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The Blessed Generation Succeeding the Companions


In the many places in it where the Qur’an praises the Companions, it also mentions the blessed generations following in their way. For example:

The Outstrippers, the first of the Emigrants and the Helpers, and those who followed them in good-doing, God is well-pleased with them and they are well-pleased with Him; and He has prepared for them gardens underneath which rivers flow, therein to dwell forever; that is the mighty triumph. (al-Tawba, 9.100)

The blessed generation succeeding the Companions must, first of all, be among those who are praised in the verse together with the Companions; like the Companions, they were well-pleased with God: Whatever came to them from God, whether good or bad, blessing or misfortune, they did not change their attitude. Conscious of their servanthood before God, they worshipped Him in deep respect and reverence. Like the Companions, again, they loved God deeply and put their trust in Him to the utmost degree. God’s Messenger praised them, saying: Good tidings for those who have seen me and believed in me, and good tidings for those who see those who saw me!193

The holy generation succeeding the Companions followed in the footsteps of the Companions and showed them due respect. They cherished no rancor and enmity against the believers and wished everyone well. In the words of the Qur’an,

As for those who came after them, they say: ‘Our Lord, forgive us and our brothers, who preceded us in belief, and put not into our hearts any rancour towards those who believe. Our Lord, surely You are the All-Gentle, the All-Compassionate.’ (al-Hashr, 59.10)

As described in the surah al-Tawbah (9. 100), this blessed generation followed the Companions in good-doing, the Arabic original of which is ihsan. In addition to its meaning explained above, that is, respect, being well-wishing and altruistic, it also means as in the hadith: Good-doing (ihsan) is that you worship God as if you were seeing Him; if, however, you do not actually see Him, surely He sees you.194 This generation came at a time when Jewish conspiracies and hypocrisy caused great dissensions among the Muslims. At that critical juncture, they protected Islam, defended it, and practised it in deep consciousness and devotion. They became the referents of the Qur’anic verse:

Our Lord, in You we trust; to You we turn; to You is the homecoming. (al-Mumtahana, 60.4)

Among them were those who performed every night hundreds of rak‘a (cycles) of prayer, who would recite the whole of the Qur’an every two or three days, who always did their obligatory prayers in congregation in a mosque, who, like Masruq, always slept in sajda (prostration) in front of the Ka‘ba, and who did not laugh loudly during their whole lives.

Uways al-Qarani is generally regarded as the greatest among the holy generation following the Companions. Although he was old enough to have seen the Prophet, he was not in fact able to see him. One day while sitting with his Companions, God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, advised them. If you see Uways al-Qarani, ask him to pray for you.195 ‘Umar asked, during his Caliphate, those who came from the Yemen for pilgrimage about Uways. When one year he found him among the pilgrims, he requested him to pray for him. Uncomfortable at being identified, Uways was never seen again among people196 until he was martyred in the Battle of Siffin on the side of ‘Ali, the Caliph.

There were many illustrious persons among this generation, like Masruq ibn al-Ajda’, Ata’ ibn Abi Rabah, Hasan al-Basri, Muhammad ibn Sirin, ‘Ali Zayn al-‘Abidin, Qasim ibn Muhammad and Muhammad ibn Munkadir, who were peerless in knowledge, piety and righteousness. Among them, Muhammad ibn Munkadir was called al-Bakka’, the one who cries much. He cried for fear of God so profusely that once his mother said to him: ‘O son! If I had not known you since childhood, I would think that you are crying for a sin you committed. Why do you cry so profusely?’197 Muhammad ibn Munkadir cried because he was deeply conscious of God’s Majesty, of the terror of the Day of Judgment and Hell.

He was, again, crying in his death-bed. When asked why, he replied: ‘I am afraid I will be included in the meaning of the verse, Yet there will appear to them from God that they never reckoned with (al-Zumar, 39.47).’

Masruq was one of those who worshipped God very earnestly. He used to sleep in prostration before tha Ka‘ba. When they suggested him repose in his last illness, he answered: ‘I swear by God that if someone appeared and told me that God would not punish me at all, still I would continue to pray him with the same earnestness as before.’ He did so because he was following the lord of mankind, who, when asked why he tired himself so much with praying, answered: Shall I not become a thankful servant?

Sa‘id ibn Jubayr was among the students of Ibn ‘Abbas. He fought against Hajjaj on the side of ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Kindi. In daytime he preached Islam, and spent the night praying. When finally he was seized, he was taken to the presence of Hajjaj. On the way, they spent a night in a monastery in a big forest. Sa‘id ibn Jubayr wanted to pray to God in the forest. The soldiers let him, thinking that wild animals would tear him to pieces. Sa‘id stood in prayer. The soldiers began to watch through the window and saw wild animals gathering in a circle around Sa‘id and also watching him.

They tortured him to take the oath of allegiance to Hajjaj, but he refused saying: ‘You are in the wrong, wronging the descendants of the Prophet. I will never take the oath of allegiance to you.’ Before he was put to death, he recited the verse which we recite during the animal sacrifice:

I have turned my face to Him who originated the heavens and the earth, a man of pure faith; I am not of those who associate partners with God. (al-An‘am, 6.79)

When they turned his face to another direction than the qibla (Masjid al-Haram in Makka), he recited:

To God belong the East and the West; Whithersoever you turn, there is the Face of God. (al-Baqara, 2.115)

They struck his neck with a sword and from his lips came out: ‘There is no god but God, Muhammad is the Messenger of God’.198

It was such persons as Sa‘id ibn Jubayr, Muhammad ibn Munkadir, Masruq ibn al-Ajda’ and Uways al-Qarani and many others of the same rank, who received the Traditions from the Companions and transmitted them to succeeding generations. Among them, the following few are also worth some fuller mention to recognize that blessed generation more closely:


Sa‘id ibn al-Musayyib

The foremost in Tradition, jurisprudence and the Qur’anic interpretation among the blessed generation succeeding the Companions was Sa‘id ibn al-Mussayyib. He was born fifteen years after the Hijra during the Caliphate of ‘Umar and had the opportunity to meet most of the Companions including, ‘Umar, ‘Uthman and ‘Ali.

Sa‘id ibn al-Musayyib was a genius in meditation, reflection and memory. He was also famous for his piety, righteousness and profound devotion to God. Everyone accepted him, during his lifetime, as the greatest figure in the field of Tradition.

Sa‘id ibn al-Musayyib began, as did Hasan al-Basri in Basra, to give opinions and deliver verdicts on legal matters at the early age of around twenty. The Companions admired him greatly. On one occasion, ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar remarked: ‘If God’s Messenger had seen that young man, he would have been very pleased with him.’199

He was extremely careful in performing his daily prayers in congregation in the mosque. ‘I have always said the opening takbir (Allahu akbar) of the daily prayers just following the imam (leader of the prayer) for fifty years’, he used to say.2005 He never neglected even a single commandment of the Sunna. Once, he was ill and doctors advised him to stay in the valley of ‘Aqiq for one month. However, he objected: ‘Then, how can I come to the mosque for the prayers of night and dawn?’ He was not content to perform the prescribed prayers anywhere except in the Prophet’s Mosque.201

He did not take the oath of allegiance to the Caliph Walid. Although Hisham, the governor of Madina, had him beaten every day until the stick was broken, he did not yield. When his friends, such as Masruq and Tawus, advised him to give an oral consent to Walid’s caliphate in order to be saved from being beaten, he used to answer: ‘People follow us in acting. If we consent, how will we be able to explain this to them?’202

Sa‘id ibn al-Musayyib married the daughter of Abu Hurayra in order to be nearer to him and to learn better the Traditions that he narrated. The Caliph ‘Abd al-Malik appealed to him marry his daughter (born of his marriage to Abu Hurayra’s daughter) to his son, Hisham. Sa‘id ibn al-Musayyib refused and, in the face of increasing pressures and threats, he offered her to Ibn Abi Wada’, who stayed in the madrasa, the school-building.203

Imam Shafi‘i took as unquestionably authentic the Traditions that Sa‘id ibn al-Mussayyib narrated without mentioning the Companion from whom he received them. This means that, in the view of Imam Shafi‘i, Sa‘id ibn al-Musayyib was of the same rank as the Companions in knowledge and narration of the Prophetic Traditions. Among those who received Traditions from Sa‘id ibn al-Musayyib, Ata’ ibn Abi Rabah, Qatada, Muhammad al-Baqir, a great grandson of Ali’s, Zuhri and Yahya ibn Sa‘id al-Ansari, are worthy of special mention.


Alqama ibn Qays al-Nakha’i

Basra was honored, during the time of the blessed generation succeeding the Companions, by, in particular, Hasan al-Basri, the Yemen by Tawus ibn Qaysan, Madina by Sa‘id ibn al-Musayyib, and Kufa by Alqama ibn Qays al-Nakha’i.

Kufa was first enlightened by ‘Abdullah ibn Mas‘ud during the Caliphate of ‘Umar, and then directly by ‘Ali, the fourth Caliph, who transferred the center of the Caliphate there. This gave Alqama a splendid opportunity to meet many Companions to learn the life and Traditions of God’s Messenger at first hand.

Alqama is the founder of the School of Kufa in Islamic religious sciences. Those who saw him remembered ‘Abdullah ibn Mas‘ud. Alqama followed in the footsteps of Ibn Mas‘ud in praying and conduct, in practising Islam as a whole. ‘Amr ibn Shurahbil, who was among the great scholars who narrated Traditions from Alqama, frequently suggested to those near him: ‘Come and let us go to the one who resembles Ibn Mas‘ud the most in conduct and attitudes.’204 Ibn Mas‘ud represented God’s Messenger wholly. As the Messenger desired to listen to Ibn Mas’ud’s recitation of the Qur’an, so also Ibn Mas’ud liked to listen to Alqama.205

Imam Abu Hanifa, who is generally accepted as the greatest of Muslim jurists, one also famous for his piety and austerity, admired Alqama so much that he used to comment: ‘Alqama is probably more profound in [knowledge] of Tradition and jurisprudence than some Companions.’

One day, a man came to Alqama and insulted him very greatly; the illustrious scholar showed no indignation and, after the man had finished his impudence, recited, in reply, the verse:

Those who hurt believing men and believing women, without their having earned it, have laid upon themselves calumny and manifest sin. (al-Ahzab, 33.58)

The man retorted: ‘Are you a believer?’ Alqama answered humbly: ‘I hope so.’206

Alqama struggled with falsehood in his time and did not obey the wrongdoing administrators among the Umayyads. As he himself received Traditions from hundreds of Companions, many leading figures among his own and succeeding generations also narrated from him. Alqama brought up the most illustrious scholars of the Kufan School such as Aswad ibn Yazid al-Nakha’i, Ibrahim al-Nakha’i and Hammad ibn Abi Sulayman, and made Kufa into a propitious ethos for the upbringing of Sufyan al-Thawri, Abu Hanifa and many others.


Urwa ibn Zubayr ibn al-‘Awwam

‘Urwa was born the son of Zubayr ibn al-Awwam, one of those ten for whom Paradise was promised while alive, and the son of the Prophet’s paternal aunt, Safiyya, and his mother was Asma’, the daughter of Abu Bakr, and who spent much of her life with ‘A’isha, Mother of Believers.

‘Urwa can be regarded as a student of ‘A’isha, his aunt. He was also taught by Sa‘id ibn al-Musayyib, who was seven or eight years older than himself.

‘Urwa was one of the seven greatest jurists of his time. Most of the Traditions narrated by ‘A’isha were transmitted by him to succeeding generations. He also received Traditions from ‘Ali, ‘Umar, Ibn ‘Abbas, Abu Ayyub al-Ansari and many other Companions. From ‘Urwa, many illustrious figures of succeeding generations, like Qatada ibn Di‘ama, Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri, Yahya ibn Sa‘id al-Ansari and Zayd ibn Aslam, narrated.

‘Urwa, like his contemporaries, was extremely pious. One of his feet became gangrenous and while it was being amputated with a saw, he made no complaints at all and only the verse, We have encountered weariness from this journey of ours (al-Kahf, 18.62), came out of his mouth. When one of his four sons died some time later, ‘Urwa stretched his arms before the Ka‘ba and glorified God, saying: ‘O God! You gave me four limbs, two arms and two legs, and four sons. You have taken one from both groups and left to me the remaining three. Many thousands of thanks be to You!’207

‘Urwa was certainly included in the meaning of the verse, God is well-pleased with them, and they are well-pleased with Him (al-Bayyina, 98.8).


Muhammad ibn Muslim ibn Shihab al-Zuhri

Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri is the one from whom one fourth of the Prophetic Traditions were narrated among the first generation following the Companions. His father, Muslim, had struggled against the Umayyads, particularly against Hajjaj. That is why the Umayyad government usually kept him under surveillance – he did not, as alleged, support the Umayyads.

Like the others who were honoured by God as the most reliable narrators of the Prophetic Traditions, Ibn Shibab al-Zuhri had an extraordinarily keen memory. He memorized the Qur’an before he was seven in only eight days, and he was eighteen years old when he began to do ijtihad, that is, to deliver verdicts on Islamic religious or legal matters, on the basis of principles laid down in the Qur’an and the Sunna of the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings. There was nothing he would forget after he had learned it: ‘I have betrayed nothing which God put in my heart as a trust’, he used to say.208

Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri got his first education from Sa‘id ibn al-Musayyib, who taught him for eight years. He was also taught by ‘Ubayd Allah ibn ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Utba, who was one of the seven leading jurists of the time.

Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri dedicated himself wholly to Hadith. He says: ‘I have shuttled between Hijaz and Damascus for forty years for the sake of Hadith.’209

Some accuse Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri of having flattered the Umayyads. This is merely a lie contradicted by historical facts. It is true that he tutored the sons of Caliph Hisham. However, this is not a fault and does not mean that he supported the Umayyads. He should, by contrast, be praised since he tried to guide the future rulers of the Muslim community to truth.

Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri was the son of Muslim ibn Shihab, who supported ‘Abdullah ibn Zubayr who fought against the Umayyads for many years. In his first meeting with Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri , the Caliph ‘Abd al-Malik reminded him of this fact. But Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri never feared to speak the truth to the Umayyad rulers. Some of the Umayyads alleged that it is ‘Ali who is referred to in as for him among them who took upon himself the greater part of it, a mighty chastisement awaits him, coming after Those who came with slander are a band of you; do not reckon it evil for you; rather it is good for you. Every man of them shall have the sin that he has earned charged to him (al-Nur, 24.11), which was revealed on the occasion of the slander against ‘A’isha, Mother of Believers. This was, of course, a great calumny against ‘Ali. Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri openly stated in the Umayyad court that the sentence in question refers to ‘Abdullah ibn Ubayy ibn Salul, the head of the hypocritical band in Madina. When the Caliph frowned at him, Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri retorted: ‘May you be left without a father! I swear by God that if a herald were to announce from heaven that God allows lying, I would not lie at all!’210

Although Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri defended ‘Ali in the court of the Umayyads against the Caliph, he was first accused of fabricating Traditions in favour of the Umayyads by Ya‘qubi, a Shi‘ite historian, as was Abu Hurayra by another Shi‘ite called Abu Ja‘far al-Iskafi. According to the false account of Ya‘qubi, the Caliph ‘Abd al-Malik had Masjid al-Aqsa’ in Quds repaired in order to encourage the Muslims to circumambulate it instead of the Ka‘ba, and asked Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri to fabricate a Tradition to that effect. Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri was supposed to have fabricated: It is not worth travelling [for prayer] except to the three mosques: Masjid al-Haram, Masjid al-Aqsa’ and my Masjid here.

I argued in favor of the authenticity of this hadith earlier in this book. In fact, Ya‘qubi laid himself open to ridicule through such an unreasonable account. No history book whether belonging to the Christians or Jews or the Muslims, has ever recorded that Masjid al-Aqsa’ has been circumambulated as the Ka‘ba is. Second, the Qur’an itself extols Masjid al-Aqsa’ and the Muslims revere it. Therefore, it does not need a fabrication for it to be revered by the Muslims. Third, not only the Caliph ‘Abd al-Malik, but also the Caliph ‘Umar, Nur al-Din al-Zangi and Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi had it repaired. Fourth, it is impossible that Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri met ‘Abd al-Malik during his reign and fabricated a hadith for him against whom his own father (in the company of ‘Abdullah ibn Zubayr) was fighting. Besides, Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri was not famous as a Traditionist during the same period, and it was during the Caliphate, and upon the order of, the Caliph ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz that he started the formal compilation of the Traditions. Fifth, ‘Abd al-Malik was not the sort of man to have attempted such an absurd fraud. Before his Caliphate, he was very pious and an authority in Tradition; he was well acquainted with the scholars among his generation. Although he did not succeed, while Caliph, in retaining former reputation among scholars for piety, he cannot have lowered himself so far to make an attempt to fabricate a hadith.

Despite its absurdity, Goldziher, an Orientalist who tried during his whole life to undermine the second source of Islam –the Sunna – took this account of Ya‘qubi as an opportunity to defame Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri, who was the first formal compiler of the Traditions and narrated a quarter of them. Modern so-called researchers in the Muslim world, such as Ahmad Amin, ‘Ali Hasan ‘Abd al-Qadir and Abu Rayya, who are, in fact, spokesmen of the Orientalists, have repeated the same. While the science of Hadith, unparalleled in history, is founded on the most secure and sound pillars and whose real sources are there for anyone unprejudiced to study, Goldziher and his followers have based themselves on folkloric and poetical books such as ‘Iqd al-Farid and al-Aghani (Songs) and books on animals like Kitab al-Hayawan, all of which have nothing to do with Hadith and do not have any kind of scientific approach.

Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri is one of the greatest authorities on Hadith. The leading critics of Hadith such as Ibn al-Madini, Ibn Hibban, Abu Khatim, Hafiz al-Dhahabi and Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani are all agreed upon his indisputable authority. He received Traditions from many Companions and numerous scholars among the first and second generations after the Companions narrated from him.

Among the blessed generation succeeding the Companions are many others worthy of mention, like Aswad ibn Yazid al-Nakha’i, Nafi‘, the teacher of Imam Malik, the founder of the Maliki School of Law, and Tawus ibn Qaysan, who did not sleep for forty years between the night and dawn prayers. However, the scope of this book does not allow me to go into further details.


193. Hakim, Mustadrak, 4.86; Haythami, Majma‘, 10.20; Hindi, Kanz al-‘Ummal, 11.530

194. Bukhari, “Tafsir,” 31/2; Abu Dawud, “Sunna,” 16; Muslim, “Iman,” 5-7.

195. Muslim, “Fada’il al-Sahaba,” 223–4.

196. Muslim, “Fada’il al-Sahaba,” 223–4.

197. Abu Nu‘aym, Hilya, 3.146.

198. Abu Nu‘aym, Hilya, 4.291–5; I. Kathir, al-Bidaya, 9.117.

199. M, ‘Ajjaj al-Khatib, al-Sunna Qabl al-Tadwin, 485.

200. Abu Nu‘aym, Hilya, 1.163.

201. Ibid., 2.172.

202. I. Sa‘d, Tabaqat, 5.126.

203. Ibid., 5.138; Dhahabi, Siyaru A’lam al-Nubala, 4.234.

204. I. Sa’d, 6.86; Abu Nu‘aym, 2.98.

205. I. Sa‘d, 6.90–1.

206. I. Sa‘d, 6.86; Abu Nu‘aym, 2.100.

207. Abu Nu‘aym, 2.179.

208. Abu Nu‘aym, 3.364; Dhahabi, Tadhkirat al-Huffaz, 1.109.

209. Ibn Kathir, 9.375.

210. M. ‘Ajjaj al-Khatib, 509–10.