“O Abu Mundhir! Which verse of the Book of Allah is the greatest?” asked the Messenger of Allah (sa). “Allah and His Messenger know best,” came the reply. The Prophet (sa) repeated the question and Abu Mundhir in response recited Ayat Al-Kursi or the Verse of the Throne:
“Allah! La ilaha illa Huwa (none has the right to be worshipped but He), Al-Hayyul-Qayyuum (the Ever Living, the One Who sustains and protects all that exists). Neither slumber no sleep overtakes Him. To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth. (…)” (Al-Baqarah 2:255)
The Prophet (sa) beamed and smote his chest with his right hand in approval, and said to Abu Mundhir: “May knowledge delight and benefit you, Abu Mundhir.”
This Abu Mundhir, whom the Prophet (sa) congratulated on the knowledge and understanding which Allah had bestowed on him, was Ubayy Ibn Kab (rta) – one of his distinguished companions and a person of high esteem in the early Muslim community.
Ubayy (rta) was one of the Ansar and belonged to the Khazraj tribe. He was one of the first persons of Yathrib to accept Islam. He pledged allegiance to the Prophet (sa) at Al-Aqabah before the Hijrah. He participated in the Battle of Badr and other engagements thereafter.
Ubayy (rta) was one of the select few, who committed the Quranic revelations to writing and had a Mus-haf (transcript) of his own. He was the Prophet’s (sa) scribe. At the Prophet’s (sa) demise, he was one of the twenty five or so, who knew the Quran by heart. His recitation was so beautiful and his understanding so profound that the Prophet (sa) encouraged his companions to learn the Quran from him. Later, when Umar (rta) was busy with financial matter of the state, he told Muslims: “O, people! Whoever wants to ask about the Quran, let him go to Ubayy Ibn Kab.”
Ubayy (rta) enjoyed a special honour with regard to the Quran. One day, the Prophet (sa) said: “O, Ubayy Ibn Kab! I have been commanded to show the Quran to you.”
Ubayy (rta) was elated. He knew, of course, that the Prophet (sa) received commands only from Allah (swt). Unable to control his excitement, he asked: “O Messenger of Allah (sa) (…) Have I been mentioned to you by name?” “Yes,” replied the Prophet (sa), “by your own name and by your genealogy (Nasab) in the highest heavens.”
Any Muslim, whose name had been conveyed to the heart of the Prophet (sa) in this manner, must certainly have been of great ability and tremendously high stature.
Throughout the years of his association with the Prophet (sa), Ubayy (rta) derived the maximum benefit from his sweet and noble personality and teachings. Ubayy (rta) related that the Prophet (sa) once asked him: “Shall I not teach you a Surah the like of which has not been revealed in the Tawrah, nor in the Injil, nor in the Zabur, nor in the Quran?” ”Certainly,” replied Ubayy (rta). “I hope you would not leave through that door, until you know what it is,” said the Prophet (sa), obviously prolonging the suspense for Ubayy (rta). Ubayy (rta) continues: “He stood up and I stood up with him. With my hand in his, he started to speak. I tried to delay him, fearing that he would leave before letting me know what the Surah was. When he reached the door, I asked: “O Messenger of Allah! The Surah which you promised to tell me…” He replied: “What do you recite when you stand for Salat?” So, I recited for him Fatihatu-l-Kitab (the Opening Chapter of the Quran) and he said: “(That’s) it! (That’s) it! They are the seven oft-repeated verses, of which Allah Almighty has said: ‘We have given you the seven oft-repeated verses and the Mighty Quran.’”
Ubayy’s (rta) devotion to the Quran was uncompromising. Once, he recited part of a verse which the Khalifah Umar (rta) apparently could not remember, and he said to Ubayy (rta): “You have lied.” To this Ubayy (rta) retorted: “Rather, you have lied.”
A person, who heard the exchange, was astounded and said to Ubayy (rta): “Do you call the Amir Al-Muminin a liar?” “I have greater honour and respect for the Amir Al-Muminin than you,” responded Ubayy (rta), “but he has erred in verifying the Book of Allah, and I shall not say that the Amir Al-Muminin is correct, when he has made an error concerning the Book of Allah.” “Ubayy is right,” concluded Umar (rta).
Ubayy (rta) gave an example regarding the importance of the Quran, when a man came to him and said: “Advise me.” He replied: “Take the Book of Allah as (your) leader (Imam). Be satisfied with it as (your) judge and ruler. It is what the Prophet (sa) has bequeathed to you. (It is your) intercessor with Allah (swt) and should be obeyed.”
After the demise of the Prophet (sa), Ubayy (rta) remained strong in his attachment to Islam and his commitment to the Quran and the Sunnah. He was constant in his Ibaddah and would often be found in the mosque at night after the Isha engaged in worship or in teaching. Once he was sitting in the mosque after Salah with a group of Muslims making supplication. Umar (rta) came in, sat with them and asked each to recite a Dua. They all did, until finally Ubayy’s (rta) turn came. He was sitting next to Umar (rta). He felt somewhat over-awed and became flustered. Umar (rta) prompted him and suggested that he say: “Allahumma ighfir lana. Allahumma irhamna. (O Lord, forgive us. O Lord, have mercy on us).”
Taqwah remained the guiding force in Ubayy’s (rta) life. He lived simply and did not allow the world to corrupt or deceive him. He had a good grasp of reality and knew that however a person lived and whatever comforts and luxuries he enjoyed, these would all fade away and his good deeds would be his only credit. He was always a sort of warner to Muslims, reminding them of the times of the Prophet (sa), of Muslims’ devotion to Islam, of their simplicity and spirit of sacrifice. Many people came to him seeking knowledge and advice. To one such person he said: “The believer has four characteristics. If he is afflicted by any misfortune, he remains patient and steadfast. If he is given anything, he is grateful. If he speaks, he speaks the truth. If he passes a judgment on any issue, he is just.”
Umar (rta) gave him the title of ‘Sayyid of the Muslims’. He was part of the consultative group (Mushawarah) to which Caliph Abu Bakr (rta) referred many problems. This group was composed of men of good sense and judgment (Ahl Ar-Rav) and men who knew the law (Ahl Al-Fiqh) from among the Muhajirin and Ansar. It included Umar (rta), Uthman (rta), Ali (rta), Abdur Rahman Ibn Awf (rta), MuAdh Ibn Jabal (rta), Ubayy Ibn Kab (rta) and Zayd Ibn Harithah (rta). Later, when Umar (rta) became Caliph, he consulted the same group. Specifically for Fatwahs (legal judgments) he would refer to Uthman (rta), Ubayy (rta) and Zayd Ibn Thabit (rta).