Abu Hurayrah: The sahabi with a photographic memory

There might not be any Muslim who has not heard of Abu Hurayrah. With 5000 + narrations attributed to him, he was the most prolific narrator of Hadith.

Abd Al-Rahman ibn Sakhr Al-Azdi, well known as Abu Hurayrah (Father of a Kitten) as a reference to his attachment to cats, was from Yemen. His father died when he was young. He belonged to the Banu Daws region of Tihama which was along the coast of the Red Sea in the south of the Arabian Peninsula. When the chieftain of his tribe, At-Tufayl ibn Amr (may Allah be pleased with him), returned after meeting Prophet Muhammad ﷺ and accepting Islam, Abu Hurayrah was one of the early responders to his da’wah.

Abu Hurayrah used to work for a lady called Busrah bint Ghazwan who he would later go on to marry.  He accompanied his chieftain the next time he visited Makkah and had the honor of meeting the Prophet. Abu Hurayrah stayed in Tihama for several years and migrated to Medinah not until 7AH. Though poor, he was eager to stay close to the Prophet ﷺ, so he took up his place among the Ahul -Suffah in Medinah. He had set his heart on attaining knowledge.

During the Prophet’s lifetime, the only relative Abu Hurayrah had was his mother who was still a mushrik. He adored his mother and tried his best to convince her to accept Islam but she was adamant. He then sought the Messenger of Allah’s advice and help. Imam Bukhari narrates in al-Adaab al-Mufrad that Abu Hurayrah reported: 

‘None of the Jews or Christians heard of me but that they loved me. I desired for my mother to be upon Islam but she refused. I told her again but she refused again. I went to the Prophet ﷺ and I said, “Supplicate to Allah for her.” The Prophet ﷺ supplicated and I went to her. She answered the door and she said, “O Abu Hurayrah, I have embraced Islam.” 

I told the Prophet, saying, “Supplicate to Allah for me and my mother.” The Prophet ﷺ said, “O Allah, endear your servant Abu Hurayrah and his mother to the people.”[Graded Hasan by Al-Albani]

Abu Hurayrah is widely known due to his numerous narrations that surpassed companions who were with the Messenger of Allah for longer periods. Though he spent a lot less number of years with the Messenger of Allahﷺ, he made sure he utilized every moment of his time observing, absorbing, and retaining whatever he heard and saw of the Prophet of Allah ﷺ. Unlike him, most of the companions of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ had their own families and business to take care of. In this context, it was not possible for them to observe the Messenger of Allah throughout the day.  Bukhari mentions Abu Hurayrah narrated:

“People say that I have narrated many Hadiths. Had it not been for two verses in the Qur’an, I would not have narrated a single Hadith, and the verses are: “Verily those who conceal the clear sign and the guidance which We have sent down… and I (Allah) am the Accepting of repentance, the Merciful.” (2:159-160).

And no doubt our Muhajir (emigrant) brothers used to be busy in the market with their business (bargains) and our Ansari brothers used to be busy with their property (agriculture). But I (Abu Hurayrah) used to stick to Allah’s Messenger ﷺ contented with what will fill my stomach and I used to attend that which they used not to attend and I used to memorize that which they used not to memorize.”

Abu Hurayrah was illiterate like most people of his time but had an excellent memory gifted by Allah through which, hundreds of ahadith of the Prophet ﷺ were transmitted to later generations. Initially, Abu Hurayrah was troubled by the fact that he could not retain everything he observed and heard from the Messenger of Allah. In his own words:

“I said to Allah’s Messenger ﷺ “I hear many narrations (Hadiths) from you but I forget them.” Allah’s Apostle said, “Spread your Rida‘ (garment).” I did accordingly and then he moved his hands as if filling them with something (and emptied them in my Rida‘) and then said, “Take and wrap this sheet over your body.” I did it and after that, I never forgot anything. [Recorded in Sahih al Bukhari]

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Abu Hurayrah’s passion for gaining knowledge was well recognized by the Messenger of  Allah ﷺ. In a narration where Abu Hurayrah questioned the Prophet ﷺ about the people who will gain intercession on the day of resurrection, the Prophet ﷺ replied: 

“I thought that none will ask about this Hadith before you, because I see your zeal for [learning] Hadith; the most fortunate person, who will gain my intercession on the day of Qiyamah is the one who said la ilaha illahu, sincerely from his heart.” [Sahih Bukhari]

Spending most of his time accompanying the Messenger of Allah ﷺ everywhere even in his travels, Anu Hurayrah thus devoted himself and his precise memory to memorizing the hadiths and instructions of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ. When the Prophet ﷺ died, Abu Hurayrah kept narrating his traditions spreading the benefit of the gift he was blessed with.

The other Companions also acknowledged his status and referred to him to know when he had heard a certain hadith and under what circumstances. Al-Bukhari said: “More than eight hundred men from the companions and tabi’een narrated from him.”

Abu Ayoob is reported to have said: I prefer to narrate from Abu Hurayrah (as an intermediary) than from the Prophet ﷺ (directly); meaning that he trusts Abu Hurayrah more than he trusts himself when it comes to narrating prophetic traditions. (Al-Mustadrak )

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During the caliphate of Umar, Abu Hurayrah was appointed as the governor of Bahrain. Those were the days when Muslims were blessed with great wealth and increasing power. Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) was finical about his governors. He wanted his governors to live frugally and not acquire much wealth, although lawful and deserving. So when he heard Abu Hurayrah had become rich he recalled him to Medinah and questioned the source of his wealth. Abu Hurayrah he replied “from breeding horses and gifts I receive.”

Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) ordered him to give away his wealth to the Muslim treasury, which he did saying “O Lord, forgive the Amir al-Muminin”. After some time Umar asked Abu Hurayrah once again to govern one of his  provinces [which proves Umar’s trust in him] to which Abu Hurayrah declined with the reason “So that my honor would not be besmirched, my wealth taken and my back beaten…And I fear to judge without knowledge and speak without wisdom.” [Hakim al-Mustadrak and others] 

He later became the governor of Medinah in the reign of Marwaan and died there around 78 years of age. He was buried in Al Baqee in Medinah. 

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Abu Hurayrah was always grateful to Allah for what he was given. He summed up his life in his words:

” 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 Hurayrah an Imam.” 

May Allah have mercy upon him and elevate his ranks for his enormous contribution to Islam and Muslim. 

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