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Desert Raider to Desert Rain: Abu Dharr al-Ghifari

Abu Dharr was among the desert raiders. A hulky, tall, thick haired, dark skinned man... The nightmare of the caravans. An intimidating, unwavering man. A Bedouin who knows the desert like the back of his hand. He belongs to a tribe that continues their ambush and waylaying even during the sacred months. Ghifar is the name of the tribe. Abu Dharr, also known as Jundab ibn Junada of Ghifar, has a trait not shared by the other members of his tribe: he does not worship idols. For this reason, he rushes to Mecca as soon as he hears of a Prophet. He asks for his address. The stones and pieces of bone which come with the answer leave him dripping in blood. Nonetheless, he does not hesitate entering the house indicated. This amounts to his entering Islam. He tells Abu Bakr that he did not worship idols even before becoming Muslim. As for the question, "To where would you turn?" he answers, "I don't know.” “I would turn to wherever God would lead me to turn,” he adds. He comes fourth or fifth in the race – among the first people to believe, that is. With great thrill he says immediately to the Prophet, "I want to openly cry out my faith for all to hear!”. "I fear that you may be killed!" is the response he receives. "I will do so even if they kill me!" he insists. Prophet Muhammad responds in silence.

In jubilation he recites the Declaration of Faith near the Ka’ba. They advance upon him immediately. All that remains when they leave him for dead is a bruised, battered body. “I forbade you to do this,” the Prophet says in sorrow. "I had to do this!" says Abu Dharr.  The following day he is at the same place. Again he cries out that Muhammad, upon him be peace, is the Messenger of God. Again he is beaten ruthlessly. Seeing that this was not helping, the Prophet sends him back to his tribe and away from Mecca, telling him to invite his tribe to Islam and commanding him not to return until he is summoned. Abu Dharr returns to the desert raiders and pours down on them like a rain of mercy. The desert turns green. Half of the Ghifar tribe becomes Muslim. He rushes gain, one day, to his master and greets him saying, "Peace be upon you o God’s Messenger!” “And upon you be peace!” the Messenger replies. Health and mercy they wish upon each other. Abu Dharr thus becomes the very first person to convey Islam’s greeting of peace. And five torches are given to his disposal: loving the weak; being thankful for bounties by looking at those who possess less, not those who possess more; speaking the truth, however difficult; and not fearing reproach in the path of God.

He emigrates to Madina after the Battle of Uhud and takes his place among the honored poor known as Ashab al-Suffa. His questions descend upon the Prophet’s Mosque like raindrops: “Who is the true Muslim?”, “Who is the most perfect believer?”, “Which is the best emigration?”, “What is the greatest verse?”… The answers pour down: “The true Muslim is one from whose hand and tongue everyone is safe and secure,” “The most perfect believers are those who have the best manners and character,” “The best emigration is to abandon those things God has prohibited,” “The greatest verse is the Verse of the Throne…” And when night falls, the Madinese share among them the Suffa Companions for the evening meal. Abu Dharr does not go. He always prefers staying back to have dinner in the company of the Prophet with the remaining five or ten people and then sleeps in the Mosque together with his friends. Who knows the dreams that they are seeing!

Even if we do not know his dreams, we know of Abu Dharr’s nightmares: The rich who hoard their wealth… “People are born to die, construct only to have what they constructed destroyed, embrace the fleeting with passion and spurn the everlasting. O, how beautiful are the two things that are despised by the people: death and poverty!” Thus does he raise the bar of his servanthood. He believes that the wealthy destroy themselves with an ambition they are not even aware of. In his view, two things can be pursued in this world: a lawful living and striving to earn eternal happiness in Paradise. If a person has a third aim, they are at a loss. At what does it mean to covet more than one needs! “Let your wealth be 2 dirhams! Spend one for your family and the other for your Hereafter; a third will be against you, not in your favor;” “The account of one who possesses two dirhams is much more difficult than that of one who possesses a single dirham;” “Every piece of gold or silver that is thrown into a bag and hoarded is an ember which can burn its owner, until it is spent in the way of God;” Look at the state of these people! There is no hope for most of them, excluding the Repentant!” When the words of Abu Dharr fall upon the wealthy like arrows, he remains despised among them. “What happened?” they ask him. “When you sit among a group of people they get up and walk away.” A fire breaks out in Abu Dharr’s smile: “Because I commanded them not to hoard wealth!”

“There is none more truthful and honest than Abu Dharr beneath the heavens or on the earth,” the Prophet had said about this honorable Companion. (Tirmidhi, “Manaqib,” 35; Ibn Maja, “Muqaddima,” 11) With the words, “Abu Dharr walks on earth with the piety of Jesus, son of Mary,” did he silver that mirror. While he did not allow Abu Dharr to become an Emir, believing that his disposition was not suitable for such a task, he called for Abu Dharr while on his deathbed and embraced him. “You are a good and righteous man; you will face various trials and tribulations after I am gone,” he had said. And how did Abu Dharr reply? Let us lend an ear to his incredible answer: “Let them come! They are welcome, if God Wills.”

Every trial was welcomed by Abu Dharr. He showed no resentment toward any of them. He lost his son during a sudden attack. He entered Jerusalem with ‘Umar, and Egypt with 'Amr ibn al-'As. He was there when Anatolia was being conquered. And again, in Cyprus during its conquest. He did not yield to the pressures of the Sultans. He did not yield to the prohibition to speak. Due to his not remaining silent, he was exiled to Rabza – three years’ distance from Madina. There are some who say that he went there with his own freewill. ‘Ali and his sons Hasan and Husayn, as well as ‘Ammar ibn Yasir and ‘Aqil ibn Abu Talib bid him farewell, walking in his stride. His great journey was imminent. For two years he spent his time in solitary reflection in this desolate land. He passed away in the July of 653.

A caravan had passed through Rabza just before he died. The caravan of destiny. Ibn Mas’ud, returning from Kufa, was at its head. The Prophetic Tradition, “One of you is to die in an isolated desert and a group of believers will come to him” manifested itself. Ibn Mas’ud raised his hands proclaiming “God is Most Great!” While a handful of believers were performing his funeral prayer in the desert, Abu Dharr smiled incessantly with these words: “I swear by Allah that all of you have embraced the world.”

Poet and writer Ali Ural continues to write about the Companions of the Prophet that reflect his light and radiance
 

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