Torture of the Sahaabah and the lessons we can learn

Notes from a talk delivered by Navaid Aziz, London, February 2015

There are many examples that come to mind when we think of Companions of the Prophet (SAW) who underwent torture. Bilal, Abu Fakih and Khabbab (RAA) are 3 such examples:

– Bilal (RA)

It is an established fact that Bilal (RA) had not embraced Islam with any worldly motive or to secure relief from the torments of slave life. On the contrary by accepting Islam as a slave, he had invited upon himself torment of an increased intensity. He endured all kinds of atrocities with remarkable patience and fortitude and remained true to Islam his entire life.

The believers who accepted Islam in the beginning were, except a few, generally weak and helpless. They had no supporters or sympathisers. Bilal (RA), like many of the early believers were subject to endless inhuman acts of torture by the unbelievers. Some Muslims had ropes tied to the legs and were dragged on the stony ground of the desert. Others where stripped and thrown on the burning sand and often on red embers, and some, like Bilal (RA) were tied to the ground in the blazing sun and had heavy stones placed on their bodies.

There was no threat or cruel torture which the disbelievers did not execute on Bilal (RA) in an attempt to divert him from Islam and to coerce a statement which suited their purpose. Bilal (RA) displayed unflinching self-control, patience and perseverance. He held firm to his faith and uttered in reply to the torment “There is none to be worshiped but Allah”.

According to historical records, Bilal’s greatest tormentor, Umaiya Bin Khalaf often tied him down and flung a stone and cow hide over him. Umaiya would say “Your gods are Lat and Uzza so testify your faith in them.” Uttering “Ahad, Ahad” (Allah is One, Allah is One), the tormentors demanded Bilal (RA) to respect what they said, but he would reply “No, my tongue is not supposed to utter what you say”.

Continuing to say “Ahad, Ahad” the disbelievers tied a rope round his neck and allowed the street urchins to drag him between the two hills of Makkah. Even, under this severe torment, Bilal (RA) held firm to his faith and repeated “Ahad, Ahad”. Thereupon, the disbelievers gave him a severe beating and again stretching him on the burning sand they placed the heavy stone over his body making breathing difficult for him. Occasionally a heavy person was to jump on the stone, but all the while Bilal (RA) persevered and uttered “Ahad, Ahad”.

This defiance against his slave master, who may have owned his body, proved ultimately that nobody could own ones mind or ones thought.

– Abu Fakih (RA)

Abu Fakih was a slave of Safwan ibn Umayya ibn Muharrith and was among the slaves freed by Abu Bakr (RA). He was also a sahaabah.

While Abu Fakih was a slave, he accepted Islam, and when Safwan came to know that Abu Fakih had become a Muslim, he subjected him to great torture.
He would bind him with a rope, and drag him on the burning sand. Abu Fakih was asked to worship the idols, but he said that he would worship Allah alone. His master put a very heavy stone on his chest which brought out his tongue. In spite of these persecutions, Abu Fakih refused to renounce Islam.

When Abu Bakr (RA) to know of the pitiable condition of Abu Fakih, he purchased him from his master and set him free.

– Khabbab (RA)

Khabbab (RA) is also one of those fortunate persons who offered themselves for sacrifice and suffering for the cause of Allah. He was the sixth or seventh person to embrace Islam and, therefore, he suffered long. He was made to put on steel armour and lie in the sun to sweat. Very often he was made to lie flat on burning sand, which caused the flesh on his back to dissolve. He was the slave of a woman. When she came to know that he was visiting the Prophet (SAW), she used to brand his head with a hot iron rod. ‘Umar (RA) during his caliphate once asked him about the details of his sufferings after embracing Islam. He showed him his back, seeing which ’Umar (RA) said “I have never seen such a back before.” He said “My body was dragged over heaps of burning coal, and the blood and fat coming out of my back put out the fire.”

It is said that, when Islam spread and the Muslims conquered all the surrounding territory, he used to weep and say “Allah seems to be compensating us in this world for all our sufferings, and perhaps nothing would be left for us as reward in the Hereafter.”

Khabbab (RA) narrates. “The Prophet (SAW) once performed an unusually long raka’ah while leading a salaah. When the Sahaabah asked him about it “This was a salah of hope and fear.” I begged three favours from Allah. I besought Him: “O Allah! Let not my ummah perish by famine; let not my ummah be destroyed by an enemy gaining the upper hand on them; and let not my ummah fight among themselves.” Allah granted the first two du’as, but no the third one.”

Khabbab (RA) died in the year 37 AH. He was the first of the Sahaabah to buried at Kufa. Ali (RA) once passing by his grave said: “May Allah bless and show mercy on Khabbab (RA). He embraced Islam willingly. He migrated with great pleasure in Allah’s path, and spent his whole life in striving and suffering for Islam. Blessed is the person who is mindful of the Day of Judgement, prepares for presenting all his deeds before Allah, remains contented with very little of this world, and is able to please his Lord.”

So, what is the torturer looking to gain by committing such atrocities?

The torturer is looking for mental defeat and despair from the victim. Withstanding the pain and taunting for the faith in Allah and His Messenger is a noble and worthy cause, we were created for one purpose only, to worship Allah. Faith in this life is rewarded in the Hereafter. We shouldn’t give torturers the pleasure of victory by being defeated or despairing.

And why do Muslims suffer?

There are 4 main reasons as to why Muslims suffer and have suffered, and why Allah allows this to happen.

– Allah wants to test the people – to differentiate between good and bad. To see our reaction to calamity. Do we give up or hold on to our faith? Remember, the Prophet (SAW) said “There will come a time when holding on to your Imaan (belief) will be like holding on to hot coals”

– Allah wants to make an example of them – history will repeat itself, future generations need role models and the Sahaabah were the best of role models. Whatever happened, they knew Allah would take care of them and this is how we should live. Torture of this world, in whatever form it takes, is worth it for the Hereafter.

– Allah needed to purify the people – the Sahaabah surrounding prophet had to be the strongest in faith. Faith was the reason for following the Prophet, not wealth and power etc. so they had to be the best of the best. The trials we go through aren’t to make us weak, they are to make us stronger.

– During times of trial we need to turn back to Allah – seek His help and your faith will increase as you realise only He can help you. It leads to an increase in supplication and tawakkul. We should have that certainty that the Sahaabah did, that the help of Allah will come, but we don’t know when.

Finally, what are the benefits of trials?

In modern times, we see that the result of insults on the Prophet and the recent shootings in America were increases in knowledge of the Prophet (SAW) and conversions to Islam from people who previously didn’t know what Islam was.

It leads to an increase in social awareness and understanding of your cause and plight, and the more people that find out about Islam and the more that the people learn about Islam, the greater the Ummah will become, InShāAllāh.