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.’ 5
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.’
5. Haythami, Majma‘ al-Zawa’id, 1.57; Hindi, Kanz al-‘Ummal, 13.353.
This article has been adapted from Risale- i Nur Collection.