It was when the Qiblah was not yet changed to the Kaaba.
A shade and a shelter were built from date branches next to the northern wall of the Masjid an-Nabawi. This was named “suffa”. Muslims staying there were therefore named “Ashab as-Suffa (Suffa Companions)”.
These companions who stayed at the suffa of the Masjid had neither a house, a tribe, relatives nor anything else in Medina. They had a life away from their family, free from worldly issues and troubles and totally self-sacrificing. They learned the Qur’an and listened to the Honorable Messenger’s preaches and lessons. They were fasting most of the time.
This blessed group of people, who spent their time at the presence of the Supreme Messenger, was always inspired by the Prophet. They were self-sacrificing, eager-to-learn students who devoted themselves to the Honorable Messenger’s school for the sake of God. Teachers appointed by the Prophet would teach them the Qur’an. Those who completed their studies were sent to Muslim tribes in order to teach them the Qur’an and the sunnah of the Messenger of God. In this sense, they were called “qurra (readers).” Therefore, suffa was called “Dar al-Qurra (House of the Qur’an Readers).”
These unique companions, whose number was about four hundred or five hundred and who had a moderate yet enlightened life, were an army of knowledge. Although they devoted all their time to learn the Qur’an and the sunnah of the Messenger of God, they took part in battles when necessary as well.
The ones who got married would leave the suffa but others would join to take their place.
These unique companions were occupied neither with trade nor craft. Their living was provided by the Supreme Messenger and wealthy companions. Hazrat Abu Huraira, who was one of the outstanding students at suffa, expressed this situation very well in response to those who found the fact that he narrated a lot of hadiths strange: “Do not find that I have narrated too many hadiths strange! As our immigrant brothers were occupied with trade in bazaar and Ansar brothers with agriculture in gardens and fields, Abu Huraira was memorizing the Prophet’s blessed advices. (1)
The Prophet’s Close Relationship with Ashab as-Suffa
The Supreme Messenger was closely interested in both education and needs of Ashab as-Suffa. He always sat with them, talking with them and listening to their needs. And sometimes he reminded them that their studies are important and blessed to the utmost degree, saying to them: “If you knew what is being prepared for you in the Hereafter, you would like your poverty and needs to increase!” (2)
The Honorable Messenger himself tried to meet their needs. When necessary, he would put his household’s needs on the back burner.
Once, when Hazrat Fatima asked for a maid, complaining about how dreadful it was to grind flour with hand-mill, the Prophet answered his dear daughter: “My daughter, what are you saying? I have not been able to prepare Ahl as-Suffa’s needs yet!” (3)
One day, he was with the Ashab as-Suffa to examine their situation. He saw their poverty, troubles they were going through and consoled them saying: “O Ashab as-Suffa! Good tidings to you! Whoever meets me as content with a situation and condition like yours s/he is in; s/he is one of my dear fellows!” (4)
The Supreme Messenger would ask: “Is it alms or gift?” when he was given something.
If they answered “it is alms”, he would give it to ashab as-suffa right away. If they answered “it is a gift”, he would accept it and give some of it to ashab as-suffa. The Prophet would never accept alms, but only gifts.
One day, a man brought a plate of dates. He asked the man: “Is it alms or gift?
The man said it was alms and therefore the Prophet sent it to the ashab as-suffa right away. The Prophet’s grandson Hazrat Hassan was in front of the Prophet at that time. When he took a date from the plate and put it in his mouth, the Prophet reacted right away and took it out from his mouth. And then he said: “We, Muhammad and his household, do not eat alms; alms is forbidden to us!” (5)
Moreover, it is said that the Quranic verse “(Charity is) for those in need, who, in God's cause are restricted (from travel), and cannot move about in the land, seeking (for trade or work): the ignorant man thinks, because of their modesty, that they are free from want. Thou shall know them by their (unfailing) mark: They beg not importunately from the entire sundry. And whatever of good ye give, be assured God knoweth it well” (6) was sent with reference to the ashab as-suffa. (7)
They would not Miss a Preach or Speech of the Prophet
These unique companions, who devoted themselves totally to the path of God, would not miss any of the Supreme Prophet’s advice and speeches. They were always present there and would narrate the speeches to other companions by memorizing them. In this sense, ashab as-suffa had a unique service and job in preservation and narration of Islamic judgments. This great group of knowledge had an important role in the Quran’s light reaching out to every corner of the world in a short time.
Abu Huraira Narrates
Abu Huraira, a good student of suffa, which was a foundation of knowledge, narrates an event about themselves:
“I was lying face down, because of starvation. And sometimes I tied a stone on my stomach.
“One day, I sat down on a path where people came and went. At that time, the Messenger of God was passing by. He understood my situation and called out to me: “O Abu Huraira!”
“‘Yes, o the Messenger of God!’ said I.
“‘Come on here!’ he said.
“We went together. He entered the house. I asked for permission to enter, too. They permitted and I entered. He found a jug full of milk.
“‘Where did this come from? Asked he.
“‘Such and such person gave it as a gift’ said they.
“Then, ‘O Abu Huraira! Go to Ashab as-Suffa, tell them to come here! Ordered he.
“Ashab as-Suffa were guests of Islam. They had no family, no money and no house. When the Messenger of God was given a gift, he would share it between himself and them. He would send all of the alms which was given to him to be given to the ashab as-suffa and would not take anything from it for himself.
“I was upset because the Messenger of God invited ashab as-suffa. I was hoping to drink the whole milk in the jug myself and I would live by it for some time. I said to myself: ‘I am a messenger. I will share the milk among the Suffa companions when they come.’ In this case, I knew no milk would be left for me. However, I had no other choice but follow the Messenger of God’s order.
“I went and called them. They came and sat after being permitted.
“The Prophet (pbuh) said: ‘Abu Huraira, take the jug and offer them milk’
“I took the jug and started to give them the milk. Each of them, one by one, took the jug and drank until he was full and then passed it to the next person.
“After the last Suffa companion drank, I gave the jug to the Messenger of God. He took it. There was only a little milk left inside. He raised his head and looked at me, smiling: ‘Abu Huraira! He said.
“‘Yes, the Messenger of God, I said.
“‘Only you and I did not drink milk! said he.
“‘Yes, the Messenger of God, I said.
“‘Sit down and drink, he said. I sat down and drank.
“‘Drink some more, he said. I did. He insisted that I should drink more. ‘More, more!’ he said. At last, I said: ‘I swear by God who has sent you with the true religion that I am too full to drink any more!
“‘Then give met he jug, he said. I did. He gave thanks to God. Then he said the “basmalah” and drank the rest.” (8)
1. Tajrid Translation, V.. 7, p. 47.
2. M. Hamdi Yazır, Hak Dini Kur’an Dili, V. 2, p. 941.
3. Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat, V. 8, p. 25.
4. M. Hamdi Yazır, ibid, V. 2, p. 941.
5. Muslim, Sahih, V. 3, p. 117.
6. Al-Baqara, 273.
7. M. Hamdi Yazır, ibid, V. 2, p. 940.
8. Bukhari, Sahih, V. 4, p. 89; Tirmidhi, Sunan, V. 4, p. 648-649.
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