The exemplary young Companions: Simple lifestyle

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

All the Companionsra, including those who were bestowed riches, always observed simplicity in their meals and clothing. 

Simplicity despite affluence

Hazrat Abdur Rahmanra bin Auf was a very rich man. After his death, his inheritors had his gold bricks cut with axes to distribute them and the hands of those who cut the gold were badly blistered. Each of his wives, getting one-eighth share, received eighty thousand dinars in cash. Thousands of camels and goats were also included. Nevertheless, he transcended formalities in food and drink. Though he was liberal in entertaining guests, he did so without any ostentation. Tears would roll down his eyes when he recalled the poverty of the Muslims in the early days of Islam. (Al-Isabah, Vol. 4, p. 290; Usdul-Ghabah, Vol. 3, p. 375)

Simple diet

Hazrat Jabirra bin Abdullah enjoyed a high and exalted station, but led a simple and plain lifestyle. 

Once, some Companionsra visited him at home. At the time, he was eating bread with vinegar. He came out along with his meal and sat down with them. He offered them to partake of his meal and said, “When a person is visited by his friends, he should offer them to eat whatever he has available to him. And the guests as well should not look down on anything and partake of whatever is available as formality ruins both parties” (i.e. the host and guest). (Musnad Ahmad bin Hanbal, Vol. 3, p. 371)

Olive oil considered a dish in its own right

In this regard, an account of Hazrat Umarra is worth mentioning. 

Once when he visited his daughter, Hazrat Hafsahra, she offered him curry with olive oil on it. He remarked, ‘Two courses in one meal! By God, I will never partake of it.’ 

One should remember that in Arabia, olive oil too was used as a curry with bread. (Usdul-Ghabah, Vol. 3, p. 654)

Revolutionary change after Islam

Hazrat Mus‘abra bin Umair was a very handsome young man. His parents were rich. Thus, he was brought up in worldly comforts. He was given to wearing very expensive clothes and perfumes. The Holy Prophetsa would say that no one in Mecca was more handsome, well-clad and brought up in more worldly comforts than Mus‘ab.

This was only before Islam. After accepting Islam, he was so transformed under the training of the Holy Prophetsa that he ignored all formalities. He was so changed now, that once, when he visited the Holy Prophetsa, he was wearing a much-patched leather piece that only covered him from navel to knee. To see him, the Holy Prophetsa remarked, “All praise belongs to Allah! Now, the whole world should change itself.” 

This was a youngster who, in the whole Mecca, was brought up most comfortably, but the love of God and the Prophetsa had rendered him indifferent to all formalities. (Tabaqat Ibn Saad, Vol. 1, p. 82)

Willingness to offer help in any condition

It has been related about Hazrat Salmanra the Persian that he was the governor of Mada‘in. But his lifestyle and dress was very simple. Once, somebody, considering him a labourer, loaded a bundle of grass on his head. An acquaintance of his told him that he was their amir and a companion of the Holy Prophetsa. At this, he became embarrassed and apologised; he hastened to take the bundle down from his head. But Hazrat Salmanra refused and said that he would unload it at his house only. (Tabaqat Ibn Saad, Vol. 4. p. 88)

Refusing expensive gifts

Like other Companionsra, the lifestyle of Hazrat Abdullahra bin Umar, too, was very simple. Once, somebody gifted him very expensive clothes, but he refused to accept them and said, for fear of arrogance, that he could not wear such clothes. (Tabaqat Ibn Saad, Vol. 4, p. 161)

Simple weddings and marriage ceremonies

The lifestyle of the Companionsra was so simple that even on weddings, they maintained simplicity. Somebody who is not rich would not embitter their lives by taking a loan; rather, whatever is available would suffice for them. Since everyone had the same spirit, none of them would consider it improper; rather, they appreciated simplicity. 

A companion wanted to marry a woman. The Holy Prophetsa asked him if he had anything to give her as dowry. He replied that he possessed only a cloth which he wore on the lower part of the body. The Holy Prophetsa replied as to how would he cover himself if he gave that cloth in dowry and asked him to find something else. If nothing else, only an iron ring would do. Finally, the Holy Prophetsa asked him to teach her some surahs of the Holy Quran as dowry and solemnised their marriage. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab Faza‘il-ul-Quran, Bab Al- Qir‘atu an Zuhril-Qalb)

Hazrat Abu Bakr’sra simplicity

Hazrat Abu Bakrra was an affluent and rich man and possessed a high standing in the Muslim society. Besides ancestry nobility and honour, he was the apple of the eye of all the Muslims because of his piety and devotion to Islam. But he led a very simple life; he wore a plain dress and ate simple food. (Tabaqat Ibn Saad, Vol. 3, p. 139)

Tough training of Muslim warriors

One of the things which Hazrat Umarra had declared necessary for the Muslim warriors was that they must not be inclined to lead luxurious lives and that bearing adversities and diligence, they should maintain hard work. Therefore, they were prescribed swimming, horse-riding, marksmanship and walking bare feet. They were also not allowed to mount a horse with the help of stirrups, take baths in proper baths or wear soft clothes. They were also directed not to stop eating in the sun. (Sunan Abu Dawud, Kitab al-Khiraaj)

Hazrat Umar’sra simplicity

This is a misconception that the Companions’ simple lifestyles was due to their privation. The fact is they led simple lives because this was what they deduced from the life of the Holy Prophetsa and the Islamic teachings. For them, this was a necessary part of the Islamic teachings. 

Thus, after the conquests of Byzantine and Persian Empires, when riches and abundance prevailed, the Companionsra led extremely simple lifestyles. 

Once, the mother of the faithful, Hazrat Hafsahra, said to Hazrat Umarra that as Allah had bestowed upon them riches, he should bring in use fine clothing and food. In reply, he said, “By God, though we have an abundance [of wealth], but I shall follow in the footsteps of my Master.” Thereafter, for a long while, he talked about the simple lifestyle and privation of the Holy Prophetsa, so much so that Hazrat Hafsahra started crying profusely. (Kanzul-Ummal, Vol. 12, p. 635, Hadith 35,958)

Once Hazrat Umarra sat down to dine with Yazeed bin Abi Sufyan. The table was laid with delicious and excellent courses, but Hazrat Umarra refused to eat it and said, “In the name of the Lord, Who has control over my life, if you abandon the way of the Holy Prophetsa, you will be distanced from the straight path.” (Kanzul-Ummal, Vol. 12, p. 621, Hadith 35,921)

Hazrat Umarra was a ruler of an empire, yet he never had clothes in excess of what he needed. 

Once, for quite some time, he did not come out of his house while people waited outside. When he was enquired about the delay, he replied that his clothes had become dirty and that he was waiting for them to dry after washing them.

Once somebody complained to him about his simple food and that it was difficult for them to eat it. He replied, “It is a fallacy of yours to think that I am not capable of eating excellent food. I swear, in the name of God Almighty, that had I not had the fear of the Day of Judgement, I too would have taken excellent meals.”

Thus, it is clear that the simple lifestyle was not due to the absence of ability; rather, the senior Companionsra considered it a part of the Islamic teachings. (Kanzul-Ummal, Vol. 12, p. 624, Hadith 35,924)

Once Hazrat Umarra sent some companions on an expedition to Iraq. They were clad in splendid clothes when they returned. Upon seeing their splendid clothes, Hazrat Umarra turned his face from them and refused to talk to them. They realised it and departed to their houses to change their clothes with the plain ones. Hazrat Umarra welcomed them cordially and hugged each one of them when they returned in plain clothes. This is a proof of the fact that to Hazrat Umarra, plain and simple dress was necessary according to the Islamic teachings and their frugality was not due to their privation. (Kanzul-Ummal, Vol. 12, p. 637, Hadith 35,959)

Hazrat Uthman’sra simplicity

Hazrat Uthmanra was one of the rich people among the Arabs and he could have maintained a princely lifestyle if he had wished to do so. But he never used the items used for elegance, so much so that he even avoided the clothes used by the middle class of the Arabs of that time. (Zurqani, Vol. 2, p. 8)

Simple wedding of Hazrat Alira and Hazrat Fatimara

At the wedding of Hazrat Fatimara, the beloved daughter of the Holy Prophetsa, with Hazrat Alira, she was given in dowry only a bed, bedding, a sheet of cloth, two mills and a water-skin. And the wedding feast consisted of dates, barley bread, cheese and soup, about which Hazrat Asmara said she had not seen a more lavish wedding feast in that age. (Majma al-Zawa‘id, Vol. 4, p. 50)

Today the miserable condition of the Muslims only adds to every well-wisher’s agony. The problem is that the masses have no sense of its remedy and the leaders are disinterested in it. 

One of the reasons for the misery of Muslims in this age is their aversion to hard work and addiction to comfortable lifestyles. Redundancy is rampant among Muslims and especially the youngsters, who are opposed to working. They avoid any job which they consider below their self-styled dignity. In addition, they have made themselves given to formalities and unnecessary extravagance. Evidently, it becomes hard for a victim of such difficulties to make sacrifices in the cause of faith. 

The true picture of civilisation and simplicity in lifestyle of the Companionsra becomes evidently clear from the above accounts. Irrespective of their state of privation, one is bound to realise that they led very simple lives. This modest lifestyle was not affected at all in the time of abundance of means. 

In no circumstances at all did they neglect the teachings of their divine teacher. They exhibited extravagance neither in their meals, nor in their dresses, and they maintained this modesty at weddings as well, so much so that the Holy Prophetsa got his daughter married in such a modest way that no Muslim today, even of the least means, would like to have his daughter married in that way. 

One is embarrassed to compare the Muslims’ extravagance at weddings today with the practice of the Holy Prophetsa. Expenditures on weddings to a limited degree are agreeable for a man of means. But the dilemma of this age is that a man of limited means is overburdened with debt, which in some cases is not paid off for generations. The grandfather’s mistake makes life miserable even for the grandsons.

The mode of sacrifices in the time of the Holy Prophetsa was altogether different from that of today. Today, monetary sacrifices are the need of the hour. It is evident that without restricting one’s monthly needs and saving up some money, one cannot make financial sacrifices whatsoever. 

For this very reason, in order to strengthen the Jamaat in opposition to its adversaries, the Second Khalifa of the Ahmadiyya Movement launched a scheme which especially emphasised adopting simple lifestyles i.e. modest meals and clothes, and he forbade getting clothes in excess of one’s needs. 

Similarly, he forbade other unnecessary expenses for women such as lace, ribbon and brocade etc. and other expenditures on pointless – rather, ruinous to character – activities such as cinema, theatre and circus etc.  

To follow the above-mentioned guidelines, one may be redeemed in the Hereafter on the one hand, while on the other, it frees one from various social and financial anxieties. 

This is an extremely useful and far-sighted idea, and if Muslims in general adopt this lifestyle today, they will earn the reward by following in the footsteps of the Holy Prophetsa on the one hand, whereas on the other, they will be freed from other social worries. And by the strength of their economic condition, they will be able to progress as a nation. 

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

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