What does Ashab al-Suffa mean?
Ashab al-Suffa is a term, composed of the words ashab meaning “masters, friends” and suffa meaning “veranda, shed, porch” in Arabic. The term is a generic name given to the Companions who stayed in the arbour next to the mosque of the Prophet, upon him be peace, in Madina after the Emigration and studied religious sciences there.
The establishment of Suffa and its residents
The Prophet deemed the need for an institute of education significant following his Emigration to Madina and designated a part next to the mosque for this purpose.
Those seeking shelter in Suffa constituted people who migrated from different places of the Arabic peninsula where they did not have the freedom to practice their religion. These students, subject to a regular learning, were called as ashab al-suffa or ahl al-suffa because the place allotted to them was named suffa.
The number of these Companions was not always stable for there would be frequent guests arriving in Madina to visit the Prophet and to learn the principles of Islam. Those who married left the Suffa to live in their own homes.
The number of students sometimes reached 400 together with the non-residing people, among whom were the well-known companions such as Talha ibn Ubaydullah, Abu Said al-Hudri, Abu Hurayra, Abu Zar al-Gifari, Bilal al-Habashi, Abdullah ibn Umar, Abdullah ibn Mas‘ud and Bara ibn Malik.
Ashab al-Suffa activities
The Companions coming together in the Suffa were taught the Quran, reading-writing, traditions and religious knowledge. These students used the space apportioned for them to rest and to study, as well as to benefit from the mosque as a classroom. Their teachers were primarily the Prophet and the Companions.
Ahl al-Suffa were among the leaders of the Islamic community in terms of memorizing Qur’anic revelation and the traditions of the Prophet. While Emigrants from Makka (Muhajirun) occupied themselves with commerce and the Ansar (residents of Madina) dealt with agriculture, the Suffa-dwellers would not leave the Prophet’s side, would hear and see what others could not. Muslims who were not able to spend as much time with the Prophet because of their occupation, got acquainted with the new developments and knowledge by means of the Ahl al-Suffa.
Many of Ahl al-Suffa devoted themselves to the spiritual-moral life; they occupied themselves with worship at night, fasting and the study of religious sciences during the day. So while these Companions occupied themselves with learning Islam on the one hand, they tried to conduct their lives in accordance with it on the other, and as such became the object of Prophet’s affection.
Not having a stable income due to their devotion to the scholarly life, those members of Ahl al-Suffa without enough physical stamina did limited work such as woodcutting and carrying water to supply their needs. They did not ask for anything from anybody even when they were in need due to their modesty and dignity.
On the other hand, the Prophet, upon him be peace, personally took care of their livelihood and set apart a large percentage of the goods coming to the public treasury (Bayt al-Mal) and to him. The Companions supported this house of science and wisdom by means of the Prophet’s encouragement and they suppported the Suffa Companions by inviting them to their homes as guests and offering them food.
The importance of Ashab al-Suffa
The Suffa was the first official institute of education in Islam. In other words, it constituted the first Islamic ‘university’. So the people of the Suffa were a distinguished community who devoted their lives to the study of sciences and wisdom taught at the school of the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings.
Many traditions unheard of by the rest of the Muslims reached the Suffa community due to their proximity to the Prophet. They also had the lead in the narration of traditions. For instance, three of the companions having narrated the most number of hadiths, namely Abu Hurayrah, Abdullah ibn Umar and Abu Said al-Hudri were among the Companions of the Suffa which demonstrates their close ties to the Prophet.
Ahl al-Suffa served, for the most part, the spread of Islam and education in the Islamic sciences. When the newly converting tribes located outside of Madina requested teachers to teach them the Quran and other religious knowledge, mentors from Ahl al-Suffa were sent there. As seen in the events of Bi'r Al-Mauna and Raji, they fulfilled their duty at the cost of their lives. Moreover, representatives from Muslim tribes stayed in guest-houses designated by the state, and Ahl al-Suffa were charged with the duty of an intensive education geared towards them.
In brief, the Suffa was a model and a pioneer home of education in the history of Islam. Some Suffa-dwellers devoted themselves to spiritual-moral life completely, so they became the pioneers of ascetic life and tendency towards Islamic mysticism.
HAMIDULLAH, Muhammed,Islam Peygamberi (Prophet of Islam), Irfan Yayimcilik, Istanbul,1995
KOTEN, Arif; PUSMAZ, Durak. “Ashabu’s-Suffe” Samil Islam Ansiklopedisi, Istanbul, 2000, c. I
ALGUL, Huseyin. “Ashabu’s-Suffe” Islam’da Inanc Ibadet ve Gunluk Yasayis Ansiklopedisi, Marmara Universitesi Ilâhiyat Fakultesi Vakfi Yayinlari, Istanbul, 1997, c. I
HAMIDULLAH, Muhammed,İslam Peygamberi (Prophet of Islam), İrfan Yayımcılık, İstanbul,1995
KOTEN, Arif; PUSMAZ, Durak. “Ashabu’s-Suffe” Samil Islam Ansiklopedisi, İstanbul, 2000, c. I
ALGUL, Huseyin. “Ashabu’s-Suffe” İslam'da İnanç İbadet ve Günlük Yaşayış Ansiklopedisi, Marmara Üniversitesi İlahiyat Fakültesi Vakfı Yayınları, İstanbul, 1997, c. I