In history Abu Hurairah is known by his sobriquets. He is one of those people whose nicknames come to mind before their real names. He had two given names, used at different times: “Servant of the Sun” and “Servant of Allah”. In the Age of Ignorance his given name was Abd Al-Shams, Servant of the Sun while his nickname was Abu Hurairah, Father of Cats. The Holy Prophet continued calling him by his nickname; however, Abu Hurairah changed his name to Abdurrahman, Servant of Allah. Abu Hurairah, a man with wide shoulders, a red beard and dark skin, who wore a black turban, was given the playful sobriquet of Father of Cats due to the fact that he loved to play with a little cat and he carried it in his arms. Compassion and love gained new meanings with the coming of the Prophet and the new role appropriated by Abdurrahman ibn Sahr suited him well. Abu Hurairah accepted Islam in Yemen during the conquest of Khaybar and emigrated to Medina. He entered the orbit of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), remaining in the orbit of his influence until his death. He passed on the light of the Qur’an and the Sunnah with his ability to memorize. For three years Abu Hurairah was constantly with the Holy Prophet, during war and peace, at home, in the desert, while traveling, when he was away from home and during hajj. Of the 70 men known as the Ashab al-Suffa, he was the wisest and the highest in rank. He had a great affection for the Holy Prophet, and he thought that being close to him was more favorable than all the blessing in the worlds. For this reason, he held tighter onto to the Sunnah (practices of the Prophet), and with map of affection determined the limits of awe for Allah. Abu Hurairah believed that ordering what is good and avoiding what is bad was one of the rivers which gave life to this map; he prevented the wealthy from constructing a wall before this strong river, making no discrimination between the rich or the poor when delivering justice.
His fondness of learning distinguished him in the eyes of the Holy Prophet, and he was crowned with the loftiest praise. The Prophet once said to him: “No one asked me this question before you!” At this time, the Prophet’s face was shining as he spoke about the blessed people who would be granted forgiveness on the Day of Judgment, describing them as: “The ones who said ‘La ilaha illallah’ with their hearts and their souls.” Concerning the affection he felt for the Prophet, Abu Hurairah tried to explain his feelings with these words: “When I see you, I become happy! My eyes and my heart are enlightened.” The Prophet also called Abu Hurairah the “Vessel of Intellect” because he had a strong memory enhanced with the prayer of a prophet.
According to an account by Zayd ibn Thabit, one day Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) came to the masjid and said to his companions:“Everyone wish for something from Allah!” Zayd ibn Thabit and another companion prayed and the Prophet said “Amen.” When Abu Hurairah’s turn came he said: “O Allah, I ask You for everything that my two friends asked for and I ask you for knowledge that will not be forgotten,” and the Prophet said “Amen.” Then Zayd ibn Thabit and his friend said: “O Holy Prophet, we also ask for knowledge that shall not be forgotten.” The Holy Prophet smiled and said to them: “The young man from Daws asked for it before you!”
According to another account, Abu Hurairah, the Father of Cats, spread his cloak on the ground after the Prophet had said: “He who spreads his cloak on the ground and picks it up when I have finished speaking will never forget a thing he heard from me!” From that day on, Abu Hurairah memorized every word that he heard from the Prophet and never forgot them. Abu Hurairah memorized every hadith (sayings of the Prophet), word by word, taking on this task with a divine responsibility and being careful to differentiate between the words of the Prophet and his own, indicating the latter by saying: “This is from my own purse.”
With his awareness of servitude, Abu Hurairah would spend his days fasting and his nights in prayer. He waited to get married until after the era of Prophet Muhammad because of his poverty and because he was an Ashab al-Suffa; but even after he had a family, he continued to undertake the supererogatory prayers, involving his wife and his daughter as well. They would wake in turns, dividing the night into periods and enlightening it with prayer. They would speak joyfully of the days when they were unable to find bread and relate how a verse which they had learned helped them to forget their hunger. Abu Hurairah would separate the nights into three periods: one-third would be for praying, another for sleep and the last third would be for recollecting the hadiths of the Holy Prophet. When he came home, he would ask if there was anything to eat; if the answer was “There is nothing to eat”, then he would say, still smiling “No problem, I’m fasting.” He was so content with what he had that sometimes he would only eat a handful of dates, but he always thanked Allah for this blessing. He loved having guests, despite his poverty, and never hesitated to share his food. In those days he described his life in three sentences: “I grew up as an orphan. I performed hijrah as a poor man. I work only to fill my stomach.”
When Abu Hurairah’s learning had become quite advanced, the Prophet sent him to Bahrain to spread Islam. Later on he served as a leader of prayers and as a governor during the Caliphate of Abu Bakr and Umar, helping to solve the problems of Muslims; he always worked with great modesty. He was witty and a great conversationalist. One day, when he was standing in proxy for Marwan, the governor of Medina, he put on a cap made of date fibers, got on a donkey and shouted to the people: “Clear the road; the Emir (the Caliph) is coming!” He loved to play with children and to make them laugh. He would join in their game, known as Crow, which they played at nights, surprising them and making them laugh by stamping his feet. He invited Abu Rafi to dinner and served him dried bread in oily water, saying to him jokingly: “Help yourself, this is from the Emir’s table.”
After the Prophet’s death, Abu Hurairah would break down into tears whenever he conveyed hadiths in the Masjid al-Nabawi. Abu Hurairah died when he was 78 and was buried in Jannat al-Baki (eternal heaven) in Medina. He recorded more than a thousand hadiths. For centuries Muslims have commemorated him whenever they convey a hadith that he recorded from the Holy Prophet: The words “Abu Hurairah reports that Prophet Muhammad said” are uttered by millions all over the world.