Salman Al Farsi رضي الله عنه is perhaps most famously known for his ingenious plan during the Battle of Khandaq to outsmart the kuffar by using a technique in warfare not known by the Arabs at that time. But then again he was one of the most prominent sahabas later on known for his abundant knowledge. Reading on his life we find his quest for knowledge and truth to be so inspiring and moving
Salman رضي الله عنه was asked about his search for the truth and in his own words – I grew up in the town of Isfahan in Persia in the village of Jayyan. My father was the dihqan or chief of the village. He was the richest person there and had the biggest house. Since I was a child my father loved me, more than he loved any other. As time went by, his love for me became so strong and overpowering that he feared to lose me or have anything happen to me. So he kept me at home, a veritable prisoner, in the same way young girls were kept. I became devoted to the Magian religion so much so that I attained the position of custodian of the fire that we worshipped. My duty was to see that the flames of the fire remained burning and that it did not go out for a single hour, day or night. My father had a vast estate that yielded an abundant supply of crops. He himself looked after the estate and the harvest. One day he was very busy with his duties as dihqan in the village and he said to me: “My son, as you see, I am too busy to go out to the estate now. Go there and look after matters for me today.”
On my way to the estate, I passed a Christian church and the voices at prayer attracted my attention. I did not know anything about Christianity or about the followers of any other religion throughout the time my father kept me in the house away from people. When I heard the voices of the Christians, I entered the church to see what they were doing. I was impressed by their manner of praying and felt drawn to their religion. “By God,” I said, “this is better than ours. I shall not leave them until the sun sets.” I asked and was told that the Christian religion originated in ash-Sham (Greater Syria). I did not go to my father’s estate that day and at night, I returned home. My father met me and asked what I had done. I told him about my meeting with the Christians and how I was impressed by their religion.
He was dismayed and said: “My son, there is nothing good in that religion. Your religion and the religion of your forefathers is better.” “No, their religion is better than ours,” I insisted. My father became upset and afraid that I would leave our religion. So he kept me locked up in the house and put a chain on my feet. I managed, however, to send a message to the Christians asking them to inform me of any caravan going to Syria. Before long, they got in touch with me and told me that a caravan was headed for Syria. I managed to unfetter myself and, in disguise, accompanied the caravan to Syria.
There, I asked who the leading person in the Christian religion was and was directed to the bishop of the church. I went up to him and said: “I want to become a Christian and would like to attach myself to your service, learn from you and pray with you.” The bishop agreed and I entered the church in his service. I soon found out, however, that the man was corrupt. He would order his followers to give money in charity while holding out the promise of blessings to them. When they gave anything to spend in the way of God, however, he would hoard it for himself and not give anything to the poor or needy. In this way he amassed a vast quantity of gold.
When the bishop died and the Christians gathered to bury him, I told them of his corrupt practices and, at their request, showed them where he kept their donations. When they saw the large jars filled with gold and silver, they said: “By God, we shall not bury him.” They nailed him on a cross and threw stones at him. I continued in the service of the person who replaced him. The new bishop was an ascetic who longed for the Hereafter and engaged in worship day and night. I was greatly devoted to him and spent a long time in his company.
After the bishop’s death, Salman رضي الله عنه attached himself to various Christian religious figures, in Mosul, Nisibis and elsewhere. The last one is reported to have told him about the appearance of a Prophet in the land of the Arabs who would have a reputation for strict honesty, one who would accept a gift but would never consume charity (sadaqah) for himself. This again showed that the People of the Book knew of the coming of Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم but rejected him because of their ego. It is said that this last priest was of the last remaining true Christians alive, those that followed the true message of Jesus. On his deathbed he had told Salman that he didn’t know anyone else left from amongst his people to whom he could direct Salman to and told him of the coming of the new Prophet to complete the message as predicted by Jesus.
Salman رضي الله عنه continues his story: A group of ‘Arab leaders from the Kalb tribe passed through Ammuriyah and I asked them to take me with them to the land of the Arabs in return for whatever money I had. They agreed and I paid them. When we reached Wadi al-Qura (a place between Madinah and Syria), they broke their agreement and sold me to a Jew.
I worked as a servant for him but eventually he sold me to a nephew of his, belonging to the tribe of Banu Qurayzah. This nephew took me with him to Yathrib, the city of palm groves, which is how the Christian at Ammuriyah had described it. Wallah, just look at the beauty of Qadr. He is taken directly to the place where the Prophet Muhammad himself be shortly arriving. Such are the finders of truth with clear hearts and pure intentions. Allah makes it easy for them.
He continues the story, “At that time, the Prophet was inviting his people in Makkah to Islam but I did not hear anything about him then because of the harsh duties that slavery imposed upon me. When the Prophet reached Yathrib after his hijrah from Makkah, I was in fact at the top of a palm tree belonging to my master, doing some work. My master was sitting under the tree. A nephew of his came up and said: “May God declare war on the Aws and the Khazraj (the two main ‘Arab tribes of Yathrib). By God, they are now gathering at Quba’ to meet a man who has today come from Makkah and who claims he is a Prophet.”
I felt hot flushes as soon as I heard these words and I began to shiver so violently that I was afraid that I might fall on my master. I quickly got down from the tree and spoke to my master’s nephew. “What did you say? Repeat the news for me.” My master was very angry and gave me a terrible blow. “What does this matter to you? Go back to what you were doing,” he shouted.
That evening, I took some dates that I had gathered and went to the place where the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم had alighted. I went up to him and said: “I have heard that you are a righteous man and that you have companions with you who are strangers and are in need. Here is something from me as sadaqah. I see that you are more deserving of it than others.” The Prophet ordered his companions to eat, but he himself did not eat of it. I gathered some more dates and when the Prophet left Quba’ for Madinah I went to him and said: “I noticed that you did not eat of the sadaqah I gave. This however is a gift for you.” Of this gift of dates, both he and his companions ate. The strict honesty of the Prophet was one of the characteristics that led Salman رضي الله عنه to believe in him and accept Islam. Salman رضي الله عنه was thrilled at the prospect of meeting the Prophet SAW again.
His acceptance of Islam came at the first opportunity he had of being absent from his work. He met the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم at a cemetery after the burial of one of his companions. Seated facing the Noble Prophet, and in the presence of other companions, Salman رضي الله عنه, the seeker of Truth, entered Islam. Henceforth, Salman would say when asked whose son he was: “I am Salman, the son of Islam, from the children of Adam.”
Salman رضي الله عنه was to play an important role in the struggles of the growing Muslim State. Towards the end of the fifth year after the Hijrah, the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم got intelligence that a massive Quraysh army of about ten thousand strong, including a large cavalry force, had set out from Makkah in another major attempt to finish off the Muslims. They were to be joined by the Jews of Khaybar and other powerful ‘Arab tribes like the Banu Asad and the Banu Ghatafan in a mighty alliance.
The Muslims had only a week to make preparations to defend themselves. The Noble Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم alerted the people, urged them to be steadfast and, as he had done before, summoned them to a consultation to discuss how to meet the grave threat. It is said that after several ideas were put forward, Salman رضي الله عنه eventually rose up and said: “O Messenger of Allah, in Persia when we feared an attack of cavalry, we would surround ourselves with a trench, so let us dig a trench about us now.”
The stunning suggestion was accepted and the rest is history, but, there was an interesting incident that happend while this trench was being dug. Salman رضي الله عنه being fit and strong and used to such hard labor is said to have done the work of ten men. While each section of the Muslims sought to claim Salman as its own, the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم was moved to say, “Salman is neither Muhajir nor Ansar. He is one of us. He is one of the People of the House (Ahlul Bait)” Wow! Now that’s an honor of different proportions.
Salman رضي الله عنه continued in the service of the Noble Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم and stayed close to him in the few eventful years that followed. A better opportunity to acquire knowledge and wisdom could not be found. In every event, in every meeting, in every journey – there was something to be learned. The Prophet, for example, was once with Salman and another person under a tree. He took a dry branch from the tree and shook it and the leaves fell. He asked Salman: “Salman, aren’t you going to ask me why I have done this?” “Why have you done this?” inquired Salman and the Noble Prophet replied: “When a Muslim make wudu’ and does it well, then performs the five (daily) prescribed Salat, his sins fall away just as these leaves fall away.” And then he recited the verse of the Qur’an:
“And establish Salat at both ends of the day and during the early watches of the night. Indeed, good deeds drive away evil deeds. This is a reminder to those who are mindful (of God).” [Surah Hud]
Salman رضي الله عنه practiced what he learned. It is related that he was once with a group of Muslims engaged in dhikr or the remembrance of Almighty Allah. The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم passed by and so they stopped. He asked: “What have you been saying?” “We are remembering Allah, O Messenger of Allah.” “Go on saying (your words of remembrance),” encouraged the Prophet, “for indeed I saw grace and mercy descending upon you and I dearly love to share this with you.”
Then he said: “Praise be to Allah Who has made such people among my Ummah with whom I am commanded to find calmness and patience (sabr) in myself.” Salman رضي الله عنه proved to be a keen student and was regarded as one of the foremost scholars among the Muslims after the passing of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم.
It is related that when the well-known companion of the Prophet, Mu’adh ibn Jabal رضي الله عنه, was on his deathbed, a man who came to visit him began to weep. “Why do you weep?” asked Mu’adh. “Because of the knowledge that I would have gained from you,” replied the man. “Don’t cry,” said Mu’adh comfortingly, “for when I die, seek knowledge from four persons: ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’ud, ‘Abdullah ibn Salam, Salman and Abu-d Darda.”
As a scholar, Salman رضي الله عنه was noted for his vast knowledge and wisdom. Abu Hurairah رضي الله عنه is said to have referred Salman as “Abu Al Kitabayn” (The father of the two books, i.e., the Bible and the Quran) and Ali رضي الله عنه is said to have referred him as Luqman al-Hakeem (Luqman the wise – reference to a wise man in the Quran known for his wise statements) And Ka’b al-Ahbar said, “Salman is stuffed with knowledge and wisdom – an ocean that does not dry up.” Salman رضي الله عنه had a knowledge of both the Christian scriptures and the Qur’an in addition to his earlier knowledge of the Zoroastrian religion. Salman رضي الله عنه in fact translated parts of the Qur’an into Persian during the lifetime of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم. He was thus the first person to translate the Qur’an into a foreign language.
Salman رضي الله عنه was keen to pass on his knowledge. It is related that while he was in a mosque in Ctesiphon, about a thousand people gathered about him. He told them to sit down and started to recite from Surah Yusuf. They began to disperse until there were just about one hundred left. He became upset and said, “It is pleasant talk you want! But when I read the Book of Allah for you, you go away!” How close is this to the way we act today. If anyone talks of Allah and his Messenger we have hardly any people there to listen but if we get a few singers on stage the place fills like swarms of bees. May Allah guide us all!
There are other examples of the wisdom and correct behaviour of Salman رضي الله عنه. It is related that he was once with a military post. Some distance away, a person began to recite the Qur’an from Surah Maryam. A non-Muslim listening to the recitation started to defame Maryam and her son, the Prophet Isa (Jesus). The Muslims became incensed and set upon the man, beating him so badly as to draw blood. The man went to Salman رضي الله عنه and complained, for it had become known that anyone who was wronged or unjustly treated could go to Salman. Salman رضي الله عنه went to those who had beaten the man and asked: “Why did you beat up this man?” “We were reading Surah Maryam and he vilified Maryam and her son,” they replied. Salman رضي الله عنه reprimanded the Muslims and urged them to exercise restraint and treat the protected people (ahl al-dhimmah) with honor. He quoted the Qur’anic verse:
“Do not revile those whom they invoke instead of Allah lest they revile Allah out of spite and in ignorance.” [Surah al-An’am]
Salman رضي الله عنه became known as “Salman the Good”. He was a scholar who lived a rough and ascetic life. He had one cloak that he wore and on which he slept. He would not seek the shelter of a roof but often stayed under a tree or against a wall. A man once said to him: “Shall I not build you a house in which to live?” “I have no need of a house,” he replied. The man persisted and said: “I know the type of house that if you stand up in it, its roof will hurt your head and if you stretch your legs the wall will hurt them.”
Later, as a governor of al-Mada’in (Ctesiphon) near Baghdad, Salman رضي الله عنه received a stipend of five thousand dirhams. This he would distribute as sadaqah. He lived from the work of his own hands. When some people came to al-Mada’in and saw him working in the palm groves making baskets, they were amazed. “You are the amir here and your sustenance is guaranteed and you do this work!” “I like to eat from the work of my own hands,” he replied. Such were the heroes of Islam, not trying to make money out of their religion and the position they held in Islam.
Once Salman رضي الله عنه was being pressed to eat a little more from the food he was served but he insisted, “This is enough for me. This is enough for me. I have heard the Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم saying, ‘The one who fills his stomach the most in this world will be the hungriest in the Hereafter. O Salman, the world is but a prison for the believer and paradise for the disbeliever.’”
Salman رضي الله عنه, however, was not extreme in his asceticism. It is related that he once visited Abu-d Darda’ رضي الله عنه with whom the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم had joined him in brotherhood. He found Abuv Darda’s wife in a miserable state and he asked: “What is the matter with you?” “Your brother has no need of anything in this world,” she replied. When Abu Darda’ came, he welcomed Salman and gave him food. Salman told him to eat but Abu Darda’ said: “I am fasting.” “I swear to you that I shall not eat until you eat also.” Salman spent the night there as well. During the night, Abu Darda’ got up but Salman got hold of him and said: “O Abu Darda’, your Lord has a right over you. Your family has a right over you and your body has a right over you. Give to each its due.” In the morning, they prayed together and then went out to meet the Prophet. The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم supported Salman in what he had said. Salman and Abu-d Darda’ remained closely attached to each other. When apart, they often wrote to each other offering advice and support, with certain frankness at times. Abu Darda’ once wrote to Salman requesting him to make haste and return to the “holy land”. Salman wrote back to him saying, “Surely the earth does not make anyone holy. Is it only man’s deeds which make him holy.”
Salman رضي الله عنه, because of the influential household in which he grew up, might easily have continued to live a life of ease and luxury in the sprawling Persian empire of this time. His search for truth however led him, even before the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم had appeared, to renounce a comfortable and affluent life and even to suffer the indignities of slavery. According to the most reliable account, he died in the year 35 AH, during the caliphate of ‘Uthman رضي الله عنه, at Ctesiphon.
His search for the truth reminds me of Ibrahim AS in his younger days to an extent where he used to see different things and consider them as Allah, till he found the truth. May Allah give us the firmness in belief the Sahaba had and unite us with them and our beloved Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم in Jannatul Firdaus Al Alaa. May Allah not make us of those who have transgressed against their Lord and the teachings of his Prophet.
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