By Imthiaz Ahmed
Suffah means a shaded area or an area covered by some form of roof. There was such a small area in the Prophet’s Mosque designated for the residence and educational activities of the poor, the needy and out of the town guests.
LOCATION OF SUFFAH
Most of the scholars said that it was near the northern wall of the Prophet’s Mosque. As mentioned in Vafa-ul Vafa, Hafiz Zahbi (RTA) said, “Initially Qibla used to be toward north i.e. Al-Aqsa. During second Hijrah it was changed to south i.e. Kaaba. When the change of the Qibla took place a shaded area was constructed near the northern wall of the Prophet’s Mosque. It was called Suffah.” Similarly it is mentioned in Fath-al-Bari, Hafiz Ibn Hajr (RTA) said, “A shaded area was constructed in the Prophet’s Mosque so that out of the town guests may be accommodated there.” If you walk northward from Aisha’s column, the northern wall of the Mosque was near the fifth column. Hence initially Suffah was located near this fifth column. However, the Prophet (SAS) extended the Mosque about ten meters northward during the seventh Hijrah. Hence the Suffah was also moved towards the new northern wall. Note that there is a raised platform in the Mosque that lies on your right hand side if you enter the Mosque from the Bab Jibreel. This platform is on your left hand side if you enter the Mosque from Bab-un-Nisa. Many people erroneously call it Suffah. In fact Sultan Nur-ud-Din Zanki built this platform during 557H for the service and custodial personnel of this Mosque. The area covered by this platform was outside the four walls of the Mosque. However Suffah was inside the mosque. Hence Suffah was definitely not located at the site of the platform for the custodial personnel. Furthermore, the Hujrat of some of the wives of the Prophet (SAS) were around the site of the above mentioned platform. Hence Suffah could not be near this platform due to the privacy purposes. The layout on page (14) indicates the correct location of Suffah.
Activities of Ashab-us-Suffah
As mentioned earlier, the poor, the needy and the immigrants who had no place to go used to reside in Suffah and were known as Ashab-us-Suffah i.e. the residents of Suffah. Main purpose of the lives of these residents was to seek Islamic knowledge and worship Allah (SWT) with full devotion. The Prophet (SAS) used to honor them by providing them his company and impart them Islamic teachings personally. That’s why Suffah is considered a residential university in modern terms. The Prophet (SAS) used to send these trained residents to various lands for the propagation of Islam. As mentioned in Tabri, once the Prophet (SAS) sent forty or seventy of these trained teachers to Bir Maanah in Najd area for the propagation of Islam. The tribe of Bani Saleem treacherously killed all of them. At this occasion Allah (SWT) revealed the following verses (Al-Imran # 169-171).
Think not of those who are killed in the Way of Allah as dead. Nay, they are alive, with their Lord, and they have provision. They rejoice in what Allah has bestowed upon them of His Bounty and rejoice for the sake of those who have not yet joined them, but are left behind that on them no fear shall come, nor shall they grieve. They rejoice in a Grace and a Bounty from Allah, and that Allah will not waste the reward of the believers.
These residents also used to participate in the battles. As mentioned in Bukhari, many of them loved to memorize Quran and Sayings of the Prophet (SAS). The number of these residents was approximately seventy.
Abu Hurrairah (RU) said, “I saw seventy of Ashab-us-Suffah in such a condition that none of them had complete dress for himself. Each one of them had one sheet that he tied up with his neck. Some of them had their sheets reach near their ankles but others’ sheets reached just below their knees. Each of them used to hold the partition of his sheet with his hand lest his body is exposed”. Note that this number of Ashab-us-Suffah was apart from those who became martyr in Bir Maana. Some well-known Ashab-us-Suffah are listed below.
The Ashab-us Suffah were full time involved in teaching/learning process and in service of Islam. Various members of Muslim community of Madina provided meals and other needs of the residents of Suffah. It clearly demonstrated that the community members should support those who have devoted their entire lives for the service of Islam.
As mentioned in Bukhari, Abu Hurrairah (RU) narrated an event that demonstrates the starvation and patience of the residents of Suffah. Abu Hurrairah (RU) said “I swear by Allah (SWT), I used to lie down on my stomach when hunger became unbearable. Some times I used to tie stones on my stomach. One day, when I could not bear any more pangs of hunger, I sat down on a footpath which the Prophet (SAS) and his companions often used.
Abu Baker (RU) happened to pass there. I asked him a question about a verse from the Quran hoping that he will discover my distress and hopefully will try to feed me. Abu Baker (RU) answered my question and walked away from me. Then I saw Omar (RU) on this footpath. I asked him explanation of a verse of the Quran hoping that he will recognize my extreme starvation. He also left me like Abu-Baker (RU).
Then the Prophet (SAS) reached near me. He, at once, noticed paleness on my face and understood my condition. The Prophet (SAS) smiled and then asked me to accompany him to his residence. He invited me inside his house. He noticed a cup of milk in the room. The Prophet (SAS) was informed that this cup of milk was a gift. The Prophet (SAS) used to invite the residents of Suffah to share such gifts with him. He asked me to bring all the residents of Suffah to share this cup of milk. I wondered how this milk would be enough for them. I wished to drink this cup of milk myself. I brought the residents of Suffah to follow the instructions of the Prophet (SAS). The Prophet (SAS) asked me to serve this cup of milk to them one by one. I was always worried that nothing will be left for me. All the residents of Suffah drank the milk to their fill. Now the Prophet (SAS) said to me, ‘Just two of us are left.’ He asked me to sit down and start drinking the milk. I drank very eagerly. He said to me ‘ Drink more.’ I drank more. He instructed me again and again to drink more. I drank more and more till I declared that I am absolutely full now and cannot drink any more. Finally, the Prophet (SAS) took the cup of milk from me. He praised Allah (SWT) and, starting with the name of Allah (SWT), drank the rest of the milk.