By Shaykh Dr. Mustafa as-Siba’ee رَحِمَهُ ٱللَّٰهُ
(from his book The Sunnah and Its Role in Islamic Legislation)
The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) lived among his Companions as one of them, so that there was no barrier between him and them: he (ﷺ) would mix with them in the mosque, the marketplace, his home, as well as au journeys. The Companions would attentively observe his every word and deed, for, since the time Allah (ﷺ) had guided them and saved them from misguidance, the Prophet (ﷺ) was for them the center of their religious and worldly life. They were so eager to learn from the Prophet (ﷺ) that they would accompany him in shifts. Bukhari related that ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab (رَضِيَ ٱللَّٰهُ عَنْهُ) said,
“A neighbour of mine from the Ansar … and me would take turns being with the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ): he would spend a day with him and then I would spend a day with him. When it was my turn to spend the day with the Prophet (ﷺ), I would return to him with the news of the day. When it was his turn to spend the day with the Prophet (ﷺ), he would do the same.”
This goes to show how eager and keen the Companions were to avoid missing any of his teachings. Tribes that were far away from Madinah would send representatives so that they could learn Islam from the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) and then return to their people as teachers and guides.
In fact, some Companions would travel far distances in order to ask the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) about a ruling. Bukhari related from ‘Uqbah ibn al-Harith that a woman informed him that she had suckled both him and his wife (when they were infants). He was in Makkah, and he immediately began his journey to Madinah, until he finally reached the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) and asked him about Allah’s ruling regarding a man who marries a woman, not knowing that she was his foster sister because of breastfeeding, but then is informed of the fact from the woman who nursed them. The Prophet (ﷺ) informed him of what he had to d0 3o, and in obedience to the Prophet’s ruling, he immediately divorced his wife and married another woman.
In affairs that involved a man and his wife, the Companions would often seek recourse by asking the Prophet’s wives, for the Mothers of the Believers were best aware of the Prophet’s family life. In an example that we have already related, a Companion sent his wife to ask whether a man may kiss his wife while he is fasting. Umm Salamah (رضي الله عنها) informed the woman that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) would kiss even while he was fasting.
At times, a woman might have asked the Prophet (ﷺj) about a matter that was specific to women; if it were difficult to explain the ruling to the woman who asked, the Prophet (ﷺ) would order one of his wives to explain it. For instance, a woman asked the Prophet (ﷺ) how she should purify herself from menstruation. The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) answered her and then further elaborated on his answer, but she did not understand his explanation, and so he (ﷺ) asked ‘A’ishah (رضي الله عنها) to explain to her what he meant, which was that she should take a piece of clean cotton and wipe it over the bloodstains. 31
Yet the Companions were not at one level regarding knowledge of the Prophet’s Sunnah. Some of them lived with him, while others were inhabitants of the desert; some were businessmen, others had a different occupation; some were dedicated to worship and could not find work; some lived in Madinah; others lived in far-off lands. Moreover, except in rare instances – and on Fridays as well as the two ‘Eids – the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) did not have a general gathering wherein he taught all of his Companions.
30 Reported by Bukhari, vol. 1, p. 156, hadith no. 5326.
31 Related by Bukhari, Muslim, and An-Nisa’i, from ‘A’ishah.