The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) 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 ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) 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 ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him):

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 raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) recognized the truthfulness and sincerity of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) just by looking at him. It was visible on his face, his body language and this gave him credibility because it supported his message[1]. 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 ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) 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 ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) 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[2]. 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 ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) 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 ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) 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 subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) 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 subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He).

Relationships is the theme emphasized by the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) 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 subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) 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).

Night Prayer

The final advice of the Prophet subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) connects the dots between our devotional acts of worship and day-to-day life. He gives us our spiritual fuel[2]. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) 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 subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). 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[4].

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 subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). Without this fuel, we will keep draining ourselves until there is nothing left to drain. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) is teaching us to always take time for our personal relationship with Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). It will give us the inner strength and energy to sustain our relationships and service to others[5].

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) 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 subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), and our vehicle, social relationships, to get there bi salaam, safe and sound with nothing to worry about.

Practical Spirituality

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 ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) 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 ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) 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 subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) tells us, “I have not created man and jinn except to worship me.” (51:56) Yet we often forget the accompanying hadith. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) 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[6]. 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.

[1] Feed, Greet and Pray: The Prophetic Formula

[2] Islam's Social Vision

[3]Feed, Greet and Pray: The Prophetic Formula

[4] Dr. Maher Hathout.

[5] Feed, Greet and Pray: The Prophetic Formula

[6] The term “practical spirituality” was coined and used often by our Shaykh AbdulNasir Jangda.

19 Responses

  1. Mahmud

    Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

    JazzakAllahu khair, good article, just one question:

    Where did you get the Maher Hathout citation from? Is it in a video he made or a lecture or a book of his? I used to attend the masjid he frequents.

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  2. gunal

    I try not to comment but could not resist once again. I hope someone can help me in better understanding my life long struggle; the purpose of “MY” life!

    I agree with what is said in the article only up to the heading ‘Practical Spirituality’ (the last heading). By the way, the ayah been quoted should read 51:56 not 51:55. Also I feel the more appropriate ayah would have been 4:36. However, I am glad that you have chosen the 51:56 and addressed it as the purpose of our life. But is it the purpose of our life? I don’t think worshipping God is our sole purpose in life. Perhaps ‘worship’ means something else to me? What do you mean by worship? Praying is what I understand. Then, someone who prays 5 times a day and more with all the sunnahs and some extras …they had fulfilled their purpose?
    I feel you have taken the ayah out of context and made it out that God was in desperate need for people to worship Him and to praise Him therefore we were created. Praying should be seen as seeking help and guidance from God in my opinion. Because if you read 51:57 God says no sustenance do I require of them….. He does not need anything from us.

    So unless you have a valid reason to why you feel this is the purpose of our life; for me back to the drawing board with my question of ‘what is the purpose of MY life’

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    • Abu Asiyah

      Assalaamu ‘alaykum,

      As a convert, one of the things I really appreciated about Islam was that it made no separation between the secular and the spiritual. Any permissible act in Islam can be made into worship by a simple intention to please Allah Ta’ala through the act (such as read a book to relax to have more energy for worship, talk with your friend to strengthen the unity of the ummah, etc).

      As such, anything that pleases Allah or is done in His obedience, is worship. And our objective in life IS to worship Him by obeying Him and seeking to please Him. And it’s true that, like you said, Allah Ta’ala ensures that no mistake is made by reminding mankind that He doesn’t need our worship. I don’t think the article needed to include that verse, the context is more suitable for a discussion on aqeedah.

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      • Mahmud

        wa alaykumusalam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

        From what I know from Nouman Ali Khan, the actual meaning is enslaving. So when we say in Surah Al Fatiha “iyah kana’budu” it means “you alone we enslave ourselves to”

        Such an important thing-the purpose of our creation and we don’t translate it properly. SubhanAllah.

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      • Yusra Owais (Amatullah)

        Gunal and Abu Asiyah, the reason why I put the ayah from surah 51 in this article is for the same reason why you mentioned prayer = worship in your mind. The concept of ‘ebadah is understood to mean “worship” but it has more of a meaning of being devoted only to Allah (swt). Unfortunately, we sometimes limit the meaning to physical and/or devotional acts of worship such as prayer or fasting. But, as I included in the article, taking care of your family is worship, smiling and greeting others is worship just as praying is worship. This is mentioned by Abu Asiyah. When this ayah is coupled with the narration from the Prophet sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam, we learn that worship in all of its forms and being devoted to God should be an active part of our lives as well as a means of our self-development. The purpose of this article and the whole series is for us to understand the comprehensive yet practical nature of worship and spirituality. Allah knows best.

        And jazak Allahu khayran for correcting the typo.

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      • gunal

        Thanks Abu Asiyah.

        Yusra, it can be said that I am not comfortable with such wide meaning given to the word ‘worship’. According to your article we are supposed to think worship encapsulates the meanings ibadah, pray, good behaviour towards others… Perhaps even more?

        I thought it means as Mahmut said ‘enslaving ourselves’. If so then ayah 51:57 contradicts it. Allah (swt) does not need anything why should He need to create us to enslave towards Him. Perhaps then, He created us to enslave to each other. I don’t feel this is the case neither.

        I feel the whole ayah (51:56) is mistranslated. Of course I am aware that on the judgment day it will be all cleared up for us. By refusing to take your words for it now, I am trying to voice that something about it is not making complete sense to me. As the scholars by commenting and expressing my concerns to you I am hoping for some clarification before I will be confronted on the judgment day.

        Thank you for the opportunity.

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      • Mahmud

        Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

        From listening the Nouman Ali Khan, that appears to be the literal translation.

        Perhaps that is a benefit of Allah saying he doesn’t need us right after the purpose for which he created us. It removes any possible confusion.

        Yes, Allah aza wa jal does not need us but he created us to enslave ourselves to Him. He knows more, there is a hadith that says no one loves to be praised more than he does and for this reason he praises himself.

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  3. Mace Abdullah

    No mention of the Sahifatul Madinah or Constitution of Madinah, enacted by the Prophet, AS, assured certain forms of ta’awun or mutual cooperation would be implemented, upheld.and that contained three (3) aspects of ta’awun, including:
    • “Provision for social insurance affecting the Jews, Ansar and the Christians.
    • Statement that “the immigrants among the Quraish shall be responsible for their word and shall pay their blood money in mutual collaboration.”
    • Provision for ransom (fidya) whereby payment is made to rescue the life of a prisoner and the relatives (‘aqilah) could cooperate to free him.”

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  4. Azzizza

    for those who want their agendas focused in the article, you should simply write your own article and not look for faults in others

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    • gunal

      This is the whole purpose: Others write the articles and we are able to comment. Even if we write our own agendas (in our own articles) we would not stop commenting on the others’ articles. If you don’t like the heat get out of the kitchen!

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  5. gunal

    Selam Mahmud,

    I am so happy for you that you are able to see ayah 51:57 opposite to how I see it. You sound so convinced.

    However, I still see It as contradiction to 51:56.

    It doesn’t matter for me because through a lot of thinking and being able to read Qur’an’s translations from 2 different languages I can see how difficult it can be interpreting something which is; a)not written within the language it is spoken b)neither can be understood as what it may have meant in the times It was written (such as the expressions of the words’ changeability through time). Did you know that according to some teenagers today the word sick means actually an awesome thing? To be honest when looking at the facial expressions accompanying the word sick, I am still not certain sometimes what that young person mean. Should I call an ambulance or should I open a bottle of bubbly (sparkling appletiser of course)!

    So, I can say that as well as the word ‘worship’, the meaning of ‘slavery’ is not so sick for me.

    Yes it doesn’t matter for me because in my language (Turkish) we have a word called ‘KUL’. I am not going to write what it translates in English because it loses its meaning. So I will explain it in so many words;
    in United KINGDOM the citizens are not called the ‘CITIZENS’. They are called the ‘SUBJECTS’ of that kingdom. Governed by and swear allegiance to that kingdom. Just like that, we have a CREATOR and His KUL(S) (He created) belong to Him, governed by Him, swear allegiance to Him… As a citizen in Turkey or a subject in UK I am a slave in this world. Mainly I slave to my own desires. Slave to the golden carrot dangled in front of me. But when it comes to my Perfect Creator I wouldn’t like to slave because; I can’t help myself, because I am weak, because He gave me life, the experiences in His world and the prospect of a better everlasting future… I feel I would and all of His Kul(s) would do anything for Him just because we recognise the comfort it gives us just for belonging to Him.

    Yes it doesn’t matter for me about this particular contradiction but for scholars out there – as you will see from A’s comment on the article ‘Muslims Can’t do anything why be Muslim’ I am not alone. Some views paint a totally different picture in our minds.

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    • Ismail

      I’m having trouble figuring out exactly what is confusing you, brother. Is it the notion that we’re slaves of Allah and our purpose in this life is to worship Him and Him alone? I’m just going to quote you a little bit, if you don’t mind ;)

      “What do you mean by worship? Praying is what I understand. Then, someone who prays 5 times a day and more with all the sunnahs and some extras …they had fulfilled their purpose?”

      No, people who merely pray 5 times a day have not fulfilled their purpose. Worshipping Allah(swt) means doing all the tasks he made compulsory for us first, (the 5 daily prayers, fasting, zakaath etc.) then applying ourselves in our daily duties (family, work, school) within the limits set by the religion of Allah(swt). Basically, if you pray 5 times a day, as you mentioned, you have done the important bit, congratulations. It’s these acts of worship that strengthens and maintains your relationship with Allah, and reminds you that Allah is ever watchful. The next bit of worship is conducting yourself within the rules and regulations set in Islam, while possessing the mannerisms taught by the Prophet, peace be upon him. These acts of worship include things as little as greeting a person with a smile, helping out a person in need, refusing to cheat during an exam, avoiding usury while conducting a business transaction, or even playing with your children and spending time with your family.

      Of course, if you neglect your religious duties then nothing else you do can be considered an act of worship.

      Hope this helps, I’m sure there are people on here who are far more capable than I am in putting thoughts to words.

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      • gunal

        Thanks for your concern Ismail. I am okay now. Not so cofused. :)

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  6. Zabi Mohamme

    As salaamualaikum, this is such an amazing article you have written. SubhanAllah, it was something very revealing about the beauty and practicality of Islam. Along with the message presented in a very articulate form, one thing that really made me understood the truth of the Prophet’s gift: He was given by Allah the ability to explain a whole idea, a concept in just few words. I always knew about this gift of His to his beloved but as an average Muslim you fail to acknowledge just the sheer beauty or strength of our Deen, our Prophet(Sallallahualihiwassallam), the respect, the adab he deserves for just being him. But this article really made me understand his gift, his amazing ability. I may be going off topic, but it’s got me one step closer to my Nabi, who I should obediently and arduously follow.
    Wassalaam.

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