In his childhood and youth, the Prophet (peace be upon him) was looked after by his uncle Abu Talib. It is well known that he lost his father before his birth, his mother when he was six and his grandfather when he was eight. Abu Talib was a kind man who loved his orphan nephew and looked well after him. He also realized that Muhammad was a blessed child. He noticed that whenever Muhammad shared in a family meal, the food seemed plentiful and everyone had their fill, but when he was absent, everyone seemed to want more. Therefore, Abu Talib made sure that meals in his home were only served when his young nephew was present. We cannot account for this except as a blessing God gave the young man He had chosen to be His future Messenger to mankind.
However, when the Prophet was delivering God’s message and established the first Muslim state, he lived a life of poverty, and his household rarely had enough food. He sought nothing of the luxuries of this world, although he could have had them if he wished. He thus set the example for his companions and future followers, practically showing them that a luxurious life does not indicate any special favor. A poor person could be in a higher position than a whole army of very rich people.
The Prophet’s poverty was at its most acute in Madinah, when the whole Muslim community endured hard times. The Prophet looked after his companions, working hard to alleviate their hardship. An authentic report by Abdullah ibn Abbas mentions that one day Abu Bakr went out into the mosque in the afternoon when the heat was at its highest. He noticed that Umar was already there and he asked him why he was in the mosque at such a time (when no prayer was due). Umar said that he came out because he was extremely hungry. Abu Bakr said that he too came for the same reason. In a little while the Prophet came to the mosque and asked them why they were there. He then said to them: “I too came out for no reason other than that. Let us go!”
They walked to Abu Ayyoub’s home. It was Abu Ayyoub’s habit to save some food or milk for the Prophet. On that day, the Prophet did not show up at his usual time. Therefore, Abu Ayyoub gave the food to his family and went into his farm to work. When the Prophet knocked at Abu Ayyoub’s door, his wife said: “Warm welcome to God’s Messenger and those with him.” The Prophet asked: “Where is Abu Ayyoub?”
As he was nearby, Abu Ayyoub came quickly and welcomed them warmly. He said: “It is not your usual time.” The Prophet confirmed his remark. Abu Ayyoub went back quickly and brought a large cluster of dates that included a variety of ripe and semi-ripe fruit, as well as some just beginning to ripen. The Prophet said to him: “Why did you do this? You could have brought us some ripe dates.” Abu Ayyoub said: “I would like you to eat of all its variety, and I will also slaughter a goat for you.” The Prophet said: “If you do, then do not slaughter any that is giving milk.”
Abu Ayyoub then slaughtered a male goat, telling his wife to bake some bread. He then cooked half the goat and grilled the other half. When the food was ready it was served to the Prophet and his companions, he took some of the goat meat and put it in a loaf of bread, saying to Abu Ayyoub: “Send this to Fatimah, (his own daughter), for she has not had a meal like this for several days.” Abu Ayyoub sent it to her. When they had their meal, the Prophet remarked: “We have had bread, meat and a variety of dates! This is indeed the sort of joy that you will be questioned about on the Day of Judgment.”
This remark was a reference to the Qur’anic verse that asserts that people will indeed be questioned about the joys and comforts they have in this life. When the Prophet said this, his companions felt it too hard. By our standards today, we can appreciate their feelings. There was nothing extraordinary about their meal, yet the Prophet was asserting that they would be questioned about it. That seemed hard questioning indeed. The Prophet comforted them saying: “If you have a meal like this, begin by saying, ‘in the name of God’, and when you have finished, say, ‘all praise is due to God who has given us such plentiful food and graced us with His blessings.’ When you do this, it repays what you have.” Thus the Prophet teaches us how to be grateful for every type of blessing we enjoy, even when we have an ordinary meal after being hungry.
As the Prophet was about to leave, he said to his host to come and see him the following day, but Abu Ayyoub did not hear him. Therefore, Umar said to him: “Abu Ayyoub! The Prophet is instructing you to see him tomorrow.” The Prophet loved to repay any favor done to him, and he wished to repay for his kindness. When Abu Ayyoub went to see him the following day, he gifted him with a slave woman, saying to him: “Abu Ayyoub! Be kind to her, for she has been so good ever since she came to us.” When Abu Ayyoub took the slave home, he was aware that he had to be kind to her as the Prophet told him. Then he thought that he could do nothing better for the girl, in order to fulfil the Prophet’s request, than to set her free. This was exactly what he did.
We note in this story how the Prophet cared for his companions, relatives and the weaker and vulnerable members of society. When he was hungry, he went out into the mosque thinking that some of his companions might be driven by hunger to go out of their homes at a time when people would be more comfortable staying in. He might not have gone to Abu Ayyoub’s place had he been alone, but when he saw two of his companions feeling very hungry, he took them there knowing that Abu Ayyoub was one of the most generous and hospitable of his companions. As Abu Ayyoub welcomed them and served them with a good meal, the Prophet thought of his daughter and her family. He sent his host with some food to give her. Here again we see Abu Ayyoub’s generosity, for the Prophet would not have behaved in this way unless he knew that his host had such a generous and kind heart.
Then we look at how the Prophet was keen to repay Abu Ayyoub for this favor, giving him more than his hospitality, but not forgetting to ensure the girl’s comfort, by telling Abu Ayyoub to take good care of her. Such a recommendation was certain to bring her the best treatment she could think of. Abu Ayyoub was keen to fulfill the Prophet’s request and thought of the best way to do so. This ensured that the girl was set free.