All human societies uphold certain values and try to promote them. These include truthfulness, honesty, sincerity, caring for others, courage, patience in adversity, forbearance, pursuit of knowledge, etc. Parents try to instill in their children the importance of developing such qualities and maintaining such values. Teachers endeavor to show their pupils that even when any of these qualities may land a person in a bit of trouble, the end result of holding on to them is always better. Yet people normally have some of these qualities and remain lacking in others. A person may be honest and truthful, but may lack patience. Another may acquire broad knowledge through diligent learning but remains unable to handle a family crisis. To hold on to all superior values all the time is very rare, and to ensure that these are upheld by everyone in one’s household is a very difficult task. The home of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), however, provided a unique example of holding on to every superior value and reflected a standard of moral characteristics that is second to none in all human history.

When we look at life in the Prophet’s home, we find that it was a life of poverty in every respect: barely enough food to eat, small and basic housing, little furniture and a clear lack of comfort. The Prophet married several women, and his marriages were for social, political and legislative reasons. When we read that each one of his wives had her own home, we tend to imagine that the Prophet had several houses competing to give him a comfortable living. That is totally wrong. Each of his wives had a single room, adjacent to the mosque. Each was no better than a small hut, built of mud bricks or uneven stones, with a low ceiling that a tall man can reach by merely lifting his hand. Such simple housing was coupled with equally simple furniture. Often there was nothing to sit on except a rough rug or a straw mat. Once Umar visited the Prophet and looked around. He expressed his sorrow that the Prophet’s home had no facilities other than the bare essentials. He remarked that the emperors of Byzantium and Persia had so much comfort while the Prophet lived under such conditions. The Prophet told him that such worldly comfort is transitory and he would rather have nothing of it.

What is important to realize is that this was by choice. All of us strive to have a comfortable living. This is natural. Nothing is wrong with this as long as the means we use to achieve it are right and legitimate. The Prophet, however, preferred a life of poverty because he realized that this present life is only transitory. The real life is that of the hereafter. Seeking a good outcome in that future life should be the goal of every believer. Islam does not advocate a life of hardship; indeed the Prophet says: “Blessed is lawfully earned money for a God-fearing person.”

The Prophet realized that he had to provide the best example for his followers throughout human generations, since Islam is the final divine faith addressed to all human generations and societies. He used to spend much of his nighttime in voluntary worship. He used to sleep on a folded leather mat, which did not give him much comfort. One of his wives wanted to give him more comfort, so she folded the leather mat twice, so as to provide him with a four-layer sort of mattress. As a result he slept longer than usual. When he woke up late for his night worship, he told his wife that she should never do that again.

A woman from the Ansar once visited Lady Ayesha and saw that the Prophet slept on a rough, hard bed. She felt sorry for him. When she went home, she sent the Prophet a mattress filled with wool. When the Prophet saw it, he was not pleased. He told Ayesha to return it, and said to her: “Had I so wished, God would have given me mountains of gold and silver.”

He looked at the mountain of Uhud and said: “If I were to have this mountain of gold so as to spend it all for God’s cause, I would not be pleased if on the day of my death I would still have two dinars (the dinar was the gold currency at the time), unless it be for the repayment of a debt I might have outstanding.”

The Prophet used to pray: “My Lord, give Muhammad’s household a basic standard of living.” Yet the Prophet was always concerned for the poor in his community. He felt for those who did not have enough to eat, or looked weighed down by poverty. Hence, whenever he had some food, in large or small quantities, he would immediately give it away, sharing it between those poor people. He may give it all away while he himself would remain hungry. Suhayl ibn Saad says: “The Prophet and his family never had their fill of wheat bread on three consecutive days from the first day he came to Madinah until he departed this life. Indeed, by the time he died, he and his family never had a full meal of bread made with barley.”

On more than one occasion, the Prophet had nothing to eat other than bread and vinegar. He would dip a piece of bread in vinegar and eat it, saying: “Vinegar is a good food to have with bread.” Yet the Prophet did not forbid himself and his family any type of good and tasty food. He liked sweets and honey, whenever they were available. He also ate meat, preferring the shoulder. He is quoted as saying: “If a shoulder is given to me as a gift, I would eat of it, and if I am invited and a joint was served I would accept.” Nor did he ever encourage anyone to deprive themselves of good food. He only advised moderation, encouraging people not to overeat. He used to say: “A human being can never fill a worse container than his own belly. It is enough for any person to have a few bites so as to feel well.”

Ayesha describes his attitude to food, which is one of total satisfaction with anything, simple as it may be: “The Prophet never ate much. When he was with his wives, he would never ask them for a specific type of food, or say that he wished to have this or that. If they gave him food, he would eat, and whatever they served him, he would welcome. Whatever drink they gave him, he would take.” Needless to say that they only served him what is permissible in Islam.

By Adil Salahi in Leading Arab Newprint