He was one of the first eight persons to accept Islam. He was one of the ten persons who were assured of Paradise by the noble Prophet (SAWS.)
His name in Jahiliyah (ignorant period) days was ‘Abdu ‘Amr. But when he accepted Islam the noble Prophet called him ‘Abdur-Rahman – the servant of the Beneficent God.
‘Abdur-Rahman became a Muslim before the Prophet entered the house of al-Arqam. In fact, it is said that he accepted Islam only two days after Abu Bakr as-Siddiq did so.
‘Abdur-Rahman did not escape the punishment which the early Muslims suffered at the hands of the Quraysh. He bore this punishment with steadfastness as they did. He remained firm as they did. And when they were compelled to leave Makkah for Abyssinia because of the continuous and unbearable persecution, ‘Abdur-Rahman also went.
He returned to Makkah when it was rumoured that conditions for the Muslims had improved but, when these rumours proved to be false, he left again for Abyssinia on a second Hijrah (emigration). He later returned to Makkah again from where he made the Hijrah to Madinah.
Soon after arriving in Madinah, the Prophet in his unique manner began pairing off the Muhajirin (Companions of Prophet from Makkah) and the Ansar (Companions of Prophet from Madinah). This established a firm bond of brotherhood and was meant to strengthen social cohesion and ease the destitution of the Muhajirin. ‘Abdur-Rahman was linked by the Prophet with Sa’d Ibn ar-Rabi’ah. Sa’d, in the spirit of generosity and magnanimity with which the Ansar greeted the Muhajirin, said to ‘Abdur-Rahman:
“My brother! Among the people of Madinah I have the most wealth. I have two orchards and I have two wives. See which of the two orchards you like and I shall vacate it for you and which of my two wives is pleasing to you and I will divorce her for you.”
‘Abdur-Rahman must have been embarrassed and said in reply: “May God bless you in your family and your wealth. But just show me where the souq (public market) is.” ‘Abdur-Rahman went to the marketplace and began trading with whatever little resources he had. He bought and sold and his profits grew rapidly. Soon he was sufficiently well off and was able to get married. He went to the noble Prophet (SAWS) with the scent of perfume lingering over him.
“Mahyam, O ‘Abdur-Rahman.!”‘ Exclaimed the Prophet – “mahyam” being a word of Yemeni origin, which indicates pleasant surprise.
“I have got married,” replied ‘Abdur-Rahman.
“And what did you give your wife as mahr (dowry)””
“The weight of a nuwat (seed/grain) in gold.”
“You must have a walimah (wedding feast) even if it is with a single sheep. And may Allah bless you in your wealth,” said the Prophet (SAWS) with obvious pleasure and encouragement.
Thereafter ‘Abdur-Rahman grew so accustomed to business success that he said if he lifted a stone he expected to find gold or silver under it!
‘Abdur-Rahman distinguished himself in both the battles of Badr and Uhud. At Uhud he remained firm throughout and suffered more than twenty wounds some of them deep and severe. Even so, his physical Jihad (struggling in the way of Allah) was matched by his Jihad with his wealth.
Once the Prophet (SAWS) was preparing to send an expeditionary force. He summoned his companions and said: “Contribute sadaqah (charity) for I want to despatch an expedition.” ‘Abdur-Rahman went to his house and quickly returned. “O Messenger of Allah,” he said, “I have four thousand (dinars). I give two thousand as a qard (debt) to my Lord and two thousand I leave for my family.”
When the Prophet (SAWS) decided to send an expedition to distant Tabuk – this was the last ghazwah (expedition) of his life that he mounted – his need for finance and material was not greater than his need for men, for the Byzantine forces were a numerous and well-equipped foe. That year in Madinah was one of drought and hardship. The journey to Tabuk was long, more than 1,000km. Provisions were in short supply. Transport was at a premium so much so that a group of Muslims came to the Prophet (SAWS) pleading to go with him but he had to turn them away because he could find no transport for them.
These men were sad and dejected and came to be known as the Bakka’in or the Weepers and the army itself was called the Army of Hardship. The Prophet (SAWS) urged his companions to give generously for the war effort in the path of Allah and assured them they would be rewarded. The Muslims’ response to the Prophet’s call was immediate and generous. In the forefront of those who responded was ‘Abdur-Rahman Ibn ‘Awf. He donated two hundred awqiyah of gold whereupon ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab said to the Prophet (SAWS): “I have (now) seen ‘Abdur-Rahman committing a wrong. He has not left anything for his family.”
“Have you left anything for your family, ‘Abdur-Rahman?” asked the Prophet (SAWS). “Yes,” replied ‘Abdur-Rahman. “I have left for them more than what I give and better.” “How much?” enquired the Prophet (SAWS). “What Allah and His Messenger have promised of sustenance, goodness and reward,” replied ‘Abdur-Rahman.
The Muslim army eventually left for Tabuk. There ‘Abdur-Rahman was blessed with an honour which was not conferred on anyone till then. The time of Salat (prayer) came and the Prophet (SAWS) was not there at the time. The Muslims chose ‘Abdur-Rahman as their Imam (leader). The first rak’at of the Salat was almost completed when the Prophet (SAWS) joined the worshippers and performed the Salat behind ‘Abdur-Rahman Ibn ‘Awf. Could there be a greater honour conferred on anyone than to have been the Imam of the most honoured of Allah’s creation, the Imam of the Prophets, the Imam of Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah (SAWS)!
When the Prophet (SAWS) passed away. ‘Abdur-Rahman took on the responsibility of looking after the needs of his family, the Ummahat al-Mu’minin (Mothers of believers). He would go with them wherever they wanted to and he even performed Haj (pilgrimage) with them to ensure that all their needs were met. This is a sign of the trust and confidence, which he enjoyed on the part of the Prophet’s family.
‘Abdur-Rahman’s support for the Muslims and the Prophet’s wives in particular was well-known. Once he sold a piece of land for 40,000 dinars and he distributed the entire amount among the Banu Zahrah (the relatives of the Prophet’s mother Aminah), the poor among the Muslims and the Prophet’s wives. When ‘A’ishah, may Allah be pleased with her, received some of this money, she asked: “Who has sent this money?” she was told it was ‘Abdur-Rahman, whereupon she said: “The Messenger of Allah (SAWS) said: ‘No one will feel compassion towards you after I die except the sabirin (those who are patient and resolute).'”
The prayer of the noble Prophet (SAWS) that Allah should bestow barakah on the wealth of ‘Abdur-Rahman appeared to be with ‘Abdur-Rahman throughout his life. He became the richest man among the companions of the Prophet (SAWS). He earned much wealth but he never remained attached to it for its own sake and he did not allow it to corrupt him.
He continued giving from his wealth with both his hands, secretly and openly. Some of the figures mentioned are truly astounding: 40,000 dirhams of silver, 40,000 dinars of gold, 200 awqiyah of gold, 500 horses to Mujahidin setting out in the path of Allah and 1,500 camels to another group of mujahidin, 400 dinars of gold to the survivors of Badr and a large legacy to the Ommahat al Mu’minin – and the catalogue goes on. On account of this fabulous generosity, ‘A’ishah said: “May Allah give him to drink from the water of Salsabil (a spring in Paradise).”
All this wealth did not corrupt ‘Abdur-Rahman and did not change him. When he was among his workers and assistants, people could not distinguish him from them. One day, food was brought to him with which to end a fast. He looked at the food and said:
“Mus’ab Ibn ‘Umayr has been killed. He was better than me. We did not find anything of his to shroud him with except what covered his head but left his legs uncovered…Then God endowed us with the (bounties of) the world…I really fear that our reward has been bestowed on us early (in this world).” He began to cry and sob and could not eat.
May ‘Abdur-Rahman Ibn ‘Awf be granted felicity among, “Those who spend their substance in the cause of Allah and follow up not their gifts with reminders of their generosity or with injury. For them their reward is with their Lord, and on them shall be no fear nor shall they grieve.” (The Qur’an, 2:262).