The companions and friends of the Prophet who believed in him and who derived wisdom from his presence, receive from us, the Shīʿah, a special reverence, whether they be amongst those martyred at the Battles of Badr, Uḥud, Aḥzāb and Ḥunayn, or of those who remained alive after the passing away of the Holy Prophet (S). All of them, insofar as they were the companions of the Prophet and believed in him, deserve our respect, and there is no true Muslim in the world that would speak badly of the companions, or express unkind opinions about them; and should anyone claim that a group of ‘Muslims’ do in fact indulge in such criticisms, such claims would be baseless.
However, alongside this issue there is another question which should be addressed without prejudice, sentimentalism or bitterness: were all the companions equally just, pious and devoid of sin? It is clear that seeing the Prophet and keeping his company, despite being a great honour, cannot be seen as rendering a person immune from sin; we cannot therefore regard all of the companions in exactly the same light, as being all equally just, pious and shorn of all sinfulness. For, according to the testimony of the Qurʾān, in spite of their having the honour of being companions, they are divided into different categories as regards to their faith and hypocrisy, and in respect of obedience and disobedience to Allāh (SWT) and His Prophet (S). Taking due account of this differentiation, it cannot be said that they are all as one, each one of them being as just and as pious as the next.
There is no doubt that the Qurʾān has praised the companions on several occasions. For example, as regards those who made the oath of allegiance to the Holy Prophet (S) at the time of the negotiations leading to the Treaty of Ḥudaybiyyah, the Qurʾān expresses the satisfaction (of God): “Allāh was well pleased with the believers when they swore allegiance to you beneath the tree…” [48:18] But this praise, their eliciting the good pleasure (riḍwān) of God, relates to them ‘when they swore allegiance to you’, and cannot thus be regarded as evidence of a guarantee of rectitude and deliverance from faults for all of them for the rest of their lives. For if one or more of them afterwards takes a wrong path, evidently, the previous pleasure of God cannot be pointed to as evidence of their continuing piety or of their being permanently devoid of faults: the rank and station of these companions who elicited the pleasure of God is not higher than that of the Holy Prophet (S) about whom the Qurʾān says: “If you ascribe a partner to Allāh, your work will fail and you will indeed be among the losers.” [39:45]
This kind of verse expresses the virtue manifested by these persons in that particular state, and of course, should they maintain such virtue until the end of their lives, they would attain salvation.
On the basis of what has been said, whenever we have definitive evidence from the Qurʾān, the ḥadīth or from history, of the deviation of a person or persons, one cannot refute this evidence by reference to such instances of the kind of praise quoted above.
By way of example, the Qurʾān refers to some of the companions by the term fāsiq, that is, a transgressor: “Oh you who believe! If a transgressor brings you some news, verify it…”[49:6]
In another verse, referring to one companion, we have: “Is someone who is a believer like him who is a transgressor? They are not alike.” [32:18]
This individual, according to definite historical evidence, was Walīd b. ʿUqba, one of the companions of the Prophet, who despite having the double merit of being a companion and of having made the Hijrah with the earliest Muslims, was unable to preserve his good name, and through having lied about the tribe of Banī Mustaliq, earned the title of fāsiqfrom Allāh (SWT).
Taking due note of this verse and other similar ones and with regard also to those aḥādīthin which certain companions are severely criticized and likewise, taking into account the historical evidence pertaining to certain companions, one cannot definitively regard all of the Prophet’s companions – whose number exceeds 100,000 as being equally just and pious.
What is at issue here is whether we can justifiably regard all of the companions as equally just; it is not a question of insulting them. Unfortunately, some people do not distinguish between the two issues, and accuse those who oppose the notion of equal justice in all the companions of falling into the error of insulting and criticizing the companions.
To conclude this discussion, we should like to stress that the Shīʿahs of the Imāmī school do not believe that the respect we have for those who have had the privilege of companionship with the Prophet should prevent us from objectively evaluating their actions. We hold that association with the Prophet cannot on its own give rise to immunity from sin for the rest of one’s life. The basis for this evaluation by the Shīʿahs is derived from Qurʾānic verses, sound aḥādīth, corroborated historical sources and from basic common sense.