The Prophet (peace be upon him) often used graphic descriptions and vivid images to emphasize the point he is imparting to his audience. Needless to say, when the point is linked to an image the recipient is impressed with, the point is never forgotten.

One good example is given in a Hadith related by Al-Bukhari on the authority of Abu Hurayrah who quotes the Prophet as saying: “A man was walking and he was very thirsty. He went down a well to drink. When he came up, he found a panting dog who was licking the earth because of his thirst. The man thought: This dog is as thirsty as I was a short while ago. He went down the well again, filled his shoe with water, and came up holding the shoe by his mouth. He gave it to the dog to drink. God thanked him by forgiving him for his sins. People asked the Prophet: Are we given a reward for kindness to animals? He said: You shall be rewarded for kindness to any living thing.

As human beings, we are always liable to slip, make mistakes, incur sins, and yield to temptation. Therefore, we are always in need of God’s forgiveness. Hence, any action that brings us forgiveness is viewed with great interest. What the Prophet describes in this Hadith as bringing such reward from God is very simple and costs only small labor. The Prophet describes a man traveling on foot, probably in hot weather or in the desert. His water is exhausted and he is very thirsty. Then he finds a well, but he has to go down the well to drink. He does so and comes up having refreshed himself, only to find a dog who looks very thirsty. The man compares the dog’s condition to his own before he had his drink. He could easily turn away and continue on his way. However, he feels unable to do so unless he helps the dog. He has no container to bring water in. Therefore, he uses his own shoe. Consider the image the Prophet draws of the man as he is coming up, holding his shoe, which is filled with water, in his mouth only to give to a stray dog. What kindness motivates that man!

Up till this point, the image is fine and the man’s kindness is shown in full color. We admire him for what he has done. The Prophet, however, adds here a couple of greatly important touches, telling us how God views man’s actions. The first touch is that God is grateful to man. The second translates this gratitude into forgiveness of sins. To a Muslim, God’s forgiveness is a great reward, because it enhances one’s chances of admission into heaven. Great indeed is the prize.

The Prophet’s companions were amazed at the thought that such forgiveness is ensured through an act of kindness to a dog. Hence their question: “Are we given a reward for kindness to animals?” They wanted to be sure that this is true so that they would bring their treatment of animals in line with this principle. The Prophet’s answer was very clear: “You shall be rewarded for kindness to any living thing.” Even a small kindness is rewarded. If you put out some water in the garden for birds or other animals to drink, or some food that you may not need, you earn a reward for that.

Islam impresses on its followers that no kindness, however small, is overlooked. God rewards people even for the smallest action they do, as long as it is done for no selfish reason. A good action that is done purely for show-off earns no reward from God. What pleases Him and earns His generous reward is an action that is pure of selfish interest.

– by Adil Salahi