The Meaning of a Sahabi
The literal meaning of a Sahabi:
The root letters S, H, B mean: to live with and the word Suhbah means companionship. These root letters always give the meaning of one thing accompanying another and being close to it, as stated by Ibn Faris.
The plurals of the word Sahib are: Ashab, Asahib, Sahb, Sihab, Suhbah, Suhban, Sahabah and Sihabah.
The word Sahabi is attributed either to the word Sahabah, which is the verbal noun of the verb Sahiba and Sahaba, or to the plural of the word Sahib, which is the active participle of the verb Sahiba.
The Technical Definition of a Sahabi:
This is a very crucial issue wherein the scholars have debated and their views have differed. The crucialness thereof is owing to the various issues which are linked to it, like the preservation of their high rank, dubbing them as people of probity, and accepting their narrations, even if they are Mursal, inconsistent, without taking the trouble of investigating their integrity. This issue is thus normally discussed in the books of the sciences of hadith, the biography dictionaries of the Sahabah, and the principles of Fiqh.
Hereunder are the various positions of the scholars in this regard:
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The First Position
الصحابي هو من لقي النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم مؤمنا به ومات على الإسلام
A Sahabi is a person who met Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam believing in him and passed away upon Islam.
With a little more detail:
من لقي النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم يقظة مؤمنا به بعد بعثته حال حياته ومات على الإيمان
A person who met Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam whilst awake, believing in him after his prophethood during his lifetime, and passed away upon iman.
Imam Ahmed says:
كل من صحبه سنة أو شهرا أو يوما أو ساعة أو رآه فهو من أصحابه، له من الصحبة على قدر ما صحبه
Anyone who accompanied him for a year, a month, a day or even an hour, or merely saw him is from his Companions. Each one has attained his companionship proportionate to the time he accompanied him.
Al Bukhari says:
من صحب النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم أو رآه من المسلمين فهو من أصحابه
Any Muslim who accompanied Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam or saw him is from his Companions.
The proofs for this stance being correct are the following:
Firstly, according to all the scholars of Arabic companionship does not have a specific limit in language. It is a common/gender noun which applies to two things which share something in common, whether little or lot, literally or metaphorically.
Consider the following verses:
Your companion [i.e., Muhammad] has not strayed, nor has he erred.
مَا بِصَاحِبِكُمْ مِّن جِنَّةٍ
There is not in your companion any madness.
And your companion [i.e., Prophet Muhammad] is not [at all] mad.
Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala has deemed His Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam a companion of his people, and it is common knowledge to all that some of his people did not accompany him but for a very short time.
Likewise, consider the following verses:
وَصَاحِبْهُما في الدُّنْيَا مَعْرُوْفًا
And accompany them in [this] world with appropriate kindness.
This injunction is inclusive of all companionship even if it be very short.
فَأَنْجَيْنَهُ وأَصْحَابَ السَّفِيْنةِ
But we saved him and the companions of the ship.
Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala has deemed them ‘the companions of the ship’ whereas their companionship therein was not for long.
On the Day, a man will flee from his brother. And his mother and his father. And his wife and his children.
This is also inclusive of every wife, whether the marriage with her was for a lengthy period of time or for a short period of time.
Secondly, if a person takes the following oath, ‘I will never accompany you,’ or ‘You will not accompany me on my journey,’ his oath will be violated if the addressee accompanies him even for the shortest of periods.
Lastly, if someone says, “I accompanied so and so,” it will be correct to ask him, “Have you accompanied him for an hour, a day, or more than that? Have you assimilated knowledge from him and narrated from him or not?” Had Suhbah (companionship) not been inclusive of all these cases and had it been specific to a particular time frame and case there would be no need for any of these questions.
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The Second Position
A Sahabi is:
من رأى النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم واختص به اختصاص الصاحب بالمصحوب، وطالت مدة صحبته، وإن لم يرو عنه
A person who saw Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and had a special relationship with him, akin to the relationship of a companion with the person he is accompanying, his period of companionship is long, even though he does not narrate from him.
وليس المراد به (أي الصحابي) من لقي رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم أو بايعه أو رآه رؤية واحدة، وإنما أراد (يعني النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم) من لازمه غدوة وعشية، وكان يتلقى الوحي منه طريا ويأخذ عنه الشريعة التي جعلت منهجا للأمة، وينظر منه إلى آداب الإسلام وشمائله
The intended (by the word companions) is not a person who met Rasul Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, pledged allegiance to him or saw him once. Rather he (Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) is referring to those who accompanied him morning and evening, received from him the knowledge of revelation when it was freshly revealed, learnt the Shari’ah from him, which is the constitution of this Ummah, and assimilated from him the ethics of Islam and its attributes.
This group has thus considered prolonged companionship of Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam to be a condition rather than merely narrating from him.
The evidence for their position is drawn from language and from convention, as asserted by al Sam’ani who says:
اسم الصحابي من حيث اللغة والظاهر يقع على من طالت صحبته مع النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم وكثرت مجالسته، بخلاف الرواية عنه صلى الله عليه وسلم، فإن اشتراطها لتحقق مفهوم الصحبة بعيد لغة وعرفا
The term Sahabi in terms of language and its obvious meaning applies to a person who accompanied Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam for a long time and sat with him frequently, as opposed to merely narrating from him salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam; for considering it (narrating) to be a requisite for the realisation of the Suhbah is far-fetched according to language and convention.
However, considering prolonged companionship to be a requisite is weak due to the following reasons:
- It is against the unanimity of the scholars of language.
- Resorting to convention to ascertain the extent of lengthy companionship and short companionship is not definitive, and thus the differences of opinion.
- Based upon this stance, some Sahabah, like Malik ibn al Huwayrith radiya Llahu ‘anhu, who narrated from Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam but did not accompany him for a long time, will be excluded.
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The Third Position
A Sahabi is:
من طالت صحبته للنبي صلى الله عليه وسلم وأخذ عنه العلم
A person who accompanied Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam for a long time and acquired knowledge from him.
This position is attributed to Jahiz.
Based upon this position, two requirements need to be met in order for one to be deemed a Sahabi:
- An extended duration of companionship with Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, which will be measured by convention.
- Narrating from Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, for assimilating knowledge from him, even though it be by observing one of his actions, in consideration of his companionship, is necessary. And it is common knowledge that the most prime objective of companionship is the dispensation of rulings.
This position is flawed due to the following reasons:
- Considering extended companionship to be a requisite is against the literal purport of the word.
- Resorting to convention in determining extended or short companionship is not definitive, as has passed already.
- People who have not narrated anything at all from Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam but accompanied him for an extended period of time have always been considered to be Sahabah, to the extent that some have deemed this to be the unanimous position of the entire Ummah. One such person is Ziyad ibn Hanzalah al Tamimi; his companionship of Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam is established, but he is not reported to have narrated a hadith from him.
- Deeming the transmission of hadiths from him a requisite for companionship is improbable in terms of language and convention. Because they neither inherently include it nor do they suggest it.
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The Fourth Position
A Sahabi is:
من أقام مع النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم سنة أو سنتين وغزا معه غزوة أو غزوتين
A person who stayed with Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam for a year or two, and participated with him in one or two expeditions.
This is the narrowest of all the positions. It is said to be the position of Sa’id ibn al Musayyab but is not confirmed from him.
In reality this position also reflects the requisiteness of extended companionship which brings about a change in a person in terms of his conduct and traits, etc.
This position is also flawed for the following reasons:
- Deeming extended companionship a requisite is against the unanimity of the linguistics.
- Placing the condition of one/two years or participation in one/two expeditions is arbitrary. This is besides the fact that influencing and being influenced are not limited to a specific time, long or short.
- The proponents of this position are not known. And what is reported from Sa’id ibn al Musayyab is not authentically established.
- The necessary result of this position is the exclusion of an extraordinary group of people whom the scholars have unanimously considered to be from the Sahabah, i.e. the people who accepted Islam in the ninth year A.H. and thereafter, like Jarir ibn ‘Abdullah, Waʾil ibn Hujr and Muawiyah ibn al Hakam radiya Llahu ‘anhum.
- It also necessitates the exclusion of all those individuals who accompanied him but did not strive with him in any of the expeditions, like the men who were exempted due to their excuses, women, and children with discretion.
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The Fifth Position
A Sahabi is:
هو كل من أدرك زمنه صلى الله عليه وسلم وهو مسلم، وإن لم يره، بل حتى لو ولد فيه
A person who lived in the time of Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam with Islam, even though he did not see him. Rather even if he was born in his era (he will be considered a Sahabi).
This is the broadest of all the positions. But it is flawed for two reasons:
- It goes against the literal meaning of Suhbah (companionship) and is also goes against convention, for people do not deem a person who is born in the era of another person to be his companion.
- It goes against the following hadith of Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam:
يأتي زمان يغزو فئام من الناس فيقال: فيكم من صحب النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم؟ فيقال: نعم. فيفتح عليه. ثم يأتي زمان فيقال: فيكم من صحب أصحاب النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم؟ فيقال: نعم. فيفتح. ثم يأتي زمان فيقال: فيكم من صحب صاحب أصحاب النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم؟ فيقال: نعم. فيفتح.
A time will come when a group of people will fight. It will be asked, “Is there amongst you a person who accompanied Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam?” It will be said, “Yes,” and victory will be granted to him. Then a time will come and it will be asked, “Is there anyone amongst you who accompanied the Companions of Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam?” It will be said, “Yes,” and victory will be granted. Thereafter a time will come and it will be asked, “Is there anyone amongst you who accompanied a companion of the Companions of Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam?” It will be said, “Yes,” and victory will be granted.
The point of evidence in the hadith is that Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam has considered seeing his blessed countenance to be a merit by virtue of which victory will be attained. Hence those who did not see him are not included. Consequently considering both groups, those who saw him and those who did not, to be equal is invalid.
In conclusion, it is crucial to note that giving preference to the first position does not entail that all the Sahabah radiya Llahu ‘anhum who were privileged with the companionship of Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam were of the same stature and standing. Rather each ones merit and stature is proportionate to the extent of his companionship of Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, as stated by Imam Ahmed and others.
Ibn Taymiyah mentions:
لما كان لفظ الصحبة فيه عموم وخصوص كان من اختص من الصحابة بما يتميز به عن غيره يوصف بتلك الصحبة دون من لم يشركه فيها
Because the word Suhbah has general and specific connotations, a Sahabi who exclusively enjoyed a particular type of companionship will be described with it, to the exclusion of those who did not share the same with him.
Ibn Hajar mentions:
لا خفاء برجحان رتبة من لازمه صلى الله عليه وسلم وقاتل معه أو قتل تحت رايته على من لم يلازمه، أو لم يحضر معه مشهدا، وعلى من كلمه يسيرا، أو ماشاه قليلا، أو رآه على بعد، أو في حال الطفولة، وإن كان شرف الصحبة حاصلا للجميع
No doubt that those who constantly accompanied Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, fought by his side or were martyred under his flag hold a higher rank than those who did not constantly accompany him, did not participate in any expedition with him, had a short conversation with him, walked with him a little, saw him from far or whilst still children. Yes the merit of companionship is true for all of them.
Probably the incident wherein Khalid ibn al Walid radiya Llahu ‘anhu verbally offended ‘Abdul Rahman ibn ‘Awf radiya Llahu ‘anhu, subsequent to which Rasul Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam forbade him from doing so, will shed more light on the matter. Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said:
لاتسبوا أصحابي، فلو أن أحدكم أنفق مثل أحد ذهبا ما بلغ مد أحدهم ولا نصيفه
‘Abdul Rahman ibn ‘Awf and his like were from the forerunners who accompanied Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam at a time when Khalid and his like were opposing him; they spent their wealth before the conquest and strove. They therefore hold a higher rank than those who spent after the conquest and strove (but Allah has promised goodness to all of them). They enjoyed companionship which Khalid did not. Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam thus forbade him and his like, i.e. those who accepted Islam after the conquest (the treaty of Hudaybiyyah) and strove thereafter, from verbally offending those who accompanied him before that.
Similarly, the comparison between those who did not accompany him at all and those who accompanied him is just like the comparison between Khalid ibn al Walid and the forerunners, or even broader.
 Maqayis al Lughah 3/335.
 Ahmed ibn Faris ibn Zakariyya al Hamdani, Abu al Hassan al Razi. A senior lexicographer and author. He was born in Hamadan or Qazvin in the year 306 A.H. He was well versed in the Maliki School and was an expert in theology. He wrote innumerable abridgements. He passed away in 395 A.H. Some of his works are the following: al Mujmal fi al Lughah, Maqayis al Lughah and al Sahibi. See al Tadwin fi Akhbar Qazwin 2/215; Wafayat al A’yan 1/118; Siyar A’lam al Nubalaʾ 17/103; al Bidayah wa al Nihayah 11/335.
 Al ‘Ayn 3/124; al Muhkam wa al Muhit al A’zam 3/168; Lisan al ‘Arab 1/520; al Qamus al Muhit p. 134.
 Al Manhal al Rawi p. 45; Muqaddamah Fath al Bari 1/350; Tadreeb al Rawi 1/207; Qawa’id al Tahdith p. 143.
 Nuzhah al Nazr p. 28; al Isabah fi Tamyiz al Sahabah 1/353; Radi al Din al Halabi: Qafw al Athar 1/89; al Munawi al Yawaqit wa al Durar 2/200. Also see: al Subki: al Ibhaj 1/15; Tadreeb al Rawi 2/209.
 Sahabah Rasul Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam fi al Kitab wa al Sunnah p. 39. Also see: al Kifayah p. 50; al Taqyid wa al Idah p. 295; Fath al Mughith 3/93.
 Tahqiq Munif al Rutbah p. 32; Irshad al Fuhul p. 129.
 Bayan al Mukhtasar (Sharh Mukhtasar Ibn al Hajib) 1/716.
 Tabaqat al Hanabilah 1/243; al Kifayah p. 192; al Kaludhani: al Tamhid 3/173; Fath al Mughith 3/93.
 Sahih al Bukhari 3/1335.
 Al Kifayah p. 51; al Manhal al Rawi p. 111; al Taqyid wa al Idah p. 296; Fath al Mughith 3/93.
Al Amidi: Al Ihkam 2/104; Majmu’ Fatawa Sheikh al Islam 4/464; al Samin al Halabi: ‘Umdah al Huffaz 2/320; Ibn al Wazir: al ‘Awasim wa al Qawasim 1/387.
 Surah al Najm: 2.
 Surah al Sabaʾ: 46.
 Surah al Takwir: 22.
 Surah Luqman: 15.
 Surah al ‘Ankabut: 15.
 Surah ‘Abas: 34-36.
 Al Wadih fi Usul al Fiqh 5/61; al Ihkam fi Usul al Ahkam 2/104.
 Al Ihkam 2/104.
 Ibid. 2/104. Al Musawwadah p. 263.
 Al Ihkam 2/104; al Musawwadah 263; al Bahr al Muhit fi Usul al Fiqh 3/360; Tahqiq Munif al Rutbah p. 33.
 See: al Taqrir wa al Tahbir p. 15.
 Muhammad ibn ‘Ali ibn al Hussain ibn Bishr al Tirmidhi, Abu ‘Abdullah, well known as ‘al Hakim al Tirmidhi’. An ascetic hadith scholar who was disinclined from this world. He heard a great amount of hadiths in Khorasan and Iraq. Later, toward the end of his life, he was banished from Tirmidh and was dubbed a disbeliever due to his book Khatm al Wilayah whereafter he settled in Balkh. He passed away in 285 A.H. The following are some of his books: Nawadir al Usul, Haqaʾiq al Tafsir and Riyadah al Nafs. See: Tarikh al Islam 21/276; Siyar A’lam al Nubalaʾ 13/439; al Dawoodi: Tabaqat al Mufassirin p. 56; al A’lam 6/272.
 Ibn ‘Abdul Barr has cited the narration of Jabir ibn ‘Abdullah radiya Llahu ‘anhu in Jami’ Bayan al ‘Ilm wa Fadlih 2/91, and ‘Abd ibn Humaid has cited the narration of Ibn ‘Umar, which is slightly variant, in his Musnad p. 250, amongst others. The hadith is not authentically established in any of its transmissions. See: Khulasah al Badr al Munir 2/431; A’lam al Muwaqqi’in 2/242; Talkhis al Habir 4/191; al Silsilah al Da’ifah 1/144.
 Nawadir al Usul 3/62.
 Mansur ibn Muhammad ibn Ahmed al Tamimi, Abu al Muzaffar al Sam’ani. A versatile scholar and an author of many books. He was born in Khorasan in 426 A.H. He grew up and studied there as well. He was one of the leading scholars of the Hanafis who studied the school and mastered it. Thereafter he reverted to the Shafi’i School. He passed away in 490 A.H. Some of his books are the following: al Istilam, al Radd ‘ala al Rawandi and Qawati’ al Adillah. See al Ansab 3/299; Siyar A’lam al Nubalaʾ 19/114; al Bidayah wa al Nihayah 12/153; Tabaqat al Shafi’iyyah al Kubra 5/335.
 Qawati’ al Adillah p. 392.
 Abu Ya’la: Al ‘Uddah fi Usul al Fiqh 3/989; al San’ani: Ijabah al Saʾil Sharh Bughyah al Amil p. 129.
 Ibn Hazm: al Ihkam 5/86; al Bahr al Muhit fi Usul al Fiqh 3/360.
 Irshad al Fuhul p. 129.
 Al Ihkam 2/1041; Tadreeb al Rawi 2/216; Irshad al Fuhul p. 129; al Fusul al Luʾluʾiyyah p. 308.
 Al Wadih fi Usul al Fiqh 5/60; al Musawwadah p. 263; Fath al Mughith 3/103; Manhaj Dhawi al Nazr p. 215.
Jahiz is ‘Amr ibn Bahr, ibn Mahbub al Kinani, Abu ‘Uthman al Basari, famously known as Jahiz. A Mu’tazilite theologian who was a master in the Arabic language. He was born in 163 A.H. He adopted Mu’tazilism due to the influence of al Nazzam and one of its sub-sects, the Jahiziyyah, is attributed to him. He authored many books, among them are the following: al Bayan wa al Tabyin, al Hayawan and al Bukhalaʾ. He passed away in Basrah in 255 A.H. See: Tarikh Baghdad 12/212; al Muntazam 12/93; Tarikh Madinah Dimashq 45/431; Siyar A’lam al Nubalaʾ 11/526.
 Tahqiq Munif al Rutbah p. 33; Ghayah al Wusul p. 104.
 Tahqiq Munif al Rutbah p. 33.
 Al Isti’ab 2/531
 Fawatih al Rahamut 2/158.
 Al Kifayah fi ‘Ilm al Riwayah p. 50; al Manhal al Rawi p. 111; Tadreeb al Rawi 2/211; Irshad al Fuhul p. 129.
 In its transmission appears Muhammad ibn ‘Umar al Waqidi who has been impugned by many hadith scholars. See: al Taqyid wa al Idah p. 297; Fath al Mughith 3/211.
 Tadreeb al Rawi 2/211.
 Tahqiq Munif al Rutbah p. 35; Fath al Mughith 3/103; Tadreeb al Rawi 2/212; al Shadha al Fayyah 2/495.
 Sahih al Bukhari: chapter of Jihad and Siyar: sub-chapter regarding seeking help by virtue of the weak and the pious in battle: hadith no. 2740 (narrated by Abu Sa’id al Khudri)’; Sahih Muslim: chapter of the merits of the Sahabah: sub-chapter regarding the merit of the Sahabah, those who succeeded them and those who succeeded them: hadith no. 2532.
 Al Kifayah p. 192; Tabaqat al Hanabilah 1/243; al Kaludhani: al Tamhid 3/173; Majmu’ Fatawa Sheikh al Islam 4/464.
 Majmu’ Fatawa Sheikh al Islam 35/59.
 Ahmed ibn ‘Ali ibn Muhammad ibn Muhammad al Kinani, Abu al Fadl al ‘Asqalani, famously known as Ibn Hajar (a title accorded to one of his forefathers). An adherent of the Shafi’i School who was prolific scholar of hadith. He became popular for his in depth research and extensive knowledge in the sciences of hadith. He was born in Cairo in 773 A.H. His books were widely acknowledged. He presided as a judge many a times. He passed away in 852 A.H. Some of his books are: Fath al Bari, al Isabah and al Durar al Kaminah. See: al Dawʾ al Lami’ 2/36; Shadharat al Dhahab 7/270; al Dawoodi: Tabaqat al Mufassirin 329; al A’lam 1/178.
 Sharh Nukhbah al Fikar p. 29.
 A measurement which is equal to 0.688 litres.
 The narration of Abu Sa’id al Khudri radiya Llahu ‘anhu which is recorded in: Sahih al Bukhari: chapter regarding the merits of the Sahabah: sub-chapter regarding the statement of Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, “If I were to take a bosom friend…” hadith no. 3470; Sahih Muslim: chapter regarding the merits of the Sahabah: sub-chapter regarding the prohibition of verbally assaulting the Sahabah: hadith no. 4541.
 Al Sarim al Maslul 3/1077.Back to top