Growing up Muslim, we are reminded about the inspiring stories of the great heroes of Islam – Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, Uthman, ‘Ali, Khadijah, ‘Aisha, Fatima (may God be pleased with them) – and the other well-known family members and companions of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. Whether from our elders at home or from the Imam at the mosque, we are constantly encouraged to emulate these great people of God.
As a result, many strive to this greatness and receive recognition for their efforts. We know the names of those today whom God has given great wealth and who then in turn give generously to support our institutions, those whom God has given great intellect and eloquence who then in turn guide the masses and defend the religion, and those whom God has given both tremendous courage and raised platforms to speak out against injustice.
But it is not only the famous who are gifted an elevated status. We often forget there were over 100,000 companions of the Prophet ﷺ – all of whom have an incredible rank merely because they kept the Prophet’s blessed company, if only for a moment. There were many hidden ones, some whose stories have come to us, and some, undoubtedly, whom we will never know. And, to this day there are people amongst us who are beloved to God but who live in obscurity. They have no social media presence – no Facebook following, no YouTube channel and no PR team. It could be the random person at the mosque who attends almost every prayer in congregation, but for some reason no one knows their name. It could be that person who never comes around the community because they stay home to serve their aging parents. It could be that person whom we never meet because they work two or three jobs to simply meet the basic needs of not only their immediately family but also extended family overseas. We don’t know where Allah will place His beloved servants.
The books of prophetic biography relate to us the story of one such person during the time of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ who made tremendous sacrifices for Islam but whose name is not mentioned amongst the great Companions.
This story is of a man whose father had passed away, leaving no wealth behind. He was raised by his wealthy uncle, who also made him wealthy. When this young man learned of the message of the Prophet ﷺ around the time of the hijrah, he wished to also become a Muslim. His uncle was a staunch idol worshipper, however, and he prevented his nephew from following the Prophet ﷺ to Madinah. Some years later when the Prophet ﷺ returned to Madinah after the conquest of Makkah, the nephew said to his uncle, “I have waited for you to become Muslim, but I still do not see you nurture any desire in your heart to follow this man. The least you can do is allow me to become Muslim.” His uncle threatened him, “If you begin to follow Muhammad in any way, I will take everything I have given you, even the clothes on your back.” The man replied to his uncle, “By Allah, I have begun to follow Muhammad. I have already stopped worshipping stones and wood, so you can go ahead and take whatever you wish from my hands.” So, his uncle took away everything from him, including the very clothes on his back.
The man returned to his mother, who divided a thick rug into two pieces. He used half to cover his upper body and the other half to cover his lower body. With nothing but two sheets to cover himself, he secretly left his tribe in the dark of the night and made the long and tiring journey to Madinah to meet the Messenger of God (upon whom be peace).
He arrived tired and hungry, his hands and feet bloodied and scarred from the long journey. When he arrived within visible distance of Madinah, unable to contain his excitement, he stopped and thought how he could appear in the presence of the Prophet ﷺ with nothing but two coarse cloths haphazardly strung around himself for clothes. He had no choice, however, so he kept walking, and this young, soon-to-be-companion of the Prophet ﷺ made it to the masjid, where he slept until dawn. After the Prophet led his companions in the dawn prayer, the Prophet noticed the man and welcomed him with compassion into the community. After learning this man’s name was Abdul-Uzza, the Prophet told him, “You are Abdullah Dhul Bijadayn (the one with two coarse cloths)! Remain close to me and visit me frequently.” Dhul Bijadayn joined the people of Suffa, where he began to learn and memorize the Qu’ran.
Dhul Bijadayn had an intense love of the Messenger of God, with a burning desire to sacrifice his very life for God’s cause. He adamantly requested that the Messenger of God ﷺ pray that he be martyred prior to setting out for the expedition of Tabuk. The Messenger of God ﷺ prayed, “O my Lord! Make his blood inviolable to those who reject faith!”
“That is not what I had wanted, O Messenger of God”, said Dhul Bijadayn, to which the Prophet ﷺ replied, “If you go out to fight in the way of Allah, contract a fever and die, you are a martyr! If your mount throws you off, you fall and break your neck, you are a martyr! Not to worry! Whichever one of these it may be, it shall suffice for you to be a martyr!”
Although he was not killed in battle, Dhul Bijadayn fell ill and was granted martyrdom in the manner foretold by the Messenger of Allah ﷺ. As the army was preparing to head back one night during the expedition of Tabuk, Abdullah ibn Masud (may God be pleased with him) recounts, in awe, the scene he witnessed:
“In the dark of night, I saw a moving flame at the corner of the field where the warriors had set up their tents. I got up and followed it. Lo and behold; it turned out to be the Messenger of Allah ﷺ, Abu Bakr, and ‘Umar (may God be pleased with them both) carrying the body of Abdullah Dhul-Bijadayn (may God be pleased with him). They came to a spot, where they stopped and dug a grave. The Messenger of Allah ﷺ then went down into the grave, as Abu Bakr and ‘Umar (may God be pleased with them both) were preparing to pass the body to him.
‘Bring your brother closer to me,’ said the Messenger of Allah ﷺ. They did. Taking hold of his body, the Messenger of Allah ﷺ then placed him with his own hands in the grave, after which he stood and prayed, ‘O my Lord! I was pleased with him; I always was…may You be pleased with him too!’”
Abdullah ibn Masud (may God be pleased with him) continues:
“I was very much moved by what I saw. I was envious of Dhul-Bijadayn. I thought to myself there and then, ‘How I wish that grave had been my own!’”1
Imagine, someone who is known simply as the one who possessed two coarse cloths, buried by the blessed hands of the Messenger of God himself (upon whom be peace) and envied by one of the greatest companions. Dhul Bijadayn was someone who sought to please God, and God raised his rank through this intimate final farewell from the Prophet of God (upon whom be peace). He didn’t need to receive recognition from the masses because God recognizes and raises those who love God and those who are beloved to God. After losing everything to seek the pleasure of God, he truly had not lost anything. As Ibn ʿAṭā Allāh al-Iskandarī says, “What has he found who has lost [God]? And what has he lost who has found [God]?”
1. This story is narrated by Ibn Hisham, Al-Waqidi and others.
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