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Sufism
 

The Importance of Zuhd

 

Under the blessed roof of Masjid an-Nabawi, he raised a model generation not enslaved to materialism. In this regard, it can be said that his life was one that was intertwined with zuhd.

The prophets, tasked with proclaiming divine messages to mankind, were figures selected from amongst people to convey and demonstrate truths to humanity. They neither asked for any price/compensation from people in exchange for their call, nor had they any expectations of such. (1) The prophets made a living through their own labor and sweat. Upon examination of the history of the prophets in this respect, it is seen that all of the prophets had an occupation and were actively involved in these trades. Within the context of their respective situations, they worked as carpenters, tailors, famers, blacksmiths and shoemakers. (2)

As our Noble Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h.) expressed in some of his hadiths, the one field in which all the prophets worked was shepherding. When Rasûlullah (p.b.u.h.) said “Allah did not send any prophet but he had shepherded sheep,” while explaining this, the Companions asked him: “You too, O Messenger of God?” The Holy Prophet replied: “Yes, I also used to shepherd the sheep for the people of Mecca for some Qirats.” (3) That these choice personalities worked in different occupations indicates not only that they earned a living through their own labor and that every occupation that benefits humanity is valuable and honorable, but also demonstrates their world views – that is to say, their understandings of zuhd. Accordingly, all of the prophets also maintained ties with the world around them within the framework shaped by revelation, and became the foremost, ideal representatives of the how of this type of life.

The Holy Prophet, who is amongst these prophets and the final in their line, presented to us -- as he did on all subjects – the best examples on the subject of zuhd and a world view; at the same time, through the correct and sound zuhd education he provided under the blessed roof of Masjid an-Nabawi, he raised a model generation not enslaved to materialism. In this regard, it can be said that his life was one that was intertwined with zuhd. Consequently, zuhd has been viewed as the motto of the prophets of Almighty God, friends of Allah (awliya) and those who love Him. Amr b. As said: “How far is the path you follow from the path of Rasûlullah! Verily, he was the most zahid of men when it came to the world. As for you, you are the ones who esteem him the most from amongst the people!” (4)

Because of these characteristics, Holy Prophet was able to transform a bedouin society into the world's most civilized and humane societies.

It is for this reason that Rasûlullah, along with his position as a model example in terms of the Qur’an’s teachings and principles, emphasized the transience of the life of this world, took care not to become attached to the world and recommended the same for his ummah. For him, even if not in an absolute sense, the mundane world had become insignificant, and because it was so insignificant he warned his companions against matters and behaviors that would incline them towards worldly affairs, and draw their attention towards the fitna (strife) that material wealth could bring about. (5) The following statements of Rasûlullah are important regarding this topic:

“If the son of Adam possessed a valley full of gold, he would want to have two valleys. Yet his mouth will only be filled by earth.” (6)     

“A servant says: my wealth, my wealth. But out of his wealth there are only three things for him: whatever he eats, that which he wears and is worn out, and that which he gave as charity (sadaqa). As for what is beyond this; he himself departs and leaves his wealth for other people.” (7)

“I swear by Allah, the life of this world compared to the hereafter is as if one of you were to put his finger in the ocean and take it out again, then compare the water that remains on his finger to the water that remains in the ocean!” (8)

“The son of Adam grows and with him grow two things: love of wealth and love of long life.” (9)

An understanding of zuhd of this nature was dominant in the life of the Holy Prophet, who was sent as a mercy to the entire universe.

One of the many meanings of the word zuhd is to abandon worldly ambitions and desires. (10) It is in this meaning that the Noble Prophet (p.b.u.h.) is known as a zahid, one who possessed of the most zuhd. He chose a life of zuhd in this sense not for worldly gain, but because he did not attribute much importance to these things. The sources contain information on how the Holy Prophet (p.b.u.h.) was not rich in the worldly sense, that to the contrary he lead a life that could be termed poor. (11) But, though this information may be one-sided and concern a specific period, his poverty was not obligatory, but rather had been voluntary. For despite his having conquered cities and countries, and attained worldly wealth in incalculable amounts, he chose to have a humble and pious lifestyle instead. When we look at the life of the Noble Prophet (p.b.u.h.) with respect to this, we see various conditions:

In connection with this, we can also see when we look at the life of Rasûl-i Akram (p.b.u.h.) that the Holy Prophet and the members of his family sometimes were unable to fill their stomachs with wheat and barley bread for three days straight, that there were days in which the oven in their home was not lit for a period of a few months and they subsisted on water and dates alone; Rasûlullah (p.b.u.h.) did not eat his meals at a table or raised platform, that he was most of the time unable to find even a crude date to fill his stomach, that he did not see sifted flour throughout his lifetime, that he made supplications to Allah for enough livelihood and sustenance to suffice his family; that the Prophet and his family went from night to morning and morning to night without finding even a bit of food in the family's nine homes; we know of the condition of his shoes, the condition that his people would be in following Asr al-Saadah, and that he taught that man could fill no vessel worse than his stomach and how eating should be accomplished, that living a simple life was part of iman (faith). We are able to see these and similar conditions in the life of the Prophet. Alongside these, there are also narrations that the Holy Prophet ate foods such as meat, milk and panada, that he wore ornate robes, musk, used a comb and a mirror. (12) The Noble Prophet had a taste for certain foods too, and preferred the arm and back pieces when it came to meat. (13) It is also important not to overlook these facts. When we look at the life of the Holy Prophet, we see that as much as he was a prophet, he was a head of the state, a commander, a devoted slave, a judge, a teacher and a head of household. If able to acquire it, he preferred good and delicious food and drink, and liked to dress well, and use pleasant fragrances. In behaving thusly, the Prophet was doing none other than obeying this command of the Qur’an: “But seek the abode of the Hereafter in that which Allah hath given thee and forget not thy portion of the world.” (al-Qasas 28:77) (14)

Social solidarity and aid both increase the quality of social life, and to a large extent, prepare the grounds for public peace. The role of the culture of giving is large in both the construction and destruction of civilizations and peoples.

From all of this, it is understood that the Prophet’s life did not pass entirely in poverty, that there were also times in which he was wealthy and affluent. Additionally, they demonstrate Rasulullah’s (p.b.u.h.) level of material prosperity. But regarding this, he drew our attention to the following point, which is important and must be adhered to in our day: During his times of wealth, he shared what he had with the needy around him. For the poor and needy around him were many in number. Amidst such an environment, he could not amass goods, property, wealth, gold and silver. Also, had he desired, he could have lived a life that was very comfortable and trouble-free, materially speaking. Treasures of the earth and the keys to nations were given to him, the spoils of war forbidden to prophets before him were made permissible for him, and in his lifetime he conquered the Hijaz, Yemen, the entire Arab peninsula, and the regions of Iraq and Damascus, and “one-fifth of the spoils belong to Allah and His Prophet...”; (15) despite all this, and the gathering and presentation to Rasûlullah (p.b.u.h.) of such wealth as was not possessed even by the kings of other countries from the jizya and zakat, he did not set apart even the smallest amount of this for himself, spending every last dirham in an appropriate manner in order to see to the needs of others, aiming to strengthen the Muslims. Even further, the Noble Prophet always spent any excess after providing for his family's most basic needs to the poor, or to fund the procurement of weapons and supplies during times of war; at the end of the year, he was never in a position where it was mandatory for him to pay the zakat. In fact, what he did was give alms all the time.(16) An understanding of zuhd of this nature was dominant in the life of the Holy Prophet, who was sent as a mercy to the entire universe. Still, participation in social and economic life, working to earn a living and helping people have an important place was the result of Rasûlullah’s (p.b.u.h.) understanding of zuhd. The Holy Prophet was also a pioneer and model example on this topic, helping people, aiding the impoverished and exerting efforts in every field to bring benefit for others. These stances and behaviors of his have a social dimension, and were the positive example of engaging in zuhd presented by those wanting to attain blessings. In this position, the Noble Prophet was located amidst, right at the center of social and economic life. His zuhd was not the zuhd of isolation acquired through inspiration from Indian philosophy. This zuhd was the zuhd of one who worked and earned for others. He would set aside a set portion of his earnings for himself for subsistence and continue efforts that aided others. His zuhd was not like the zuhd of priests locked away in monasteries. Rather, he exerted effort in every field of life and tried to inject those around him with this spirit. (17)

There is benefit to be found in here recalling some of the determining qualities of the life of zuhd regarding his social life which should also be taken as examples and noted with regard to the current day:

1. The most important point that the Noble Prophet dwelled upon with respect to this was his emphasis on the effect on human psychology of worldly things – one of the important elements preventing man from attaining zuhd and which renders them more worldly – especially riches. For in a society whose members have destroyed their own character, giving in to stinginess, satisfaction of desires and denial and have become entirely worldly, worldly ambition, selfishness and obsession with wealth rise as a result of the individual-society, society-individual relationship. And in particular, those possessing these negative attributes can only lead a nation to further discontent and destruction. And just as help given on the path of Allah and to the benefit of mankind makes contributions to and bears effects upon human psychology and personality, it also has effects on social structures in the maintenance of societal existence. Social solidarity and aid both increase the quality of social life, and to a large extent, prepare the grounds for public peace. The role of the culture of giving is large in both the construction and destruction of civilizations and peoples. (18) The Messenger of Allah was always a trailblazer on this topic. In connection with this, one of the behaviors and attitudes of the zuhd of the Noble Prophet that should be remembered is that he was generous and encouraged generosity. For generosity was accepted as the characteristic of the one possessed with zuhd, and he made it clear that anyone with zuhd must also be generous. (19)

No matter what the form, if the slave tears his heart away from the evil desires of his animal soul (nafs), he will have succeeded in entirely withdrawing his heart's attachment to the world. And this is man's attainment of zuhd with regard to his nafs.

Rasûlullah (p.b.u.h.) was the most generous of people, even more generous than the blowing wind. Abdullah b. Abbas, described the Holy Prophet's generosity as follows: "The Messenger of Allah was the most generous of men and the one who loved goodness the most. During the times when he was with Gabriel during Ramadan, he would give all that he had." Gabriel would come to Rasûlullah's (p.b.u.h.) side every Ramadan night and teach him the Qur'an. Gabriel would say: “The Messenger of Allah is more generous than the winds bearing blessings." (20)

2- The Noble Prophet's stance regarding luxury and wastefulness must certainly be made mention of with regard to his lifestyle of zuhd. As it is, it is impossible to think of luxury and wastefulness together with zuhd. Once, Rasûlullah (p.b.u.h.) went on a trip, and left his wife Aishah home. When Rasûlullah (p.b.u.h.) returned from his trip, he saw that the ceiling of Aishah's home had been decorated with coverings. He took them down and said: "Allah did not command us to decorate mud and brick." (21) In addition to this, the Noble Prophet warned members of society to beware excessive desires, wants and lusts and made suggestions as to what their stances should be regarding these. People can have a tendency to be fond of certain things in the world. For example, man can detach his heart from worldly property, but may not be able to tear it away from the evil desires of his soul. Similarly, he may refrain from making a hearth and home, but be unable to reach a state of zuhd when it comes to clothing and food. He may keep his eyes and heart from worldly things, but due to any sin or desire that wins over him, he will be unable to detach his heart from place and position. No matter what the form, if the slave tears his heart away from the evil desires of his animal soul (nafs), he will have succeeded in entirely withdrawing his heart's attachment to the world. And this is man's attainment of zuhd with regard to his nafs.

In fact, when some of his companions tried to reject the mundane world completely, he warned them to avoid extremism and reminded them of his own humanness.

Despite his life of difficulty and tribulation, in a hadith the Noble Prophet said: “This world is alluring; it attracts the eye and the heart and is sweet.” (22) By saying so, he desired to make clear that not everyone would be able to act as he did with respect to the worlds and worldly blessings. Additionally, he allowed Muslims to acquire wealth, and to the extent that it abode by the Islamic standards of acquiring wealth and fortune, spoke words praising prosperity; he did not reject prosperity. Just as he made no recommendation to abandon the world entirely and get rid of all wealth, he also did not say, “The gates to doors of the kingdom in the heavens, the spiritual world, are closed to the faces of the rich." (23), as is mentioned in the Bible's books of Mark and Luke. For in one of his hadiths, the Noble Prophet said: "A truthful and trustworthy merchant is associated with the prophets, the righteous and the martyrs.” (24) According to another hadith, he declared that he was not opposed to prosperity by saying to a group of his companions who were discussing wealth: “There is no harm in being rich for one who fears Allah.” (25) What he did, as expressed in an ayah as “And they spend out of what we have given to them to help others,” (26) was comprised of recommending that his companions spend a portion of their wealth on good causes.

Again, when the Noble Prophet in some of his remarks on this point spoke ill of the world and directed people to be slaves of Allah to attain salvation from the enthrallment of the world, he was not aiming to get them to withdraw entirely from the world around them and begin a hermit's life. On the contrary, the mu'min is, within the bounds of the permissible, to benefit from the blessings of the world as well as to fulfill their duties in society. It is narrated that Rasûlullah (p.b.u.h.) said: "The Muslim who mixes with people and is patient with their harm is better than the Muslim who avoids the people and is not patient with their harm." (27) The blessings of the world are in focus in this hadith: "The Messenger (p.b.u.h.) saw Umar wearing a white shirt. He asked, ‘Is this shirt new or old?’ Umar replied, ‘old.’ Upon this, Rasûlullah (p.b.u.h.) said: "Wear new clothes, live a blameless life, and die a martyr! May Allah Grant you pleasing things in the world and in the hereafter." (28)

He also firmly rejected the withdrawal of Muslims from the world through priesthood.30 There is no relinquishing the life of the world in the religion of Islam, he said, and a Muslim is able to benefit from all the permissible and lawful worldly pleasures.

In fact, when some of his companions tried to reject the mundane world completely, he warned them to avoid extremism and reminded them of his own humanness.Throughout his lifetime, he demonstrated the proper attitude that should be adopted regarding the world. For as is shown above, as the Prophet said, if he “had a pile of gold the size of Mt. Uhud, I would not save it for more than three days”. (29) By saying this he demonstrated that he did not attribute importance to worldliness; in fact, despite the fact that following his death he left little behind save a few personal items and a few scarce possessions, by participating actively in life, like anybody else the Holy Prophet ate, drank, slept, rested, walked, married and had children; he lead armies, fought wars, sent ambassadors, received ambassadors, was involved in building and administrating – in summary, from camel herding to prophethood, he lived every field of human life. Because of these characteristics,  Holy Prophet was able to transform a bedouin society into the world's most civilized and humane societies.

Thus, he wanted for Muslims not to withdraw from life around them, but for them to be involved in life at all levels; he commanded for them to improve life and people. He also firmly rejected the withdrawal of Muslims from the world through priesthood. (30) There is no relinquishing the life of the world in the religion of Islam, he said, and a Muslim is able to benefit from all the permissible and lawful worldly pleasures. In fact, on this topic he proclaimed, “The priesthood of Islam is jihad.” (31) and reminded his followers not to neglect this world, recommending and encouraging them to work and contribute to the architecture and betterment of the world.

Like all the other prophets, our Prophet earned a living through his own labor, did not look to others to care for him, did his work well and did not abandon his work even while on his deathbed.  The Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h.), who was a shepherd before he was a prophet, was also a good merchant. In fact, he was an international tradesman who traveled outside Mecca for business. He is a man who lived his 63-year life to the fullest. In this limited life, he neither ignored people’s rights nor fell short in his duties to his Creator. Our Prophet was a wonderful person who devoted his life, night and day, to the salvation of humanity. In the last moments of his life, he had prepared an army to be sent toward Syrian lands, and on his deathbed he inquired as to whether or not the forces had set out. And while he thought out his plans and efforts, he changed his world.

When we approach the topic from the perspective of our own day; all of humanity, and we Muslims especially, need a return to those first generations known as the sahaba and the tabi’in – a return to the zuhd and world view of the Salaf-us-saliheen. If this happens, then the dynamic qualities of the minds that were taught by the Holy Prophet himself, who interpreted the Qur’an and put an exemplary lifestyle into practice, will also reach today’s societies and the mind of modern man. And it would be possible for every new technology that is beneficial to mankind to be assimilated together with the blessing of belief. If the pure understanding of zuhd of those first generations can be attained, the human mind and soul cultivated by these minds will contribute not just to material societal prosperity, but also eradicate excessive spending and great wastefulness. For the knowledge that accompanies servitude to Allah requires this. (32)

In accordance with the manifestations of zuhd in the life of our Beloved Prophet, our understanding of the concept as individuals living in the modern world should be as follows: ‘to avoid attachment to wealth that approaches worship, to work toward the preparation of a political, social and economic environment in which duties of servitude to Allah can be fulfilled in a pleasant, clean and comfortable manner that is far from luxury or wastefulness; to live not just for one’s self, but for society, to choose society over one’s self, to bear all Muslims in mind while spending when using state assets, to make an honest living and spend honestly, to avoid all sins, to happily spend of one’s wealth in the way of Allah, to enforce Islam’s commands regarding social security in their entirety, to command the good and forbid the evil, to engage in jihad in the way of Allah with one’s property and life; in brief, to try and live Islam not by withdrawing from the world and society, but by living the life of the world and within society.”

 

Footnotes

1. ash-Shuara 26:109,127,145,164-180.

2. al-Anbiya 21:80; al-Muminun 23:27; al-Qasas 28:26-27.

3. Bukhari, Ijara, 2; Ibn Majah, Tijarat, 5.

4. Hakim, al-Mustadrak, IV, 315.

5. Abdullah Aydınlı, Tasavvuf ve Hadis [Tasawwuf and Hadith], p.38.

6. Bukhari; Riqaq, 10; Muslim, Zakat, 116; Darimi, Riqaq

7. Muslim, Zuhd wa Riqaiq, 4.

8. Muslim, Jannah 55.

9. Bukhari, Riqaq, 5.

10. Ibn Mansur, Lisanu'l-Arab, III, 196-197.

11. See Elmalılı, Hak Dini [The True Religion], IX, 280-81.

12. …

13. Ibn Majah, At'ima, 28.

14. M. Hayri Kırbaşoğlu, Sünnetten Çağa Elli İki Mesaj [52 Messages from the Sunnah for The Age], p.46.

15. See al-Anfal 8:41.

16. Celal Yeniçeri, Asr-ı Saadet'te Hz. Peygamberi'in ve Ailesinin Geçimi [The Subsistence of the Holy Prophet and his Family in the Golden Age], I, 334.

17. Muhammad Abu Zahra, The Final Prophet, the Noble Muhammad, I, 318,319.

18. See Yunus Ekin, İslam'da, Dünya-Ahiret Dengesi Açısından İnfakın Önemi [The Importance of Charity in Islam as regards Balancing the World and the Hereafter], www.yenuumit.com

19. See Abu Talib al-Makki, Kutu'l-Kulub, I, 251.

20. Muslim, Fadail, 50ç

21. Muslim, Libasi 87.

22. Bukhari, Jihad 37; Tirmidhi, Fitan, 26; Zuhd, 41.

23. Mark 10:23; Luke 18:24.

24. Tirmidhi, Buyu', 4; Ibn Majah, Tijarat, 1.

25. Ibn Majah, Tijarat, 1.

26. Al-Baqqara 2:3.

27. Tirmidhi, Sifatu'l-Qiyamah, 55.

28. Musnad, II, 89. Ibn Majah, Libas, 2.

29. Bukhari, Zakat, 4; Muslim, Zakat, 10.

30. Darimi, Nikah, 3; Musnad, V, 226, VI, 226.

31. Musnad, III, 82, 266.

32. Muhittin Uysal, Tasavvuf Kültüründe Hadis [Hadith in Tasawwuf Culture], p. 373.

33. Y. Vehbi Yavuz, Çalışma Hayatı ve İslam [Islam and Working Life], Istanbul 1992, p. 150-151.

 

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