Journey of Faith: Life of Salman al-Farisi

Journey Of Faith Salman al-Farisi
Salman al-Farisi is perhaps most famously known for his ingenious plan during the Battle of Khandaq to outsmart the 10,000 strong army of disbelievers by using a technique in warfare not known by the Arabs at that time. But then again he was one of the most prominent sahabas later on known for his abundant knowledge. Reading on his life we find his quest for knowledge and truth to be so inspiring and moving. Salman رضي الله عنه was asked by Abdullah Ibn Abbas about his search for the truth and the following story is narrated in his own words –

From Persia to Syria

I was a Persian man, one of the people of Isfahaan, from a village thereof called Jayy. My father was the chieftain of his village, and I was the dearest of Allah’s creation to him. He loved me so much that he kept me in his house near the fire, as girls are kept in. I strove hard in the Magian religion until I became the keeper of the fire, which I tended and did not let go out for a moment. My father had a huge garden, and he was busy one day with some construction work, so he said: “O my son, I am too busy with this building today, go and check my garden,” and he told me some of the things he wanted done.

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I went out, heading towards his garden, and I passed by one of the Christian churches, where I could hear their voices as they were praying. I did not know anything about the people because my father had kept me in his house. When I passed by and heard their voices, I entered upon them to see what they were doing. When I saw them, I was impressed with their prayer and I was attracted to their way. I said: By Allah, this is better than the religion that we follow. By Allah, I did not leave them until the sun set, and I forgot about my father’s garden and did not go there. I said to them: Where did this religion originate? They said: In Syria.

Then I went back to my father, who had sent people out to look for me, and I had distracted him from all his work. When I came to him, he said: O my son, where were you? Did I not ask you to do what I asked? I said: O my father, I passed by some people who were praying in a church of theirs, and I was impressed with what I saw of their religion. By Allah, I stayed with them until the sun set. He said: O my son, there is nothing good in that religion. Your religion and the religion of your forefathers is better than that. I said: No, by Allah, it is better than our religion.

He was afraid for me, and he put fetters on my legs and kept me in his house. I sent word to the Christians saying: If any Christian merchants come to you from Syria, tell me about them. He said: Some Christian merchants came to them from Syria, and they told me about them. I said to them: When they have completed their business and want to go back to their own country, tell me about that. So when they wanted to go back to their own country, they told me about that, and I threw off the irons from my legs and went out with them, until I came to Syria.

When I reached Syria, I said: Who is the best person in this religion? They said: The bishop in the church.  So I went to him and said: I like this religion, and I would like to stay with you and serve you in your church and learn from you and pray with you. He said: Come in. So I went in with him, but he was a bad man. He would command them and exhort them to give charity, but he kept a great deal of it for himself and did not give it to the poor; he had amassed seven chests of gold and silver. I hated him deeply when I saw what he was doing, then he died and the Christians gathered to bury him. I said to them: This was a bad man; he commanded you and exhorted you to give charity, but when you brought it to him he kept it for himself and did not give any of it to the poor. They said: How do you know that? Show us where his treasure is. So I showed them where it was and they brought out seven chests filled with gold and silver. When they saw that they said: By Allah, we will never bury him; then they crucified him and pelted him with stones.  Then they brought another man and appointed him in his place.

Salman رضي الله عنه said: I have never seen a man who does not offer the five daily prayers who was better than him; he shunned this world and sought the Hereafter and no one strive harder than him night and day. I loved him as I had never loved anyone before, and I stayed with him for a while. Then when he was about to die, I said: O So and so, I was with you and I loved you as I had never loved anyone before, and now the decree of Allah has come to you as you see; to whom do you advise me to go? What do you command me to do? He said: O my son, by Allah, I do not know of anyone today who follows what I followed. The people are doomed; they have changed and abandoned most of what they used to follow, except for a man in Mosul. He is So and so, and he follows what I used to follow, so go and join him.

From Syria to Mosul

When he died and was buried, I went to the man in Mosul. I said to him: O So and so, So and so advised me when he died to come to you, and he told me that you follow the same as he followed. He said to me: Stay with me. So I stayed with him, and I found him to be a good man who followed the same as his companion had followed. But soon he died. When he was dying I said to him: O So and so, So and so advised me to come to you and told me to join you, but now there has come to you from Allaah what you see. To whom do you advise me to go? What do you command me to do? He said: O my son, by Allaah I do not know of anyone who follows what we used to follow except a man in Nasayyibeen. He is So and so; go to him.

From Mosul to Nasayyibin

When he died and was buried, I went to the man in Nasayyibin. I came to him and told him my story and what my companion had told me to do. He said: Stay with me. So I stayed with him and I found him to be a follower of the same way as his two companions, and I stayed with a good man. By Allah, soon death came upon him, and when he was dying I said to him: O So and so, So and so advised me to go to So and so; then So and so advised me to come to you. To whom do you advise me to go and what do you command me to do? He said: O my son, by Allah we do not know of anyone left who follows our way and to whom I can tell you to go, except a man in ‘Ammuriyyah. He follows something like what we follow. If you wish, go to him, for he follows our way.

From Nasayyibin to Ammuriyyah

When he died and was buried, I went to the man in ‘Ammuriyyah and told him my story. He said: Stay with me. So I stayed with a man who was following the same way as his companions. I earned wealth until I had cows and sheep, then the decree of Allah came to him. When he was dying I said to him: O So and so, I was with So and so, and So and so told me to go to So and so; then So and so told me to go to So and so; then So and so told me to come to you. To whom do you advise me to go and what do you command me to do? He said: O my son, by Allah, I do not know of anyone who follows our way to whom I can advise you to go. But there has come the time of a Prophet, who will be sent with the religion of Ibrahim. He will appear in the land of the Arabs and will migrate to a land between two harrahs (lave fields; land with black rocks), between which there are palm trees. He will have characteristics that will not be hidden. He will eat of what is given as a gift but he will not eat of what is given as charity. Between his shoulder blades is the Seal of Prophethood. If you can go to that land then do so.

From Ammuriyyah to Waadi al-Qura

Then he died and was buried, and I stayed in ‘Ammuriyyah as long as Allaah willed I should stay, then some merchants of Kalb passed by me and I said to them: Will you take me to the land of the Arabs and I will give you these cows and sheep of mine? They said: Yes. So I gave them the cows and sheep, and they took me there, but when they brought me to Waadi al-Qura they wronged me and sold me as a slave to a Jewish man. When I was with him I saw the palm trees, and I hoped that this was the land that my companion had described to me, but I was not sure.

From Waadi al-Qura to Madinah

Whilst I was with him, a cousin of his from Banu Qurayzah came to him from Madinah, and he sold me to him, and he took me to Madinah. By Allah, as soon as I saw it, I recognized it from the description given to me by my companion.  I stayed there, and Allah sent His Messenger, who stayed in Makkah as long as he stayed, and I did not hear anything about him because I was so busy with the work of a slave. Then he migrated to Madinah, and by Allah, I was at the top of a palm tree belonging to my master, doing some work on it, and my master was sitting there.

Then a cousin of his came and stood beside him, and said: May Allah kill Banu Qaylah! By Allah, right now they are gathering in Quba’ to welcome a man who has come from Makkah today, and they say that he is a Prophet. When I heard that, I began to shiver so much that I thought I would fall on top of my master. I came down from the tree and started saying to that cousin of his: What are you saying, what are you saying?

My master got angry and he struck me with his fist and said: What has it got to do with you? Go back to your work! I said: Nothing; I just wanted to make sure of what he was saying. I had something that I had collected, and when evening came, I went to the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) when he was in Quba’, and I entered upon him and said to him: I have heard that you are a righteous man and that you have companions who are strangers and are in need. This is something that I have to give in charity, and I see that you are more in need of it than anyone else.

I brought it near to him and the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said to his companions: “Eat,” but he refrained from eating.  I said to myself: This is one.
Then I went away and collected some more. The Messenger of Allah ﷺ moved to Madinah, then I came to him and said: I see that you do not eat (food given in) charity; this is a gift with which I wish to honour you. The Messenger of Allah ﷺ ate some of it and told his companions to eat too. I said to myself: This is two.

Then I came to the Messenger of Allah ﷺ when he was in Baqee’ al-Gharqad, where he had attended the funeral of one of his companions and he was wearing two shawls and was sitting among his companions. I greeted him with salaam then I moved behind him, trying to look at his back to see the Seal that my companion had described to me. When the Messenger of Allah ﷺ saw me going behind him, he realized that I was trying to find confirmation of something that had been described to me, so he let his rida’ drop from his back, and I saw the Seal and recognized it.

Then I embraced him, kissing (the Seal) and weeping, and the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said to me: “Turn around.” So I turned around and I told him my story as I have told it to you, O Ibn ‘Abbas. The Messenger of Allah ﷺ wanted his companions to hear that.

Freedom from Slavery

Then Salmaan was kept busy with the work of a slave, until he had missed attending Badr and Uhud with the Messenger of Allah ﷺ. He said: Then the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said to me: “Draw up a contract of manumission, O Salman.” So I draw up a contract of manumission with my master in return for three hundred palm trees which I would plant for him, and forty uqiyahs.

The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said to his companions: “Help your brother.” So they helped me with the palm trees, one man gave thirty small trees and another gave twenty, and another gave fifteen, and another gave ten, i.e., each man gave according to what he had, until they had collected three hundred small trees for me.

Then the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said to me: “Go, O Salmaan, and dig the holes where they are to be planted. When you have finished, come to me and I will plant them with my own hand.” So I dug the holes for them, and my companions helped me, then when I had finished, I came to him and told him. The Messenger of Allah ﷺ came out with me and we started to bring the trees close and the Messenger of Allah ﷺ planted them with his own hand. By the One in Whose hand is the soul of Salman, not one single tree among them died.

So I had paid off the trees but there still remained the money. A piece of gold the size of an egg was brought to the Messenger of Allah ﷺ from one of his campaigns. He said: “What happened to the Persian who had a contract of manumission?” I was summoned to him and he said: “Take this and pay off what you owe, O Salman.” I said: How could this pay off everything I owe, O Messenger of Allah? He said: “Take it, and Allah will help you to pay off what you owe.” So I took it and weighed it for them, and by the One in Whose hand is the soul of Salman, it was forty uqiyahs, so I paid them their dues and I was set free. I was present with the Messenger of Allah ﷺ at al-Khandaq, and after that I did not miss any major event with him.

[Narrated by Ahmad in al-Musnad (5/441)]

Narrated Salman Al-Farisi: That he was sold (as a slave) by one master to another for more than ten times (i.e between 13 and 19). [Bukhari]

The Battle of Khandaq

Salman رضي الله عنه  was to play an important role in the struggles of the growing Muslim State. Towards the end of the fifth year after the Hijrah, the Prophet ﷺ got intelligence that a massive Quraysh army of about 10,000 strong, including a large cavalry force, had set out from Makkah in another major attempt to finish off the Muslims. They were to be joined by the Jews of Khaybar and other powerful ‘Arab tribes like the Banu Asad and the Banu Ghatafan in a mighty alliance.

The Muslims had only a week to make preparations to defend themselves. The Noble Prophet ﷺ alerted the people, urged them to be steadfast and, as he had done before, summoned them to a consultation to discuss how to meet the grave threat. It is said that after several ideas were put forward, Salman رضي الله عنه eventually rose up and said:
“O Messenger of Allah, in Persia when we feared an attack of cavalry, we would surround ourselves with a trench, so let us dig a trench about us now.”

The stunning suggestion was accepted and the rest is history, but, there was an interesting incident that happened while this trench was being dug. Salman رضي الله عنه  being fit and strong and used to such hard labor is said to have done the work of ten men. While each section of the Muslims sought to claim Salman as its own, the Prophet ﷺ was moved to say, “Salman is neither Muhajir nor Ansar. He is one of us. He is one of the People of the House (Ahlul Bait)” SubhanAllah! Now that’s an honor of different proportions.

Another major incident around this time was the famous prophecy regarding Muslim victory. It was narrated from Abu Sukainah, a man from among the Muharririn, that a man among the Companions of the the Prophet ﷺ said:
“When the Prophet (ﷺ) commanded them to dig the trench (Al-Khandaq), there was a rock in their way preventing them from digging. The Messenger of Allah ﷺ stood, picked up a pickaxe, put his Rida’ (upper garment) at the edge of the ditch and said: ‘And the Word of your Lord has been fulfilled in truth and in justice. None can change His Words. And He is the All-Hearer, the All-Knower.’
One-third of the rock broke off while Salman Al-Farisi was standing there watching, and there was a flash of light when the Messenger of Allah ﷺ struck (the rock). Then he struck it again and said: ‘And the Word of your Lord has been fulfilled in truth and in justice. None can change His Words. And He is the All-Hearer, the All-Knower’ And another third of the rock broke off and there was another flash of light, which Salman saw. Then he struck (the rock) a third time and said: ‘And the Word of your Lord has been fulfilled in truth and in justice. None can change His Words. And He is the All-Hearer, the All-Knower.’ The last third fell, and the Messenger of Allah ﷺ came out, picked up his Rida’ and sat down.
Salman said: ‘O Messenger of Allah, Each time you struck the rock there was a flash of light.’ The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said to him: ‘O Salman, did you see that?’ He said: ‘Yes, by the One Who sent you with the truth, O Messenger of Allah.’
He said: ‘When I struck the first blow, the cities of Kisra and their environs were shown to me, and many other cities, and I saw them with my own eyes.’ Those of his Companions who were present said: ‘O Messenger of Allah, pray to Allah to grant us victory and to give us their land as spoils of war, and to destroy their lands at our hands.’ So the Messenger of Allah ﷺ prayed for that.
(Then he said:) ‘Then I struck the second blow and the cities of Caesar and their environs were shown to me, and I saw them with my own eyes.’ They said: ‘O Messenger of Allah, pray to Allah to grant us victory and to give us their lands as spoils of war, and to destroy their lands at our hands.’ So the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) prayed for that.
(Then he said:) ‘Then I struck the third blow and the cities of Ethiopia were shown to me, and the villages around them, and I saw them with my own eyes.’ But the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said at that point: ‘Leave the Ethiopians alone so long as they leave you alone, and leave the Turks alone so long as they leave you alone.’”
  1. The strict honesty of the Prophet ﷺ was one of the characteristics that led Salman رضي الله عنه to believe in him and accept Islam. Salman رضي الله عنه would say when asked whose son he was:
    “I am Salman, the son of Islam, from the children of Adam.”
  2. From the story of the freedom of Salman al-Farisi we learn how the Prophet ﷺ built Madinah as a society and instilled brotherhood among the sahaba. The Prophet ﷺ not only asked the sahaba to help their brother, but they also had to put in the effort of digging out the donated trees from their lands and digging a hole to transfer-plant it in the new location too.It wasn’t a detached donation but rather an attached investment. Donating is just one thing but actually volunteering and taking the charity to the people dignifies the deed. The Master of the Children of Adam, the Vessel of Revelation, the Imam of the Prophets of Allah ﷺ at over 50 years of age, under the Arabian sun walks down to plant 300 date trees all by himself just for the sake of a slave.The Prophet ﷺ didn’t just see a slave but rather He saw a Believer seeking the Truth. Why is this significant? The Battle of Trench was fought that exact same year in which Salman was freed. We all know who was the game-changer in this Battle.

    Salman the Scholar

    Salman رضي الله عنه  proved to be a keen student and was regarded as one of the foremost scholars among the Muslims after the passing of the Prophet ﷺ.

    Narrated Yazid bin ‘Umairah: “When death was upon Mu’adh bin Jabal, it was said to him: ‘O Abu ‘Abdur-Rahman, advise us.’ He said: ‘Sit me up.’ So he said: ‘Indeed, knowledge and faith are at their place, whoever desires them shall find them.’ He said that three times. ‘And seek knowledge from four men: ‘Uwaimir Abu Ad-Darda, with Salman Al-Farisi, with ‘Abdullah bin Mas’ud, and with ‘Abdullah bin Salam who used to be a Jew and then accepted Islam. For indeed, I heard the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) saying, “Indeed he is the tenth of ten in Paradise.” [Jami’ at-Tirmidhi]

    As a scholar, Salman رضي الله عنه  was noted for his vast knowledge and wisdom. Abu Hurairah رضي الله عنه  is said to have referred Salman as “Abu Al Kitabayn” (The Father of the Two Books, i.e., the Bible and the Quran) and Ali رضي الله عنه  is said to have referred him as Luqman al-Hakeem (Luqman the wise – reference to a wise man in the Quran known for his wise statements) And Ka’b al-Ahbar said, “Salman is stuffed with knowledge and wisdom – an ocean that does not dry up.”

    Salman رضي الله عنه  had a knowledge of both the Christian scriptures and the Quran in addition to his earlier knowledge of the Zoroastrian religion. Salman رضي الله عنه  in fact translated parts of the Quran into Persian during the lifetime of the Prophet which earned him the honour of being the first person to translate the Quran into a foreign language.

    Salman رضي الله عنه  was keen to pass on his knowledge. It is related that while he was in a mosque in Ctesiphon, about a thousand people gathered about him. He told them to sit down and started to recite from Surah Yusuf. They began to disperse until there were just about one hundred left. He became upset and said, “It is pleasant talk you want! But when I read the Book of Allah for you, you go away!”

    Narrated Salman al-Farisi: It was said to Salman: Your Prophet (ﷺ) teaches you everything, even about excrement. He replied: Yes. He has forbidden us to face the qiblah at the time of easing or urinating, and cleansing with right hand, and cleansing with less than three stones, or cleansing with dung or bone. [Bukhari]

    Narrated Salman-Al-Farisi: The Prophet ﷺ said,

    لا يغتسل رجل يوم الجمعة، ويتطهر ما استطاع من طهر، ويدهن من دهنه، أو يمس من طيب بيته، ثم يخرج فلا يفرق بين اثنين، ثم يصلى ما كتب له، ثم ينصت إذا تكلم الإمام، إلا غفر له ما بينه وبين الجمعة الأخرى

    “Whoever takes a bath on Friday, purifies himself as much as he can, then uses his (hair) oil or perfumes himself with the scent of his house, then proceeds (for the Jumua prayer) and does not separate two persons sitting together (in the mosque), then prays as much as (Allah has) written for him and then remains silent while the Imam is delivering the Khutba, his sins in-between the present and the last Friday would be forgiven.” [Bukhari]

    Salman the Zahid

    Salman Al-Farisi narrated that the Prophet ﷺ said:
     إِنَّ اللَّهَ حَيِيٌّ كَرِيمٌ يَسْتَحِي إِذَا رَفَعَ الرَّجُلُ إِلَيْهِ يَدَيْهِ أَنْ يَرُدَّهُمَا صِفْرًا خَائِبَتَيْنِ
    “Indeed, Allah, is Hayy, Generous, when a man raises his hands to Him, He feels too shy to return them to him empty and rejected.” [Jami’ at-Tirmidhi]

    Salman رضي الله عنه  became known as “Salman the Good”. He was a scholar who lived a rough and ascetic life. He had one cloak that he wore and on which he slept. He would not seek the shelter of a roof but often stayed under a tree or against a wall.
    A man once said to him: “Shall I not build you a house in which to live?”
    “I have no need of a house,” he replied.
    The man persisted and said: “I know the type of house that if you stand up in it, its roof will hurt your head and if you stretch your legs the wall will hurt them.”

    Later, as a governor of al-Mada’in (Ctesiphon) near Baghdad, Salman رضي الله عنه  received a stipend of five thousand dirhams. This he would distribute as sadaqah. He lived from the work of his own hands. When some people came to al-Mada’in and saw him working in the palm groves making baskets, they were amazed.
    “You are the amir here and your sustenance is guaranteed and you do this work!”
    “I like to eat from the work of my own hands,” he replied.

    Such were the heroes of Islam, not trying to make money out of their religion and the position they held in Islam.

    Once Salman رضي الله عنه was being pressed to eat a little more from the food he was served but he insisted, “This is enough for me. This is enough for me. I have heard the Messenger ﷺ saying, ‘The one who fills his stomach the most in this world will be the hungriest in the Hereafter. O Salman, the world is but a prison for the believer and paradise for the disbeliever.’”

    Salman رضي الله عنه, however, was not extreme in his asceticism. Narrated Abu Juhaifa:

    The Prophet ﷺ established a bond of brotherhood between Salman and Abu Darda’. Salman paid a visit to Abu ad-Darda and found Um Ad-Darda’ dressed in shabby clothes and asked her why she was in that state.?” She replied, “Your brother, Abu Ad-Darda is not interested in the luxuries of this world.” In the meantime Abu Ad-Darda came and prepared a meal for him (Salman), and said to him, “(Please) eat for I am fasting.” Salman said, “I am not going to eat, unless you eat.” So Abu Ad-Darda’ ate. When it was night, Abu Ad-Darda’ got up (for the night prayer). Salman said (to him), “Sleep,” and he slept. Again Abu- Ad-Darda’ got up (for the prayer), and Salman said (to him), “Sleep.” When it was the last part of the night, Salman said to him, “Get up now (for the prayer).” So both of them offered their prayers and Salman said to Abu Ad-Darda’,”Your Lord has a right on you; and your soul has a right on you; and your family has a right on you; so you should give the rights of all those who have a right on you). Later on Abu Ad-Darda’ visited the Prophet ﷺ and mentioned that to him. The Prophet, said, “Salman has spoken the truth.” [Bukhari]

    Salman and Abu ad-Darda’ رضي الله عنهم. remained closely attached to each other. When apart, they often wrote to each other offering advice and support, with certain frankness at times. Abu Darda’ once wrote to Salman requesting him to make haste and return to the “holy land”. Salman wrote back to him saying, “Surely the earth does not make anyone holy. Is it only man’s deeds which make him holy.”

    Salman رضي الله عنه, because of the influential household in which he grew up, might easily have continued to live a life of ease and luxury in the sprawling Persian empire of this time. His search for truth however led him, even before the Prophet ﷺ had appeared, to renounce a comfortable and affluent life and even to suffer the indignities of slavery. According to the most reliable account, he died in the year 35 AH, during the caliphate of ‘Uthman RA, at Ctesiphon. His search for the truth reminds me of Prophet Ibrahim عليه السلام in his younger days to an extent where he used to see different things and consider them as Allah, till he found the truth.

    Salman Farisi reported Allah’s Messenger ﷺ as saying:

    إِنَّ لِلَّهِ مِائَةَ رَحْمَةٍ فَمِنْهَا رَحْمَةٌ بِهَا يَتَرَاحَمُ الْخَلْقُ بَيْنَهُمْ وَتِسْعَةٌ وَتِسْعُونَ لِيَوْمِ الْقِيَامَةِ

    Verily, there are one hundred (parts of) mercy for Allah, and it is one part of this mercy by virtue of which there is mutual love between the people and ninety-nine reserved for the Day of Resurrection. [Muslim]

    May Allah give us the firmness in belief the Sahaba had and unite us with them and our beloved Prophet Muhammad ﷺ in Jannatul Firdaus. May Allah not make us of those who have transgressed against their Lord and the teachings of his Prophet.