Why can No One else be on par with the Companions?
The Muslim scholars of the highest rank, whose minds are enlightened by scientific knowledge and whose souls are illumined by religious knowledge and practice, are agreed that the Prophets are the greatest among humankind. The second rank in greatness belongs to the Companions of the Last Prophet, who is the greatest of the Prophets. Although there may be some among the Companions who are of the same rank as previous Prophets in some one or other particular virtue, no one can be equal to a Prophet in general terms. Likewise, some of the greatest saints or scholars can compete with the Companions, or even there may be some among them who excel the Companions in some particular virtues, a Companion of even the lowest rank like Wahshi, is still greater, in general terms, than all those who came after the Companions. This is what all Muslim scholars, whether Traditionists or theologians or saints, are unanimously agreed upon.
The factors in the greatness of Companionship
Relation to Messengership
Prophethood is greater than sainthood and Messengership is greater than Prophethod. Every Prophet is a saint but no saint is a Prophet. Although every Messenger is a Prophet, every Prophet is not a Messenger at the same time. God’s Messenger, the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, is the last and the greatest of both the Prophets and Messengers. The Companions are related directly to the Messengership of God’s Messenger; they are connected with him on account of his mission of Messengership. All those who came after the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, however great they may be, are connected with him on account of sainthood, not Messengership and Prophethood. Therefore, a Companion is greater than a saint to the degree that Messengership is greater than sainthood; the distance between them is impossible to cover.
The benefits of company
Nothing can compare with the enlightenment and spiritual exhilaration to be gained from the actual presence or company of a Prophet. However much you read the writings of an intellectual, especially a spiritual, master, you cannot derive from them as much benefit or enlightenment as he gives to his direct audience. It is for this reason that the Companions, particularly those who were in his company most often and from the very beginning, benefited from him so much that they were elevated from the rank of being crude, ignorant and savage desert men to the rank of being the religious, intellectual, spiritual and moral guides of humanity until the Last Day.
In order to be a Companion, one should be able to go back to the Makka or Madina of the seventh century, listen to God’s Messenger attentively and observe him speaking, walking, eating, fighting, praying, prostrating before God, and so on. Since this is impossible for anybody after the Prophet, no one can attain to the rank of the Companions, who were endowed with Divine coloring in the presence of God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings.
Islam is based on truthfulness and nothing is as incompatible with Islam as lying. The Companions were first to embrace Islam in its original, pristine purity and being a Muslim meant for them abandoning all their previous vices, and being purified in the radiant atmosphere of Divine Revelation and becoming the embodiment of Islam. They would rather die than tell a single lie. God’s Messenger once declared that if apostasy is as repugnant to a man as entering fire, then that man must have tasted the pleasure of belief. The Companions tasted the pleasure of believing and being sincere Muslims, so it was impossible for them to turn to lying, which for them was an offence of almost the same gravity as apostasy. However, it is difficult for us to understand this point fully, seeing that we live in a time when lying and deceit have come to be regarded as skills and almost all virtues have come to be replaced by vices.
The atmosphere created by Revelation
The Companions were honored with being the first to receive the Divine Messages through the Prophet. Every day came to them with original messages and every day they were invited to a new ‘Divine table’, full of ever-fresh ‘fruits’ of Paradise. Every passing day they experienced radical changes in their lives and were elevated higher to the Presence of God, and every day increased them in belief and conviction. They found themselves in the verses of the Qur’an revealed one after the other and enjoyed the possibility of learning directly whether God approved their actions at any time or place. For example, when the verse,
Those who are with him are hard against the unbelievers, merciful one to another. You see them bowing, prostrating, seeking blessing from God and good pleasure. Their mark is on their faces, the trace of prostration. (al-Fath, 48.29)
was revealed, and whenever and wherever it was recited, eyes were turned to, primarily, Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, ‘Uthman and ‘Ali, who were famous for always being with God’s Messenger from the very beginning, for hardness against the unbelievers, for being merciful to their Muslim brothers, and for frequent and long bowing and prostration before God, seeking His good pleasure. Likewise, when the verse,
Among the believers are men who were true to their covenant with God; some of them have fulfilled their vow by death, and some are still awaiting, and they have not changed in the least. (al-Ahzab, 33.23)
was recited, everyone remembered the martyrs of Uhud, Hamza, Anas ibn Nadr and ‘Abdullah ibn Jahsh primarily, and the others who had promised God to give their lives willingly in His Way. While God explicitly mentioned the name of Zayd ibn Haritha in the verse,
So when Zayd had accomplished what he would of her ... (al-Ahzab, 33.37)
He declared in another verse (al-Fath, 48,18) that He was well pleased with the believers when they swore fealty to God’s Messenger under a tree during the expedition of Hudaybiya. In such a blessed, pure and radiant atmosphere, the Companions practiced Islam in its original fullness, its pristine purity, based on deep perception, profound insight and knowledge of God. So, even an ordinary believer who is aware of the meaning of belief and connection with God, and who is trying to practice Islam sincerely, can grasp some glimpse of the purity of the first channel through which the Sunna of the Prophet was transmitted to the next generation.
The difficulty of the circumstances
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.’149
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.’
149. Haythami, Majma‘ al-Zawa’id, 1.57; Hindi, Kanz al-‘Ummal, 13.353.