He is affiliated with the Daws branch of Azd tribe, yet his date of birth is not known. During the period of Ignorance, his name was recorded in various forms as Abd Shams, Abd Amr, Sukain, Amr b. Abd Ghanm. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) changed his name to Abdurrahman or Abdullah. The most common account as to how he acquired the name "Abu Hurairah" was that he would put kittens in his shirttail gown, and play with them when he was pasturing the sheep.
It is understood that his name was not given to him by the Prophet, from the fact that he called him "Abu Hurairah" when they first met. It is also narrated that Abu Hurairah did not like being called in this way and often wanted to be called Abu Hir, a name attributed to him by Prophet Muhammad. The records on having grown up as an orphan reveals that he lost his father at an early age. It is also known that he was a member of a well known family both on the part of his father and mother.
Sources claim that Abu Hurairah became a Muslim at the beginning of the 7th year (628) and set on a journey to Medina with sixty or seventy families from his tribe at the date of May 628 in order to see the Prophet. They also support the view that he was not a Muslim beforehand and came to Medina to accept Islam.
Since the day he arrived in Medina, he completely devoted himself to religion and never pursued a worldly desire during the period he accompanied the Prophet. At times when people participating in battles requested more shares of the booties, Prophet Muhammad asked him whether he would want the same thing. Instead, Abu Hurairah requested him to teach some of the lessons taught him by Allah. To make up for the years he lost before he converted to Islam, he would not leave Suffa in the Prophet’s Mosque even when he was about to faint due to his hunger.
Abu Hurairah partially took part in the conquest of Khaybar and in the subsequent battles among the tribes. He was one of those people in Umrat al-Qaza who were assigned to take Prophet’s sacrificial animals to Mecca. He also served in special teams formed against the enemies by Prophet Muhammad.
Although there is a period of four years between the date when Abu Hurairah arrived in Medina and the death of the Prophet, he personally recorded that the duration of his stay alongside the Prophet was three years.
Caliph Umar sent Qudama b. Maz'ûn to Bahrain as the offering and tax authority, whereas he assigned Abu Hurairah with the duty of leading the congregational prayers. Eventually he assigned him as the Governor of Bahrain twice where he had previously served. After Abu Hurairah left his position as a governor and returned to Medina, the Caliph asked him what he had brought from Bahrain, as he asked all other governors. Abu Hurairah replied that he brought with him 20.000 dirham, which he said he acquired from commerce or breeding horses, his accumulated wages and from what he earned due to his slave. However, Umar ordered him to take the money he spent and the capital during his service and to return the rest to Baytul Mal (Treasury). As it is stated, after investigations proving the honesty of Abu Hurairah, he was persistently asked by the Caliph Umar to become a governor once again. Yet Abu Hurairah did not re-accept the service as he told that he did not want to fall under suspicion and be offended.
Abu Hurairah supported the caliphate of Uthman, took his sword and went to protect him when the caliph’s house was surrounded by the rebels. Uthman, however, saying that he did not want to shed Muslim blood, told him to put down his sword. After this incident, which is considered as the beginning of the sedition within the history of Islam, Abu Hurairah said that the disputes between the Muslims should be avoided and the only way to deliver them from these seditions was to drop weapons. In the battles between the Caliph Ali and Muawiya; Sa'd b. Abu Waqqas, Abdullah b. Umar and other well known companions never took side and nor did Abu Hurairah.
Abu Hurairah left Medina in the final years of his life as more foreigners arrived and the number of companions decreased and he retreated to his house nearby in Zulhuleyfe or Akik. Sometime before his death, he became sick and in the year 58 (678), he died at the age of seventy eight. It is also mentioned that he died in the year of 57 (677) or in 59 (679). His funeral was brought to Medina. After the governor of Medina performed Abu Hurairah’s funeral salah attended by companions like Abdullah b. Omar and Abu Said al-Hudri, he was buried in Jannatu’l Baqi.
Abu Hurairah had four sons and one daughter. The first three of his sons Muharrar, Muharriz, Abdurrahman and Bilal were partially involved in the hadith (sayings of the Prophet) profession.
HIS PERSONALITY AND INTELLECTUAL LIFE
Abu Hurairah had wide shoulders, double plaited hair and a hennaed beard. He would wear a black turban around his head. He slept during one third of the night and prayed during one third of the night and debated on the hadith during the rest of the night.
Abu Hurairah liked jokes and with his humorous warnings he urged people to think. Acquiring good deeds since he immigrated before the conquest of Mecca, participating in the Prophet’s speeches for a period of three years, gaining the prayers of the Messenger so that he and his mother is endeared by the believers and his appreciation for the interest in hadith were some of his most important virtues.
Another virtue of Abu Hurairah was the respect he showed to his mother. His heart was broken as his mother did not accept Islam and from time to time spoke against the Prophet. Abu Hurairah requested Prophet Muhammad to pray so that his mother would become a Muslim and after his mother became a Muslim, in order to serve his mother, he did not unnecessarily make the pilgrimage to Mecca until she passed away.
Abu Hurairah, despite being unable to get married in the period of the Prophet due to poverty, later on married the sister of Utba b. Ghazwan who was the Amir of Basra, who was the sister in-law of Uthman. As he had a slave during his immigration, it is understood that he was not poor when he accepted Islam, yet became a poor man since he totally devoted himself to the service of the Prophet. After the death of the Prophet, when his financial state improved, since many of his slaves were passing on hadith, it is understood that he dealt with the education of his slaves.
Abu Hurairah passed on the words of Prophet Muhammad, the words of companions such as Ubey b. Ka‘b, Abu Bakr, Umar, Usama b. Zayd, Aisha, Fazl b. Abbas b. Abdulmuttalib and the words of Ka‘b al-Ahbar who was a subject. Considered to be subjects to him, many companions and subjects with a number up to 800 people passed on hadith. Among these companions who passed on the largest numbers of hadith were Anas b. Malik, Ibn Abbas, Ibn Umar. Jabir b. Abdullah and among the subjects there were well known intellectuals such as Hasan al-Basri, Sha‘bi, Mujahid, Ibn Sirin, Hammam b. Munabbih, Abu Idris al-Khavlani and Abdurrahman b. Hurmuz known as A'raj, his son Mujahid, Caliph Marwan b. Hakam. It is significant that among the companions passing on words from Abu Hurairah was Abu Ayyub al-Ansari who was one of the few companions respected by the Shiites. The names of those companions passing on his words are available in the Six Books which are also given in some research books. Among those who were passing on hadith from Abu Hurairah were thirty seven qadis assigned in Mecca, Medina, Qufa, Basra, Damascus, Egypt and in other prominent regions. The variety of those people might give some information as to the value of the students of Abu Hurairah.
Abu Hurairah acquiring the readings by requesting from Ubay b. Ka‘b, subsequently began to teach this wisdom. Two of the ten reading imams Abu Ja'far al-Kari and A’raj learned this profession of reading from Abu Hurairah.
After the Caliph Uthman passed away, in addition to Ibn Abbas, Ibn Umar, Abu Said al-Khudri and Jabir b. Abdullah; until his death Abu Hurairah continued answering the questions which were addressed to him in Medina with the purpose of acquiring fatwa.
HIS POSITION WITHIN THE SCIENCE OF HADITH
Abu Hurairah remains as the leading figure among the seven companions known as “muksirun”, a name given to them since they passed on more than a thousand hadith. His hadiths reach the number 5374 with their reiterations. Ahmed b. Hanbal's hadith reach 3862. Some record this number as 3848 and 3879. The hadith of Abu Hurairah in the Six Books and al-Musnad of Ahmad b. Hanbal that are not reiterations are said to have reached 1336 or 1579.
The foremost reason why Abu Hurairah is considered to be the sahabi that knows the largest number of hadith and the one who memorizes them at the best is his strong desire to learn everything about the Prophet (pbuh) and to memorize the hadith and thus pursuing him. As he told those asking him the reason why other companions don’t pass on as much hadith as he did, he replied that while emigrants dealt with the trade, and the Ansar (Helpers/residents from/of Medina) were involved in their goods and estates, he as a person from the Suffa were always along side the Prophet, attended committees which the others did not attend, heard and memorized the hadith which the others did not hear, and thought that he was obliged to pass on the hadith in relation to the revelations which order the spread of science and ban their containment. Although they were the companions closest to the Prophet; Abu Bakr lived considerably far from the Prophet’s Mosque and Umar came to the mosque every other day. However Abu Hurairah always remained beside the Prophet which provided him a great opportunity in hadith learning.
Speaking of some of the spiritual opportunities he gained by permanently remaining beside the Prophet, Abu Hurairah once recorded that he successfully snapped at a chance after Prophet Muhammad said that the person who spreads his clothes on the floor and collects it until he completes his speech would memorize his words. Another day when he complained that he could not memorize what he heard, the Prophet told him to spread his clothes on the ground, gestured as if he throwing something onto the clothes, and then asked him to collect his clothes, and from that day on Abu Hurairah never forgot what he heard.
Abu Hurairah’s good memory also proved to be solid after an experiment was performed by the Governor of Medina, Marwan b. Hakam. When Marwan wanted to write down all his hadith, Abu Hurairah conceded no privileges. However, later on as Marwan called him to appear before him and made his clerk who was hidden behind a curtain write down the large number of hadith, he asked Abu Hurairah. A year later when he asked those hadith to Abu Hurairah, Marwan found out that Abu Hurairah read the hadith in the exact same manner. As Dhahabi also pointed out, not a single incident is known where he was mistaken in a hadith.
Another reason why Abu Hurairah memorized these hadith in a perfect manner is because he frequently repeated them. He stated that the companion who knows more hadith than himself was Abdullah b. Amr b. As, and this quality was because Abdullah wrote down the hadith, which again proves the extent of Abu Hurairah’s memory.
Abu Hurairah did not get married when the Prophet was still alive, and he did not save worldly possessions. Neither did he aim to acquire certain opportunities or get involved in political incidents. When the fact most of the hadith transmitted by him was two or three lines is also taken into consideration, it appears natural for him to have memorized such a large number hadith.
As Abu Hurairah was engrossed in teaching others the hadith he had heard, he made a profession of passing on hadith on all occasions. On Fridays when companions gathered together, he would pass on hadith until the imam entered the masjid, which reveals that he was considered by the companions as an authority within the field of hadith.
A final point to mention is that Abu Hurairah continued to live almost half a century after the death of the Prophet. After the Prophet passed away, Abu Hurairah explained the solutions of many problems handled by the Prophet during his lifetime; thus more people gained the opportunity to learn and spread Abu Hurairah’s hadith.