Praise be to Allah alone, and peace be upon the last Prophet, upon his family, his Companions, and those who follow his guidance.
When a person loves someone, he should follow and take him as a role example, and when he does so, that person will be vivid in his life indubitably, even if he is dead or absent.
For Muslims, our Prophet is our role example whom we have to follow, so he is always vivid in our lives. Let us speak about this Prophet in the eyes of his followers, in the past and in the present.
Who are those followers?
Can this imitation and following continue after the Prophet's death (peace be upon him)?
What are the examples which show this following?
Who are the followers of the Prophet (peace be upon him)?
Before we answer this question, let us know what is the meaning of following.
The meaning of following is to follow the footsteps of someone as Allah (Glory be to him) says: "And there came a man running from the farthest part of the town. He said: "O my people! Obey the Messengers.* Obey those who ask no wages of you (for themselves), and who are rightly guided." [Surat Yasin: 20 - 21].
Allah (Glory be to Him) says: "[Say (O Muhammad peace be upon him) to these idolaters (pagan Arabs) of your folk:] Follow what has been sent down to you from your Lord (the Qur'ân and Prophet Muhammad's Sunnah), and follow not any Auliyâ' (protectors and helpers who order you to associate partners in worship with Allâh), besides Him (Allâh). Little do you remember!" [Surat Al A`raf: 3].
It is said that the meaning of following is to come after someone. Allah (Glory be to Him) says: "Then We sent Our Messengers in succession. Every time there came to a nation their Messenger, they denied him; so We made them follow one another (to destruction), and We made them as Ahâdîth (the true stories for mankind to learn a lesson from them). So away with a people who believe not!" [Surat Al Mu`minun: 44]. 
Of what has been mentioned it becomes clear that the followers of the Prophet (peace be upon him) are those who follow his steps.
So, the Companions and the Prophet's family are from the people who believed in him and in his message, and anyone follows his steps until Allah inherits the earth and everything on it will be among his followers.
However, the Messenger of Allah passed away, his Shari`ah, message, his commands, and prohibitions are still active; and this is what the Companions and the Followers understood.
The examples of following the Prophet (peace be upon him) after his death are abundant:
1- Examples of the Companions (may Allah be pleased with them):
The Companions (may Allah be pleased with them) have not changed after the death of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and did not change what the Prophet (peace be upon him) commanded to do.
When some of the Arab tribes apostatized, Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) directed the Muslim army, which the Prophet (peace be upon him) prepared, to the Romans although the need of the Muslim state to every soldier to fight the apostatized tribes.
But he followed the footsteps of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and directed the army, as a result, when the army passed by an apostatized group or tribe, they knew the power of the Muslim army, the matter which converted them to Islam again. 
These are some examples from the following of the Companions to the Prophet (peace be upon him) after his death.
While `Umar ibn Al Khattab was circulating around the Ka`bah and kissing the Black Stone, he said: "I know that you are just a stone which cannot harm or benefit, but had not I seen the Messenger of Allah, I would have not kissed you." 
They did not do but what the Prophet (peace be upon him) commanded them to do, and did not speak but after the command of the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him), and did not imitate but the actions of the Prophet (peace be upon him).
When `Uthman stood by a grave, he wept so much that his beard would get wet. So, it was said to him" Paradise and the Fire are also mentioned but you do not weep, yet you weep here (why)? He said: Surely, Allah's Messenger (peace be upon him) said: The grave s the first stop of the several stops before the hereafter, and deliverance from it means that after it is an easy sailing, but if one does not get deliverance from it then the following stages are more severe than it. 
Abul-Haiyaj Haiyan ibn Husayn said: `Ali ibn Abu Talib (May Allah be pleased with him) said to me: "Shall I send you to do a task that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) had assigned to me? Spare no portrait un-wiped out, and leave not a high grave unleveled.'' 
Thus, the Messenger (peace be upon him) was vivid in their eyes, lives, behavior, commands, and prohibitions, so they obeyed his commands during his lifetime and after his death; and the examples of the Companions are countless.
2- Examples of the believers who did not see the Prophet (peace be upon him):
If someone says that the Companions lived during the lifetime of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and saw him, therefore they got affected by his behavior, sayings, and actions, let us see the examples of the Followers.
The Followers did not see the Prophet (peace be upon him) but they believed in him after his death and he was vivid in their hearts, so they followed his commands, prohibitions, and behavior that were reported to them.
Al Hasan Al Basry (may Allah bestow mercy on his soul) —the true worshipper, the pious, and the righteous— followed the Prophet (peace be upon him) in everything. He used to cry when he recalls the Prophet's situation with the tree which the Prophet (peace be upon him) used as a pulpit, and when the Companions made a new pulpit for him, it wept for leaving him.
Al Hasan used to say: "O people, the tree yearned for the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him), and you are more entitled to yearn to him". 
Muhammad ibn Sirin, the venerable follower, used to say: We had a hair from the Prophet's head given to us by Anas ibn Malik. Thereupon, Abu `Ubaydah, the Follower) said to him: If I had a hair from his head, it would be better than anything on earth. 
Saladin who liberated Jerusalem (532-589 AH) used to say to the people: You were defeated because you stayed away from the way of Allah and you will not gain victory until you go back to His Way.
Ibn Taymiyah, Sheikh Al Islam (661-728 AH) —who refuted heresies, fought the people of error, and spread the Sunnah and lived for it— used to say: "The religion of Islam is based on two fundamentals which are: To worship Allah alone without associating partners with Him in worship and to worship Allah according to the instructions of the Prophet (peace be upon him). Those two fundamentals are the reality of saying: "(La Ilaha Illa Allah, wa Nashhadu Anna Muhammadan RasuluAllah) There is no god but Allah and Muhammad in the Messenger of Allah."
There are hundreds of examples from the past centuries and the present show great situations of scholars and the believers who followed the Messenger of Allah in every time and place whether in their good conditions and in bad conditions, day and night.
Ibn Al Qayyim said:
Those are the followers of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his party.
Had it been for their efforts, you would not have found a Muslim on earth.
Had it been for them, the earth would have fallen with its people.
However, they are the mountains of the earth which provide it stability and balance.
Had it been for them, the earth would have fallen into darkness,
but they are like shining stars in the sky.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) is still alive in the eyes and the hearts of his followers as long as they live.
 Mufradat Al Qur'an (1/176).
 Al Bidayah wa An-Nihayah (6/305).
 Al Bukhari and Muslim (3/ 540), (2/925).
 Reported by At-Tirmidhy who graded it as good, and Ibn Majah.
 Reported by Muslim.
 Siyar A`lam An-Nubala' (4/42).
 Al Bidayah wa An-Nihayah (6/127).
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