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In Islam, the Ṣaḥābah (الصحابة) "Companions" were the companions of the Islamic prophet Muḥammad. This form is plural; the singular is masculine ṣaḥābiyy, feminine ṣaḥābiyyah. A list of the best-known companions can be found in the List of Ṣaḥābah.

Definitions of "Companion"

Most Sunnis regard anyone who, in the state of faith, saw Muḥammad to be a ṣaḥābiyy. Lists of prominent companions usually run to fifty or sixty names, being the people most closely associated with Muḥammad. However, there were clearly many others who had some contact with Muḥammad, and their names and biographies were recorded in religious reference texts such as Muḥammad ibn Sa'd's early Kitāb at-Tabāqat al-Kabīr.

Muhammad bin Ahmad Efendi (death 1622), who is also known with the sobriquet "Nişancızâde", the author of the book entitled Mir’ât-i-kâinât (in Turkish), states as follows: "Once a male or female Muslim has seen Hadrat Muhammad only for a short time, no matter whether he/she is a child or an adult, he/she is called a Sahaba with the proviso of dying with as a believer; the same rule applies to blind Muslims who have talked with the Prophet at least once. If a disbeliever sees the Prophet and then joins the Believers after the demise of Muhammad, he is not a Sahaba; nor is a person called a Sahaba if he converted to Islam afterwards although he had seen the Prophet Muhammad as a Muslim. A person who converts to Islam after being a Sahaba and then becomes a Believer again after the demise of Prophet Muhammad, is a Sahaba."

It was important to identify the companions because later scholars accepted their testimony (the hadith, or traditions) as to the words and deeds of Muḥammad, the occasions on which the Qur'an was revealed, and various important matters of Islamic history and practice (sunnah). The testimony of the companions, as it was passed down through chains of trusted narrators (isnads), was the basis of the developing Islamic tradition.

Other links in the chain of isnad

Because the hadith were not written down until many years after the death of Muḥammad, the isnads, or chains of transmission, always have several links. The first link is preferably a companion, who had direct contact with Muḥammad. The companion then related the tradition to a tābi‘īn, the companion of the companion. Tābi‘īn had no direct contact with Muḥammad, but did have direct contact with the Ṣahāba. The tradition then would have been passed from the Tābi‘īn to the Tābi‘ at-Tābi‘īn, the third link.

The second and third links in the chain of transmission were also of great interest to Muslim scholars, who treated of them in biographical dictionaries and evaluated them for bias and reliability. Again, Shi'a and Sunni apply different metrics.

Numbers of companions

Some Muslims assert that there were more than one hundred thousand companions. The last sermon Muḥammad delivered after making his last pilgrimage, or Hajj, to Mecca. Muslims believe that there were about 124,000 witnesses to this sermon.

The book entitled Istî’âb fî ma’rifat-il-Ashâb by Hafidh Yusuf bin Muhammad bin Qurtubi (death 1071) consists of two thousand and seven hundred and seventy biographies of male Sahaba and three hundred and eighty-one biographies of female Sahaba. According to an observation in the book entitled Mawâhib-i-ladunniyya, an untold number of persons had already converted to Islam by the time Prophet Muhammad passed away. There were ten thousand Sahaba by the time Mecca was conquered and seventy thousand Sahaba during the Battle of Tabuk in 630.

Views of the companions

Soon after Muḥammad's death the Muslim community, the ummah, was riven by conflicts over leadership. Companions took sides in the conflicts – or were forced to take sides – and later scholars considered their allegiances in weighing their testimony. The two largest Muslim denominations, the Shi'a and Sunni take very different approaches in weighing the value of the companions' testimony.

Sunni views

According to Sunni scholars, Muslims of the past should be considered companions if they had any contact with Muḥammad, and they were not liars or opposed to the Prophet and his teachings. If they saw him, heard him, or were in his presence even briefly, they are companions. Blind people are considered companions even if they could not see Muḥammad. Even unlearned Muslims are considered companions. However, anyone who died after rejecting Islam and becoming an apostate is not considered a companion. "God is pleased with him" (رضي الله عنه raḍiyu l-Lāhu ‘anhu) is usually mentioned by Sunnis after the names of the Sahaba.

Regard for the Companions is evident from the ahadith:Sunni Muslim scholars classified companions into many categories, based on a number of criteria. The hadith quoted above shows the rank of ṣaḥābah, tābi‘īn and tābi‘ at-tābi‘īn. Suyuti recognized eleven levels of companionship. However, all companions are assumed to be just (udul) unless they are proven otherwise; that is, Sunni scholars do not believe that companions would lie or fabricate hadith unless they were proven to be liars, untrustworthy or opposed to Islam.

Shi'a views

Shi'a Muslims do not accept all companions as just. The Shi'a believe that after the death of Muḥammad, all except three, or some says twelve, Muslims turned aside from true Islam and followed leaders like the first caliphs, Abu Bakr and Umar. Only a few of the early Muslims held fast to Ali, whom Shi'a Muslims regard as the rightful successor to Muḥammad. Shi'a scholars therefore deprecate hadith believed to have been transmitted through unjust companions, and place much more reliance on hadith believed to have been related by companions who supported Ali.


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