“I, ya Rasulullah!” Such were the words of the great Companion, Abu Hurayrah (radhiAllahu anhu) in acceptance of the request of his beloved, when he asked, “Who among you will accept of me the following words and adopt and execute their meaning or teach someone to adopt them and act according to them?”
Then, as Abu Hurayrah recalls; “So he held my hand and counted five things according to my five fingers as follows.” Upon pondering over this sentence, one can rightfully assume that this act of the Prophet (sallaAllahu alayhe wasallam) of teaching Abu Hurayrah in such a personal manner – one by one, on the fingers of his hand – was a significant step in the effort to keep these words etched in his heart. In fact, it was a method of aiding him in fulfilling the responsibility to which he agreed to moments earlier.
So, what were these teachings that numbered the fingers of Abu Hurayrah's hand?
( مَنْ يَأْخُذُ عَنِّي هَؤُلاَءِ الكَلِمَاتِ فَيَعْمَلُ بِهِنَّ أَوْ يُعَلِّمُ مَنْ يَعْمَلُ بِهِنَّ ؟ فَقَالَ أَبُو هُرَيْرَةَ : فَقُلْتُ : أَنَا يَا رَسُولَ اللهِ !
فَأَخَذَ بِيَدِي فَعَدَّ خَمْسًا وَقَالَ :
اتَّقِ الْمَحَارِمَ تَكُنْ أَعْبَدَ النَّاسِ ، وَارْضَ بِمَا قَسَمَ اللَّهُ لَكَ تَكُنْ أَغْنَى النَّاسِ ، وَأَحْسِنْ إِلَى جَارِكَ تَكُنْ مُؤْمِنًا ، وَأَحِبَّ لِلنَّاسِ مَا تُحِبُّ لِنَفْسِكَ تَكُنْ مُسْلِمًا ، وَلاَ تُكْثِرِ الضَّحِكَ ، فَإِنَّ كَثْرَةَ الضَّحِكِ تُمِيتُ القَلْبَ ) .
رواه أحمد والترمذي والطبراني في الأوسط
Keep away from prohibited things and you will be the best of worshippers.
Be content with what Allāh has given you, and you will be the richest of people.
Be good to your neighbor and you will be a true believer.
Love for other people what you love for yourself and you will be a (perfect) Muslim.
Do not laugh too much, for excessive laughter deadens the heart.
(Recorded by Ahmad and al-Tirmidhi)
“Keep away from prohibited things and you will be the best of worshippers.”
In such concise words, our Prophet (sallaAllahu alayhe wasallam) taught us that worship is not only in bringing forth good deeds, but also in abstaining from the prohibited. Extra prayers, fasting and charity are praiseworthy, but inclusive in worship is to be able to place boundaries between yourself and that which is haram. This is of particular importance to those sins that we may have become desensitized to, and as a result are prone to falling into them regularly.
Yusuf, (alayhe asallam), was in a situation with the wife of Al-Aziz, where there were many reasons available for him to easily fall into the haram. Yet he proved to be among the “best of worshippers” when she invited him to the forbidden, and he proclaimed; “I seek refuge in Allāh (or Allāh forbid)!” (Yusuf 12:23). In fact, his ardent will to stay away from the prohibited led him to prefer the life of prison; “O my Lord! Prison is dearer to me than that to which they invite me. Unless You turn away their plot from me, I will feel inclined towards them and be one (of those who commit sin and deserve blame or those who do deeds) of the ignorant.” (Yusuf 12:33).
To establish our personal level of ubudiyyah (worship) to Allāh (subhanahu wata'ala), we should turn to our situation in cases where a sin is of easy access to us. Are we able to give our wealth in charity, yet weak when the desire to lie or indulge in ill-talk arises? Or perhaps it is easy for a person to perfect their conduct, yet they have fallen into the desire of not paying heed to acquiring their wealth from only the purest and halal of sources? The examples are many, and each of us can relate, on a personal level, which of the haram actions we are prone to slipping into.
In a hadeeth narrated by Thawban, the Prophet (sallaAllahu alayhe wasallam) warned against this when he described the situation of those who fall into the prohibited when they are far from the eyes of others. He (sallaAllahu alayhe wasallam) said:
“I certainly know people of my ummah who will come on the Day of Resurrection with good deeds like the mountains of Tihaamah, but Allāh will make them like scattered dust.” Thawbaan said: 'O Messenger of Allāh, describe them to us and tell us more, so that we will not become of them unknowingly.' He said: “They are your brothers and from your race, worshipping at night as you do, but they will be people who, when they are alone, transgress the sacred limits of Allāh.” (Ibn Majah).
The Prophet (sallaAllahu alayhe wasallam) himself was the utmost example of protecting himself from the haram. Anas narrated that the Prophet (sallaAllahu alayhe wasallam) passed a date fallen on the way and said, “Were I not afraid that it may be from a sadaqa (charitable gifts), I would have eaten it.” (Bukhāri).
So while we undergo efforts to increase our good deeds, we should also pay heed to those evil deeds, whether they are actions of the heart, tongue or limbs, which bar us from reaching this status. This is particularly to those ones which come about in daily life, such as evil talk or letting our gazes roam. Let us become more aware of our actions and work on building a barrier that stands between us and Allāh's prohibitions, thus serving as a step in the path of earning this title of the “best of worshippers.”
“Be content with what Allāh has given you, and you will be the richest of people.”
This beautiful part of the hadeeth, if truly and sincerely applied, can relieve heavy burdens off the most slender of shoulders. How many times have we allowed ourselves to be overcome by worries whose main source was not being fully content with what Allāh has granted us?
We have laid forth excuses and placed barriers to our achievements, many of which arise from not being content. We tell ourselves, “If I lived in such and such place, I would be able to do such and such. And if I had what so and so had, I would….” The list is endless. It is true that perhaps we did not always openly proclaim such sentences, but we know that at times they have at least crossed our mind and deceived us into believing that our state of failure to achieve is unchangeable.
Allāh (subhanahu wata'ala) says, (interpretation of the meaning) “And do not extend your eyes toward that by which We have given enjoyment to [some] categories of them, [its being but] the splendor of worldly life by which We test them. And the provision of your Lord is better and more enduring.” (Ta-ha 20:131).
In order to fulfill this command, we should remember that whatever Allāh decrees for the believers is better for them, and this is only for the believers. We should also avoid looking towards those who have been given more than us in matters of this dunya and divert our attention to the state of those who have been given less; who are deprived of blessings that we forget in ourselves. Think of the poor laborer who is able to fall fast asleep in the middle of his busy workplace, and the wealthy businessman who is deprived of sleep in the softest of beds. Think particularly of those who have lost both; their dunya due to an unhappy life of misery and lost their akhira (Hereafter) due to being deprived of the blessing of Islam. You will surely feel that you are among the richest of creation. Our Prophet (sallaAllahu alayhe wasallam) said,
“Successful is the one who has entered the fold of Islam and is provided with sustenance which is sufficient for his needs, and Allāh makes him content with what He has bestowed upon him.” (Muslim).
Another aspect of contentment is keeping oneself from asking from others and avoiding being dependent on them. An example of such character is that of the Companions of the Prophet (sallaAllahu alayhe wasallam), who if they dropped their whip while mounted on their riding animal, would not ask someone to retrieve it for them, although it would have been easier. Rather they would dismount and pick it up themselves, because they did not want to be dependent on others.
The meaning of contentment is not to be stretched to the matters of the Hereafter, as it is only praiseworthy in application to matters of this world. As for increasing virtuous deeds, then 'greed' is more befitting since the Muslim should always be in search of more. Allāh says, (interpretation of the meaning) “Race toward forgiveness from your Lord and a Garden whose width is like the width of the heavens and earth.” (Al-Hadeed 57:21).
Allāh says, (interpretation of the meaning) “And your Lord creates what He wills and chooses; not for them was the choice.” (Al-Qasas 28:68). A man may be poor, yet healthy. Another may be wealthy, yet he wishes for good health more than wealth. Be pleased with what Allāh has given you, and you will be the richest of people. Through this principle, we are able to overcome Shaytaan's technique of making us feel sorry for ourselves as well as purify our hearts of diseases, such as envy. Such a teaching is in fact a key to one's very own gate to riches that even those with much gold and silver have not been able to unlock.
“Be good to your neighbor and you will be a true believer.”
After focusing on points pertaining to strengthening our own souls, the Prophet's (sallaAllahu alayhe wasallam) third piece of advice relates to strengthening one's belief through the fulfillment of the rights of those around us. A wonderful opportunity is present everyday to try and strengthen our bond with our neighbors. It is one of the most virtuous of deeds; the Prophet (sallaAllahu alayhe wasallam) said,
“Jibreel kept advising me of the rights of neighbors so much that I thought he would make them my heirs.” (Agreed upon).
Whether it is through a smile, a kind word or a simple gift, all of these kind actions have an effect on the hearts and are of the best forms of silent da'wah. The sign of the true mu'min is that he is good to his neighbors; perhaps it may be such a simple deed for some, but the reward is great.
“Love for other people what you love for yourself and you will be a (perfect) Muslim.”
This advice from the Prophet (sallaAllahu alayhe wasallam) is repeated often in gatherings, lectures and articles. Although it may be easy to say, this much-needed characteristic that strengthens community bonds and raises our status as Muslims, actually requires effort in achieving. This is because we sometimes limit the application of this characteristic to our hearts only and do not extend it practically in our lives. So, if for example, we love that we have knowledge, we should love that others have access to this knowledge as well. If we love that our acts of worship are done in a correct manner, likewise should this love stretch forth so that we may teach those whose worship may be contrary to the Shari'ah while they know not. When you have knowledge that what they are doing is incorrect and would not like for yourself to be left in the darkness if you were in their place, try to gently correct them and teach them what is right. Passing on knowledge is one example; by reflecting and asking ourselves the question of 'would I like this for myself?' before many acts and words is a step in the path of applying this principle in everyday life.
An extraordinary example of putting this teaching into practice is that of some of our righteous predecessors. Ibrahim al-Nakha'ee (rahimahullah) was a'war al-'ayn (blind in one eye), and his student Sulayman ibn Mihran suffered from weak eyesight (a'mash al-'ayn). Ibn al-Jawzi related a story about them in his book Al-Muntathim that they were walking in the streets of Al-Kufah headed to the masjid.
As they were walking, imām Al-Nakha'ee said, “Sulayman, can you take one road and I take another? For I fear that if we were to pass together by the foolish people, they would say, 'A'war – one eyed – is leading an a'mash – bleary eyed- (through the road) and they would then have backbitten us and fallen into sins.”
So Sulayman replied, “O Abu 'Imran! What is wrong then when we are rewarded while they are sinful?”
Ibrahim al-Nakha'ee replied, “SubhanaAllah! Bal naslam wa yaslamun! Rather, that we be safe (from their backbiting) and they be safe (of sin) is better than if we are rewarded and they are sinful!” (al-Muntathim fee Tareekh al Muluk wal Umam).
Their application of this principle reached heights that perhaps we never even thought it could reach. Such were the hearts that understood the meaning of the one who wished good for his people even after he died in the āyah (interpretation of the meaning); “It was said, “Enter Paradise.” He said, “I wish my people could know of how my Lord has forgiven me and placed me among the honored.” (Yaa-Seen 36:26,27)
“Do not laugh too much, for excessive laughter deadens the heart.”
For every believer who wishes to keep the heart alive with faith, the Prophet (sallaAllahu alayhe wasallam) taught in the final advice of this hadeeth that excessive laughter is a cause for a dead heart. Let no believer assume that this implies he or she must wear a frown in order to keep the heart alive with faith, for the Prophet (sallaAllahu alayhe wasallam) had the most cheerful countenance and taught us that to smile was a rewarded act of sadaqa.
Hence, if we are among those who have trouble keeping a cheerful face, this is not an opportunity to prove the virtue of such an expression, rather it is a chance to rethink and realize that while excessive laughter is denounced, a smile is praised and written as a good deed. Such a simple change in expression, will surely lead us to see notable change in our hearts towards others and in their character towards us.
The Prophet (sallaAllahu alayhe wasallam) used to make his Companions laugh and his Companions would make him laugh. But he taught us not to be excessive in laughter for it will cause a dead heart and dry eyes. Let us not be among those who only keep the company of those who make us laugh and find anyone else “boring.” Or those who only attend lectures of those who have the highest sense of humor. Or those who read only that which makes them laugh and watch only those programs that make them laugh. Rather, even in laughter, our religion teaches moderation. It is possible to forget this, and that is why our Prophet (sallaAllahu alayhe wasallam) did not forget to remind us; so that we may pay attention to the weight laughter carries in our everyday lives.
Such concise words, amounting to the fingers of one hand, yet beautiful in meaning and comprehensive in application. With the same enthusiasm of Abu Hurayrah, may Allāh be pleased with Him, who took upon himself the task of taking care of them until they reached us, let us work on remembering them, applying them and letting them affect our lives. Perhaps now, you will look at your fingers and view them from a different perspective, as you count on them 5 steps towards a more noble life.