The Prophet’s Servility to God
I. Mutarraf b. Abdullah b. Shikhkhir reports from his father: “(Once) I visited the Prophet (saws) and found him praying. A noise was issuing from his belly like the noise from a boiling pot. He was weeping.” The words of another report are: “weeping with a noise issuing from his chest like the noise of a mill-stone.” 1
– Ahmad, Nasa’i, Abu Da’ud.
1. The hadith should help us understand the depth of the Prophet’s knowledge of Allah’s Attributes: the knowledge that made him cry like that before His Lord.
II. Mughira (ra) says the Prophet (saws) used to observe such long vigils in the nights (praying) that his feet got swollen. Someone told him: “Why do you do that when your past and future sins have been forgiven?”2 He replied: “Shall I not be a grateful servant?”3
– Bukhari, Muslim
2. Since Prophets were sent to guide the people and were models for the humanity, they did not commit sins or errors in religious matters. They were, at each step of their life, guided by Allah, in order that the people should never be in confusion about when to follow them and when not. Again, they were sent to the people to demonstrate a sinless life. It was natural, therefore, that they be saved from committing sins. Nevertheless, they could make a mistake in choosing the right course of action or adopting the right attitude in a particular situation that offered them several choices. When they did that, and such occurrences were far and few in between, Allah (subhanahu wa ta‘ala)warned them and corrected them before they could have the time to act according to their judgement. This error in choosing a course of action in a particular situation of choice has been termed by the Qur’an as a sin. It is true that since they had not acted following a deliberate “wrong choice,” it should not have been called a sin. But it has been done so because of the high rank the Prophets enjoy in the sight of Allah. Nonetheless, all such “sins” of our Prophet (saws), both previous as well those that could occur in future, had been waived away by Allah as forgiven beforehand. This is one interpretation.
Another interpretation is that “the forgiveness of the sins of the past and the future” had the good news hidden in it that the Prophet would be guarded from committing any sin or error in the future.
3. A Prophet is human in every sense of the term. Although elevated above all people of his time, he does not become a superhuman, or an angel, or someone with divine qualities. He remains a slave of Allah, which all of us are, with the difference that most people forget the fact of they being slaves of Allah, and begin to behave like they are masters. But the Prophet not only always bore in mind the fact of being a slave of Allah, but also practised it to give us an ideal example. One of the ways in which he demonstrated this was to stand for long hours before Allah, in the stillness of the nights, praying, seeking His mercy and forgiveness, and thanking Him for His favours, until his feet swelled.
III. Ibn Umar (ra) says the Prophet (asws) said, “Do not cross the limits in revering me as did the Christians with Jesus the son of Mary (asws). I am but Allah’s Messenger, and His slave. So refer to me as a Messenger of Allah and His slave.”4
– Bukhari, Muslim
4. Yet we notice that in large parts of the Muslim world, the Prophet (saws) is revered to such extent that he is almost given a share in the Divinity. One great harm, apart from the fact that this is extremely damaging to faith on which hinges the acceptance or rejection of all other deeds, is that people do not think that the Prophet can be followed in all matters, since, according to them, the Prophet was a very special being, with special powers, which allowed him to lead the kind of life that he led. Whereas we, these misguided ones believe, cannot follow him in all respects since we lack those powers. Therefore, both the Qur’an and the Prophet himself stressed this point often: of he being a slave of God.
IV. Says ‘A’isha (ra): “One night, I missed the Prophet (saws) in the bed and began to stretch my hands around groping for him. My hand fell on the sole of his leg. He was in prostration. He was saying: ‘O God, I seek Your pleasure against Your anger, Your forgiveness against Your retribution, and Your protection against Your own self. I cannot praise You in the manner deserving of You. You are, as you have described Yourself.’”
– Malik, Tirmidhi, Abud Da’ud
V. ‘A’isha (ra) said: “Whenever the wind blew (a little hard) the Prophet (saws) would say, ‘O God, I ask You for the best of it, the best in it, and for the best of what it has been sent for. And I seek your protection from the worst of it, the worst in it, and the worst for which it has been sent.” When the skies became dark with clouds, his countenance would change. He would come into the house and go out, come forward, go backward (appearing very disturbed). When it began to rain, he would cheer up. Once, she enquired him the reason. He explained, ‘I fear ‘A’isha that it could turn out to be like it was for the people of ‘Ad, who, when they saw the (punishment-bearing) clouds advancing towards their valleys, said, ‘These are clouds that will bring us rains.’”5
– Bukhari, Muslim
5. ‘Ad were a people who lived about 2000 years before Christ in the Yemen and Hadramaut area. Prophet Hud (asws) was sent to them. They rejected him and as a result were destroyed by God. When the clouds which carried the punishment assigned to them began to advance, the people of ‘Ad began to make merry saying, the clouds will bring us rain.
From that knowledge, our Prophet (saws) used to get disturbed with the appearance of thick clouds over Madinah until Allah revealed to him that He was not going to destroy the Muslim Ummah, en masse.
VI. Abu Musa (ra) says that, once, when the sun eclipsed the Prophet (saws) got up in terror, as if the Hour had struck. He went to the mosque and prayed with a lengthy standing (qiyam), and lengthy bows and prostrations – lengthier than I had ever seen. Then he addressed the gathering and said: ‘These phenomena do not occur because of anyone’s birth or death,6 but rather, Allah warns His slaves therewith. So when you witness anything of this sort, rush to prayers, supplications, and His forgiveness.”7
– Bukhari, Muslim
6. It was widely believed, as it is believed by many non-Muslim societies even today, both in the east and west, that the sun or moon eclipses, or other celestial occurrences, are signs of a great event about to unfold. Then people of the Prophet’s time believed that eclipses were indicative of a great man’s birth or death. The Prophet (saws) is the first man in history to have spoken against such beliefs.
7. The Prophet (saws) has, thus, taught us to draw the right lesson from such natural occurrences. He tells us that Allah warns us thereby. That is, although we know He moves the universe and the huge bodies within it, we get used to natural phenomenon and tend to treat them as things ordinary. But these phenomena, which occur once in a while, demonstrate more tellingly of Allah’s powers who moves the sun, moon and the earth in their orbits timed in a manner for eclipses to occur. When that happens, it is time to turn to God to acknowledge His powers, and pray to Him seeking His mercy and forgiveness. The books of fiqh describe, in detail, how the Salah al-Kasuf should be offered on the occasion of a sun or moon eclipse.
VII. Jabir (ra) says the Prophet (asws) said: “None of you will enter Paradise owing to his deeds. No, not even me, but for Allah’s grace.”8
8. Once again, through this hadith, the Prophet (asws) has shown how one should always bear in mind the fact of one being Allah’s slave, incapable of doing anything on his own. If anyone has any good quality, he should thank Allah for having granted him that. That will help him get into Paradise. As against that, if one begins to think that his achievements are due to his own efforts, and not by the grace of God, wholly and solely, then he is sure to become arrogant to some degree. This does not befit man, who is but a slave of God: to the extent that even the Prophet considered himself a slave of God totally dependent upon His mercy for entry into Paradise.
It is reported that a man who had prayed to God for 500 consecutive years in his life on earth, not sinning once, will be raised on the day of Judgement and asked if he would like to enter Paradise by his deeds or by God’s mercy. He will initially say he will prefer to enter by his good deeds. When he will say that the Scale will be set up and he will be asked to give account of the blessing of the eye given to him. With each pleasure that he obtained through his power of sight, a good deed will be taken away from him as compensation thereof. When he will see his good deeds disappearing, while he is yet to answer for numerous other blessings of Allah that he enjoyed – such as the powers of hearing, speech, good health etc. – he will cry out: “No! No! I will rather enter Paradise by God’s mercy!