The Teacher of Mankind

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) once said:

“Who from my Ummah (universal nation) would learn five qualities to act upon or teach to those who would (in turn) act upon them?”

Abu Hurairah said: “I, O Messenger of God.”

Prophet Muhammad took Abu Hurairah’s hand and counted the five qualities on it, saying:

“Guard yourself against things forbidden, you will be the most worshipful (devout) of people.

Be content with what God has allotted you, you will be the richest of people.

Be good to your neighbor, you will be a believer.

Love for people what you love for yourself, you will be a Muslim.

And do not laugh much; much laughing deadens the heart.” (At-Tirmidhi)

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) drew a square on the ground, then a line in the middle of it that extended beyond it, and a number of small lines around that middle line.

He told his Companions that the line in the middle represented man. The square represented his inescapable lifetime. And the small lines around it represented the afflictions that would happen to him (sickness, pain, bereavement, infirmity, and so on). He explained:

“If this one misses him, that one gets him, and if that one misses him, this one gets him.” As for the line that extended outside the square, it represented man’s extended ambitions in this worldly life (ambitions that he believed he would attain before his death, but he would not). (Al-Bukhari)

There was not, and there cannot ever be, a better teacher. The wisest is the best of people. That was Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

His goodness of mind was only excelled by his goodness of character, whose ampleness and magnanimity was not narrowed or ruffled by anything.

He was always overflowing with knowledge and benefit, always easy with people, approachable, informative, supportive, kind, generous, friendly, and cheerful; teaching people through his noble manners and actions as much as through his noble words.

Prophet Muhammad’s doors were not shut, nor did they have guards. He was within people’s reach. Anyone who wished to meet him could easily do so.

His accessibility did not in the least detract from his majesty and honor. At first sight, awe was the primary emotion, which would soon, after a little association with him, dissolve into amiability. “Calm yourself,” the Prophet (peace be upon him) said soothingly to a man who came to talk to him and started trembling: “I am not a king. I am only the son of a woman who used to eat jerked meat (dried meat – poor people’s food).”[1]

He smiled without laughing, was sad without frowning, strong without violence, modest without servility, and generous without extravagance.

He shook hands with the rich and the poor, the young and the old, and was the first to greet whoever met him, whether young or old, black or red, free or a slave.

If a man met and shook hands with him, he (peace be upon him) never withdrew his hand first; he waited for the other man to withdraw his hand. He was never the first to turn away his face; he waited until the other man had turned away his face.

He never said no to anything for which he was asked. And whenever given the choice between two matters, he chose the easier option, unless it involved a sin, in which case he would be the furthest from it.

Prophet Muhammad was constantly mindful of God, wasted no time in useless talk, prolonged his prayers, shortened his sermons, and was never too proud to walk with the widows and the poor to fulfill their needs.

His pattern of life was much like that of the common people. He used to buy items from the marketplace and carry them with his own hands, give fodder to and tether his own camel, sweep the house, milk the sheep, mend his shoes, patch his garment, eat with his servant, and grind the wheat instead of him if he asked him to.

Lady Aisha (his wife, may God be pleased with her) was asked:

“What did the Prophet used to do in his house?”

She replied:

“He used to be in the service of his family, and when the time for Salah (prayer) came, he would go out to Salah.” (Al-Bukhari)

He would sit on the ground, eat on the ground, ride the donkey, visit the sick, attend funerals, and accept invitations from slaves.

He (peace be upon him) appreciated every blessing, no matter how trivial, and never dispraised any that he received.

He never fully satisfied his hunger and never complained of anything to anyone. He found poverty preferable to affluence and wealth.

He gave to people as one fearless of poverty, saving nothing for tomorrow. He used to say:

“God brings the provision of every tomorrow.”[2]

He forbade exaggerated praise of himself, including people standing up for him as people stand up for kings, or walking behind him. Rather, he would walk at the rear of his Companions, guiding their steps, and would initiate greetings with anyone he met.

He would sit among his companions as one of them, without distinguishing himself, and would participate in whatever work they did.

“O Messenger of God, I will slaughter the sheep,” said one of the Companions.

“O Messenger of God, I will skin it,” said another.

“O Messenger of God, I will cook it,” said another.

“And I will gather the wood,” said Prophet Muhammad.

They said: “O Messenger of God, we will spare you work.”

He said: “I know you can spare me (work), but I hate to be distinguished among you. God, the Most Exalted, hates to see His servant distinguished among his companions.”[3]

He was the most merciful of people to others. He would start the prayer intending to prolong it; but on hearing the cries of a child, he would shorten his prayer:

“because of the intense sadness I know his crying causes his mother.”[4]

He was the bravest of men. One night, the people of Al-Madinah were terrified by a sound towards which some hastened, when they met Prophet Muhammad on his way back. He had already preceded them to the source of the sound. He was riding an unsaddled horse, with a sword slung around his neck, and he was saying:

“Do not be frightened. Do not be frightened. I found nothing.”[5]

Harm and harassment only increased his patience and forbearance. On the Battle of Uhud when his people fought him and wounded his face, he was heard saying, while wiping blood off his face:

“O God, forgive my people, for they know not.”[6]

He was never angry about worldly life or worldly things, seeing them as merely transient.

“In worldly life I am but a traveler who sought shade under a tree, then he departed and left it behind.”[7]

But when a right was violated, he stood angrily in defense of it until it was redressed. Still, he never felt angry for his own person (when wronged) or sought to avenge himself.

He was shyer than a virgin in her seclusion, and if he disliked something it appeared on his face.

He never confronted anyone with what he disliked about him. Rather, he would exclaim: “What is the matter with those people who do such and such?”

He always lowered his gaze and never fixed it on anyone. He spent more time looking towards the ground than towards the sky. Most of his looking was contemplative.

He was in a state of continuous grief and thought (for his people). He had little rest, periods of long silence, and never spoke needlessly.

He always started and ended his words with God’s Name. His words, which he repeated three times to ensure they were well understood, were clear, precise, pithy yet comprehensive, never more or less than needed, and easy to memorize. He used to praise and support good things and condemn and undermine the bad.

He (peace be upon him) was always thoughtful of others, enquiring after his Companions and asking people about what troubled them. He would occupy himself with people’s concerns and guide them towards solutions to set right their affairs, answering what they asked about and telling them what they needed to know.

He (peace be upon him) would say:

“Let those of you who are present inform those who are absent (of the knowledge they have heard); and inform me about the needs of those who cannot convey it themselves. Truly, the one who informs a person of authority about the need of one who is unable to convey it himself will have his feet made firm by Allah on the Day of Resurrection.”

His method of assembly was one of knowledge, tolerance, modesty, truthfulness, and patience, in which he was always cheerful, lenient, and good-natured. He was never rude, tough, noisy, fault-finding, or complimentary.

He only talked for a good purpose. He never censured, criticized, or sought to know the lapses of anyone.

No voices were raised during his assemblies. When he talked, those sitting with him bowed their heads and listened, as if there were birds perched on their heads. They did not speak until he had stopped. None interrupted the other, nor did he interrupt anyone. The first to speak, regardless of rank, was the one listened to until he had finished. He laughed at what his attendants laughed at and admired what they admired.

He never rose or sat down without mentioning God. He would seat himself where he found a place (not in a particular place) and advised others to do the same.

He (peace be upon him) used to divide his attention between all the attendants of his assembly to such a degree that each believed himself to be the most honorable to him.

When anyone sat and talked with him about some issue, he remained patiently with him until that person was the one to leave.

Anyone who came to him with a need would leave either having it fulfilled or with a kind word.

His generously noble character was spacious enough to contain all people in the same way the sun sheds its rays and warmth so that each person profits and has a share without feeling that others are sharing in or are rivals for its warmth.[8]

[1] Narrated by Abu Mas‘ud, Sunan Ibn Majah, Book of Al-At’imah, Hadith no. 3303

[2] Al-Baihaqi, Shuab Al-Iman.

[3] Al-Muhib At-Tabari, Subl A-Huda wa Ar-Rashad fi Sirah Khairul-‘Abad, Al-Salhi Al-Shami, vol. 7.

[4] Narrated by Anas bin Malik, Sahih Al-Bukhary, Book of Al-Adhan (Call to Prayer), Hadith no. 668.

[5] Narrated by Anas bin Malik, Sahih Muslim, Book of Al-Fadail (Merits), Hadith no. 4266.

[6] Narrated by ‘Abdullah bin Mas‘ud, Sahih Al-Bukhary, Book of Ahadith Al-Anbiya’ (Narratives of the Prophets), Hadith no. 3218

[7] Narrated by ‘Abdullah bin Mas‘ud, Sunan At-Tirmidhy, Book of Az-Zuhd, Hadith no. 2299.

[8] Description on the authority of Hind bin Abu Halah At-Tamimy, reported by At-Tirmidhy in Mukhtasar Ash-Shama’il Al-Muhammadiyah; Ibn Sa‘d, At-Tabakat Al-Kubra, vol. 1; Ibn AlJawzi, Sifat AlSafwa; Al-Haythami, Majma‘ Az-Zawa’id wa Manba‘ Al-Fawa’id; ‘Abd AlFattah Abu Ghuddah, Ar-Rasul alMualim; and Sheikh Muhammad Al-Ghazali, Aqidat Al-Muslim.