Manners of Showing Respect and Reverence

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How was the manners of showing respect of prophet muhammed? How was the manners of showing reverence of prophet muhammed?

People who live in the same community have many differences, be it their material and spiritual means or their gender. However, despite their differences they are equal as human beings. Respecting and understanding other people’s rights is a requirement of being a human. As in almost every other aspect in life, Islam has commands and advices in the matter of manners of showing respect and reverence. Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said that:

“Those who do not show mercy to their youngsters and respect their elders are not one of us.” (Tirmidhi, Birr, 15)

This tradition shows that both love for youngsters and respect for elders are among the basic characteristics of believers. Love and respect are the two vital principles in perpetuity of a community. Here in this chapter we primarily mean the type of respect, which is shown towards elders by the youngsters. Therefore, we need to underline the second part of the above mentioned tradition, which is “those who do not respect their elders, protect their honor, and observe their rights cannot be a true and perfect believer.”

Another tradition which invites believers to show respect to their elders is as follows:

“Upon the young who respect their elders for their old age Allah the Almighty will bestow servants to serve them at their old age.” (Tirmidhi, Birr, 75)

It is a known fact that today’s old were once young. And today’s young will one day be old if Allah the Almighty bestows it upon them life. Survival of the custom of respect for generations can be achieved only if young people of every generation show respect to their elders. The last narration proves that such behavior will be rewarded by Allah the Almighty. Therefore, one should not just wait to be respected but try to earn it. The last narration also implies that those who respect their elders will live a long life.

Therefore, every Muslim must be careful about, respect, and serve those who are older than them. This strengthens the ties of respect and love amongst the social groups. Generation continue their lives in a happy and warm environment.

A believer should be respectful towards all creations. He/she should even show respect in appearance towards those who are evil and ignorant; just to teach them about being respectful. Indeed Allah the Almighty states that one of the characteristics of chosen servants of Allah is those who say “peace” to the ignorant and continue their way. Again Allah the Almighty ordered Moses (pbuh) to talk mildly to the Pharaoh. These prove that even the hardest hearts will soften by a respectful approach and make them respectful, too.

Let’s give some examples for the manners of showing respect. One should begin offering something to the eldest person in the group and continue with those on his right. Another example is that the younger members of a group should not begin talking in matters concerning elders.

Abdullah b. Umar reported (r. anhuma) Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) as saying:

“I saw in a dream that I was using a miswak and the two persons contended to get it from me, the one being older than the other one. I gave the miswak to the younger one. It was said to me to give that to the older one and I gave it to the older one.” (Muslim, Ru’ya, 19)

In this incident those two people were probably on the same side of the Prophet (pbuh) and he offered the miswak to the nearest one. However, he was warned by Gabriel and was asked to give the miswak to the older one of the two. Even though this incident happened in a dream, it does not make any difference; because the dreams of the prophets are valid sources of knowledge.

Sahl b. Abi Hasma narrated:

“Abdurrahman bin Sahl and Muhaiyisa b. Mas’ud went to Haibar during the days of peace. They separated from each other to take care of their works. When Muhaiyisa came back to their meeting point, he could not find his friend. He searched for him and found him in a valley lying dead. With the help of people he took out his body and buried him. Then he returned to Medina. When Abdurrahman b. Sahl, Abdullah’s brother, heard what had happened, he and Muhaiyisa and Huwaiyisa b. Mas’ud went to the Prophet (pbuh). Abdurrahman intended to narrate the incident, but the Prophet said (to him), “Let the eldest of you speak.” as Abdurrahman was the youngest (Bukhari, Jizya, 12)

When the Prophet (pbuh) drank something like milk or water, he would not finish it all but leave some of it and offer it to the person on his right. If the person on his right was younger than others, he would first ask his permission and offer the drink to the person on his left. This was his custom.

In addition to the old, people who know the Qur’an by heart and rulers are among the people who need to be respected. It is stated in a saying of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh):

 “The Prophet (pbuh) said: showing respect to a grey-haired Muslim, to a hafiz who recites the Qur’an nicely (but not like a singer) and lives according to its principles, and to a just ruler come from showing respect to Allah the Almighty.” (Abu Dawud, Adab, 20)

According to the narration of Jabir b. Abdullah (r.a.), the Prophet (pbuh) collected every two martyrs of Uhud in one piece of shroud, then he asked, “Which of them had (knew) more of the Quran?” When one of them was pointed out for him, he would put that one first in the grave. (Bukhari, Janaiz, 73, 76)

Thus Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) showed, not just by his words but also by his actions, that those who have knowledge of the Qur’an should be respected not just in their lives but also after their death. The following Qur’anic statement also expresses that scholars in general deserve to be esteemed: “Say (unto them, O Muhammad): Are those who know equal with those who know not?” (al-Zumar 39; 9) Therefore, one should show respect to the scholars in accordance with their level of knowledge and keep knowledge and knowledgeable people’s reputability in the Muslim society.

Muslim scholars and gnostics have manifested the best examples of this in their lives. After mentioning the names of the Sufi masters of the golden chain Muhammad Parsa (q.s.) would make the following prayer showing his respect and love for them:

“May Allah let us live with their love and let us die with their love and resurrect us with them. And may He bless us with His Paradise and Face for the sake of their blessings.”

Knowledgeable people do not lose anything, if they do not see the respect they deserve; for knowledge is in itself a value. But societies who do not appreciate their values cannot produce new values and will pay for their ingratitude dearly. In the Muslim society it is essential to esteem such values. Everyone is given the place he/she deserves. Knowledgeable and ignorant ones are never considered as equals. This is why all scholars in the Muslim society are worthy to be esteemed. On the other hand, scholars should be careful about their position in the society. When Ottoman Sheikh al-Islam attempted to kiss Sultan Abdulhamid’s hand, the Sultan’s following words are very significant:

“O Sheikh! Rise up your head. This turban on your head, which is the sign of your esteemed rank, should never bow down.” (Necip Fazıl, p. 16)

We should also mention that real scholars are the ones who live in accordance with their knowledge. Those who have knowledge but do not live by it are no different than the ignorant. This is why they will be treated in the society as they deserve to be treated.

In short, even though people have the same rights as being humans, but their esteem in the society may vary. It would be an imbalance to treat a scholar like an ignorant or an adult like a child or a manager like a simple citizen. It is natural to treat everybody according to their social status. Such an approach could not be considered as discrimination or favoritism. Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) ordered:

“Treat the people according to their ranks.” (Abu Dawud, Adab, 20)

However, one should avoid extreme behaviors in showing respect, which are not approved by Islam. For instance, it was narrated by Qays ibn Sa’d:

“I went to al-Hirah and saw the people prostrating themselves before a commander of theirs, so I said:

“The Apostle of Allah (pbuh) has the most right to have prostration made before him. When I came to the Prophet (pbuh), I said:

“I went to al-Hirah and saw them prostrating themselves before a commander of theirs, but I told them that you had the most right to have people prostrating themselves before you.” He said:

“Tell me, if you were to pass my grave, would you prostrate yourself before it?”

I said:

“No.” He then said:

“Then do not do so.” (Abu Dawud, Nikah, 40)

From this statement we understand that prostration can be done only for Allah the Almighty and since prostrating before the creation is considered as extremity in showing respect, it is not permitted in Islam.

Again when the Prophet (pbuh) was asked if one might bow down before his friend, he (pbuh) replied negatively and disapproved such an action. (Tirmidhi, Isti’dhan, 31) Because bowing down before the creation, which is a manifestation of servitude, is nothing but extremism in showing respect.

Moreover, a believer should show proper respect and reverence towards his/her believing brothers and sisters, and avoid actions which may hurt their feelings. Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) paid the utmost attention in this matter. Al-Ma’rur b. Suwaid narrated:

“At al-Rabadha I met Abu Dhar who was wearing a valuable cloak. And his slave, too, was wearing a similar one. I asked about the reason for it. He replied,

“I had abused a person by calling his mother with bad names during the times of the Prophet (pbuh). The Prophet (pbuh) said to me:

“O Abu Dhar! Did you abuse him by calling his mother with bad names? You still have some characteristics of ignorance. Your slaves are your brothers and Allah has put them under your command. So whoever has a brother under his command should feed him of what he eats and dress him of what he wears. Do not ask them (slaves) to do things beyond their capacity (power) and if you do so, then help them.” (Bukhari, Iman, 22)

Abusing a person physically and verbally just because of his/her race or color is strictly forbidden in Islam. Because color, race, gender, etc. are characteristics coming from birth cannot be causes of criticism. Criticizing them would mean criticizing the Creator. All believers are brothers, whatever their status in the Muslim society is; thus they should show each other the proper respect.

Allah’s Apostle (pbuh) did not want his companions to stand up for him. Abu Umamamh (r.a.) narrated: “One day the Prophet (pbuh) came to us with a walking stick in his hand. When we saw him, we stood up. Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) warned us saying:

“Do not do as Persians do towards their elders.” (Ibn Majah, Dua, 2) Another tradition in this context is as follows “Do not stand up as foreigners do for showing respect to one another.” (Abu Dawud, Adab, 152)

However there are reports stating that Allah’s Messenger stood up to welcome his daughter Fatima (Abu Dawud, Adab, 143), his emancipated slave Zayd b. Haritha, and some other companions. (Tirmidhi, Isti’dhan, 32) Again the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) told the people of Ansar about Sa’d b. Mu’adh, whom he appointed as an arbiter, “Stand up for the master (or the better one) of your community.” (Bukhari, Maghazi, 30)

Scholars have evaluated these two seemingly contradicting group of traditions and concluded that it is permissible to stand up before scholars, knowledgeable and dignified members of the society not for the purpose of bragging but to show one’s love and courtesy for them. (Ibn Hajar, Fath al-Bari, XI, 49 ff.) The Prophet’s disapproval to stand up before him is the result of his modesty. More importantly previous generations went astray and fell into the mistake of polytheism and idol worshipping as a result of their extreme respect towards their elders. And the Prophet (pbuh) wanted to protect his ummah from the same danger.

On the other hand, one should also avoid extreme expressions of respect and reverence. Because, aside from the balanced and proper praises, it is obvious that false and inappropriate praises are misleading behaviors and damages mutual trusts. A man was mentioned before the Prophet (pbuh) and another man praised him greatly. Then, the Prophet said,

“May Allah’s Mercy be on you! You have cut the neck of your friend.” The Prophet (pbuh) repeated this sentence many times and said,

“If it is indispensable for anyone of you to praise someone, then he should say, ‘I think that he is so-and-so,’ if he really thinks that he is such. Allah is the One Who will take his accounts (as He knows his reality) and no-one can sanctify anybody before Allah.” (Bukhari, Adab, 54)

In another report it is ordered that, “Do not praise each other immoderately; for this is like killing (the praised one).” (Ibn Majah, Adab, 36)

Immoderate praises usually lead the praising person to lie and the praised one to become conceited and arrogant. It is clear that bad attributes like lie, pride, and arrogance debilitate a person materially and spiritually. This is why Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) commanded his companions to throw dust upon the faces of those who praise too much and not to give credit to their praise. (Muslim, Zuhd, 68) He (pbuh) even warned his companions not to praise him immoderately. Anas b. Malik (r.a.) narrated:

“A man came to the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) and praised him saying: “O our master! O the son of our master! O the best one of our community! O the son of the best one of our community!” Upon this the Prophet (pbuh) said that:

“O People! Fear Allah! Do not let Satan to deceive you! I am Muhammad son of Abdullah. I am the Messenger of Allah. By Allah, I do not want you to put me above the rank that is given me by Allah the Exalted.” (Ibn Hanbal, III, 153)

Another warning of the Prophet (pbuh) in this context is as follows:

“Do not exaggerate in praising me as the Christians praised the son of Mary, for I am only a Slave. So, call me the Slave of Allah and His Apostle.” (Bukhari, Anbiya, 48)

As it is seen, Allah’s Apostle (pbuh) asked his followers to mention only the real characteristics of a person and prohibited to say exaggerated praises. Because once Christians exaggerated their praises for Jesus (pbuh), attributed him divinity, and went astray by accepting him as the son of Allah. (al-Nisa 4; 171, al-Maidah 5; 72-77)

Therefore, showing respect and reverence can be achieved by being moderate and avoiding extreme behaviors. This is the way that the Prophet (pbuh) established and taught the believers.

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