Preface: These articles are only a summary of the lives of the great Companions and do not cover all the points of their life stories. These stories are not intended as biographies, but rather to provide a glimpse of the main incidents of each companion’s life. For ease of reading, we have not inserted “May Allah be pleased with him (RA)” each time the name of each Companion is mentioned, but please take it that the salutations apply to all of them, may Allah be pleased with them all.
A continuous stream of incoming news worried the Commander of the Faithful Umar lbn Al-Khattab RA. This news was about the deceitful attacks launched by the Persian forces against the Muslims at the Battle of Al-Jisr which cost the Muslims 4,000 lives in a single day and, moreover, about the Iraqis’ renouncement of allegiance and their violation of agreed-upon covenants. Therefore, he decided to personally lead the Muslim troops in a decisive fight against Persia. In fact, he set out accompanied by some of his companions, leaving Ali lbn Abi Talib RA behind to act as his deputy over Al-Medina.
However, he had hardly left Al-Medina when some of his companions found it wiser to ask him to return and appoint someone else for this task.
This view was adopted by Abd Ar-Rahman Ibn Awf RA, who saw it unwise to risk the caliph’s life in such a way while Islam was going through its most decisive days.
Umar ordered the Muslims to gather for public consultation. Congregational prayer was then announced and Ali Ibn Abi Talib was sent for. He went with some Medinites to where Umar and his companions were waiting. At last, they accepted Abd Ar-Rahman lbn Awf’s opinion. The assembly decided that Umar was to go back to Al-Medina and another Muslim leader be chosen to combat the Persians.
Umar agreed to their decision, then asked his companions, ‘Whom do you see fit to be sent to Iraq?’ They thought silently for a while. Then Abd Ar-Rahman Ibn Awf shouted, ‘I’ve found him!’ Umar said, ‘Who is it?’ Abd Ar-Rahman said, ‘The Lion’s Claws: Sa’d Ibn Malik Az-Zuhariy.’
The Muslims supported his choice. Umar then sent for Saad Ibn Malik Az-Zuhariy RA, also known as Saad Ibn Abi Waqas and appointed him governor of Iraq and Commander of the Army.
Who is that ‘Lion’s Claws’? It is he who, whenever he turned to the Prophet while sitting among his Companions, was greeted cheerfully by the Prophet saying, ‘He’s my maternal uncle.’
His grandfather was Uhaib Ibn Manaf, the paternal uncle of Aminah, the mother of the Prophet SAW. He accepted Islam when he was 17 years old. He embraced Islam very early. When he talked about himself, he said, ‘I witnessed a day, in which I was third in Islam,’ which means that he was the third to embrace Islam.
When the Prophet SAW spoke about the One God and about the new religion whose teachings he was to spread all around, and before using Daar Al-Arqam as a refuge for himself and the Companions in those early days, Saad Ibn Abi Waqas had already sworn the oath of allegiance to the Prophet SAW.
Saad lbn Abi Waqas had many noble qualities which he could be proud of. However, he never arrogantly mentioned any of these merits, except for two great privileges. First, he was the first to throw a spear in the cause of Allah and the first to be struck by one. Second, he was the only one for whom the Prophet SAW hoped his parents might be his ransom. That happened when the Prophet SAW said to him on the day of Uhud, ‘Throw, Saad. May my father and mother be your ransom.’ Yes, indeed, he always mentioned proudly these two noble blessings. Thanking Allah, he always said, ‘By Allah, I am the first Arab to throw a spear in the cause of Allah.’
Saad was considered to be one of the most courageous Arab and Muslim horsemen. He possessed two weapons, his lance and his prayer. Whenever he pierced an enemy with his lance he hurt him; whenever he invoked Allah He answered. He and the Companions always saw that this was due to the Prophet’s prayer in favour of him. One day, when the Prophet saw him doing something which made him glad and delighted, he made the following plea: ‘O Allah, make his spear hit unerringly and answer his prayer.’
It was in this way that he became famous among his companions for his prayer, which was like a sharp sword. He knew that about himself; therefore, he never cursed a person. Sa’d would just trust Allah to do with him as He liked.
An example of that is what ‘Aamir Ibn Saad once narrated: Saad once saw a man insulting Ali, Talhah and Az-Zubair. He forbade him, but he didn’t stop. Sa’d then said, ‘ Then I will invoke Allah against you.’ The man said, ‘You’re threatening me as if you were a Prophet.’
Saad went away, performed his ablution and prayed two rak’ahs. Then he lifted his hands up and said, ‘O Allah, if You know that that man has insulted people who have already been granted by You that which is the best and his cursing of them has annoyed You, then make an example out of him.’ Only a short while had passed, when a stray camel went out of a house. Nothing could stay it till it entered a crowd as if searching for something. Then it attacked the man, and he fell between its legs. It continued to kick the man down till he died.
If this phenomenon was to prove something, then it proved primarily the purity of his soul, the honesty of his faith, and the depth of his sincerity. He always sought to support his piety by halal food; with great insistence he always refused to take doubtful money.
Saad lived until he became one of the wealthiest Muslims. When he died, he left a great fortune behind. Although the abundance of money and its legitimacy are rarely to be found together, they certainly were combined in the hands of Saad. Thus Allah granted him a great amount of halal money.
He (may Allah be pleased with him) was a great figure in the act of charity, as much as he was a great figure in the act of righteously choosing the sources of his money. His ability to collect purely halal money was equal to, if not second to, his ability to donate it in the cause of Allah.
He became ill during the Farewell Pilgrimage, when he was accompanying the Prophet SAW, who visited him. Sa’d asked him SAW, ‘O Messenger of Allah, I own a lot of money and there is nobody to inherit from me except one daughter. May I contribute two thirds of my money as alms?’ The Prophet SAW said, ‘No.’ Then he said, ‘Then half of it?’ The Prophet SAW said, ‘No.’ Then he said, ‘Then a third?’ The Prophet SAW said, ‘Yes, and the third is too much. To leave your heirs wealthy is better than to leave them having to be dependent on someone. If you spend any money in the cause of Allah you’ll be rewarded for it, even the bite you put in your wife’s mouth.’
He was blessed with success and accomplishment. Once the Prophet SAW was sitting with the Companions when his eyes gazed on the horizon while listening to what was being revealed secretly and whisperingly. Then he looked at his Companions’ faces and said, ‘A man who belongs to Paradise will soon appear.’ The Companions turned in all directions trying to learn, who this successful person may be. After a while, Saad arrived.
Later on, Abd Allah Ibn Amr Ibn Al-Aas asked him persistently to tell him the worship or deed which made him eligible for such a reward. Saad told him, ‘Nothing more than what we all do or worship, except that I don’t carry any spite or hatred towards any Muslim.’
Umar ibn Khattab had insight into all his glittering merits when he chose him for the most difficult task confronting Islam and the Muslims:
- His prayers were heard and answered; if he asked Allah for victory, he would be granted it.
- His food was pure, his tongue was pure, his conscience was pure.
- He was a man who belonged to Paradise, as the Messenger SAW prophesied.
- He was the horseman on the Day of Badr, the horseman on the Day of Uhud and in every battle he experienced with the Prophet SAW.
- And another thing, which Umar would not forget nor underestimate the value and importance among the characteristics which should be present in anyone facing major tasks, was the strength and firmness of his faith.
Umar did not forget what happened between Saad and his mother when he converted to Islam and followed the Prophet SAW. At that time, all attempts to hinder and obstruct him from the cause of Allah had failed. His mother used a device which none doubted would conquer Saad’s soul and drive him back to his people’s idols. She announced her abstention from food and drink until Saad returned to his ancestors’ and kin’s religion. She actually carried on her hunger strike with death defying determination and had almost approached death.
Despite all that, Saad did not care. He would not sell his faith and religion for anything, even if it were his mother’s life. Hoping that his heart would yield upon seeing her, some relatives took Sa’d to his mother, who was almost dying.
Saad went to her. The scene was so impressive, even mountain rocks would yield and melt. However, his belief in Allah and His Messenger proved to be stronger than rocks and iron. He came with his face nearer and shouted so that she could hear him. ‘You know, by Allah, mother, if you had 100 souls coming out one after the other I wouldn’t abandon my faith in return for anything. Then eat if you like or don’t eat!’
His mother changed her mind. A divine revelation greeted Saad’s position and supported it. ‘But if they (both) strive with you to make you join in worship with Me others that of which you have no knowledge, then obey them not…’ (Quran 31:15).
The two armies met in combat. No, they did not meet yet. Saad is still there waiting for the advice and instructions of the Commander of the Faithful. Finally Umar’s message arrives, ordering him to move towards Al-Qaadisiyah, the gate to Persia. Umar’s words represented light and guidance: O Sa’d lbn Wahib, do not be deluded if it is said, You are the Prophet’s uncle and his Companion. Know that there is no relationship between Allah and anyone except through obedience to Him. All people, the noble ones as well as the lowly, all are equal in front of Allah. Allah is their God and they are His servants. The relationship between them is one of rivalry for preference by means of their wellbeing, whereas they can only get what is in Allah’s hands by means of obedience to Him. Remember the Prophet’s SAW positions which he stuck to from the time he was sent to us until he left our world. Hold to them; it is an order.
Then he said to him, Send me information about all your circumstances. Where have you reached and how? What is your enemy’s position in respect to yours? Let your messages make me as if I am actually seeing you.
Saad wrote to the Commander of the Faithful describing everything. He almost showed him each soldier’s position and state. Saad reached Al-Qaadissiyah. The Persians gathered their army as they never had before and appointed as their leader one of the most famous and dangerous commanders, Rustum.
Saad writes to Umar the Commander of the Faithful, who replies: Don’t be upset by what you hear from them, nor what they show you. Seek Allah’s help and put your trust in Him. Send them people of insight, good judgment, and patience to call him to follow Allah’s path, and write me every day.
Saad is a smart, brave horseman, the Prophet’s uncle, one of the first converts, and hero of different wars and raids. No sword or lance of his ever failed to reach its target. He stands at the head of his army in one of the greatest historical battles as if he were an ordinary soldier, not deluded by power nor acting arrogantly because of leadership. His self-esteem could tempt him to rely completely on his own capacities; but despite that he always turns to the Commander of the Faithful in Al-Medina. Although miles and miles separate them, he sends him a message each day, exchanging viewpoints, advice, and opinions while the great battle is still to come.
That was because Saad knew that Umar in Al-Medina never decided alone, but consulted the Muslims and the Prophet’s Companions around him. Despite the war circumstances, Saad did not want to deprive himself or his army of the blessings and benefits of public consultation, especially if Umar, a man with great inspiration, was among the consultants.
Saad carried out Umar’s will and sent Rustum, the Persian leader, a number of his companions to call him to follow Islam and Allah’s path.
The conversation between them and the Persian leader lasted long. Finally they ended their talk by telling him, ‘Allah has chosen us to turn whom He chooses of His creatures from paganism to monotheism, from the narrowness of life to its freedom, from ruler’s injustice to Islam’s fairness. Whoever accepts our offer, we will leave him alone and will refrain from hurting him. Whoever fights us, we will fight him until we fulfil Allan’s promise.’
Then Rustum asked, ‘What is Allah’s promise which He made to you?’ The Companion answered, ‘Paradise for our martyrs and victory for the living ones.’
The delegation returned to Saad, leader of the Muslims, to tell him that it was war. Sa’d's eyes were hereby filled with tears. He had wished so much that the war would be delayed for some time. On that day his illness became more severe, and he had to suffer its heavy burden. The abscesses spread all over his body, to the extent that he could not sit, let alone ride his horse to take part in an extremely fierce and violent battle.
If the war had just been waged before his illness or had it been delayed till he was cured and healthy again, then he would have proved himself brave. No, the Messenger of Allah SAW had taught them never to say ‘If’ because ‘If’ means weakness. A strong believer is neither helpless nor weak. Thereupon The Lion’s Claws stood up to preach to his soldiers. He began his speech citing the following glorious verse: ‘And We have written in the Zabur (given to David) after the Torah (given to Moses): ‘My righteous servants shall inherit the earth’ (Quran 21:105).
Having finished his speech Saad led his troops in the Dhuhr Prayer, then turned towards his soldiers and proclaimed four times, ‘Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar!’
The echo was to be heard all over the universe. Then he stretched out his arm like an unerring arrow pointing to the enemy and shouted to his soldiers, ‘Let’s start this battle accompanied by Allah’s blessings.’
With pains hard to bear, he ascended to the balcony of his residence, which he used as a dwelling and a headquarters.
On the balcony he sat on a pillow and leaned upon his chest. His door was left open, which meant that by the least Persian attack against his residence he would be captured, alive or dead, but he was far from being afraid or terrified.
His abscesses were bleeding and hurting him severely, but he had something else to think about. Sitting on his balcony, he was shouting, calling, and commanding. His determined and hopeful sound turned each individual soldier into an army of its own. The Persian soldiers fell like flies and with them fell the worship of fire and paganism. After seeing the death of their commander and their best soldiers, the defeated, scattered remnants rapidly escaped.
The Muslim army pursued them until they reached Nahawind then Al-Madaa’in. There they fought to carry with them at the end the emperor’s throne and crown as war booty.
At the Battle of Al-Madaa’in, Saad could stand the test and prove himself brave. The Battle of Al- Madaa’in took place two years after the Battle of Al-Qaadissiyah, a period during which a lot of continuous armed dashes took place between the Muslims and the Persians. Finally, the scattered remnants of the Persian army gathered at Al-Madaa’in itself, ready for a decisive and final scene.
Saad realized that time was on his enemy’s side; therefore, he decided to deprive them of this advantage, but how could he do that? The Tigris River in its flood season stood in the middle between him and Al-Madaa’in.
Thereby, an event took place by which Saad succeeded to prove that he indeed deserved Abd Ar-Rahman lbn Awf’s description of him as the Lion’s Claws. Sa’d's faith and determination stood glittering in the face of danger, mocking and making fun of the impossible with admirable bravery.
Saad ordered his army to cross the Tigris River. He ordered them to search for a safe, secure ford in the river which would enable their crossing. Finally they found a place, but the fording was not free of extreme risks.
Before the army started to cross, the leader Saad wisely realized the necessity to safeguard their arrival spot on the opposite bank, where the enemy was camping. Therefore he prepared two detachments, the first of which was called The Detachment of Terror. Its leader was Aasim Ibn Amr. The second was called The Detachment of the Dumb, led by Al Qa’qaa lbn Amr.
The soldiers of these two detachments had to encounter many horrible situations to clear a safe place on the opposite bank for the army which would subsequently cross. They fulfilled their task with amazing skill. Saad’s success on that day will always be a cause for the perplexity of historians.
Saad himself was amazed by his own success. It also amazed his companion and escort Salman Al-Farisi RA, who shook his head in astonishment and said, ‘ Islam is indeed new. By Allah, seas have been subdued by them and the land has been subdued by them. In the name of the One in Whose hands Salman’s soul lies, they will leave it in a group, as they entered it in a group.’
Indeed, that is exactly what happened. As they penetrated the Tigris River in a group, so they left it in a group without losing one single soldier, nor annoying a single horse.
It happened that a wooden cup fell from one of the warriors, who felt sorry to be the only one to lose something. He called his companions to help to get it out and a high wave pushed it to where someone could pick it up!
Some historical sources described the magnificence of such a scene as the fording of the river: Saad ordered the Muslims to say, ‘Allah is enough for us and He is the best to trust in.’ Then he penetrated the Tigris with his horse, and the people penetrated behind him. No one stayed behind. They walked as if they were walking on a land surface until they filled the whole area between the two banks. The water surface could not be seen due to the numerous troops of cavalry and infantry. People went on talking while walking in the water as if they were on land, as a result of their feeling of security and tranquillity, their trust in Allah’s judgment and His victory, His promise and His support.
When Umar appointed him to be Iraq’s governor, he set out to build Kufa and established the foundations of Islam in wide broad lands.
One day the inhabitants of Kufa complained to the Commander of the Faithful about Saad . They lost control over their flimsy, restless temper and made a funny claim saying, ‘Sa’d can’t pray well.’ Saad laughed loudly and said, ‘By Allah, I prayed with them exactly as the Prophet’s prayer was. I prolonged the first two rak’ahs and shortened the last two.’
When Umar ordered him back to Al-Medina, he did not get annoyed. On the contrary, he responded to Umar’s call immediately. After some time, Umar determined to return him to Kufa, but Sa’d responded laughing, ‘Do You order me to return to people who claim that I don’t perform my prayers well?’ He preferred to stay in Al-Medina.
When the Commander of the Faithful Umar (May Allah be pleased with him) was attacked, he chose six of the Prophet’s Companions to be responsible for choosing the next caliph. Umar said that he chose six of those with whom the Prophet was pleased before he died. Saad lbn Abi Waqas was one of them.
But it seems from Umar’s last words that if he would have chosen one of the Companions for the caliphate, it would have been Saad . He said to his companions, advising and commending, ‘If Sa’d is to become caliph, that’s good; but if someone else is to be caliph, then he has to seek Sa’d's help.’
Saad lived long. He secluded himself during the period of civil strife following the death of the third Caliph, Uthman. Furthermore, he ordered his whole family and children not to tell him any news about what was happening.
Once, everyone was anxious to know his position, when his nephew Hashim Ibn Utbah lbn Abi Waqas said to him, ‘O uncle, here are 100,000 swords which consider you the more entitled to that matter (i.e. the caliphate).’ Sa’d responded, ‘I want out of the 100,000 swords, just one sword that if it hits a believer it won’t do anything, but if it hits a disbeliever it cuts through.’
His nephew realised what he meant and left him in his isolation and security.
When the dispute ended in favour of Mu’aawiyah, who took over the reins of government, he asked Saad, ‘Why didn’t you fight with us?’ He answered, ‘A dark cloud passed over me. I told it, Shoo! Shoo! I stopped my riding camel until it passed away.’ Mu’aawiyah said, ‘Shoo! Shoo is not found in the glorious Book of Allah, but Allah said ‘And if two parties or groups among the believers fall into fighting, then make peace between them both, but if one of them rebels against the other, then fight you (all) against the one that which rebels till it complies with the Command of Allah’ (Quran 49:9). And you did not take anyone’s side. You weren’t with the unjust against the just, nor were you with the just against the unjust.’ Hereupon Sa’d responded, ‘I wouldn’t have fought a man (he meant Ali Ibn Abi Talib) to whom the Prophet SAW said, ‘You have towards me the same position Harun (Aaron) had towards Musa (Moses), except that there isn’t any Prophet coming after me.’
One day in A.H. 54, having exceeded the age of 80, he was at his house in Al-’Aqiq preparing to meet Allah.
His son spoke of his final moments: His head was upon my lap, he was passing away. I cried, but he said, ‘What makes You cry, my son? Allah will never torture me. I belong to Paradise!’
The firmness of his faith could not be weakened even by the quaking fear of death. The Prophet SAW had passed him the good news and he believed firmly in the Prophet’s honesty; therefore what was there to be afraid of? ‘Allah will never torture me. I belong to Paradise!’
However, he wanted to meet Allah carrying the most magnificent and most wonderful memory, a memory which joined him with his religion and his Prophet SAW. Therefore, he pointed to his coffer. They opened it and got out an old, torn, threadbare gown. He ordered his kin to shroud him in that gown saying, ‘I met the disbelievers at the Battle of Badr wearing it. I’ve saved it for this day.’
Indeed, this threadbare gown was not just a gown. It was the banner waving over a long great life. Our hero lived it honestly, bravely, and faithfully.
The body of the last Muhajirun was buried in Al-Medina, safely laid beside a group of great Companions who preceded him to Allah. Their exhausted bodies had finally found a secure shelter in the ground of Al-Baqi.
Farewell, Saad, the hero of Al-Qaadissiyah, conqueror of Al-Madaa’in, extinguisher forever of the worshipped fire of Persia!
Source: Khalid, Khalid Muhammad, Men Around the Messenger, Islamic Book Service, 2004