His name in pre-Islamic days was Abdu Amr. When he accepted Islam, the noble Prophet called him Abdur-Rahman -the servant of the Beneficent God.
Abdur-Rahman became a Muslim before the Prophet, upon him be peace, established the nightly prayers at the house of al-Arqam. In fact, it is said that he accepted Islam only two days after Abu Bakr as-Siddiq did.
Abdur-Rahman did not escape the punishment which the early Muslims suffered at the hands of the Quraysh. He bore this punishment with steadfastness. He remained firm. And when they were forced to leave Makka for Abyssinia because of the continuous and unbearable persecution, Abdur-Rahman also went. He returned to Makka when it was rumoured that conditions had improved but, when these rumours proved to he false, he returned to Abyssinia. From Makka once again he migrated to Madina.
Soon after arriving in Madina, the Prophet in his unique manner began pairing off the Muhajirin and the Ansar. This established a firm bond of brotherhood and was meant to strengthen social cohesion and ease the destitution of the Emigrants. Abdur-Rahman was linked by the Prophet with Sa’d ibn ar-Rabi’a. Sa’d in the spirit of generosity and magnanimity with which the Ansar greeted the Muhajirin said to Abdur-Rahman:
My brother! Among the people of Madina I have the most wealth. I have two orchards and I have two wives. See which of the two orchards you like and I shall vacate it for you and which of my two wives is pleasing to you and I will divorce her for you.’
Abdur-Rahman must have been embarrassed and said in reply:
‘May God bless you in your family and your wealth. But just show me where the market is.’
Abdur-Rahman went to the market-place and began trading with whatever little resources he had. He bought and sold and his profits grew rapidly. Soon, he was sufficiently well off to get married. He went to the noble Prophet with the scent of perfume lingering over him.
‘Mahyam, O Abdur-Rahman ! ‘ exclaimed the Prophet
- ‘mahyam’being a word of Yemeni origin which indicates pleasant surprise.
‘I have got married,’ replied Abdur-Rahman.
‘And what did you give your wife as dowry?
‘The weight of a nuwat in gold.’
‘You must have a wedding feast even if it is with a single sheep. And may God bless you in your wealth,’ said the Prophet with obvious pleasure and encouragement.
Thereafter, Abdur-Rahman grew so accustomed to business success that he said that if he lifted a stone he expected to find gold or silver under it!
Abdur-Rahman distinguished himself in both the battles of Badr and Uhud. At Uhud, he remained firm throughout and suffered more than twenty wounds, some of them deep and severe. Even so, his physical jihad was matched by his jihad with his wealth.
Once, the Prophet, may God bless him and grant him peace, was preparing to despatch an expeditionary force. He summoned his companions and said:
‘Give charity for I want to despatch an expedition.’
Abdur-Rahman went to his house and quickly returned.
‘O Messenger of God,’ he said, ‘I have four thousand dinars. I offer two thousand as a gift to my Lord and two thousand I leave for my family.’
When the Prophet decided to send an expedition to distant Tabuk, his need for finance and material was matched by his need, for men for the Byzantine forces were a numerous and well-equipped enemy. That year in Madina was one of drought and hardship. The journey to Tabuk was long, more than a thousand kilometres. Provisions were in short supply. Transport was at a premium so much so that a group of Muslims came to the Prophet pleading to go with him, but he had to turn them away because he could find no transport for them.
These men were sad and dejected and came to be known as ‘the Weep
ers’ and the army itself was called the ‘Army of Hardship’. The Prophet called his companions to give generously for the war effort and assured them they would be rewarded. The Muslims’ response to the Prophet’s call was immediate and generous. In the forefront of those who responded was Abdur-Rahman lbn Awf He donated two hundred ruqiyya of gold whereupon Umar lbn al-Khattab said to the Prophet:
‘I have seen Abdur-Rahman committing wrong. He has not left anything for his family.’
‘Have you left anything for your family, Abdur-Rahman?’ asked the Prophet.
‘Yes,’ replied Abdur-Rahman. I have left for them more than what I give and better.’
‘How much?’ enquired the Prophet.
‘What God and His Messenger have promised of sustenance, goodness and reward,’ replied Abdur-Rahman.
The Muslim army eventually left for Tabuk. There. Abdurrahman was blessed with an honour which was not conferred on anyone before. The time of prayer came and the Prophet, upon him be peace, was not there at the time. The Muslims chose Abdurrahman as their imam. The first rakah of the prayer was almost complete when the Prophet, may God bless him and grant him peace, joined the worshippers and performed the prayer behind Abdur-Rahman Ibn Awf. Could there he a greater honour conferred on anyone than to have been the imam of the most honoured of God’s creation, the imam of the Prophets, the ham of Muhammad, the Messenger of God!
When the Prophet, peace be on him, passed away Abdurrahman took on the responsibility of looking after the needs of his family. He would go with them wherever they wanted to and he even performed Hajj with them to ensure that all their needs were met. This is a sign of the trust which he enjoyed on the part of the Prophet’s family.
Abdur-Rahman’s support for the Muslims, and the Prophet’s wives in particular, was well-known. Once, he sold a piece of land for forty thousand dinars and he distributed the entire amount among the Banu Zahra (the relatives of the Prophet’s mother Amina), the poor among the Muslims and the Prophet’s wives. When A’isha, may God be pleased with her, received some of this money she asked:
‘Who has sent this money?’ and was told it was Abdurrahman, whereupon she said: ‘The Messenger of God, may God bless him and grant him peace, said: ‘No one will feel compassion towards you after I die except the sabirin, the patient and resolute ones.
The prayer of the noble Prophet that God should bestow blessings on the wealth of Abdur-Rahman appeared to be with Abdur-Rahman throughout his life. He became the richest man among the companions of the Prophet. His business transactions were invariably successful and his wealth continued to grow. His trading caravans to and from Madina grew larger and larger bringing to the people of Madina wheat, flour, butter, cloths, utensils, perfume and whatever else was needed and exporting whatever surplus produce they had.
One day, a loud rumbling sound was heard coming from beyond the boundaries of Madina, normally a calm and peaceful city. The rumbling sound gradually increased in volume. In addition, clouds of dust and sand were stirred up and blown in the wind. The people of Madina soon realised that a mighty caravan was entering the city. They stood in amazement as seven hundred camels laden with goods moved into the city and crowded the streets. There was much shouting and excitement as people called to one another to come out and witness the sight and see what goods and sustenance the caravan had brought.
A’isha, may God be pleased with her, heard the commotion and asked: What is this that’s happening in Madina?’
‘It is the caravan of Abdur-Rahman ibn Awf which has come from Syria bearing his merchandise,’ she was told.
A caravan making all this commotion?’ she asked in disbelief.
Yes, O Mother of the Faithful’. There are seven hundred camels.’
A’isha shook her head and gazed in the distance as if she was trying to recall some scene or utterance of the past and then she said: I have heard the Messenger of God, may God bless him and grant him peace, say: ‘I have seen Abdur-Rahman ibn Awf entering Paradise crawling.’
Why crawling? Why should he not enter Paradise leaping and at a quick pace with the early companions of the Prophet?
Some friends of his related to Abdur-Rahman the hadith which A’isha had mentioned. He remembered that he had heard the hadith more than once from the Prophet and he hurried to the house of A’isha and said to her:
‘Yaa Amma! Have you heard that from the Messenger God, may God bless him and grant him peace?’
‘Yes,’ she replied.
‘You have reminded me of a hadith which I have never forgotten.’ He was so overjoyed and added: ‘If I could, I would certainly like to enter Paradise standing. I swear to you, yaa Amma, that this entire caravan with all its merchandise, I will give for the sake of God.’
And so he did. In a great festival of charity and righteousness, he distributed all that the massive caravan had brought to the people of Madina and surrounding areas.
This is just one incident which showed what type of man Abdur-Rahman was. He earned much wealth, but he never remained attached to it for its own sake and he did not allow it to corrupt him.
Abdur-Rahman’s generosity did not stop there. He continued giving, secretly and openly. Some of the figures mentioned are truly astounding: forty thousand dirhams of silver, forty thousand dinars of gold, two hundred awqiyya of gold, five hundred horses to mujahidin setting out in the path of God and one thousand five hundred camels to another group of fighters, four hundred dinars of gold to the survivors of Badr and a large legacy to the ‘Mothers of the Faithful’ and the catalogue goes on. On account of this fabulous generosity, A’isha said:
‘May God allow him to drink from the water of Salsabil (a spring in Paradise).’
All this wealth did not corrupt Abdur-Rahman and did not change him. When he was among his workers and assistants, people could not distinguish him from them. One day, food was brought to him with which to end a fast. He looked at the food and said:
‘Mus’ab ibn Umayr has been killed. He was better than me. We did not find anything of his to shroud him with except what covered his head but left his legs uncovered... Then God endowed us with the bounties of the world... I really fear that our reward has been bestowed on us early (in this world).’ He began to cry and sob and could not eat.
May Abdur-Rahman ibn Awf be granted felicity among ‘those who spend their substance in the cause of God and follow up not their gifts with reminders of their generosity or with injury. For them, their reward is with their Lord, on them shall he no fear nor shall they grieve’ (al-Ba qara, 2.262).