Selected Traditions of the Prophet on Humility
1. Anas (ra) says there wasn’t another man as dear to the Companions of the Prophet (asws) as he. Yet they wouldn’t rise to greet him because of his disapproval of such gestures.
2.`A’isha (ra) says the Prophet (asws) told her: ‘Ayesha, had I willed mountains of gold would have followed me where I went. (The other day) an angel came to me whose waist was as broad as the Ka`ba. He said: ‘Your Lord sends you peace and says, ‘If you wish you can be a Messenger and a Slave, and if you wish you can be a Messenger and a King.’ I looked at Jibr’il. He signaled me to choose the humbler position.’ [Another report has it that the Prophet (saws) looked at Jibr’il as if he was seeking his advice, and Jibr’il gave him the sign that he be humble]. ‘So I said, ‘I would rather be a Messenger and a Slave.’’ A’isha (ra) says the Prophet never, after that, ate reclining. He used to say: ‘I am a slave and like to sit like a slave.’
The important thing in life is one’s relationship with his Lord. If that relationship is right, the one in which his Lord is pleased with His slave, then it is of little consequence whether the man is in riches or starving. As to what is best for him, whether riches or starvation, the hadith gives the answer in a most eloquent manner: neither plenty nor poverty. The middle course is the best course in which one thanks his Lord when enjoying His bounties and stretches his hands before Him when facing hard times.
From one act of servility to another act of servility, thus the Prophet (saws) spent his time. It was not beyond his dignity to attend to housekeeping works. He mended his footwear, patched up his clothes, and attended to any other work that the running of a house requires. It goes to his greatness, of course, that he did not push his works to others. Had he done that, no one would have complained. But he didn’t do it. Not merely because he had to set an example, but also because that was simply natural to him. That, from a person who changed the history of the world. He didn’t even want others to as much as rise up for him. Not that he was unaware of his own greatness.
“I am the seal of the Prophets. But I am not proud of it,” he used to say. But he was humble before God, and humble before men. One has to only look around at the saints, priests, clergy, popes and all kinds of religious people, not to speak of cheaper men, to measure their shallowness against the greatness of this Prophet, Allah’s peace and blessing on him. That is, he was on earth, and in earthly company, but his heart was in the heavens, eagerly awaiting to be contacted by the One on High.
Not only that he chose the humbler position, he was not afraid that he would be thought unsure about himself as to what should be his choice, and had to look at Jibra’il in askance. Had he not mentioned this part of the incident, the entire credit for choosing the humbler position would have gone to himself. But he was as perfectly honest as humble. And his followers today, even those who pretend to be his servants, calling people to his ways, prefer to sit like kings on tables and chairs for their food. When they are asked about it, they say, ‘Islam was not sent for these trifle things.’ May Allah (swt) give them some understanding of His religion.
3.`Imran b. Husain (ra) says the Prophet (saws) said: “The best of people are (the people of) my generation; then those who will follow them, and then after them those who follow them. After them will come people who will offer to be witnesses without being asked, they will be dishonest and distrusted, will make a vow but will not keep it, and obesity will appear in them.”
According to another version, “they will swear without having been asked to swear.”
4. Abu Dharr Ghifari (ra) reports the Prophet (saws) as having said: “Renunciation of the world does not consist in forbidding (unto oneself) the lawful nor in throwing away one’s wealth. Renunciation consists in you placing greater trust and confidence in what Allah (swt) has, than in what your hands possess, and the rewards for a misfortune when it strikes, being dearer to you than the (dislike of the) misfortune, were it to continue.”
The hadith gives us to understand that the trend to deny oneself the joys of this life, as if the lawful were the unlawful, and of recklessly throwing away one’s wealth, all in the name of renunciation, had either begun to appear during the life-time of the Prophet (saws) or he foresaw it.
The Prophet’s definition tells us that Zuhd is not the extremities of forbidding oneself the joys of this life or distributing one’s wealth without regard of one’s personal needs or those of the dependents. One can partake of the good things that Allah (swt) has created and be rich and still be an ascetic. Asceticism is the name of a condition of the heart, a matter of faith, trust and confidence in Allah (swt), and the love of the Hereafter and, hence, the readiness to bear hardships with patience and forbearance in the hope of being rewarded in the Hereafter to the extent that such hopes become stronger that the fear and abhorrence of misfortunes.
Yes, Zuhd has its outward forms: those practiced by the Prophet (saws) himself and his close Companions, viz., eating, drinking and sleeping as little as possible (without treating these things unlawful), spending a lot in the way of Allah, (without recklessly throwing away one’s wealth), and so forth. But these are only outward forms. Behind them Zuhd may, or may not, exist. And not to everyone can these outward forms and practices be prescribed, although everyone should make attempts at them, both for one’s own self as well for others. For, on the personal level, these practices help in the realization of Tazkiyya and, on the collective level, they counter the greed prevalent in every society.
5. Zayd ibn Thabit says the Prophet (saws) said: “He whose concern is this world, Allah (swt) will have his affairs disorganized and all the while poverty will stare him in his face although no more of the world will reach him but that which Allah (swt) has ordained for him. And, (in contrast), he whose concern is the Hereafter, will have his affairs organized by Allah (swt), contentment will be placed in his heart and the world will come to him bent on its knees.”
The first point to be noted in this hadith is that, against the generally prevalent belief, Allah (swt) has not abandoned or forgotten this world after its creation. He pays attention to every individual and to every minor detail. He who is devoted to Him, and is striving hard to seek His company in the Hereafter, Allah (swt) makes his life easy for him. His affairs are organized, so that although he is involved in many of those activities that seem to others to be time-taxing and, hence, adversely affecting the material growth of a person, but he is able to do them without the neglect of those other things that everybody does. So that others wonder about him as to how he can combine both, or do so many things at one time. As for the world and the person’s share of it, it comes to him, as if dragged down to him by circumstance, chasing him wherever he goes.
The case of him whose objective is this world is entirely the opposite. The more he tries to organize his life, and save some time, the more he gets entangled in doing just the routine. Nor does his chasing of the world and lunging forward to get more and more of it earn him more than the share written for him. He is like a donkey with a carrot tied in front him. The more he runs after it, the farther it gets. At the end of the day, he gets just his share of the fodder.