Neglected Sunnahs: “Simplicity”

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Simplicity

In today’s world, the frenzy of consumption has surpassed both simplicity and human values, threatening the environment and life itself. The pursuit of a more comfortable and luxurious life has not only polluted the lands and seas but also corrupted humanity, bringing it to the brink of destruction.

The Qur’an highlights this irresponsibility and heedlessness of mankind, stating: ““Corruption has appeared on land and sea because of the actions and irresponsible behaviors of selfish people who disregard God’s commands and prohibitions, thinking only of their interests and pleasures; the land, air, and waters have been polluted, and the order has been disrupted.” The verse points out the damage caused by human greed to the environment and calls for a swift return from these wrongdoings: “… so that He may let them taste part of [the consequence of] what they have done that perhaps they will return [to righteousness.”1

Today, the pollution of the atmosphere and waters, threatening the lives of marine and terrestrial creatures, the depletion of the ozone layer due to toxic gases released into the air, climate change caused by global warming, the disruption of nature’s balance, and the danger of land submerging due to melting glaciers, all serve as serious warnings for those who understand.

If humanity views this from the right perspective and learns the necessary lessons, taking action with sincere repentance and seeking forgiveness to rectify all forms of corruption, it will be a great gain and an opportunity to compensate for the losses. Otherwise, irresponsible consumption, insatiable pursuit of luxury and comfort, will be the end of humanity and the doom of the world.

Therefore, just as humanity today is obliged to cleanse the external world from all forms of pollution and threats, it must also purify its inner world from the greed for consumption, luxury, and the stress that accompanies these desires. In fact, a person who cannot cleanse their inner world of these ambitions will not be able to protect their external world from material and spiritual pollution, even if they want to. For this reason, in the cause of environmental protection, the issue must begin with the individuals

themselves, from within. In this context, one of the most important practical dynamics of the beginning is the Sunnah of “simplicity:

The Insatiability of the Self

In today’s way of life, consumption has almost become an end in itself, with people being instilled with the idea that their worth is measured by how much they consume. This mindset has turned humans into mere consumption devices, ultimately depleting humanity and rendering it insatiable, thus making its trials even more burdensome. Now, there are generations who consume not out of need, but for the sake of consuming, never considering others, embodying selfishness. This mindset is a significant danger threatening our present and future. To produce an effective solution against this, humanity must first realize that consumption will never bring true satisfaction or peace. The

Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) highlighted this psychological truth by drawing attention to the insatiable nature of mankind, saying:

“If the son of Adam had a valley full of gold, he would want another one. Nothing fills his eyes except dust. But God accepts the repentance of those who repent.”2

Therefore, it is crucial for a person to know themselves, to realize and accept that the transient pleasures and bounties of this world are insufficient to satisfy their desires and to restrain their ambitions in this regard.

Otherwise, those who seek satisfaction in insatiability under the sway of their desires and ambitions pose a great danger to themselves, their environment, and humanity. For the greedy, no matter how much they earn or hoard, it is never enough. They constantly want more, and this greed can lead them to disregard environmental and human rights, neglecting what is permissible and forbidden, and showing no respect for the rights of others.

Thus, it is important to turn to God with repentance and seeking forgiveness to counter the excessive desire for wealth and gain. Additionally, choosing simplicity, which can be seen as a practical form of prayer and seeking forgiveness, is a fundamental dynamic that strengthens willpower and faith.

Preferring to Live Simply is a Matter of Faith

When the Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) advised his Companions about simplicity and educated them on this matter, he considered simplicity concerning faith and said:

“Don’t you hear? Living simply, choosing simplicity at all times and in all circumstances, living a simple life, is a matter of faith.” 3

To understand the Hadith, one must consider the concept of “simplicity” along with its opposite. The opposite of simplicity includes terms such as luxury, extravagance, ostentation, or grandeur. Within extravagance and ostentation, there are inevitably elements forbidden by Islam, such as waste, hypocrisy, arrogance, and self-admiration.

Looking at the statement of the Perfect Guide (peace and blessings be upon him) from this perspective, we better understand how simplicity is a branch/necessity of faith. Indeed, all the elements that oppose simplicity distance a person from faith and from being solely devoted to God, almost turning them into worshippers of themselves.

Therefore, the Qur’an and Sunnah instruct believers to stay away from showiness/hypocrisy, from self-admiration and arrogance,4 and not to purify themselves.5 They teach believers to use the worldly blessings they are given not recklessly, but with this awareness:

“In the wealth and blessings that God has bestowed upon you, seek the eternal abode of the Hereafter and strive to embellish it, but do not forget your share from the worldly life! Use what is sufficient for your needs. With what remains, just as God has bestowed upon you, do good to others. And do not seek to cause disorder in the land, for God does not like those who cause disorder.”6

He indicates that those who do not act according to this measure and only think of themselves, neglecting to see and care for the needy, will cause harm to societal peace, and for this reason, He will not love them.

In another verse, extravagance stemming from a failure to embrace a simple life is prohibited, and it is clearly stated that such behavior will not be loved by God:

O Children of Adam! Wear your beautiful apparel at every place of worship, and eat and drink, but waste not by extravagance, certainly He (God) likes not Al-Musrifun (those who waste by extravagance).”

Simplicity in the Life of the Messenger of God

The Messenger of God (peace and blessing be upon him) paid attention to living his life simply according to these principles; he avoided luxury, waste, and ostentation in eating, drinking, and dressing. He set the limit for simplicity for his own family based on necessity: “O God! Make the sustenance of the family of Muhammad just sufficient for their needs.”8 In his eating and drinking habits, he always preferred simplicity and modest portions. It was his sensitivity in this regard that often led to meals in his household consisting only of dates and water.9

The respected Sahl ibn Sa’d, who witnessed many meals where the Messenger of God (peace and blessing be upon him) was hosted, said, “From the moment God’s Messenger (peace and blessing be upon him) was sent as a prophet until he passed away, he never saw bread made from fine flour sifted with a sieve.” When asked, “Did you use sieves during the time of God’s Messenger (peace and blessing be upon him)?” he replied, “From the moment he was sent as a prophet until he passed away, he never saw a sieve.” When asked, “How did you consume unsifted barley flour?” he said, “We would grind the barley, blow away the chaff, and then soak the remaining flour to make dough.”10

As a result of the Prophet’s understanding of simplicity regarding the world and food and drink, he departed to the hereafter without having indulged in worldly blessings. One day, the respected Abu Huraira came across a group of people who had roasted sheep in front of them. The group insisted that he join them, but he refused to sit at the table. Reminding them of the days that are not forgotten, he said, “The Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) left this world without ever having his fill even of barley bread!” 11

Therefore, the life recommended by the Qur’an and Sunnah is not focused on indulging in worldly pleasures but on being content with little or just enough. This is why the Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) defined true wealth not by the abundance of possessions but by contentment: 12 “Glad tidings to the one who is guided to Islam, is provided with enough sustenance and is content with it!” 13

In another hadith, he offers the good news of success for such people: “Whoever becomes a Muslim and is provided with sufficient sustenance will be successful.” 14

The Simplicity of the Prophet’s Household

The household of the Messenger of God (peace and blessing be upon him) was extremely simple and small. The walls were built with stones or mud bricks, the common building materials of the time, and plastered with mud. The ceilings were covered with palm branches and were not very high. The respected Hasan Basri, who spent his childhood in the vicinity of the Prophet’s household, recalls that as a 12-13-year-old child, he could touch the ceiling of the Prophet’s rooms with his hand. 15

Each house had an additional small compartment. The room where the Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) lived was simply covered with a haircloth made from arar wood (a type of cypress). 16

The furnishing and decoration of his living quarters were also very simple. The small and narrow size of the room is clearly illustrated by an incident narrated by our mother, the respected Aisha: “When I was lying down, I would be on the side facing the Qibla. When I stretched out my legs, they would reach the place where the Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) would prostrate. When he went to prostrate, he would touch my feet, and I would draw them back. When he stood up, I would stretch them out again. At that time, there were no lamps or lighting systems in the houses.” 17

The doors of the Prophet’s rooms were made of black haircloth. Sa’id Ibn al-Musayyib, one of the leading figures of the Tabi’un, expressed his sorrow over the destruction of these rooms and their incorporation into the Prophet’s Mosque during the Umayyad period. He said, “By God, I would have loved for them to be left as they were! In this way, the new generation and those who visit could see how simply the Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) lived. They would not be inclined to amass wealth, build palaces, or boast about such things.” 18

The Prophet’s choice to live in such small, modest homes was not due to a lack of resources but because he did not value worldly life. Had he kept the portion of the spoils of war allotted to him, he could have bought lands and properties, and built houses, palaces, and mansions for himself, his family, and his relatives.

However, he always chose to live a simple life voluntarily and intentionally, spending his share of the spoils on the students at the Suffa and those in need. He set his living standards according to the poorest among his Companions and lived a careful life accordingly.

The Simplicity of His Home Furnishings

One example of the Prophet’s love for and preference for simplicity is the furnishings of his household. In his blessed home, there was a mat woven from palm leaves used as a carpet. During the day, this mat was spread on the floor, and at night it was used as a curtain to divide the room.19

Sometimes he would pray and sit on a mat in his home. 20

Carpets were known among the people of that time, but the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and his Companions did not use them due to both material constraints and a preference for simplicity. For instance, when Jabir got married, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) asked him, “Have you brought carpets to your house?” Jabir replied, “How could I afford carpets? I don’t have the means.” Upon this, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Know that soon you will have very valuable carpets or mattresses.”21

As the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) had foretold, when Jabir’s wife spread carpets in their house later, Jabir remembered the Prophet’s words and told his wife, “Keep the carpets away from me.”

The respected Umar’s visit to the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) during the “Ilah” incident, where he rushed to visit and upon seeing the scene, was overwhelmed with tears, is a clear example of the Prophet’s simplicity.

During this visit, the respected Umar saw a scene that deeply moved him. He saw a pillow filled with palm fibers, a mat woven from palm leaves that barely covered a part of the Prophet’s body (hasir), three unprocessed leather pieces hanging over his head, and some wooden materials used for leatherworking. Witnessing the marks left on the Prophet’s body by the weave of the mat, the respected Umar became greatly distressed and started to cry. When the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) asked him why he was crying, the respected Umar responded, “How can I not cry? Your body bears marks from the mat, and besides what we see here, there is nothing else in the room. Meanwhile, emperors like Kisra and Caesar live amidst luxury, enjoying rich foods, sitting on golden thrones, and sleeping on beds made of silk and satin. Yet, you, as the Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him), live in such simplicity and hardship. Is this appropriate? Can’t we at least prepare a proper bed for you?” In response, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) explained that he voluntarily chose simplicity and that his focus was solely on the Hereafter. He conveyed this with a succinct expression:

“Would you not be pleased, O Umar? Let the world belong to them, and the Hereafter to us!”22

The Prophet’s Modest Bed

According to the account narrated by the respected Aisha, a woman from the Ansar visited her and upon seeing that the Prophet’s bed consisted only of a folded mat, she hurried home and brought back a bed filled with wool. When the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) saw that his bed had been changed, he did not approve and expressed his preference for simplicity, saying, “O Aisha! Return that bed. By God, if I wished, God could make mountains of gold and silver obey my command.”23

Those who view themselves as travelers in this world always prefer simplicity and succeed in living that way. The respected Abdullah ibn Mas’ud said: “The Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) slept on a mat, and when he woke up, the marks of the mat were imprinted on his side. We said, ‘O Messenger of God! (peace and blessings be upon him) Shall we not prepare a bed for you?’ He replied, ‘What have I to do with worldly things? I am like a traveler who takes shade under a tree and then moves on.’” 24

Conclusion

Simplicity is an important Sunnah that preserves one’s health, wealth, character, and environment. It is a crucial dynamic in the path towards becoming a complete individual. Choosing what pleases God and His Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) leads to a tranquil path where believers find happiness and fulfillment. It is a lifestyle that brings blessings by promoting moderation and eliminating extravagance. It replaces complaints with gratitude and fosters righteous actions. Simplicity touches hearts, brings individuals closer together, and uplifts humanity. On the other hand, ostentation drives people apart and degrades humanity.

A believer is humble and modest, simplifying life. They are modest and humble in their worldly affairs, yet profound in their hearts and souls, and magnificent in their thoughts and actions.

The level of civilization and development of individuals and societies should be measured not by consumption but by simplicity. Individuals and nations that lack simplicity cannot be truly free nor can they achieve greatness.

Simplicity signifies depth, while the pursuit of luxury and extravagance indicates shallowness and a kind of falsehood. Those who seek peace and tranquility in simplicity will find it, whereas those who indulge in extravagance will not. Those who cannot be content with little will never have enough. Those who choose simplicity in life are more open to spirituality, while those immersed in luxury and extravagance are more closed off. In simplicity, there is humility and modesty, while in luxury and grandeur, there is pride and self-admiration.

Simplicity is as attractive as the fragrance of a flower and as impactful and soothing as the tranquility within the night. Those who prioritize materialism cannot find the peace they seek, but those who choose simplicity based on faith will find it in this world and beyond.

Simplicity and beauty are like two sides of the same truth. What is simple is always beautiful. Simplicity is the friend of life, while extravagance is its enemy. Simplicity not only reveals the humanity within a person but also develops their capabilities.

Therefore, simplicity is revitalizing, while extravagance is poisonous and deadly. Simplicity is both freedom and great wealth. Luxury, ostentation, and extravagance, on the other hand, enslave one to material possessions.

Simplicity beautifies a person, while its opposite makes them ugly. Simplicity leads to gratitude, while extravagance and ostentation lead to rebellion. Simplicity based on faith will, like a beam of light filtering through the sun, usher humanity to the threshold of new enlightenment, bringing it closer to love, compassion, greater sharing, and peace.

Author: Dr. Selim Koç

Our author completed his undergraduate studies at Uludağ University Faculty of Theology in 1987. He completed his master’s degree in hadith studies at the same faculty in 1992, and obtained his doctorate in Tafsir from the Social Sciences Institute of Sakarya University in 2002. Throughout the years, the author also continued to receive private lessons in Tafsir, hadith, Islamic jurisprudence, theology, and Sufism. Having conducted extensive readings in the field of seerah for many years and authored numerous articles, our writer has been writing regularly on our website for eight years. He resided in Mecca and Medina for about 1.5 years and visited many places related to the life of the Prophet Muhammad, conducting special research and investigations.

Footnotes

1.See Surah Ar-Rum, 30/41; and see also Surah Al-Baqarah, 2/155; Surah Al-A’raf, 7/168; Surah Al-Anbiya, 21/35.

2.Sahih al-Bukhari, Book of Ar-Riqaq, Hadith 10; Sahih Muslim, Book of Zakat, Hadith 116-119.

3.Sunan Abu Dawud, Book of Clothing, Hadith 2 (4162).

4.See Surah Al-Qasas, 28/76.

5.See Surah Luqman, 31/18; Surah An-Najm, 53/32.

6.Surah Al-Qasas, 28/77.

7.Surah Al-A’raf, 7/31.

8.Sahih Muslim, Book of Zakat, Hadith 126.

9.See Sahih al-Bukhari, Book of Gifts, Hadith 1; Sahih Muslim, Book of Asceticism, Hadith 28.

10.Sahih al-Bukhari, Book of Meals, Hadith 23.

11.Sahih al-Bukhari, Book of Meals, Hadith 23.

12.See Sahih al-Bukhari, Book of Ar-Riqaq, Hadith 15; Sahih Muslim, Book of Zakat, Hadith 120.

13.Sunan At-Tirmidhi, Book of Asceticism, Hadith 35 (2349).

14.Sunan At-Tirmidhi, Book of Asceticism, Hadith 35 (4348).

15.Ibn Sa’d, The Book of Classes, VII/161; Samhudi, The Loyalty of Loyalty, II/54.

16.Samhudi, The Loyalty of Loyalty, Vol. II/54.

17.Sahih al-Bukhari, Book of Prayer, Hadith 22 (382); Sahih Muslim, Book of Prayer, Hadith 51/272 (512).

18.Ibn Sa’d, The Book of Classes, I/499-500.

19.See Sahih al-Bukhari, Book of Clothing, Hadith 43 (5861); Sahih Muslim, Book of Prayer of the Traveler, Hadith 30/215 (782).

20.Sunan Abu Dawud, Book of Tribulations, Hadith 93 (659).

21.Sahih al-Bukhari, Book of Virtues, Hadith 25 (3631), Book of Marriage, Hadith 62 (5161); Sahih Muslim, Book of Clothing, Hadith 7/39 (2083).

22.Sahih al-Bukhari, Commentary on the Qur’an, Hadith 2 (4913, 5843); Sahih Muslim, Book of Divorce, Hadith 5/31 (1479).

23.Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Book of Asceticism, p. 30.

24.Sunan At-Tirmidhi, Book of Asceticism, Hadith 44 (2377); Sunan Ibn Majah, Book of Asceticism, Hadith 3 (4109).

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