Last smile in a finite world
Even God’s Messenger, who said, “If you knew what I know, you would laugh little and weep much,” laughed at times. In actual fact, his face would light up with his smile and mercy, like the precious stone, mother-of-pearl. But was it the short-comings, weaknesses or shameful discrepancies of others that put a smile on his face? Let us try and understand what made the Prophet smile through some narrations.
His wife Aisha relates that when God’s Messenger returned from the expedition to Tabuk or Khaybar the wind raised the curtain at the door’s entrance, revealing some dolls which belonged to her. He asked her what this was and she replied that they were her dolls. Among them he saw a horse with wings made of rags and asked what that was that he saw among them. She told him that it was a horse, and when he asked what it was that it had on it and she replied that it had wings, he said, “A horse with wings?” She replied, “Have you not heard that Solomon had horses with wings?” She said that he smiled until his molars could be seen.
Happy is the woman who was able to make him smile while he continued to struggle in carrying his mission despite the thousand and one trials and tribulations, confronting difficulties no one before him had faced.
In his smile is not an attention to the shortcomings of others, a mockery of them and entertainment at the expense of their physical deficiencies, but rather the animation of Qur’anic verses in life itself. Here it occurred to me that the God’s Messenger greeted with joy and love Aisha’s imagination, her discovery, innocence and her reference to a prophet. And my thoughts even went as far as a consideration of his appreciation of literature and the arts – the amazement and joy he experienced out of the reflection of the rich world of children that he saw continue in Aisha.
“O you who believe! Let not some people among you deride another people; it may be that the latter are better than the former. Nor let some women deride other women; it may be that the latter are better than the former. Nor defame one another (and provoke the same for yourselves in retaliation); nor insult one another with nicknames (that your brothers and sisters dislike). Evil is using names with vile meaning after (those so addressed have accepted) the faith (doing so is like replacing a mark of faith with a mark of transgression). Whoever (does that and then) does not turn to God in repentance (giving up doing so), those are indeed wrongdoers.” (49:11)
Famous French thinker Henri Bergson, in his work titled “Laughter,” (Le rire) argues that at the moment when we enable ourselves to laugh at the ridiculous state people are in, we must forget love and silence our mercy. However, in the smile of our Prophet is a deep manifestation of love. His smile is not one in response to people’s weaknesses or the manifestations of these.
Let us examine another example. Abu Hurayra narrates:
(This takes place in Mecca, during the early days of extreme oppression).
“I swear by God Almighty apart from Whom there are no gods, that sometimes due to hunger I would press my stomach against the ground or press a rock against it. One day I sat on the road which they [the congregation] passed from while exiting the mosque. The Prophet stopped by me and smiled upon seeing me. He had understood the signs of hunger written on my face and the state of weakness that I was in.”
He said to me, “Aba Hirrah! Follow me.”
He entered a house and, with permission, found a cup of milk. When he asked those there from where that cup of milk came, he received the answer that a woman had given it to him as a gift. He then said to him, “Go and call Ahl al-Suffa for me.” The Suffa Companions (Companions were comprised of mostly single young men provided with shelter and food in the Prophet's Mosque in Madina) are the guests of Islam. They have no families, possessions or people they can lean on and Abu Hurayra explains that this is why the God’s Messenger extended a gift that was meant for him to them.
In short, those who came drank from that cup of milk until they were fully satiated and Abu Hurayra, who was initially worried that nothing would be left for him, drank from the cup as well, followed by the God’s Messenger.
The situation in which Abu Hurayra found himself was also the same situation which the God’s Messenger endured with patience. But God’s Messenger smiled because Abu Hurayra’s state, as if awaiting a helping hand from people and presenting to them his state of despair, was heart wrenching for him and caused him great pain. Or else it has nothing do with Bergson’s claim that the heart must stop for awhile in order for humor to show its full effect. On the contrary, the heart is in this case, in full effect, with the smile exhibited by the God’s Messenger.
In another narration from Anas ibn Malik:
I was walking with God’s Messenger. He was wearing a robe with thick trims, made of a material of the Saudi Arabian province of Najran. At this time a Bedouin came to him, grabbing him by the collar with force and pulling the Prophet to him. I looked at the neck of the Prophet, upon him be peace, and his robe had left a mark on it. (On narration of Muslim, the narration goes as follows: “He pulled God’s Messenger to himself so strongly that the God’s Messenger turned towards the chest of the Bedouin.” And again in another narration, “He pulled him so hard that his robe tore. And the seam lines left a mark on the neck of the God’s Messenger.”)
The events unfolded as follows: The Bedouin said, “O Muhammad! Give me my due!!” The Prophet looked at him and smiled, asking that something be given to him. Anas attempted to narrate this bizarre event.
In consideration of the calming demeanor and curative attitude coming from the Prophet’s smile in a situation where one could not but get angry, one becomes acutely aware of the formidable maturity that the Prophet possessed.
Abu Hurayra reports:
“While we were sitting with God’s Messenger a man came and said, “O Prophet of God! I have been ruined!” The Prophet asked him what was wrong. He replied, “I had sexual intercourse with my wife while I was fasting.” The Prophet asked him: “Can you find a slave to free?” He replied in the negative. The Prophet asked him, “Can you fast for two consecutive months?” He replied in the negative. The Prophet asked him, “Can you feed 60 needy people?” He replied in the negative. The Prophet kept silent and while we were in that state, a big basket of dates was brought to the Prophet. He asked, “Where is the person who asked the question?” He replied, “I (am here).” The Prophet said (to him), “Take this and give it in charity.” The man said, “Should I give them to a person poorer than me, o God’s Messenger? I swear by God that there is no family between its (i.e. Madina’s) two mountains who is poorer than mine.” The Prophet smiled until his molars could be seen and then said, “Feed your family with it.”
Now look at this man who has committed a sin whose atonement is quite weighty. Look at how uniquely the God’s Messenger responds, smiling at him and furthermore, giving him a gift basket. This is the kind treatment towards people by someone who is very cognizant of the state that everyone is in.
And then there is the Messenger’s bitter smile, which is quite saddening. Companion Ka’b ibn Malik had taken part in all expeditions with God’s Messenger. When time came for the Tabuk expedition, it was hard to tell who was not attending as a list of attendees was not maintained due to the sheer volume of participants. Ka’b had said that he had let the group travel ahead and make preparations and that he himself would join them at a later date; however, he never did end up joining them. As he later confessed, he had never been as strong and as rich during a time of war as he had been then. He had absolutely no excuse for staying behind. He had stepped back from war when he was most capable and equipped to attend. In a state of sorrow and concern, he awaited the return of those who had left. When He greeted God’s Messenger who was returning to Madina from Tabuk, he was destroyed upon seeing the smile on the face the Prophet, which was broken and lamentous. He had become so accustomed to his illuminated smile, which as popularly used in Arabic literature, “resembled the moon” in beauty. For those who had grown used to his smile, one can only imagine how much sorrow would be felt at the sight of this sorrowful smile.
The story of Ka’b is a long one. They were three friends who didn’t attend the war, which created a deep disappointment in our Prophet. It is very important to note that our Prophet did not show any leniency in this matter. For a long time he did not forgive them and even forbade Muslims from speaking to them. Emotionally destroyed, the three friends were incredibly remorseful for their lack of attendance. After they had paid their dues, they were forgiven. The bitter smile was due to a violation of the holy verses by the three young men:
“O you who believe! What excuse do you have that when it is said to you: "Mobilize (for the campaign of Tabuk) in God's cause!" you cling heavily to the earth? Are you content with the present, worldly life, rather than the Hereafter? Yet slight is the enjoyment of the worldly life as compared with the Hereafter. If you do not mobilize (as you are commanded), He will punish you grievously, and instead of you, He will substitute another people, and you will in no way harm Him. God has full power over everything.” (9:38-39).
Another narration from Sa'd ibn Abi Waqqas about a Prophetic smile:
Umar asked for permission to enter the presence of God’s Messenger. At that moment, some women from the Quraysh tribe were with the Prophet and some were speaking in a loud voice, asking for worldly things. Upon seeing Umar they pulled themselves together and hid behind the curtain. When Umar walked in God’s Messenger was smiling.
Umar said, upon witnessing his happiness, “O God’s Messenger. May God make you continually joyous.”
The Prophet said, “I was surprised that the women who were visiting with me ran for the curtains upon hearing your voice.”
Umar replied, “You are more worthy of the respect and honor”, and addressed the women, saying, “O enemies of your own selves, you are scared of me, but you are not scared of the Messenger of God, and you don't show respect to him?” “You are hard-hearted and strict,” they replied.
True indeed. Umar felt like dispelling all the never-ending requests and complaints from people, for fear that they might upset the Prophet. But of course the women were going to share their problems with the Messenger of God, who always listened patiently and never said no.
His last smile
On narration of Anas ibn Malik: Abu Bakr led a funeral prayer during the illness of the God’s Messenger, which lead to his eventual demise. On Monday, while the congregation lined up for prayer, the Prophet opened the curtains of his room and watched those praying and, despite his weakness, smiled at the sight. Anas notes that they were delighted and very surprised by the sight of the Prophet during the prayer. Abu Bakr tried to take a step back, thinking that the Prophet was there to lead the prayer, but the Messenger of God gestured with his hands, for them to continue their act of worship. And then with a pleased expression, he went to the room of Aisha and drew the curtains. He left this earth that very day. He bid farewell to his friends with a smile. I think that that smile places upon the congregation at the time and those present today, as a deeply etched memory, an infinite responsibility. The great worth and value of this smile is such that we must deeply reflect on its meaning and act in accordance. We must be that congregation, that community, which is pleasing to the Prophet. Every Muslim must etch this memory into their heart and secretly grasp it.
The Prophet conquered innumerable hearts with his smiling countenance, gentle temperament and patient disposition. Contemplating upon his smile and achieving such a balance requires delicate effort.
God addressed the Prophet as follows: “Had you been harsh and hard-hearted, they would surely have scattered away from about you.” (3:159).