Sometimes accusations are leveled at the advocates of Islam, raising doubts about their motives and alleging that they use Islam in order to achieve some worldly gain, such as position, wealth or even good reputation. While ulterior motives could influence people’s actions, even when they claim to serve a noble cause, it is often the case that advocating Islam is associated with enduring hardship, rather than making gains and enjoying benefits. This has been true ever since the first prophet advocated the divine faith. Indeed most prophets endured a hard life. As far as we know, the exceptions are Joseph, who achieved a high position in government after spending several years in prison; Shuayb, who was a prosperous man in an affluent trading community; David and Solomon, who were kings. Today, we find the advocates of Islam being subjected to much hardship and a great variety of pressures. In order to be able to endure such hardship, they need to have some earlier and practical examples, so that they will be reassured that their predecessors in Islamic advocacy suffered similar hardship.
The best example is always provided by God’s messenger, Prophet Muhammad, (peace be upon him). He endured all sorts of hardship, even after he established the first Muslim state in Madinah and was its ruler. During this period, he rarely had enough to eat. Al-Numan ibn Basheer questioned some people who were complaining about various things, saying: “Do you not have whatever you want of food and drink? I have seen your Prophet unable to find a meal of even the worst type of dates.” (Related by Muslim and Al-Tirmidhi.) Umar ibn Al-Khattab makes a similar statement, wondering how people were enjoying life’s comforts in plenty: “I saw the Prophet feeling the pangs of hunger the whole day. He could not have a meal of even the worst type of dates.” (Related by Ahmad and Ibn Majah.) A similar report about the Prophet’s poverty is given by Abu Hurayrah, who says: “I went to the Prophet and found him offering his prayers while seated. I said: ‘I see that you are praying seated. Do you complain of something?’ He said: ‘It is hunger!’ I was in tears, but he said to me: ‘Do not cry, Abu Hurayrah! A person who endures hunger in this life accepting it as God’s will and resigns himself to it will be spared hard questioning and reckoning on the Day of Judgment.’”
Why would the Prophet be left to endure such hard life when he was the man best loved by God? Of course God could have easily provided him with a comfortable life in which he would lack nothing and could enjoy whatever he wished. Indeed the unbelievers demanded that he should have such a life so that they would recognize that he was dear to God. Islam, however, stresses that a person’s fortunes in this life cannot be considered a measure by which we know his position with God. Indeed, God allows all sorts of people to have any amount of wealth, luxury, position and power. We see criminals enjoying a life of ease, power and luxury. This is by no means an indication of a favorable position with God. What indicates that is the way they use such blessings. By the same token, it is the way the poor and the weak endure their lot that indicates their position with God. A person who uses his wealth and position for the benefit of his family and community, helping those in need, will earn rich reward from God. Similarly, one who endures hardship accepting God’s will and realizing that the life to come is the one to mark one’s position with God will have similar rewards. We must always remember that in this life, we all go through a test, which may vary in nature, and it is how we perform in this test that determines our future life.
The Prophet and his family provide a good example for us to follow. We have numerous reports about the type of life in the Prophet’s homes. These reports indicate that poverty was their lot most of the time. Ahmad relates an authentic Hadith in which Aishah reports: “One night, Abu Bakr’s family (i.e. her own family) sent us one portion of a lamb’s leg. I held it firm and the Prophet cut it, (or she said that the Prophet held it firm and she cut it).” Her interlocutor asked: “You had a lamp, though?” She said: “Had we had the fat to lit a lamp, we would have eaten that.”
Abu Hurayrah reports: “Months could pass by with neither a lamp being lit in any of the Prophet’s homes nor a fire for cooking. If they had some oil, they would apply it to their bodies, and if they had animal fat, they would eat it.”
Urwah ibn Al-Zubayr quotes his aunt, Lady Aishah as saying: “By God, we could witness one new moon followed by another and a third, i.e. three new moons in two months, without a fire being lit in any of the Prophet’s homes for cooking.” I said: “Dear aunt! How did you survive?” She said: “On water and dates. However, God’s messenger had certain neighbors from the Ansar who had assigned the milk of some of their sheep, cows and camels to others, and they would send us some of that milk.”
Masrooq reports: “I went to see Aishah, and she ordered some food to be brought for me. Then she said: ‘Whenever I have a full meal I could cry.’ When I asked the reason for that, she said: ‘I remember our situation when God’s messenger passed away. By God, he never had a full meal of bread and meat twice in one day.’” (Related by Al-Tabari.)
These reports, and many other similar ones, give us a clear picture of the sort of life the Prophet was leading at a time when he was the head of the Islamic state, which gradually expanded until it covered the entire Arabian Peninsula at the end of his life. This means that his state included what comprises today Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait. He could certainly have lived very comfortably, giving his wives and family a very comfortable and luxurious life. But he never took for himself anything other than what was due to the poorest of his people. Thus, he showed by clear example that having all riches of this world does not signify anything special, and living in dire poverty does not detract from anyone’s status with God. What determines such status is one’s own beliefs and actions.