History and Sources

Who were the Companions of the Prophet and why are they important?

Muslims have long known their tradition’s earliest stalwart and exemplary figures as the Companions (sahaba) of the Prophet. The Companions included, naturally, the elect cadre of first converts to Islam, but eventually embraced a much broader variety of people. Beneath the retrospective listing of Companions that began to take shape some seventy to eighty years after Muhammad’s death (632) lies a skein of inter-related criteria that characterize an authentic Companion. In addition to having “seen” the Prophet, Companions were ranked first in terms of chronological order in conversion (the earliest known as the sabiqun, predecessors). Other criteria included, for example, accompanying Muhammad in the Hijra to Medina (622), fighting in the Battle of Badr (624), participation in the Treaty of Hudaybiya (628), or presence among the early converts in Medina known as the Prophet’s “Helpers” (Ansar). A host of other qualifications, mostly related to pinpointing date of conversion, include participation in the battles of Uhud and the Ditch, for example, and relatively late conversion to Islam during Muhammad’s visit to Mecca after the Muslims reclaimed it in 630. These were such signal events in the life of Muhammad and the early community that participation in them became roughly analogous to the presence of leading first-generation Christians at major moments in Christ’s life.


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