Abu Hurairah and the capacity of human potential
A companion of the Prophet SAW, Thufayl bin Amru who was the chief of the Daws tribe, upon embracing Islam returned to his people to also call them to this new faith. But his people were mostly slow to respond, except one youth who immediately accepted and followed Thufayl back to Madinah in the hope of meeting the Prophet SAW. This he did; after the Prophet SAW and the Muslims had returned from Khaybar in the seventh year of Hijrah. From then on, the youth would come to be known as Abu Hurairah RA, the foremost of the companions in the science of Ahadeeth.
Abu Hurairah spent only three years in the company of the Prophet SAW. But within that short space of time he rose in ranks and prominence to become the chief of the Mukthiruun – a select group of companions who have narrated many ahadeeth. His peers included Abdullah bin Umar, Saidatina Aisyah binti Abu Bakar and Anas bin Malik. Scholars went as far as saying his narration count reached over 5000 or 3000 and over 1000 in Sahih Bukhari alone.
These are remarkable figures. How exactly then did Abu Hurairah manage this in just three years? A study of his biography suggested two reasons:-
- His extraordinary memory. Unlike other companions like Abdullah bin Umar who would inscribe the sayings of the Prophet SAW, Abu Hurairah was able to commit everything to his memory. There was a story in which Marwan al-Hakam invited Abu Hurairah to his place and asked him to recite a hadeeth. Unknown to Abu Hurairah, Marwan actually had a scribe placed behind a veil and writing down Abu Hurairah’s exact words. One year later Marwan again invited Abu Hurairah and again asked him to recite the same hadeeth. Amazingly he found the narration to be precisely the same.
- Abu Hurairah diligently followed the Prophet SAW everywhere he went with the sole purpose of gaining knowledge. Unlike most companions, he had no permanent jobs. At the time the Muhajirin would sell their goods and engage in trading at the marketplace in downtown Madinah. Whereas the Ansar tended to their orchards, estates and crops. But Abu Hurairah was famously an Ahlus Suffah – the poorest and weakest among the Muslims, who ate scraps of food and slept in the courtyard of Masjid Nabawi. The Prophet SAW would often bring meals and sit with them. In turn, they dedicated their lives to helping and learning Islam.
Abu Hurairah essentially sacrificed his time to learn that which would benefit the ummah for generations to come. And his ambition was eventually realised; today in speeches, khutbahs, lectures and books on fiqh, seerah and ibadah, the name Abu Hurairah is immortalised in the manner: “An Abi Hurairah radhiallahu anhu, ‘an an-Nabi sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam qaal…” (According to Abu Hurairah, the Prophet SAW said…).
Because he was unemployed, he often struggled for meals or to fill his stomach. Abu Hurairah did not even get married until later on because he was too poor. Once he was so hungry he would tie a rock around his stomach to alleviate the hunger pains. The companions would pass by and Abu Hurairah would secretly wish for them to invite him over for a meal, but he was too shy to ask so. You see, Abu Hurairah chose to serve Islam over his own well-being. He chose to sacrifice having a full-time job (however little paid) to be in the exalted company of the Prophet SAW. He knew it was not his right to beg for good or complain of hunger – and he never did.
The story of Abu Hurairah is an interesting lesson in the capacity of human potential. He began as a virtual unknown, with no clan for protection like the Prophet SAW or Ali bin Abi Talib. He wasn’t wealthy like Saidina Uthman bin Affan. He was not known for his trading skills like Abdul Rahman bin Auf. He was not a warrior in the battlefield like Saidina Hamzah or Khalid bin Walid. He was no leader like Muawiyah bin Abu Sufyan. He wasn’t famed for his good looks like Mus’ab bin Umair. He was not even among the 300 Qaedah Sulbah, or earliest reverts to Islam. He did not participate in the battles of Badr or Uhud or Ahzab. But in spite of all those, his name resonates with each and every Muslim around the world today. His contribution to Islam stands on par with all the companions mentioned above, and more.
Why? It was because Abu Hurairah remained steadfast to the one thing that he did have: his memory. His biggest asset was used to the utmost in the service to Islam. It did not suffice for him to merely own this gift; he felt obliged to merge it along with the necessary sacrifice and effort to gain the pleasure of Allah. He gave up his hometown to emigrate to Madinah. He gave up having a job and starting a family, he gave up food most of the time. It is thus true what Allah says in surah Ali-Imran, verse 92:
Never will you attain the good [reward] until you spend [in the way of Allah ] from that which you love. And whatever you spend – indeed, Allah is Knowing of it.
We all have something to contribute. Some of us may not be a good speaker, some may be bad in our recitation of the Quran, or cannot lead prayers; others may feel inferior in their knowledge of seerah, hadeeth, fiqh and so on. We can all give excuses as to why we aren’t doing more to help Islam. A friend said once, “Keep on giving a thousand excuses; I’ll top it up with a thousand more. But remember Allah’s promise in surah al-Maidah that he will replace us with another group who will fight for his religion, and they are the ones favoured by Him. What use are your excuses then?”
If we ever feel inferior, don’t be. Or even if you do, try to use that as a catalyst to go and do something better. Imagine how inferior Abu Hurairah must have felt compared to the likes of Abu Bakar, Umar and the rest of the companions who were promised Jannah. How he must have envied the Ahlul Badr, so often praised by the Prophet SAW. Abu Hurairah in fact had to catch up with thousands and thousands of other Muslims before him. But subhanallah due to his perseverance he managed to succeed.
We each have something to contribute, one way or another. That much is true. It is not for us to decide the amount, or type that each other commits to. Because Allah says in surah az-Zumar, verse 39:
Say, “O my people, work according to your position, [for] indeed, I am working; and you are going to know
So try to find our niche, what we are most comfortable doing, and utilise that gift for Islam and for dakwah. So that is the What, Where and How taken care of. Why? Goodness if you still need that question answering! Finally, when? Now, of course…right now. Right after reading this article. =)
PhD Candidate in Electrical Engineering, Imperial College London