With The Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him)

From Adam, the first Prophet, to Muhammad the last Messenger, Muslim tradition recognises and identifies with the whole cycle of prophethood, ranging from the most famous Messengers (Abraham, Noah, Moses, Jesus, etc.) to the lesser known, as well as others who remain unknown to us. The One has forever been accompanying mankind, His creation, from its beginning to its end: this is the very meaning of tawhîd (the Oneness of God) and of the Quranic formula which refers to mankind’s destiny as well as to that of each individual: “To God we belong and to Him is our return.”[i]

Of all Messengers, the most important figure in the last Prophet’s lineage is undoubtedly Abraham. This is indeed due to many reasons. But from the outset, the Quran points to this particular link with Abraham through the insistent and continuous expression of pure monotheism, of human conscience’s adhesion to the divine project, of the heart’s accession to His recognition and to His peace through self-giving. This is the meaning of the word “Islam”, too often translated quickly by the mere idea of submission but which also contains the twofold meaning of “peace” and “wholehearted self-giving”. Thus, the Muslim is the human being who, throughout history - and even before the last Revelation - has wished to attain God’s Peace through the wholehearted gift of himself to the Being. In this sense, Abraham was the deep and exemplary expression of the “Muslim”:

“He [God] has chosen you, and has imposed no difficulties on you in religion. It is the religion of your father Abraham. He has named you Muslims, both before and in this [Revelation]; that the Messenger may be a witness for you [the new Muslim community], and you be witnesses for mankind...”[ii]

Along with this recognition of the One, the figure of Abraham stands out most particularly among the line of prophets leading up to the Messenger of Islam for several other essential reasons. The Book of Genesis,[iii] like the Quran, relates the story of Abraham’s servant Hagar, who gave birth to his first child Ishmael in his old age. Sarah, Abraham’s first wife who had in turn given birth to Isaac, asked her husband to send away his servant and her child.

A lineage, a place

Abraham took Hagar and Ishmael away to a valley in the Arabian Peninsula called Bacca, identified to present-day Mecca by Islamic tradition. The latter, like Genesis, relates the questionings, suffering and prayers of Abraham and Hagar, compelled to experience exile and separation. In both traditions, this trial is presented and experienced with the certainty and intimate comfort that the parents and child carry out a command from God, who will protect and bless Abraham’s descendants born of his spouse Hagar. To Abraham’s invocations about his son, God answers in Genesis: “As for Ish’mael, I have heard you; behold, I will bless him... and I will make him a great nation.”[iv] Then further on, when Hagar is helpless without food and water: “And God heard the voice of the lad; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, ‘What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not; for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is. Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him fast with your hand; for I will make him a great nation.’”[v] As for the Quran, it relates Abraham’s prayer: “O my Lord! I have made some of my offspring to dwell in a valley without cultivation, by Thy Sacred House; in order, O our Lord, that they may establish regular Prayer: so fill the hearts of some among men with love towards them, and feed them with fruits: so that they may give thanks. O our Lord! Truly Thou dost know what we conceal and what we reveal: for nothing whatever is hidden from God, whether on earth or in heaven. Praise be to God, Who hath granted unto me in old age Ishmael and Isaac: for truly my Lord is He, the Hearer of Prayer!”[vi]

On a purely factual level, Prophet Muhammad is a descendant of Ishmael’s children and is therefore part of that “great nation” announced by the Scriptures. Abraham is hence his “father” in the primary sense, and Islamic tradition understands that the blessings of this father’s prayers extend to his descendant the last Prophet as well as to the place where he left Hagar and Ishmael, where, a few years later, he was to undergo the terrible trial of his son’s sacrifice, and where he was finally to raise with him God’s Sacred House (the Ka`ba). Quranic revelation recounts:

“And remember that Abraham was tried by his Lord with certain commands, which he fulfilled. [God] said: ‘I will make thee a guide to the people.’ [Abraham] said: ‘And also from my offspring?’ [God] said: ‘But My Promise is not within the reach of evil-doers.’ Remember We made the House a place of assembly for men and a place of safety. And take the Station of Abraham as a place of prayer. And We covenanted with Abraham and Ishmael, that they should sanctify My House for those who compass it round, or use it as a retreat, or bow, or prostrate themselves [therein in prayer].’ And remember Abraham said: ‘My Lord, make this a City of Peace, and feed its people with fruits, - such of them as believe in God and the Last Day.’”[vii]

This is the millenary teaching of Islamic tradition: there is a God and a line of Prophets whose central figure is Abraham, the archetype of the “Muslim”, the blood father of this lineage of Ishmael leading up to Muhammad, who sanctified this sacred place in the former Bacca valley, henceforth called Mecca, by building God’s House (bayt Allah) with Abraham’s and Ishmael’s own hands. And this is precisely where the last of God’s Messengers to mankind was born: Muhammad ibn `Abdullah, bearing the message reminding men of the One, of the Prophets and of the Sacred House. A God, a Place, a Prophet.

The trial of faith: doubt and trust

Of course, those simple facts alone illustrate the remarkable bond linking Muhammad’s life to Abraham’s. Yet it is the spiritual filiation which even more clearly reveals the exceptional nature of this bond. The whole Abrahamic experience unveils the essential dimension of faith in the One. Abraham, who is already very old and has only recently been blessed with a child, must undergo the trial of separation and abandonment which will take his wife and child very close to distress and death. His faith is “trust in God”: he hears God’s command - as does his wife Hagar - and he answers it despite the trial and suffering, never ceasing to invoke God and rely on Him. Hagar questioned Abraham about the reasons of such behaviour and finding it was command she willingly submitted to it : she asked then trusted and then accepted and by doing so she traced the steps of the profound “active acceptance” of God’s will : to question with one’s mind, to understand with one’s intelligence and to submit with one’s heart. In the course of those trials, beyond his human grief and through the latter’s very nature, Abraham entertains and develops a relationship with God based on faithfulness, reconciliation, peace and trust. God tries him but is always speaking to him, inspiring him and strewing his path with signs which appease and reassure him.

Several years after this abandonment in the desert, Abraham was to experience another trial, since God asked him to sacrifice his first-born, Ishmael.[viii] This is how the Quran recounts the story:

“So We gave him [Abraham] the good news of a forbearing son. Then, when [the son] reached the age of work with him, he said: ‘O my son! I have seen in a dream that I offer thee in sacrifice. Now see what is thy view!’ [The son] said: ‘O my father! Do as thou art commanded: thou will find me, if God so wills, one of the steadfast.’ So when they had both submitted [to God], and he had laid him prostrate on his forehead, We called out to him: ‘O Abraham! Thou hast already fulfilled the dream!’ - thus indeed do we reward those who do right. For this was a clear trial.’ And we ransomed him with a momentous sacrifice. And we left for him among generations [to come] in later times: peace and salutation to Abraham!”[ix]

The trial is a terrible one: for the sake of his love and faith in God, Abraham must sacrifice his son, master and overcome his father’s love. The trial of faith is here expressed in this tension between the two loves. Abraham confides in Ishmael and it is his own son, the object of sacrifice, who comforts and accompanies him like a sign and a confirmation when he whispers to him: “O my father! Do as thou art commanded: thou will find me, if God so wills, one of the steadfast.” As was the case a few years earlier with his wife Hagar, he finds in others signs which enable him to face the trial. Such signs, expressing the presence of the divine at the heart of the trial, have an essential role in the experience of faith and shape the mode of being with oneself and with God. When God causes His messenger to undergo a terrible trial and at the same time associates the latter with signs of His presence and support (the confirming words of his wife or child, a vision, a dream, an inspiration, etc.), He educates his faith and drives him into a twofold attitude: Abraham doubts himself and his own strength and faith, while, at the same time, the signs prevent him from doubting of God. The trial of faith, associated with signs of the presence of the divine, thus teaches humility and recognition of the Creator. Abraham undergoes the trial and is tempted by deep doubt about himself, his faith and the truth of what he hears and understands. The inspirations and confirmations of his wife and of his son (whom he loves but sacrifices in the name of divine love) enable him not to doubt about God, His presence and His goodness. Doubt “about himself” is thus allied to deep “trust in Him”.

Indeed, the trial of faith is never “tragic” in Islamic tradition and in this sense, the story of Abraham, despite many similarities as far as the story of Hagar and Ishmael is concerned, is basically different from the Bible’s when it comes to the experience of sacrifice. One can read in Genesis:

“After these things God tested Abraham, and said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here am I.’ He said, ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Mori’ah, and offer him there as a burnt offering upon one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.’ (...) And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. And Isaac said to his father Abraham, ‘My father!’ And he said, ‘Here am I, my son.’ He said, ‘Behold, the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?’ Abraham said, ‘God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.’ So they went both of them together.”[x]

Abraham must sacrifice his son, and here he experiences this trial in absolute solitude. To his son’s direct question: “where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”, Abraham answers elliptically. He alone answers God’s call. This difference between the two accounts may seem slight; yet, it has essential consequences on the very perception of faith, of the trial of faith and of the human being’s relation to God.

A tragic experience?

This tragic solitude of Man facing the divine underlies the history of Western thought from Greek tragedy (with the central figure of the rebel Prometheus facing the Olympus gods) to existentialist and modern Christian interpretations as exemplified in the works of Sören Kierkegaard.[xi] The recurrence of the “tragic trial of solitary faith” theme in Western theology and philosophy has linked this reflection to the question of doubt, revolt, guilt and forgiveness and has thus naturally shaped the discourse on faith, trials and mistakes.[xii]

One should nevertheless beware of apparent analogies. Indeed, the Prophets’ stories, and in particular Abraham’s, are recounted in an apparently similar manner in the Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions. Yet a closer study reveals that the accounts are different and do not always tell the same facts nor teach the same lessons. Hence, someone who enters the universe of Islam and strives to encounter and understand the Islamic “sacred” and its teachings, should be asked to make the intellectual and pedagogical effort of casting away - for as long as this encounter lasts - the natural links they may have established between the experience of faith, trial, mistake and the tragic dimension of existence.

Quranic revelation tells the stories of the Prophets and all along this narration, it fashions in the Muslim’s heart a relationship to the Transcendent which continually insists on the permanence of communication through signs, inspirations and, indeed, the very intimate presence of the One, so beautifully expressed in this verse of the Quran: “If My servants ask thee concerning Me: I am indeed close [to them]. I respond to the prayer of every suppliant when he calls on Me.”[xiii] All the Messengers have, like Abraham and Muhammad, experienced the trial of faith and all have been, in the same manner, protected from themselves and their own doubts by God, His signs and His word. Their suffering does not mean they made mistakes, nor does it reveal any tragic dimension of existence: it is, more simply, an initiation to humility understood as a necessary stage in the experience of faith.

Because his life expressed the manifested and experienced essence of Islam’s message, getting to know Prophet Muhammad is a privileged means of acceding to the spiritual universe of Islam. From his birth to his death, this Messenger’s experience - devoid of any human tragic dimension - allies the call of faith, trial among men, humility, and the quest for peace with the One.

[Excerpt of Tariq Ramadan’s forthcoming book on the Sîra, The Prophet’s life : Spiritual and Contemporary Teachings]

[i] Quran, 2:156.

[ii] Quran, 22:78.

[iii] Genesis, 15:5 (The holy Bible, Revised Standard version).

[iv] Genesis, 17:20.

[v] Genesis, 21:17-19.

[vi] Quran, 14:37-39.

[vii] Quran, 2:124-126.

[viii] Isaac in the Biblical tradition.

[ix] Quran, 37:101-109.

[x] Genesis, 22:1-2 and 6-8.

[xi] In particular his analysis of Abraham’s experience in his Fear and Trembling (1843).

[xii] See our analysis of this point in Islam, the West and the Challenges of Modernity, Islamic Foundation, Leicester, 2000 (Part Three: Values and Finalities).

[xiii] Quran, 2:186.

II. Exile: meaning and teachings

The Prophet and all his companions had had to leave Mecca because of persecutions and adversity from their own brothers and sisters within their respective clans. The situation had become unbearable, women and men had died, others had been tortured, and the Quraysh had finally decided to set upon Muhammad himself and get rid of him. The Emigration, al-Hijrah, is first of all, obviously, the objective reality of believing women and men who were not free to practise and express their faith and who decided to make a clean break for the sake of their beliefs. Because “God’s earth is spacious”[1] , as the Quran recalls, they decided to leave their homeland, to break with their universe and habits and to experience exile for the sake of their faith. Revelation was to praise the courage and determination of those believers who, by taking such a difficult and humanly costly step, expressed their trust in God:

“To those who leave their homes in the cause of God, after suffering oppression, we will assuredly give a goodly home in this world; but truly the reward of the Hereafter will be greater, if they only realised (this)! Those who persevere in patience, and put their trust in their Lord.”[2]

Exile is, then, another trial of trust. All Prophets have, always most intensively, experienced this trial of the heart, as all believers have after them. How far are they prepared to go, how much are they prepared to give, of themselves and of their lives, for the One, His truth and His love? Those are the eternal questions of faith, which accompany every temporal and historical experience of the believing conscience. Hijrah was one of the Muslim community’s answers, at the dawn of its existence.

In effect, exile was also to require that the first Muslims learn to remain faithful to the meaning of Islam’s teachings in spite of the change of place, culture and memory. Medina meant new customs, new types of social relationships, a wholly different role for women (who were socially far more present than in Mecca) and more complex inter-tribe relations, as well as the influential presence of the Jewish and Christian communities, which was something new to Muslims. Very early on, after less than thirteen years, the community of faith, following the Prophet’s example, had to distinguish between what belonged to Islamic principles and what was more particularly related to Meccan culture. They were to remain faithful to the first while learning to adopt a flexible and critical approach to their original culture. They must even try to reform some of their attitudes, which were more cultural than Islamic. `Umar ibn al-Khattâb was to learn this to his cost when, after he had reacted most sharply to his wife answering him back (which was unthinkable in Mecca), she retorted that he must bear with it and accept it just as the Prophet did. This was a difficult experience for him, as it was for others, who might have been tempted to think that their habits and customs were in themselves Islamic: Hijrah, exile, was to reveal that this was not the case and that one must question every single cultural practice in order, first of all, to be faithful to principles, but also to open up to other cultures and to gain from their wealth. For instance, having learned that a wedding was to take place among the Ansâr[3], the Prophet had two singing maids sent to them, for, he said, the Ansâr enjoyed singing.[4] Not only did he thereby recognise a cultural feature or taste which was not in itself opposed to Islamic principles: he integrated it as a gain and enrichment to his own human experience. Hijrah was also, then, a trial of intelligence, with the need to distinguish between principles and their cultural manifestations; it moreover implied opening up and confidently welcoming new customs, new ways of being and thinking, new tastes. Thus, the universality of principles merged with the necessity to recognise the diversity of ways of life and cultures. Exile was the most immediate and profound experience of this, since it implied cutting away from one’s roots while remaining faithful to the same God, to the same meaning, in different environments.

Half-way between historical teachings and spiritual meditations, Hijrah is also the experience of liberation. Moses had liberated his people from Pharaoh’s oppression and led them towards faith and towards freedom. The essence of Hijrah is of exactly the same nature: persecuted because of their beliefs, the faithful decided to break away from their tormentors and march to freedom. In so doing, they stressed that they could not accept oppression, that they could not accept a victim’s status, and that, basically, the matter was simple: telling of God implied either being free or breaking free. This same message had already been conveyed by the Prophet, then by Abû Bakr, to all the slaves in Mecca: their arrival in Islam meant their liberation, and all the teachings of Islam pointed to the ending of slavery. Henceforth, a broader call was addressed to the Muslim spiritual community as a whole: faith requires freedom and justice and one must be prepared, as was the case with Hijrah, to pay the personal and collective price for it.

The spiritual dimension of those teachings is near at hand; indeed it underlies them and endows them with meaning. From the very first revelations, Muhammad had been invited to exile[5] himself from his persecutors and from evil:

“And have patience with what they say, and leave them [exile yourself from them] with a fair leave-taking.”[6]


“And all abomination [sin, evil] shun.”[7]

Abraham, whose nephew Lot was one of the only persons to believe and recognise him, adopted the same attitude when he addressed his people in the following terms:

“And (Abraham) said: ‘For you, ye have taken (for worship) idols besides God, out of mutual love and regard between yourselves in this life; but on the Day of Judgement ye shall disown each other and curse each other. And your abode will be the Fire, and ye shall have none to help. But Lot believed him. (Abraham) said: I will leave home for the sake of my Lord [innî muhâjirun ilâ Rabbî], for He is exalted in Might, and Wise.”[8]

Hijrah is the exile of conscience and of the heart away from false gods, from alienation of all sorts, from evil and sins. Turning away from the idols of one’s time - from power, money, the cult of appearances, etc. -; emigrating from lies and unethical ways of life; liberating oneself, through the experience of breaking away, from all the appearances of freedom paradoxically reinforced by our habits; such is the spiritual requirement of Hijrah. Later on, questioned by a companion about the best possible hijrah, the Prophet was to answer: “It is to exile yourself [to move] away from evil [abominations, lies, sins].”[9] This requirement of spiritual exile was to be repeated under different forms.

Thus, the Muslims who performed Hijrah - from Mecca to Medina - in effect experienced the cyclical dimension of Islam’s teachings, since they had to achieve a new return to themselves, an emigration of the heart. Their physical journey to Medina was a spiritual exile towards their inner selves; when leaving their city and their roots, they came back to themselves, to their intimacy, to the meaning of their lives beyond historical contingencies.

Physical Hijrah, the founding act and axis of the first Muslim community’s experience, is now over and will not happen again, as Aishah forcefully explained to those who, in Medina, wanted to renew the experience. `Umar ibn al-Khattâb was later to decide that this unique event would mark the beginning of the Islamic era: this begins in 622 and follows lunar cycles. What remains, and is open to everyone through the ages and for eternity, is the experience of spiritual exile which brings the individual back to himself and frees him from the illusions of self and of the world. Exile for the sake of God is in essence a series of questions which God asks each conscience: who are you? What is the meaning of your life? Where are you going? Accepting the risk of such an exile, trusting the One, is to answer: through You, I return to myself and I am free.

[1] Quran, 39:10.

[2] Quran, 16:41-42.

[3] This was the name given to Medina Muslims (Helpers) while Mecca-born Muslims were henceforth called the Muhâjirûn (the Exiles).

[4] Hadîth reported by Ibn Mâjah.

[5] The Quran makes use of the same word, ha-ja-ra: “uhjurhum” (exile yourself from them) or “fahjur” (therefore, exile yourself).

[6] Quran, 73:10.

[7] Quran, 74:5.

[8] Quran, 29:25-26.

[9] Hadîth reported by Ahmad.

III. Gentleness, caring and love

In his daily life, while he was preoccupied by attacks, treachery and his enemies’ thirst for revenge, he remained mindful of the details of life and of the expectations of those around him, constantly allying rigor and the generosity of fraternity and forgiveness. His companions saw him pray for hours during the night, alone, away from men, in solitude with the whisper of his prayers and invocations which nurtured his dialogue with the One. `Aishah, his wife, was impressed and surprised: “Don’t you take on too much [worship] while God has already forgiven all your past and future sins?” And the Prophet answered: “How could I but be a thankful servant?”[i] He did not demand of his companions the worship, fasting and meditations which he exacted of himself. On the contrary, he required that they ease their burden and avoid excess; to some companions who wanted to put an end to their sexual life, pray all night long or fast continuously (such as `Uthmân ibn Maz`ûn or `Abdullah ibn `Amr ibn al-`As), he said: “Do not do that! Fast on some days and eat on others. Sleep part of the night, and stand in prayer another part. For your body has rights upon you, your eyes have a right upon you, you wife has a right upon you, your guest has a right upon you...”[ii] He once exclaimed, repeating it three times: “Woe to those who exaggerate [who are too strict]!”[iii] And, on another occasion, he said: “Moderation, moderation! For only with moderation will you succeed.”[iv]

He kept striving to soothe the consciences of believers who were afraid of their own weaknesses and failings. One day, the companion Hanzalah al-Usaydî met Abû Bakr and confessed to him that he was convinced of his own deep hypocrisy because he felt divided between contradictory feelings: in the Prophet’s presence, he almost saw paradise and hell, but when he was away from him, his wife and children and his affairs caused him to forget. Abû Bakr in his turn admitted that he experienced similar tensions. They both went to the Prophet to question him about the seemingly dismal state of their spirituality. Hanzalah explained the nature of his doubts and Muhammad answered: “By He who holds my soul in His hands, if you were able to remain in the [spiritual] state in which you are when in my company, and remember God permanently, the angels would shake your hands in your beds and along your paths. But it is not so, Hanzalah: there is a time for this [devotion, remembrance] and a time for that [rest, amusement].”[v] Their situation therefore had nothing to do with hypocrisy: it was merely the reality of human nature, that remembers and forgets, and that needs to remember precisely because it forgets; because human beings are not angels.

In other circumstances, he would surprise them by stating that the sincerity of a prayer, a charity or an act of worship found expression at the very heart of their most human needs, in the humble acknowledgement of their humanity: “Enjoining good is charity, forbidding evil is charity. In having sexual intercourse with your spouses there is charity.” The companions, surprised, asked: “O Messenger of God, when one of us satisfies his (sexual) desire, does he also get a reward?” Muhammad replied: “Tell me, if one of you had had illicit intercourse, would he not have committed a sin? That is why he is rewarded for having lawful intercourse.”[vi] He thus invited them to deny or despise nothing in their humanity and taught them that the core of the matter was achieving self-control. Spirituality means both accepting and mastering one’s instincts: living one’s natural desires in the light of one’s principles is a prayer. It is never a misdeed, nor is it hypocrisy.

The Prophet hated to let his companions nurture a pointless feeling of guilt. He kept telling them that they must never stop conversing with the One, the Most Kind, the Most Merciful who welcomes everyone in His grace and benevolence and who loves the sincerity of hearts that regret and return to Him. This is the profound meaning of “at-tawbah” offered to every conscience: “sincerely returning to God” after a slip, a mistake, a sin. God loves that sincere return to Him and He forgives and purifies. The Prophet himself exemplified that in many circumstances. Once, a Bedouin came and urinated in the mosque: the companions rushed on him and wanted to beat him up. The Prophet stopped them and said: “Leave him alone, and just throw a bucketful of water on his urine. God has only sent you to make obligations easy, and not to make them difficult.”[vii] Again, `Aishah reports that once, a man came to the Prophet and told him: “I am lost!” The Prophet asked: “Why?” The man confessed: “I had intercourse with my wife during the fasting hours of Ramadan.” Muhammad answered: “Give charity!” The man replied: “I own nothing!” Then he sat down at a short distance from the Prophet. Some time later, a man arrived, bringing a dish of food.[viii] The Prophet called out: “Where is the man who is lost?” “Here”, he answered. Muhammad told him: “Take this food and give it away in charity.” “To one poorer than myself? My family has nothing to eat!” “Well then, eat it yourselves”, the Prophet replied with a smile.[ix] That gentleness and kindness were the very essence of his teaching. He kept saying: “God is gentle (Rafîq) and he loves gentleness (ar-rifq) in everything.”[x] He also said: “He gives for gentleness what He does not give for violence or anything else.”[xi] He declared to one of his companions: “There are in you two qualities that God loves: clemency (al-hilm) and forbearance [nobleness, tolerance] (al-anâ).[xii] He invited all his companions to that constant effort of gentleness and forgiveness: “If you hear about your brother something of which you disapprove, seek from one to seventy excuses for him. If you cannot find any, convince yourselves that it is an excuse you do not know.”[xiii]

A number of new converts to Islam, who had no home and often nothing to eat, had settled around the mosque, near the Prophet’s dwelling. They were destitute (sometimes intentionally since some of them wished to lead an ascetic life detached from worldly possessions) and their subsistence depended on the Muslims’ charity and gifts. Their number kept increasing and they were soon called “ahl as-suffah” (the people of the bench).[xiv] The Prophet was most concerned by their situation and showed them continuous solidarity. He would listen to them, answer their questions and look after their needs. One of the characteristics of his personality and of his teachings, with ahl as-suffah as with the rest of his community, was that when asked about matters of spirituality, faith, education or doubt, he offered different answers to the same questions, taking into account the psychological makeup, experience and intelligence of the questioner.

The faithful felt that he saw, respected, understood and loved them, and indeed, he did love them, he told them so, and he moreover advised them to remember to tell one another of their mutual love: “When someone loves their brother [or sister] let them tell them that they love them.”[xv] He once took young Mu`âdh ibn Jabal by the hand and whispered: “O Mu`âdh, by God, I love you. And I advise you, o Mu`âdh, never to forget to say, after each ritual prayer: ‘O God, help me remember You, thank You and perfect my worship of You.’”[xvi] Thus the young man was offered, in one outburst, both love and spiritual teaching, and the teaching was all the more deeply assimilated as it was wrapped in that love.

[i] Hadîth reported by al-Bukhârî and Muslim.

[ii] Hadîth reported by al-Bukhârî.

[iii] Hadîth reported by Muslim.

[iv] Hadîth reported by al-Bukhârî.

[v] Hadîth reported by al-Bukhârî and Muslim.

[vi] Hadîth reported by al-Bukhârî and Muslim.

[vii] Hadîth reported by al-Bukhârî.

[viii] According to one version, he brought some dates. Another narrator, called `Abd ar-Rahmân, said that he did not know what kind of food it was.

[ix] Hadîth reported by al-Bukhârî and Muslim.

[x] Hadîth reported by al-Bukhârî and Muslim.

[xi] Hadîth reported by al-Bukhârî.

[xii] Hadîth reported by Muslim.

[xiii] Hadîth reported by al-Bayhaqî.

[xiv] A bench had been set up for them near the mosque. Some commentators, looking for the origin of the word “sûfî” (sufism), have linked it to those “ahl as-suffah” some of whom had deliberately chosen to be poor and withdraw from the world, its desires and possessions.

[xv] Hadîth hassan (reliable) reported by Abû Dâwud and at-Tirmidhî.

[xvi] Hadîth reported by Abû Dâwud and an-Nasâ’î.

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