No material thing was too attractive for the Prophet (peace be upon him). He never coveted anything of the comforts or adornments of this life. His approach was that whatever served the purpose was good enough. People may like to surround themselves with things that give pleasure or add beauty to living conditions, but the Prophet did not attach much importance to these. He would welcome them when they were available, but would not miss them if they were scarce. To him this life is too short to attach much importance to its luxuries.
We see this in the articles the Prophet used in his daily life. People like to have fine articles for their food and drink when they can afford them. They use a collection of plates, cups and glasses for their daily meals, keep a beautiful dinner set for their guests and surround themselves with articles that add beauty to their homes. They may replace these with better or more beautiful ones when they have the means to do so. There is nothing wrong with that. God says in the Qur’an: “Say, ‘Who is there to forbid the beauty which God has produced for His servants, and the wholesome means of sustenance?’ Say, ‘They are (lawful) in the life of this world, to all who believe – to be theirs alone on the Day of Resurrection.'” (7: 32) However, when people compete in stocking what they do not use, only because they want to be on the same level as their friends or neighbours, then such luxuries are given too much importance. The Prophet has taught us, by practical example, that such an approach is wrong. He showed us that life can be just as comfortable without material luxury.
If we look at what the Prophet used for his food and drink, we find that he was satisfied with what was simple, inexpensive and served the purpose. We must always remember that this was a matter of choice, not imposed by his poverty. He could have whatever he wished, if he only showed a desire for it. Asim ibn Al-Ahwal, who belonged to the Tabieen generation that followed the Prophet’s companions, says : “I saw the Prophet’s cup at Anas ibn Malik’s house. It had a crack and Anas pulled it together with a chain of silver. It was a good, wide cup made of fine, thin wood. Anas said to us: ‘I gave the Prophet to drink out of this cup so many times.’ Ibn Seereen says: ‘The cup had a ring of iron and Anas wanted to replace it with one made of gold or silver, but Abu Talhah, (Anas’ stepfather), told him not to change anything the Prophet had or did. Therefore, Anas left it as it was.'” (Related by Ahmad and Al-Bukhari.)
We may find it strange that wooden articles were used for such a frequent purpose as drinking. Yet in our homes we may use some wooden articles that are finely made. It is rare, however, that a wooden cup is used for drinking. However, when the Prophet had something better, he used it. Ibn Abbas reports : “The governor of Alexandria sent a cup made of glass to the Prophet and he used it to drink.” (Related by Ibn Saad and Abu al-Shaykh.) This was part of the gift the ruler of Egypt sent to the Prophet in reply to his message calling on him to believe in Islam. The Egyptian ruler recognized the Prophet but decided to remain Christian and hoped to have friendly relations with the Prophet. Therefore, he sent him a gift to demonstrate his good will.
The Prophet also used other articles for his drink. Jabir reports : “The Prophet’s drink was left for him to ferment in a large water skin. If none is found, they would put the drink in a stoneware beaker to ferment.” (Related by Al-Shafie, Muslim and Al-Darimi.) We mentioned that the Prophet did not allow his drink to ferment for long. He would leave it over night and drink of it the following day, so that it would have some sweetness, but no trace of alcohol.
If the Prophet’s household had an article, it was used until it no longer served the purpose for which it was made. Lady Sawdah, the Prophet’s wife, reported : “We had a sheep, but she died. We dyed its skin and used it for fermenting drinks, until it became too dry.” (Related by Ahmad, Al-Bukhari and Al-Tirmidhi.) This Hadith makes it clear that when an animal dies of natural causes, it is not permissible to eat. However, its skin could be used after it is dyed. When it is dyed it is considered to be free of impurity. In this case, when the sheep died, its skin was put to good use, until it was too dry and became unsuitable for use.
All this gives us a picture of very simple life. The Prophet was keen that this remained the main characteristic of his life, so that people would look up to him for practical guidance in all respects. We can still do so when we study his life pattern very closely. We may add here a few Hadiths that confirm this picture. They hardly need any comment from us.
Lady Ayesha reports : “The Prophet and I used to bathe, drawing water from the same vessel, using a large one called Al-Faraq.” (Related by Al-Bukhari and Muslim.) This is a large container that held enough water for two people to wash all their bodies, without being excessive. Ayesha reports: “We had this vessel of water which was filled for us. We both drew water out of it.” (Related by Al-Bukhari and Al-Nassaie.)
Abdullah ibn Zayd reports: “The Prophet once came to us and we brought him water in a beaker made of brass. He performed ablutions, washing his face three times and his hands twice. He then wiped his head from front to back and back to front, then he washed his feet.” (Related by Al-Shafie, Al-Bukhari and Al-Nassaie.)