Who are the ​Sābiqūn (the one’s who excel) mentioned in the Qur’ān? and why is it important for us?

In the Name of Allah, The Most Merciful, The Especially Merciful

طبقات الأمة باعتبار الخروج إلى الكمال المطلوب أو ضدِّه

The Levels of the Ummah with Regard to Achieving the Desired Perfection or its Opposite

The entire humankind is the community of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ. Those who have responded and accepted his message are considered Muslims – the ummah ijābah (the ummah that has accepted his call) while the one’s that are yet to accept his message are called the ummah da’wah (the ummah to whom the call has been extended). In acquiring human perfection (kamāli maṭlūb) people are at various levels.

It is hoped by reading the descriptions outlined below we can at the very least attempt to bring out such qualities in our own lives.

The Qur’ān explains:

And you shall be of three kinds: the companions of the right; what of the companions of the right? And the companions of the left; what of the companions of the left? And the foremost shall be the foremost. They are the one’s who will be brought nigh. [1]

This first verse refers to believers and non-believers whilst the following refers solely to the believers:

Then We bequeathed the Book to those of Our servants who We had chosen. Among them are those who wrong themselves, those who take the middle course, and those who are foremost in good deeds, by God’s leave. That is the greatest bounty. [2]

Sābiqūn (the one’s who excel)

The highest level is for the mufahhamūn (the instructed ones) about whom we have already mentioned.[3] Thereafter, the next group is the sābiqūn (the one’s who excel). They are of two types: al-rāshiḳhīn fī al-‘ilm (firm in knowledge) and the rāghibīn fī al-‘amal (striving in action). The first group is the one who is sleeping when their latent potential is awakened by the prophetic message that reaches them. In their inner state, there is no contradiction between the angelic and animalistic traits; it is harmonious and integrated. They are like the mujtahidīn fī al-madhab (independent scholars in a school of law) i.e. those who use their own interpretations within the scope of possibilities offered by previous rulings within their own legal school. [4]

 The second group is the one’s who engage in spiritual exercises and turn towards God in order to gain control over their animalistic side. Thus they acquire intellectual and practical perfection which bring forth divine visions, guidance, and illumination. They are the Sufi orders.

Both these groups combine two things:

  1. They devote their strength to concentrating on God and seeking to be near Him.
  2. Their fiṭrah (innate constitution) is so strong that the desired acquired habits are presented to them as they are, without the need to consider their embodiments, and they only need the bodily forms to express these traits and as a means to attain the traits through them.

From among them are the following:

  1. mufarridūn (the one’s who retire to lead a solitary religious life): by turning their attention to God and excessive remembrance of Him they acquire a lofty status.
  2. ṣiddīqūn (the truthful ones): distinguished by their strictness in obeying God and pure devotion to Him. In addition, they possess perfect reason and the strength of character.
  3. Ṣhuhadā’: (the martyrs): they command good and forbid evil, and they have strength, energy and complete self-control in their nature, becoming a habit for them. On the day of resurrection, they will be resurrected arguing with the unbelievers and giving evident against them. [5]
  4. Al-rāshikūn fī-l-‘ilm (firmly rooted in knowledge): they possess wisdom, intelligence, and strong self-control. When they heard from the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) knowledge and wisdom, this impressed them to show obedience and devotion to perfect themselves by knowledge. The possession of thorough knowledge became a habit with them.
  5. ‘Ubād (the worshippers): they perceive the benefits of worship with their own eyes such that they become enveloped with light and they worship God with great insight.
  6. zuhhād (the ascetics): they turn away from the world which carries no meaning to them. They are certain of the Resurrection and the pleasure reserved there.
  7. Those prepared for the deputyship (Caliphate) of the Prophets: they worship God through the virtue of justice, and by removing away wrongs and corruption.
  8. Aṣhāb al-khulq al-ḥassan (possessors of good character): they are people of magnanimity in generosity, modesty, and forgiveness of the one who wrongs them. They remain patient over calamities. Generosity is natural to them and an inseparable habit.
  9. Muṣhabbihūn bi al-Malā’ika (those resembling the angels): they are people who persevered in the observance of purity, prayer in seclusion, limited speech and sleep. It is mentioned that certain Companions used to be greeted by the angels. [6]

Each of the aforementioned groups possesses an innate capacity which requires awakening from prophetic knowledge and an acquired capacity[7] to be made ready to take up the divine law. Through both of these capacities, perfection is achieved. [8]

[1] Qur’ān 56:7-11.

[2] Qur’ān 35:32.

[3] They are of many types and varying capacities: the perfect one (kāmil); the wise one (ḥākim); the Caliph; the one aided by the holy spirit; a pure guide (hādi muzakkī); the leader (imām); a warner (mundhir) and a prophet.

[4] There is the ḥadīth, ‘the learned are the heirs of the Prophets, and the Prophets leave neither dinar nor dirham, leaving only knowledge, and he who takes it takes an abundant portion.’ (Abū Dāwūd, Ibn Mājah, at-Tirmidhī).

[5] This description challenges the prevailing notion that this definition is restricted and reserved solely for those who die in the cause of God.

[6] ‘Imrān bin Ḥusayn narrates that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ forbade to cauterize; we cauterized but they (cauterization) did not benefit us, nor proved useful for us. Abū Dāwūd said: He (‘Imrān bin Ḥusayn) used to hear the salutation of the angels: When he cauterized, it stopped. When he abandoned, it returned to him. (Abū Dāwūd).

[7] There are many others, briefly, they include: the trustworthy, the martyrs, perfect person, firmly established in knowledge, unique persons, the Godly persons, persons of fine behaviour, worshipping devotees, ascetics, persons who bear resemblance to the angels, persons who are moderate in deeds of virtue and vice.

[8] Those among the ‘instructed ones’ who are not sent on a mission to people, are counted as the ‘ones who excel.’

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