The Suffa: The School of Knowledge and Wisdom

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 What is the suffa? What does suffa means? The meaning of suffah…

One part of the Masjid was reserved for a Suffa[1], an arbour covered with date leaves lodging Muslims who were underprivileged or who had no families, known the people of the Suffa.[2] Their numbers would vary depending on the death, the marriage or the departure of its members for reasons like relocation or going to battle; though at one stage it has been reported to have reached seventy. There are some sources which make mention of over a hundred Companions reportedly of the Suffa. Personally covering their living expenses was the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-, who would also encourage well-to-do Companions to lend out their assistance.

Abu Hurayra -Allah be well-pleased with him-, himself a member of the Suffa, recounts:

“The folk of the Suffa were guests of Islam. Neither did they have a family to take refuge in, nor anyone of close kin. The Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- used to forward every donation that came his way to them, never sparing any for himself. If what came was a present, he would then only take a portion for himself, and again forward the rest to the Suffa, sharing with them even the presents given to him.” (Bukhari, Riqaq, 17)

Abu Hurayra -Allah be well-pleased with him- again describes:

“I myself saw seventy people of the Suffa. None of them had clothes to cover their entire bodies. They either had an izar to cover themselves from waist down, or a rida from waist up; so they would tie their clothes around their necks. Some of these used to reach half way between their thighs, while some to the soles on their feet, though still, to prevent their privates from being exposed, they used to hold their clothes in place.” (Bukhari, Salat, 58)

The following words are from Fadala ibn Ubayd -Allah be well-pleased with him-:

“While the Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- would lead the salat, some would pass out behind him would from excruciating hunger. These were none other than the people of the Suffa. Arabs of the desert who saw them used to think they were insane. After completing the salat, the Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- would go next to those who had passed out from hunger, and console them with the words, ‘If you knew the rewards prepared for you next to Allah, you would desire even greater poverty and neediness.’” (Tirmidhi, Zuhd, 39/2368)

Abdurrahman ibn Abi Bakr -Allah be well-pleased with him- narrates the following incident:

“The people of the Suffa were extremely poor. I remember the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- one day say, ‘Whoever has food for two, take a person from the Suffa as the third, and whoever has food for four, take a fifth, even a sixth from the Suffa.’

Abu Bakr, my father, brought three from among them to our house. And the Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- took ten of them. I assure you by Allah that the food increased with every bite we took. The guests eventually ate to their hearts content, yet the food was standing there even more than it was before. My father stared awhile at the food and then asked his wife what was going on, who could do so little as to remark, ‘I swear by the light of my eye that the food is three times more than it was before.’” (Bukhari, Mawaqit, 41; Manaqib, 25; Adab, 87-88; Muslim, Ashriba, 176-177)

This scene is an actual instance of the abundance that comes with being sincere and generous.

The members of the Suffa would work whenever the opportunity presented itself, and give themselves to worship and acquiring knowledge at all times else. Indeed, those with enough strength and vigor would do whatever they could, from carrying buckets of water or wood on their backs from the surrounding hilltops, purchasing food for their friends with the money they earned.[3] Cautious about preserving their dignity, they would refrain from all behavior that could cast a shadow on their character. They hence abstained from from asking things of others.

The people of the Suffa were the closest to the source of the Religion, the most to breathe the atmosphere of the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-. They were therefore educated quicker than others. Headed by the Noble Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- , their teachers also comprised of prominent Companions such as Ubayy ibn Kaab, Abdullah ibn Masud, Muadh ibn Jabal and Ubada ibn Samit –Allah be well-pleased with them-.

The Companions of the Suffa were subjected to an advanced and an accelerated training, as testified by the fact that all of the mukthirun, Companions with the most number of hadith narrations, hailed from the Suffa. The most renowned of them Abu Hurayra -Allah be well-pleased with him- is known to have commented:

“People are amazed that ‘Abu Hurayra narrates a lot of ahadith’. But while our brothers of the Muhajirun were occupied with trading in the bazaar and those of the Ansar were busy with ploughing their lands, Abu Hurayra was by the side of the Messenger of Allah, in return for nothing worldly, witnessing many things they were not able to witness and learning what they could not.” (Bukhari, Ilm, 42)

Delegates temporarily visiting Medina for the purpose of learning Islam were simultaneously meeting with the Prophet of Mercy -upon him blessings and peace- and learning from the Companions of the Suffa what they knew not. Whenever the need of sending a teacher to tribes that had just recently entered Islam arose, they were almost always selected from among the ranks of the Suffa.

Virtue wise, the Companions of the Suffa are ranked only behind Khulafa’ur-Rashidin, or the Pious Caliphs, Asharat’ul-Mubashshara, the ten Companions promised with Paradise while still alive, and the Ashab’ul-Badr, the Companions who took arms at the Battle of Badr. The Almighty declares:

“Alms are for the poor who are confined in the way of Allah – they cannot go about in the land; the ignorant man thinks them to be rich on account of their abstaining from begging; you can recognise them by the mark in their faces; they do not beg from men importunately; and whatever good thing you spend, surely Allah knows it.” (al-Baqara, 273)

Habbab -Allah be well-pleased with him- describes:

“Aqra ibn Habis and Uyayna ibn Hisn, idolaters notorious for their conceit, once came next to the Messenger of Allah, finding him seated among poor and lonesome Muslims like Bilal, Suhayb, Ammar and myself. Looking down on us, they said to the Messenger of Allah, contemptuously, ‘We want you to reserve a separate place for us, so that the other Arabs are made aware of our superiority over them. You very well know that many delegates from tribes all around Arabia come and visit us. We would feel embarrassed if they saw us in the same environment as these slaves. So send them away when we come…but you can, if you want, sit with them when we are not around!’

‘Very well’, said the Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- .

‘We cannot take that as an answer’, they retorted. ‘Put that pledge for us in written form.’ So the Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- sent for Ali -Allah be well-pleased with him- and a leaf to record the agreement. In the meantime, we were still sitting in a corner. It was then that Jibril –upon him peace- arrived with the Revelation:

“And do not drive away those who call upon their Lord in the morning and the evening, they desire only His favor; neither are you answerable for any reckoning of theirs, nor are they answerable for any reckoning of yours, so that you should drive them away and thus be of the unjust.” (al-Anam, 52)

“And thus do We try some of them by others so that they say: Are these they upon whom Allah has conferred benefit from among us? Does not Allah best know the grateful?” (al-Anam, 53)

“And when those who believe in Our communications come to you, say: Peace be on you, your Lord has ordained mercy on Himself…” (al-Anam, 54)

The Prophet of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- thereupon immediately put the leaf he had to record the agreement aside and called us next to him. When we went to him, we found him saying, ‘Peace be on you; your Lord has ordained mercy on Himself…’

We were sitting so close to him that our knees were resting against his. After the Revelation, we continued sitting with the Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- like old and he would leave whenever he wished. But after the Revelation:

“And withhold yourself with those who call on their Lord, morning and evening, desiring His goodwill, and let not your eyes pass from them, desiring the beauties of this world’s life…” (al-Kahf, 28), he abandoned doing that, too. After that time we began to act considerately as well. After sitting with the Messenger of Allah for a considerable amount of time, we would show discretion by acting first and leaving, so that he could feel at ease as he parted ways with us.” (Ibn Majah, Zuhd, 7; Tabari, Tafsir, VII, 262-263)

Once the above Revelation came, the Blessed Prophet  -upon him blessings and peace- , immediately, got up and went searching for those poor Believers, soon finding them at the back part of the Masjid, worshipping. Setting his eyes on them, he then said, “Praise be to Allah who has commanded me to withhold myself with these people from my ummah! Now, my life and death shall be your side!” (Wahidi, p. 306)

Recounting the following is Abu Said -Allah be well-pleased with him-:

“I was seated with a group of poor men from among the Muhajirun. Some of them, without adequate clothing to even cover their bodies, were ducking under the shadows of others for cover. Someone was reciting us some Quran. Suddenly, the Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- appeared and waited awhile, standing. Upon his arrival, the person reciting the Quran stopped his recital. Then the Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- greeted us and asked:

‘What are you doing?’

‘He is our teacher,’ we said. ‘He reads us the Quran and we lend ear to the Book of Allah.’

‘Thanks be to Allah who has created, among my ummah, those I have been command to bear patient with,’[4] then said the Prophet of Allah  -upon him blessings and peace- .

Then with supreme modesty, the Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- sat amongst us. Signaling with his finger, he said:

‘Form a circle like this…’

We thereupon formed a circle around the Messenger -upon him blessings and peace-, facing him. That was when he gave us the following good news:

‘Glad tidings to you, the poor folk of Muhajirun…I give you the good news of a full light in the Hereafter. You will enter Paradise half a day before the rich…a half a day that equals the sum of five hundred years on Earth!’” (Abu Dawud, Ilm, 13/3666)

[1] Suffa is a term used to refer to the part of old homes which was raised, like couches, for seating. Sofa, as used in Turkish, is a derivative of the term.

[2] Ibn Saad, I, 255.

[3] Bukhari, Maghazi 28, Jihad 9; Ibn Saad, III, 514.

[4] The words of the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- are an allusion to the 28th ayah of al-Kahf. There the Almighty commands the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- to remain patient alongside the underprivileged few, who were the first to enter Islam, in the face of the possible hardships they may encounter and be sensitive in his treatment of them.

Source: Osman Nuri Topbaş, The Prophet Muhammed Mustafa the Elect II, Erkam Publications

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