I had the opportunity to attend this talk by AlMaghrib Institute as delivered by Shaykh Omar Suleiman a week ago in KL, Alhamdulillah, and I will share my notes here ad verbum and highlight the timeless life lessons which I have taken away from it. Please forgive me if there are any inaccuracies – I’ve tried my best to follow closely what I have written down in the talk.
This is the story of Salman Al-Farisi, aka Salman The Persian, and the monumental challenges faced in his journey towards Allah (swt). (If you’d like to read a brief history of what happened before Salman Al-Farisi came into the picture, scroll down to the end.)
The Amazing Story of Salman The Persian
Tell me your story – of how you accept islam – from a Zoroastrian elite to a beloved companion of our Prophet Muhammad (saw)…
Salman Al-Farisi was born as Rouzbeh son of Marzban. Salman was an extremely obedient slave of Allah, who submits to His Lord easily. Born in the year of somewhere between 568-571, which makes him approximately around the same age as our Prophet Muhammad (saw), he was in charge of keeping the fire lit. Salman grew up watching the fire with his father. They were well-known, affluent Zoroastrians who were the heads and elites of the society at that time. Salman was indoctrinated and very much deep in this understanding. He was born into this religion and culture. He assumed the position of the head priest at a very young age of 16 years old. He was extremely sheltered and was never let out of his house – once, he got lost trying to find his way to his dad’s garden (his dad had asked him to retrieve something over there) when he found himself passing by a Persian church and was impressed with their way of praying. He would observe the way they prostrated and bowed (take note that these gestures were still included in the orthodox Christian teachings) until he lost track of time. Salman then suddenly thought to himself, “Their religion is better than mine.”
And so he came in and asked the priest who was in the church at that point of time, “Where did this religion come from?” He was impressed and curious, and he sincerely wanted to know. The priest answered, “From Sham”.
By the time Salman reached home, his father was worried as he could not find his son for the past few hours. Salman explained where he went and what happened. His father immediately said, “There is nothing good about that religion.” His father got so upset he shackled Salman’s legs to a block of iron. Salman became a prisoner in his own house. There is a lesson we can glean from this. We can see the insecurity in his father in the way he responded without any rational explanation.
Lesson #1: Listen to someone’s explanations before defending your own opinion and degrading the other opinion that’s been presented to you. Take the time to ponder and see if there is any logic in the other person’s opinion. It is unwise to be aggressively defensive by simply putting the other party down. It shows insecurity in the person’s part, and the weakness in his thought. Similarly if a child asks you questions, then do not demonstrate insecurity on your part and give an emotional reaction – it is essential that you take your time to answer, to learn together, and have conversations. Suppression only sparks curiosity, and the desire to know the truth.
Salman found a way out of his home, and that was the last time he ever saw his dad. He was devoted to seeking knowledge and so he set out on his journey to a hostile, Roman territory, Damascus. He went to a church and asked the priest, “Bring me to the most knowledgeable person you know on the religion of Christianity.”
Lesson #2: Like Salman, we can always change the course of our lives when we make the right intention. And if we want to learn a particular field, go to a scholar. As Salman sought for the most knowledgeable person to teach him the religion of Christianity, we should seek for a knowledgeable, reputable scholar who is well-versed in a particular field of Islam. And Salman also taught us that in order to gain knowledge, we have to seek it. Information and knowledge are not the same things. To attain knowledge, we have to put in the effort to learn it from knowledgeable people. Knowledge is sacred. Mentorship is not something we can get from the internet. And Salman did not restrict his learning only to one teacher. He learned extensively from different teachers. He journeyed to different lands to seek the truth from many trustworthy scholars.
Salman was then directed to the high priest. After learning from him for several years, he realized that his teacher was corrupt. The priest was a hypocrite who did not practise what he preached. When the teacher died, Salman declared and told the crowd at the funeral the negative, evil things the teacher had done (basically, the priest kept all the money and valuables that he had urged for the followers to donate all to himself, and Salman proved to the followers his evil by showing them the money they had thought were donated, all in a compartment in the priests’ keeping). They then crucified his body and pelted it with stones.
Lesson #3: Salman cannot see injustice happening in front of his eyes and he even risked his entire life to speak out the truth. He spoke out against the man. We must #staywoke and speak up for the injustices, for the wrongs that we see happening before our eyes, even if it will make us unpopular and even if people will disagree with us. We are not here to please people, we are here to please the Lord of the people.
Lesson #4: We also learned from this incident that an evil scholar, or anyone for that matter, will always have an evil ending. Hence we should always lead our life to please Allah always and pray for a good ending, for the evil, the truth is always bound to surface.
Lesson #5: Never attach our faith to the person. Salman did not judge the whole of Christianity based on his first teacher. He did not devote entirely to one teacher, and he did not put his teacher on a pedestal. There must always be a distinction between the two. Salman knew the difference. Nothing should change our conviction about the deen, and nothing should stop us from learning it. All that we are, are merely vessels. If we mess up, it is the fault of us. Not the religion!
Salman then met with a righteous man who had left the pleasures of this world and only strived for the akhirah. Salman loved him so much like he had never loved anyone before. However, soon, the scholar died. Before his second teacher passed on, Salman asked him who he should go to now to learn more. As advised, Salman journeyed to Mosul, Iraq to seek the next teacher. His next teacher was also as knowledgeable and amazing as his second one. It is true that the righteous souls know who to send you to when it comes to gaining knowledge. After learning from him for several years, he too died. Salman asked him the same question he asked his second teacher on his deathbed. His next destination: Nusaybin, Turkey (Nusaybin was the centre of Nestorian Christianity). Then, the same thing happened. His teacher soon passed away too. His next destination was Ammoria, Turkey. He sought for his teacher and learnt from him well. And again, the same thing happened. His teacher started to die too.
By this time, Salman had already studied extensively. Salman then journeyed back to Damascus, to meet his next teacher. Soon, he too began to die. Before he passed away, he had told Salman about the coming of Prophet Muhammad (saw) in Mecca. He told Salman the 3 criteria which will determine that the person is the said prophet. The 3 criteria are:
- If you give him charity, he will not steal.
- If you give him a gift, he will eat it.
- There is a seal of prophethood visible between his shoulder blades.
Salman continued with his life and he became a shepherd. One day, he encountered Banu Kalb from Mecca. When Salman heard that they were on the way to Mecca, he took the opportunity to follow them there. He journeyed to Wadi al-Qura and along the way, unfortunately, got captured and sold to slavery by the tribe. Imagine how deflated and dispirited he was. Salman was sold as a slave 13 times, over a decade. Imagine ourselves in his shoes – would we be angry with Allah?
Lesson #6: Salman never lost hope in Allah despite being bombarded with hardships after hardships. So never take hardship as a sign that Allah is turning you away! The seemingly endless hardships did not mean Allah is unhappy with beleaguered Salman – it was in fact a test of his faith.
Salman then ended up in the city of Yathrib, now known as Medina. Salman overheard his master talking about a prophet in the city. Salman was hopeful. The opportunity to meet the prophet seemed so close. Salman went to find Prophet Muhammad (saw), and brought him some dates. The Prophet (saw) thanked him and asked his companions to eat the dates, but he never touched it.
Criteria #1 was ticked off the list! (When given charity, he will never steal it)
So Salman came by another day and gave the Prophet (saw) another bunch of dates and this time he told him that it was a gift. And so the Prophet (saw) sat down with his companions and ate the dates this time.
Criteria #2 was ticked of the list! (When given a gift, he will eat it)
Now Salman was wondering how he could get Criteria #3 confirmed and be absolutely convinced that this was the Prophet Muhammad (saw) that his last teacher had told him about.
It was on the day of a burial of the first jenazah in al-Baqi that Salman had chosen to find a way to see the seal of prophethood on his back. The Prophet (saw) realized that Salman was trying his best to see his back and so he lowered the back of his top to let Salman see his seal of prophethood. When Salman saw the distinct mark on the Prophet (saw)’s back, Salman threw himself at the prophet and cried profusely. He cried, and he cried, and he cried.
Prophet Muhammad (saw) turned slowly to Salman and asked,
“What is your story?”
And Salman told him everything. Salman then converted to Islam.
Now imagine you are Salman al-Farisi (ra). Imagine, this is how it will be like when you finally get to see Prophet Muhammad (saw). He too would smile, be concerned, and ask, “What is your story?” What would be better than that? To have our Prophet (saw), the greatest man to ever walk this land, wanting to know our story. See, that’s why he loves you so much – you have made so many sacrifices, you have followed his sunnah closely, despite not being able to see him!
However, the struggle hasn’t ended for Salman – he is still a slave. So the Prophet (saw) asked him, “What’s the price of letting Salman go?” When Salman asked his master, he said an almost impossible criteria – “The price is 300 palm trees and 1316g of gold.” Salman initially thought it useless to tell the Prophet (saw) what his master had told him because of the imponderable ridiculousness of the negotiation, but the Prophet (saw) immediately accepted it and set to work. He (saw) planted the trees himself. All 300 of them. Today, it is known as Salman’s Garden in Medina. The Prophet (saw) also gave him the gold which weighed exactly the amount that was demanded. So Salman was eventually set free.
The Prophet (saw) had freed Salman and mentored him by putting him in the house of Abu Darda, a mufti and a close companion of the Prophet (saw). Having Salman (ra) in his house was an interesting experience, for Salman had actually “schooled” Abu Darda (who used to leave the world entirely to focus on the hereafter) in balancing the dunya and akhirah when Salman saw that Abu Darda’s wife was in a miserable, dishevelled state (her clothes and appearance was unkempt). Salman did not like extremism – in going to extremes in religion. The Prophet (saw) told Abu Darda that Salman was right. And that Abu Darda have to take care of both the dunya and the akhira.
Lesson #7: Salman showed us that the deen does not teach us to be extreme. To completely leave the dunya and focus on the akhirah, or to completely leave the akhirah and focus on the dunya, are both extremes we should not find ourselves in. The key is to be balanced.
The prominence of Salman (ra) amongst the companions were aplenty. He was known as a scholar, a son of Islam, a general, an ascetic, and the father of 2 books (he has memorized the bible and the Qur’an for he has traveled extensively to seek a sea of knowledge from different teachers). Salman was extremely knowledgeable and very much introverted. He had a quiet disposition – he only said what was needed to be said, and used parables when explaining things. One thing we need to realize about Salman (ra) is that he journeyed his entire life ALONE.
Lesson #8: When we want to better ourselves spiritually, learn to do it alone. With no distractions whatsoever. We now live in an age of hyperstimulation; we are too dependent on technology and entertainment. One remedy to combat this addiction is to fast from technology, even if for a day. Reflect. Reflect for a day – de-tech, get away from your gadgets and just reflect alone. With Allah.
Salman (ra) was once asked by a person, “Give me advice.” And he answered him, “You talk too much.”
Lesson #9: Use your tongue wisely, and use it only for goodness. If there is nothing good to be said, be silent.
The only time Salman would not be silent was when he saw injustice, no matter who he was dealing with. One time, he stood up and spoke up from the crowd to complain to Umar (ra) when he took 2 articles of clothings instead of 1. After Umar explained, only then Salman was satisfied with the answer. He was indeed a very honest, brave and righteous individual.
It is also important to note that Salman was not an Arab, but he became a well-respected Muslim who was appointed a leader to the Arabs.
Lesson #10: Islam is not nationalistic or tribalistic! Islam is universal. Some of the great people of Islam, like Bilal ibn Rabah, Sibawayh, etc are not Arabs. Islam is for all of humanity.
From then on, Islam transcended quickly and became a universal religion, which was unheard of in the 7th-8th century.
One day, Salman received a letter from Abu Darda (who was living in al-Quds, Jerusalem) which went, “Come live with me in Jerusalem and retire here.” However, Salman replied him with, “The land does not make one holy. The only thing that matters is one’s deeds.”
Lesson #11: We can practise Islam and be a great Muslim anywhere we are – living or going to a particular place does not make you more holy. It’s an internal change, not external.
Finally, on his deathbed, Salman (ra) was visited by Saad ibn Waqqas, one of our Prophet Muhammad (saw)’s companions. Salman was crying when he visited him. Saad ibn Waqqas asked Salman why was he crying. Salman replied, “I’m crying because the Prophet took an oath – I will not take from this world except what a wayfarer should take for his journey. And I am afraid I might have done too much.”
Salman (ra) finally returned to Allah (swt) in Mada’in.
Salman al-Farisi’s relentless, life-long quest for the truth, his thirst for knowledge, his quiet power, his adamance and incredible willpower to let nothing deter him on his journey, and his unflagging, undeterred, unwavering faith and trust in Allah is astounding – truly a beautiful example for us all.
Lesson #12: Do you think Allah (swt) did not hear Salman’s cries in his darkest times? From being imprisoned in his own home, to his journey to find righteous teachers, to his days of slavery… Do you think Allah had left him alone through his calamities? Allah was with him throughout. Salman never once questioned Allah why he had to go through all the hardships. Look at how Allah has planned the life of Salman (ra) – protecting him and planning something better for him, eventually leading him to Prophet Muhammad (saw) and the ultimate truth – Islam. So never, ever question Allah why you are going through hardships – Allah is planning something better for you so never, ever despair of the mercy of Allah…
My honour is my religion, my worth is dust. – Salman al-Farisi
Truly, Islam elevates and honours us human beings. I cannot even begin to imagine all the things Salman al-Farisi (ra) had to go through in his journey to find the light of Islam. Doesn’t it make us born Muslims realize how easy we have it, and how much more grateful we should be for being honoured with Islam, even without asking for it?
May Allah (swt) make us of those who constantly thirst for more knowledge, who appreciate and fiercely protect our Islam and our Iman, and whose trust and faith in Him, despite the hardships we face, never waver.
A Brief History
What is the longest war in history? The longest war in history was actually the one between the Roman and the Sassanid Empire, which went on for a good 720 years. It was a conflict that has lasted beyond generations. And it is important to keep in mind the global events paralleling the life of our Prophet Muhammad (saw). In the year 610, Prophet Muhammad (saw) received revelation. In the year 613, Damascus (which was under the Romans) fell to the Persians. This was how the crusaders entered Jerusalem; holy sites were desecrated and about 9000 civilians were massacred. The Zoroastrians abandoned Jerusalem totally. When Prophet Muhammad (saw) went to Jerusalem, there was nothing left.
In the year 615, the Christians had some control over some cities while the Muslims migrated to Abysinnia, a Christian land. This was why Muslims had a natural attachment to the Christians, the Romans. The Romans have been vanquished and beaten out of Palestine (Allah revealed Surah ar-Rum) by the Iranians. To the Quraysh, it was ridiculous that the Romans will be defeated. In 619, the Christians lost more territory. In the same year, our Prophet Muhammad (saw) experienced the year of grieving. In 623, Heraclius, the emperor of the Byzantine empire, counter-attacked and reconquered Armenia, and proceeded to become a serious contender. The Muslims also migrated to Medina. In 624, Heraclius conquered Azerbaijan, the Persian territory, and destroyed all the holy sites that existed. The Battle of Badr also took place in the same year where Muslims emerged victorious.
For hundreds of years, there were many versions of Christianity, and the original followers were mostly confined in Jerusalem. Apostle Paul was the one responsible for spreading the Christianity as we know today. His version of Christianity is what’s mostly practised today – based on his visions of Christ. (you can read more about this by googling ‘Council of Nicea’). In the year 325, under Constantine, he wanted to adapt a Christian creed that encouraged pagan rituals that had already existed before. Through the Council of Nicea, the trinity became a mainstream concept. Those who had wanted to mention the oneness of God were excommunicated. The council also prohibited acts of prostration and bowing, and created the Christian calendar. Syriac Christianity insists on reading scripture that is closest to Aramaic, the language of Christ, in order to maintain authenticity. In the year 428, the Council of Nicea was rejected by Nestorius, the archbishop of Constantinople. His followers were relocated to Persia. The type of Christianity in Persia was the Christianity which Salman have come to know. Zoroastriansm (Majusi) was founded in Iran, 3500 years before Christ. They believe in the fire having a positive and negative divine energy, two equal powers, a cosmic dualism, and the fire has to be lit at all times.