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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