His Modesty         


How was the prophet muhammads modesty?

Mazhar-ı feyz olamaz düşmeyince hâke nebât

Mütevazî olanı rahmet-i Rahmân büyütür.[1]

Modesty means obedience and submission to Allah and acceptance of the truth. Shortness in modesty is a sign of arrogance while its exaggeration means abasement. Excessive modesty may manifest itself as a sign of arrogance of the inner self. This is why one should be very careful about keeping the balance in this respect.

According to Hasan al-Basri, modesty means that when a believer leaves his home, he/she is to consider every Muslim on his/her path superior than him/her. The great Sufi Fudail b. Iyad’s following words during circumambulation of the Ka’bah to the pious hadith scholar Shuaib b. Harb reflects a similar thinking:

“O Shuaib! If you think that a pilgrim more sinner than you and me came for this year’s pilgrimage, this is an awful presumption.

Modesty is the most important ornament, which embellishes human beings in this life. This virtue is a requirement of being a servant of Allah. A human being, who has nothing and who presents all his/her needs to the Lord the Independent (al-Ghani), is not expected to think or behave otherwise. This would be an act contrary to the truth; because, vanity, selfishness, and bragging are curtains set between a human being and the objects (the world). Without lifting these curtains it is impossible to see things as they really are. This world in conceited people’s minds has an utterly different view than its reality. Those who cannot get rid of such delusions and see the reality of the events are drifted into mistakes, deceive themselves more than anybody else, and, worst of all, are subject to Divine anger and displeasure. Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said that:

“Whoever shows one degree modesty for the sake of Allah the Almighty, Allah will raise him one degree for that. And whoever shows one degree of pride, Allah will degrade him one degree because of that and consequently will throw him/her to the level of the lowest of the lows (asfal-i safilin).” (Ibn Majah, Zuhd, 16)

Another prophetic tradition that expresses how severely wrong vanity is as follows:

“It is narrated on the authority of Abu Dharr (r.a.) that the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) stated:

“Three are the persons with whom Allah would neither speak on the Day of Resurrection, nor would look at them nor would absolve them and there is a painful chastisement for them.”

The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) repeated this sentence three times. Abu Dharr (r.a.) remarked:

“They failed and they lost; who are these persons, O Messenger of Allah?” Upon this the Prophet (pbuh) replied:

“They are: the one who drags his lower garment, the one who rubs his/her favor in, and the one who tries to sell his/her goods by false oath.” (Muslim, Iman, 171)

As it can be understood from this tradition, pride is such a bad attribute that will entitle its owner to Divine punishment by depriving him/her of Allah’s words, look, and purification in the Hereafter. Such people not only go astray but also are obnoxious in the eyes of the others. Modesty, on the other hand, gets people accustomed to truth. It also deepens and elevates them spiritually. An intellectual states that: “There is a window called “rank” which everybody in society will see and be seen from. Those who are short walk in arrogance in order to see themselves; while those who are great have to bow in humility. The measure for the greatness is humility; and the measure for humility is showing arrogance.”

All people instinctively love the modest ones; because like everything else love flows from higher grounds to lower ones. Hence, modesty or showing oneself lower than the others attracts everyone’s love.

Allah the Almighty commands humility first to his most beloved servant, the Prophet (pbuh), in the following verses:

“And lower your wing (in kindness) unto those believers who follow you.” (al-Shuara 26; 215) When the Prophet (pbuh) got this order, he said that “Allah the Almighty ordered me to be so humble that no one would boast towards others and no one would oppress others.” (Muslim, Jannah, 64) Then, he lived the peak of humbleness and manifested endless examples for his ummah. He considered being a servant of Allah more honorable and did not incline to be a king or a ruler. A report which states the Prophet’s choice in this matter is as follows:

“One day Allah’s Messenger was sitting and chatting with Angel Gabriel. Just then an angel came down from the heavens. Gabriel said that this was the first time that this angel was coming down to earth. The angel said:

“O Muhammad! I was sent to you by your Lord. He wants to know which one you would prefer being a king prophet or a servant prophet.” Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) looked at Gabriel. Gabriel signaled him to be humble and said: “O Messenger of Allah! Be modest towards your Lord.” Then the Prophet told the angel: “I would prefer to be a servant prophet.” (Ibn Hanbal, II, 231; Haythami, IX, 18, 20) After the Prophet’s humble choice, being a servant has become the most honorable rank at which a human being can reach.

Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) warned those who had shown him excessive respect saying: “Do not raise me above the degree that is proper for me; because Allah the Almighty has chosen me as His servant before he chose me as His Messenger.” (Hakim, III, 197/4825; Haythami, IX, 21) Thus, he emphasized the significance of being a servant.

Abdullah b. Jubair (r.a.) narrates:

“One day while the Prophet (pbuh) was walking with a group of companions, one of them wanted to protect Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) from the sunlight by means of a cover. When the Prophet (pbuh) saw the shadow above him, he raised his head and saw that a companion was the source of the shadow. He told the companion:

“Leave it.” Then he took the cover down and said: “I am just a human being like you are.” (Haythami, IX, 21)

Even though Allah’s Apostle was the most beloved servant of Allah the Almighty and the most esteemed human being, he showed the utmost modesty with which no other human could show and lived like a regular member of the Muslim community. Abbas (r.a.) narrates:

“I told the Messenger of Allah (pbuh):

“O Messenger of Allah! Why don’t you have a throne for yourself and sit on it? I see that people are disturbing you.” Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) replied:

“No! I will stay among the people until Allah takes me to His presence. Let them step on my foot, pull my clothes, and let the dust raised by them bother me.” (Ibn Sa’d, II, 193; Haythami, IX, 21)

Because of his boundless modesty, our Prophet (pbuh) neither stayed behind closed doors nor hid behind curtains nor did he accept that his food to be brought before him. He would sit and eat his food on the ground and say: “I sit like a servant sits, and eat just like a servant eats. I am just a servant of Allah.” (Ibn Sa’d, I, 372) Even when slaves invited him to eat barley bread, he would accept their invitation. (Haythami, IX, 20) He would even greet children. (Bukhari, Isti’zan, 15) How significant is the following report in this respect:

“When any man from Medina, even a slave, held the hand of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh), he would take him to the place where he wanted to go, listen to his needs and solve his problems. (Bukhari, Adab, 61) Abdullah b. Wassaf expresses in his following lines that those who are compassionate towards others will in fact ascend:

Her âcize şefkat et şefî ol

Mahlûka tevâzû et refî ol.

“Show compassion to all destitute and be an intercessor

Be modest towards creation and be exalted”

Our beloved Prophet (pbuh) was so modest that he asked his companions to pray for him even though he was bestowed with endless Divine blessings and his exalted state in the presence of Allah the Almighty was well-known. It was narrated by Umar b. al-Khattab (r.a.):

“I sought permission of the Prophet (pbuh) to perform minor pilgrimage. He gave me his permission and said:

“My brother, do not forget me in your supplication.”

Umar (r.a) said:

“Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) told me a word that pleased me so much that I would not have been pleased if I were given the whole world.” (Abu Dawud, Witr, 23)

When the Prophet (pbuh) was at home, he would repair the rips in his clothes, mend his shoes, (Ibn Sa’d, I, 366) and milk his sheep. (Haythami, IX, 20) He would carry his own luggage and would not like to be a burden to anybody. The following incident narrated by Abu Hurairah (r.a.) is an excellent example of this:

“…One day I went to the market along with the Messenger of Allah (pbuh). He bought some clothes. I wanted to take and carry them for him. Upon this he told me:

“It is more appropriate for a person to carry his own things unless he was too weak to carry them. Then his Muslim brother may help him.” (Haythami, V, 122)

According to Anas’ (r.a.) report, Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) would visit the sick, attend funerals, and would not be ashamed to use the rides which anyone owned as rides. For instance, he would not be ashamed to ride a donkey. In fact he used a donkey as a ride during the days of the conquest of Khaibar and during the military campaign to the sons of Kuraizah. Many times he had no ride and he walked, and this was a very normal situation for him. Jabir (r.a.) says in this respect:

“Once I fell ill. The Prophet and Abu Bakr walked a long way to pay me a visit without a ride.” (Bukhari, Marda, 15)

Allah’s Messenger (pbuh), who carried rocks like everybody else during the construction of his mosque, tied two stones over his belly while his companions tied one stone to their bellies because of hunger during digging the trenches,[2] lived his life no different than the lives of his companions. He would not see himself superior than his companions. Abdullah b. Busr (r.a.) narrates the following incident in this regard:

“The Prophet (pbuh) had a bowl called gharra which could be carried by four people. When the sun rose high, and they performed the forenoon prayer, the bowl in which tharid was prepared was brought. And the companions gathered around it. When they were numerous, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) kneeled down and sat on his knees. A bedouin saw this modest sitting style and asked in amazement:

“What kind of sitting is this?” The Prophet (pbuh) said:

“Allah has made me a respectable servant and He did not make me an obstinate tyrant.” (Abu Dawud, At’imah, 17)

In the following lines, Fuzuli elegantly describes through a metaphor how the greatness of the Prophet (pbuh) can never be lost by behaving like a regular servant:

Saâdet-i ezelî kâbil-i zevâl olmaz

Güneş yer üstüne düşmekle pâymâl olmaz.

“Eternal happiness is not possible to be lost; The sun would not be wretched by falling to the ground.”

Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) did not like being seen and treated differently than his friends. He ordered a sheep to be slaughtered and cooked during an expedition. One of his companions said: “O Messenger of Allah! Let me slaughter it.” Another companion said: “O Messenger of Allah! Let the skinning be my work.” And another one said: “O Messenger of Allah! Let the cooking be my work.” The Prophet (pbuh) said:

“Then collecting firewood will be my job.” Even though companions objected saying: “O Messenger of Allah! You do not need to work. We can do that, too” the Prophet (pbuh) said:

“I know you can do my work, too. However, I do not like to be in a position more privileged than you are. Because Allah the Almighty does not like His servant to be in a state more privileged among his friends.” (Qastallani, I, 385)

Even though our Prophet (pbuh) was both the head of the state and the commander of the army, he manifested unique humility. When his efforts and determination were combined with the help of Allah the Almighty, great conquests were bestowed upon the Prophet (pbuh). However, none of these affected his modesty. His entrance to Mecca after the conquest is one of the best manifestations of his modesty. The companions who were there with him depicted this scene as follows:

“Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) was commanding the army that was on its way to conquer Mecca. After the victory was bestowed, he was entering the city on his camel. He had bowed his head so much that his beard was almost touching the saddle of his camel. Just then he was continuously uttering,

“O Allah! There is no life worth living except the life of the Hereafter…” (Waqidi, II, 824; Bukhari, Riqaq, 1)[3]

Despite all these conquests, Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) never stopped being a modest person. For instance, when one of his companions was riding a camel, he would walk next to him like a simple person.

One day Allah’s Apostle (pbuh), together with some men from Ansar and Muhajirun, was bidding farewell to Muadh b. Jabal, who was leaving to be the Governor of Yemen. Muadh (r.a.) was riding a camel, while the Prophet (pbuh) was walking next to him and giving him some advice. Muadh (r.a.) expressed his shyness saying:

“O Messenger of Allah! I am on a ride, whereas you are walking. Would you mind if I walk with you and your friends?” Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) appeased him and explained what the real issue was saying:

“O Muadh! I would like these steps of mine to be the steps on the path of Allah the Almighty.” (Diyarbekri, II, 142)

Again the Prophet (pbuh) would stay behind on his journeys so that he could get those who had difficulty walking on the back of his ride and he would pray for them. (Abu Dawud, Jihad, 94)

In the essence of such modesty, exists the state of not attributing any value to this world and anything in it. The real life in the eyes of the Messenger of Allah was the life of the Hereafter and those who compete should compete to gain that life.

All of the examples in the above mentioned traditions are some of the reflections of his unique modesty. Whereas, he (pbuh) was in a state much higher than we could explain; because modesty was his characteristic. His ummah’s duty is to follow his footsteps and walk on the path of enlightenment. Jalal al-Din Rumi (q.s.) nicely explains this reality as follows:

A priest, who had come to Konya to see Rumi, ran across him while walking with the people in his company. He bowed down to express his respect before Rumi. Rumi responded to him similarly. When the priest raised his head, he saw that Rumi (q.s.), too, was bowing down. The priest was impressed by Rumi’s behavior so much that he converted to Islam. After Rumi returned to his home, he told his son Sultan Walad the amazing words below:

“A priest wanted to take the merit of modesty from us. Thanks to Allah we defeated him on this path, for modesty and gentleness are the characteristics of those who follow the master of the worlds (pbuh).” (Ali Nihat Tarlan, p. 28)

[1] A seed cannot grow and germinate unless it falls to the earth. This is why Allah the Almighty’s mercy lets (not the arrogant but) the modest ones grow and exalt.

[2] Ibn Hanbal, II, 381; Bukhari, Riqaq, 17

[3] Our beloved Prophet (pbuh) often repeated these words which express the significance of the afterlife compared to the life in this world. According to the reports, during the construction of his mosque in Medina, during the digging of the trenches, on the day of the conquest when entering Mecca, and during the farewell pilgrimage when he saw the great number of believers, he uttered these words. (Bukhari, Jihad, 33, 110; Manaqib al-Ansar, 9; Maghazi, 29; Muslim, Jihad, 126, 129; Tirmidhi, Manaqib, 55; Ibn Majah, Masajid, 3)

Source: An Excellent Exemplar, Osman Nuri Topbaş,  Erkam Publications

The Human Reality