By Dr. Mohammad Akram Nadwi
I need to explain to you the difference between a disciple and a companion. A disciple can only do those things that the master has defined and given him explicit permission to do. The disciple cannot make decisions or make adjustments in connection with the master’s teachings, neither in the terminologies used, nor in its implementation in explaining doctrine and practice. The disciple can only alter or amend the habits of his master when and if the master grants him the title ‘master’ after him or in some other place.
The range of the teaching in respect of how the disciples conduct their lives is limited to such matters as costume and prayer and any associated rituals. The teaching has no connection with the ordinary business of life. It gives no instruction about proper conduct in matters like business, war, marriage and so on. These matters will only interest the master if they affect the psychology of the disciple.
By contrast ‘ashab’ students or companions are regarded by the master as fellows and his job as a master is to teach them how to learn and how to teach, how to apply what they learn appropriately in different situations. The master teaches skills, his companions receive them, one skill at a time. They are masters.
The Prophet as a teacher covered all departments of life and how to manage it. His teaching of male and female companions varied only according to the practical need that women and men are engaged in different responsibilities in those matters that connect them in their relation to God and how to improve that relation, the teaching of men and women companions is the same.