The word tabi’i literally means someone who follows. Muslims reserve the use of this word for those who met and followed the Companions of the Prophet (upon him blessing and peace). The word sahabi literally means someone who is a companion. Muslims reserve the use of this word for someone who met and followed the Prophet Muhammad (upon him blessing and peace).
Alqamah was a great scholar from amongst the Tabi’i group of Muslims. Abdullah ibn Umar was a great scholar from amongst the Sahabi group of Muslims. ‘Alqamah appears frequently as a narrator in the hadith chain of Abu Hanifa. While comparing the juristic acumen (fiqh) of Alqamah and Ibn Umar, Abu Hanifa – who was a Tabi’i jurist himself – made the following remark:
“If it had not been for the merit of companionship (with the Prophet Muhammad, upon him blessing and peace), I would have said that ‘Alqamah is more juristically perceptive (afqah) than Ibn Umar.”
For Abu Hanifa – and other Sunni scholars – companionship (suhba) has a ranking that is above that of any acquired academic merit. This merit of companionship which Abu Hanfia spoke of was not merely based on a simple romantic allegiance to the Companions. Nor was it a reaction to the socio-political factors of early Muslim history. It was based on a pristine understanding of popular Islamic facts. The parameters of Muslim theology were well-known by the time Abu Hanifa came into learning Islam formally. Sunni principles were rooted in popular Islam. The principles of wahi (revelation) were amongst those that were commonly accepted in the Muslim mind. What follows is a discussion about a Sunni principle in popular Islam.
A hadith is a narration – of any sort – from the Prophet Muhammad (upon him blessing and peace).
One of the most popular and prized hadith amongst all Muslims is known as the “Hadith of Jibril.” Muslims who adhere to the rules of taqlid – following a particular school of legal thought – and those who do not; and those Muslims who wish to be known as progressive minded in the war-plagued modern world, they all love this hadith very dearly. Some quote the hadith because it calls Muslims to adopt a sense of ihsan (excellence in worship); others quote the hadith on the pulpit during their Friday sermons. There are even those who use the hadith as a summary of Islam itself. Scholars of hadith have written volumes on the commentary of this beautiful hadith. No Muslim dare doubt the veracity of this hadith as it speaks to the mind and soul of his religious intelligence. Even non-Muslim admirers of Islam hold this hadith in high esteem. Abu Hurairah, a companion of the Prophet (upon him blessing and peace), had accepted Islam only three years prior to the Prophet’s leaving this world. Abu Hurairah is one of several companions who have reported this hadith. It follows that many of the earlier Companions must have witnessed the event of this hadith. Hence, this hadith is part of popular Islam.
Sunni Muslims believe that only a nabi (a prophet) can be a recipient of communicable wahi (revelation). Sunni Muslims also believe that Allah uses angels as agents who communicate the Divine Word and message. A non-nabi is not at all privy to communicable wahi since he does not have the faculty to actually receive that level of rational communication. A non-nabi does not have the tools to receive wahi that has to be communicated to other human beings for the sake of procuring their salvation. Hence, tabligh (conveying wahi) is primarily a function of prophets and not of non-prophets. In order for a non-prophet to qualify for the function of tabligh, he/she would have to be prepped to at least potentially receive communicable wahi.
Wahi comes from the All Mighty Allah Who sends it down to the world of angels who then act as agents or transmitters of wahi. These angels are not visible to any human being – that is other than prophets. Jibril is the angel who is designated to bring wahi to all prophets. The un-lettered Prophet Muhammad (upon him blessing and peace) had coached the spiritual psyche of his companions with such great dexterity that they became equipped to carry the burden of tabligh (conveying the message to others). As a favor to the Companions, Allah sent Jibril to visit them while the Prophet Muhammad (upon him blessing and peace) was still amongst them. The Companions of the Prophet Muhammad (upon him blessing and peace) saw Jibril with their own eyes and heard him with their own ears. The Prophet (upon him blessing and peace) asked Umar, who went out looking for this person when he left the gathering, “Do you know who that was Umar?” When Umar responded in the negative, the Prophet stated, “This was Jibril. He came to teach you your Din (religion).”
The suhba of the Prophet was so intense that it brought down Allah’s providence which came in the form of Jibril coming to teach them what he taught the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace). The companionship with the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) had now converted ordinary human beings into special human beings who were blessed with the witnessing of the arch angel Jibril.
A couple of years later, in his address at the Farewell Hajj, the Prophet (upon him blessing and peace) ordained every companion to carry the burden of tabligh when he said, “Convey from me – even though it might even be one ayah (that you convey).” Through suhba, the Sahaba were now equipped – actually – to carry the burden of tabligh to other human beings.
Even though a hadith is a narration from the Prophet Muhammad (upon him blessing and peace), Muslim scholars showed their unique juristic (fiqhi) acumen by naming this hadith the Hadith of Jibril. This is because this hadith is not about what the Sahaba narrated from the Prophet (upon him blessing and peace). It is about what the Sahaba narrated from Jibril. The miracle of Prophet Muhammad (upon him blessing and peace) was that he stamped his spiritual legacy on the hearts of his companions so that they inherited some of his prophetic abilities also. So it is no wonder that Abu Hanifa — and other heirs of the Companions – gave the Companions an academic ranking above the degree of juristic acumen (fiqh). We should follow suit if we love the Hadith of Jibril.
Text of the Hadith of Jibril
“One day when we were sitting with the Messenger of Allah (upon him blessing and peace), there came to us a man whose clothes were of exceeding whiteness and whose hair was of exceeding blackness. There were no signs of travel upon him although none of us knew him. He sat down knee to knee opposite the Prophet (upon him blessing and peace), upon whose thighs he placed the palms of his hands saying, “O Muhammad, tell me what is Islam (Submission)?” The Messenger (upon him blessing and peace) answered him saying, “Islam is to testify that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is Allah’s Messenger, to perform the prayer, pay (the charity of) Zakat, fast (the month of) Ramadan, and make the pilgrimage to the Holy House (Ka’ba) – if you can.” He said, “You have spoken truthfully.”
We were amazed that, having questioned him (upon him blessing and peace), he should corroborate him. Then he said, “Tell me what is Faith (Iman)?” He (upon him blessing and peace) answered, “To believe in Allah, His Angels, His books, His Messengers, the Last Day, and to believe that no good or evil comes but by His Providence.” “You have spoken truthfully,” he said, and then, “Tell me what is Excellence (Ihsan)?” He SAW answered, “To worship Allah as if you see Him, for if you do not see Him, yet He sees you.” “You have spoken truthfully,” he said, and then, “Tell me of the Hour.” He (upon him blessing and peace) answered, “The one questioned about it knows no better than the questioner.” He said, “Then tell me of its signs.” He (upon him blessing and peace) answered, “That the slave-girl shall give birth to her mistress, and those who were but barefoot, naked, needy herdsmen shall build buildings ever higher and higher.”
Then the stranger went away, and I stayed a while after he had gone, and the Prophet SAW said to me, “O Umar, do you know the questioner, who he was?” I said, “God and His Messenger (upon him blessing and peace)know best.” He (upon him blessing and peace) said, “It was Jibril (Gabriel). He came to teach you your religion.”
This narration is from Sahih al-Bukhari