UNDER THE HEADING “The Word of Allah, Mighty and Resplendent—And they give them preference over their own selves—even when they are in pressing need—[Sûrat Al-Ḥashr, 59:9]” Bukhâri narrates the following:
… a man came to the Prophet ﷺ [as a guest]. So he sent [a message] to his wives [asking them to prepare something for the guest]. They said: “We have nothing except water.” So the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “Who will take in (or host) this [man]?” Then a man from the Anṣâr said: “I.” So the Anṣâri man departed to his wife with the guest and said to [her]: “Honor the guest of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ.” His wife said [when the guest could not hear her]: “We have not but the staples of my children.” So the man said: “Prepare your food. Light your lamp. Then when your children want supper, put them to sleep.” So she prepared her food, lit her lamp, and put her children to sleep. Then she stood up and acted as though she were fixing the lamp, but she put out the light. So the man and his wife made the guest think they were eating [with him] and then spent the night curled up [in hunger]. When the man rose in the morning, he went to the Messenger of Allah ﷺ, and he [the Prophet ﷺ] said: “Allah laughed (or marveled) this night at what you both did.” Then Allah revealed: “wa yu’thirûn ʿala anfusihim…fa ‘ulâ’ika hum al-mufliḥûn: And whoever is safeguarded from the avarice of his own soul—then it is these who are the truly successful.
An Additional Narration
Muslim narrates in his ṣaḥîḥ that the man who came to the Prophet ﷺ asking to be hosted said to him: “I am, indeed, fatigued by hunger.”
The Time of the Occurrence
The time of this occurrence is not known. Yet the absence of basic staples from the house of the Prophet ﷺ and the scarcity at the house of the host imply that this was before Khyber, after which the material condition of the Companions improved.
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The Use of ‘Or’ in the Narration
The narrator says that the Prophet ﷺ said: Who will take in (or host) this [man]? meaning that the narrator wasn’t sure of the exact word the Prophet ﷺ used, not that the Prophet ﷺ actually used both words, which would not be befitting of the eloquence of the Prophet ﷺ. This style of ‘or’ is common in the narration of ḥadîth and shows the precision of the narrators. It does not impugn the reliability of a narrator if he relays the meanings of a ḥadîth rather than the exact words, since with ḥadîth it is the meanings that are important, whereas with the Quran the words must be exact, since they are the words of Allah. Another narration states that the Prophet ﷺ said: “Is there not someone who will host him this night, and [in return] Allah will have mercy on him.”
The Possibility That a Similar Story Occurred on Two Separate Occasions
Ismâʿîl Al-Qâḍî narrates in his book Aḥkam Al-Qur’ân that a man was fasting [presumably in Ramaḍân] and the time for ifṭâr would come and he had nothing to break his fast on for three days. Thereafter, a man from the Anṣâr became aware of his condition and took him to his house. Then the rest of the ḥadîth is the same. However, it appears that these may be two separate occurrences, but it is not impossible that this scenario was repeated twice, after which Allah revealed the verse about both of them.
Who Was the Host?
The name of the man and wife about whom this story recounted is not known for certain, although, as is apparent from the Text of the ḥadîth, they were an Anṣârî couple. Yet Muslim’s narration says: “A man from the Anṣâr called AbûṬalḥa stood up [and offered to host the hungry man].” However, this does not definitively identify who he was, as there was more than one person called AbûṬalḥa. It is, moreover, unlikely that it was the well-known AbûṬalḥa Zayd ibn Sahl because it would be strange for him to be referred to as “a man called AbûṬalḥa” [given his prominence]. Also, he was one of the wealthiest of the Anṣâr. It is, therefore, unlikely that he did not have enough to feed the guest and his family.
What is Meant by “The Staples of my Children?”
The staples were for both the couple and their children, and in this case the “staples” refer to the provisions for “supper,” as is explicitly mentioned in this ḥadîth. Muslim’s narration states that the host “did not have except his sustenance and the sustenance of his children.” The wife of the Companion referred to it as “the staples of my children” because the children were more in need of it than the parents, and to show her sense of duty to her children.
Another Possible Occasion for this Revelation
Ibn Mardawayh narrated on the authority of Ibn ʿUmar that a man was given a sheep head as a gift, and he said: “Indeed, my brother [in Islam] and his children are more in need of this than me.” So he sent it to him, and then they kept sending it back and forth between the two of them until it came back to the first man after seven rounds. Then the verse [wa yu’thirûn] was sent down.
It is likely that the âyah was revealed about all three of the above-mentioned accounts.
Lessons Extracted From this Hadith
This account is meant to be a real, yet very clear, model of the ethic of giving preference to others over ourselves, an ethic nearly lost among us today. Know that there are four variables that created a situation wherein giving the guest the meal at the expense of the children made this case commendable:
- The command to take care of this specific guest came directly from the Prophet ﷺ.
- The guest was in an extreme state of hunger.
- The Prophet ﷺ stated (in Muslim’s narration) that Allah would have mercy on the one who hosted the guest.
- It is understood that the children would be only slightly and temporarily affected by missing that one supper.
Islam is an even, or middle, way. Thus, it is not permissible for a man to take a decision that would bring real harm to his children. So the lesson from this ḥadîth is not that it is acceptable for one to be irresponsible or bring harm to one’s family. It is that one should put the needs of others ahead of one’s own needs, even if one’s need is acute.
It can be taken from this ḥadîth that it is preferable and noble for a wife to take care of the home while the husband should be the one, if possible, who takes care of the needs that require going out in public.
Also, it seems from the narration of this ḥadîth that the husband and his wife both “ate” with the guest. Therefore, separation, while something good, need not be extreme, though it is to be noted that the wife had put out the lamp concealing her, to the degree that the guest could not discern that she and her husband, in fact, were not eating. This also shows the high station of a guest, since the host included him as part of the household.
A wife should be allowed to control her space and her domain without being made to feel inadequate, or as if she is being allowed to be in that space. This is taken from the husband in the ḥadîth referring to the children, the lamp, and the food as her children, her lamp, and her food. Also, the wives of the Prophet ﷺ said to him: “We have nothing except water.” In return, a wife should obey her husband and be patient without pressuring her husband if the material situation is not good.
It is shown in this ḥadîth, that as long as a couple has regard for one another, if they follow the guidelines of Islam, each acting according to Islam’s guidelines for their role and responsibility, then they can have a harmonious and good relationship. In return, a good and harmonious couple then becomes capable of helping not only their own family, but others around them who have needs. On the other hand, if a society is made up of dysfunctional couples and families, it becomes very difficult for those in need to get help, further subverting an already weakened community.
The commandment in the Quran to rid oneself of the avarice of one’s own soul stands in contradistinction to the commercial mandate widely promulgated today to reward one’s self and put one’s self at the center.
In a word, we should strive not to be selfish and to put the needs of others of the community ahead of our personal needs. In return, our communities will grow strong and provide us with guidance and wealth, and act as a safety net for those facing difficulties.
And Allah knows best.