Abu Rafi (r.a.)

Hz. Abu Rafi is an embodied example of the boon of freedom and equality introduced by Islam. Abu Rafi was an Egyptian slave. He was enslaved in a war and was brought to Makkah. Hz. Abbas, the paternal uncle of the Prophet, bought him.  Hz. Abu Rafi started to serve Hz. Abbas and do what he ordered him to do. He was sometimes sent for important duties since he was in the tribe of Quraysh because he was a clever person. He fulfilled the duties given to him in the best way. His real name was “Salim” but he became famous for his nickname Abu Rafi.

Qurayshis sent Abu Rafi to the Prophet regarding an issue. Abu Rafi was an ordinary slave but he underwent an experience that caused a revolution in his spiritual realm. He narrates it as follows:  

“As soon as I saw the Messenger of Allah, the light of Islam dropped into my heart. I said to him, ‘O Messenger of Allah! I do not want to return to those polytheists again.’ The Messenger of Allah did not show consent. He said, ‘I cannot break my promise. I always keep my promise. You may have become a Muslim now but return to the people who sent you here.’”[1]

The Prophet regarded him as an envoy. Therefore, he did not want him to stay with him. Hz. Abu Rafi became a Muslim but he concealed his belief. He acted like that for a long time because he was a slave and he could not do whatever he wanted.

Abu Rafi was among the Muslims that remained in Makkah after the Migration. When the battle of Badr took place, he was in Makkah. Abu Lahab, who was one of the ferocious polytheists, did not take part in the Battle of Badr. He sent somebody else to fight on behalf of him. When the battle ended, the Muslims became victorious.  Makkans who had gathered around the Kaaba were waiting for the news impatiently. When Abu Lahab saw that Abu Sufyan returned, he approached him and asked what the battle was like. Abu Sufyan started to narrate:  

“They captured and killed many of our men; they also enslaved of our men. During the battle, a regimen of cavaliers with white faces on grey horses appeared. It was impossible to resist them. They knocked all of us down.”

Meanwhile, Abu Rafi was sitting near Zamzam Well. When he heard what was told, he became happy and excited. He could not help saying, “By Allah, they are angels.” When Abu Lahab heard it, he became wild. He slapped Abu Rafi and knocked him down. He started to beat him. Umm Fadl, the wife of Hz. Abbas was also there. When she saw that their slave was being beaten, he picked a tent pole and hit Abu Lahab on the head with it. Abu Lahab, whose head was broken, left that place in a terrible state. He died of grief before a week passed. [2]

Abu Rafi migrated to Madinah after the Battle of Badr. Hz. Abbas, who became a Muslim but concealed his belief, gave Abu Rafi to the Prophet to serve him. Abu Rafi rejoined the Prophet, whom he had missed for years. It was great happiness for him.

The Prophet became very glad that his uncle had become a Muslim. He freed Abu Rafi. However, Abu Rafi started to weep when he was freed. They asked him why he was weeping. He said,

“Once, the Messenger of Allah said, ‘When a slave obeys his Lord and his master, there are two thawabs for him.’ However, since I am free now, I will not be able to gain one of those thawabs.” [3]

When he was freed, he did not want to leave the Prophet. The Prophet accepted his wish. Abu Rafi served the Messenger of Allah throughout his life. He attained the honor of being close to the Prophet though he was an ordinary slave. This happiness could be attained by very few people.

Hz. Abu Rafi was a clever, prudent and insightful person. He was one of those who knew the habits of the Prophet very well. He would correctly guess what he would do when. Due to this loyalty of his, the Prophet complemented on him:

The Prophet appointed a person from the tribe of Mahzum to collect zakah. This person went to Hz. Abu Rafi and asked him to accompany him.

He told Abu Rafi that he could also get his share from zakah. For, those who collected zakah could get zakah. Thereupon, Abu Rafi asked the Prophet about it. The Prophet addressed him as follows, which was a great complement for him:

“To receive sadaqah is not permissible for my Ahl al-Bayt; a freed slave of a tribe is regarded as one of them.” [4]

With this statement, the Prophet included Hz. Abu Rafi among his Ahl al-Bayt.

As a matter of fact, the Prophet gave Abu Rafi some special duties. He appointed Abu Rafi and Zayd bin Haritha to bring his daughters and Hz. Aisha, who were in Makkah, to Madinah. [5] When the Prophet (pbuh) married, Hz. Maymuna, he sent Abu Rafi as his deputy to ask her hand in marriage. [6] He married Salma, one of the freed female slaves, off to Abu Rafi, enabling him to establish a family. Salma, Abu Rafi’s wife, was the midwife during the birth of Ibrahim, the son of the Prophet, from Hz. Mariya, the wife of the Prophet. When Ibrahim was born, Salma called Abu Rafi and told him that Ibrahim was born. Abu Rafi rushed to the Prophet to give him the good news. The Prophet became very happy and gave him some gifts. [7]

Hz. Abu Rafi narrated that the Prophet took Hasan, his grandson, on his lap when he was born, called adhan and iqamah to his ear and named him. [8]

It is understood from the following incident that Abu Rafi knew about some private states of the Prophet:

One night, the Prophet went to the Cemetery of Baqi with Abu Rafi. He asked for forgiveness for the people in the cemetery. Then, he said to Abu Rafi,

“O Abu Rafi! God Almighty asked me to prefer between staying in the world with the treasures of the world and rejoining Him and Paradise. I preferred Allah’s consent and rejoining Him.” [9]

Abu Rafi, who served the Prophet until he died, took part in all battles except the Battle of Badr. He fought heroically in Khaybar with Hz. Ali. [10]

Hz. Abu Rafi narrated 68 hadiths about the Prophet. One of them is in Bukhari, three of them are in Muslim and 19 of them are in Musnad. He trained many students in hadith.

This person, who was a Coptic slave and raised to the level of being a private servant of the Prophet, is one of the symbols of equality recorded in the history of Islam. 

 Hz. Abu Rafi, who served Islam during the caliphate of Hz. Abu Bakr, Hz. Umar and Hz. Uthman, died in the first days of the caliphate of Hz. Ali. [11]

May Allah be pleased with him!

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[1]Musnad, 6: 8.
[2]Sirah, 2: 301-302.
[3]Musnad, 2: 344.
[4]ibid., 6: 10.
[5]ibid., 6: 9.
[6]Tabaqat, 8: 134.
[7]ibid., 1: 135.
[8]Musnad, 6: 9.
[9]Tabaqat, 2: 204.
[10]Sirah, 3: 349.
[11]Usdul-Ghaba, 1: 77.

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