The exemplary young Companions: Manual labour


Rahmatullah Khan Shakir (1901-2000), Former Assistant Editor and Manager of Al Fazl

One distinguishing feature in the traits of the Companionsra is that they never saw manual labour as beneath them. During labour, they never fancied any type of indignity or disgrace. Aside from their services and zeal they manifested at the time of war, some instances from everyday life in this regard are presented below.

Construction of a mosque in Medina

In the early days of the Holy Prophetsa in Medina, the first task at hand was the construction of a mosque, whose foundation stone was laid by the Holy Prophetsa himself. The masons and the labourers of the mosque were none other than the Companionsra themselves. Sometimes the Holy Prophetsa himself would join the Companionsra. They would perform this task with great fervour and sometimes, they recited the following couplet: 

هَذَاالحِمَالُ لَا حِمَالُ خَيْبَرْ

هَذَا اَبَرُّ رَبَّنَا وَ اَطْهَرْ

“This is not the load of the camels from Khayber. O our Lord! This is the burden of righteousness and purity which we carry for Thy pleasure.”

Similarly at Quba also, where the immigrants settled in early days, the Companionsra constructed a mosque with their own hands. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab-ul-Manaqib, Bab Hijratun-Nabiy wa Ashabihi ilal-Medinah)

Planting trees and agriculture

Hazrat Abu Dardara was a very learned and scholarly companion. Hundreds of students at one time are reported to have learnt from him. But he was so fond of manual labour that in the mosque of Damascus, where he was the imam, he would plant and tend trees with his own hands. Once, somebody surprisingly asked him if he performed this task with his own hands. In reply, he said that it was greatly meritorious in the sight of God. (Siyar-e-Ansar, Vol. 1, p. 184)

Services in the Prophet’ssa Mosque

Hazrat Haram bin Malhanra would himself fill water in the Prophet’ssa Mosque. He would cut wood in the woodlands, sell it and provide meals for the Ashabus-Suffah [Companionsra who were dedicated to spend their time in the Prophet’ssa company] and other needy people. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab-ul-Maghazi, Bab Ghazwah Zatir-Raji‘ wa Ri‘l wa Zakwan)

Logging as a profession

The incident of the martyrdom of seventy huffaz at Bi‘r-e-Ma‘unah has been related at some other place in this series. It is reported about the huffaz that they would log in the woodlands during the day and thus, they subsisted on its profit, whereas their night hours were devoted for the worship of God. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab-ul-Maghazi, Bab Ghazwah Zatir-Raji‘ wa Ri‘l wa Zakwan)

Collecting wood for the Prophetsa

The Holy Prophetsa delivered his addresses with the support of a pillar in the mosque. Once, he expressed the need of a pulpit. A young companion, Hazrat Sahalra, rose up, went to the woodlands and brought wood for the pulpit. (Musnad Ahmad bin Hanbal, Vol. 5, p. 337, Hadith 22871)

Earning money to feed the Prophetsa

Hazrat Kaabra bin Ajzah once saw the Holy Prophet’ssa expression different than usual due to hunger. So he rose to his feet and departed from the meeting. He saw a Jew watering his thirsty camels. He settled with him the price of one date for drawing out a bucket of water and thus earned some dates and brought them to the service of the Holy Prophetsa. (Al-Isabah, Vol. 5, p. 449)

Bringing an end to arrogance and pride

Hazrat Abdullahra bin Salam was an affluent companion. Once, people saw him carrying a bundle of wood and said that he did not need to carry it as God had provided him ample wealth. But he replied that he wanted to bring an end to arrogance and pride. (Tarikh Medinah Dimashq li-ibni Asakar, Vol. 29, p. 132)

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Hazrat Saadra bin Abi Waqas, who accepted Islam when he was only 19 and was one of the senior Companions, was a very learned and scholarly person and had held respectable offices. About his scholarship in learning, Hazrat Umarra used to say that there was no need of any authentication after Saadra had narrated a hadith of the Holy Prophetsa. But no matter how respectable an office he held, he never compromised simplicity and the habit of manual labour which is taught in Islam. 

Allah loves His content servants

Once, when he was tending to his camels in a jungle, his own son came and said, “It is not good that people hold kingships and sovereignties whereas you tend camels in the jungle.” Putting his hand on his son’s chest, Hazrat Saadra said, “Be quiet, for I have heard the Holy Prophetsa say that the Almighty Allah loves the content and righteous servant of His.” (Usdul-Ghabah, Vol. 2, pp. 214-217)

Manual labour as a living despite high income

Hazrat Salman the Persianra was the governor of Madain and received 5,000 dinars per month as a salary. Despite this, he used to weave mats to earn a living. As for the salary, he would spend it all in the way of Allah. (Usdul-Ghabah, Vol. 2, p. 268)

Earning money for one’s own wedding

Hazrat Ali’sra excellence needs not any elaboration. He was the son-in-law of the Holy Prophetsa and was among the Ahl-e-Bait [household of the Prophetsa]. He had no money to hold a walima function after he got married to Hazrat Fatimahra but he had two she-camels. He decided to bring “Azkhar” grass, which is used by goldsmiths, from the jungle on his camels and sell it to them to arrange for the walima function. (Sunan Abi Dawud, Kitab al-Khiraj, Bab fi Biyan Mawazi‘ Qismul-Khums wa Sahmi Zil-Qurba)

Tending camels

Hazrat Aqabahra bin Amir says that they would themselves serve in the company of the Holy Prophetsa and in turns they would tend their camels.(Sunan Abi Dawud, Kitab al-Taharah, Bab ma Yaqular-Rajulu iza Tawazza)

Providing food to the Prophetsa

Once, when Hazrat Alira found the Holy Prophetsa starving, he came to a Jew in a garden and settled the wage at the rate of one date for drawing a bucket of water from the well. He drew seventeen buckets of water. Thus, he earned seventeen dates and presented them to the Holy Prophetsa. (Sunan Ibn Majah, Abwabur-Rahun, Bab Ar-Rajulu Yastasqa Kulun wa lau bi-Tamrati wa Yashtaritu Jildatan)

Performing tasks yourself

During a journey, Hazrat Abdullahra bin Umar would never task anybody with anything which he could do himself, so much so that he would get the camel to sit on the ground and would mount it on his own. (Tabaqat Ibn Saad, Vol. 3, p. 164)

Earning money from your own effort

After Hazrat Abdur Rahmanra bin Auf migrated to Medina, his was made a brother of Hazrat Saadra bin Rabi. Hazrat Saadra offered him half of his property, but he denied it saying that he did not need it. Instead, he asked him the way to the market and started the trade of oil and cheese. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Buyu‘, Bab Qaulallahi Ta‘ala fa-iza Qazaitas-Salata)

After immigrating to Medina, Hazrat Alira, Hazrat Saadra bin Malik and Hazrat Abdullahra bin Mas‘ud etc. started cultivating the agricultural lands of the Ansar. Hence, they earned their share from the harvest. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Mazari‘ati, Bab Mazari‘ah Bishshatr wa Nahw)

In short, the Companions did not look down on any job whatsoever. Hazrat Khabbabra was a blacksmith by profession. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Buyu‘, Bab Zikrul-Qain wal-Hadad)


Some female Companions used to weave clothes. Hazrat Saudahra, the mother of the believers, would herself weave radim of Ta‘if. (Al-Isabah, Vol. 8, p. 107, Zikr Khulaisah)

The Prophet’ssa appreciation for hard word

The hands of one companion were blackened by hard work. The Holy Prophetsa enquired about this. He replied that he had to break stones all day to earn living for his family. At this, the Holy Prophetsa kissed his hands. (Usdul-Ghabah, Vol. 2, p. 185, Tadhkirah Saad Al-Ansari)

Hazrat Abu Bakrra tended neighbours’ goats

Despite the fact that Hazrat Abu Bakrra was very wealthy and affluent, he never felt any shame in doing work with his hands. He would tend goats and sheep and milk the goats of neighbours, so much so that when he was elected as the Khalifa, a neighbouring girl very wistfully remarked, “Who will milk our goats now?” (Tabaqat Ibn Saad, Vol. 3, p. 137)

Hazrat Abu Bakrra continuing his trade the day after Khilafat

Hazrat Abu Bakrra was a cloth merchant. Despite holding such a high post in the spiritual and temporal realm, i.e. becoming the Khalifa, he never entertained the feeling that manual labour was below him and that he should avoid it in the future. The very next day, as usual, he held up the rolls of cloth and set off to market to sell them. On his way, he was met by Hazrat Umarra and Hazrat Abu Ubaidahra, who counseled him to leave this job as he was their imam now and to get stipend from the treasury. Our youth especially should learn from this incident. (Tabaqat Ibn Saad, Vol. 3, p. 138)

Hazrat Umar’sra services to his subjects

As a result of the teachings of Islam, the Companionsra had become so used to manual labour that not only would they do their own work; rather, they would show no hesitance to serve others as well. Despite Hazrat Umar’sra status being equal to that of a monarch, yet he would provide water to the widows by carrying water-skin vessels on his back. He would also run errands for the families of the Muslim warriors. (Kanz-ul-Ummal, Vol. 12, p. 629, Hadith 35941)

There’s no doubt that the society at that time varied a great deal from that of ours in this age and the authorities then would not have to do many tasks which have become compulsory in this age. The way of sovereignty today has widened administrative work for the authorities so much that they have to give a lot of time to it. Nevertheless, those youngsters of ours who deem some tasks below their dignity can learn a great deal from such instances.

Hazrat Uthmanra not disturbing the sleep of his followers

There is no question about the affluence of Hazrat Uthmanra. He had servants at his disposal to serve him, but he was used to doing his work with his own hands and would not bother others. In the later part of night, for Tahajjud, he would not wake up any other person to prepare for his ablution etc.; rather, he would perform the entire task himself. This leads us to the conclusion that those who were trained directly by the Holy Prophetsa had learnt it well that a person should do their work themselves. (Tabaqat Ibn Saad, Vol. 3, p. 44)

Hazrat Ali’sra services to his followers

Despite being the son-in-law of the Holy Prophetsa and himself having a distinguished position, Hazrat Alira never hesitated to work with his own hands. He never considered manual labour below his dignity. 

Once, he watered an orchard for somebody the whole night and earned some barley for it. The next morning, he had hareerah cooked from it and when he sat down to eat it, a beggar came and he handed all of it to him. (Sunan Ibn Majah, Abwab-ur-Rahun, Bab Ar-Rajulu Yastasqa Kulun wa lau bi-Tamrati wa li-Yashtaritu Jildatan)

Sometimes when people visited him to ask certain questions with regard to Islam, they would find him mending his shoes, digging the ground or tending camels in the woods. (Tarikh al-Tabari, p. 3348)

Advice of the Prophetsa to his daughter

The degree of the Holy Prophet’ssa love for his beloved daughter, Hazrat Fatimahra and how much he catered for her comfort is evident from the ahadith. But despite having the power to prevent it, he never minded her working with hands. 

Once, Hazrat Fatimahra came to the Holy Prophetsa and submitted that she had to do a lot of hard work at home, so much so that her hands had blistered by milling. She requested the Holy Prophetsa to give her one of the slaves that came to him so as to relieve her in the hard work. But the reply of the Chief and Sovereign of this world and the Hereafter to his beloved daughter needs can be written with golden ink. 

Even in very straitened circumstances we do not want for our children to be put even in minor trouble. But what was the reply of the Holy Prophetsa to Hazrat Fatimahra? He said, “How can I give you and forget about the comfort of the AshabusSuffah.” Thus, she returned empty-handed. 

Thereafter, the Holy Prophetsa visited her house and said, “Shall I tell you something better than what you have asked of me?” She replied, “Do tell me.” He said, “After every Salat, say ‘Subhanallah’ and ‘Alhamdulillah’ 33 times each and ‘Allahu Akbar’ 34 times. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Da‘wat, Bab Tasbih wa Takbir ‘indal-Manam)

Earning dates by drawing water in a bucket from a well

Keeping in mind the exalted station of Hazrat Alira, read the following incident. He says that once, he went out of his house for some errands. He saw that a woman had piled up some soil to moisten. He set a price of one date per bucket of water with her and drew out 16 buckets which blistered his hands. Thus he earned 16 dates and brought them to the Holy Prophetsa and they ate the dates together. (Musnad Ahmad bin Hanbal, Musnad Ali bin Abi Talib, Vol. 2, p. 351, Hadith 1135)

The Holy Prophet’ssa manual labour

It was not only the Companionsra who worked with their hands; the Holy Prophetsa, the Chief and Sovereign of this world and the Hereafter, never hesitated from manual labour also. 

Numerous ahadith recorded in history reveal that when the Holy Prophetsa returned home, he would help his wives with their household chores. He would milk the goats and he would even, on his own, mend his shoes. In the tasks of national importance, he would help the Companionsra. Hazrat Umm Salamahra reports that on the occasion of the Battle of the Ditch, the Holy Prophet’ssa chest was covered with dust. He carried to the Companionsra bricks and stones with his own hands and recited poetic verses as well. When he saw Ammar bin Yasirra, he said, “O Ibn Sumayyah! A rebel group will slay you.” (Musnad Ahmad bin Hanbal, Vol. 6, p. 256)

It is evident from the above incidents that manual labour of the Companionsra was not due to the conditions of that time; rather, they were trained in this regard by their leader and guide and that is why they would do it. The rich and poor, the young and old all did it alike. None should think that they did it under certain conditions.

Women’s brave services during battles

Hazrat Anasra reports that when, on the occasion of the Battle of Uhud, the Muslim forces lost their feet, he saw Hazrat Aishara and Hazrat Umm Saleemra carrying water in water sacks for the wounded. They would bring another sack when one was emptied. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Maghazi)

Daughter of Abu Bakrra, Hazrat Asmara

Hazrat Asmara was the daughter of Hazrat Abu Bakrra and was of the affluent people of Mecca. Despite affluence, she would perform menial jobs with her own hands. She was married to Hazrat Zubairra, a less privileged companion. He possessed only a horse and a camel. Besides her household work, she herself would look after the camel and horse. The Holy Prophetsa donated a tract of land to Hazrat Zubairra. Hazrat Asmara herself would collect the date-bones from there and carry them on her head all the way, three furlongs, home. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Nikah, Bab al-Ghairah)

Wife earning money for the household

Hazrat Zainabra bint Abu-Mu‘awiyah was married to Hazrat Abdullahra bin Mas‘ud. Her husband was financially a poor man. She knew handicraft and used to earn her living by this manual labour. (Sahih Muslim, Kitab al-Zakat, Bab Fazl-un-Nafaqati ‘alal-Aqrabin)

An important request

In this age, we must learn a great lesson from this aspect of the lives of the Companionsra. Today, Western culture has ingrained a very dangerous mentality in the youth of the modern age and has presented to them a very wrong concept of self-respect, wherein they deem certain works below their dignity. And due to this misconception, they fall victim to redundancy. 

They lead their lives in straitened circumstances and become a burden on their parents and guardians. They prefer redundancy until they acquire a job suitable to their standard, which spoils them. Their inclination towards avarice and perversion sometimes spoils their character. If such youngsters read these accounts attentively and consider that no matter how respectable a family they may belong to, they cannot exceed the family members of the Holy Prophetsa

When the son-in-law of the Holy Prophetsa and the scion of the most respectable family of the Quraish and a scholarly person as well does not feel undignified when he cuts grass and sells it in the market; and the wives of the Holy Prophetsa do not feel ashamed to do work with their own hands; neither their family importance hinders their progress, nor does their relationship with the family of the Prophetsa hinder their manual labour, then certainly, youngsters in our age will feel bound to reflect upon their own attitude. A pleasant and comfortable revolution will be brought into the national and social lives of Muslims if such accounts strike their hearts and minds and as a result they reform themselves.

Seeing the blackened hands of a respectable companion and thereupon enquiring about its reason, which was that he had to break stones all day to earn a living for his family, and the Holy Prophet’ssa kissing his hands in response, shows that not only is it not below one’s dignity to do any job one gets; rather, it is highly meritorious in the sight of the Holy Prophetsa.

(Translated by Shahid Mahmood Ahmad, Missionary in Ghana, from the original Urdu, Muslim Nau-jawanon kay Sunehri Karnamey)

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