Prophet’s Ascetic Life Style

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What is the prophets ascetic life style? How was the life of prophet muhammad?

Zuhd (asceticism) can be expressed as the disfavoring the temporal pleasures and blessings of this world in view of the Hereafter and the contentment of Allah the Almighty. It occupies an important place in improving our spiritual life. Just like in every other aspect of our lives, our Prophet (pbuh) presented the most perfect example of how an ascetic life should be lived.

Zuhd means “to stay away, to leave, and to not be inclined to worldly things.” In addition, it means to not demand, leave or turn away from something as a result of belittling and seeing it as worthless. Therefore, asceticism means reducing the mortal pleasures, getting rid of worldly ambitions, seeing this world as a temporal place and taking its desires out of the heart, and abstaining from the comfort of this world for the comfort of the Hereafter. The one who follows an ascetic life is called zahid.

In order for someone to be called a zahid, it means that he/she has worldly means but does not esteem to them. In fact, when describing himself, Malik b. Dinar says that: “People say that Malik b. Dinar is an ascetic (a zahid), but Umar b. Abdulaziz is the true ascetic; because he never loved this world even though the world obeyed him and came to his feet.” (Ibn Hanbal, V, 249)

On the other hand, staying away from things that the human self does not normally desire is not considered asceticism. For instance, leaving gold or silver is considered as zuhd while not demanding trivial and worthless things is not.

There are three stages of asceticism (zuhd) that depend upon the spiritual levels of the believers. First is abstaining from the prohibitions, which is the stage of the common people’s asceticism. The second stage is abstaining from the excessive amounts of permitted things, which is the stage of the distinguished believers’ asceticism. And the last stage is abstaining from all kinds of preoccupation which prevents contemplating Allah. This is the Gnostics’ asceticism. And this is the most difficult type of zuhd; because this type of zuhd requires abstinence not only from the blessings of this world but also from thinking of Paradise and its blessings. Jalal al-Din Rumi (q.s.) describes this as follows:

“Worldly riches are a trap for the weak birds; the kingdom of the next world is a trap for the noble birds, to the end that by means of this kingdom, which is a deep trap, the great birds may be ensnared. “O possessors of the worldly wealth! Even though you are the owners of your wealth, indeed you are the slaves of your kingdom; the owner of the kingdom is he that escaped from destruction.” Preposterously, O prisoner of this world, you have named yourself prince of this world. O you slave of this world, you whose spirit is imprisoned, how long will you call yourself as the king of the world?” (Mathnawi, IV, verses: 647-52)

Worldly possessions are traps for foolish people who do not think of the end and who cannot foresee the future; while afterlife is a trap for honorable people who perform their religious duties. Therefore both this world and the Hereafter are things about which people must approach cautiously. Those who lose their hearts to this world fall into its trap; while those who perform their worship to reach Paradise and its pleasures fall into the Hereafter’s trap. However, neither love for this world nor love for the Hereafter will save human beings, but only the love for Allah the Almighty will give us eternal felicity.

Rabiat al-Adawiyyah’s following invocation is a wonderful expression of this reality:

“O Allah! If I worship You out of my desire for Paradise, do not let me enter it. If I worship You out of my fear from Hell, do not let me get out of it. However I worship You, just because You are You. I love You, just because there is nothing else worthy of my love.”

It is obvious that the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) is the only person whom true ascetics should take as an example. This is why his life of asceticism should be learned in depth.

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

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