The Prophet arrival in Madinah was a turning point for the Muslim community. Abdullah b. Salam, a Jewish scholar, was awaiting his arrival along with the rest of the city. It was a huge celebration – children were singing, drums playing, and everyone was excited to finally see the Messenger of God.
Abdullah b. Salam was interested in seeing who this man was and if he actually did fit the description of the coming Prophet mentioned in the Torah. He described the scene after his arrival, saying there were so many people, I was on my toes trying to get a look at him. The crowd was so large that some people were climbing up palm trees just to get a glimpse of him. Finally, Abdullah saw his face. He said, I knew right then and there that his face was not the face of a liar.
Then, the Prophet started to speak. “Ya ayyuhal-nas! Everyone, listen close!” The crowd went silent. At this crucial moment when the whole community was gathered and waiting on his first words – Abdullah b. Salam tells us the inaugural address of the Messenger :
أفشوا السلام، وأطعموا الطعام، وصِلُوا الأرحام، وصلّوا بالليل والناس نيام، تدخلوا الجنة بسلام
“Spread the greeting amongst yourselves, feed the needy, maintain a strong family relationship, pray during the night while others are asleep, and you will enter Jannah safe and sound.”
The first thing we notice is that Abdullah b. Salam recognized the truthfulness and sincerity of the Prophet just by looking at him. It was visible on his face, his body language and this gave him credibility because it supported his message. Abdullah accepted Islam and became one of the prominent companions.
Spread the Greeting
I’ve moved around quite a bit the past few years. One of the first things I notice about a city is how often people greet one another. Some cities feel downright gloomy because the residents barely crack a smile. We underestimate the impact of a simple hi. Have you ever had a not-so-good day and someone genuinely smiled at you and asked you how you were doing? It made your day, right? Greeting people is a way to build relationships and develop traits like compassion and empathy. The Prophet is teaching us to not live in a bubble. Greeting someone means we are aware of their presence, mood and circumstances. If we walk by one another without a care in the world, our connection as fellow people will significantly decline. You won’t ignore someone if you see they are in low spirits or even in need of help if you initiate a greeting. This why the Prophet tells us in another hadith, spreading salaam will increase the love between all of you. It is the first step in cultivating a relationship with others.
Feed the Needy
This is the next step after greeting people. While feeding those in need is a good deed, the bigger picture here is that the believer is socially conscious and an active member of the community. They are critically aware of what is going on around them and they do what they can to help. Islam teaches a sense of responsibility to ourselves, our families and our communities. Providing food for those in need is one of the ways to fulfill our communal duties. Similarly, this is a recipe for building compassion. The Prophet taught us that interacting with people directly will connect us to one another. He tells us to wipe the heads of the orphans, to shake the hand of our fellow brother or sister and to help the person with a heavy load. Feeding is a theme that comes up again and again in the Qur’an, many times coupled with other acts of worship like prayer, illustrating the multifaceted nature of worship in our religion. An important point here is that being socially active is not done for recognition or an award or for the sake of taking up a social cause. The Qur’an tells us that the motivation of those who feed the needy is loving God, not praise or recognition (76:8-9). Loving God and being conscious of Him translates into taking care of those around them.
Maintaining a Strong Family Relationship
The next advice is to maintain strong family ties. We have all seen it in our communities: people who are active, first in line for prayer or first to provide a service yet it is well-known that they treat their family terribly. The Prophet is telling us here that if your Islam is not making you a better family person then you have not embodied the core principles of the religion. Allah includes the rights of others, including our families, among His Rights. So, maintaining and developing a strong family unit is fulfilling the right of Allah .
Relationships is the theme emphasized by the Prophet as he first addresses his new community, teaching us that our relationships are the infrastructure of our communities. Often times when we talk about taqwa, developing a consciousness and awareness of Allah, it is done in relation to halal/haram. In doing so, we overlook the context of 90% of taqwa’s mention in the Qur’an – our relationship with people and our character. Allah tells us to embody justice in all of its forms – whether it is being an honest employee, spending time with your family, feeding the poor or not littering – because it is the height of piety (5:8).
The final advice of the Prophet connects the dots between our devotional acts of worship and day-to-day life. He gives us our spiritual fuel. The Prophet recognizes that consistently doing the above three advices is not easy. It takes time, effort and self-discipline. So, how do we help ourselves in doing the above three? Praying during the night while others are sleeping. This is how we cultivate and strengthen our personal relationship with Allah . We are taught here that prayer, along with other personal acts of worship, are not just rituals. They are a means to build a relationship with God.
Worship will renew us spiritually when we feel worn out from our social activities. When activists and Islamic workers face burnout, we overlook one of the root causes which is a lack of a relationship with Allah . Without this fuel, we will keep draining ourselves until there is nothing left to drain. The Prophet is teaching us to always take time for our personal relationship with Allah . It will give us the inner strength and energy to sustain our relationships and service to others.
The Prophet ends by saying if one follows this formula, they will reach Paradise in peace. There are no gimmicks or loop holes here. We are given our fuel, personal devotion to Allah , and our vehicle, social relationships, to get there bi salaam, safe and sound with nothing to worry about.
Oftentimes when we learn about tazkiya or purification of the heart, it becomes something abstract and reduced to catch phrases like “be patient” and “have taqwa”. We don’t really know how turn “be patient” into self-development. The dots aren’t connected for us and we don’t know how to connect them ourselves. For some, Islam becomes something purely external and ritualistic. It becomes about halal and haram. For others, Islam is about a “cause”, focusing on social activism or islamic work. The bottom line is that we pray, we fast, we go for hajj while we have some deep-seated spiritual and ethical ailments.
In this hadith, the Prophet addresses both groups of Muslims – those who focus solely on devotional acts of worship such as prayer while falling short in their relationships and those who excel in their relationships and social causes but fall short in their worship. He gives us a practical formula to excel in both aspects of our Islam, when consistently maintained, will lead us to Paradise.
We all know the ayah that tells us our purpose in life. Allah tells us, “I have not created man and jinn except to worship me.” (51:56) Yet we often forget the accompanying hadith. The Prophet tells us he was sent to “perfect good manners”. What does this mean? It means that I have been sent to bring out the best in you, to bring out the best in people.
Islam, when done right, makes us better people – in all aspects of our lives. This is practical spirituality. We look at the Companions and see how they were transformed – they did not just start praying, but they reached the height of their potential as human beings as servants of God, as strong family men and women, and as people who served their communities.
The purpose of this series is to learn how our spirituality is an all-inclusive effort. We have our personal relationship with Allah (swt), we have our own personal development, and we have a relationship with those around this – this is all inter-connected spirituality, as illustrated in the above hadith. We will talk about our potential for spiritual development, how to spiritually nourish ourselves and how to connect the dots between all aspects of our spirituality to become people who take Islam beyond superficial definitions and ritualistic schedules.
 Dr. Maher Hathout.
 The term “practical spirituality” was coined and used often by our Shaykh AbdulNasir Jangda.