The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said: “None of you truly believes until I am more beloved to him than his father, his child and all the people.”
In this series we embark on a journey to increase our knowledge of the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam), to view him as the Sahāba viewed him, and to love him as we should.
In the last article, we began with an exploration of the stature and physical characteristics of the Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam). This time we learn of some of the qualities and virtues he was known for, inshāAllāh.
Aḥmad b. ʿAbdah al-Dabbī al-Baṣrī narrated to us, as did ʿAlī b. Ḥujr and Abū Jaʿfar Muḥammad b. al-Ḥusayn – i.e. Ibn Abī Ḥalīmah – with different wordings but the same meaning; from ʿĪsā b. Yūnus; from ʿUmar b. ʿAbdullāh the servant of Ghufrah; from Ibrāhīm b. Muḥammad – one of the sons of ʿAlī b. Abū Ṭālib (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) – that when ʿAlī (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) described the Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) he would say,
“The Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) was neither extremely tall nor very short, rather he was of a medium stature. His hair was neither curly nor completely straight, rather in between. He was not overweight, nor was his face so fleshy as to be completely round, rather it was only slightly round. He was white skinned, having a reddish tinge. His eyes were large with jet black pupils and his lashes, long. His joints were large as was his upper back. He did not have hair all over his body but had a line of fine hair extending from his chest to his navel. His hands and feet were large and sturdy. When he walked, he moved briskly as if descending a slope. When he turned, he would turn his whole body. Between his two shoulders was the Seal of Prophethood for he was the Seal of the Prophets. He had the most giving of hearts, he was the most truthful of people in speech, the best of them in temperament, and the most sociable amongst them. Whoever unexpectedly saw him would be awestruck and whoever became acquainted with him would love him. Those who described him would say, ‘I have never seen anyone, before him or after him, who was comparable to him.
He was not overweight, nor was his face so fleshy as to be completely round, rather it was only slightly round.
al-Muṭahham: meaning having a puffed up, fleshy face or being overweight in general. However, the word can also have the opposite meaning of having a slender and fragile build.Tirmidhī in this work ostensibly preferred the meaning of being overweight.
al-Mukaltham: someone who is chubby cheeked, or someone whose face is so fleshy that it is completely round.It is this second meaning that was cited by Tirmidhī himself.
Umm Maʿbad described the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) with her words, ‘I saw a radiant man with a luminous face and handsome physique, unspoiled by fleshiness and not tainted by leanness.
Muslim records on the authority of Jābir ibn Samurah that a man asked him, ‘Was the face of the Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) like a sword?’ He replied, ‘No, it was like the sun and the moon, it was round.Abū ʿUbayd said, ‘He did not mean that it was completely round, rather that it had a sense of softness and serenity about it.al-Ḥārith b. ʿAmr said, ‘I went to the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) while he was at Minā or ʿArafah and people would visit him. Some Bedouins came to him and as soon as they looked at his face they said, “This is a blessed face!”
The various aḥadīth quoted in this work and elsewhere give us a detailed picture of his (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) face. He (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) had a handsome face with a slightly rounded quality and not long. He had a wide brow and thick curved eyebrows that did not quite meet in the middle. Between them was a vein that would throb when angry. His eyes were large, with jet black pupils and a reddish tinge in the white of eye, and his lashes were long. His cheeks were smooth and not raised. He had a long, slightly arched nose which shone with a light that would seem to elevate it, whoever did not carefully look at it would think he had a large nasal bridge. He had a wide mouth and white teeth with a gap between the incisors. He had a thick and full beard covering one side of his face to the other. Allāh’s peace and blessings be on him!
His eyes were large with jet black pupils and his lashes, long.
This will be discussed in more detail in a later ḥadīth.
His joints were large as was his upper back.
al-Mushāsh: joints of the bones. The meaning is the same as that mentioned in ḥadīth #5, i.e. he (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) had stout limbs.
al-Katid: the meeting point of the shoulders as cited by Tirmidhī himself, i.e. the upper part of the back (kāhil). The meaning is the same as that mentioned in ḥadīth #3 that he (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) was broad shouldered.
He did not have hair all over his body, but had a line of fine hair extending from his chest to his navel
This description also holds true for someone who has hair on parts of his body and hence does not contradict the description that he (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) had hair on his shins, forearms and upper chest.
Bayhaqī records the ḥadīth, “He (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) had a line of hair extending from his navel to chest, and he had no other hair on his chest or stomach.” This ḥadīth is further clarified by the ḥadīth, “He had a line of hair extending from his upper chest to his navel, apart from that, his chest and stomach were bare. The upper part of his chest, his forearms, and shoulders had a lot of hair on them.”
When he turned, he would turn his whole body
He (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) was, therefore, not a person who stole glances. He (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) was not in the habit of turning his head towards someone who addressed him; instead, he would turn his whole body to a person who addressed him, showing him that he had his complete attention. After finishing the discussion, he would turn his whole body away. Otherwise, he would frequently just glance at things that he was not addressing. Abū Hurayrah reported that, ‘When he turned (to you), he turned his whole body, and when he turned away, he would turn his whole body away,’ as did al-Barāʾa.
Between his two shoulders was the Seal of Prophethood
A discussion of this follows later inshāAllāh.
He had the most giving of hearts
He (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) was neither stingy nor miserly. He would never withhold anything of this world, and he would never conceal any knowledge concerning his Lord. His generosity did not require great effort, neither was it hard upon him, resulting as it did from the purity of his soul and gentleness of spirit. Bukhārī records on the authority of Ibn ʿAbbās that ‘the Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) was the most generous of people, and he was never so generous as he was in the month of Ramaḍān when he met with Jibrīl. Jibrīl would meet him every night of Ramaḍan and revise the Qurʾān with him. He (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) was more generous than a brisk breeze.’
He had the most giving of hearts because of its righteousness and the immense good contained therein. His heart was bursting with every fine, beautiful moral and quality and goodness would pour out of it. Some of the People of Knowledge said, ‘There is no place in the entire world that contained more good than the heart of Allāh’s Messenger (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam): all good was gathered together and put in it.’Bukhārī records on the authority of Anas that although the eyes of the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) slept, his heart would always be awake.
Another valid interpretation of this sentence is that he (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) had the largest heart, i.e. his heart never held back or grieved him. This view is supported by the report of Ibn Saʿd with this isnād with the words, ‘He was the most giving of people and had the largest of hearts.’
It is also said that it means that he had the best of hearts, i.e. he was free of all lowly traits and how could this be otherwise when Jibrīl cut open his heart, took out of a morsel of flesh, placed it in a golden tray, and washed it with Zamzam water?
He was the most truthful of people in speech
This was something that even his enemies testified to, and not one of his opponents could ever say that they had witnessed him lying – not even once – let alone the testimony of all his friends and followers! His enemies fought him, employing all means at their disposal, yet none of them ever accused him of lying: not a serious lie or even a minor, insignificant one! Miswarah b. Makhramah said, ‘I asked Abū Jahl, my uncle, “Uncle! Did you ever accuse Muḥammad of lying before he came with his message?” He replied, “Son of my sister, by Allāh, while he was still young, Muḥammad would be called al-Amīn (the truthful) by us. Even when his hair started turning white, he would still not lie.” I asked, “Uncle of mine! So why don’t you follow him?” He replied, “Son of my sister, we and Banū Hāshim were always competing with each other for nobility: they fed people and so we did too, they gave others drink and so we did too, they granted protection and so we did too. We’ve kept pace with each other like two race horses, then they said, ‘A Prophet has arisen from us,’ how could we possibly compete in this?”
Allāh, Most High says, consoling him (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam), “We know that what they say distresses you. It is not that they are calling you a liar; the wrongdoers are just denying the signs of Allāh. Messengers before you were also denied but they were steadfast in the face of the denial and injury they suffered until Our help arrived. There is no changing the Words of Allāh and news of other Messengers has come to you.”
The Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) was asked who the best of people was to which he replied, “The one who has a heart that is makhmūm and a truthful tongue.” When asked what a makhmūm heart was, he replied, “A heart that is fearful and clean: It has no sin in it, no transgression and no envy.” ʿĀʾishah stated, ‘There was no trait more abhorrent to Allāh’s Messenger than lying.’Abū Bakr would say, ‘Beware of lying because lying is at odds to the true faith.’Iyās b. Muʿāwiyah said, ‘The most dignified quality of a man is truthfulness of tongue and whoever is devoid of the nobility of truthfulness has been stricken with the loss of the best of his manners.’
Ibn al-Qayyim said, ‘Truthfulness is the greatest of stations of the people, from it sprout all the various stations of those traversing the path to Allāh; and from it sprouts the upright path which if not trodden, perdition is that person’s fate. Through it is the hypocrite become distinguished from the believer and the inhabitant of Paradise from the denizen of Hell. It is the sword of Allāh in His earth: it is not placed on anything except that it cuts it; it does not face falsehood expect that it hunts it and vanquishes it; whoever fights with it will not be defeated; and whoever speaks it, his word will be made supreme over his opponent. It is the very essence of deeds and the wellspring of spiritual states, it allows the person to embark boldly into dangerous situations, and it is the door through which one enters the presence of the One possessing majesty. It is the foundation of the building of Islām, the central pillar of the construction of certainty and the next level in ranking after the level of Prophethood.’
Another understanding of this sentence is that his (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) tongue was the most eloquent of tongues, precisely and clearly pronouncing the letters of the Arabic language, and eloquently formulating the best of phrases. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said, “I have been granted the most eloquent, complete and pithy speech,” “I have been granted pithiness in speech,” and “I have been granted the keys to speech.” Umm Maʿbad said, ‘His speech was sweet and clear, like string beads shed from their string; he spoke neither too little nor too much.’
The best of them in temperament
He (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) was easy going, gentle and compassionate. He responded to anyone who called him, judged those who required judgement, fulfilled the need of those who asked of him – never preventing them from asking him and never letting them depart disappointed or empty-handed. When his Companions desired a matter from him, he would agree with them and follow them; if he wanted to do something, he would consult them. He (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) would accept the good from them and overlook their mistakes.
And the most sociable of them
He would interact with those with him in the best of ways: he would never frown at them, treat them harshly or turn away from them. He would not point out slips of the tongue nor reprimand a person for any coarseness in speech or the likes, and he would make excuses for them as much as possible. Whoever mixed with him would think that he was the most beloved person to him due to the attention, kindness and sincere advice he received. There is no better way of dealing with people than this.
In some texts the wording is ‘the best of them in lineage’ and both descriptions hold true of him (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam). The Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said, “I was passed through the best generations of the children of Ādam, generation after generation, until I reached the generation in which I came.” The Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) is also reported to have said, “Allāh chose Kinānah from amongst the descendants of Ismāʿīl, He chose the Quraysh from amongst the descendants of Kinānah, from the Quraysh he chose Banū Hāshim, and me from Banū Hāshim.”
Whoever unexpectedly saw him would be awestruck
This was due to his exceptional qualities, his heavenly sense of gravity, dignity, appearance and deluge of spirituality. Carrying oneself with an air of dignity and self-respect (mahābah) is a quality that can be confused with arrogance (kibr), yet it is the former that engenders a sense of awe. Ibn al-Qayyim explains why,
‘Dignity and self-respect arise from a heart that is filled with the glorification of Allāh, with love of Him and magnification of Him. When the heart is filled with this, it is inundated with light and tranquillity descends upon it. The person is clothed with the garments of gravity and dignity, and he inspires reverence in others. His face displays a sense of sweetness and pureness. Hearts love him and stand in awe of him; they are drawn to him and are comforted by his presence. His speech is light, his entrance is light, his leaving is light, and his actions are light. When he is quiet, a sense of dignity and gravity overcomes him; and when he speaks, he captures the heart, ear, and sight. As for arrogance, it arises from self-conceit and transgression, from a heart that is filled with ignorance and oppression. Servitude leaves such a person and displeasure descends upon him. When he looks at people, he looks askance; and when he walks amongst them, he struts. He deals with them as one who gives himself preference in all things rather than giving them preference. He does not begin by giving people the salām, and if he replies to a salām, he acts as if he has granted them a great favour. He does not display a cheerful face to them and his manners do not accommodate them. Allāh has protected His beloved (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) from all of these vile mannerisms.’
Whoever accompanied him and got to know him would love him
This would occur to the point that that he became more beloved to him than his father, his child, and indeed the whole of mankind. This was because he obviously possessed all the qualities effectuating love such as perfect morals and manners, compassion and kindness and innate humility. He was a person who would captivate hearts and unite them.
Those who described him would say i.e. by way of generalisation because of the inability to truly describe his beauty and perfection in detail.
“I have never seen anyone, before him or after him, who was comparable to him.”