His Longtime Servant
In Makkah the home life of the Prophet (peace be upon him) was generally comfortable, because his wife ensured that he had all what he wanted. She was rich and conducted her own trade, sending her merchandise with the traditional trade caravans the Quraysh used to send in summer and winter to Syria and Yemen. When he emigrated to Madinah, he was not accompanied by any servant. Khadeejah had died three years earlier, and the Prophet traveled with only his close companion, Abu Bakr. For the first few months after arriving in Madinah, the Prophet stayed in Abu Ayyub’s home, where he was served by people around him. He never asked any of them for anything.
One of the Ansars, the Prophet’s companion from Madinah, felt that the Prophet needed a personal servant. He took his stepson, Anas ibn Malik, to the Prophet and told him: “Messenger of God! Anas is an intelligent lad. Let him serve you.” The Prophet accepted. This was the beginning of a 10-year association for Anas, who was then only 10 or 12 years of age. Anas accompanied the Prophet to the last day of his blessed life, realizing that he could not have hoped for a better position. The Prophet’s household was such that no servant was at the receiving end of any abuse, physical or verbal.
As a young lad, Anas could be excused if at times he was negligent of what was assigned to him. The Prophet once sent him on an errand, but on the way he saw some of his friends playing. Joining them was so attractive, and the boy could not resist. He forgot his errand and was fully engaged in the play. Sometime later, he felt someone pulling him by his robe. Turning back, he saw the Prophet beaming with a smile. He told him endearingly: ‘Unays! (This is a short form of Anas) Go where I sent you.’ That was all the rebuke Anas received on this occasion. We can imagine how masters react if they see a servant playing in the street instead of attending to the business they are told to do. Yet the Prophet just smiled and told Anas to do what he was told.
This was the Prophet’s attitude throughout his life, with all those who served him. Anas reports: “I served the Prophet (peace be upon him) for ten years, on his journeys and at home. He never said to me as much as ‘Ugh!’ He never said about something I did, why I did so, nor did he ever say about anything I left undone, why I did not do it. Never did he say to me that I did something badly, nor did he ever criticize anything I did. If I slackened in doing what he ordered, he never reproached me. If anyone of his family criticized me, he would tell them: ‘Leave him alone. Had it been possible for that thing to happen, it would have happened.'” (Related by Al-Bukhari and Muslim).
The Prophet was so kind to Anas and to his family. In fact, he used to visit Anas’ mother and aunt, and have a meal with them. His mother once asked the Prophet to pray for Anas. He did, praying to God “to give him wealth and children and to bestow His blessings on him.” The mother was overjoyed with this prayer, realizing that her son would have a good future because she was well aware that whenever the Prophet prayed for anyone, God answered his prayer in the best form. Indeed Anas later acquired wealth and he saw scores of his children and grandchildren.
It is not surprising that an intelligent lad like Anas should be the source of much of what we know about the Prophet’s personal life. He was always with him. Some visitors to Madinah remarked that they thought Anas and his mother belonged to the Prophet’s family, because of the frequency of their entry into the Prophet’s homes. Anas was one of the very few of the Prophet’s companions who reported around 2,000 Hadiths covering a wide range of questions and issues.
That the Prophet should treat his servants well is not surprising. He was a model of kindness. His mission is defined in the Qur’an as ‘mercy for mankind’. Servants are not a different human species. They are just like us, and therefore, they should be always treated well. The Prophet frequently urged his companions and his followers in future generations, to treat their servants, and all vulnerable groups, well. He gave us the best practical example in this regard, as indeed in all other aspects. One day, a maid in his household neglected something he asked her to do. He was upset. Yet he only said to her: “Had it not been for my fear of God’s retribution, I would have painfully hit you with this miswak.” A miswak is a thin, short stick used as a toothbrush. To hit someone with it will cause no pain. Yet the Prophet says that he could be liable to God’s retribution, should he use it to punish that maid for her negligence. Could there be any better form of education to all Muslims on how to treat servants and others who may be subject to our authority?
Moreover, the Prophet expressed interest in the personal affairs of his servants. He wanted them to have a comfortable life. One of them, Rabeeah ibn Kaab used to stay close to him at night. He would bring him water for ablution in the morning, and serve him throughout the day. When the Prophet offered the last prayer of the day and went to his family, Rabeeah would thoughtfully stay at his door. He would say: ‘Something might happen and the Prophet might need me.’ He would only go to sleep when he realized that the Prophet went to sleep.
The Prophet wanted to reward Rabeeah for such a thoughtful service. He asked him whether he was in need of something. The man asked for nothing other than to say: “I request you to pray that God will not put me to any suffering in hell.” Some reports suggest that he also said to the Prophet: “I only hope to be with you in heaven.” The Prophet said to him: “Then help me to achieve that by frequently offering voluntary prayers.” (Related by Muslim).