Dr. Sadaf Sheikh
Early one morning, Abu Darda (rta) awoke and went straight to his idol, which he kept in the best part of his house. He greeted it, anointed it with the best perfume from his large shop, and decked it with beautiful silk.
When the sun was high in the sky, he left his house for his shop. On that day the streets and alleys of Madinah were crowded with the followers of Muhammad (sa) returning from Badr. With them were several prisoners of war. Abu Darda (rta) asked about the fate of his close friend, Abdullah ibn Rawahah (rta). Everyone in Madinah knew the bond of brotherhood, which existed between the two men from the days of Jahiliyah. When Islam came to the city, lbn Rawahah (rta) embraced it, but Abu Darda (rta) rejected it. This, however, did not rupture the relationship between them.
One day Abdullah ibn Rawahah (rta) went to Abu Darda (rta)’s house, while he was at his shop, and took out an axe, which he had brought with him, and began destroying the idol while saying: “Isn’t everything Batil (falsehood), which is worshipped besides Allah?” When the idol was completely smashed, he left the house.
Abu Darda (rta) returned home and saw his wife sitting at the door of the room, where he kept his idol. She was clearly distressed and narrated the incident to her husband. Abu Darda (rta) looked at the broken idol and was horrified. He was consumed with anger and determined to take revenge.
However, it was not too long before his anger subsided and thoughts of avenging his idol disappeared. Instead, he reflected on what had happened and said to himself: “If there was any good in this idol, he would have defended himself.” He then went straight to Abdullah, and together they went to the Prophet (sa). There he announced his acceptance of Islam.
From that time onwards, Abu Darda (rta) devoted himself completely to Islam. He deeply regretted every moment he had spent as a Mushrik and the opportunities he had lost to do good. He realized how much his friends had learnt about Islam in the preceding two or three years. He made up his mind to expend every effort, day and night, to make up for what he had missed.
Ibadah occupied his days and his nights. His search for knowledge was restless. He spent a lot of time memorizing the Quran and trying to understand the profundity of its message. When trade kept him away from the circles of knowledge, he reduced his involvement without regret. Someone asked him why, and he replied: “I was a merchant before my pledge to the Messenger of Allah (swt) (sa). When I became a Muslim, I wanted to combine trade (Tijarah) and worship (Ibadah), but I did not achieve what I desired. So I abandoned trade and inclined towards Ibadah. By Him in whose hand is the soul of Abu Darda (rta), I want to have a shop near the door of the Masjid, so that I would not miss any Salah with the congregation. Then I shall sell and buy, and make a modest profit every day. Allah, Great and Majestic, has not prohibited trade, but I want to be among those, whom neither trade nor does selling distract from the remembrance of Allah.”
During his caliphate, Umar (rta) appointed Abu Darda (rta) as a governor in Syria. In Damascus, Abu Darda (rta) found people immersed in luxury and soft living. This appalled him. He called the people to the Masjid and spoke to them: “O people of Damascus! You are my brethren in religion, neighbors, who live together, and helpers of one another against enemies. Is it right that I see your learned ones departing (from this world), while the ignorant among you are not learning? I see that you incline towards such things, which Allah has made you answerable for, and you abandon that, which He has commanded you to do.”
“Is it reasonable that I see you gathering and hoarding, what you do not eat, and erecting buildings, in which you do not live? Peoples before you have amassed wealth, made great plans and had high hopes. But it was not long before what they had amassed was destroyed. Their hopes dashed and their houses turned into graves. Such were the people of Ad. O people of Damascus. They filled the earth with possessions and children. Who is there, who will purchase from me today the entire legacy of Ad for two Dirhams?”
The people wept and their sobs could be heard from outside the Masjid. From that day, Abu Darda (rta) began to frequent the meeting places of the people of Damascus.
Once, he passed a group of people crowding around a man, whom they began to insult and beat. He came up to them and asked: “What’s the matter?” “This is a man, who has committed a grave sin,” they replied. “What do you think you would do, if he had fallen into a well?” asked Abu Darda (rta). “Wouldn’t you try to get him out?” “Certainly,” they said. “Don’t insult and beat him. Instead, make him aware of the consequences of what he has done. Then give praise to Allah, Who has preserved you from falling into such a sin.” “Don’t you hate him?” they asked Abu Darda. “I only detest, what he has done, and if he abandons such practice, he is my brother.” The man began to cry and publicly announced his repentance.
While Abu Darda (rta) was still in Syria, the Caliph Umar ibn Al-Khattab came on an inspection tour of the region. One night, he went to visit Abu Darda (rta) at home. There was no light in the house. Abu Darda (rta) welcomed the Caliph and sat him down. The two men conversed in the darkness. As they did so, Umar (rta) felt Abu Darda’s (rta) ‘pillow’ and realized it was an animal’s saddle. He touched the place, where Abu Darda (rta) lay, and knew it was just small pebbles. He also felt the sheet, with which he covered himself, and was astonished to find it so flimsy that it couldn’t possibly protect him from the cold of Damascus.
Umar (rta) asked him: “Shouldn’t I make things more comfortable for you?”
“Do you remember, Umar,” said Abu Darda (rta), “a Hadeeth, which the Prophet (sa) told us?” “What is it?” asked Umar (rta). “Did he not say: ‘Let what is sufficient for anyone of you in this world be like the provisions of a rider?'” “Yes,” said Umar (rta). “And what have we done after this, o Umar?” asked Abu Darda (rta). Both men were moved to tears, no doubt thinking about the vast riches that had come the way of Muslims with the expansion of Islam and their preoccupation with amassing wealth and worldly possessions. With deep sorrow and sadness, both men continued to reflect on this situation until the break of dawn.
This was Abu Darda (rta) – the wise man. When people praised his piety and asked him to implore Allah (swt) for them, he replied in humility: “I can’t swim well and I fear drowning.”