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Prophet Muhammad’s Care for the Poor

Prophet Muhammad’s life was not that different from the lives of the poor. Lady Aisha narrated:

“The family of Muhammad did not eat their fill for three successive days till he died.” (Al-Bukhari)

He treated the poor with mercy and kindness, and he used to give them whatever he could, although he, himself, was poor. He also used to teach his companions to have mercy upon the poor as well. Consider his kind, sweet words:

“O son of Adam! It is better for you if you spend your surplus (wealth), but if you withhold it, it is evil for you. There is (however) no reproach for you (if you withhold the essentials) for a living. And begin (charity) with your dependents; and the upper hand is better than the lower hand.” (Muslim)

He also said:

“If anyone gives as sadaqa (charity) the equivalent of a date from that (earning) earned honestly, for Allah accepts that which is lawful, the Lord would accept it with His Right Hand, and even if it is a date, it would foster in the Hand of the lord, as one of you fosters his colt, till it becomes bigger than a mountain.” (Muslim)

The Prophet’s Mercy

The Madinan society was generally poor, and therefore, to list all incidences and narrations that demonstrate the Prophet’s mercy is impossible. Yet, we are trying to clarify the picture by giving examples, and those who seek more detail can refer to the Sunnah.

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Consider what the Prophet had taught Abu-Dharr although Abu-Dharr was very poor:

“Abu-Dharr, when you prepare the broth, add water to it and invite your neighbor over.” (Muslim)

He also used to teach women to give their neighbors:

“O Muslim women, none of you should consider even a sheep’s trotter too insignificant to give to her neighbor.” (Muslim)

He wanted every individual in the society to care for others and to help them as much as they could afford.

The Prophet was always keen to help the poor by giving them what he had, and when he could not find anything, he would ask his companions to help, not to leave a poor man without help.

The Generous Hosts

Abu-Hurairah narrated:

“A person came to Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) and said, ‘I am hard pressed by hunger.’

The Prophet (peace be upon him) sent a message to one of his wives (to procure food for him) but she said:

‘By Him Who has sent you with Truth, there is nothing with me (to serve him) but only water.’ He then sent the (same) message to another, and she gave the same reply, until all of them gave the same reply. The Prophet then said, ‘Allah would show mercy to him who will entertain this guest tonight.’

A person from the Ansar stood up and said, ‘Messenger of Allah, I am ready to entertain him.’

He took him to his house and said to his wife: ‘Is there anything with you (to serve the guest)?’

She said: ‘No, but only sustenance for our children.’

He said:

‘Distract their attention with something, and when the guest enters extinguish the lamp and give him the impression that we are eating.’

So they sat down, and the guest had his meal. When it was morning he went to Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) who said:

‘Allah was well pleased with what you both did for your guest this night.’” (Muslim)

This was how mercy was so evident in Madinah at the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him) who never stopped giving despite his continuous suffering.

The Prophet always considered giving to be better than keeping, and consequently, he continuously gave. Among the best descriptions of his merciful attitude is what Lady Aisha narrated:

“We slaughtered a sheep and gave away most of it. I told the Prophet only a small piece was left. He then said in all his wisdom:

‘All of it is remaining (through charity) but that piece’” (At-Tirmidhi)

Such was his life and his mercy!

Out of the Poverty Trap

It should not be perceived that by the Prophet’s giving and encouraging his companions to give would mean that he would accept that the poor may continue to ask for help for the rest of their lives. On the contrary he was keen on teaching the poor the importance of working to fulfill one’s own needs. He wanted them to avoid the disgrace of asking and begging and enjoy the sweetness of giving.

Anas ibn-Malek, may Allah be pleased with him, narrated:

“A man from the Ansar came to ask the Prophet (peace be upon him) for charity. The Prophet asked about what he has at home, and the man said that he has some fabric which they use to wear sometimes and other times to sit on. The Prophet instructed him to bring it over. Then he asked if any of his companions would like to purchase the fabric. A man offered to buy it for one Dirham. The Prophet asked for a higher price, until a man offered two Dirhams for it.

The Prophet took the money and gave it to the poor man. The Prophet told him to buy food for his family with one Dirham and to use the other to buy and axe-head and bring it back to him. The Prophet then tied a hand to the axe-head and asked the man to use it in cutting wood, then selling it. And so the man went to cut wood and began to sell it. He collected ten Dirhams which he used for food and clothes.

The Prophet said to the man:

“This is better than asking for charity which you will be asked about on the Day of Judgment. Asking charity is permissible for only three cases; extreme poverty, paying off a large fine, or for paying blood-money in case of killing someone by mistake.” (Ibn Majah)

The Prophet’s mercy upon the poor was for their own good and welfare and to help them attain true happiness. He did not only aim to feed them temporarily, but also to teach them, raise their spirits, and broaden their minds.

He wanted their welfare in this worldly life and in the hereafter as his approach was truly balanced and comprehensive; a sign of a true Prophet!

It was the Prophet’s humility, mercy and kindness that Allah spoke about:

{And in no way have We sent you except as a mercy to the worlds.} (21:107)

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