Rain fell that night. The mosque that was a thatched building dripped, and my eyes saw the Messenger of Allah œ with traces of water and mud on his forehead on the morning following the twenty-first night [of Ramadan.] (Abû Dâwûd)
I RECENTLY CAME upon this hadith, narrated by Abû Sa¢îd Al-Khudri. Pangs of deep regret infused with sharp notes of shame twinged inside me. My soul was sorrowed.
Disturbed, guilty and hyperemotional, I recoiled from the narration and pretended not to understand its accusing implications. In forced innocence, I broke bread with my family and took my little brother swimming.
But truth is both pervasive and intelligent. My mind’s cloaking efforts were no match for the voluminous veracity waiting on the other side of its anatomical housing.
The cold hard truth lies in the glaring differential between the Prophet’s dwelling conditions and our own. Where the Prophet œ prostrated on uncovered, bare earth, we bow upon varnished wood, ceramic tile, and plushy, vacuumed carpet.
Where the Prophet œ sat in his masjid, rainwater trickling down his face from the leaking roof, we sit in dry, climate-controlled environments.
This difference is so shocking it is almost illogical. Our dear Prophet Muhammad œ, the man who brought the final and most epic divine message to the entire world, lived in the humblest condition imaginable. And we, decadent and unoriginal, drown in our obsession with show and dabble in the shallow waters of social pretension.
I bet you’re rolling your eyes right now—just another angry, hypocritical preacher on a stump somewhere in the world telling me how bad we are and how we should all live in a cave somewhere.
Well, don’t be silly. I’m not trying to spread guilt and make you feel downright terrible—not exactly. I am, however, trying to impress upon you the gravity of the situation. More specifically, I’m trying to tell you we are suffering from an acute case of material fixation.
Every day of our individual lives, we find ourselves preoccupied with upgrading our interiors and exteriors.
When drought hits us in summer, we spend hours hovering over scorched patches of grass. When things get boring, we spend days rearranging the rooms of our houses. When the temperature gets uncomfortably high, we crank up the air and pollute the skies.
And as an American religious community we easily spend millions on our neighborhood mosques with the intention not only of making more space for more people, but also to make it better and more beautiful than the next mosque.
Our lives revolve around pretension and superficiality. Our turf has to be better than our neighbors. Our rides must pass the well-to-do checklist. And those who criticize the obsession are quickly labeled disgruntled extremists.
Now, don’t snap and yell at me for pointing out the obvious. We have to come to grips with what we have done to ourselves. We live way beyond our needs, and it is distracting us from the real accomplishment of life—remembering our Lord from start to finish.
Instead, we have filled our lives with brand names and tricked them out with excess—all in the name of dignity. We need to wake up and realize that this life is temporary and that our end goal is to make it count in the next. And I mean make it count in the humblest sense.
Humbleness and simplicity are lost virtues, and we have to try our very hardest to regain them. We must dampen our feelings of social pride, suppress the inclination to be arrogant, and uplift our unassuming and our honest-to-goodness natural selves.
Life is too short to spend on pointless frivolities. We should really think back to how the Prophet œ lived and endeavor to approximate his humility and simple nature as much as possible.
Transported back to the original masjid of the Prophet œ, many of us, I’m sure, would argue for remodeling. I, for one, would probably rail against the leaking roof and dirt floors! But what is particularly tragic about this scenario is that most of us would think we’d done nothing wrong in this—though many of us would at the same time shy away from criticizing the Prophet’s original “throwback” mosque.
We know well enough what is right and what isn’t. The Prophet’s mosque was the Prophet’s mosque, and we know deep within us that that was the best construction. Plain. Simple. Earthy. And humble.
Now, when I champion the Prophet’s mosque, I do not mean to say that we should grab hammer and chisel and knock holes into our masjid roofs so the rain leaks in. I’m just arguing for simplicity and humility.
Also, when I say we shouldn’t spend time and wealth on frivolities, I’m not saying we shouldn’t beautify and perfect our possessions and our persons. Nothing wrong with planting colorful gardens, exercising, beautifying ourselves, and so forth.
But when we spend inordinate time and wealth on material goods, it just seems wrong. We need to keep that narration of the Prophet œ alive in our minds, regardless of how guilty it makes us. The mud, water, and grit of worship juxtaposed with ice cream cakes and big cars should be different enough to make any of us cry.
Live life. Be humble. Succeed.