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THE GENEROSITY OF GOD’S MESSENGER

God’s Messenger is, in the whole of creation, the most polished mirror, in which God Almighty’s Names and Attributes are reflected to the highest degree. Being a perfect manifestation of God’s Names and Attributes and an embodiment of the Qur’an and Islam, he is the greatest and most decisive and comprehensive proof of God’s Existence and Unity and the truth of Islam and the Qur’an. One who saw him remembered God automatically. Each virtue he had was the reflection of a Name or Attribute of God, and is a proof of his Prophethood. Like his mildness and forbearance, his generosity is also another dimension of his excellent, matchless personality and a reflection and proof of his Prophethood.

The people of Arabia were renowned for their generosity even in the pre-Islamic period of Ignorance. When we look at their poetry belonging to that time, we see that they were proud of their generosity. However, their generosity was not for the sake of God or for an altruistic motive; rather, it was the cause of self-pride. But the generosity of God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, was for another motive - purely for God’s sake. He never mentioned, and did not like to have mentioned, his generosity, and when a poet praised him for his generosity, he attributed whatever good he had or did, to God’s enabling him to have or do it. He never attributed his virtues and good deeds to himself.

God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, liked to distribute whatever he had. He engaged in trade until his Prophethood and had considerable wealth. After Prophethood he and his wealthy wife Khadija spent everything they had in the way of God. When Khadija, may God be pleased with her, died, they had no money to buy a shroud, and God’s Messenger had to borrow money in order to bury the first person to embrace Islam and its first supporter.1

If God’s Messenger had so desired, he could have been the richest man in Makka, but he rejected such offers without hesitation. In addition, God ordained in the Qur’an that one-fifth of war spoils should be at the free disposal of God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings. However, he never thought of spending it on himself or his family. He lived a life of austerity as did his family who had to manage on scanty provision. In distribution of war spoils, he always preferred the others over his family members. His share in the spoils of the Battle of Hunayn consisted of 40,000 sheep, 24,000 camels and 16 tons of silver. Safwan ibn Umayya, from whom God’s Messenger had borrowed some weapons before the battle, gazed upon the spoils with greed and bewilderment. Aware of Safwan’s desire, the Messenger gave him as many camels as he wanted. Astounded with the generosity of God’s Messenger, Safwan ran to his people and announced; ‘O my people! Accept Islam without hesitation. For Muhammad gives in such a way that only a man who is never afraid of poverty and has a perfect reliance on God can give.’ The generosity of God’s Messenger sufficed for the guidance of Safwan and his people, who had been among the most bitter enemies of Islam until just before that day.2

God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, regarded himself a traveler in the world. Once he said: What connection do I have with the world! I am like a traveler who is shaded under a tree and then continues on his way.3

According to God’s Messenger, the world is like a tree under which people are shaded. No one can live forever in the world, so people must make in the world the necessary preparation for the second part of the journey which will end either in Paradise or in Hell. The mission of God’s Messenger was to guide people to truth, so he would spend whatever he had, his life and his possessions, to this end. As mentioned before, once ‘Umar saw him lying on a rough mat and wept. When the Messenger asked him why he was weeping, ‘Umar replied:

O Messenger of God! While kings sleep in soft feather beds, you are lying on a rough mat. You are the Messenger of God and therefore deserve more than any other people an easy life. Do you not agree that the luxuries of the world should be theirs but those of the Hereafter ours? God’s Messenger answered.4

Islam does not approve of monastic life. It came to secure justice and the well-being of mankind, but warns people against over-indulgence. It is for this reason that many Muslims have chosen an ascetic life. Although the Muslims generally became rich after the death of God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, some like the Caliphs Abu Bakr, ‘Umar and ‘Ali preferred an austere life. This was partly because they felt the need to live as the poorest of their people live and partly because they strictly followed the Prophet’s example. Once, during his Caliphate, Abu Bakr was offered a glass of cold water to break his fast with during Ramadan. He took the glass to his lips and suddenly began to weep. When asked the reason, he answered: ‘One day, God’s Messenger drunk such a glass of cold water offered to him and wept, saying: God says: ‘On that day, you will be questioned concerning every bounty.’ We will also be questioned concerning this water. I remembered that and wept.’5

In the early days of his Caliphate, Abu Bakr made his living by milking the sheep of a woman. Sometime later he was assigned a small salary. While on his death-bed, he gave a pitcher to those around him to be submitted to the new Caliph after his death. ‘Umar succeeded him and, when he broke the pitcher, some coins came out, together with a letter, which read:

‘I lived according to the living standards of the poorest of Madina, and put in this pitcher the amount left of my salary. Therefore, these coins belong to the Public Treasury and must be returned there.’ On reading the letter, ‘Umar wept and remarked: ‘You have left an unbearable burden upon those who succeed you, O Abu Bakr!’6

God’s Messenger was, in the words of Anas, ‘the comeliest and most generous of people’.7 Jabir ibn Samura reports:

We were once sitting in the mosque. The full moon was shining above us. God’s Messenger entered. I looked first at the moon and then at the face of God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings. I swear by God that the Messenger’s face was brighter than the moon.8

He refused no one and, as Farazdak said, did not say ‘No’ except in reciting the declaration of belief in the sitting position of prayer. Had it not been for the recitation of this confession, he would never have said ‘No’.

Once, a Bedouin came to God’s Messenger and asked him for something. The Messenger gave him what he asked for. The Bedouin continued to ask and the Messenger gave him until he had nothing left to give. When the Bedouin asked again, he promised to give it later when he had it. Angered by the rudeness of the Bedouin, ‘Umar said to God’s Messenger: ‘You were asked and you gave; again you were asked and you gave; you were asked once more and you promised!’ ‘Umar meant that the Messenger should not make things so difficult for himself.

God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, did not approve of what ‘Umar said. ‘Abdullah ibn Hudafa al-Sahmi stood up and said: ‘O God’s Messenger, give and do not be afraid that the Owner of the Seat of Honor will make you poor!’ Pleased with the words of Ibn Hudafa al-Sahmi, the Messenger declared: I was commanded to do so!9

He never refused a request, for it was he who said:

The generous are near to God, near to Paradise, near to people, but distant from the Fire. The miserly are distant from God, distant from Paradise, distant from people, but near to the Fire.10

Again, he said:

O people! Surely God has chosen for you Islam as religion, so better your practice of Islam through generosity and good manners.11

The mercifulness of God’s Messenger rose up as moisture into the sky, and then ‘rained’ as generosity to make hardened hearts propitious for the growing of ‘good trees whose roots are firm and whose branches are in the heavens, and which yield their fruits every season by the leave of their Lord’.

1. I. Kathir, al-Bidaya, 3.158-9.
2. I. Hisham, 4.135; I. Hajar, al-Isaba, 2.187; Muslim, “Fada’il,” 57.
3. Bukhari, “Riqaq,” 3.
4. Bukhari, “Tafsir,” 2; Muslim, “Talaq,” 31.
5. Muslim, “Ashriba,” 140; Abu Nu‘aym, “Hilya,” 1.30.
6. Tabari, “Tarikh,” 4.252.
7. Muslim, “Fada’il,” 48; Bukhari, “Manaqib,” 23.
8. Suyuti, al-Khasa’is, 1.123; Hindi, Kanz al-‘Ummal, 7.168.
9. I. Kathir, 6.63.
10. Tirmidhi, “Birr,” 40.
11. Hindi, 6.571.


Recommended Reading:
The modesty of God's Messenger

Last Updated on October 09, 2000

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