In a time where his teachings are being grossly misinterpreted, here are some practical pieces of advice from the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). These are humanitarian principles, not just Muslim principles, from a man who promoted love, peace and compassion.
All of these extracts are from the Prophet’s advice to his companion Abu Dharr al Ghifarri who once saw him alone in his mosque in Madinah and took the opportunity to seek counsel. The full conversation can be read here.
1. Take advantage of your youth, health, wealth, time and life
“Oh Abu Dharr! Take advantage of five things before five things seize you; Your youth before Your old age, your health before your sickness, Your wealth before your poverty, your spare time before your being busy and your life before you death.”
This beautiful tradition highlights the importance of not taking our bounties for granted. It is only when they are removed that we will appreciate their significance.
2. Don’t procrastinate
“Oh Abu Dharr! Beware of Procrastination for you are (in) today and not (in) tomorrow. If there is a tomorrow for you, be tomorrow as you are today. If there isn’t a tomorrow for you, you will grievously regret the opportunity you missed today.”
Whether it be an upcoming exam or a looming work deadline, we all know the danger of procrastination. The Prophet is clearly a now person, as the following tradition also suggests:
“Oh Abu Dharr! When you wake up in the morning don’t talk to yourself about tonight and when night has come don’t worry of the morning for surely you don’t know what your state will be tomorrow.”
3. Don’t waste your time
“And know that in you are two (dangerous) qualities; laughing at something not amusing and laziness when not tired.”
In a day where social media has become the biggest procrastinator to affect us (you might have encountered this article by doing exactly this!), the Prophet warns of two potential dangers this presents. Whereas social media initially allowed friends and family to keep in touch, it is now inundated with viral videos and entertaining forwards – we are all guilty of lazing around for hours on end scrolling down and refreshing our feeds with no real purpose.
4. Admit your ignorance
“Oh Abu Dharr! When you are asked of some knowledge you know not of say, “I do not know!” You will be saved of its consequences. Don’t make judgment of that which you haven’t knowledge.”
In an age where information is available at the fingertips, from the trusted Sheikh Google, it is easy to fall into the trap of regarding ourselves as scholars in every field, even if all our knowledge is only from a few Wikipedia searches! This quote advises us to save ourselves from embarrassment by admitting ignorance in such situations.
5. Practice what you preach
“Oh Abu Dharr! There will be a day when a group of people of Paradise will be over a group of people of Hell and they will say, “What has made you enter hell-fire? For surely we entered paradise by you teaching us and your disciplining (educating) us!” They will say: We used to bid others to do good while we ourselves didn’t do it.”
This is a chilling message. Educating others but then not acting on that advice – a trap I hope not to fall into by writing this article! The Prophet here warns very clearly about avoiding hypocrisy: practise what you preach.
6. Don’t belittle your sins
“Surely the believer sees his sin as if it is a boulder, he fears that it will fall on him and surely the unbeliever sees his sin as if it is a fly passing on his nose. Oh Abu Dharr! Surely Allah (s), when He wills good for a servant he puts his sins before his two eyes. When he wills bad for a servant he makes him forget his sins.”
Every action against the command of God should be significant for a true believer. It is dangerous when we start to disregard our sins, because either our belief is waning, or it shows a disconnection with God. The Prophet goes on to explain why each sin is significant with a quite remarkable quote:
“Oh Abu Dharr! Don’t look at the smallness of the sin but look at the one you disobeyed.”
7. Prioritise your prayers
“Oh Abu Dharr! Allah…has made me to love Salat like food is made loveable to the hungry and water to the thirsty. And surely the hungry one, when he eats, he is satiated and the thirsty one, when he drinks he is quenched but I am not satiated from Salat.”
The Prophet’s love for prayer is outstanding – whereas we often regard Salat as an obligation or a chore, the Prophet yearns for it and this desire never subsides. He explains the importance of Salat as a medium to ask for desires:
“Oh Abu Dharr! Surely, so long as you are in Salat, you are knocking on the door of the Great King, and whoever knocks much on the door of the King it will be opened for him”
8. Don’t become attached to this world
“Oh Abu Dharr! This world is the prison of the believer and the paradise of the unbeliever.”
Quality of life is now defined by our material assets and our ability to live it to the fullest, but the Prophet sees things differently. He warns of the risks where he says:
“Oh Abu Dharr! Love of wealth and honour are stronger in stripping a man of his religion than two ferocious wolves in a cattle pen of sheep; so they attack in it until morning. So what will remain of it? So I said, “Oh Messenger of Allah (S), the fearful humble lowly people who remember Allah much, will they be the first among mankind to go to heaven?” So he said, “No. But it will be the poor among the Muslims. They will come outstripping the necks of mankind. The Keepers of Heaven will say to them, “Like that you are until you are accounted of!” So they will say, “About what shall we be accounted for, for by Allah we didn’t own anything by which we could oppress or do justice and we weren’t given (wealth) so we could withhold or give (to others) but we worshipped our Lord until He called us so we answered.”
9. Be your own accountant for your deeds
“Oh Abu Dharr! Take account of yourself before you’re taken account of so your accounting will be easier tomorrow. And weigh yourself before you are weighed and prepare for the great staging; the day you will be presented, not the least of a hidden thing of you will be hidden from Allah.”
We already know the criteria that will be used to determine our outcome on Judgement Day, so it makes sense to evaluate our progress in this life by reflecting regularly on our actions. The Prophet shows that this is a prerequisite to piety, and that an honest livelihood is key to this:
“Oh Abu Dharr! A man cannot be among the pious until his accounting of himself is stronger than the accounting a (business) partner takes of his partner. So he knows from where his food comes from and from where his drink comes from and from where his cloths come from; from a lawful means or from a prohibited one. Oh Abu Dharr! Whoever doesn’t care from where he earns his money, Allah doesn’t care from where He will enter him into Hell.”
10. Quality is better than quantity
“Oh Abu Dharr! The Virtue of knowledge is greater than that of worship. And know you that if you prayed until your back becomes bent and you fasted until you became thin as strings that would not benefit you unless it is done with piety.”
We often see Islam as a list of rituals, and class the most devout in worship as the most pious, whereas this narration suggests otherwise. In another similar narration, the Prophet says:
“Oh Abu Dharr! Two moderate cycles of prayer (rak’at) with pondering is better than standing all night in prayer with a neglectful heart”
11. Remember God in times of ease
“Shall I not teach you words which may benefit you by Allah’s help? I said: Yes, Oh Messenger of Allah. He (SA) said: Get to know Allah (SWT) in your time of leisure and comfort and Allah (SWT) will remember you in your hard times.”
This hadith gives me goosebumps! We often fall into the trap of remembering God before an exam or a job interview, but when things are going smoothly, He is stored somewhere in the distance until we need Him again.
12. Stay away from gossip
“Oh Abu Dharr! Beware of backbiting, for backbiting is worse than adultery! So I asked, “Oh Messenger of Allah, and why is that? He (SA) said: Because a man can commit adultery and then repent to Allah (SWT) and Allah (SWT) can forgive him. But the backbiting cannot be forgiven until those who were backbit forgive first.”
Whereas most sins can be forgiven by asking God for forgiveness, the Prophet highlights that if you speak ill of somebody else, they need to forgive you – and we all know how embarrassing that conversation would be. The safest option, as he advises Abu Dharr, is to keep ourselves well away from gossip in the first place:
“Oh Abu Dharr! Leave that which you have nothing to do with. Do not speak of that which does not concern you, and guard your tongue like you guard your money.”