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THE MODESTY OF GOD’S MESSENGER

In social life each man has a window called status through which he looks out to see others and be seen. If the window is built higher than his real stature, he tries, through vanity and giving himself airs, to stretch himself up to be seen taller than he really is. If the window is set lower than his real stature, he must bow in humility in order to look out, to see and be seen. Humility is the measure of a man’s greatness; just as vanity or conceit is the measure of low character.1

God’s Messenger had a stature as high as to touch the ‘roof of heavens’, so he had no need to be seen. Whoever ‘travels’ in the ‘realm of virtues’, he sees him before every created being, including angels. He is, in the words of Said Nursi, the noble aide-de-camp of God, and he lowers himself to stay in the world for a while so that people might find the way to God. Since he is the greatest of mankind, he is the greatest in modesty - the greater one is, the more modest he is.

God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, never regarded himself as greater than anybody else. No one could distinguish him among his Companions except for his radiant face and attractive person. He lived as the poorest of them, dressed like them, sat among them and ate with them, as he did with slaves and servants. Once, a woman saw him eating and remarked: ‘He is eating as if he were a slave.’ God’s Messenger responded to her, saying: Could there be a better slave than me? I am a slave of God.2 He was once serving his friends, when a Bedouin came in and shouted: ‘Who is the master of this people?’ The answer of God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, was such that, besides introducing himself, it also expressed a substantial principle of Islamic leadership and public administration: The master of the people is the one who serves them. In the words of ‘Ali, ‘among people, he was one of them’. When he reached Quba accompanied by Abu Bakr during Hijra, some people of Madina who had not seen him before, tried to kiss the hands of Abu Bakr because, outwardly, there was no sign to distinguish the Prophet from Abu Bakr.3

In the construction of the Mosque in Madina after the Hijra, he carried two sun-dried bricks while everybody else carried one.4 In the digging of the ditch around Madina to defend the city in the Battle of the Ditch, the Companions bound a stone around their bellies because of hunger, but God’s Messenger himself bound two, because he was more hungry than anybody else.5 Once, a man saw him and, due to his awe-inspiring appearance, began to tremble out of fear. The Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, calmed him, saying: ‘Brother, don’t be afraid! I am a man, like you, whose mother used to eat dry bread.’6 Again, a woman suffering from insanity pulled him by the hand and said: ‘Come with me and do my housework.’ God’s Messenger went with the woman and did the work.7 As reported by ‘A’isha, mother of believers, God’s Messenger patched his clothes, repaired his shoes and helped his wives with the housework.8

Although his modesty elevated him to ‘the highest of the high’, he regarded himself as an ordinary servant of God. Once he said: No one can enter Paradise by his deeds. When asked whether he could not either, he answered: I cannot either, but for the Mercy of God.9

His Companions attempted to do nothing without consulting him or getting his permission or approval. Once, ‘Umar came to him and asked his permission to go for minor pilgrimage. God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, gave him permission and made this request: Brother, include me in your supplications. ‘Umar rejoiced so much at that that one day he was to say later: ‘If the worlds had been granted to me that day, I would not have felt the same happiness.’10

 

In addition to the other virtues of the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, his humility was one of the greatest qualities. As he attained a higher rank each and every day, he increased in humility and servanthood to God. His servanthood is prior to his Messengership, as we mention in the declaration of faith: I bear witness that there is no god but God; I also bear witness that Muhammad is His servant and Messenger. He preferred being a Prophet-slave to being a Prophet-king.

He was once sitting with the Archangel Gabriel, and said to him: For days, I haven’t eaten anything. No sooner had he uttered this than an angel appeared and asked: ‘O Messenger of God, God greets you and asks: “Do you wish to be a Prophet-king or a Prophet-slave?” Gabriel advised him: ‘O Muhammad, be humble towards your Lord!’ Humility was in fact indispensable to the character of God’s Messenger, and he answered: I wish to be a Prophet-slave.11

God praises his servanthood and mentions him as a servant in several verses of the Qur’an:

When the servant of God stood up in prayer to Him, they (the jinn) were well nigh upon him in swarms (to watch his prayer). (al-Jinn, 72.19)

In challenging unbelievers to bring the like of only a single sura of the Qur’an; God also mentions him as a servant:

And if you are in doubt concerning that which We have sent down on Our servant, then bring a sura of the like thereof, and call your witnesses beside God if you are truthful. (al-Baqara, 2.23)

After the death of Khadija and Abu Talib, God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, became convinced that he could no longer stay in Makka with any hope of victory or security. Before things became too critical, he went to Ta’if in search of a new base for his faith, but he received there the worst kind of welcome. At a time when he felt himself without support and protection, God manifested His Mercy perfectly and honored him with the Ascension, raising him to His Presence. While narrating this incident in the Qur’an, God mentions him, again, as His servant to show that God’s Messenger deserves Ascension through his servanthood:

Glory be to him, Who carried His servant by night from the Holy Mosque to the Furthest Mosque, the precincts of which We have blessed, that We might show him some of Our signs. He is the All-Hearing, the All-Seeing. (al-Isra’, 17.1)

Humility is the most important aspect of the servanthood of God’s Messenger, who declared:

Whoever is humble, God exalts him, and whoever is haughty, God abases him.12

‘Ali describes the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings:

God’s Messenger was the most generous of people in giving out and the mildest and the foremost of them in patience and perseverance. He was the most truthful of people in speech, the most amiable and congenial in companionship and the noblest of them in family. Whoever sees him first is stricken by awe of him but whoever knows him closely is attracted to him deeply, and whoever attempts to describe him says: ‘I have, either before him or after him, never seen the like of him, upon him be peace and blessings’.13

1. Said Nursi, Letters 2,315.
2. Haythami, Majma‘, 9.21.
3. I. Hisham, 2.137.
4. Buhari, 1.111; Muslim, 2.65; Semhudi, Wafa’, 1.237; I. Sa‘d, 1. 240.
5. Tirmidhi, “Zuhd,” 39.
6. I. Maja, “At‘ıma,” 30; Haythami, 9.20.
7. Qadi ‘Iyad, al-Shifa’, 1.131, 133.
8. Tirmidhi, Shama’il, 78; I. Hanbal, 6.256.
9. Bukhari, “Riqaq,” 18.
10. Ibn Ma’ja, “Manasik,” 5; Tirmidhi, “Da‘awat,” 109; Abu Dawud, “Witr,” 23.
11. I. Hanbal, 2.231; Haythami, 9.18.
12. Hindi, Kanz al-‘Ummal, 3.113; Haythami, 10.325.
13. Tirmidhi, Hadith No. 3880.


Recommended Reading:
The ethos created by God's Messenger

Last Updated on October 09, 2000

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