We have always tried to emphasise in these columns the sort of attitude a believer should have toward instructions given by the Prophet (Pbuh). We have explained that following the Prophet (Pbuh) is required of all Muslims. Allah tells us in the Qur’an. “Whatever the Prophet (Pbuh) bids you, you must do, and refrain from everything that he forbids you.” (59:7) This is a basic and clear instruction from which no believer could deviate. It is true that we may default on doing something which is required of us by Islam. But that means a failure for which we can be punished unless Allah forgives us. It is for this reason that a Muslim always prays to be forgiven.
If this prompts some readers to ask about the commandments given to us by the Prophet (Pbuh) and whether we should follow them by way of duty, or they are merely recommendations that we may adopt as we please, then an explanation is in order. When it is clear from the context that a particular order given by the Prophet, for example, instructs us: “Pray in the manner you have seen me pray.” He also said at the time when he started his pilgrimage; “Learn your rituals from me.” Allah does not tell us in the Qur’an how to pray, but he gives us clear orders that we must pray. The Prophet (Pbuh) has shown us how to pray and given us this express order. It is obligatory for every Muslim that he should pray only in the manner the Prophet (Pbuh) prayed. If he prays in some other form, his prayers will not be accepted. Similarly, if he goes on pilgrimage without following the example of the Prophet, his pilgrimage is not valid, although he may offer his worship in all sincerity. These are orders which must be followed. If a Muslim does not follow them, he disobeys the Prophet (Pbuh) and, in consequence, disobeys Allah.
When the Prophet came to know that some of his followers were planning to adopt a harder course of action in the matter of prayer and fasting than he himself was following, the Prophet realized the danger to the community of believers and to future generations. It is a danger which is always associated with going to extremes.
There are on the other hand, instructions given to us by the Prophet (Pbuh) which merely indicate a preferable course of action. These should be taken as recommendations. It is the context which determines whether a particular order indicates a duty or a recommendation. But even when the Prophet (Pbuh) is simply recommending to us a certain thing, we should follow his instructions. He only teaches us what is beneficial to us. Allah makes sure that we prosper when we follow the example of the Prophet (Pbuh) and he rewards us for doing what he recommends us. Whether the recommendation by the Prophet (Pbuh) relates to something of this world or to a matter of worship we are certain to achieve the best results by following his advice. Those who do not wish to follow the Prophet (Pbuh) can only blame themselves for the results. The following Hadith explains this in clear terms:
Aisha, the Prophet’s (Pbuh) wife, reports: “The Prophet (Pbuh) did something and indicated that it is permissible. Some people, however, felt that they should not do it. This was communicated to the Prophet (Pbuh). He spoke, starting with praising Allah, before saying: “What is the matter with certain people who feel that they are above doing something which I have done? By Allah, I know Allah better than them and I fear Him most.” (Related by Al-Bukhari, Muslim and Al-Nissai).
The Prophet (Pbuh) has always indicated that Islam is an easy religion, with instructions to its followers that are easy to follow. He, therefore, wanted to make it absolutely clear that a middle course is the best course and that his example must be followed by all Muslims.
In this report we are told of certain companions of the Prophet (Pbuh) who, in their eagerness to maintain the highest standard of devotion, felt that they should not do something which the Prophet (Pbuh) did. In this particular report, we are not told what was that thing which the Prophet (Pbuh) indicated as permissible, but those people refrained from doing it. Some commentators indicate that this relates to a particular action of one sort or another. It is perhaps more accurate to say that this is a reference to three Companions of the Prophet (Pbuh) who went to the Prophet’s wives asking them about his worship and how often he fasted voluntarily and how he treated his wives. When they were given these details, they felt that such a standard of worship was not sufficient for them, although it might have been sufficient for the Prophet (Pbuh) who was already forgiven by Allah any sin or error he might have made. They wanted to adopt a harder course of action. One of them pledged himself to fast every day of his life, and another indicated that he would be standing in worship all night every night, while a third one pledged never to get married.
When the Prophet (Pbuh) was told of this, he realised the danger to the community of believers and to future generations. It is a danger which is always associated with going to extremes. The Prophet (Pbuh) has always indicated that Islam is an easy religion, with instructions to its followers that are easy to follow. He, therefore, wanted to make it absolutely clear that a middle course is the best course and that his example must be followed by all Muslims. When he stood on the pulpit to speak to his companions, he put the issue succinctly clear. He stated that he knew Allah better than all people and he feared Him most. To know Allah is to fear Him. For no one who has true knowledge of Allah continues to disobey Him. The better a person knows Allah the easier it is for him to do what he is bidden and to refrain from what is forbidden. Therefore, the example of the Prophet shows us our best course of action. When we follow it, we are certain to earn Allah’s pleasure. But those who thought little of the Prophet’s example could only think of ways which did not take into account all factors which influenced people. They wanted to impose on themselves a very strict course. That is why the Prophet (Pbuh), according to other reports of this Hadith, was very angry when he heard what they said. He told them that they must not impose their own restrictive view. They should follow his example. If he does something when he knows Allah best and fears Him most, then that which he does is certainly permissible and useful.
The Hadith which we have quoted above lays down a fundamental principle. It applies to all situations. Failure to follow the Prophet’s advice will deprive the person concerned of a certain benefit. The following Hadith can be given as an example of application of the earlier one. “Two men exchanged words of abuse at the Prophet’s place. One of them was very angry to the extent that his face swelled and changed colour. The Prophet (Pbuh) said; “I know a word which this man needs only say in order to be relieved of what he is enduring.” A man went to him and told him what the Prophet (Pbuh) said. He also advised him to seek refuge with Allah against the devil; The man said; Is there anything wrong with me? Do you find me insane? Go away,” (Related by Al-Bukhari, Muslim and An Nassae)
It is clear that this man was in the flight of anger. The Prophet (Pbuh) wanted to indicate to his companions that if a man is overwhelmed by anger he only needs to remember Allah and to seek refuge with Him against the devil and his instigation. However, the angry man was not prepared to listen to advice. That is why he retorted too violently when the Prophet’s Companion communicated to him the Prophet’s advice. His failure to follow it, however, meant that his anger got the better of him. He couldn’t think clearly. He did not earn any reward which a believer would surely earn by following the Prophet’s advice. He must have regretted all that when he cooled down, but then regret would be to no avail.