THE CONCEPT OF ṢAHĀBA AND ʿADALA - A SHIA PERSPECTIVE
28th January 2017
Whilst the companions (ṣahāba) of the Prophet hold a high status in Islam, the Shia are often accused of denigrating the status of the Prophet’s companions and even at times cursing them. The Centre for Intra-Muslim Studies (CIMS) came together to discuss this very topic, with the Shia perspective on this topic presented by Sayed Hossein Qazwini.
Sayed Hossein’s main argument was that the ṣahāba hold a high status and are praised in the Quran, that praise is conditional upon their obedience to the Prophet. Furthermore, the existence of criticism of some ṣahāba in the Quran is further evidence that there is no basis to consider them free from scrutiny.
Amongst the various definitions of what a ṣahāba is, Sayed built his argument on the definition that a ṣahāba was someone who lived with the Prophet for a period of time and died upon the faith. He then cited several verses critical of the actions of certain companions and pointed out that an entire chapter in the Quran is named ‘The Hypocrites’ bearing testament that some amongst the companions were of dubious character.
Quoting Sunni Quran exegetes such as al-Qurtubi, al-Wahidi and others, Sayed Hossein pointed out the verses critical of the Sahaba’s actions such as “O you who believe! Do not raise your voices above the voice of the Prophet” which is in reference to the two esteemed ṣahāba Abu Bakr bin Abu Qahafa and Umar al-Khattab. These and many other verses such as the companions disobeying the Prophet at the battle of Uhud, or accusing the Prophet’s wife of adultery and other such incidents, are indicative according to the Sayed that the companions are not infallible and free of criticism.
In the second part of his presentation, the Sayed went on to quote the verses in praise of the companions and how Sunni scholars take the praise of the companions in these verses to be unrestricted. Quoting the oft-cited verse in praise of the companions “As for the foremost, the first among the Emigrants and the Helpers, and those who followed them with virtue, God is content with them, and they are content with Him”, the Sayed pointed out that the verse was praising the early companions and not all of them. Other such verses, were contextual and conditional such as 48:10 which talks of a reward accorded to the companions provided they fulfil their covenant. The Sayed concluded that whilst some companions were of high status and that there is a hierarchy amongst them, their actions are not free of criticism.
Of the questions raised in the discussion was the narration found in Shia hadith works “all the companions committed apostacy(irtadū) except three” to which Sayed Qazwini responded by rejecting this narration based on the lack of chain, in addition to it being logically impossible that only four companions out of the thousands remained on the faith. It was also evident from the discussions that the Shia narrative is one that is over-critical to the Sahaba perhaps due to a reactionary outlook to the Sunni narrative. . Some Shia scholars did however raise that, although the ṣahāba need to be seen in terms of their human capacity, there is a general lack of knowledge amongst the lay Shia about the various companions of the Prophet and their services to Islam. The notion of ʿadūl (trustworthiness) of the companions was also further discussed where it became evident that the term used in the presentation was in reference to the moral integrity of the companions whilst the technical term in this discussion is about the trustworthiness of the companions in narrating hadith (See CIMS discussion on this from Sunni perspective). This led naturally to the topic of cursing the companions – to which the Shia and Sunni scholars present agreed that cursing and abusing of the companions is categorically wrong, and whilst critiquing the companions’ actions does not amount to cursing, it should only ever be done in a respectful manner.