Salman Al Farsi (may Allah
be pleased with him) was known as a "sahaba
" or 'companion' of Islam's Prophet Muhammad
(pbuh). His name translates to "Salman the Persian
," and he is considered one of the righteous Muslims in early Islamic History.
According to Arab historians and Salman's own account, Salman grew up in the village of Jayyan in the land of Persia, which is now the present-day town of Isfahan in Iran. Historians say that he was born in or around the year 568 CE. His father was the chief of the village and a wealthy landlord, and was thus the richest man with the biggest house. Salman means "safe" in Arabic, and as his only son, he lavished all his love upon him, and was thus afraid to lose him and therefore kept him at home.
Most Persians (Iranians) in those days were Zoroastrians. He was raised to follow the religion; in his teens he became so devoted to it that he achieved the position of "Custodian of the Fire" which they worshipped. His duty was to see that the flames of the fire remained burning and didn't go out, day or night. He became as knowledgable as the Zoroastrian priests, learning the complex doctrines and dogmas of the faith.
In those days in Persia, it was considered a great honor to be a priest in one of the fire-temples. Service in a fire-temple provided the priests with status, prestige and numerous perquisites. Since the priests in Persia could reach high position in local and "national" governments, Salman's father managed to get him appointed as a priest in the local fire-temple while he was only sixteen years old. For three years, Salman played priest in the fire-temple of Jiyye but then he began to lose interest in his work; It had become too monotonous and wearisome for him. The priests were men of limited vision and limited knowledge and they were too dogmatic. If he posed any doctrinal question to them, they were, in most cases, unable to answer him; or, they spoke in a language of allusions and historical allegories.
His father had a vast estate and lots of crops. One day (around 586 CE), he asked his son to go look after the harvest for him. On the way there, he passed a Christian church. He was curious, and went in, whereupon he encountered a Christian service, and a choir singing a hymn in a foreign language. Salman had never met Christians before, nor any other religion for that matter, and their praying impressed him. "By God," he said, "this is better than ours. I shall not leave them until the sun sets." He stayed and listened to the Christians, who he said told him that the religion came from Syria. They told him about God and Judgement Day, and about the Messengers and Prophets of God. When he came home, he told his father what he had done, and how impressed he was by Christianity. This upset his father, who said, "My son, there 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 worried that he would leave the religion of his family and locked him up in the house, in an attempt to make him swear that he did not and would not change his religion. Salman refused, and his father imprisoned him at home, even chaining his feet and keeping him hungry and thirsty. However, he managed to get a servant to send a message to the Christians asking when the next caravan left for Syria. Before long, they got in touch with him and told him that a caravan was leaving for Syria. He managed to escape and accompanied the caravan in disguise to Damascus. Once there, he immediately headed for the head of the church, which was a bishop. He went right 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 converted to Christianity. He was 19.
Salman soon discovered that the Bishop was a corrupt man who ordered people to give money in charity in exchange for blessings. He stole their money and kept it all hidden for himself, with nothing to the poor. When the Bishop died, the Christian community gathered to bury him, but Salman showed them where the Bishop had been hiding all their donations. When they saw all the hoarded money, they instead nailed the body of the Bishop to a cross and stoned his corpse. The new bishop was an ascetic who longed for the Hereafter and engaged in worship day and night. Salman was greatly devoted to him and spent a long time in his company. After that Bishop's death, Salman attached himself to various Christian religious figures, in Mosul (Iraq), Nisibis and elsewhere. The last one had told him about the future appearance of a Prophet in the land of the Arabs who would have a reputation for strict honesty; one who would accept a gift but would never consume charity for himself.
Later, a group of Arab leaders from the Kalb tribe passed through Ammuriyah (in the Byzantine Empire, I think) and Salman asked them to take him with them to the land of the Arabs in return for whatever money he had. When they reached Wadi al-Qura (a place between Medina and Syria), they broke their agreement and sold Salman as a slave to a Jewish man. Salman worked as a servant for him but eventually he was sold to the slaveowner's nephew belonging to the tribe of Banu Qurayzah. This nephew took Salman with him to Yathrib (now modern day Medina), the city of palm groves, which is how the Christian at Ammuriyah had described it. At that time, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was preaching Islam in the city of Mecca, but Salman did not hear anything about him because of his labor as a slave.
After the hegira, when Muhammad (pbuh) and his newly Muslim followers emigrated from Mecca to Yathrib, which thenceforth became known as Medina, Salman became aware of Muhammad (pbuh). He was at the top of a Palm tree of his master, doing some work, with his master sitting under the tree. The master's nephew came up and said:
"May God declare war on the Aws and the Khazraj (the two main Arab tribes of Medina). By God, they are now gathering at Quba to meet a man who has today come from Mecca and who claims he is a Prophet."
Upon hearing those words, Salman felt hot flushes and began to shiver so violently that he was afraid that he might fall out of the tree on his master. He quickly got down from the tree and spoke to his master's nephew. "What did you say? Repeat the news for me." His master became very angry and gave him a terrible blow. "What does this matter to you? Go back to what you were doing," he shouted.
That evening, Salman took some dates that he had gathered and went to the place where the Prophet had alighted. He went up to him and said: "I have heard that you are a righteous man and that you have companions with you who are strangers and are in need. Here is something from me as sadaqah. I see that you are more deserving of it than others."
The Prophet ordered his companions to eat but he himself did not eat of it. Salman gathered some more dates and when the Prophet left Quba for Medina he went to him and said: "I noticed that you did not eat of the charity I gave. This however is a gift for you." Of this gift of dates, both he and his companions ate. The strict honesty of the Prophet was one of the characteristics that led Salman to believe in him and accept Islam as his religion.
Soon after, Salman was released from slavery by Muhammad (pbuh) who paid his Jewish slaveowner a stipulated price and who himself planted an agreed number of date palms to secure his manumission. Supposedly, when the 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 played an important role in the struggles of the growing Muslim state. The city of Medina was under threat of attack by the pagan Quraish, who sought to destroy the city and the new religion growing there. In a brilliant bit of military strategy, Salman suggested digging a ditch around Medina to keep the Quraysh army at bay. Within six days, a hastily dug moat surrounded the city. When Abu Sufyan, the leader of the Meccans, saw the ditch, he said, "This stratagem has not been employed by the Arabs before." The ditch was wide enough that only one horse managed to jump the ditch, which was several feet across, but the rest of the army was held back. The army tried to lay siege to Medina, but time and a violent sandstorm broke them up.
Salman became known as "Salman the Good". He was a scholar who lived a rough and ascetic life. He had one cloak which he wore and on which he slept. 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 to 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 stand up in it, its roof will hurt your head and if you stretch your legs the wall will hurt them."
Later, as a governor of al-Madain (Ctesiphon) near Baghdad, Salman received a stipend of five thousand dirhams. This he would distribute as charity. He lived from the work of his own hands. When some people came to Madain and saw him working in the palm groves, they said, "You are the Emir (leader) here and your sustenance is guaranteed and you do this work!"
"I like to eat from the work of my own hands," he replied. Salman however was not extreme in his asceticism. It is related that he once visited Abu ad-Dardaa with whom the Prophet had joined him in brotherhood. He found Abu ad-Dardaas 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 ad-Dardaa came, he welcomed Salman and gave him food. Salman told him to eat but Abu ad-Dardaa said, "I am fasting." Salman replied, "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 its due." In the morning, they prayed together and then went out to meet the Prophet, peace be upon him. The Prophet supported Salman in what he had said.
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 stuffed with knowledge and wisdom--an ocean that does not dry up." Salman had a knowledge of both the Christian scriptures and the Quran in addition to his earlier knowledge of the Zoroastrian religion. Salman in fact translated parts of the Quran into Persian during the life-time of the Prophet. He was thus the first person to interpret the Quran into a foreign language. He was also a narrator for at least 10 hadith, due to being close to the Prophet (pbuh).
Muslims, both Sunni and Shia, have tremendous respect for Salman Al Farsi. He was a very close friend of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and Ali ibn Abu Talib. Because of the influential household in which he grew up, might easily have been a major figure in the sprawling Persian Empire of his time. His search for truth however led him, even before the Prophet had appeared, to renounce a comfortable and affluent life and even to suffer the indignities of slavery. According to the most reliable account, he died in the year thirty five after the hijrah, during the caliphate of Uthman, at Ctesiphon. He was 88. The Shias claim he is buried in Madaen, Iraq, and there is now a shrine and mausoleum for him.
Muslims draw many comparisons between him and the Prophets. He defied his father who was a fire-worshipper like Abraham defied his father who was an idolator, and Muahmmad (pbuh) defied the polytheists of Mecca. They all did it for the same reason, faith in Oneness of God. They all emigrated from the lands of their birth due to their faith; Abraham migrated from Iraq to Palestine to Mecca, Salman migrated from Persia to Syria to Medina, and Muhammad (pbuh) migrated from Mecca to Medina. Salman was sold into slavery, just like Joseph. It was painful, but they persevered in faith, knowing that God was with them. Their suffering didn't blot out their awareness in God. He was similar to Luqman, they were both wise, considered "philosophical allies" of one another.
Much of the information is taken from his autobiography, from "Companions of The Prophet", Vol.1, by: Abdul Wahid Hamid is availible at: http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/history/biographies/sahaabah/bio.SALMAN_AL_FARSI.html
http://www.ezsoftech.com/islamic/salman.asp (a Shia oriented piece)
Salman al Farsi, Friend of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh&hf) By Sayed A. A. Razwy