The Companions of the Prophet: A Study of Geographical Distribution and Political Alignments (Islamic History and Civilization)

  • Book Title:
 The Companions Of The Prophet
  • Book Author:
Fuad Jabali
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No other generation of Muslims has received the attention that the Companions of the Prophet have. The Companions constituted what is believed to have been the best society ever to have existed in the history of Islam, such that whatever they said or did was worthy of observation and emulation by all Muslims.

It is logical to assume that, given their elevated status, the Companions would have exercised considerable influence over any major events occurring during their lifetime. Their involvement in a cause would have given it added weight as well as have attracted a certain following.

But the involvement of a Companion in a particular event would depend on the way he saw it. Since there were a great many Companions, there must have been several different ways of seeing particular problems. Given their position in society, which they themselves must have recognized, their decision to espouse a certain cause would have profound significance for those who looked to them for guidance.1

This, in turn, created groupings within Muslim society. Muslims who had similar ideas and interests would gather around the Companions whose ideas and interests were similar to their own. Each group then had its own leader among the Companions. Sometimes the ideas and interests of two different groups could not be reconciled, making conflict inevitable. This was what happened for example at the battles of the Camel and Íiffìn.

In spite of the importance of the Companions within the Islamic community, we still know comparatively little about their lives. There are at least two reasons for this.

First, there is the overall scarcity of information surviving from the early period. At the death of the Prophet, it is said, there were more than 100,000 Companions.2

 As we shall see, this is a complex issue, involving both the definition of the term “Companion” and the tendency of medieval historians to guess at numbers and statistics. However, only a few Companions, relatively speaking, are known to us. Ibn Óajar al-‘Asqalànì, who wrote in the 15th century, was only able to collect facts about 11,000 of them (including those whose companionship was disputed).

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Ibn Sa’d, Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr and Ibn al-Athìr, all of whom lived earlier than Ibn Óajar, included in their respective works fewer Companions’ lives than the latter did.

 If we consider Ibn Óajar’s al-Ißàba as the most complete biographical account of this group available to us, we only have information, presumably, on about one tenth of the Companions (unless we are to follow one scholar’s recommendation that we divide medieval estimates by one hundred).3

 The other nine tenths of them are therefore lost from the historical record. Second, discussion on the Companions tends to be partial and rather lim-ited. It is partial because they are usually discussed within the context of the Prophet’s life, where the main issue is the Prophet, and the Companions treated as incidental, although still important figures.

It is also limited because the discussion usually focuses on the most important among them such as ‘Uthmàn, ‘Alì and Mu’àwiya, while others, who together number in the thousands, are neglected.

The objectives of this study are limited by the data to be found in the sources. This information nonetheless allows us to focus on three interrelated issues:

 (1) the settlement patterns of the Companions in the newly conquered lands; (2) the attitudes of the Companions during the Fitna; and (3) whether it is possible, once we have deter-mined the pattern of the geographical and political alignments of the Companions, to see if there is any relation between those two factors.

The Fitna referred to above is the period that began with the murder of ‘Uthmàn and culminated with the battle of Íiffìn.4 After the death of ‘Uthmàn in Dhù al-Óijja 36/June 656, ‘Alì was appointed as caliph in Medina.

This appointment, however, was not wholly accepted by the Muslim community at the time. Some important figures among the Companions, including ‘À”isha, ˇal˙a, al-Zubayr and Mu’àwiya, openly opposed ‘Alì on the grounds that he was linked, directly or indirectly, with the murderers of ‘Uthmàn. In Jumàdà al-Àkhira 36/December 656 ‘Alì met ‘À”isha, ˇal˙a and al-Zubayr on the battle of the Camel at Khurayba, outside Basra, from which encounter ‘Alì emerged the winner.

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Six months after the battle, however, ‘Alì was engaged in another battle, this time with Mu’àwiya, the most powerful Companion in Syria. This battle, known as the battle of Íiffìn, ended with the arbitration agreement in which ‘Alì, through maneuvering by Mu’àwiya’s delegation, was deposed and Mu’àwiya proclaimed as the new caliph.

While the attitudes of the Companions throughout the various stages of the Fitna will be discussed, the test case which is used to show the political alignments of the Companions in our study will be the battle of Íiffìn. The reason for choosing this battle is that it constitutes the most pivotal and disturbing event in the history of early Muslim society.

Many of the most important surviving Com-panions, such as ‘Alì, ‘Ammàr b. Yàsir, and Mu’àwiya, were intimately involved.

The battle of the Camel also saw the participation of several outstanding Companions, but the scale of the battle and its effect upon the Muslim community were not as great as those of the battle of Íiffìn.

But this is not to say that our investigation is limited to the most important figures only. On the contrary, great attention will be paid to the attitudes, influence and involvement of the less important Companions (or the ‘mass’ of the Companions) during the battle.

The Companions in the settlements deserve to be studied for obvi-ous reasons. First of all, their number is much larger than that of the Companions who lived in Medina, the center of political and religious authority.5

If we are to understand how certain ideas or beliefs were transmitted by the Companions to the rest of Muslim society the settlements must certainly be the focus of our investiga-tion. We will also observe that, when there were disputes among the elite in Medina, the Companions in the settlements seemed to exer-cise a great deal of power.

There are a number of reasons why more attention should be paid to the less important Companions. First of all, it was their sup-port that the more important Companions, like ‘Alì, strove to win over in the competition for power.

Second, their geographical spread gave the conflict a wider and more decisive nature. It is they who had spread and settled throughout the new lands like Syria and Iraq, while the elite Companions—such as ‘Alì, ‘À”isha, ˇal˙a and al-Zubayr—were based in Medina. Hence during the Fitna, the mem-bers of the elite were forced to leave and seek support, for example, from the local people in Basra and Kufa.

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The book is divided into five chapters. Chapter One deals with the scope of our study, sources and method.

Chapter Two discusses the corps of the Companions. After a dis-cussion focusing on who the Companions actually were, how this question was addressed by a variety of Muslim groups and above all what drove the debate, we will look especially at ‘adàla (impartial-ity) and how Muslims saw this quality as applying to the Companions. Different views and the issues underlying the controversy will be put forward.

Where the Companions chose to reside will be the object of inves-tigation in Chapter Three. Two variables in particular will be dis-cussed. First, we look at the number of the Companions who settled, or used to reside, in the conquered lands. Second, we consider the involvement of their inhabitants in the Fitna, particularly during the battle of Íiffìn.

Using these two variables, Iraq, Syria and Egypt are our inevitable priorities, for it was in these lands that the majority of the Companions lived. It was the inhabitants of these regions who played an important role in the murder of ‘Uthmàn, the battle of

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