They (Sahabah) preferred others over themselves even though they are in need of that, By Murtadha Gusau

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In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful

All praise is due to Allah the Lord of all creation. May Allah grant His praise, manifest his virtue and elevate the status of the noblest of the Prophets and the Seal of the Messengers, our beloved Prophet Muhammad and protect him, the message of Islam, his family and all his companions from any harm in this life or the next. As for what follows:

Dear brothers and sisters! When we look around our globalised world today, we observe much discussion on various ideologies and principles of life being championed and criticised. Despite the benefits which some of these ideologies may provide, there are aspects within them which drive humans to go against their innate nature. This ultimately produces long term harms, which include the destruction of families, societies and nations. Such ideologies include individualism and capitalism. Upon analysing the former, we find a study which reveals that the US, Australia, UK, Netherlands and New Zealand are the most individualistic countries. With that in mind, we realise that although there are aspects of individualism which can be beneficial, this way of thinking in general steers us towards selfishness, greed, and the ‘me, myself, I and my family’ mentality which is evident in such countries. This has lead to moral decline, short sightedness and the devaluation of family values. All of these factors lead to loneliness, the break up of family homes, depression and ultimately suicide. To understand this further, the causes and effects in association with this phenomenon have been highlighted by the sociologist, Emile Durkheim, who is widely regarded as the founder of the French school of sociology. He concluded in his text, Suicide: a Study in Sociology:

“…the more socially integrated and connected a person is, the less likely he or she is to commit suicide. As social integration decreases, people are more likely to commit suicide.”

This reflects the fact that the more individualistic a person is, the more likely he is to feel suicidal, entertain suicidal thoughts, or actually commit suicide. As a matter of fact:

“Durkheim found, through a study of suicide rates of Protestants and Catholics in nineteenth-century Europe, that the suicide rate was higher among Protestants. Understanding the different values of the two forms of Christianity, Durkheim theorised that this occurred because Protestant culture placed a higher value on individualism. This made Protestants less likely to develop close communal ties that might sustain them during times of emotional distress, which in turn made them more susceptible to suicide.”

Of course, even when we are at our lowest, as Muslims and believers we have the gift of having our hearts fortified by tawakkul (reliance upon Allah), thinking good of His decree, as well as observing taqwa (consciousness of Allah) by fearing His punishment and seeking His reward. These religious factors constitute as strong deterrents by blocking the path to suicide.

With the above concepts in mind, this Friday sermon aims to explore a section of a verse shining this lofty quality of sacrifice. In this verse, Allah praises those noted for altruistically:

“Preferring others over themselves even though they are in need of that.”

By developing this character quality within us, we can steer the Ummah (nation) and humanity back towards their pure fitrah (natural disposition) via moral revival. By understanding and developing this Qur’anic characteristic, we can return back to our optimum potential, and move away from the darkness of selfishness and disconnection from society. This can then lead to a reduction in suicide rates and the other negative repercussions which individualism begets. The best way incorporates relevant components from individualism, capitalism and collectivism, whilst at the same time filtering out the extreme aspects. Allah Almighty says:

“And those who, before them, had homes (in Madinah) and had adopted the Faith, love those who emigrate to them, and have no jealousy in their breasts (hearts) for that which they have been given (from the booty of Banu Nadir), and give them (Emigrants) preference over themselves, even though they were in need of that. And whosoever is saved from his own covetousness, such are they who will be the successful.” [Qur’an, 59:9]

My great people! In this great Qur’anic verse, Allah is highlighting the lofty virtues of the Ansar (Helpers) from Madinah during the time of the Prophet (Peace be upon him). For the purposes of this sermon we will investigate the section of the verse:

“…give them (Emigrants) preference over themselves, even though they were in need of that.”

This is the quality of sacrifice to the uppermost degree, a practice which is not easy to find in current times. What does this mean? It means that the one in ‘need’ of something – not ‘want’ but ‘need’ (i.e. you need this element to survive, such as food, water and so on) – gives others preference, as they also are in ‘need’ of such essentials. In order to understand this practically, we will analyse the following incident, which subsequently led to the revelation of this verse’s segment. Abu Hurairah narrated that:

“A man came to the Prophet (Peace be upon him). The Prophet (Peace be upon him) sent a messenger to his wives (to bring something for that man to eat), but they said that they had nothing except water. Then Allah’s Messenger (Peace be upon him) said:

“Who will take this (person) or entertain him as a guest?”

An Ansari man said, ‘I.’ So he took him to his wife and said to her, ‘Entertain generously the guest of Allah’s Messenger (Peace be upon him).’ She said, ‘We have got nothing except the meals of my children.’ He said, ‘Prepare your meal, light your lamp, and let your children sleep if they ask for supper.’ So she prepared her meal, lighted her lamp, and made her children sleep, and then stood up pretending to mend her lamp, but she put it off. Then both of them pretended to be eating, but they really went to bed hungry. In the morning the Ansari went to Allah’s Messenger (Peace be upon him), who said:

“Tonight Allah laughed or wondered at your action.”

Then Allah revealed:

“But give them (Emigrants) preference over themselves even though they were in need of that. And whosoever is saved from his own covetousness, such are they who will be the successful.’” [Bukhari]

Respected servants of Allah! First of all, it is important to understand the principles surrounding the quality of sacrifice by preferring the needs of others over that of ourselves and our family members. The general rule entails that our own needs and that of our family ought to be prioritised over others. The scholars highlight that if one has dependents such as family members, they are not permitted to give away all of their wealth in charity if that would mean their family’s needs are unmet. This would be the case unless their own family members, whom they are obliged to spend on, approve of it. They should also be patient and satisfied willingly in executing this noble deed of sacrifice. If this is their state, then they have a golden opportunity to reach lofty ranks with Allah. The great scholar Imam Shawkani said:

“The Hadith of Kaʿab indicates that it is prescribed for the one who wants to give all his wealth in charity to keep some of it. That does not imply that if he wanted to go ahead with it, he would not be able to do so. It was said that giving all of one’s wealth in charity varies according to one’s situation. If a person is strong and knows that he will be able to bear the consequences with patience, then there is no reason why he should not do that. Based on that, we may interpret the action of Abu Bakr al-Siddiq and the way in which the Ansar preferred others to themselves, even though they were in need of that [Qur’an, 59:9]. But if a person is not like that, then he should not do that. This is how the words ‘there is no charity except when one has the mean’s should be interpreted. According to another report, ‘The best of charity is that which is given when one has the means.’” [Nailul Awtar, vol. 8, page 288]

Also Imam al-Nawawi, another great classical scholar, commented regarding Kaʿab Bin Malik wanting to give away all his wealth in charity by saying:

“The Prophet (Peace be upon him) ordered him to confine himself to giving a portion thereof in charity, out of his fear for him being harmed by poverty and out of fear that he would not have patience to bear a hard life. This does not contradict the fact that Abu Bakr gave all his wealth in charity, as he was patient and satisfied.” [Sharh of Muslim]

Moving on to the chapter heading of this Hadith, Imam al-Bukhari titled it as:

“Chapter: ‘…(they) give them (Emigrants) preference over themselves…’”

This heading has been taken from the verse I mentioned earlier in this sermon. This denotes the key practical benefit which this Hadith provides. Secondly, this Hadith reflects the type of lifestyle the Prophet (Peace be upon him) was living in. The state of poverty he found himself in was due to exercising the aforementioned Qur’anic quality of sacrifice. Another Hadith demonstrates the same theme, where he (Peace be upon him) said to Abu Zar:

“…I would not like to have gold equal to this mountain of Uhud, unless nothing of it, not even a single dinar of it remains with me for more than three days, except something which I will keep for repaying debts. I would have spent all of it (distributed it) amongst Allah’s servants like this, and like this, and like this.”

The Prophet (Peace be upon him) pointed out with his hand towards his right, his left and his back (while illustrating it). He proceeded with his walk and said:

“The rich are in fact the poor (little rewarded) on the Day of Resurrection except those who spend their wealth like this, and like this, and like this, to their right, left and back, but such people are few in number…” [Bukhari]

This Hadith signifies that when the Prophet (Peace be upon him) would be given wealth, he had the mindset of hastening to give it all away to the needy, unless he had debts. He was the best in exemplifying all noble character traits, for as Allah Almighty says:

“Indeed in the Messenger of Allah (Muhammad Peace be upon him) you have a good example to follow for him who hopes in (the Meeting with) Allah and the Last Day and remembers Allah much.” [Qur’an, 33:21]

Returning back to the first Hadith of this sermon regarding the Ansari man, we can see that the Prophet (Peace be upon him) and his wife Aisha:

“…had nothing except water.”

If they had even one date to give to the needy, they would do so. The following Hadith narrated by Aisha indicates this:

“A woman along with her two daughters came to me asking (for some alms), but she found nothing with me except one date. I gave it to her and she divided it between her two daughters, and did not eat anything herself, and then she got up and went away. Then the Prophet (Peace be upon him) came in and I informed him about this story. He said:

“Whoever is put to trial by these daughters and he treats them generously (with benevolence), then these daughters will act as a shield for him from hellfire.’” [Bukhari]

Even though they needed food for their own survival, they still preferred the woman to themselves. Aisha willingly gave the only food her house had, namely a date, whilst the Prophet (Peace be upon him) was absent. The woman she gave the date to was a mother of two daughters. This mother also exhibited the Qur’anic trait by satisfying the hunger of her own two daughters whilst remaining hungry herself.

Continuing on with the first Hadith of the Ansari man, we note that they had enough food for his wife’s children. However, they did not apologise to their guest and tell them that they could not host him. The wife also did not disobey her husband when he prioritised his guest over her children. Rather, she obeyed him in this noble opportunity, which caused both of them to acquire great honour in the sight of Allah Almighty. Look at how special their honour was. They were honoured to such an extent that Allah laughed or wondered (in a manner that suits his Majesty), at their action. He then even revealed a section of the verse praising this manifestation of noble and altruistic behaviour. Today, this verse has been recited by billions of people over time, starting from more than 1400 years ago. And it will continue to be recited for generations to come. What a magnificent honour this is! One can only wonder how much Sadaqah Jariyah (ongoing charity) they have obtained through their act of generosity. This is a great reward given for such a high level of sacrifice.

These are individuals who have shone brightly this lofty honourable characteristic:

“Preferring others over themselves even though they are in need of that.”

• How Abu Hurairah Overcame His Nafs With a Glass of Milk

Dear brothers and sisters! In this sermon, our eyes were opened up to how chances of suicide are increased if the people become more individualistic. This has been highlighted by the famous Sociologist Emile Durkheim in his findings. In conjunction with this, we were introduced to the powerful Qur’anic moral value that helps to push us human beings away from individualism by becoming more socially integrated, thus decrease the chances of suicide.

• Abu Hurairah’s Tarbiyah

Another amazing story exemplifying this noble characteristic of “preferring others over themselves even though they were in need of that” is the case of Abu Bakr. He is the best person after the Prophet (Peace be upon him) and his closest Companion. Umar Ibn al-Khattab reported that:

“The Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) ordered us to give charity, and at the time I had some wealth. I said to myself, ‘Today I will outdo Abu Bakr, if ever there were a day to outdo him.’ I went with half of my wealth to the Prophet and he said, ‘What have you left for your family?’ I said, ‘The same amount.’ Then, Abu Bakr came with everything he had. The Prophet said, ‘O Abu Bakr, what have you left for your family?’ Abu Bakr said, ‘Allah and his Messenger.’ I said, ‘By Allah, I will never do better than Abu Bakr.’” [Tirmidhi]

Abu Bakr gave everything he had, while having tawakkul (reliance upon Allah) that his family would be looked after. Even though he immensely loved his family members and wanted the best for them, he acknowledged the bigger picture and societal context of the Muslim community. He thus sought to fulfil a great need to ensure the well-being and protection of the Muslims. Abu Bakr aimed at achieving very high and lofty objectives. He personally developed himself to the state where he could be patient and content with giving away all his wealth in such a manner. Umar was competing with Abu Bakr in this good deed, and thought he could outdo him by giving away half of his wealth, which is without any doubt a large amount. However, once he observed how Abu Bakr astonishingly gave away everything, he said:

“By Allah, I will never do better than Abu Bakr.”

This shows how Abu Bakr’s sacrifice was on another level.

• The Process of developing this Qur’anic Characteristic

Respected brothers and sisters! To get an insight into the process of developing this lofty and noble trait, we will look at the example of how our Prophet (Peace be upon him) nurtured Abu Hurairah. The latter narrated:

“By Allah except Whom none has the right to be worshipped, (sometimes) I used to lay (asleep) on the ground on my liver (abdomen) because of hunger, and (sometimes) I used to bind a stone over my belly because of hunger. One day I sat by the way from where they (the Prophet and his Companions) used to come out. When Abu Bakr passed by, I asked him about a Verse from Allah’s Book and I asked him only so that he might satisfy my hunger, but he passed by and did not do so. Then Umar passed by me and I asked him about a Verse from Allah’s Book, and I asked him only that he might satisfy my hunger, but he passed by without doing so. Finally Abul Qasim (the Prophet) passed by me and he smiled when he saw me, for he knew what was in my heart and on my face. He said, ‘O Aba Hirr (Abu Hurairah)!’ I replied, ‘Labbaik, O Allah’s Messenger!’ He said to me, ‘Follow me.’ He left and I followed him. Then he entered the house and I asked permission to enter and was admitted. He found milk in a bowl and said, ‘From where is this milk?’ They said, ‘It has been presented to you by such-and-such man (or by such and such woman).’ He said, ‘O Aba Hirr!’ I said, ‘Labbaik, O Allah’s Messenger!’ He said, ‘Go and call the people of Suffah to me.’ These people of Suffah were the guests of Islam who had no families, no money, or anybody to depend on. Whenever an object of charity was brought to the Prophet (Peace be upon him), he would send it to them and would not take anything from it, and whenever any present was given to him, he used to send some for them and take some of it for himself. The order of the Prophet (Peace be upon him) upset me, and I said to myself, ‘How will this little milk be enough for the people of Suffah, though I am more entitled to drink from that milk in order to strengthen myself?’ But behold, the Prophet (Peace be upon him) came and ordered me to give that milk to them. I wondered what will remain of that milk for me, but I could not but obey Allah and His Messenger (Peace be upon him). So I went to the people of Suffah and called them, and they came and asked the Prophet’s permission to enter. They were admitted and took their seats in the house. The Prophet (Peace be upon him) said, ‘O Aba Hirr!’ I said, ‘Labbaik, O Allah’s Messenger!’ He said, ‘Take it and give it to them.’ So I took the bowl (of milk) and started giving it to one man who would drink his fill and return it to me, whereupon I would give it to another man who, in his turn, would drink his fill and return it to me, and I would then offer it to another man who would drink his fill and return it to me. Finally, after the whole group had drunk their fill, I reached the Prophet (Peace be upon him), who took the bowl and put it on his hand, looked at me and smiled, and said: ‘O Aba Hirr!’ I replied, ‘Labbaik, O Allah’s Messenger!’ He said, ‘There only remains you and I.’ I said, ‘You have said the truth, O Allah’s Messenger!’ He said, ‘Sit down and drink.’ I sat down and drank. He said, ‘Drink,’ and I drank. He kept on telling me repeatedly to drink, till I said, ‘No. by Allah Who sent you with the Truth, I have no space for it (in my stomach).’ He said, ‘Hand it over to me.’ When I gave him the bowl, he praised Allah, pronounced Allah’s Name on it, and drank the remaining milk.”

From this incident, we observe how Abu Hurairah was extremely hungry and ‘needed’ to satisfy it. There was only a small amount of milk in the vessel, yet the Prophet (Peace be upon him) commanded him to bring the people of Suffah as well. They were also very poor members of the Sahabah (Companions of the Prophet), and would live in a section of the Prophet’s mosque. Abu Hurairah, in dire need of the milk, admitted he felt upset when the Prophet (Peace be upon him) commanded him to bring the poor people of Suffah. Despite this natural reaction, he still obeyed Allah’s Messenger. It is important to remember here that the Prophet (Peace be upon him) wanted the best for Abu Hurairah. By commanding Abu Hurairah to give preference to the needs of the people of Suffah, he (Peace be upon him) was nurturing Abu Hurairah towards the Qur’anic model of:

“Preferring others over themselves even though they were in need of that.”

Abu Hurairah patiently overcame his nafs (soul) to ensure the people of Suffah had the opportunity to drink from the bowl of milk before him. This event was a miracle of mercy from Allah, for there was enough milk in the bowl for the people of Suffah, including both Abu Hurairah and the Prophet (Peace be upon him).

This is how he dealt with Abu Hurairah. With other members of the Sahabah, he advised and nurtured them according to what was best for them. Such is the trait of a true leader. One example of this is the advice he gave to Kaʿab Bin Malik. Kaʿab Bin Malik had repented for failing to join the Prophet (Peace be upon him) in the Tabuk expedition. He said:

“O Messenger of Allah, because of the acceptance of my repentance I will give up all my wealth by way of charity for the sake of Allah and His Messenger (Peace be upon him).”

The Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) said:

“Keep some of your wealth, as it will be better for you.” I said, “Then I will keep my share from Khaibar with me.” [Muslim]

Dear brothers and sisters! We can observe here how Kaʿab wanted to give away all his wealth, but the Prophet (Peace be upon him) advised him to keep some of it, as that would be better for him. He did not give this advice to Abu Bakr when he gave away all his wealth for the sake of Allah, as already explained in the narration mentioned earlier.

We also acknowledge the tarbiyah (nurturing) that the Prophet (Peace be upon him) provided to his wife Aisha, which thereby helped her to develop the Qur’anic character quality of:

“Preferring others over themselves even though they were in need of that.”

This can be seen in an earlier Hadith where Aisha gave a date to the woman.

We can note from that Hadith how Aisha did not have any food to give to the woman and her daughters, except for just a single date. By no means would have one date constituted as an adequate meal for the Prophet (Peace be upon him) and his wife Aisha. Yet, they sacrificed their own needs, preferring the woman and her family’s necessities instead. Imagine we only had a single date or biscuit left inside our homes, and someone came to our door, begging for food. How would we react? Let us carefully gauge our level of development, this key dimension of Qur’anic character is, within us. With this awareness, we can work towards nurturing it further to the loftiest of levels following the Prophet and the Sahabah.

I pray, may Allah Almighty enable us to diligently achieve our goals and grant us success in both worlds, ameen.

All praises and thanks are due to Allah alone, Lord of the worlds. May the peace, blessings and salutations of Allah be upon our noble Messenger, Muhammad, and upon his family, his Companions and his true and sincere followers.

Murtadha Muhammad Gusau is the Chief Imam of Nagazi-Uvete Jumu’ah and the late Alhaji Abdur-Rahman Okene’s Mosques, Okene, Kogi State, Nigeria. He can be reached via: gusauimam@gmail.com or +2348038289761.

This Jumu’ah Khutbah (Friday sermon) was prepared for delivery today, Friday, Jumadah Ula 19th, 1443 A.H. (December 24, 2021).

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