Abu Dharr Al-Ghifari (R.a)

Abu Dharr’s story is the story of the highway robber who became an ascetic and a preacher during the life of Prophet Muhammad (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) and the conscience of the rulers of the Islamic State after the death of the Messenger of Allah (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam). Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) was among the first persons to accept Islam. Prophet Muhammad (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) said about him: “No one walking on the earth and under the sky is more truthful than Abu Dharr.” [Ibn Majah]

Search for Truth

In the Waddan valley, which connects Makkah to the outside world, lived the tribe of Ghifar. Ghifar were notorious for raiding trade caravans and for invading weaker neighbouring tribes. So lawless were they, that they did not even respect the four sacred months held inviolable by all Arabs, in which they did not allow killing. All in all, their interests were focused on ways to rob others. [Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal]

Jundub ibn Junadah, nicknamed Abu Dharr, was a member of this tribe. He, like his peers, was a professional raider and used all means available to kill to survive. However, he didn’t like this life style and eventually, he with his brother and mother, left the tribe and moved close to Makkah.

Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) had started praying more than three years before the advent of Islam. He would pray at night and remain engaged in prayer until the morning. He would pray in whichever direction and whatever manner Allah (subhana wa ta’ala)  guided him to. He would pray to the Lord of the heavens, as he had rejected the idols and religious corruption in which the Arabs were engaged. Every time he went out in the desert he was amazed by the bright stars that glittered far above him and wondered at the vast universe around him. His innate nature had put him on the right path. [Hilyat-ul Awliya Wa Tabaqaat al-Asfiya]

Once Abu Dharr’s brother, Unays, went to Makkah to do some business. When he came back he told Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) that he had met a man in Makkah who claimed to be a prophet. He was preaching a religion which said to worship Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) alone. Reported Unays, “he calls people to noble qualities and there is no mere poetry in what he says.” “What do people say about him?” asked Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu). Unays replied that they said that Muhammad (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) was a soothsayer, a magician, a liar, and he went down the list of labels that the media of Makkah had labeled him with. Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) said, “My curiosity is not satisfied. I am not finished with this matter. Will you look after my family while I go out and examine this prophet’s mission myself?” “Yes. But beware of the Makkans” cautioned his brother.

Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) did not trust the media of Makkah and decided to investigate the matter himself by meeting this prophet personally. In fact, this is exactly what a Muslim is required to do. Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) says that when you are given any information, you must verify it. That’s where our scholars learnt the science of hadith from. Whenever somebody quoted a hadith, they were required to say where they got it from and where that person got it from, up to the Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam). A Muslim does not follow heresay. Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) has given us minds that we are supposed to use. Prophet Muhammad (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) told us not to be an Aimma. An Aimma, he explained is a person who says ‘yes’ when people say ‘yes’ and says ‘no’ when people say ‘no’.

On his arrival in Makkah, Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) asked a man about Prophet Muhammad (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam). That man immediately called the Quraish and they started pelting him with stones, rocks and whatever they could get their hands on. The physical assault continued until Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) became unconscious. When he regained consciousness, he saw that he was soaked with blood from head to toe. He went to the well of Zamzam, drank water, and washed the blood off his body. He, thereafter, refrained from asking anyone about Prophet Muhammad (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) not knowing whether that person would be a follower or an enemy. [Ahmad ibn Hanbal]

Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) stayed next to the Kaaba for thirty days, not knowing where to meet the Messenger of Allah (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam), drinking nothing but the water of Zamzam. More surprising than this is that Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) said, “And I started gaining weight until I began to get folds on my stomach.” [Ahmad ibn Hanbal]

Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) Becomes A Muslim

Finally, Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) got to meet the Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) he had come in search of. “As-salaamu alayka yaa Rasulullah, (Peace be on you, O Messenger of Allah),” greeted Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu). “Wa alayka salaamullahi wa rahmatuhu wa barakaatuhu (And on you be the peace of Allah, His mercy and His blessings),” replied the Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam). Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) was thus the first person to greet the Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) with the greeting of Islam. After that, the greeting spread and came into general use.

Prophet Muhammad (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) asked Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) where he was from. When Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) replied that he was from Ghifar, the Messenger of Allah (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) put his hand to his head in amazement. A man from Ghifar! These were killers and raiders, who obeyed no laws of any kind! It was amazing that a man of a tribe of murderers and looters had come to Makkah in search of the truth, while Muhammad’s (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) own people, who were the religious authorities of Arabia, had rejected his message!

Abu Dharr’s (radi Allahu anhu) meeting with the Messenger of Allah (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) resulted in his conversion to Islam. Prophet Muhammad (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) told Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) to keep his Eeman (belief in Islam) secret.

Abu Dharr’s (radi Allahu anhu) story in his own words is: “After that I stayed with the Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) in Makkah and he taught me Islam and taught me to read the Qur’an. Then he said to me, ‘Don’t tell anyone in Makkah about your acceptance of Islam. I fear that they will kill you.’”

But Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) vowed, “By Him in whose hands is my soul, I shall not leave Makkah until I go to the Kabah and proclaim the call of Truth in the midst of the Quraish.”

Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) said, “The Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) remained silent. I went to the Kabah. The Quraish were sitting and talking. I went in their midst and called out at the top of my voice, ‘O people of Quraish, I testify that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) is the Messenger of Allah (subhana wa ta’ala).’”

“My words had an immediate effect on them. They jumped up and said, ‘Get this one who has left his religion.’ They pounced on me and began to beat me mercilessly. They clearly meant to kill me. But Abbas ibn Abdul Muttalib, the uncle of the Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam), recognised me. He bent over and protected me from them. He told them: ‘Woe to you! Would you kill a man from the Ghifar tribe and your caravans must pass through their territory?’ They then released me.”

Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) repeated his proclamation the next day and the day after, with the same result. Abbas ibn Abdul Muttalib (radi Allahu anhu) saved Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) by telling people that he was from Ghifar, and that if anything happened to him, none of their caravans would be safe, as the Ghifar would loot them regularly, cutting off the trading pipeline of the Quraish, in revenge.

Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) says, “I went back to the Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) and when he saw my condition, he said, ‘Didn’t I tell you not to announce your acceptance of Islam?’ ‘O Messenger of Allah,’ I said, ‘It was a need I felt in my soul and I fulfilled it.’ ‘Go to your people,’ he commanded, ‘and tell them what you have seen and heard. Invite them to Allah (subhana wa ta’ala). Maybe Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) will bring them good through you and reward you through them. And when you hear that I have come out in the open, then come to me.’”

What we learn from Abu Dharr’s (radi Allahu anhu) story is that whenever anybody sincerely looks for guidance, Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) does not leave that person to wander in the darkness of ignorance and disbelief. Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) was looking for Islam and Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) brought him to it.

Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) Becomes A Caller To Islam

Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) continued, “I left and went back to my people. My brother came up to me and asked, ‘What have you done?’ I told him that I had become a Muslim and that I believed in the truth of Muhammad’s (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) teachings. ‘I am not averse to your religion. In fact, I am also now a Muslim and a believer,’ he replied. We both went to our mother then and invited her to Islam. ‘I do not have any dislike for your religion. I accept Islam also’ she said.

Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) had not spent much time in Makkah and he probably had not learnt much about the new religion, as the revelations had only just commenced. But from that day, this family of believers went out tirelessly inviting the tribe of Ghifar to Allah (subhana wa ta’ala), and did not flinch from their purpose. Eventually, a large number became Muslims and the congregational prayer was instituted among them. This family’s actions were according to the saying of Prophet Muhammad (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) that we should convey to others, even if all we know is a single ayat. The lesson here is that our job is to invite others to the monotheism of Islam with whatever we know. Hidayah (guidance) is in the hands of Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) and the choice of the individual.

The rival tribe of Ghifar was Aslam. When they heard that Ghifar had accepted Islam they also when to the Messenger of Allah (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) in Medina and accepted Islam. Thus, the acceptance of Islam by a whole tribe began with the efforts of a single man.

We must not underestimate the value of any good deed, no matter how trivial it may seem. Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) probably did not think that his whole tribe and their rival tribe would accept Islam because of his acceptance of Islam, but he preached to his tribe anyway. We should not miss any opportunity to do a good deed, even if it is as small as smiling for another Muslim; we never know, but Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) might love that small deed and give barakah (blessing) in it, and make it a source of our mughfirah (forgiveness).

Life In Medina

Abu Dharr joined Prophet Muhammad (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) in Medina and fought in all the battles against the non-believers. Prophet Muhammad (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) sometimes showed preference to Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) above others, and whenever he met him he would pat him and smile and show his happiness.

In Medina, Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) led a simple and humble life and never thought himself to be better then his fellow Muslims. He did not have a house and slept in the Prophet’s (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) masjid. Since the day Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) joined Prophet Muhammad (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) in Medina, he stayed very close to him.  His mind was at peace and he learnt as much as he could from the Messenger of Allah (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam). He was always asking questions about new revelations and commandments. This clarified his understanding and added to the purity of his soul.

He Marches Alone

When the Romans threatened the existence of the Islamic State, the Messenger of Allah (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) prepared an army to march out to the north of the Arabian peninsula to confront them. It was in the burning hot summer, and crops were scarce that year, but the Muslim army had to undertake the expedition of Ghazwah Tabuk. The Muslims donated whatever they possibly could for the expedition, but camels and horses were so insufficient in number that 18 people had to take turns to ride a single camel.

Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) was desperate to join the army, but he was very poor and had no camel or horse to travel on. The journey was too strenuous for even weak camels to be taken. He returned with tears in his eyes when the Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) told him that he could not provide him with a camel or horse that would allow him to accompany them. In the Quran [9:92], Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) mentions the sincerity of Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) and his sorrow at not being able to be of use to the Muslims at this critical juncture.

Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) was poor in terms of worldly means, but like the other Companions, he was extremely rich in the precious commodity of Eemaan and focus on the Akhirah (hereafter). He could not bring himself to miss any opportunity to gain the pleasure of Allah (subhana wa ta’ala). After the army had left, he decided to go on foot through the desert and join them. He picked up his sword and shield and started marching.

The army had to rest on the way to Tabuk. While they had encamped somewhere, some men saw a man within the mirage of the hot desert. They told the Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) that it appeared as if someone was following them at a distance. The Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) replied: “It is Abu Dharr.” The men around Prophet Muhammad (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) were surprised to hear these words. How could Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) walk all this distance to catch up with the army! Yet it was Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) and no other. The Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) was very happy to have Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) with the army. He praised his perseverance and prayed to Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) to save him from the Fire of Hell.

Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) was the man to walk alone across the desert, in support of the Muslims: A true hero of Islam. The Messenger of Allah (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) said about Abu Dharr: “May Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) have mercy on Abu Dharr; for he marches alone, dies alone, and is resurrected alone.”

Life After The Death of The Prophet (peace be upon him)

Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) wept bitterly when the man he loved most in the world passed away. But he knew that he had a role to play in order to be true to what he had learnt from his bosom friend. Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) kept steadfast in his Islam and continued to practice and preach what he had learnt from the Messenger of Allah (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam). He joined the Muslim army to spread the call of Islam to the lands of the Roman and Persian Empires. He fought many battles during the caliphates of Abu Bakr and Umar (radi Allahu anhuma).

By the time of the caliphate of Uthman (radi Allahu anhu) the Islamic State had grown rich. Wealth is as much a trial as poverty, and some of the richer Muslims began to be neglectful of Islam, particularly in the manner in which they dealt with their wealth. They did not feel the compulsion to use their wealth to benefit the poor or the orphans. Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) believed that, albeit lawfully acquired, wealth could not be accumulated and hoarded. He strongly denounced those who were rich for not spending more to alleviate the sufferings of the poor.

Move To Damascus

As a result Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) became very unpopular. He was asked to leave Medina. In Damascus he saw Muslims just as concerned about the things of this world. Their desire for luxury upset him. So in Damascus he continued with his harsh criticism of the Muslims’ way of life and neglect of the needy. Someone asked Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu): “O Abu Dharr, why do people leave your company upset every time they visit you?” He replied: “They leave upset because I admonish them against hoarding the treasures of this world.” [Hilyat-ul Awliya Wa Tabaqaat al-Asfiya]

Abu Dharr al Ghifari (radi Allahu anhu) would say: “My bosom friend, Allah’s Messenger, upon whom be peace, entrusted me with the admonition that any gold or silver one ties up with a thong to save for an austere day will become a charring coal in hell-fire, unless one spends it on Allah’s path before he dies.” [Hilyat-ul Awliya Wa Tabaqaat al-Asfiya]

When his criticism became very strong Muawiyah (radi Allahu anhu), the governor of Damascus, tried to cool him down but was not able to. Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) also criticized Muawiya for having more than one kind of food on his table. Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) was ordered to accompany the Muslim army and preach to them. However, whenever he would return to Damascus, Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) would resume his struggle against the lifestyle he saw the Muslims adopting over there. He felt that the Muslims were deviating from the Islam that had been practiced by the Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam).

Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) would recite the ayat, “They who hoard up gold and silver and spend them not in the way of Allah; announce to them a painful torment” [Quran 9:34]. Muawiya (radi Allahu anhu) answered, “This ayat is not for us, but for the people of the Scripture.” Thereupon, Abu Dharr replied, “But it is both for us (Muslim) and for them.’” It was this dispute that finally resulted in Abu Dharr’s expulsion from Damascus. [Sahih Bukhari]

Return To Medina

Muawiya wrote a letter to Uthman (radi Allahu anhuma) about this and Uthman (radi Allahu anhu) asked Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) to come back to Medina. Some people in Damascus did not want him to leave, but Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) acted on the advice of the Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) to obey his caliph so long as he implemented the Shariah. He, therefore, obediently returned to Medina. The hypocrites who were trying to break up the Islamic state tried to exploit Abu Dharr’s corrections of the rulers, but Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) did not join their rebellion. He remained true to his promise to his beloved friend Muhammad (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) to obey the caliph as long as the state was run by the rulings of Islam.

In Medina he was again one of those who had neither house, property, wealth nor family. He stayed in the masjid and spent all his time learning the Quran and ahadith. Abdullah, son of Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal narrated that it was suggested to Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) that he buy a farm as others had done. He replied, “What benefits do I get by becoming a landlord? I only need a drink of water a day, and a cafiz (small bag) of wheat per week.” [Hilyat-ul Awliya Wa Tabaqaat al-Asfiya]

Self Exile At Rabadha

At Medina he continued to be critical of the people’s pursuit of worldly goods and pleasures and they were in turn critical of his reviling them. Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) was asked to keep himself away from people. In fact, Uthman asked Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) to come and live with him, but Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) did not want to share anybody else’s lifestyle. Instead, he asked for permission to be allowed to live at a place called Rabadha by himself. He was allowed to do so.

At Rabadha, Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) led a very humble life isolated from people. Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) had nothing except a bedouin black canopy that provided him with shade. Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) had a wife, an old woman of swarthy complexion, and they had no children. Abdullah bin Khirash met him there while Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) was sitting on a dry and lacerated traveler’s bag filled with stones. Encouraging him to take a second wife he said, ‘O Abu Dharr, if you remain like this, you will die having no offspring!’ Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) replied, ‘Praise be to Him Who withholds them in this ephemeral abode, and Who grants them as eternal blessings in the hereafter’. [Hilyat-ul Awliya Wa Tabaqaat al-Asfiya]

It is amazing how little the comforts of this world tempted Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu). He was content with the fact that he would get all desirable things in Jannah (Paradise) and Jannah he strove for! How many soft cushions we have! And how we struggle to make our lives more luxurious! How deep was Abu Dharr’s (radi Allahu anhu) understanding of the temporary and beguiling nature of this world.

Once a man visited him and began looking at the contents of his house but found it quite bare. He asked Abu Dharr: “Where are your possessions?” “We have a house yonder (meaning the Hereafter),” said Abu Dharr, “to which we send the best of our possessions.” The man understood what he meant and said: “But you must have some possessions so long as you are in this abode.” “The owner of this abode will not leave us in it” replied Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu).

Some of his old friends visited him now and then. They tried their best to give him some money for his living, but he always rejected such gifts. Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal narrated that once “Habib bin Maslama, the governor of Syria, sent a gift of three hundreds dinars to Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) with the message, ‘Use them according to your needs.’ Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) replied to the carrier, ‘Take them back to him, and tell him, couldn’t he find someone else who is less guarded and more ready to be deceived by this money? Sufficient for us the blessings of a shade over our heads, a handful of sheep that grazes around us, and moreover, a free woman who, as a courteous wife, is doing us the favor of serving our daily needs, and even then, I am afraid that such blessings could be too much for people like us.’” [Hilyat-ul Awliya Wa Tabaqaat al-Asfiya]

Abu Dharr Al-Ghifari (radi Allahu anhu) was once reciting this ayat for some people, “You will not receive the benefits of trueness (to your Lord) until you spend out of what you love most.” [Quran 3:92] “Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) then suddenly looked around and saw a camel he owned, and he obligingly pointed at it and said: ‘Indeed my Lord, I do love this camel as my most cherished possession, and I wish to use it for my ultimate advantage.’ Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) then gave away the camel in charity.” [Hilyat-ul Awliya Wa Tabaqaat al-Asfiya]

Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) Dies

Umm Dharr described the nature of her husband’s worship, “He spent his entire days, mostly silent, pondering and meditating on Allah’s (subhana wa ta’ala) work.” Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) persisted in his simple and frugal life to the end.

Umm Dharr, the wife of Abu Dharr Al-Ghifari (radi Allahu anhu) said: “When Abu Dharr was dying, he saw me crying, and he asked me, ‘Why are you crying?’ I replied, ‘I do not know what to do! I surely cannot wash your body and shroud you all by myself. I do not have a single robe that is big enough to shroud you, nor do we have in this entire place enough material to shroud your body with!’”

“Abu Dharr said, ‘Do not cry. Listen, I was once sitting in a group of people, and I heard Allah’s Messenger , upon whom be peace, say to us, ‘One of you will die in a desolated area, and near his death, a group of believers will pass by, and they will bury him and officiate his funeral prayer.’ O Umm Dharr, none of those who were sitting in that gathering is alive today except me, and each one of them have died in a town, or surrounded with a group of believers, and therefore, I believe that I am the one who will die in a desolated area as prophesied by Allah’s Messenger, upon whom be peace. I swear by Allah that I am not lying, nor did I ever disbelieve in what Allah’s Messenger said. Go and look outside, perhaps you will see a group of travelers coming this way.’”

Abu Dharr’s death took place as described by the Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) and a group of Muslims passing by were honoured to bury the eminent Companion of the Messenger of Allah (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam). Indeed at Rabadha, Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu) was buried alone, to be resurrected alone on the Day of Resurrection. May Allah be pleased with him.

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