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 (May Allah be pleased with him) 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 (PBUH).
During the period of Al-Wada'iin, the writers who were specialized in telling lies about the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) misused Abu Hurairah's wide reputation for narrating about the Messenger of Allah (PBUH), 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 (PBUH) 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 (May Allah be pleased with him) was saved from the lies and fabrications that the vicious wanted to infiltrate into Islam through him and to make him bear their sins.
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Now, when we hear a preacher, lecturer or the one who delivers the Friday sermon saying this transmitted expression, "Narrated by Abu Hurairah (May Allah be pleased with him): The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) 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 (PBUH), 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 (PBUH) and his Companions were living and of transporting you to that horizon which witnessed the glorious deeds of the Prophet (PBUH) 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 lmam.
It was A.H.7 when he went to the Prophet (PBUH), while the latter was in khaibar, and embraced Islam. From the time he pledge allegiance to the Prophet (PBUH), he would not part from him except to sleep. Thus were the four years in which he lived with the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) 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.
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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.
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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 (PBUH). 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 (PBUH) 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 coming generations? Yes, this was the role that his talents made possible for him to play, and he had to play it without flagging.
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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 (PBUH). When the Prophet (PBUH) 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 (May Allah be pleased with him) 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 (PBUH) 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 (PBUH) 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 (PBUH). 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 (PBUH) abundantly, especially in those years that followed his death (PBUH) 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 (PBUH) 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.
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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 (PBUH), 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.
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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 (PBUH) 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 (PBUH) narrates about him more than I do except `Abd Allah Ibn Amr Ibn Al-'Aas. He used to write, but I didn't."
Imam Ash- Shaafiy (May Allah be pleased with him) said about him, "No one in his period was more capable of narrating traditions with such a memory than Abu Hurairah."
Al Bukhaariy (May Allah be pleased with him) 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 (May Allah be pleased with him) 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 (PBUH), 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 (PBUH) 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 (PBUH) 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 beard 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 (PBUH) 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." He said, "O Allah, make every believer love this slave of Yours and his mother."
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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 lbn Al-Khattaab (May Allah be pleased with him), 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-Madiinah.
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." He added, "I'm afraid I would judge without knowledge or speak without patience."
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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-Baqii'
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 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."