His Modesty

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In society, each person has a window—status—through which he or she looks out to see others and be seen. If the window is built higher than their real stature, people try to make themselves appear taller through vanity and assumed airs. If the window is set lower than their real stature, they must bow in humility in order to look out, see, and be seen. Humility is the measure of one’s greatness, just as vanity or conceit is the measure of low character. [1]

The Messenger had a stature so high that it could be said to touch the “roof of the Heavens.” Therefore, he had no need to be seen. Whoever travels in the realm of virtues sees him before every created being, including angels. In the words of Said Nursi, the Messenger is the noble aide-de-camp of God. He lowered himself to stay in the world for a while so that people might find the way to God. Since he is the greatest of humanity, he is the greatest in modesty. This follows the well-knowing adage: “The greater one is, the more modest one is.”

The Messenger never regarded himself as greater than anybody else. The only way he could be distinguished from his Companions was by his radiant face and attractive person. He lived and dressed like the poorest people and sat and ate with them, just as he did with slaves and servants. Once a woman saw him eating and remarked: “He eats like a slave.” The Messenger replied: “Could there be a better slave than me? I am a slave of God.” [2]

One time when he was serving his friends, a bedouin came in and shouted: “Who is the master of this people?” The Messenger answered in such a way that he introduced himself while expressing a substantial principle of Islamic leadership and public administration: “The master of the people is the one who serves them.” Ali says that among people the Messenger was one of them. When he and Abu Bakr reached Quba while emigrating to Madina, some Madinese who did not know what the Prophet looked like tried to kiss Abu Bakr’s hands. The only external sign distinguishing one man from the other was that Abu Bakr seemed older than the Messenger.

While the Muslims were building their mosque in Madina, the Prophet carried two sun-dried bricks; everyone else carried one. [3] While digging the trench to defend Madina, the Companions bound a stone around their stomachs to quell their hunger; the Messenger bound two. When a man seeing him for the first time began trembling out of fear, because he found the Prophet’s appearance so awe-inspiring, the Messenger calmed him: “Brother, don’t be afraid. I am a man, like you, whose mother used to eat dry bread.” [4] Another time, an insane woman pulled him by the hand and said: “Come with me and do my housework.” He complied with her request. [5] ‘A’isha reported that the Messenger patched his clothes, repaired his shoes, and helped his wives with the housework. [6]

Although his modesty elevated him to the highest rank, he regarded himself as an ordinary servant of God: “No one enters Paradise because of his or her deeds.” When asked if this was true for him as well, he replied that he could enter Paradise only through the Mercy of God.

His Companions always asked for his advice or permission before any action. Once ‘Umar asked his permission to go for the minor pilgrimage. The Messenger allowed this, and even asked ‘Umar to include him in his supplications. ‘Umar rejoiced so much that later he would say: “If the worlds had been granted to me that day, I wouldn’t have felt the same happiness.”

Humility was one of the Prophet’s greatest qualities. As he attained a higher rank each day, he increased in humility and servanthood to God. His servanthood is prior to his Messengership, as seen in the declaration of faith: “I bear witness that there is no god but God; I also bear witness that Muhammad is His servant and Messenger.” He preferred being a Prophet-slave to being a Prophet-king.

One day, while sitting with Archangel Gabriel, the Messenger mentioned that he had not eaten for several days. As soon as he said this, another angel appeared and asked: “O Messenger of God, God greets you and asks if you wish to be a Prophet-king or a Prophet-slave?” Gabriel advised him to be humble toward his Master. As humility was a fundamental part of his character, the Messenger replied: “I wish to be a Prophet-slave.” [7] God praises his servanthood and mentions him as a servant in several verses: When the servant of God stood up in prayer to Him, they (the jinn) were well nigh upon him in swarms (to watch his prayer) (72:19), and: If you are in doubt concerning that which We have sent down on Our servant, then bring a sura of the like thereof, and call your witnesses beside God if you are truthful (2:23).

After Khadija and Abu Talib died, the Messenger became convinced that he could no longer expect any victory or security in Makka. So before things became too critical, he sought a new base in Ta’if. As the townspeople proved to be quite hostile, he felt that he had no support and protection. But then God manifested His Mercy and honored him with the Ascension, raising him to His Presence. While narrating this incident, God mentions him as His servant to show that he deserves Ascension through his servanthood: Glory be to him, Who carried His servant by night from the Holy Mosque to the Furthest Mosque, the precincts of which We have blessed, that We might show him some of Our signs. He is the All-Hearing, the All-Seeing (17:1).

Humility is the most important aspect of the Messenger’s servanthood. He declared: “God exalts the humble and abases the haughty.” ‘Ali describes the Messenger in the following terms:

He was the most generous person in giving, and the mildest and the foremost in patience and perseverance. He was the most truthful in speech, the most amiable and congenial in companionship, and the noblest of them in family. Whoever sees him first is stricken by awe, but whoever knows him closely is deeply attracted to him. Whoever attempts to describe him says: ‘I have never seen the like of him.’

 

[1] Said Nursi, Letters 2,315.
[2] Haythami, Majma’, 9:21.
[3] Bukhari, 1:111; Muslim, 2:65; Semhudi, Wafa’, 1:237; Ibn Sa’d, 1: 240.
[4] Ibn Maja, “At’ýma,” 30; Haythami, 9:20.
[5] Qadi ‘Iyad, al-Shifa’, 1:131, 133.
[6] Tirmidhi, Shama’il, 78; Ibn Hanbal, 6:256.
[7] Ibn Hanbal, 2:231; Haythami, 9:18.
[8] Hindi, Kanz al-‘Ummal, 3:113; Haythami, 10:325.