The Prophet, peace be upon him, wanted every individual in society to care for others and to help them as much as they could. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) feared for his nation prosperity more than poverty:
“By Allah, it is not poverty which I fear for you, but I fear in your case that riches may be given to you as were given to those who had gone before you, and that you begin to vie with one another for them as they vied for them, and that they may destroy you as they destroyed them” (Al-Bukhari).
The Prophet’s mercy upon the poor was due to his compassion for their suffering, but he also aimed to teach them to be resourceful in any way they could in order to provide for themselves and their families
Yet, he realized that poverty is quite a great trial. Therefore, he used to supplicate to Allah: “O Allah, I seek refuge in You from disbelief and poverty” (Abu-Dawud). He also said: “Steady us in our faith, and protect us from poverty” (Muslim). Because the Prophet realized the severity of hardship that poverty is and its attenuating impact on people, he had great compassion for the poor, and living among them, his life and that of his family were not different from the poor and the challenges they faced. Lady Aisha, may Allah be pleased with her, narrated: “The family of Muhammad did not eat their fill for three successive days till he died” (Al-Bukhari).
He treated the poor with mercy and kindness, and he used to give them whatever he could, although he, himself, was poor. He also used to teach his companions to have mercy upon the poor as well. Consider his words: “O son of Adam! It is better for you if you spend your surplus [wealth], for if you withhold it, it is evil for you. There is [however] no reproach for you [if you withhold the essentials] for a living. And begin [charity] with your dependants; and the upper hand is better than the lower hand” (Muslim).
He also said: “If anyone gives as sadaqa [charity] the equivalent of a date from that [which was] earned honestly, for Allah accepts that which is lawful, the Lord would accept it with His Right Hand, and even if it is a date, it would be fostered in the Hand of the Lord, as one of you fosters his colt, till it becomes bigger than a mountain” (Al-Bukhari). At another time he said: “Nothing is more delighting to me than this that Uhud should be of gold for me, and no dinar is left with me out of it before three nights pass except a dinar which I would set aside for the repayment of debt upon me” (Al-Bukhari).
The Prophet’s Mercy
The Madinan society was generally poor and there are many narrations that demonstrate the Prophet’s mercy. We have selected just a few to illustrate his exceeding compassion and generosity, and to show how he taught his companions, even if they were poor themselves, to share what they had. Consider what the Prophet told Abu-Dharr, may Allah be pleased with him, who was very poor: “Abu-Dharr, when you prepare the broth, add water to it and invite your neighbor over (Muslim). He also used to teach women to share with their neighbors: “O Muslim women, none of you should consider even a sheep’s trotter [the foot, used for food] too insignificant to give to her neighbor” (Al-Bukhari). He wanted every individual in the society to care for others and to help them as much as they could.
One day, Jabir ibn-Abdullah, may Allah be pleased with him, invited the Prophet to eat with him at his house. Although the Prophet was starving, he did not want to go alone. He took some of the Muhajirin (immigrants from Makkah) and the Ansar (residents of Madinah) along with him, and miraculously, the little amount of food available at Jabir’s house was enough to satisfy all those who attended (Al-Bukhari). Abu-Talha, may Allah be pleased with him, also invited the Prophet to eat and the Prophet did the same thing – he took along all the people present in the mosque at the time, and again, a wondrous thing happened and everyone was satisfied.
There was another incident which Jareer ibn-Abdullah, may Allah be pleased with him, narrated: “Some desert Arabs clad in wool clothes came to Allah’s Messenger. He saw them in sad plight as they had been hard pressed by need. He (the Prophet) exhorted people to give charity, but they showed some reluctance until [signs] of anger were seen on his face. Then a person from the Ansar came with a purse containing silver. Then came another person and then other persons followed them in succession until signs of happiness were seen on his face. Thereupon Allah’s Messenger said: ‘He who introduced some good practice in Islam which would be followed after him [by others], he would be assured of reward like the one who followed it, without their reward being diminished in any respect. And he who introduced some evil practice in Islam which would be followed subsequently [by others], he would be required to bear the burden like that of the one who followed this [evil practice] without their being diminished in any respect’” (Muslim). The Prophet was always keen to help the poor by giving them what he had, and when he could not find anything, he would ask his companions to help so as not to leave a poor person without help.
The Generous Hosts
Abu-Huraira narrated: “A person came to Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) and said, ‘I am hard pressed by hunger.’ The Prophet (pbuh) sent a message to one of his wives but she said, ‘By Him Who has sent you with Truth, there is nothing with me but only water.’ He then sent the message to another, and she gave the same reply, until all of them gave the same reply. The Prophet then said, ‘Allah would show mercy to him who will entertain this guest tonight.’ A person from the Ansar stood up and said, ‘Messenger of Allah, I am ready to entertain him.’ He took him to his house and said to his wife, ‘Is there anything with you [to serve the guest]?’ She said, ‘No, but only sustenance for our children.’ He said, ‘Distract their attention with something, and when the guest enters extinguish the lamp and give him the impression that we are eating.’ So they sat down, and the guest had his meal. When it was morning he went to Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) who said, ‘Allah was well pleased with what you both did for your guest last night.’”
Mercy was so evident in Madinah at the time of the Prophet, peace be upon him, who never stopped giving despite his continuous suffering. Sahl ibn-Saad narrated: “A woman brought a woven burda [sheet] having edging [border] to the Prophet. Then Sahl asked them whether they knew what a burda is; they said that a burda is a cloak and Sahl confirmed their reply. Then the woman said, ‘I have woven it with my own hands and I have brought it so that you may wear it.’ The Prophet accepted it, and at that time he was in need of it. So he came out wearing it as his waist-sheet. A man praised it and said, ‘Will you give it to me? How nice it is!’ The other people said, ‘You have not done the right thing as the Prophet is in need of it and you have asked for it when you know that he never turns down anybody’s request.’ The man replied, ‘By Allah, I have not asked for it to wear it but to make it my shroud.’ Later it was his shroud.”
The Prophet always considered giving to be better than keeping, and consequently, he continuously gave. Among the best descriptions of his merciful attitude is what Lady Aisha narrated: “We slaughtered a sheep and gave away most of it. I told the Prophet only a small piece was left. He then said in all his wisdom, ‘All of it is remaining [through charity] but that piece’” Such was his life and his mercy!
Out of the Poverty Trap
It should not be perceived that by the Prophet’s giving and encouraging his companions to give that he condoned asking for help if one had the means to earn or procure what he needed for himself and his family. On the contrary, he was keen on teaching others the importance of working to fulfill one’s own needs. He wanted the people to avoid the disgrace of asking and begging, and he also wanted every individual to enjoy the sweetness of giving. Anas ibn-Malek, may Allah be pleased with him, narrated: “A man from the Ansar came to ask the Prophet (pbuh) for charity. The Prophet asked about what he had at home [that could be used to procure some provisions] and the man said that he had some fabric which they used to wear sometimes and other times to sit on. The Prophet instructed him to bring it. Then he asked if any of his companions would like to purchase the fabric. A man offered to buy it for one dirham. The Prophet asked for a higher price, until a man offered two dirhams for it. The Prophet took the money and gave it to the poor man. The Prophet told him to buy food for his family with one dirham and to use the other to buy an axe-head and bring it back to him. The Prophet then tied a handle to the axe-head and asked the man to use it to cut wood, then sell it. And so the man went to cut wood and proceeded to sell it. He collected ten dirhams which he used for food and clothes. The Prophet said to the man, ‘This is better than asking for charity which you will be asked about on the Day of Judgement. Asking charity is permissible for only three cases: extreme poverty, paying off a large fine, or for paying blood-money in case of killing someone by mistake.’”
The Prophet’s mercy upon the poor was due to his compassion for their suffering, but he also aimed to teach them to be resourceful in any way they could in order to provide for themselves and their families. He wanted to facilitate their well-being in this worldly life and in the hereafter and therefore his approach was truly balanced and comprehensive. It was the Prophet’s humility, mercy, and kindness that Allah spoke about in His Book: “And in no way have We sent you except as a mercy to the worlds” (Qur’an, 21:107).
This article was originally published on http://en.islamstory.com