاءُ ۚ وَإِنْ تَتَوَلَّوْا يَسْتَبْدِلْ قَوْمًا غَيْرَكُمْ ثُمَّ لَا يَكُونُوا أَمْثَالَكُمْ
“Behold! you are those who are called upon to spend in Allah’s way, but among you are those who are niggardly, and whoever is niggardly is niggardly against his own soul; and Allah is Self-sufficient and you have need (of Him), and if you turn back He will bring in your place another people, then they will not be like you.”
PERSIAN CONTRIBUTION TO SUNNI AND SHIA ISLAM
History says that Rasulullah (SAWA) placed his hand on the shoulder of Salman when this verse was revealed, saying that Salman and his nation are the people who will even travel to the galaxies of the Milky Way to seek the religion of Islam if that is what is needed.
Our Sunni brothers did not have any problem with this Hadith, because Iranians were not Shia centuries ago. In fact, Iranians were known for their love of Mu’awiya of all people!!
Shia originated and established itself in Iraq. It is only MUCH LATER that Shia became institutionalized in Iran, even though the love of Ahlul Bait (a.s) was very much in their hearts and culture from an early age. However, certain cities like Qum are the exception, as they were always Shia cities. The majority of Iran was always Sunni.
In Baghdad, you will see at the Shrine of Imam al-A’dham Abu Hanifa, who is amongst the foremost jurists of Ahle Sunnah wal Jama’ah, that this Hadith is written on his Shrine, ie. that the nation of Salman will chase after the religion of Islam even if it reaches as far as the galaxy.
For those who don’t know, Imam Abu Hanifa was of Persian descent.
PROMINENT SUNNI THEOLOGIANS WERE IRANIAN
The truth and reality is that this Hadith is very beautiful when one reflects on the services of Iranians to Islam. In the latter part of history it is in the form of Shia Islam, but the earlier part of history is very much concentrated with significant contribution by Iranians to Sunni Islam.
A prominent personality like Imam Bukhari was Persian speaking. Similarly, Imam Ghazali was Iranian. Furthermore, Imam Muslim was Iranian. And as we mentioned Imam Abu Hanifa was Iranian too! This list can continue, of giant intellectual philosophers and jurists of Sunni Islam.
A similar scenario is evident from Shia Islam in the latter years, where Iranians have flourished.
Hence, this Hadith of Rasulullah (SAWA) is certainly worth reflecting on.
Shaheed Ayatullah Morteza Motahhari wrote a book called “Services of Islam to Iran, and Iran to Islam”. In this book, he elaborates how Islam liberated Iranians from their old cultures. He then details the significant contribution that Iranians made to Islam.
Coming back to the incident of Salman we mentioned earlier…Rasulullah (SAWA) told the people to not refer to Salman as al-Farsi. Rather, they should him al-Muhammadi!
SALMAN’S STRATEGIC INFLUENCE IN THE BATTLE OF KHANDAQ
The role of Salman as a thinker, scholar and adviser was so vast. History recorded for us about the vast knowledge of Salman. Some of the enemies of Islam (orientalists), created a doubt and said that Salman secretively use to share with Rasulullah (SAWA) matters from the old and new testament and Rasulullah (SAWA) would convey this to the people in the form of the Quran. In other words, what they were insinuating was that the Quran is a production of Salman!
This became a big issue at that time, because there were hardly any learned people, and Salman was the expert of Divine scriptures at that time. They started saying that Salman influenced the Holy Quran, and this is a view that even some orientalists hold today unfortunately.
Salman played a very important role in the history of Islam. After he became Muslim, he played an influential role in the Battle of Khandaq where he suggested that the city of Madina should be protected with trenches.
SALMAN IS “FROM US AHLUL BAIT (A.S)”
He was an old man, but a key decision maker in the Battle of Khandaq. People of Madina were very impressed with him and suggested that he should be referred to as one of them. Then the people of Mecca also said that he should be referred to as one of them, since he is a migrant like the rest of them.
This is when Rasulullah (SAWA) intervened and announced “Salman minna Ahlul Bait!” Salman is from us Ahlul Bait (a.s)! This is the highest title to be conveyed upon Salman!
Salman’s commitment to Ahlul Bait (a.s) is also from the best! He was one of the closest to Imam Ali (a.s). Shia technically means the party of Ali (a.s) and the first 4 people on whom the title “Shia” applied was Salman, Ammar, Miqdad and Abu Dharr.
Salman stood uncompromisingly on the issue of Saqifa. Out of his wisdom as a true visionary, he said: ”Oh people, if you would have paid allegiance to Ali on the day of Saqifa, all the blessings and favors of Almighty Allah (SWT) would have been revealed upon you.”
SALMAN BECAME THE GOVERNOR OF MADA’IN
Salman defended Ahlul Bait (a.s) on every stage. With the permission of Imam Ali (a.s), Salman became the governor of Mada’in, which is an area close to Baghdad. His salary as the governor was 5000 Dirhams, and history recorded that he left this full amount untouched. He was an expert weaver, and continued this trade while he was the governor of Mada’in. His livelihood was funded from the proceeds of sale from the weaving merchandise he produced, leaving his salary from being a governor untouched.
History recorded that from his early years as the governor of Mada’in, Salman never had a house, but rather use to sleep under the tree! This was his level of Salman’s asceticism, where he completely divorced himself from the pleasures of this world.
Apparently, Salman had one Abaya (thobe) and he used this one Abaya to clothe himself. At night, he would also use this same thobe to act as his blanket when he slept under a tree!
When people insisted that he should have a house, he built a little room, tight enough for him to fit in – nothing beyond that! People asked him for his logic behind living under such restrictive conditions, to which he replied that he is too scared to live in any form of comfort as life in the grave is a very confined space, which he wants to prepare for in this world already! This is the level of wisdom and spirituality of Salman!
SALMAN BIDS FAREWELL TO THIS WORLD
The narrations of Salman are truly astonishing, until he passed away in Mada’in. All of our Imams have praised Salman immensely for his Taqwa, knowledge, asceticism, services to the poor and focused devotion to Almighty Allah (SWT). Some of the Hadith also speak about his extraordinary capacities, such as being able to control the dogs of Mada’in.
Furthermore, history records that when Salman passed away, somebody arrived with a very fast horse. This person stopped those who were busy with the Ghusl of Salman and proceeded to perform it himself on Salman, together with the other burial rites. This person was none other than Ali ibn abi Talib (a.s)
After burying Salman, Imam Ali (a.s) wrote a very beautiful poetry, as follows:
“I entered on a generous person without anything with me, from good deeds or a clean heart…I brought nothing. Why? Because it is the worst manner to visit a generous person with something you bring with you”.
To understand this poetry, compare it to you bringing your own food to an invitation from a very generous person! Imam Ali (a.s) is saying that he came empty-handed to the very generous Salman, because it is the worst thing to visit a generous person by bringing with something of your own to the invitation.
This was Salman, and why Imam Ali (a.s) showed such great respect to him!
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