Islam teaches that no person should be praised or condemned without a valid reason regardless of their origin, belief, or colour. According to the Noble Qur’an, those nearest to Allah are the ones who are the most pious.
Most Muslim scholars define the companions (sahaba) of Prophet Muhammad to be the people who lived during his time period, and saw or heard him speak, even for a brief moment.
Neither blood relation, friendship, companionship, monetary status, nor social status play a role in nearness to Allah.
As for the companions (sahaba), the Noble Qur’an divides them into two groups. The first consists of those who were truthful and loyal, and had sacrificed their wealth and souls (i.e. life) to defend the cause of Islam. The Qur’an says,
“Those who believed and emigrated and strove hard and fought in the cause of Allah with their wealth and their lives are far higher in degree with Allah. They are the successful. Their Lord gives them glad tidings of mercy from Him, that He is pleased (with them), and of Gardens for them wherein are everlasting delights. They will dwell therein forever. Verily, with Allah is a great reward.” (9:20-22)
"Verily, the most honourable of you with Allah is that believer who has more piety and righteousness." (49:13)
Other numerous verses in the Noble Qur’an hail the good companions of the Prophet, such as the al-Badriyun, those who stood by the Prophet during the Battle of Badr, even though their number was less than one third of their enemies and their weapons were trivial compared to the weapons of their adversaries. They stood firm and sacrificed their lives and are among the best of examples for the Muslims.
Likewise, there were respected women among the sahaba who participated in the political, social, and economic life of Islam, such as Umm Amarah who sacrificed four sons to defend Islam. While tending to the fatal injuries of one of her sons, Umm Amarah herself went to the battlefield to fight the enemy. The Prophet witnessed her bravery and said about her, “O Umm Amarah, who can bear what you are bearing?”
However, there is another group—the hypocrites, which the Noble Qur’an clearly describes. Numerous verses in the Noble Qur’an condemn their attempts to destroy the Muslim nation. In particular, there are two Surahs in the Noble Qur’an that refer to some of the companions as hypocrites: Surah 9 (al-Tawbah or The Repentance) and Surah 63 (al-Munafiqeen or The Hypocrites). In Surahtul Munafiqeen, the Noble Qur’an teaches that people should not be judged by their physical appearance, or even by their public actions, but rather by their sincerity and dedication to Allah, His Prophet, and the Muslim nation. This Surah says,
“And when you look at them, their bodies please you, and when they speak, you listen to their words. They are as blocks of wood, propped up. They think that every cry is against them. They are the enemies. So beware of them; may Allah curse them. How are they denying the right path?”
These are the disobedient whom Allah will not forgive on the Day of Judgment, according to the Noble Qur’an,
“It is equal for them whether you (Prophet Muhammad) ask forgiveness for them or do not ask forgiveness for them. Allah will not forgive them. Verily, Allah guides not the people who are rebellious, disobedient to Allah.”
Although they performed the prayers and gave alms (zakat), these acts stemmed from their hypocrisy and desire to show off and were not for the sake of Allah. The Qur’an also says,
“And nothing prevents their contributions from being accepted except that they disbelieved in Allah and in His Messenger and that they came to prayers only in a lazy state, and that they only offer contributions (zakat) unwillingly.”
Even when praying behind the Prophet himself, whenever a trade caravan would enter Madina, these hypocrites would leave their position in the prayer row to watch the caravan, rather than listen to the sermon of the Prophet of Allah. The Qur’an states,
“And when they see some merchandise, or some amusement, they disperse headlong to it, and leave you (Muhammad) standing (while delivering the Friday jum’ah congregational religious sermon). Say: that which Allah has is better than any amusement or merchandise, and Allah is the best of providers.”
According to historical reports, some of these hypocrites who posed as the Prophet’s “companions” were actually plotting to kill him.
The Noble Qur’an mentions that they had schemed to start a civil war in Madina:
Verily, they had plotted sedition before and had upset matters for you—until the truth (victory) came, and the Decree of Allah became manifest though they hated it.
They (the hypocrites) say, ‘If we return to Madina, indeed the more honorable (the chief of the hypocrites) will surely expel the abased (Allah’s Messenger and his followers) from it.’ But honor, power, and glory belong to Allah, His Messenger, and the believers, but the hypocrites know not.
Some of these hypocrites established a masjid and invited the Prophet to inaugurate it, not to please Allah but to compete with the other Muslims and to cause disunity among the believers. Allah ordered the Prophet to refuse their invitation and destroy that masjid which was based on hypocrisy:
And as for those who put up a masjid by way of harming and disbelief, and to disunite the believers, and as an outpost for those who warned against Allah and His Messenger aforetime, they will indeed swear that their intention is nothing but good. Allah bears witness that they are certainly liars. Never stand therein.
Verily, the masjid whose foundation was laid from the first day based on piety is more worthy for you to stand therein. In it are men who love to clean and purify themselves. And Allah loves those who make themselves clean and pure. Is he who laid the foundation of his building on piety to Allah and His good pleasure better, or he who laid the foundation of his building on an undetermined brink of a precipice ready to crumble down, so that it crumbles to pieces with him into the Fire of Hell?
And Allah guides not the people who are the dhalimun (cruel, violent, proud, hypocrites, and wrongdoers). The building which they built will never cease to be a cause of hypocrisy and doubt in their hearts, unless their hearts are cut to pieces. And Allah is All-Knowing, All-Wise.
Some of the hypocrites would approach the truthful Muslim believers and claim that they were genuinely part of the Muslim nation; yet, Allah informed the Muslims not to believe them,
“They swear by Allah that they are truly of you while they are not of you, but they are a people (hypocrites) who intend to divide (the Muslim nation).”11
The Muslim hypocrites, on countless occasions, insulted and offended the Prophet of Islam, the Qur’an says,
“And among them (the hypocrites) are men who hurt the Prophet and say, ‘He is (lending his) ear (to every news).’ Say, ‘He listens to what is best for you, he believes in Allah, has faith in the believers, and is a mercy to those of you who believe.’ But those who hurt Allah’s Messenger will have a painful torment.”
Even the Prophet was unaware of some of the hypocrites in Madina. Although he knew of ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Ubay, the leader of the hypocrites, there were others in the Masjid of the Prophet—in the city of Madina—whom Allah did not inform him about. The Qur’an says,
“And among the desert people (A‘arab) around you, O believers, there are some hypocrites, and so are there some among the people of Madina. They exaggerate and persist in hypocrisy. Even you (Prophet Muhammad) know them not. We know them; We shall punish them twice and thereafter they shall be brought to a great, horrible torment.”
The acts of desecration to Islam and the Muslim society had reached such an extent by some of the hypocrites that Allah promised them eternal punishment. Therefore, Muslims should not extend the pleasure of Allah to all of the people around the Prophet without distinguishing between who was a true believer and who was a pretender. Nor should the Muslims refer to them as “the stars…whomever we follow, we will be guided.” Imam al-Bukhari narrates:
Allah’s Messenger said, I will be there at the Fountain of Kawthar before you, and I will have to contend for some people, but I will have to yield. I will be saying, My Lord, they are my companions, they are my companions, and it will be said, You don’t know what innovations they made after you.
Imam al-Bukhari also narrates a similar version of this hadith:
Allah’s Messenger said in the company of his companions, I will be at the Fountain waiting for those who will be coming to me from among you. By Allah, some people will be prevented from coming to me, and I will say, My Lord, they are my followers and the people of my ummah (nation). And He will say, You don’t know what they did after you; they have been constantly turning back on their heels (from your religion).
Since many of the companions heard the Prophet saying this, a companion by the name of ibn Abu Mulaikah began then to include it in his supplication. It is reported that he used to say (in supplication), “O Allah, I seek refuge with You that we should turn back upon our heels or be put to any trial about our religion.”
Some Muslims claim that whoever disrespects any of the people around the Prophet is a not a Muslim or a believer. Certainly, criticizing a devout and genuine sahaba of the Prophet is completely forbidden and unacceptable. However, it should not be forgotten, that within the group of people around the Prophet there were some who were hypocrites, whom even the Prophet did not know of.
Nonetheless, Allah was well aware of them and even cursed those hypocrites who portrayed themselves as true companions of the Prophet, but in reality were not.
Scholars contend that to curse or speak ill about a companion is an abomination. However, within the Umayyad clan, there was a particular caliph who established a precedent for cursing a certain companion known for his devotion to Allah and Islam. If any Muslim who curses one of the companions is declared a disbeliever, then what would be the Islamic judgment regarding this caliph?
In addition, some hadiths claim that the companions were infallible, if they were infallible then why is it that after the death of the Prophet, some of the companions, from time to time not only disagreed with each other but their arguments even escalated into physical attacks. If they were infallible then why were they fighting each other? It has been documented that certain individuals from the companions of the Prophet were responsible for the assassination of the third caliph, ‘Uthman ibn Affan. Should they still be regarded as equal to the pious companions of the Prophet?
If a hadith, such as “my companions are like stars…whomsoever you follow, you will be guided,” indiscriminately extends to all those companions who were around the Prophet, then such a hadith cannot be considered authentic in the Shi‘a school of thought since some of these same companions were reprimanded and cautioned about (to the Prophet) by Allah in the Qur’an.
Some of the companions committed sins without intending to defy Allah, and Allah promised them forgiveness,
“And there are others who have acknowledged their sins. They have mixed a deed which was righteous with another that was evil. Allah shall turn to them in forgiveness. Surely Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.”