It is important to define who a Sahaabi is Linguistically a Sahaabi is ascribed to sahaabah which is the plural of saahib (a companion). Hence anybody that keeps the company of another even if it is for an hour is linguistically referred to as a saahib. Technically, according to Al-Imam AI-Bukhari,
"Whoever kept the company of the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) or saw him from amongst the Muslims is one of his As-haab (Companions)."
Hence we say whoever saw the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam), before his messengership started or saw him after he was raised as a Messenger but did not embrace Islam or embraced Islam but was not sincere ( a hypocrite), he cannot be said to be a Companion. Likewise the one who believed in him but renounced Islam cannot be said to be a Companion. However if such a person returns back to Islam, does he still retain his Companionship? This is a matter of controversy among the scholars. An example of such a person is Al-Ash-'ath bin Qais who apostatized and later returned back to Islam and he partook in many Islamic conquests.
Similarly the one who heard of the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam), before his death and believed in him but was unable to meet him in person is also not considered a Companion. For instance Abu Dhu'ayb al-Hudhali heard about the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam), believed in him and travelled to meet with him. But on getting to Madinah he discovered that the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) had died; he was only able to partake in the janazah prayer on him.
Is the Opinion of a Companion a Shar'i Evidence?
1 .The scholars agreed that if all the Companions had consensus on a matter that it is legally binding on the Muslims to abide by it. This is known as ijmaa' qawli.
2. If the Rightly Guided Caliphs agreed on the ruling of a matter it is also binding on the Muslims to abide by their decisions. The Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), said:
"Follow my Sunnah and the Sunnah of the Rightly Guided Caliphs after me .. "
3. If any of the Rightly Guided Caliphs had an opinion on a matter, as long as it did not contradict a text of the Quran and Sunnah, it would be binding on the Muslims under his rule to abide by it.
However, it would not be binding on the succeeding Caliph as there Were instances where the ijtihad of Umar differed from that of AbuBakr and that of Ali from that of Uthman.
However the practice of Ali (RA) had always been the avoidance of disagreeing with Abubakr's opinion on matters. Al-Imam Abubakr Al-Ashaari reported in his book "The Virtues of Abubakr" with a hasan chain that Ali (RA) said: "I am certainly shy from my Lord in disagreeing with Abubakr.
Al-Imam Ad-Daarimi in his Sunan also reported that whenever Abdullah bn Abbaas was asked a question if he found the answer to it in the Quran he would say it and if it was not in the Quran and there was an answer to it from the Messenger of Allah he would say it and if there was not, then he would use that of Abubakr and Umar and if there was not he would use his own opinion."
4. If a Companion other than the Rightly Guided Caliphs had an opinion that contradicts an opinion of one of the Rightly Guided caliphs, precedence should be given to that of the Rightly Guided Caliph based on the practice of Ibn Abbaas(RA). This is the opinion of the majority of the scholars except for the Zhaahiriyyah [who would not give precedence to the opinion of anybody other than the statement of Allaah and His Messenger].
This article was culled from the publications of Deen Communication Limited