`An Abi Hurairata, radiyallahu `anhu, qal: qala rasulu-llahi, sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam (by Abu Hurairah) … Through this phrase millions of Muslims from the early history of Islam to the present have come to be familiar with the name Abu Hurairah. In speeches and lectures, in Friday khutbahs and seminars, in the books of Hadith, seerah and fiqh, the name Abu Hurairah is mentioned in this fashion:
“On the authority of Abu Hurairah (may Allah be pleased with him) who said: Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) said… .”
Through his prodigious efforts, hundreds of hadiths were transmitted to later generations. His is the foremost name in the roll of Hadith transmitters. Next to him comes the names of such companions as `Abdullah ibn `Umar, Anas ibn Malik, `A’ishah (the Prophet’s wife), Jabir ibn `Abdullah and Abu Sa`id Al-Khudri, each of whom transmitted over a thousand hadiths of the Prophet.
Abu Hurairah became a Muslim at the hands of At-Tufayl ibn `Amr, the chieftain of the Daws tribe to which he belonged. Abu Hurairah’s name was `Abdu Shams (Servant of Sun) which changed, after embracing Islam, into `Abdur-Rahman (the Servant of the Beneficent Lord). However, he continued to be known as Abu Hurairah, “the kitten man,” literally “the father of a kitten” because he was fond of cats and since his childhood often had a cat to play with.
At the beginning of the seventh year of the Hijrah, Abu Hurairah arrived in Madinah with others of his tribe. The Prophet had gone on a campaign to Khaybar. Being destitute, Abu Hurairah took up his place in the Prophet’s Mosque with Ahl as-Suffah (poor Companions who had no house but the Prophet’s Mosque). He was single, without wife or child. With him, however, was his mother, who was still non-Muslim. He longed and prayed for her to become a Muslim but she adamantly refused. One day, he invited her to have faith in Allah alone and follow His Prophet, but she uttered some words about the Prophet which saddened him greatly. With tears in his eyes, he went to the noble Prophet, who said to him, “What makes you cry, Abu Hurairah?”
“I have not let up in inviting my mother to Islam but she has always rebuffed me. Today, I invited her again and I heard words from her which I do not like. Do make supplication to Allah Almighty to make the heart of Abu Hurairah’s mother incline to Islam.”
The Prophet responded to Abu Hurairah’s request and prayed for his mother. Abu Hurairah said, “I went home and found the door closed. I heard the splashing of water and when I tried to enter my mother said, “Stay where you are, Abu Hurairah.” And after putting on her clothes, she said, “Enter!” I entered and she said, “I testify that there is no god but Allah and I testify that Muhammad is His Servant and His Messenger.”
“I returned to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) weeping with joy just as an hour before I had gone weeping from sadness and said, ‘I have good news, Messenger of Allah. Allah has responded to your prayer and guided the mother of Abu Hurairah to Islam.’”
Abu Hurairah loved the Prophet a great deal and found favor with him. He was never tired of looking at the Prophet, whose face appeared to him as having all the radiance of the sun and he was never tired of listening to him. Often he would praise Allah for his good fortune and say, “Praise be to Allah Who has guided Abu Hurairah to Islam. Praise be to Allah Who has taught Abu Hurairah the Qur’an. Praise be to Allah who has bestowed on Abu Hurairah the companionship of Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him).”
With his formidable memory, Abu Hurairah set out to memorize in the four years that he spent with the Prophet, the gems of wisdom that emanated from his lips. He realized that he had a great gift and he set about to use it to the full in the service of Islam.
He had free time at his disposal. Unlike many of the Muhajirun (immigrant companions to Madinah) he did not busy himself in the market-places with buying and selling. Unlike many of the Ansar (the Companions indigenous to Madinah), he had no land to cultivate nor crops to tend. He stayed with the Prophet in Madinah and went with him on journeys and expeditions.
Many companions were amazed at the number of hadiths he had memorized and often questioned him on when he had heard a certain hadith and under what circumstances.
Once Marwan ibn Al-Hakam wanted to test Abu Hurairah’s power of memory. He sat with him in one room and behind a curtain he placed a scribe, unknown to Abu Hurairah, and ordered him to write down whatever Abu Hurairah said. A year later, Marwan called Abu Hurairah again and asked him to recall the same hadiths which the scribe had recorded. It was found that he had not forgotten a single word.
Abu Hurairah was concerned to teach and transmit the hadiths he had memorized and knowledge of Islam in general. It is reported that one day he passed through the market of Madinah and naturally saw people engrossed in the business of buying and selling.
“How feeble you are, people of Madinah!” he said.
“What do you see that is feeble in us, Abu Hurairah?” they asked.
“The inheritance of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) is being distributed and you remain here! Won’t you go and take your portion?”
“Where is this, Abu Hurairah?” they asked.
“In the mosque,” he replied.
Quickly they left. Abu Hurairah waited until they returned. When they saw him, they said, “Abu Hurairah, we went to the mosque and entered and we did not see anything being distributed.”
“Didn’t you see anyone in the mosque?” he asked.
“Yes, we saw some people performing salah, some people reading the Qur’an and some people discussing about what is lawful and what is unlawful.”
“Woe unto you!” replied Abu Hurairah, “That is the inheritance of Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him).”
Abu Hurairah underwent much hardship and difficulties as a result of his dedicated search for knowledge. He was often hungry and destitute. He said about himself:
When I was afflicted with severe hunger, I would go to a Companion of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and ask him about a verse of the Qur’an and (stay with him) learning it so that he would take me with him to his house and give me food.
One day, my hunger became so severe that I placed a stone on my stomach. I then sat down in the path of the Companions. Abu Bakr passed by and I asked him about a verse of the Book of Allah. I only asked him so that he would invite me but he didn’t.
Then `Umar ibn Al-Khattab passed by me and I asked him about a verse but he also did not invite me. Then the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) passed by and realized that I was hungry and said, “Abu Hurairah!”
“At your command,” I replied and followed him until we entered his house. He found a bowl of milk and asked his family, “From where did you get this?”
“Someone sent it to you,” they replied.
He then said to me, “Abu Hurairah, go to the Ahl as-Suffah and invite them.”
Abu Hurairah did as he was told and they all drank from the milk.
The time came, of course, when the Muslims were blessed with great wealth and material goodness of every description. Abu Hurairah eventually got his share of wealth. He had a comfortable home, a wife and child. But this turn of fortune did not change his personality. Neither did he forget his days of destitution. He would say, “I grew up as an orphan and I emigrated as a poor and indigent person. I used to take food for my stomach from Busrah bint Ghazwan. I served people when they returned from journeys and led their camels when they set out. Then Allah caused me to marry her (Busrah). So praise be to Allah Who has strengthened His religion and made Abu Hurairah an imam.” (This last statement is a reference to the time when he became governor of Madinah.)
Much of Abu Hurairah’s time would be spent in spiritual exercises and devotion to Allah. Qiyam Al-Layl (Night Vigil Prayer) was a regular practice of his family including, his wife and his daughter. He would stay up for a third of the night, his wife for another third, and his daughter for a third. In this way, in the house of Abu Hurairah no hour of the night would pass without worshiping Allah and remembering Him.
Throughout his life, Abu Hurairah remained kind and courteous to his mother. Whenever he wanted to leave home, he would stand at the door of her room and say, “Peace be on you, mother, and the mercy and blessings of Allah.” She would reply, “And on you be peace, my son, and the mercy and blessings of Allah.” Often he would also say, “May Allah have mercy on you as you cared for me when I was small,” and she would reply, “May Allah have mercy on you as you delivered me from error when I was old.” Abu Hurairah always encouraged other people to be kind and good to their parents.
One day he saw two men walking together, one older than the other. He asked the younger one, “What is this man to you?”
“My father,” the person replied.
“Don’t call him by his name. Don’t walk in front of him and don’t sit before him,” advised Abu Hurairah.
Muslims owe a debt of gratitude to Abu Hurairah for helping to preserve and transmit the valuable legacy of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). Abu Hurairah died in AH 59 when he was 78 years old.