This is the story of the pious, mystic, Faqhi, intellectual and ascetic, Salman the Persian. He grew up in the town of Isfahan in Persia, in the village of Jayyan. His father was the Dihqan (chief) of the village. He was the richest person there and had the biggest house. His father loved him, more than he loved any other. As time went by, his love for Salman became so strong and overpowering that he feared to lose him or have anything happen to him. So he kept him at home, a virtual prisoner, in the same way that young girls were kept.
Salman became devoted to the Magian religion, so much so that he attained the position of custodian of the fire, which they worshipped. His duty was to see that the flames of the fire remained burning and that it did not go out for a single hour, day or night.
Salman’s father had a vast estate, which yielded an abundant supply of crops. He himself looked after the estate and gathered harvest. One day as he went about his duties as Dihqan of the village, he said to Salman, ‘My son, as you see, I am too busy to go out to the estate now. Go and look after matters there for me today.
On the way to the estate, Salman passed a Christian church and heard voices raised in prayer, which attracted his attention. He did not know anything about Christianity or, for that matter, about the followers of any other religion. His father had kept him in the house away from people. When he heard the voices of the Christians, he entered the church to see what they were doing. He was impressed by their manner of praying and felt drawn to their religion. He said, ‘This religion is better than ours. I shall not leave them until the sunsets.’
Salman's inclination to Christianity
Salman asked and was told that the Christian religion originated in Syria. He did not go to his father’s estate that day and at night, he returned home. His father met him and asked where he had been. Salman told him about his meeting with the Christians and how he was impressed by their religion. His father was dismayed and said: ‘My son, their is nothing good in that religion. Your religion and the religion of your forefathers is better.”
‘No, their religion is better than ours,’ he insisted. His father became upset and afraid that Salman would leave their religion. So he kept Salman locked up in the house and shackled his feet. Salman managed to send a message to the Christians, asking them to inform him of any caravans going to Syria. Before long they contacted him with the information he wanted. He broke the fetters and escaped his father’s estate to join the caravan to Syria. When he reached Syria, he asked regarding the leading person in the Christian religion and was directed to the bishop of the church. He went up to him and said: ‘I want to become a Christian and would like to attach myself to your service, learn from you and pray with you.’
The bishop agreed and Salman entered the church in his service. Salman soon found out, however, that the bishop was corrupt. He would order his followers to give money in charity while holding out the promise of blessings to them. When they gave the bishop anything to spend in the way of Allah, he would hoard it for himself and not give anything to the poor or needy. In this way, he amassed a vast quantity of gold. When the bishop died and the Christians gathered to bury him, Salman told them of his corrupt practices and, at their request, showed them where the bishop had kept their donations. When they saw the large jars filled with gold and silver they said, ‘By Allah, we shall not bury him.’ They nailed him on a cross and threw stones at him. Not long after, the local people appointed another man in place of the first. Salman stayed on, in the service of this person who replaced him. The new bishop was an ascetic who longed for the Hereafter and engaged in worship day and night. Salman was devoted to him and spent much of the time in his company.
Before he passed away, Salman said to him, “O so and so Priest! The time has come for you to witness Allah Ta'ala's decision (meaning death). I swear by Allah, I have never adored anyone as much as I have adored you! So what would you instruct me to do? And who can you recommend for me to see?”
He replied, “O son! I do not know of anyone except for a certain man living in the city of Mosul. Go to him, for you will find that he is similar to me.”
A short while after he passed away, Salman arrived at Mosul and found the priest he had been sent to, and indeed, he was very much like the one before him in terms of simplicity and striving. After he passed away, Salman was referred to another priest who in turn sent him to a priest in Ammuriyah (Ameria, near Rome) , before his demise. Salman stayed by this Roman priest, and decided to make a living. Eventually hemanaged to acquire some sheep and cows.
When his death was near, Salman told him of my story and asked him for his advice just as he had asked those before him. He said: “There is nobody following our ways of life I can send you to. Nevertheless, your life seems to coincide with the era of the predestined Prophet who will arise from the Haram. His migration will be to a city full of date trees. Moreover, he will certainly have some distinct features: Between his shoulder blades, there will be the Seal of the Prophethood. He will eat food, provided it is a gift and not a donation. If you can reach that city, then do so, because you are very close to his era.”
Salman's inclination to the Arabs and Islam
A group of Arab leaders from the Kalb tribe passed through Ammuriyah. Salman asked them to take him with them to the land of the Arabs, in return for whatever money he had. They agreed to take him along. When they reached Wadi al-Qura (a place between Syria and Madinah), the Arabs broke their agreement and made him a slave, then sold Salman to a Jew. Salman worked as a servant for him but he eventually sold him to a nephew of his, belonging to the tribe of Banu Qurayzah. This nephew took Salman with him to Yathrib, the city of palm groves, which is how the Christian at Ammuriyah had described it.
At that time the Prophet was inviting his people in Makkah to Islam but Salman did not know of this because of the harsh duties slavery imposed upon him. When the Prophet reached Yathrib after his hijrah from Makkah, Salman was on top of a palm tree doing some work. Salman’s master was sitting under the tree. A nephew of Salman’s master came up and said, ‘May Allah declare war on the Aws and the Khazraj (the two main Arab tribes of Yathrib). By Allah, they are now gathering at Quba to meet a man, who has just today, arrived from Makkah and who claims to be Prophet.’
Salman felt light-headed upon hearing these words and began to shiver so violently that he had to climb down, in fear that he may fall. He quickly swung down from the tree and spoke to his master’s nephew.
‘What did you say? Repeat the news for me.’ Salman’s master grew angry at this breach of protocol and struck him a terrible blow. ‘What does this matter to you’? Go back to what you were doing,’ he shouted.
Hazrat Salman himself narrates: I left the house for a while, making inquiries. I asked a woman I met from the city whose entire family had become Muslim. She showed me the way to the Prophet. When it was evening, I took some food with me and went to the Prophet . The Prophet was in Quba at the time. I said, “Word has reached me that you are a very pious man, and that you have some travellers in your company. I had some charity and thought that you would be most deserving of it. This is it; you may have some to eat.” The Prophet withdrew his own hand, not eating from it, but told his Companions to eat. At the time, I thought, “This is one of the characteristics my Mentor told me of.”
On my way back, I saw that the Prophet was heading to Madinah . Thus, I took the food to him, saying, “I saw that you were not eating from this charity. As a matter of fact, I presented it as a gift and not charity.” This time, the Prophet also ate with his Companions. “That makes two signs,” I thought.
Later on, I approached the Prophet as he was walking behind the corpse in a funeral. I remember that at the time, he was covered in two sheets, and that his Companions were with him. I was trying to steal a look at the Seal on his back, when the Prophet saw me glancing. Realising that I wanted to verify what someone had told me, he let his cloak drop a little, and I managed to see that the Seal between his shoulder blades was exactly the way my Mentor had described it. I threw myself down before the Prophet (sallallahu-alayhi wasallam) kissing (his blessed hands/feet) and started to cry. The Holy Prophet said, “O Salman! Reveal your story.”
So I sat in front of him, relating my story to him and hoping that his Companions could also hear it. When I had finished, the Prophet said, “O Salman! Make a deal with your owner to free you.”
Consequently, my master did agree to free me, but in exchange for the following: ‘Three hundred date trees, as well as one thousand, six hundred silver coins.' Hence, the Sahaba (Radhiallahu anahum) helped by providing around twenty to thirty date plants each, and a tenth of every man's land in accordance to how much he owned. The Prophet (Sallallahu alaihi wasallam) said to me, “Dig a hole for each date-plant. When you are finished, let me know so that I can personally fix all the date-plants into place with my own hands.” Thus, with the help of my friends, I dug holes wherever the date-plants were to be put.
Later on, the Prophet came. We stood by his side holding the plants as he fixed them into the ground. I swear by The Being Who sent the Prophet with the Truth, not a single plant died out.
Nevertheless, I still had the silver to pay. A man came to the Prophet bringing from the mines some gold which was roughly the size of a pigeon's egg. The Prophet said, “O Salman! Take this and pay off whatever you have to.”
I replied, “O Messenger of Allah! How will this be enough for my debt?”
He said, “Allah will surely make it sufficient for your debt.”
As a result to this statement, I swear By Allah, it outweighed the one thousand, six hundred coins. I not only paid off my dues, but what I had left with me was equivalent to what I had given them.
The strict honesty of the Prophet was one of the characteristics that led Salman to believe in him and accept Islam. Salman was released from slavery by the Prophet , who paid his Jewish master a stipulated price, and who himself planted an agreed number of date palms to secure Salman’s manumission. After accepting Islam, Salman would say when asked whose son he was, ‘I am Salman, the son of Islam from the children of Adam.’
Salman's role in Islam
Salman was to play an important role in the struggles of the growing Muslim State. At the battle of Khandaq, he proved to be an innovator in military strategy. It was he who suggested digging a ditch or khandaq around Madinah to keep the Quraysh army at bay. When Abu Sufyan, the leader of the Makkans, saw the ditch, he said, ‘This stratagem has not been employed by the Arabs before.’ Salman participated in all of the other campaigns of the Prophet thereafter. He was also with Saad in the conquest of Iraq. After the grand victory, the Caliph Umar chose him because of his knowledge of the terrain, to select the land upon which Kufa was to be built.
Salman became known as ‘Salman the Good’. Salman was a scholar who lived a rough and ascetic life. He had one cloak, which he wore and slept on. He would not seek the shelter of a roof but stayed under a tree or against a wall. A man once said to him: ‘Shall I not build you a house in which you may live?’ ‘I have no need of a house,’ he replied. The man persisted and said; ‘I know the type of house that would suit you.’ ‘Describe it to me,’ said Salman. ‘I shall build you a house which if you stood up in, the roof would hurt your head and if you were to stretch your legs, the wall would hurt them.’
Later, as a governor of Al-Madain (Ctesiphon) near Baghdad, Salman received a stipend of five thousand dhirhams. This he would distribute as sadaqah. He lived from the work of his own hands. When some people came to Madina and saw him working the palm groves, they said, ‘You are the leader here and your sustenance is guaranteed and yet you do this work?’ ‘I like to eat from the work of my own hands,’ he replied. Salman however was not extreme in his ascetism.
It is related that he visited Abu Dardaa with which the Prophet had joined him in brotherhood. He found Abu Dardaa’s wife in a miserable state and he asked, ‘What is the matter with you.’‘Your brother has no need of anything in this world,’ she replied.
When Abu Dardaa came, he welcomed Salman and gave him food. Salman told him to eat but Abu Dardaa said, ‘I am fasting.’‘I swear to you that I shall not eat until you eat also.’
Salman spent the night there as well. During the night, Abu ad-Dardaa got up but Salman got hold of him and said, ‘O Abu ad-Dardaa, your Lord has a right over you. Your family has a right over you and your body has a right over you. Give to each there due.’
Then in the morning, Abu ad-Dardaa came to the Prophet and narrated the whole story. The Prophet said, "Salman has spoken the truth." (Bukhari)
Salman as a scholar
As a scholar, Salman was noted for his vast knowledge and wisdom. Ali said of him that he was like Luqman the Wise. And Kab al-Ahbar said: ‘Salman is bursting with knowledge and wisdom. He is an ocean that does not dry up.’ Salman had knowledge of both the Christian scripture and the Quraan in addition to his earlier knowledge of the Zoroastrian religion. Salman in fact translated parts of the Quraan into Persian during the lifetime of the Prophet . He was thus the first person to translate the Quraan into a foreign language.
According to the most reliable account, he died in either 31 or 34 A.H, at the age of 250 years, during the caliphate of Uthman, at Ctesiphon.
Abu Hurraira narrates, that the Prophet prayed the following verse: ‘If ye turn back, He will substitute in your stead another people, then they would not be like you.’ (Q47:38) The Sahabah asked the Prophet , ‘O Prophet , who are these people that Allah has mentioned, that he would chose them instead of us? That they will not do as we did?’ The Prophet placed his hand on Salman’s thigh and said, ‘It will be his people. And even if faith is near the Surya (the Pleiads), someone from the Persians would attain it.’
Once Abu Sufyan came to Madinah and passed by Salman, Bilal and Sohayb. The three companions said, ‘Have not the swords of Allah beheaded this accursed man yet?’ Abu Bakr upon hearing this said, ‘Do not say such things of the leader of Quraish.’ After that, Abu Bakr went to the Prophet and told him of this conversation. The Prophet said, ‘Have you annoyed these three? If you have, then you have annoyed Allah.’ Abu Bakr made haste to the three companions and asked them whether they took offence on his words. They told him that they had not and further said, ‘O brother, may Allah forgive you.’ The annoyance of Salman is the annoyance of Allah. Even the likes of Abu Bakr fear to offend him.
During the Battle of the Trench in Khandaq while they were furiously digging the trenches around Medina, everyone began to claim Salman to be of theirs. One of Muhajirun stated "Salman is one of us, Muhajireen", but was challenged by the Muslims of Medina known as the Ansar. A lively argument began between the two groups, each of them claiming that Salman belonged to their group, and not to the other group. Prophet Muhammad arrived on the scene and heard the argument. He was amused by the claims but he soon put an end to their argument by saying: "Salman is neither Muhajir nor Ansar. He is one of us. He is one of the People of the House, ahl al-Bayt." [Bukhari]