We mentioned earlier that the Prophet (peace be upon him) never got angry for anything personal. No matter what unbelievers said about him, leveling any false accusations against him, he would always control himself, showing no sign of overreaction. Indeed, he kept his cool in all situations. However, if some violation of the limits God has ordered to be observed, the Prophet could be very angry, and his anger showed in his face.
The contrast between the two situations is clear. If the matter were personal, he would tolerate it without difficulty. His self-control ensured that he would never overreact. He was certain that even his worst enemies realized that he always told the truth. But he could not tolerate that what God has ordered should be deliberately violated. His anger in such situations was visible, but he still expressed himself in decent language, never allowing himself to utter a word that was unworthy of a messenger delivering God’s message to mankind. We have several reports of situations that made him angry, and we will look at these.
Zayd ibn Thabit reports: “The Prophet chose a place where he went out at night to pray. Some men saw him doing that and they prayed with him. They came every night to do that. One night, the Prophet did not come out to join them. They started to make some noises, like little coughs, and then they raised their voices, and even threw pebbles at his door. He came out to them angry and said: “Look you people! You continued doing what you did until I thought it might be made obligatory for you. Pray in your own home, because the best prayer a person can offer is that he offers at home, except for obligatory prayers.” (Related by Al-Bukhari, Abu Dawood and Al-Nassaie).
What angered the Prophet in this incident is that his companions tried every means to get him to come out to lead them in night prayer, which is not an obligatory one. Some of them resorted to impolite means, first raising their voices and then throwing some pebbles at his door. We need to remember that some of the Prophet’s companions were uncultivated Bedouins who lacked polite manners, until Islam gave them the best manners people could have. They were insisting on doing a voluntary worship in a particular way. This is wrong because it imposes a duty where there is none. Hence the Prophet told them that he feared that this night prayer would become obligatory to them. And if it were made obligatory, it would have applied to all generations of Muslims. Thus, their action would have committed them and others to more than what God wished to assign to them as worship duty.
The Prophet also told them to pray at home, saying that this is the best prayer, except for obligatory prayer that is much better offered with the congregation in the mosque. Offering voluntary prayer at home is better for several reasons. The first is that prayer gives light to the place where it is offered. If obligatory prayer is offered at the mosque with the congregation, then the proper way to ensure that the light of prayer and worship spreads in our homes is to offer the Sunnah and voluntary prayer at home.
Another very important reason is that when voluntary prayer is offered at home, it is more sincere. This is not to say that when offered in the mosque it is not sincere, but there is certainly no element of show off when we offer voluntary prayer in the privacy of our own homes. We may mention here the incident when one person testified to the fine character of another person in front of Umar, the second caliph. Umar asked him the basis of his knowledge, mentioning three ways of knowing a person well. These are being his next-door neighbor, traveling with him or having regular financial dealings. When the man answered in the negative to all three, Umar said to him: “Perhaps you are speaking highly of him because you might have seen him in the mosque reading the Qur’an?” When the man answered this question in the affirmative, Umar said to him: “You may go now. You do not really know the man.” So, it is e asy to gain a reputation of piety when one offers voluntary worship in the mosque. Hence, the Prophet tells us that the best such prayer is that which is offered at home.
A further reason is that one provides a good example for one’s children and other family members to follow. It will encourage them to offer voluntary prayers, which strengthens their faith and increases their reward.
The Prophet might get angry at something said or done by one of his companions, which suggests the violation of God’s law. Zayd ibn Khalid reports: “A man asked the Prophet about what one might find in the street, without knowing its owner. What to do with it. The Prophet said to him: ‘Publicize it for a year, and then make sure to know its description and spend it. Should its owner come up, give it back to him.’ The man said: ‘What about a lost sheep?’ The Prophet said: ‘It belongs to you, your brother or the wolf.’ The man further asked: ‘What about a lost camel?’ The Prophet’s face was reddened with anger at this question, then he said to the man: ‘What do you want with it? It has its own hoofs and drink until its owner finds it.’” (Related by Al-Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawood, Al-Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah).
This Hadith gives details of the rulings concerning lost articles or animals and what to do with them. However, it tells us that the Prophet was angry when asked about a lost camel. There is a good reason for his anger. The first thing the Hadith tells is that if one picks up a lost article, he should publicize the fact for a year, so that if the owner comes back looking for it, he would know where to find it. After a year the person who found it may sell it and spend its price, either using the price himself or giving it to charity, but he continues to be responsible for it. If the owner turns up after a year, the one who found it must give him the price he sold it for, unless he had given it away to charity and the owner agrees to his action. If he does not agree, he has to refund it to him. He will certainly ea rn the reward of his charity.
If it is a sheep or a similar animal that cannot defend itself, or is bound to fall prey to beasts, then one can slaughter it for food, or look after it, or sell it. If the owner turns up, he compensates him or gives it back. But if it is a camel or a similar animal, such as a horse, then there is little danger that it would come to much harm. It should be left alone until its owner finds it.
The Prophet’s anger was due to the implied suggestion in the question that the one who finds a camel could do with it what is done with a sheep. This is an attitude of a person keen on taking an easy gain. The Prophet points out to the man that a lost camel is unlikely to harm itself or to be in any danger. It can tolerate being without water for a long time. Hence, it is better left alone.