Physical Descriptions of the Companions

Compiled from the first four volumes of adh-Dhahabi’s ‘Siyar A’lam an-Nubala”:

1 – Abu Bakr:

“He was white-skinned, skinny, with thin cheeks. He had a wrinkly face, deepset eyes, a protruding forehead, and he would dye his beard with henna and oil it.”

“He was white or yellow-skinned, handsome, with thin legs. His izar would not stay firmly tied around his waist.”

2 – ‘Umar bin al-Khattab:

“He was white-skinned, leaning towards redness. He was tall, balding, and had white hair around his head.”

“He was very tall, and extemely bald. He had reddened skin, thin cheeks, and the edges of his mustache were long and dark red.”

“He would walk so fast that it was as if he was riding a horse while those around him were walking.”

“He used to dye his hair with henna.”

3 – ‘Uthman bin ‘Affan:

“He was not tall or short. He had a handsome face, a long beard, dark skin, wide shoulders, and he would dye his hair with saffron. He would cap teeth with gold.”

‘Abdullah bin Hazm said: “I saw ‘Uthman, and I never saw a man or woman more beautiful than him.”

as-Sa’ib said: “I saw him dying his beard yellow, and I never saw an old man more handsome than him.”

4 – ‘Ali bin Abi Talib:

“He was balding, but had much hair left, as if he was wearing a sheepskin. He was of medium height, with a large belly and a large beard.”

“He had a yellow beard.”

“He dyed his beard with henna once, then he never used it again.”

“His hair and beard were white, like cotton.”

ash-Sha’bi said: “I saw ‘Ali with a white beard, and I never saw anyone with a larger beard then he.”

“He had heavyset, large eyes, and he was closer to being short.”

5 – Abu ‘Ubaydah bin al-Jarrah:

“He was a skinny man, with a wrinkly face and a light beard. He was tall.”

6 – Mu’adh bin Jabal:

“He was tall, with large eyes, white-skinned, with wrinkled skin.”

7 – ‘Abdullah bin Mas’ud:

“He was thin, short, and did not dye his hair.”

“He was handsome and wise.”

8 – ‘A’ishah:

“She was white-skinned and beautiful.”

9 – Abu Hurayrah:

“He was fair-skinned, had wide shoulders, wide teeth, and he had braids in his hair.”

“He was white-skinned, thin, and had a red beard.”

10 – Mu’awiyah:

“He was tall, white-skinned, and handsome. When he laughed, his upper lip would move, and he would dye his hair.”

“He would dye his hair with saffron, and his beard was golden.”

11 – ‘Abdullah bin ‘Umar:

“He would dye his beard yellow.”

“He would dye his beard yellow until his clothing became wet with the dye. It was said to him: “You dye with yellow?” He replied: “I saw the Messenger of Allah doing so!””

12 – al-Husayn:

“His hair and beard were extremely black.”

13 – ‘Abdullah bin ‘Abbas:

“He was white-skinned, leaning towards yellow, tall, handsome, bright-faced, and he would dye his hair with henna.”

‘Ata’ said: “I never see the full Moon of the 14th night of the month except that I remember the face of Ibn ‘Abbas.”

14 – Anas bin Malik:

“He would wear a black turban that he would leave trailing behind him.”

6 Responses to “Physical Descriptions of the Companions”

  1. AbdulMuntaqim Says:

    Keep going Ibrahim, we really want to know more about how dark the arabs were because its so important to know these types of things, especially if you keep blabering on and on about it.

    • Yusuf al-Faruq Says:

      AbdulMuntaqim do you have a problem with the original post describing Arabs as white? I don’t see your comments concerning that. It seems the physical descriptions of the sahaba or original Arabs is never an issue until they are revealed to be black in complexion.

  2. Ibrahim Says:

    hmmmm was the peron who initiated this post in the first place was he ‘blabbering too?….i guess not…i guess he was just ‘informing’ eh……but ok i’ll keep blabering just for you

    Arabic Terms Used For Complexions

    There are many terms that describe complexions in the Arabic language that have different meanings from the same term today or that are no longer used. This is why many people who read descriptions using these terms don’t understand the true meaning of the descriptions.

    White أبيض

    One of these misunderstood terms is the term “white” ابيض . Most people think that when the Arabs of the past described a person’s complexion as “white”, they meant the same light complexion that is meant today. This isn’t true at all. When the Arabs described a person as “white”, they actually meant a dark complexion. Ibn Mandour, the well-known Arab linguist who was born in the 13th century AD and the author of the famous book on the Arabic language Lisan Al Arab, quotes from another famous book on the Arabic language called Al Tahdheeb the following:

    “When the Arabs say that a person is white, they mean that he has a pure, clean, faultless integrity…They don’t mean that he has white skin, but they mean to speak well of his honor and the purity of his integrity. When they say that a person has a white face, they mean that his complexion is free from blotches and a blackness that is unattractive”.

    The author of Al Tahdheeb is Mas’ud ibn Umar Sa’ad Al Deen Al Taftaazaani, the well-known Arab linguist who lived during the same time as Ibn Mandour.

    Shams Al Deen Mohamed ibn Ahmed ibn Othman Al Dhahabi, a well-known historian also of the 13th century, says in his famous book Siyar A’alaam Al Nubalaa, “When the Arabs say that a person is white, they mean that he is black with a light-brownish undertone”. The Arabic definition of a white complexion is “al lown al hinti bi hilya sawdaa” اللون‏ ‏الحنطي‏ ‏بحلية‏ ‏سودا‏‏ء . “Al lown” means complexion, “al hinti” means light brown, and “bi hilya sawdaa” means with a black appearance. It’s a black complexion with a light-brownish undertone. The “hilya” of a person is what’s apparent in his/her color or appearance. So a person with a “hilya” (appearance) “sawdaa” (black) has a black appearance. So a person called “white” ابيض by the Arabs of the past had a blackish complexion with a light-brown undertone.

    So anyone who reads someone being described as “white” in an Arabic book of the past should understand that “white” means a dark complexion. It’s very important that people bear this in mind.

    Red أحمر

    Since in the past the term “white” was used for a person whose complexion was like a “black” person today, one must wonder what it is that the Arabs of the past called people who were “white” in the sense that the word is used today. In the past, those who had complexions like those who are considered “white” today were called red. Tha’alab, the Arabic language scholar of the 9th century AD says, “The Arabs don’t say that a man is white because of a white complexion. ‘White’ to the Arabs means that a person is pure, without any faults. If they meant that his complexion was ‘white’, they said ‘red'”.

    Ibn Mandour says that the expression The Red People applies to the non-Arabs because of their whiteness and because of the fact that most of them are fair-skinned. He says that the Arabs used to call the non-Arabs such as the Romans and the Persians and their neighbors, The Red People. He also says that when the Arabs say that someone is white, they mean that he has a noble character–they don’t mean that he is white. He says that the Arabs call the slaves The Red People. This is because most of the slaves of the Arabs were white (red). Click below for original in Arabic.

    Al Dhahabi says “Red, in the speech of the people from the Hijaz, means fair-complexioned and this color is rare amongst the Arabs. This is the meaning of the saying ‘…(He was) a red man as if he is one of the slaves’. The speaker meant that his color is like that of the slaves who were captured from the Christians of Syria, Rome, and Persia”. So it must be understood that what people call “white” today was called “red” by the Arabs of the past. Click below for original in Arabic.

    Adam آدم

    Another term that the Arabs used in the past to describe a complexion and that is misunderstood today is the term “adam” آدم. this term was used by the Arabs very often in the past. However, people today, both Arab and non-Arab, have no idea what this word means. Therefore, when they read about someone being described as “adam”, they have no idea what is meant. The term “adam” means very dark-skinned.

    Ibn Athir, the famous scholar of the 12th century says concerning the term “adam”, “When used to describe the complexion of a human, it means very dark-skinned…It is said that the term comes from the expression the ‘face’ or ‘surface of the earth’ which means the color of the earth. From this term Adam, the father of mankind, received his name”.

    Ibn Mandour says, “There is disagreement concerning the origin of the name of Adam, the father of mankind. Some people say that he was named Adam because he was created from the face (udma) of the earth. Other people say that he was named Adam because of the adam (very dark) complexion that Allah created him”. Ibn Mandour also says, “The scholars of the Arabic language say that the origin of our father Adam’s name is from the fact that he was created from dirt and also the color “adam” resembles the color of dirt”. What these scholars say about the origin of our father Adam’s name is consistent with what Allah says in the Quran about the creation of Adam. Allah says that He created Adam from black mud. Since Adam was created from black mud, it’s only natural for his complexion to be like that of black mud, which is very “adam”. Click below for original in Arabic.

    It appears that the word adam was also used in Hebrew. The word in Hebrew is admonee. The prophet David was described in the Old Testament as admonee. Esau was also described as admonee. Unfortunately many Jewish “scholars” translate the word incorrectly. They translate it as red. However, it’s very clear that the word in Arabic means black-skinned and the Arabic language and Hebrew language are similar. I doubt very seriously that the word could mean black in Arabic and red in Hebrew. Whoever makes such a contention should bring forth proof.

    Black ‏ ‏‏ ‏ ‏‏أسود

    Another misunderstood term used by the Arabs of the past to described a person’s complexion is the term “black”. It must be understood that when the Arabs of the past used the term “black” to describe a complexion, they meant that the person’s complexion was actually black–much darker than the complexion of people who are called “black” today. The Arabs used the term “black” أسود or they used the term “shadeed al udma (very adam)” شديد‏‏ ‏الأدمة ‏. The two terms were used interchangeably to describe a very, very dark complexion. Most people who are called “black” today are actually not black. Many people mistakenly believe that an Arab that the Arabs described as “black” was from a different race or origin from the other Arabs. This isn’t the case at all. When the Arabs described another Arab as black-skinned, they were only expressing the fact that the person was so dark-skinned that he/she was black, a color much darker than the color of most so-called African Americans and also a color much darker than the color of most so-called Africans. They didn’t mean that he/she wasn’t an Arab. The term “black” is used today for people who are not black at all. There are some peoples and tribes in Arabia and in so-called Africa who are black-skinned, but black-skinned is a specific complexion– a very, very dark complexion. This is an important point that must be kept in mind.

    Yellow ‏ ‏أصفر

    Another misunderstood term used by the Arabs of the past to describe a person’s complexion is the term “yellow” ‏ ‏‏ ‏أصفر. When people read that a person was described as having a “yellow” complexion, they believe that what is meant is the light complexion that the term is used for today. However, when the Arabs of the past described a person’s complexion as yellow, they didn’t mean a light complexion at all. In fact, they meant that the person was black-skinned. The terms black and yellow were used interchangeably by the Arabs of the past.

    Ibn Mandour says, “Yellow also means black… Al Faraa says concerning the words of Allah in the Quran, ‘Like they are yellow camels’, ‘Yellow (camels) here means black camels'”. You will find many Arabs who were known to be black-skinned described as both black-skinned and as yellow. For example in the book Kitab Al Aghani by Abu Al Faraj Al Asbahaani of the 10th century AD, Saeed Ibn Misjah, the well-known Arab singer of the 9th century AD, was described as both black-skinned and yellow in the same chapter. It is a known fact that Saeed Ibn Misjah was black-skinned. Both terms (black and yellow) were used to describe him in Kitab Al Aghani because the terms were used interchangeably by the Arabs of the past.

    Green‏ ‏‏‏ ‏أخضر‏ ‏

    Most people are unaware of the fact that the Arabs of the past used the term “green” for black. Black and green were used interchangeably. This is why black-skinned Al Fadl Ibn Al Abbas Ibn ‘Utba Ibn Abi Lahab said:

    I am the green (black) one. I am well-known. My skin is green (black). I am from the noble house of the Arabs. Whoever crosses swords with me, will cross swords with one who is noble and strong.

  3. Salam wa salamat Yusef….this is not about black over white or anything as such….because we know that has no bearing or no significance in our Deen… is merely setting the record straight since many ignorant people including Abdul Mutaqim like to pretend or ignore the racism that exist amngst Muslims and this racism has influenced how historical data is passed down from geneation to generation…….there are enough references within ALL the articles above for ANYONE to verify what i have posted so don’t take my word for it check it out yourself.


  4. mindstand Says:

    Why don’t people accept that many parts of Arabia like East and North African and south Europe has been a mixture of different race people for thousands of years ?

    Black does not mean you are Negroid African just as white doesn’t mean European. There are racially mixed blacks whiter than European Italians and Spanish .

    An African Albino is whiter than any white European yet is still recognized by his features and other characters NOT COLOR.. Some Indians are darker than Africans but are not Negroid in features and other characters. Most Somalis, Ethiopians and Eritreans are different to all other Africans like Sudanese, Kenyans and other Africans because most have been mixing for thousands of years with Arabs and other races.

    You have to consider that the sun contributes to at least 25% of the dark skin in all races. White people exposed to the sun can become darker than many Arabs who live in Cold countries and lose most of their color. North Indians are lighter than south Indians, N. Europeans are lighter than S. Europeans, And N. Arabs are lighter than S. Arabs, and North Africans in general are lighter than the rest due to sun and racial mixing

    Black ( Aswad, Zunji) is full black,

    Brown ( Asmar, Daken which means darkish) is used on mixed race people , light skin Africans , and even whiter people from the Levant with dark hair and tanned skin

    Olive (Hanti . Amhi )is for Whiter people with a hint of color like Italians and Greeks and many Levants Arabs.Like Wheat color.

    White ( Abyad ) is for white people like white Lebanese , Turkish and Syrian.

    Color means something else to different people, To Europeans anyone who is not White and European is either black or “Paki black”. Very light skin Arabs are called white to other Arabs but does not mean European white.

    Biggest Evidence that Blacks in Arabia are a result of interracial mixing, Migrants and freed African slaves is noted in History by both Blacks and whites. They become Arabs and adopt their tribal names of the people they live amongst or the names they adopt. They are now as Arab as any other Arab.So when a western Historian or colonialists mention some Arabs as black they speaks of what he sees only.

    Here is an example of how Africans became Arabs and not because the Afrocentric claim that Arabia was a Negroid African country that was somehow invaded by the Majority Lighter Arabs who came from Venus and Mars. And now Native Americans are also Africans. Much like Whites claiming the Egyptians and Pharaohs were mostly European Whites. When you speak to Any Negroid Arab he will tell you they originated from Africa ( besides the mix).

    Hellesthaeus ( Kaleb), the Christian king of the Ethiopians discovered that a number of the Omeritae ( Yemeni Jews) headed by King Dhu Nawas a newly convert to Judaism on the opposite mainland ( Yemen) were oppressing the Aksumite (Christians of both Arab Yemeni and Ethiopian ) a garrison at Zafar . With the help of Justinian The Roman Emperor he collected a fleet of ships and an army and came against them, and he conquered them in battle and slew both the king and many of his army. He then set up a local Yemeni Christian King instead called Esimiphaeus,( Sumuafa’ Ashawa’) and that he should pay a tribute to the Ethiopians every year.

    But many of his thousands of Ethiopian army and slaves were unwilling to follow the king back to Ethiopia and wished to remain in Yemen because of their desire for the extremely goodly land.

    Not long after the migrant rose against the new king Esimiphaeus and put him in confinement in one of the fortresses there, and established another Christian king over the Omeritae called Abramus who was a slave of a Roman citizen who was in the business of shipping in the city of Adulis in Ethiopia. When the Ethiopian King Hellesthaeus learned this, he was eager to punish Abramus together with those who had revolted with him against Esimiphaeus,

    So he sent against them an army of 3000 men with his uncle Aryat as a commander. once there the army was no longer willing to return home, but they wished to remain like their predecessors and so without the knowledge of their commander they opened a secret negotiations with Abramus that just as the fighting began, they killed his uncle the commander and joined the ranks of the enemy, and so remained there.

    But Ellesthaeus became angry and sent another army against them; this force engaged with Abramus and his men, and, after suffering a severe defeat in the battle, straightway most returned home. Thereafter the king of the Ethiopians gave up became afraid and no further expeditions against Abramus took place.

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