Someone asked Al-Abbas (radiallahu anhu), the uncle of rasulullah, a question: are you akbar than rasulullah?
In Arabic, literally, this means “are you greater than rasulullah.” But the obvious connotation is that the questioner asks about age: are you older than him?
رسول الله أكبر مني و لكن ولدت قبله
Rasulullah is greater than me, but I was born before him.
He wanted to set the record set, and give a clear message to all of us. The respect the sahaba had for rasulullah was amazing. Uthman ibn Affan, in Hudaybiyyah, refused to make umrah before rasulullah. One of the messengers of Quraysh said “I have seen kings and ceasers, but I never saw people who loved their leader as much as him.” The sahaba even tried to catch his wudoo water! So can we learn to respect him as he deserve?
The tabi’een used to cry. When asked why, they said “the sahaba beat us on fast race-horses, and we follow them on crippled mules.” Meaning, the sahaba did the best, and reached the best rank.
But, they also said something interesting, which we should all write in gold:
من سار على الدرب، وصل
Whoever follows the path, will reach them
Meaning, whoever follows in the footsteps of the sahaba (and by extension, rasulullah) will reach them in jannah, inshaAllah, even though we will never reach them in rank.
This is also why we never call rasulullah simply “Muhammad,” but rasulullah. And we always append “salallahu alayhi wa sallam” to his name. Why? Why not simply “alayhi salaam” as for other prophets?
Because Allah says:
Translation: Indeed, Allah confers blessing upon the Prophet, and His angels [ask Him to do so]. O you who have believed, ask [ Allah to confer] blessing upon him and ask [ Allah to grant him] peace. (Surah Ahzab, verse 56)
Allah even says, in this verse, sallimuw tasleema. Tasleema which is a beautiful, comprehensive, and complete term. It includes forgiveness in its meanings.
Beyond this, from humanity, Allah chose the righteous. From the righteous, he chose the prophets. From the prophets, he chose ulil azam — five, according to the stronger opinion — Ibrahim, Musa, Esa, Nuh, and Rasulullah (alayhum as-salaam). From these five, he chose the two khaleelaan (the two closest companions to Allah) — Ibrahim and rasulullah.
And from those, he chose rasulullah as the best human to ever walk on the face of the earth; the best of the best of the best of the best.
These are only a few lessons from the seerah. We can never reach the sahaba in rank and greatness, but as the tabi’een (the next generation) said, “whoever follows them will be with them.” May Allah allow us to be with them and with rasulullah (salallahu alayhi wa sallam) in the highest levels of Al-Firdaus!
Source: Alkauther: The Victorious One. Taught by Shaykh Alaa Syed. University of Toronto, Toronto, May 2012.