When it comes to examples of manliness from the lives of the sahabah, Abdul Rahman ibn Awf stands out from the crowd. He converted to Islam at its very dawn; at one point, he constituted one of eight Muslim men in the entire world. He endured the trials and tribulation of Makkah, losing everything and migrating twice, once to Abyssinia and once to Madinah. In Madinah, starting with only the clothes on his back, he refused financial aid and, through the blessings of Allah ﷻ, built himself into the wealthiest man in the city. Adjusting for inflation and buying power, some people estimate that Abdul Rahman ibn Awf left a net worth of $160 million when he passed away. In addition to his wealth, he left behind a legacy of generosity that continues to inspire Muslims till this day. One of the ten promised paradise, Abdul Rahman ibn Awf’s life is a brilliant case study of what it means to be an Ideal Muslim Man.
A man must be willing to sacrifice his comforts and start over in a new place
In Makkah, Abdul Rahman ibn Awf was well established as a merchant. He had connections with other merchants like Abu Bakr (ra) and Umayyah ibn Khalaf (the infamous owner of Bilal). He belonged to the Banu Zuhra, a respected clan of the Quraish, the same clan as the mother of the Prophet ﷺ. In short, he was comfortable and could have led a life of ease and comfort if he wanted.
But comfort and ease in this life are not the goals of Muslim men.
In Makkah, the ability to practice Islam was restricted and furthermore, the nascent Muslim community needed to establish a presence elsewhere so that Islam was not confined to Makkah. When the Prophet ﷺ gave instructions to some sahabah to migrate to Abysinnia to practice Islam and form a Muslim minority community abroad, Abdul Rahman ibn Awf jumped at the chance. He was ready to give up his comfortable surroundings to pursue something that was more important for him—the akhirah.
After some rumors about the Quraysh entering into Islam, Abdul Rahman ibn Awf returned to Makkah along with some other Muslims. Later, he made the hijrah to Madinah, adding his name to the elite group of sahabah known as Ashab al Hijratayn, the people of two hijras.
In both cases, Abdul Rahman ibn Awf gave up what he had and started over from scratch.
Next time you’re in a situation where you’re weighing comfort and ease on one hand against something that is better for you in this world and next in the other hand, remember the example of Abdul Rahman ibn Awf. Comfort and ease do not create great men.
A man does not take handouts, he relies on Allah ﷻ and then himself.
When Abdul Rahman ibn Awf made hijrah to Madinah, the Prophet ﷺ partnered him with Sa’ad ibn al-Rabi. In accordance with the legendary generosity of the Ansar, Sa’ad offered to split his entire wealth in half with Abdul Rahman. Instead, Abdul Rahman gave his famous answer, “May Allah ﷻ bless you in your family and your wealth. I have no need of this. Just direct me to the marketplace.” And he went to the market and began buying and selling, leveraging what little he had to get more.
Very shortly after this, he ran into the Prophet ﷺ who was surprised to detect a whiff of female perfume on Abdul Rahman’s clothes. This could only mean one thing but knowing that Abdul Rahman had just migrated and would likely still be poor, the Prophet ﷺ exclaimed in surprise, “What is this oh Abdul Rahman?” Abdul Rahman smiled, “I’ve gotten married to an Ansari woman ya Rasulallah.” “And what on earth did you give her for her mahr?” “Gold equivalent to a date stone.” The Prophet ﷺ beamed at his companion and then told him that he should prepare a feast, a walima, to publicize his marriage. And so within a few days of arriving in Madinah, Abdul Rahman ibn Awf invited friends and family to his walima.
Through the blessings of Allah ﷻ and then his strong work ethic and intelligence in the market, Abdul Rahman ibn Awf had accumulated, in just a short time, enough money to not only support himself, but support a wife and give her gold as a present.
Remember the story of Abdul Rahman ibn Awf the next time someone offers you a handout. The Prophet ﷺ said, “The upper hand is better than the lower hand.” It is far better to deprive yourself of some comfort than to stretch forth your hand in front of another person. If you’re short of money, go out and work, relying on Allah ﷻ to bless you in the money you earn. It was said of Abdul Rahman ibn Awf that he was always doing something. If he wasn’t praying in the masjid or fighting alongside the Prophet, he was in the marketplace, earning a livelihood.
A man does not become so engrossed with money that he loses sight of his values.
Despite being the wealthiest man of the sahabah, Abdul Rahman ibn Awf always kept his priorities in order. He used to say, “تركنا نصف الحلال مخافة الربا “ “I left half of what is halal, afraid I would accidentally engage in riba.” For Abdul Rahman, making a large profit paled in comparison to accepting a penny of haram money. When he passed away and left inheritance to be distributed across Madinah, wealthy sahabah such as ‘Uthman ibn Affan eagerly received the money. When people questioned their desire to receive the money, when they themselves were well off, ‘Uthman ibn Affan replied that the money of Abdul Rahman ibn Awf was guaranteed to be pure and halaal and that whatever he bought with that money would also be pure and halal. The desire for money never trumped Abdul Rahman ibn Awf’s desire for Allah ﷻ’s pleasure.
Allah ﷻ has made most things in the dunya halal for us. In the pursuit of those things, it’s important to never lose sight of our ultimate goal, the hereafter. Whether it’s the pursuit of money or education or fame or something else, it should always take second stage to our pursuit of Allah ﷻ’s pleasure. Next time you’re tempted to cross the line from halal into haram, ask yourself what your values are.
A man judges other men on their character, not on their social status or wealth
Once, Abdul Rahman ibn Awf was fasting and time came for iftar. As he began to break his iftar, the people saw tears profusely flowing form his face and he could not eat. He said, “Musa’b ibn Umair was martyred and he was better than me. He was wrapped in a garment so that if it covered his head, his feet showed, and if it covered his feet, his head showed. Hamza was martyred, and he was better than me. They found no funeral shroud to wrap him in other than clothes he was wearing. Now the world has been expanded for us, and we have been given much. I’m afraid our blessings are hastened [i..e, given in this world and not the next].” Despite being one of the ten guaranteed Paradise, despite being a veteran of Badr and a participant of Hudaybiyyah, despite being one of the ashab al hijratan, Abdul Rahman ibn Awf was never arrogant.
In an era where racism was rampant, where those who were black and non-Arab were looked down upon, Abdul Rahman ibn Awf instead felt honored when Bilal (ra) expressed interest in marrying his sister. Abdul Rahman did not buy into the jahali tradition of tribalism and blood status. He saw in Bilal a great sahabi and the muaddhin of the Prophet ﷺ and happily supported the marriage of his sister with Bilal (ra). In doing so, he left an important message for Muslims in the centuries to come. His sister was an Arab, a Qurashi, of the clan of Banu Zuhra whereas Bilal (ra) was a freed slave from Abysinnia. Yet as the Prophet ﷺ said, “An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab. A white person has no superiority over a black person nor a black person over a white person except by piety and good action.”
When you look at other people, what lens do you use to look at them through? Abdul Rahman ibn Awf saw the world through the lens of Islam and taqwa. In doing so, he became blind to social status, to wealth, and to ethnicity. Next time you judge a person, examine what criteria you’re using to judge them.
A man uses his money well
Abdul Rahman ibn Awf had enough money to live a life of luxury and ease, indulging in whatever pleasures were available to wealthy men of his era. Instead, however, he was constantly looking for ways to buy the hereafter. Every the Prophet asked for money, Abdul Rahman ibn Awf would stand up. Every time Abu Bakr asked for money, Abdul Rahman would stand up. Every time ‘Umar asked for money, Abdul Rahman would stand up. Every time ‘Uthman asked for money, Abdul Rahman would stand up.
At the Battle of Tabuk, he donated generously for the expedition and then spent money equipping those people who were too poor to equip themselves.. After the death of the prophet ﷺ, he took it upon himself to look after the needs of the Mothers of the Believers, fixing them stipends from his own money and taking them on hajj when they wanted.
Talha (ra) used to say that all of the people in Madinah were living off of Abdul Rahman ibn Awf. He said 1/3 of money had debts which Abdul Rahman ibn Awf had paid of their behalf. 1/3 had taken loans from him that he had never requested repayment on. And 1/3 had received direct sadaqah from him.
Money in the hands of a good person can be very beneficial but that same money can cause a person to become corrupt and use it only for themselves. Even if you have not been given the wealth of Abdul Rahman, look at the wealth you do have and evaluate how well you are using it. If 100% goes to yourself and not a penny to those who are poor, you are not following in the footsteps of the best of men.
A man doesn’t choose only one avenue to do good.
Although the enormous wealth of Abdul Rahman means that the majority of stories about him focus on his generosity, make no mistake, this was not a man who had only one set of good deeds. A good businessman diversifies his investments and Abdul Rahman ibn Awf diversified his investments not only in this life, but in the next as well. In addition to his generosity, he personally took part in most of the famous battles of the Prophet ﷺ. He belonged to the elite group of sahabah to fight at Badr. During Uhud, he valiantly defended the Prophet ﷺ with his sword and body, sustaining injuries which caused him to limp for the rest of his life. He also sat and learned Islam directly from the Prophet ﷺ and became one of the most knowledgeable of the sahabah. In fact, he was actually given permission to issue fatwa during the life of the Prophet ﷺ. He was known for his wisdom and was chosen as one of the six members of shura to decide the khalifah after the death of ‘Umar (ra). He was always in the masjid, in the front row, for salah. When ‘Umar (ra) was fatally stabbed in Fajr salah, he pulled the behind him to finish leading salah. That person was Abdul Rahman, always standing front and center behind the imam.
Don’t confine yourself to one pathway of good deeds. Being generous does not mean you can be rude. Being knowledgeable of Islam does not mean you can neglect your salah. Frequenting the masjid does not excuse you from strengthening the ties of kinship. Be balanced not just between deen and dunya, but within your deen as well.
A man steps up to the plate when needed
One of the most famous incidents in the life of Abdul Rahman ibn Awf occurred when he led the Prophet ﷺ in salah. During the expedition of Tabuk, the time for Fajr came one day but the Prophet ﷺ was not with the sahabah. They realized he had gone to answer the call of nature but as they waited, the time for Fajr began ticking away. Knowing the importance of salah, the sahabah beckoned to Abdul Rahman ibn Awf to come forward and lead them in salah. He stepped up to the plate and led the sahabah in Salatul Fajr. During the second rak’ah, the Prophet ﷺ rejoined the sahabah and prayed behind Abdul Rahman, giving him the unique distinction and honor of being the only person to lead the Prophet ﷺ in prayer.
Modesty is an important attribute. The sahabah never aggrandized themselves or boasted. However, they did not go to the other extreme either and walk around with low self-esteem, shying away from every opportunity that called for them to shoulder leadership and responsibility. When it’s your time to step up to plate, do so.
A man ignores his detractors
When Abdul Rahman ibn Awf donated a massive sum of money during the Battle of Tabuk (estimated to be around a quarter million dollars today), the hypocrites of Madinah made fun of him, saying that he only gave the money to show off. Interestingly, when a poor man came to the Prophet ﷺ to donate the only thing he could, a handful of dates, they made fun of him as well. Allah ﷻ responded to their mockery in the Qur’an:
الَّذِينَ يَلْمِزُونَ الْمُطَّوِّعِينَ مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ فِي الصَّدَقَاتِ وَالَّذِينَ لاَ يَجِدُونَ إِلاَّ جُهْدَهُمْ فَيَسْخَرُونَ مِنْهُمْ سَخِرَ اللّهُ مِنْهُمْ وَلَهُمْ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ
Among the hypocrites are those who slander the believers as to the charitable offerings they volunteer. Indeed, they slander those who find no more to offer in charity than their personal efforts. Still, they scoff at them. Rather, God scoffs at the scoffers among them! And for them, there is a most painful torment awaiting in the Hereafter.
Even some Muslim groups, uncomfortable with the idea of such a wealthy sahabi, propagated a false narration about Abdul Rahman ibn Awf, saying that the Prophet ﷺ said he saw Abdul Rahman ibn ‘Awf enter paradise crawling. Imam al-Qurtubi in his book on Islamic asceticism, Qam’ Al-Hirsi Bi Al-Zuhdi Wa Al-Qana’ah, uses harsh words to describe those Muslims who believe in this myth.
Whether from enemies, misguided friends, or just disinterested third parties, you will meet detractors on your path to Allah ﷻ’s pleasure. Be like Abdul Rahman ibn ‘Awf.
May Allah ﷻ make us men in the mold of Abdul Rahman ibn ‘Awf and unite us with him and the Prophet ﷺ in the hereafter.