With the poor
The Prophet (SAWS) actually feared for his nation from surplus more than he feared from poverty, "By Allah, it is not the poverty about which I fear in regard to you but I am afraid in your case that (the worldly) riches may be given to you as were given to those who had gone before you and you begin to vie with one another for them as they vied for them, and they may destroy you as they destroyed them ."
Yet, he realized that poverty is quite a great trial. Therefore, he used to supplicate to Allah (SWT) saying, "O Allah, I seek refuge in Thee from disbelief and poverty." He also used to say, "Steady us in our faith, and protect us from poverty."
Because the Prophet (SAWS) realized the severity of the crisis of poverty and its attenuating impact on people, he supported the poor and even lived amongst them.
His life was not that different from the lives of the poor. Lady Aisha (RA) narrated, "The family of Muhammad did not eat their fill for three successive days till he died."
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 dependants; and the upper hand is better than the lower hand."
He also said, "If anyone gives as Sadaqa 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."
And he said, "Nothing is more delighting to me than this that Uhud should be of gold for me, and no dinar is left with me out of it before three nights pass except a dinar which I would set aside for the repayment of debt upon me."
These are many more examples of the same attitude.
The Madinan society was generally poor, and therefore, to list all incidences and narrations that demonstrate the Prophet's (SAWS) 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..
Consider what the Prophet (SAWS) had taught abu-Dharr (RA), although abu-Dharr was very poor, "Abu-Dharr, when you prepare the broth, add water to it and invite your neighbor over."
He also used to teach women to give their neighbors when he said, "O Muslim women, none of you should consider even a sheep's trotter too insignificant to give to her neighbor."
He wanted every individual in the society to care for the others and to help them as much as they could afford.
One day, Jabir ibn-Abdullah (RA) invited the Prophet (SAWS) to eat with him at his house. Although the Prophet (SAWS) was starving, he did not want to go alone. He took some of the Muhajireen (immigrants from Makkah) and the Ansar (residents of Madinah) along with him, and miracously, the little amount of food available at Jabir's house became enough to satisfy all those who attended.
Abu-Talha (RA) also invited the Prophet (SAWS) to eat and the Prophet (SAWS) did the same thing. He took along all the people present in the mosque at the time, and again, a miracle happened and everyone was satisfied.
Jareer ibn-Abdullah (RA) narrated, "Some desert Arabs clad in wool clothes came to Allah's Messenger. He saw them in sad plight as they had been hard pressed by need. He (the Prophet) exhorted people to give charity, but they showed some reluctance until (signs) of anger were seen on his face. Then a person from the Ansar came with a purse containing silver. Then came another person and then other persons followed them in succession until signs of happiness were seen on his face. Thereupon Allah's Messenger said: He who introduced some good practice in Islam which would be followed after him (by people) he would be assured of reward like one who followed it, without their rewards being diminished in any respect. And he who introduced some evil practice in Islam which would be followed subsequently (by others), he would be required to bear the burden like that of the one who followed this (evil practice) without their being diminished in any respect."
The Prophet (SAWS) 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.
Abu-Huraira (RA) narrated, "A person came to Allah's Messenger (SAWS) and said, 'I am hard pressed by hunger.' The Prophet (SAWS) sent 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.' 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 (SAWS) who said, 'Allah was well pleased with what you both did for your guest this night.'"
This was how mercy was so evident in Madinah at the time of the Prophet (SAWS)!
The Prophet (SAWS) never stopped giving despite his continuous suffering.
Sahl ibn-Saad narrated, "A woman brought a woven Burda (sheet) having edging (border) to the Prophet. Then Sahl asked them whether they knew what is Burda, they said that Burda is a cloak and Sahl confirmed their reply. Then the woman said, 'I have woven it with my own hands and I have brought it so that you may wear it.' The Prophet accepted it, and at that time he was in need of it. So he came out wearing it as his waist-sheet. A man praised it and said, 'Will you give it to me? How nice it is!' The other people said, 'You have not done the right thing as the Prophet is in need of it and you have asked for it when you know that he never turns down anybody's request.' The man replied, 'By Allah, I have not asked for it to wear it but to make it my shroud.' Later it was his shroud."
The Prophet (SAWS) 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 (RA) narrated, "We slaughtered a sheep and gave away most of it. I told the Prophet (SAWS) only a small piece was left. He then said in all his wisdom, 'All of it is remaining (through charity) but that piece'"
Such was his life and his mercy!
I would like to conclude this chapter by mentioning this special incident that has great educational value. 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, the Prophet (SAWS) 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 (RA) narrated, "A man from the Ansar came to ask the Prophet (SAWS) 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 (SAWS) 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.'"
The Prophet's (SAWS) mercy upon the poor was for their 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.
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 when He said what can be translated as,
"And in no way have We sent you except as a mercy to the worlds." (TMQ, 21:107).
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