What is the definition of sahaba? Who is called a sahabi?

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What is the definition of sahaba? Who is called a sahabi?

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Dear Brother / Sister,

Islamic scholars expressed different views regarding the definition of "sahabi (companion)". Hafiz Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani dealt with the issue in his book called "al-Isaba"; he explained the sound views regarding the issue at length. We will give a summary of his study here. 

Ibn Hajar says, "The best definition of sahabi I found is as follows:  

"A sahabi is a person who believed in the Prophet (pbuh), who came together with the Prophet and who died as a Muslim."

According to the generalization "who came together with the Prophet " mentioned in the definition, a person who sat in the same place as him for a short or long time, who reported or did not report a hadith from him, who joined or did not join a war with him, who saw him only once even if he did not sit in the same place as him or a person who did not see him because he was blind or due to some other reasons is called a sahabi.  

According to the phrase "who believed in the Prophet" mentioned in the definition, a person who met the Prophet (pbuh) when he was an unbeliever and who became a Muslim afterwards but did not see the Prophet (pbuh) again is not regarded as a "sahabi".

According to the phrase "died as a Muslim" mentioned in the definition, a person who met the Prophet (pbuh), believed in him, then became an unbeliever again and died as an unbeliever is not regarded as a "sahabi". There were some people like that though they were very few.  On the other hand, a person who met the Prophet (pbuh), believed in him, then became an unbeliever again and became a believer again is regarded as a "sahabi" whether he met the Prophet again or not.

It is based on the soundest view preferred by hadith scholars like the teacher of Bukhari, Ahmad bin Hanbal and the scholars who followed them. On the other hand, there are some different views preferred by very few scholars. (al-Isaba, 1/7-8)

After these explanations, different definitions and evaluations regarding the issue are as follows:

First, we will list the definitions of sahabi in summary; then, we will mention the most preferred and accepted view.

1) Sahabi: A person who spent some time with the Prophet (pbuh), reported hadiths from him and knew about him.(1) Scholars of Usul (Principles of Religion) and some other scholars hold this view. (2)

2) Sahabi: A person who spent one or two years with the Prophet (pbuh) and joined one or two battles with him. This definition is usually reported from Said b. al-Musayyab.(3) However, according to this definition, many people who are known as sahabis will be excluded. Besides, it is stated that this narration is weak.(4)

3) Sahabi: A person who spent a long time with the Prophet (pbuh) and reported hadiths from him.(5)

4) Sahabi: A person who saw the Prophet (pbuh) as a Muslim and a sane person who has reached the age of puberty. (6)

5) Sahabi: A person who lived in the same period as the Prophet (pbuh) as a Muslim even if he did not see the Prophet (pbuh).(7)

6) Sahabi: A Muslim who had private (exclusive) talks with the Prophet (pbuh). This condition was put forward by Mawardi.(8)

7) Sahabi: "A person who believed in the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), met him and died as a Muslim." This is the definition about which Ibn Hajar said,"the truest knowledge that I was able to get".(9)

Bukhari did not put forward the condition of dying as a Muslim; he said, "A Muslim who talked to the Prophet (pbuh) and saw him is a Sahabi."(10) Ayni says the doubts that can come to the mind can be eliminated by adding the phrase "and died as a Muslim" to this definition.(11)

By using the phrase “who met him”, the definition of sahabi made by Ibn Hajar includes those who spent a long time or a short time with the Prophet (pbuh), those who reported or did not report hadiths from him, those who joined or did not join a battle with him and those who saw him or did not see him due to some reasons like blindness.(12)

It is understood from the phrase "who believed in the Prophet (pbuh)" in the definition that a person who saw the Prophet (pbuh) when he was an unbeliever and became a Muslim after that is not regarded as a sahabi if he did not see the Prophet after becoming a Muslim again (13) like the envoy of the kaiser.(14)

A person who saw the Prophet (pbuh) just after he died and before he was buried is not regarded as a sahabi like Abu Zuayb Khuwaylid b. Khalid al-Huzali.(15)

In the definition Ibn Hajar made, the condition of "believing in the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)" indicates that the People of the Book (Christians and Jews) are not regarded as sahabi if they saw the Prophet Muhammad since they believed in other prophets. As a matter of fact, the case of the People of the Book who saw him before his prophethood is the same. Ibn Hajar says it is a case of probability and gives the example of the priest Bahira.(16)

There are some scholars who say that the jinn and angels who saw the Prophet (pbuh) and believed in him are regarded as sahabi.(17)

A person who met the Prophet (pbuh) as a Muslim, then became an unbeliever - God forbid - again and died as an unbeliever is not regarded as a sahabi. However, if he becomes a Muslim again, he is regarded as a sahabi even if he died before seeing the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) like Qurra b. Maysara and Asas b. Qays.(18)

There are some scholars who put forward meeting the Prophet (pbuh) at the age of discretion (tamyiz) as a condition of being a sahabi but reaching the age of puberty is not a condition. There are some disagreements regarding the issue.  However, that Hasan and Husayn, the grandsons of the Prophet (pbuh), and many other children are regarded as sahabis serves as evidence that the age of discretion is enough to be regarded as a sahabi. It is disputable whether the children that the Prophet (pbuh) prayed for, put dates, etc in their mouths or gave names are regarded as sahabis or not.(19)

When a saint meets the spirit of the Prophet (pbuh) or when a person sees the Prophet (pbuh) in his dream, that person does not become a sahabi. It is necessary to see him while he was alive in this world.(20)

Footnotes:

1. Tadribu'r-Rawi, II/211; Umdatu'l-Qari, XVI/169; al-Isaba. I/8.
2. Those who hold this view base their view on the lexical meaning of the verb sahabi. In that case, many people are not regarded as sahabis. However, hadith scholars say, "A person who saw the Prophet (pbuh) even for a moment is regarded as a sahabi if he died as a Muslim." see (Umdatu'l-Qari, XVI/169; al-Isaba, I/8).
3. Tadribu'r-Rawi, II/211; al-Kifaya; 50-51; Umdatu'l-Qari; XVI/169; al- Baisu'l- Khasis, 152.
4. Umdatu'l-Qari, XVI/169.
5. Tadribu'r-Rawi, II/212; Umdatu'l-Qari,  XVI/169.
6. Umdatul-Qari,  XVI/169.; al-Isaba, I/8; Tadribu'r-Rawi, II/212.
7. Umdatul-Qari,  XVI/169; Tadribu'r-Rawi, II/212.
8. Tadribu'r-Rawi, II/213.
9. al-Isaba, I, 7; Umdatul-Qari, XVI, 169; al-Kifaya 151; Tadribu'r-Rawi II, 210.
10. Bukhari, Sahih, Fadail-i Ashabu'n-Nabi, 1, IV, 188.
11. Umdatul-Qari, XVI, 169.
12. al-Isaba, I, 7; Tadribu'r-Rawi, II, 210; Umdatul-Qari, XVI, 169.
13. al-Isaba ibid
14. Tadribu'r-Rawi, II, 209.
15. Tadribu'r-Rawi, ibid; al-Isaba, I, 8.
16. al-Isaba, I, 7.
17. al-Isaba, ibid.
18. Abu Hanifa and Imam Shafii hold the view that exiting Islam eradicates the honor of being a sahabi and that it is necessary to see the Prophet (pbuh) again in order to regain that honor. See Tadribu'r-Rawi, II, 209; al-Isaba, I, 8.
19. Tadribu'r-Rawi, II, 209; al-Isaba. I, 7-9.
20. Fathu'l-Bari, XIV, 136; Tadribu'r-Rawi, II, 210.

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