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‘A Man is a Vendor of His Soul’

Prophet Muhammad said, “Each day a man is a vendor of his soul — either freeing it or brining it to ruin” (Muslim). If we reflect on this hadith, we might wonder “What does freeing the soul entail?” Of course, Muslims know that the Prophet worshipped Allah SWT in the most complete and devoted way. That worship, though, is more than performing required rituals. It also entails speaking and acting in ways that reflect truth, not just about lordship and the creation but also about oneself and others. That means a striving for self-awareness and dedication to purification of the heart. The Prophet was the ultimate model for “freeing the soul,” demonstrating the most elevated character and the most sublime personality. It’s important to note that this article focuses on the daily interactions the Prophet (s) had with others. It does not cover his courage and tenacity, his discipline and absolute will in striving to achieve his mission.

Never Looking to Privilege Oneself Above Others

The Prophet (s) was modest in the most pleasing and honorable way. When he approached a gathering, he forbade people to stand up for him and he would sit wherever a place was available. He sat among them as if he were just an ordinary person. He treated all alike with respect and dignity. When he spoke to an individual, that person would feel as if the Prophet were fully attentive and interested in him or her. The Prophet listened to others with utmost patience, waiting until they had completed their talk before responding.

If he was served by anyone, he was the first to serve others. When he was not attending to his prophetic duties, he was helping in the domestic chores and responsibilities. He used to repair his own shoes and mend his own clothing. The household servants were fed and clothed the same as the Prophet was.

He did not consider himself as privileged above others. Once he was traveling with his companions and when it was time to prepare food, he asked them to slaughter a sheep. One man said he would slaughter it, another said he would skin it, and a third said he would cook it. Then the Messenger of Allah said, “I will collect wood for the fire.” They said, “No, we will suffice you that work.” He answered, “I know that you can do it for me, but I hate to be privileged. Allah hates to see a servant of his. privileged above others.” And then the Prophet went and collected firewood” (Khulasat as-Siyar). The Prophet also said, “The leader of the people is their servant” (Sunan al-Daylami and Sunan al-Tabarani).

Jarir (r) narrated the following: “A man came into the presence of the Prophet (s) on the day Makka was conquered. The man started shaking as he saw the spiritual and physical grandeur of the Prophet. When the Prophet (s) saw him in that state, he said to the man with a benevolent voice, ‘Relax, do not feel distressed! I am not a king. I am the son of a woman from the tribe of Quraysh who used to eat sun-dried meat’” (Ibn Majah, al-Tabarani).

Acting Out of Kindness and Compassion

The Prophet was the epitome of human kindness and gentleness. When we reflect on his life and the way he interacted with those around him, we realize how kind and caring he was with people. The Prophet’s kindness and love for those around him were essential to the success of his message.
The Prophet (s) said, “Gentleness adorns everything and its absence leaves everything defective” (al-Albaany, Saheeh al-Jame’).
“I start the prayer with the intention of lengthening it, but when I hear a child crying, I shorten the prayer, as I know his mother would suffer from his screams” (Bukhari).

About captives of war, the Prophet (s) said, “They are your brothers! Offer them what you eat and drink” (Muslim).

One day in Medina, some men arrived, barefoot and emaciated, from a tribe undergoing hardship and misfortune. The Prophet (s) was moved by their condition and gathered his companions together to collect donations for the suffering tribe (Muslim).

Ibn Umar said that a goat had been slaughtered in his house. When he came home, he asked his servants if some of the meat had been sent as a gift to a neighboring Jew. He added, “I had heard the Messenger of Allah as saying that Angel Gabriel had been regularly insisting that one treat his neighbors kindly; indeed, so much so, that I surmised the neighbor should be nearly made a recipient of one’s inheritance” (Bukhari).

Facilitate Things for Others: Do Not Seek to Make Things Hard

Aisha said, “The Messenger of Allah, whenever he is given the opportunity to choose between two affairs, he always chooses the easiest and most convenient. But if he is certain that it is sinful, he will be as far as he could from it.”

Prophet Muhammad (s) said: “Make things easy, not difficult…” (Bukhari). The Prophet was the greatest exemplar of facilitating the way for people to submit to Allah SWT of their own volition, according to their individual capacities, state of development both in character and in spiritual understanding. It is reported that “A Bedouin once urinated in the masjid. The people rushed to punish him, but the Prophet ordered them to ‘leave him alone until he finishes and then pour a bucket of water (over the place where he had urinated.)’ ‘Your mission is to make things easy and not to make them difficult.’ Then the Prophet called the man over and explained to him that the masjid is a pure place, a place of worship, and that urination there is inappropriate” (Bukhari).

Be Easy to Get Along With; Express Appreciation

Aisha (r) reports that whenever the Prophet (s) was alone with his family at home, he was the easiest of men, always smiling. The Prophet’s actions are such a great model of how we should build our homes. Imagine, for example, a parent who reserves their best behavior for outside the home and behind closed doors they indulge in moodiness and disagreeableness. An agreeable person tends to be pleasant and likable, willing to accommodate others’ interests and needs, and they find satisfaction in cooperating with others and in compromising when appropriate in order to reach a resolution or agreement. They do not see themselves as superior to others but rather enjoy equitable and harmonious interactions and relationships.
Prophet Muhammad (s) said, “The believer gets along with others and is easy to get along with…” (al-Albaany, As-selselah as-saheehah). The Prophet also said, “Whoever does not thank people, indeed he does not thank Allah SWT” (Sunan al-Tirmidhi). Being grateful is an essential ingredient in healthy relationships, whether with spouse, children, parents, friends, or colleagues. The more we thank others, the more life will be enjoyable and harmonious.

Never Seek to Blame or Find Faults in Others; Forgive Again and Again

Ali (r) said about the Prophet (s) “…three things he stayed away from with regard to others — he did not find fault, lay blame, or seek to expose anyone’s weak points” (al-Tirmidhi, Shama’il). If the Prophet heard some news of a person’s inappropriate or bad behavior, he would never name the person, but rather would say, “Why do certain people do so and so…” He never focused on or sought out the shortcomings of others or disparaged people. He was the most forbearing and forgiving, always looking to teach the people, inspiring them to improve themselves by his own example.

Anas (r) remembered: “I served the holy Prophet for ten years. He never said ‘uf’ [an expression of dissatisfaction], nor did he ever ask me why I did this or did not do that” (Muslim, Abu Dawud). The Prophet (s) was the last one to get angry and the first to be satisfied. When Aisha (r) was asked about the character of the Prophet (s), she said, “He was not indecent or lewd, nor a person to raise his voice in the market. He did not return an offense with another offense, but he forgave and pardoned” (al-Tirmidhi). The Prophet (s) said, “Forgive your servant seventy times a day.”

Mu’awiyah ibn al-Hakam al-Sulami reports: “I joined a congregational prayer led by the Prophet when a man sneezed. I said to him, ‘May God have mercy on you.’ People looked askance at me. I said to them, ‘I am ruined! Why are you looking at me like that?’ They began to hit their own thighs. I realized that they wanted me to stop talking. When God’s messenger finished his prayer, he neither punished, rebuked, nor expressed displeasure with me. He just said to me, ‘It is not permissible to say any ordinary talk during prayer; it consists of God’s praise and glorification and reciting the Qur’an’” (Muslim, Abu Dawud).

The Prophet (s) was the most eloquent and fluent, using words to uplift and dignify

He was unpretentious and straightforward in his manner of speaking. He spoke when necessary, often remaining silent for a long period, and when he spoke it was decisive and to the point at hand. The Prophet (s) said: “…Whoever believes in Allah and the Day of Judgment either let him say something virtuous or keep silent” (Bukhari).

This is a profound statement by the Prophet (s). Words can hurt deeply and once they are out of our mouths, it is very hard to undo the damage they cause. We should always maintain awareness about the impact of our words — we do not want our words to belittle, to antagonize, to mislead, to cause division, to betray, or to cause any other sort of harm. Prophet Muhammad (s) said, “Rights will be returned to their owners on Judgment Day to the point that the the hornless sheep even will receive its right by way of retaliation regarding a horned sheep that butted it” (Muslim).

Part of speaking in a virtuous way is keeping one’s promise. In fact, the Prophet (s) said, “There are three signs of a hypocrite: when he speaks, he lies; when he makes a promise, he breaks it; and when he is trusted, he betrays his trust” (Bukhari and Muslim).

The above hadith, recommending that we say something virtuous or keep silent, segues to another hadith that interweaves with its meaning: The Prophet (s) said, “…that my silence shall be contemplation, that my speaking shall be remembrance, that my seeing shall be lessons” (Ruzain in the book “Wasayeh al-Rasul”). This is so profound — for a believer, his or her silence can be used in a beneficial way, to contemplate deeply about truth, the signs of Allah, about His many bounties, about the human condition, about one’s own self in an honest and examining way, and on and on. His or her speaking can be remembrance of Allah SWT and His guidance and wisdom. His or her seeing is for gaining deeper understanding and striving for discernment, good judgement, and wisdom.

Seeking Knowledge, Reflecting, Acting Upon It

These above-mentioned ahadeeth are just a very small sampling of statements by the Prophet (s) and descriptions of his character and personality. Now here is an interesting thing to ponder: what if I read many ahadeeth about the Prophet’s model of behavior and feel in awe of his character, and then later that day I am offended by something my friend says and I blame and insult her? What if you read many if the ahadeeth and share a couple of wondrous ones at a halaqa and then later that night renege on the promise you made to your child to spend time with him?

Knowing about the upright character of the Prophet is inspiring to Muslims. But all the words in the world describing his character and personality remain just words if we don’t take that knowledge and use it to transform ourselves. The Prophet used to supplicate, “O Allah, I seek refuge in You from useless knowledge.” What is useless knowledge? Imam al-Hassan al-Basri, (r), said, “There are two kinds of knowledge: knowledge of the tongue; and knowledge of the heart which is the beneficial knowledge. Knowledge of the heart raises people in rank. It is the inner knowledge which is absorbed by the heart and puts it [the heart] right. Knowledge of the tongue is taken lightly by people – neither those who possess it or anyone else act upon it.”

Al-Hasan al-Basri also said, about the sincere seeker of knowledge, “When a man sought knowledge, it would not be long before it could be seen in his humbleness, his sight, upon his tongue, and his hands, in his prayer, in his speech, and in his disinterest in worldly allurements. And a man would acquire a portion of knowledge and put it into practice, and it would be better for him than the world and all it contains. If he owned it [the world and all it contains], he would give it in exchange for the hereafter.”
Let’s take the prophetic wisdom to heart — “Each day a man is a vendor of his soul — either freeing it or bringing it to ruin” (Muslim).

Samya AliAuthor Samya Ali converted to Islam in 1980 and she is a free-lance writer.

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