How was the prophets treatment to the poor? What did the Prophet say about helping the poor?
“If you do not help the poor and weak today, how are you going to answer Allah on the Day of Judgment? Show mercy to the needy with the blessings in your hand.”
Muhammad Esad Efendi
Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) would protect the poor and help them in every way even before his prophethood. In fact when Khadijah (r. anha) comforted him after the first revelation, she emphasized this characteristic. (Bukhari, Bad’ul Wahy, 3; Muslim, Iman, 252)
This pre-prophethood characteristic of the Apostle of Allah (pbuh), which was combined with the Divine orders and advices, became the perfect exemplary for the whole of humankind. During the Meccan period and the years after the immigration believers who had the financial means always helped those who were in need. Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) even established a brotherhood between Meccan immigrants and the believers of Medina. Thus, the wealthy believers of Medina manifested the virtue of sharing everything they had with their brothers who had been forced to emigrate from Mecca. Moreover, Islamic acts of worship like financial atonements, alms given in lieu of ritual fasting, almsgiving, charity, and supports given to the needy out of state treasury, are among the measures taken by our religion to protect the poor.
There are many sayings of the Apostle of Allah (pbuh) about protecting and finding solutions for the misfortunate people in Muslim society. Some of them are as follows:
“…the wealth of this world is sweet and attractive. And it is a good companion for a Muslim who gives out of it to the needy, to the orphan, to the wayfarer…” (Muslim, Zakat, 122; Ibn Hanbal, III, 21)
“The worst kind of food is the wedding feast to which the rich are invited and the poor are ignored.” (Muslim, Nikah, 107)
The Prophet said, “The one who looks after a widow or a poor person is like a mujahid (warrior) who fights for Allah’s Cause, or like him who performs prayers all night and fasts all day.” (Bukhari, Nafaqat, 1)
Allah’s Messenger (pbuh), who invited and encouraged us to help the poor by his words like the above mentioned ones, he also manifested the best practice for facilitating unfortunate people. He liked to be with the widows and the poor; he would always empathise with their hardships. (Nasai, Juma, 31) Because of this, there were many days that he spent in hunger. Abu Hurairah (r.a.) expressed this matter as follows:
“The multitude of poor and hungry people around the Prophet (pbuh) was the reason why he spent his days in hunger. Since the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) would never have a meal without sharing it with some guests from among his Companions or the needy people of his mosque. Even though people began to feel some comfort after Allah the Almighty bestowed on the Muslims the victory at Haibar, they still had some financial hardships.” (Ibn Sa’d, I, 409)
The Companions of Suffa constituted the majority of the people who were mentioned by Abu Huraira (r.a.) as the needy of the Prophet’s mosque. After they had embraced Islam, those Companions devoted themselves to knowledge and conveying the message of Islam. Abu Huraira (r.a.) was one of those people. He narrated one of his memoirs as follows:
“By Allah, except Whom none has the right to be worshipped, sometimes I used to lay on the ground on my abdomen because of hunger, and sometimes I used to bind a stone over my belly because of hunger. One day I sat by the place from where they (the Prophet and his Companions) used to come out. When Abu Bakr passed by, I asked him about a Verse from Allah’s Book and I asked him only that he might satisfy my hunger, but he passed by and did not do so. Then Umar passed by me and I asked him about a Verse from Allah’s Book, and I asked him only that he might satisfy my hunger, but he passed by without doing so. Finally Abu-l-Qasim (the Prophet (pbuh)) passed by me and smiled when he saw me, for he knew what was in my heart and on my face. He said,
“O Aba Hirr (Abu Huraira)!” I replied,
“Labbaik, O Allah’s Apostle!” He said to me,
“Follow me.” He left and I followed him.
Then he entered the house and I asked permission to enter and was admitted. He found milk in a bowl and said,
“From where is this milk?” They said,
“It has been presented to you by such-and-such man (or by such and such woman).” He said,
“O Aba Hirr!” I said,
“Labbaik, O Allah’s Apostle!” He said,
“Go and call the people of Suffa to me.” These people of Suffa were the guests of Islam who had no families, nor money, nor anybody to depend upon, and whenever an object of charity was brought to the Prophet, he would send it to them and would not take anything from it, and whenever any present was given to him, he used to send some for them and take some of it for himself. The order of the Prophet upset me, and I said to myself,
“How will this little milk be enough for the people of As-Suffa?” I thought that I was more entitled to drink from that milk in order to strengthen myself, but behold! The Prophet came to order me to give that milk to them. I wondered what would remain of that milk for me. Yet, I could not but obey Allah and His Apostle so I went to the people of Suffa and called them, and they came and asked the Prophet’s permission to enter. They were admitted and took their seats in the house.
The Prophet said,
“O Aba-Hirr!” I said,
“Labbaik, O Allah’s Apostle!” He said,
“Take it and give it to them.” So I took the bowl (of milk) and started giving it to one man who would drink his fill and return it to me. Whereupon I would give it to another man who, in his turn, would drink his fill and return it to me, and I would then offer it to another man who would drink his fill and return it to me. Finally, after the whole group had drunk their fill, I reached the Prophet who took the bowl and put it on the palm of his hand, looked at me, smiled and said.
“O Aba Hirr!” I replied,
“Labbaik, O Allah’s Apostle!” He said,
“There remain you and I.” I said,
“You have said the truth, O Allah’s Apostle!” He said,
“Sit down and drink.” I sat down and drank. He said,
“Drink,” and I drank. He kept on telling me repeatedly to drink, till I said,
“No. by Allah Who sent you with the Truth, I have no more space for it (in my stomach).” He said,
“Hand it over to me.” When I gave him the bowl, he praised Allah, pronounced Allah’s name and drank the remaining milk. (Bukhari, Riqaq, 17)
In this tradition we see not only the extent of the Prophet’s care for the needy but also one of his miracles, for he (pbuh) was able to satisfy the hunger of all Companions of Suffa by milk that was enough only for one person. Such miracles were among the signs of his prophethood.
The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) also encouraged his Companions to help the needy. Abu Sa’id al-Khudri (r.a.) reported:
“While we were with the Apostle of Allah (pbuh) on a journey, a person came upon his camel. He began to look to his right and left hoping to receive help. Thereupon, Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said:
“He who has an extra mount should give that to the one who has no mount, and he who has a surplus of provisions should give them to he who has no provisions,” and he made mention of so many kinds of wealth until we were of the opinion that none of us has any right over the surplus. (Muslim, Luqata, 18)
Mundhir b. Jarir (r.a.) reported on the authority of his father:
“While we were in the company of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) in the early hours of the morning, there came some people who were barefooted, naked, wearing striped woolen clothes, or cloaks, with their swords hung around their necks. Most of them, nay, all of them, belonged to the tribe of Mudar. The color of the face of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) changed when he saw them in poverty. He then entered his house and came out and commanded Bilal to pronounce the Adhan (the call for prayer). He pronounced the Adhan and Iqama, and the Holy Prophet observed prayer along with his Companions and then addressed them reciting verses from the Holy Qur’an:
“O people! be careful of (your duty to) your Lord, Who created you from a single being and created its mate of the same (kind) and spread from these two, many men and women; and be careful of (your duty to) Allah, by Whom you demand one of another (your rights), and (to) the ties of relationship; surely Allah ever watches over you.” (al-Nisa 4; 1) (He then recited) a verse of Sura Hashr:” “O you who believe! Be careful of (your duty to) Allah, and let every soul consider what it has sent on for tomorrow…” (al-Hashr 59; 18)
(Then the audience began to vie with one another in giving charity.) Some donated a dinar, others a dirham, still others clothes, some donated a sa’ of wheat, some a sa’ of dates; until he (the Holy Prophet) said: (Bring it) even if it is half a date.
Then, a person from among the Ansar came there with a money bag which his hands could scarcely lift; in fact, he could not (lift). Then the people followed continuously, till I saw two heaps of edibles and clothes, and I saw the face of the Messenger (pbuh) glistening, like gold (on account of his joy). The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said:
“He who sets a good precedent in Islam, there is a reward for him for this act of goodness and also the reward of those who subsequently followed this act of goodness (or acted in accordance with it), without any deduction from his rewards; and he who sets in Islam an evil precedent, there is upon him the burden of that, and the burden of those who acted upon it subsequently, without any deduction from their burden.” (Muslim, Zakat, 69)
In addition to giving charity to the needy, Allah’s Apostle (pbuh) also encouraged the giving of loans. The Prophet (pbuh) even stated that Allah the Almighty will forgive the sins of those who forgive the debts of those who are not able to repay it.
According to a report narrated by Abu Huraira (r.a.) Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said that:
“There was a person who gave loans to the people. He used to say to his men:
“When an insolvent person comes to you show him leniency so that hopefully Allah may overlook our faults. Finally he died and met Allah the Almighty and Allah overlooked his faults (forgave him).” (Bukhari, Anbiya, 54; Muslim, Musaqat, 31)
Below is another tradition related to this effect:
“A person from people who lived before you was called to account by Allah on the Day of Judgment and no good was found in his account except this that He had been a rich man and had financial dealings with people. He had commanded his servants to show leniency to those in financial straights. Thereupon, Allah, the Exalted and Majestic, said: We have more right to forgive, so overlook (his faults).” (Muslim, Musaqat, 31)
One should not despise and offend the less fortunate members of the Muslim society. One should especially not prefer rich and respected non-Muslims over them. The Holy Qur’an on the one hand commands not to drive the beggars away (al-Duha 93; 10) and on the other hand, when speaking about the characteristics of disbelievers, states: “Have you seen the one who denies the Judgment (to come)? That is the one who treats the orphan with harshness, and does not urge (others) to feed the poor.” (al-Ma’un 107; 1-3)
According to a narration, a prominent member of the polytheist Quraish told the Prophet (pbuh):
“If you want us to believe in you, drive those poor people away from you. We do not want to see them when we come to you. Meet with them at some other time.”
After which, Allah the Almighty revealed the following verse:
“And do not drive away those who call upon their Lord in the morning and the evening…” (al-An’am 6; 52) In another verse, Allah’s Messenger (pbuh), together with the poor and the needy, encouraged patience in the face of life’s hardships and the significance of treating them nicely is noted as follows:
“And withhold yourself with those who call on their Lord morning and evening desiring His goodwill, and let not your eyes pass from them…” (al-Kahf 18; 28) (Razi, XII, 193, XXI, 98)
According to a narration reported by Aiz b. Amr al-Muzani (r.a.) one day Abu Sufyan, who was one of the prominent members of Quraish and a disbeliever at the time, passed by a group of Muslims including Salman al-Farisi, Suhaib-i Rumi, and Bilal al-Habashi (r. anhum). When Muslims saw him, they said:
“By Allah, the sword of Allah did not reach the neck of the enemy of Allah as it should have.” Thereupon, Abu Bakr said:
“Do you say this to the old man of Quraish and their chief?” Then he came to Allah’s Apostle (pbuh) and informed him of this. Thereupon, he (the Holy Prophet) said:
“Abu Bakr, you have perhaps annoyed them and if you annoyed them you have in fact annoyed your Lord.” So Abu Bakr came to them and asked:
“O my brothers, have I annoyed you?” They said:
“No, our brother, may Allah forgive you.” (Muslim, Fada’il al-Sahaba, 170)
In other sayings, Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) stated the spiritual stations of the poor and expressed that they were going to constitute the majority of those who achieved eternal salvation in the Hereafter. Some of these sayings are as follows:
“Shall I inform you who the people of Paradise are? They are very humble, obscure and unimportant looking people, to whom people do not pay attention, but if they take an Oath that such and such a thing will happen, Allah will fulfill his oath (by doing that thing). Shall I inform you who the people of the Fire are? They comprise every cruel, violent, proud and conceited person.” (Bukhari, Aiman, 9; Muslim, Jannah, 47)
“I stood at the gate of Paradise and saw that the majority of the people who had entered it were poor people, while the rich were forbidden (to enter along with the poor, because they were waiting the reckoning of their accounts), but the people of the Fire had been ordered to be driven to the Fire. And I stood at the gate of the Fire and found that the majority of the people entering it were women.” (Bukhari, Riqaq, 51; Muslim, Dhikr, 93)
“The poor enter Paradise half a day, that is (according to measures of this world) five hundred years, before the wealthy.” (Tirmidhi, Zuhd, 37)
This is great news for the needy, but they do not mean that poverty is superior to wealth in the absolute sense. The poor who do not follow the Divine orders have no value in Islam. What makes them valuable is their thankfulness for what Allah has bestowed upon them and their patience towards their state.
The reason that the rich enter Paradise after the poor is due to their being questioned about how and where they earned their wealth. After this questioning, those who pass it will enter Paradise and those who do not will go to Hell to receive their punishment.
The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) also strongly criticized those who do not show patience and rebel by using poverty as an excuse. He warned that poverty might lead a person to ingratitude and then eventually to disbelief. In one of his sayings, he expressed the necessity to abstain from poverty which causes forgetfulness (Tirmidhi, Zuhd, 3) and in another saying he gave the following advice:
“Seek refuge in Allah from poverty, famine, abasement, persecution and being persecuted.” (Nasai, Istiadha, 14)
When the Prophet (pbuh) once prayed saying “O Allah, I seek refuge in You from disbelief, poverty and the torment of the grave”, one of his Companions asked:
“O Messenger of Allah! Do you equate poverty to disbelief?” Upon this the Holy Prophet (pbuh) said:
“Yes, I do.” (Nasai, Istiadha, 29)
We observe the following appeals in the supplications of the Prophet (pbuh):
“…O Allah! I am weak, please give me strength; I am pitiful, please give me honor; I am poor, give me blessings.” (Hakim, I, 708)
“I seek refuge in Allah from the harm of poverty.” (Nasai, Istiadha, 17)
The Prophet (pbuh) also gives the following advice to the needy about abstaining from begging and earning their livelihoods by their own hands:
“Nobody has ever eaten a better meal than that which one has earned working with one’s own hands.” (Bukhari, Buyu’, 15)
“There are three characteristics that I can swear by them. Know them well. A servant’s possessions do not decrease by giving them in charity. Allah increases the honor of those who show patience towards the injustice they face. Allah opens the door of poverty for those who open the door of begging…” (Tirmidhi, Zuhd, 17)
“A miskin is not the one who is dismissed with one or two dates, and with one morsel or two morsels. (In fact) a miskin is the one who does not get enough to satisfy himself (his basic needs), and because his poverty is not known of by anybody and he does not beg for anything from the people.” (Muslim, Zakat, 102)
“By Him in Whose Hand my life is, it is better for anyone of you to take a rope and cut wood from the forest and carry it over his back and sell it as a means of earning his living rather than to ask a person for something and that person may give it to him or not.” (Bukhari, Zakat, 50)
“The upper hand is better than the lower hand (i.e. he who gives in charity is better than him who takes it).” (Muslim, Zakat, 106)
While inviting them to be modest and honorable, our Prophet (pbuh) also warned the poor not fall into vanity by using their poverty as an excuse. Some of his sayings relating to this matter are as follows:
“Three are people with whom Allah would neither speak, nor would He absolve them on the Day of Resurrection and there is grievous torment for them: They are the aged adulterer, the liar king and the proud destitute.” (Muslim, Iman, 172)
Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) also consoled the needy people who were complaining to him by looking at the material and spiritual state of the rich.
Abu Huraira (r.a.) reported:
“The poor amongst the emigrants came to the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) and said:
“The possessors of great wealth have obtained the highest ranks and lasting bliss.” He (the Holy Prophet) said:
“How is that?” They said:
“They pray as we pray, and they observe the fast as we observe the fast, and they give charity but we do not give charity, and they set slaves free but we do not set slaves free.” Upon which, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said:
“Shall I not teach you something by which you will catch up to those who have preceded you, and get ahead of those who come after you, only those who do as you do being more excellent than you?” They said:
“Yes, Messenger of Allah.” He (the Holy Prophet) said:
“Extol Allah, declare His Greatness, and Praise Him thirty-three times after every prayer.” A few days later those poor emigrants returned to the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) saying:
“Our brethren, the possessors, of property have heard what we have done and now they have to do the same.” So the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said:
“This is Allah’s Grace which He gives to whom He wishes.” (Muslim, Masajid, 142)
Likewise, Umar’s (r.a.) comment in this regard is excellent:
“Both richness and poverty are mounts. I do not care about which one I will ride on.”
In other words wealth and poverty look like a disobedient and hard-to-ride horse. Both of them require the mastery of riding. What is important is to try to be a good rider. It is stated in a Qur’anic verse:
“Verily your Lord doth provide sustenance in abundance for whom he pleases, and he provides in a just measure…” (Isra 17; 30, Ra’d 13; 26) Allah the Almighty is the One Who gives wealth and poverty to whom He wishes. Everybody goes through a test in this world. The important thing is not the type of test but its result. Ultimately we should try to pass this test.
 Reporting the accounts about the poverty of the early days of Islam, the Companions of the Prophet (pbuh) narrated many remarkable examples for us.
For instance, Khabbab b. Arat (r.a.) said that:
“We emigrated with the Prophet (pbuh) in Allah’s cause, and so our reward was then surely incumbent on Allah. Some of us died and did not take anything from their rewards in this world, and amongst them was Mus’ab bin Umair (r.a.); and the others were those who got their rewards. Mus’ab bin Umair was martyred on the day of the Battle of Uhud and we could get nothing except his mantle to shroud him in. And when we covered his head his feet became bare and vice versa. So the Prophet ordered us to cover his head only and to put an idhkhir (a kind of shrub) over his feet.” (Bukhari, Janaiz, 27; Muslim, Janaiz, 44)
Another example was narrated by Abu Huraira (r.a.):
“I saw seventy of the Companions of Suffa and none of them had a Rida (a garment covering the upper part of the body). They had either Izars (a garment covering the lower part of the body) (only) or sheets which they tied round their necks. Some of these sheets reached the middle of their legs and some reached their heels and they used to gather them with their hands lest their private parts should become visible.” (Bukhari, Salat, 58)
 In the early years of Islamic history, an unknown person used to leave a sack of food in front of the needy people in Medina. One morning, when the poor people woke up, they could not see the food sack before their doors. While they were wondering the reason, they heard the muezzin’s call for a funeral. Medina was shaking by the death of Ali’s grandson, Zainal Abidin (r. anhum). Everybody began to mourn.
People meticulously did their last duties towards the Prophet’s grandson. When it came to washing the body, people was astonished to find blisters on the back of this blessed man. They could not figure them out. When his relatives were asked the reason, someone who knew this secret said:
“Every day early in the morning Zainal Abidin (r.a.) used to prepare sacks of food, take them one by one on his back to the needy people’s doors, and leave without letting anybody to see him. People would not know who had left these sacks. The blisters on his back happened because of carrying these sacks.