Extraordinary Quality

Finally as they say, you can only take the result to the bank. And results depend on quality. Quality is the single biggest differentiator, the single biggest inspiration for followers and the single biggest guarantee of ongoing success.

For Rasoolullah(SAW) and his Sahaba, the Salah was the meter to measure everything. Salah was the definer of their lives. Salah was what they turned to for all their needs. Salah was their quiet time, their time with their Rabb, the recharging of their energy. Salah was their way of relaxation, distressing tool and their strength. Rasoolullah(SAW) used to call to Bilal bin Rabah(RA) and tell him to call the Adhaan for Salah, saying, ‘Farehna biha Ya Bilal,’ (Give us happiness through it O Bilal).

Indeed in the Messenger of Allah (Muhammad) you have a good example to follow, for him who hopes in (the Meeting with) Allah and the Last Day and remembers Allah much.

Ahzab 33:21

It was Salah through which Rasoolullah(SAW) gave his final message about his successor and it was the Salah of the Sahaba which made him so happy, which was the last sight that he saw of the outside world before he met his Rabb. So it is only natural that Rasoolullah(SAW) described quality also in terms of Salah. In the famous Hadith Jibreel, Rasoolullah(SAW) is reported to have answered the question of Jibreel(AS) with respect to Al- Ihsan (one translation would be – excellence) as follows. I have narrated the famous Hadith in total for its blessing but will focus only on the part concerning Al- Ihsan (excellence) for the purpose of our discussion here.

It is narrated on the authority of Yahya b. Ya’mur that he came across Abdullah ibn Umar ibn al-Khattab(RA), while he was entering the mosque. … He (Abdullah ibn Umar) said: My father, Umar ibn al-Khattab(RA), told me: One day we were sitting in the company of Messenger of Allah(SAW) when there appeared before us a man dressed in pure white clothes, his hair extraordinarily black. There were no signs of travel on him. None amongst us recognized him. At last he sat with the Messenger(SAW). He knelt before him, placed his palms on his thighs, and said: Muhammad, inform me about al-Islam. The Messenger of Allah(SAW) said: Al-Islam is that you testify that there is no deity but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, and you establish prayer, pay Zakat, observe the fast of Ramadan, and perform Hajj if you are able (to bear the expense of) the journey. He (the inquirer) said: You have spoken the truth. He (Umar ibn al-Khattab(RA)) said: It amazed us that he would put the question and then he would himself verify the truth. He (the inquirer) said: Inform me about Iman (faith). He (Rasoolullah(SAW)) replied: That you affirm your faith in Allah, in His angels, in His Books, in His Messengers, in the Day of Judgment, and you affirm your faith in Qadr about good and evil of it. He (the inquirer) said: You have told the truth. He (the inquirer) again said: Inform me about Al-Ihsan. He (Rasoolullah(SAW)) said: That you worship Allah as if you are seeing Him, for though you don’t see Him, He, verily, sees you.
He (the inquirer) again said: Inform me about the hour (of the Resurrection). He (Rasoolullah(SAW)) remarked: The one who is asked knows no more than the one who is inquiring (about it). He (the inquirer) said: Tell me some of its indications. He (Rasoolullah(SAW)) said: That the slave-girl will give birth to her mistress; that you will find barefooted, destitute goat-herds vying with one another in the construction of magnificent buildings. He (the narrator, Umar ibn al-Khattab(RA)) said: Then he (the inquirer) went on his way but I stayed with him (Rasoolullah(SAW)) for a long while. He then, said to me: Umar, do you know who this inquirer was? I replied: Allah(SWT) and His Messenger(SAW) know best. He (Rasoolullah(SAW)) said, ‘He was Jibreel. He came to you in order to instruct you in matters of religion.’ (Sahih Muslim, 8)

The highlighted lines about Al-Ihsan are in my view the best illustration about the concept of excellence in the life of Rasoolullah(SAW) which he practiced and which he left as a benchmark for us to judge ourselves by. As I mentioned, in Islam and in the teachings of Rasoolullah(SAW), all important things were mentioned in terms of religion but their implication was not restricted to prayer but was extended to every aspect of life. That is why Allah(SWT) declared the entire life of His Messenger(SAW), not only his worship, to be an example for all of mankind to follow.

Islam is a complete way of life that extends from the Creed (Aqeeda) to Worship (Ibaadah), to Manners (Akhlaaq), Dealings (Mu’amilaat) and Society (Mu’ashirah). So, though principles and standards may be mentioned in terms of worship, they also extend to all other aspects of life.

Excellence as expressed by Rasoolullah(SAW) in this Hadith simply means to live our entire lives with the certain knowledge of the presence of Allah(SWT) in our lives. That He is watching, will help, will forgive our transgressions, will support our efforts and will be pleased with us. To live with this constant awareness in every aspect of our lives; in everything we say or do. In every transaction we make, in every conversation we have, in every relationship we enter into. Imagine what sort of society that would create where everyone was aware of and concerned about the fact that he is accountable to the One from Whom nothing can be hidden and that one day he will be called to account and will be rewarded or punished based on how he lived his life? It would be a society where people would compete with each other, not for material resources but to be good to each other, to fulfill each other’s rights and more. Rasoolullah(SAW) created such a society in his own lifetime.

It was the life of Rasoolullah(SAW) which distinguishes him from other teachers where it was a living example of what he preached. In his life there was no gap between talk and walk. He did what he told others to do and was a living, walking, talking Standard Bearer of Islam. In his life, Islam was not a theory or an ideology or a philosophy but an actual living practical methodology of action. He followed that in every aspect of his life; private, religious, temporal and collective. He lived with a sense of who he was and what he represented and his Sahaba followed suit.

Just to quote one example from the life of his student Abu Bakr(RA):
When Khalifatur Rasoolillah Abu Bakr Siddeeq (RA) passed away he had two pieces of cloth and one mule. He gave instructions that he was to be shrouded in one of the pieces of cloth and that the other cloth and mule were to be handed over to Sayyidina Omar Ibn Al-Khattab(RA) who was to be the Khalifa after him. When this was done Sayyidina Omar(RA) wept and said, ‘Abu Bakr has set a very high standard and made it very difficult for the Khulafa who come after him.’

Another illustration: Every morning before Fajr, Abu Bakr Siddeeq(RA) used to go to the outskirts of Madina to a small camp. He would enter the tent and spend some time there and then would return. After he passed away Omar(RA) decided to find out who lived there. He went to the camp and found an old woman who was almost blind with age. He asked her about herself and she replied, ‘I am an old woman who has nobody in the world and I live alone here with my sheep. Every morning there is a man from Madina who comes here, sweeps my tent, cooks my food, milks my sheep and takes care of them and leaves. Without him and his care I would have been unable to survive.’ Omar(RA) asked, ‘Do you know who that is?’ She said that she had no idea who the man was. He had never told her.

Omar(RA) told her, ‘That was Khalifatur Rasoolillah Abu Bakr Siddeeq(RA).’

Imagine living in a society where the ruler serves the weak and destitute himself. A society where the rulers are not afraid of the people but afraid of answering to Allah(SWT) about those under their rule.

About Ameerul Mu’mineen Omar ibn Al-Khattab(RA) it is reported that one day when he was the Khalifa he came to a place with some Sahaba and said, ‘All praise to Allah(SWT) who is Glorious and He gives whoever he wants whatever he wants. There was a time when I used to be a shepherd for my father for his camels. I would come here with those camels. My father would exhaust me with work and if I did not work, he would beat me. And I used to wear some very harsh and rough clothes. But look at me today, where Allah(SWT) has raised me up so that there is nobody between me and Allah(SWT).’

Abdur Rahman ibn Awf(RA) narrated that one day Omar(RA) called the people to the masjid and when they assembled, he stood on the Minbar and said, ‘I used to be a shepherd for some of my aunts and when I returned home in the evening, they would give me a handful of dates or raisins and I would have a miserable day.’ He then descended from the Minbar. Abdur Rahman ibn Awf(RA) said to him, ‘What was the point of this Khutba? All you did was to belittle yourself in front of everyone.

So what is the benefit of that?’ Omar(RA) said, ‘Woe to you Ibn Awf, my Nafs was telling me, ‘You are Ameerul Mu’mineen. So who is better than you?’ I wanted to teach my Nafs who it really is.’

Omar ibn Al Khattab(RA) could not be fooled by anyone including himself.

Abdullah bin Mas’ood(RA) described the Sahaba and said, ‘By Allah(SWT) they were the best of this Ummah. And they had the most pious hearts (most taqwa). And they had the deepest knowledge. And they were the least superficial (least formality).’ He did not say ‘most knowledge’ but ‘deepest knowledge’. This is because they learnt directly from Rasoolullah(SAW). So even though individual Sahaba did not know as many Ahadith as Imam Bukhari or Muslim, they lived those Ahadith and were witness to the circumstances of the particular Hadith. They were the only generation who actually heard Rasoolullah(SAW) saying what he said and knew why he said that. They were there when the Qur’an was revealed and saw the revelation being received. They saw Jibreel(AS) and heard his voice when he came in the form of a man. The Sahaba were clean and their lives were simple and pure. They were a nation which had not been affected by the philosophy of the Greeks or the civilizations of the Persians and Romans and so when Islam came, they accepted it and practiced it in its pure and pristine form and did not add anything to it.

Even before Islam, in the period of Jahiliyya they were simple people of the desert. Their language was free from affectation and flowery speech. Their poetry was simple and descriptive, not allegorical and symbolic. They had no mythology like the Hindus or Greeks with lots of convoluted philosophy, symbolism and argument. Even when they worshipped idols, they simply bowed to the idol and sacrificed to it and that was it. There were no complicated stories and philosophical justifications. There was no mythology associated with them.

When they accepted Islam they brought this directness and simplicity to the Deen. They did not engage in philosophy and argument. They took the Qur’an and Sunnah at face value and practiced it in sincerity and with dedication in their lives. They didn’t seek hidden meanings behind Ayaat. They heard and they obeyed. Allah(SWT) said about them:

The Messenger (Muhammad) believes in what has been sent down to him from his Rabb, and (so do) the believers. Each one believes in Allah, His Angels, His Books, and His Messengers. They say, “We make no distinction between one another of His Messengers” – and they say, “We hear, and we obey. (We seek) Your Forgiveness, our Rabb, and to You is the return (of all).

Baqara 2:285

And Allah(SWT) said about those who seek hidden meanings and create convoluted philosophies:

It is He Who has sent down to you (Muhammad) the Book (this Qur’an). In it are Ayaat that are entirely clear, they are the foundations of the Book [and those are the Ayaat of Al-Ahkam (commandments), Al-Fara’id (obligatory duties) and Al-Hudud (criminal law]; and others not entirely clear. So as for those in whose hearts there is a deviation (from the truth) they follow that which is not entirely clear thereof, seeking Al-Fitnah (polytheism, conjecture, tests), and seeking for hidden meanings, but none knows the hidden meanings except Allah. And those who are firmly grounded in knowledge say: “We believe in it; the whole of it (both clear and unclear Ayaat) are from our Rabb.” And none receive admonition except men of understanding. (Tafsir At-Tabari).

A’al Imran 3:7

The Sahaba learnt the Qur’an directly from the one who it was revealed to – Muhammad(SAW). They were the only generation
who were witness to the circumstances of each revelation, each Ayah. They understood not only the literal meanings of the words, but the reason for those words to be revealed. That is the reason the understanding of the Sahaba has always been considered the Gold Standard by the scholars of Islam in all matters dealing with the Book of Allah(SWT) and the Sunnah of His Messenger(SAW). Even in matters of linguistics, it is the Sahaba’s understanding of certain words that is taken as the final argument in favor of what that word means with respect to the Qur’an and Sunnah.

That is why they are considered the best generation as mentioned by Rasoolullah(SAW) in his famous Hadith where he said, ‘The
best generation is my generation and then those that come after them and those that come after them.’ The scholars of Hadith state that this refers to them chronologically as well as ideologically – meaning that the best Muslims are those who are closest to Rasoolullah(SAW) and his Sahaba in terms of their belief and actions.

Bida’at in Islam did not start in Makkah and Madina. All the philosophy and complex theories that are current today and on which many books have been written, came to be long after the period of the Sahaba when Islam spread and came into contact with Coptic Christianity and Hinduism. That is when philosophy entered Islam. The Sahaba were action oriented, connected to Allah(SWT) and concerned about meeting Him. They had neither the time nor the inclination to indulge in conjecture and guesswork that has no value and can only lead to confusion and weakening of faith.

With the Sahaba simplicity and clarity were signs of learning. Not complexity, convoluted argument and philosophy. They were not diplomatic. They were direct. They feared the anger of Allah(SWT) more than the opinion of people. They feared becoming unpopular with Allah(SWT) and His Messenger(SAW) more than becoming unpopular with people. So they said what needed to be said, no matter what anyone thought. It is essential in Islam to develop the character of the Sahaba and not simply to listen to their stories, because they are the standard by which we will be judged.

This is what the Sahaba understood by excellence; Al-Ihsan; and they practiced it in their lives. There are too many stories from the lives of the Sahaba which I don’t need to repeat here. It would be most interesting and instructive for anyone in today’s time to read them and try to visualize what it must have been like to live during the lifetime of Rasoolullah(SAW) and his generation.

I believe it is absolutely essential for anyone interested in the wellbeing of his fellowmen to read about the life and times of Muhammad(SAW) and to do his best to recreate those times in today’s world. We would then have a world characterized by justice, compassion, truthfulness and concern for one another. These are the major deficiencies in modern society as a result of which we have a world characterized by cruelty, indifference and inequity. It is our choice what we want to live with.


Excerpt from Sheikh Mirza Yawar Baig book – “Leadership Lessons from the Life of Rasoolullah: Proven techniques of how to succeed in today’s world”

Paperback version

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