Prophet Muhammad Lived an Austere Life
Anas ibn Malik served the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) for the entire period he lived in Madinah, which was a little over 10 years. He was so close to the Prophet and his household that people who came to Madinah to meet the Prophet used to think that he belonged to the Prophet’s family. As such, he learned and reported much of what we know about the Prophet’s life at home. In one of his reports that mention something of this nature, Anas said,
I entered the Prophet’s room when he was reclining on a couch whose material was weaved with a string. Under his head was a pillow made of hide and filled with bast, with no shirt to separate his body from the couch. `Umar came in and tears sprang to his eyes. The Prophet asked him what he was crying for. `Umar said, “What I am crying for is that I know for certain that you are dearer to Allah and more honored by Him than the emperors of Persia and Byzantium, and they are enjoying all the comforts of this world and you are in this state I see.” The Prophet said to him, “`Umar! Would you not be satisfied to know that they have what this life offers and we have the hereafter?” `Umar said, “Yes, indeed, Messenger of Allah!” He said, “And it is so.” (Al-Bukhari in Al-Adab Al-Mufrad, Ahmad, and Ibn Hibban)
This hadith tells us that life in the Prophet’s home was not one of comfort and luxury. Yet he could have had all the comforts he wanted. He was loved by his Companions as no leader was ever loved. They would have given him whatever he wished to take of their money and property, but he never took anything from anyone, other than what he ate as a guest in their homes. As we learn from other reports about this particular visit by `Umar, the Prophet was ill with high temperature. This explains why he was not wearing a shirt or a robe to cover the upper part of his body. Yet he was lying on a couch made of fibers and tied with a string, while his pillow was filled with bast. That is a very rough place for someone who is ill to lie on, providing very little comfort. Hence, `Umar, who dearly loved the Prophet, was in tears.
This was a natural reaction by a man who realized that the patient he was visiting was the noblest and most honored human being that ever lived. `Umar thought of the leaders of the two superpowers of the time, the Byzantine and Persian Empires. They had all the comforts of this life. Had either of them suffered a rise in temperature, he would have been in a most comfortable bed, receiving the best available medical attention. Servants would be at hand waving their fans to cool down his body. `Umar also thought of the Prophet’s standing with Allah and could not control his emotion. He expressed his thoughts to the Prophet.
The Prophet reassured `Umar, reminding him of the life to come. That is a life of permanent bliss, comfort, and happiness granted as a reward to those who believe in God and do good deeds in this present life. Those who are not in this category are deprived of such comfort and bliss. The emperors `Umar mentioned had perpetrated much injustice. Hence, their lot in the hereafter would be totally different from that of good believers who were keen to do only what Allah ordered and to refrain from what He forbade. The Prophet’s answer also alludes to the fact that whatever we enjoy or suffer in this life is of momentary nature. It soon changes and what remains is only what affects our position in the hereafter.
Yet, Islam does not prescribe a life of self-denial, depriving oneself of comforts that may be available to one. On the contrary, such comforts may be enjoyed as one pleases, provided that they are earned in a legitimate way. Allah says in the Qur’an,
[Say: Who is there to forbid the beauty which God has produced for His servants and the wholesome means of sustenance? Say: They are (lawful) in the life of this world to all who believe — to be theirs alone on the Day of Resurrection.] (Al-A`raf 7:32)
We have to remember that life in Madinah was mostly hard during the Prophet’s lifetime. Although Madinah has its farms and dates, life was not easy, considering the frequent military expeditions that had to be sent, with unbelievers mounting attack after attack on Muslims and threatening to annihilate them. Besides, the Muslims were only that group of believers in Madinah and a handful of small groups and individuals from other tribes who could not migrate to Madinah. The Muslims had to endure that sort of life, sacrificing everything for their faith and proving that they were equal to the numerous challenges thrown at them. Hence, Allah later gave them provisions in plenty, and they were able to carry Allah’s message to other communities in neighboring areas and states.
The Prophet shared in the hardship when things were hard, and he shared in the comforts when things were plentiful. It is reported that at times, no cooking was made in the Prophet’s homes for a whole month. Later, when the Muslims enjoyed their share of the produce of Khaibar, the Prophet used to give his family imperishable provisions that sufficed for a year.
The Prophet’s Companions endured the hardships patiently and did not deprive themselves of the comforts when it was granted to them. Thus, we have reports that they enjoyed such comforts. Musa ibn Dihqan, who belonged to the second generation of Muslims, reported, “I saw Ibn `Umar sitting on a bride’s bed, wearing red garments” (Al-Bukhari in Al-Adab Al-Mufrad). `Imran ibn Muslim reported, “I saw Anas sitting on a couch, placing one leg over the other.” (Al-Bukhari in Al-Adab Al-Mufrad).
While these two reports do not speak of any luxurious lifestyle, they mention two of the Prophet’s Companions who, between them, reported a very large number of hadiths availing themselves of comforts which the hadith quoted earlier suggests were not available to the Prophet. This is the proper attitude Islam recommends: Patience in adversity, and the enjoyment of comforts when they are legitimately available.
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