Selections from Sayd Al-Khatir by Ibn Al-Jawzi | The Life of the Prophet Is the Highest Ideal

ONE WHO SEEKS to grasp the truth about  how to be pleased with Allah and His actions, and to know the source of this pleasure with Allah’s decrees, should look to the life of the Prophet œ.

Knowing his Lord

For indeed, when he œ perfected his understanding of the Creator (glory be to Him), he came to understand that the Creator is in essence, a Master, and the Master has the right to do as He wills with those whom He owns. The Prophet œ recognized Allah as the Wise, who has not created anything aimlessly –without a serious purpose. Hence, he submitted himself to His Lord, the Wise, whose miracles keep on coming forth, and in Whom no change is to be seen, nor can any tiredness or frustration be detected in His nature.

The Prophet would not say: ‘If such and such were to be the case…’[i] Rather, he submits to his Lord’s decrees just as firmly as would the mountains in the face of the stormiest of winds.

Patient in Adversity

This [Muhammad] was the master of all the prophets, sent to all of mankind at a time when disbelief was spread across the horizons, and he was made to hide himself in the Abode of Al-Khayzran [the residence of Al-Arqam ibn Abi Al-Arqam], because the people would abuse him if they find him. They caused his heels to bleed, they tossed upon his back the placenta of a camel, and in response to all this, he did not say a word or retaliate.

He had to come out every now and then, saying: ‘Who will shelter me? Who can protect me?

Finally, he had no choice but to leave Makkah for Al-Ta’if. And when Al-Ta’if proved to be as inimical to his cause as Makkah , he returned to his hometown only after a prominent non-Muslim Makkan [ii] offered to protect him. In spite of this, he harbored no rancor for his tormentors.

Embracing Servant-hood

If it had been anyone else, other than Muhammad, he would surely have said: ‘O My Lord! You are the Master of all creation, You are capable of granting me victory, so  why then do you disgrace me like this?’

Just like ¢Umar had said on the day of the Hudaibiyya treaty: ‘Are we not  in the right? Then why are we being disgraced because of our religion?’[iii]

And when ¢Umar said this, the Prophet œ said to him: ‘Indeed I am a slave of Allah, and He will not fail me.’ Hence, in this way, the two original statements which we had mentioned earlier came together (through the Prophet’s own words).

His words: ‘Indeed I am a slave of Allah,’ are a proclamation of (Allah’s) ownership of him, almost as if he is saying: ‘I am (in His) possession, He may do with me whatever He wills.’

Furthermore, his words: ‘He will not ruin me,’ are pointing towards Allah’s wisdom, and the fact that He does not do anything without purpose.

Tested by Loss of Life, Health & Wealth

Thereafter, He was tried with hunger and endured a severe boycott, whilst all the treasures of the skies and the earth are Allah’s.

Companions of the Prophet œ were killed, his own face was bashed in, a front tooth was broken, and his uncle’s body was mutilated[iv] (in an act of extreme vengeance), yet he remained silent.

Then, he was blessed with a son[v], but even this child was taken away from him. And after this, his heart was consoled when he was given Al-Hasan and Al-Husain as his grandsons, but even then he was foretold the evil that would befall them (later in their lives).[vi]

Furthermore, his soul found comfort and peace within the companionship of his young wife ¢Âishah, but even this peace was spoilt for him when she was slandered.[vii]

He was given plenty of miracles (to prove his prophethood), yet there came up against him false prophets like Musalaylamah, Al-Ansi and Ibn Ṣiyâd.

He had established for himself the good reputation of being ‘the honest and truthful one,’ and yet it was followed on with titles like ‘liar’ and ‘magician.’

Then he was stricken by ill health in which he endured as much suffering  as two men, yet he remained calm and silent.[viii]

And when he informed (us) of his state it is only so that we too would know and understand what it means to be patient  .

Thereafter, when death came upon him, he was in a humble condition with him wearing coarse dress, a thick, rough undergarment, and his family did not even have oil to light a lamp with.

His Excellence Among the Messengers

None other than Muhammad would have been able to bear this resignation to Allah’s decrees . Not even the prophets before him could have done so, so much so that even if such trials had been sent upon the angels, they would not have been able to endure them patiently.

We have before us the example of Adam, who was granted a license to enjoy the entirety of Paradise , except for a single tree from which he was forbidden. And yet his utmost desire was to partake of that which was made unlawful.[ix] As for our Prophet œ, he used to say concerning lawful things: I’m not one who is given to indulging dunya [i.e. material things even if they are permissible].[x]

Then there is prophet Nûḥ (Noah) , who cried out in frustration at what his people were doing to him, and pleaded to his Lord in a state of utter dejection and grief: ‘O My Lord! Do not leave a single disbeliever upon the surface of the earth![xi] As for our blessed Prophet, look at what he says in a similar situation: ‘O Allah, guide my people, for indeed, they do not know [what they are doing].’[xii]

Then we have the example of Musa (Moses), known as ‘Al-Kalîm‘ (for he used to converse with Allah), who protested when his people took to worshipping the calf, ascribing what his people did to divine destiny, saying: ‘This (matter of the calf) is nothing but a trial from You.’[xiii] Thereafter, when the Angel of death approached him, Musa struck him.[xiv] As for ¢Isa (Jesus), he said (to Allah): ‘If you have ever averted death for the sake of anyone, avert it from me.’ However, when our Prophet, Muhammad œ, had to choose between staying alive or dying, he chose to journey towards the Greatest Companion.[xv]

Then we have the example of Suleiman (Solomon) saying: ‘Grant me a kingdom.’[xvi] And as for our Prophet œ look at what he said: ‘O my Lord, make the livelihood of the family of Muhammad as qût.[xvii]

By Allah, this is surely the attitude of a person who knows the creation and the Creator; hence his own motives and desires were over and done with, and his objections were quelled, thence his desires only revolve around what his Lord had decreed for him.


 [i] This is part of the hadith in Sahih Muslim that reads: The strong believer is better and dearer to Allah than the weak believer, but still there is good in both of them. So pursue diligently that which benefits you, seek Allah’s help and do not lose heart, and when a misfortune befalls you, do not say, ‘’If such and such were to be the case,’ but rather say, ‘That was Allah’s decree, and when Allah wills something He does it,’ for Indeed, the word ‘if’ prefaces the acts of Satan. (Muslim)

[ii] The author is referring here to Al-Mut’im ibn ‘Adi, the chief of the Qurayshite clan of Banu Nawfal. When the Prophet and Zaid ibn Thabit (the Prophet’s adopted son) went to Al-Ta’if to invite them to Islam, but did not succeed and returned to Makkah, he did not return openly. Rather he sent Zaid to seek protection for him among his friends in Makkah. Al-Mut‘im provided asylum for the Prophet, hence the latter was able to return to his hometown. Al-Mut’im died a non-Muslim but his son, Jubayr ibn Al-Mut’im, became a Muslim. As proof of his appreciation of Al-Mut’im’s kind act towards him, the Prophet said, if Al-Mut’im were alive and he asked me to free those wicked ones (i.e., the Makkan’s prisoners of war who fell in Muslims’ hands in the wake of the battle of Badr) I would happily hand them over to him.

[iii] See the full story in Sahih Muslim, Hadith no 1785.

[iv] Ibn Al-Jawzi is alluding here to the martyrdom of the Prophet’s beloved uncle, Hamzah ibn Abd Al-Muttalib, in the battle of Uhud, and whose body was mutilated by Hind, the wife of Abu Sufyan [the leader of the Makkans’ army in that battle which the Muslims lost]. Hamzah’s murder and mutilation pained the Prophet so much that he vowed to avenge him by killing seventy Makkans. But the Prophet soon abandoned this idea.

[v] The reference here is to Ibrahim, the Prophet’s son with his wife Mariayh who died when he was only 2 years old.

[vi] Al-Hassan was savaged by his own followers who rejected his decision to abdicate [i.e. the Caliph office that devolved on him following the murder of his father, ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib] in favour of Mu’awayah ibn Abi Sufyam. They would call him: The Disgracer of the Believers. At age 45, Al-Hasan was murdered by poisoning.  As for Al-Husain, he was killed along with a number of his household members in a confrontation with an Ummayyed army. Al-Husain did not recognize the rule of Yazid, who ascended to power after the death of his father, Mu’awaiyah ibn Abi Sufyan, and led an armed rebellion against his government. Al-Husain was 54 years old when he was martyred.

[vii] The reference here is to the Incident of Ifk (the Slander). You can learn more about this incident in Sahih Al-Bukhari, Hadith no. 3910.

[viii] The author is referring to a hadith in Sahih Al-Bukhari, no.5324, narrated by Ibn Mas‘ud who said: I once visited the Prophet when he was sick. I said, ‘You look very unwell, O Messenger of Allah?’ He replied: ‘That is right. I usually suffer double the pain felt by an ordinary sick person. [the Prophet then added:] No mu’min is afflicted by any misfortune, even as insignificant as a brick of a thorn, except that Allah makes it a penitential expiation (kaffara) of his sins.’

[ix] Quran, Surat Al-Baqarah, 2: 35.

[x] Part of a hadith reported by Tirmidhi, no. 2377, on the authority of Ibn Mas‘ud who said: The prophet once slept on a rough mat. When he woke up we saw that the rough surface of the mat had affected his skin. So we said to him, ‘Messenger of Allah, why don’t you get a tender mattress to sleep on?’ He replied, ‘I’m not one who indulges dunya. My example is no more than the example of a traveller who slept under the shade of a tree and then stood up and left it.’

[xi] Quran, Surat Nuh, 71:26.

[xii] This statement was uttered by the Prophet in a number of occasions. He said it on the day of the battle of Uhud, when his face was bashed in and he was urged by some of his Companions to make du‘a’ against the mushrikin. He also said it when the Mountains’ Angel proposed to destroy the tribe of Quraysh in return for their opposition to Muhammad and his message. Some say the Prophet also said it on the day he conquered Makkah.

[xiii] Quran, Surat Al-A‘raf, 7:155

[xiv] The story of prophet Musa and the Angel of Death is mentioned in Sahih Muslim and Sahih Al-Bukhari. For more on this story see Fath Al-Bari, 6/805 and Imam Nawawi’s Commentary on Sahih Muslim, 8/3497.

[xv] See Ibn Kathir’s Al-Bidaya wa Al-Nihaya, 5/248

[xvi] Quran, Surat Sad, 38:35

[xvii]  This is an agreed upon hadith (reported by Bukhari and Muslim). ‘Qut‘ may be translated as enough sustenance that would be necessary for the maintenance of life.


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