Imam Abu Hurairah (ra) was the Prophet’s companion ﷺ (peace be upon him) for only three years, but he narrated the most ahadith from amongst the other sahabah (Prophet’s companions). During these three years, Abu Hurairah did not earn a living; he accompanied the Prophet ﷺ wherever he went. In various narrations, Abu Hurairah mentions how he would be so hungry that he would tie a rock around his stomach to alleviate the hunger pains. He was from amongst the poor Ahl As-Suffah1, who lived in the Prophet’s masjid, their lives dedicated to learning from the Prophet and supporting Islam.
Abu Hurairah (ra) saw the unique opportunity available to him to learn from the Prophet of Allah – an opportunity of a lifetime. So he took that opportunity, sacrificing everything to attain it. He knew the value of his limited time with the Prophet ﷺ, for he would be able to learn that which would benefit the rest of the Ummah for generations to come. He took up every chance to gain abundant ‘ajr (reward) from Allah for hasanat (good deeds) that continue adding up in his scale of deeds:
The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said, “When a person dies, the opportunity of gaining more reward ends except for these three: a Sadaqa Jariyah (continuous charity), knowledge from which there is a benefit or a pious child who prays to Allah for him.”(Muslim)
At first glance, it might be surprising to see that the Prophet ﷺ allowed the Ahl As-Suffah to lead such ascetic, almost monastic, lives, as it seems to contradict the Islamic teachings that emphasize the value of working honorably to earn a living and supporting a family. Yet at closer inspection, especially with the example of Abu Hurairah (ra), we find that he chose to sacrifice the luxuries of daily life and having a job to be with the Prophet ﷺ as much as possible. Because he was an able-bodied adult who could earn a living and because he made a choice to spend his time learning, Abu Hurairah (ra) knew that it was not his right to beg for food or money or to complain of hunger or need, and he never did.
On the authority of Abu Rafi’, it is narrated that Abu Hurairah said, “No one gave me a gift except that I accepted it. But as for asking, I would not ask.”2
After the Prophet ﷺ passed away, Abu Hurairah went back to work to earn a living for himself and started a family. He became very wealthy in the business of selling horses and colts. His business success indicates that Abu Hurairah did have the ability to earn a good living and run a business, and that during the life of the Prophet ﷺ he found it more worthy to learn from him “full time” than to do it “part-time” like other Sahabah. He sacrificed his personal comforts to learn as much as possible from what Allah subhanahu wa ta`la (glorified and exalted is He) taught His messenger.
Even today, we too encounter unique opportunities to learn from what Allah (swt) taught His Messenger ﷺ. We too have rare opportunities to leave behind a legacy of beneficial knowledge, building institutions, and leading in social reform. But will we take up these chances to gain abundant ‘ajr? Will we fully dedicate ourselves to these goals while the opportunity for competing in the ajr is still available, or will we only be dedicated “part-time”?
It is no surprise that the needs of the Ummah are many, yet the opportunity to fulfill one or more of these needs is available to us for a limited time. So who will be the next Abu Hurairah in the field of Islamic Studies research in the West? Or in economics, developing models based on Islamic principles? Or in social welfare and healthcare systems? Or in development and management?
In the life of Imam Abu Huraira, we have an exemplary attitude and dedication towards spreading knowledge and living for a higher cause. Isn’t it time we adopted that attitude and dedication for ourselves and our future?
May Allah (swt) empower us to do what is best for ourselves and for the community in this life and in the hereafter. May Allah make us follow in the footsteps of the Prophet ﷺ and sahabah. Ameen.
- أهل الصفة Ahl As-Suffah were the guests of Islam, who slept in the suffah of the Prophet’s masjid. Suffah is a shaded region or room that the Prophet (s) ordered to be built as a shelter for migrants and guests in the back of the masjid, in its north-eastern corner. Its roofing was made of palm fronds. It was used as a shelter for foreigners and single migrants (muhajireen) and delegations who had no other shelter or family. Their numbers varied over time depending on the numbers of needy migrants. The Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him used to sit with them frequently, invite them to his food and drink, sharing it with them. They were counted as his dependents. Most of what Ahl As-Suffah (literally: the people of the suffah) did was learn the Qur’an and Islamic rulings from the Prophet, peace be upon him, or from someone else that he commanded to teach them. At times of Jihad and military campaigns, whoever was able to would join. ↩
- Imam Abul-Farah Ibn Al-Jawziyy. Sifat As-Safwah. Dar El-Marefah: Beirut. Vol. 1. p. 691. ↩