Suhayb Ar-Rumi

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 Euphrates River.

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 another.

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 noble Prophet.

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 stratagem.

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 stomach."

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 sword."

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 acquired."

"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 beaming smiles.
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, 76:8)

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 community.

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."


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