About 20 years before the start of the
Prophet's mission, that is about the middle of the sixth
century CE, an Arab named Sinan Ibn Malik governed the
city of al-Uballah on behalf of the Persian emperor. The
city, which is now part of Basrah, lay on the banks of the
Sinan lived in a luxurious palace. He had many children
and was particularly fond of one of them who was then
barely five years old, named Suhayb. He was active and
alert and gave much pleasure to his father.
One day Suhayb's mother took him and some members of her
household to a village called ath-Thani for a picnic. What
was to be a relaxing and enjoyable day turned out to be a
terrifying experience that was to change the course of
young Suhayb's life forever.
That day, the village of ath-Thani was attacked by a
raiding party of Byzantine soldiers. The guards
accompanying the picnic party were overwhelmed and killed.
All possessions were seized and a large number of persons
were taken prisoners. Among these was Suhayb Ibn Sinan.
Suhayb was taken to one of the slave markets of the
Byzantine Empire, the capital of which was Constantinople.
Thereafter he passed from the hands of one slave master to
For about 20 years he stayed in Byzantine lands. This gave
him the opportunity to get a rare knowledge and
understanding of the Byzantine Empire and society. In the
palaces of the aristocracy, he saw with his own eyes the
injustices and the corruption of Byzantine life. He tested
that society and later would say to himself: "A
society like this can only be purified by a deluge."
Suhayb grew up speaking Greek. He practically forgot
Arabic. He longed for the day when he would be free again
to join his people. At the first opportunity, Suhayb
escaped from bondage and headed straight for Makkah. There
people called him Suhayb "Ar-Rumi" or "the
Byzantine" because of his peculiarly heavy speech and
his blond hair. Later, he engaged in trade and prospered
and became quite rich.
One day he returned to Makkah from one of his trading
journeys. He was told that Muhammad (SAWS) had begun
calling people to believe in Allah alone, commanding them
to be just and to do good deeds and prohibiting them from
shameful and reprehensible deeds. He immediately enquired
who Muhammad was and where he stayed. He was told:
"(He stays) in the house of al-Arqam Ibn Abi
al-Arqam. Be careful however that no one of the tribe of
Quraysh sees you. If they see you they would do (the most
terrible things to you)"
Suhayb went cautiously to the house of al-Arqam. At the
door he found 'Ammar Ibn Yasir and entered together and
listened to what Muhammad was saying. They were both
readily convinced of the truth of his message.
The light of faith entered their hearts. At this meeting,
they pledged fealty to the Prophet (SAWS), declaring that
there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of
Allah. They spent the entire day in the company of the
Then the familiar pattern of events followed. The
idolatrous Quraysh learnt about Suhayb's acceptance of
Islam and began harassing and persecuting him. Suhayb bore
his share of the persecution in the same way as Bilal,
'Ammar and his mother Sumayyah. The punishment was inhuman
and severe but Suhayb bore it all with a patient and
courageous heart because he knew that the path to Jannah
is paved with thorns and difficulties.
When the Prophet (SAWS) eventually gave permission for his
followers to migrate to Madinah, Suhayb resolved to go in
the company of the Prophet (SAWS) and Abu Bakr. But
Quraysh, however, foiled his plans.
After the departure of the Prophet (SAWS) and Abu Bakr,
Suhayb continued to bide his time, waiting for an
opportunity to join them. The eyes of his guards were ever
alert and watchful. The only way out was to resort to a
One cold night, Suhayb pretended he had some stomach
problems and went out repeatedly as if responding to calls
of nature. His captors said one to another: "Don't
worry. Al-Lat and al-'Uzza are keeping him busy with his
They became relaxed and sleep got the better of them.
Suhayb quietly slipped out as if he was going to the
toilet. He armed himself and headed to Madinah. When his
captors awoke, they realised that Suhayb was gone. They
got horses ready and set out in hot pursuit and eventually
caught up with him. Seeing them approach. Suhayb clambered
up a hill. Holding his bow and arrow at the ready, he
shouted: "Men of Quraysh! You know, by God, by God,
that I am one of the best archers and my aim is unerring.
By God, if you come near me, with each arrow I have, I
shall kill one of you. Then I shall strike with my
One of them responded: "By God, we shall not let you
escape from us with your life and money. You came to
Makkah weak and poor and you have acquired what you have
"What would you say if I leave you my wealth?"
interrupted Suhayb. "Would you get out of my
way?" "Yes." they agreed. Suhayb described
the place in his house in Makkah where he had left the
money, and they allowed him to go.
He set off as quickly as he could for Madinah cherishing
the prospect of being with the Prophet and of having the
freedom to worship God in peace. When Suhayb reached Quba,
just outside Madinah where the Prophet (SAWS) alighted
after his Hijrah (emigration), the Prophet (SAWS) saw him
approaching. He was overjoyed and greeted Suhayb with
Allah Says, "And there is a type of man who gives his
life to earn the pleasure of God. And God is full of
kindness to His servants." (The Holy Qur'an, 2:207).
The Prophet (SAWS) loved Suhayb a great deal. He was
commended by the Prophet (SAWS) and described as preceding
the Byzantines to Islam. In addition to his piety and
sobriety, Suhayb was also light-hearted at times and had a
good sense of humour. Suhayb was also known for his
generosity. He was a good example of the Qur'anic verse:
"And they give food, for the love of God, to the
needy, the orphan and the captive."(Holy Qur'an,
He was selected by 'Umar Ibn al-Khattab to lead the
Muslims in the period between his death and the choosing
of his successor.
In the period when there was no Khalifah, Suhayb was given
the responsibility and the honour of leading the Salat and
of being, in other words, the head of the Muslim
Once during the time of the Prophet, a hypocrite named
Qays Ibn Mutatiyah tried to pour scorn and disgrace on
sections of the community. Qays had come upon a study
circle (halqah) in which were Salman al-Farsi (the
Persian), Suhayb Ar-Rumi (the Byzantine) and Bilal
al-Habashi (the Abyssinian), may God be pleased with them,
and remarked: "The Aws an the Khazraj have stood up
in defence of this man (Muhammad). And what are these
people doing with him?"
Mu'adh was furious and informed the Prophet (SAWS) of what
Qays had said. The Prophet (SAWS) was very angry. He
entered the Mosque and the Call to Prayer was given. He
then stood up, praised and glorified God and said:
"Your Lord is One. Your ancestor is one. Your
religion is one. Take heed! Arabism is not conferred on
you through your mother or father. It is through the
tongue (i.e. the language of Arabic), so whoever speaks
Arabic, he is an Arab."