The Morality of the Prophet in Doing Good

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The Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) was adorned with the morals of the Qur’an, and the Qur’an described his character as “truly outstanding”1

His behavior generally reflected at least one verse of the Qur’an. For instance, when someone showed him kindness and generosity, he would immediately do even more in return whenever he had the opportunity. This was because God had stated in the Qur’an, “Is the reward for good anything but good?”2

One day, the Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him), the respected Abu Bakr, and the respected Umar met and went to the house of the Companion the respected Abu’l-Haytham. The respected Abu’l-Haytham said, “O Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him), I want to slaughter a small female goat.” While the Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him), Abu Bakr, and Umar were conversing, Abu’l-Haytham went and slaughtered the goat. His wife probably helped him, and they prepared the meal in a short time. After the meal, as a sweet gesture, Abu’l-Haytham brought clusters of ripe and fresh dates. The Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) and his two Companions ate the goat’s meat and the ripe dates, drank the water that was brought, and were satisfied. The meal was so delicious that they thought they hadn’t eaten such a meal in a long time.

While they were sitting, a male servant from Yemen was brought in. Shortly afterward, the respected Fatima, who had long been requesting a servant from the Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) to help with household chores, arrived. She showed the marks on her hands from carrying water and using the hand mill to grind wheat and asked for a servant. The Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) did not respond to this request immediately, but after the respected Fatima left, he made his decision and said, “I should give him to Abu’l-Haytham, because I witnessed how much he and his wife struggled to host us.” He informed Fatima of his decision and gave the servant to Abu’l-Haytham, saying, “Take this servant, Abu’l-Haytham, he will help you in your garden. Always treat him well and advise him towards goodness.” After working with Umm al-Haytham for a while, Abu’l-Haytham said to the servant, “I will handle the garden work with Umm al-Haytham. You can go now; you have no master other than God, you are free.” The man left and went to Sham (Damascus), where he found a way to make a living.

The Morality of the Prophet

As a result, the Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) displayed the innate morality that God had bestowed upon him. Witnessing this behavior, Abu’l-Haytham soon freed the servant, thereby applying Prophetic morality to his own life.3

Scholars who study Islamic ethics explain that there are three levels of responding to kindness with kindness. The first level is to respond to kindness with kindness, or at least to express gratitude. An even more valuable behavior is to respond to a good deed with an even greater one. This is because the Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “He who does not thank people does not thank God.”4

In another hadith, he said, “None of you should be like those who say, ‘If people are good to me, I will be good to them; and if they harm me, I will harm them.’ Instead, if people do good, strive to do good in return; if they behave badly, train yourself not to commit injustice.”5

In the example above, Abu’l-Haytham responded to the kindness of the Prophet by doing kindness to his servant, even if it wasn’t directly to the Prophet himself. It is also clear that both acts of kindness were done for the sake of God.

The second level is doing good without expecting anything in return, solely seeking the pleasure of God. These individuals are more virtuous than those at the first level. The Qur’an describes these very special servants of God, saying, “They say, ‘We feed you only for the sake of God. We do not seek from you any reward or gratitude.’” 6

In other words, acts of kindness performed without expecting any material or spiritual return are more virtuous in the sight of God than those at the first level. The third level is doing good to those who have wronged you and forgiving them. Indeed, this is one of the most challenging acts for one’s soul but also one of the most virtuous. Generally, prophets, saints, and righteous individuals reach this level. God Almighty refers to this level of goodness in a verse: “The retribution for an evil act is an evil one like it, but whoever pardons and makes reconciliation, his reward is [due] from God. Indeed, He does not like wrongdoers.”7

These verses, revealed during the Meccan period, provided guidance to Muslims under severe oppression by the Meccans on how to protect their rights within legitimate bounds. The verse indicates that Muslims are permitted to retaliate only to the extent of the wrong done to them, but choosing the path of forgiveness in personal matters is more virtuous and wiser, and its reward is kept with God.

Among those who grasp this third level of goodness, we can mention the first prophets, Prophet Joseph (peace be upon him), and our Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). Prophet Joseph forgave his brothers years after they had thrown him into the well and did not seek revenge against them. Similarly, despite enduring all sorts of torture and oppression directed towards him and other Muslims, the Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) forgave his enemies, just as Prophet Joseph forgave his brothers. After the conquest of Mecca, he declared a general amnesty in his sermon, saying, “You are all free, and may God forgive you.”8

This was because his morality was the Qur’an itself. The Qur’an had said to him, “Goodness and evil are not equal. Repel [evil] with what is better; then you will see that the one between whom and you there was enmity will become as though he were a devoted friend.”9

In a hadith, the Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) mentioned “the most virtuous deeds” (in another narration, the best among the people of this world and the Hereafter in terms of character) as follows: “Maintaining ties with those who cut you off, giving to those who withhold from you, and forgiving those who wrong you.”10

The respected Umar also said, “When someone comes to you, it is not enough to simply maintain family ties. This is, in a sense, retaliation (i.e., doing the same thing they did to you). True family ties mean going to the person who has cut ties with you and not severing the relationship with them.”11

Of course, when considering responding to good with good and evil with evil, the concept of “retaliation” (qisas) may come to mind. As known, retaliation refers to responding to an action with an equivalent action, and it is mentioned in the Quran to protect against injustices. Regarding this, in the explanation of the verse “O you who have understanding, there is life in retribution for you, so that you may be mindful.”12

Suat Yıldırım states: “Retaliation is a requirement for the right to life and for preserving life. Although retaliation itself is the destruction of a life that deserves punishment, it is also the greatest penalty against unjustly taking a life. Such a deterrent ruling as retaliation guarantees both societal and individual lives. Thus, you preserve your worldly life as well as your afterlife.” In Islam, crimes that require retaliation mostly involve the violation of public and personal rights together, and retaliation is emphasized more for personal injustices.

Of course, it should be remembered that the situation may differ when it comes to wrongs committed against the public, society, or a group rather than against an individual. In cases of wrongdoing that affect public rights and rights owed to God, it is necessary to adopt an attitude aimed at reforming them without causing greater injustices. Our Mother Aisha clearly stated that the Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) did not seek revenge or punish those who wronged her personally, but he would punish individuals when they violated what God prohibited.13 Yes, the authority to forgive non-personal crimes is not granted to individuals. The wrongs that individuals can forgive are those committed against themselves.

Conclusion

Responding to good with good is a behavior expected at a minimum level from every individual. Taking it a step further involves doing good without expecting anything in return and, when given something in return, saying, “I did this good deed solely for the sake of God; I want nothing in return,” thus displaying true altruism. The highest level of goodness is reached when, in cases of personal injustice and when one has the power to seek revenge against those who have wronged them, they can say, like Prophet Joseph (peace be upon him) and the Pride of the Universe (peace and blessings be upon him), “I do not reproach you. May my right be forgiven for you, and may God forgive you.”

Author: Abdullah Enes

[1] Surah Al-Qalam, 68/4.

[2] Surah Ar-Rahman, 55/60.

[3] Tabarani, al-Mu’jam al-Kabir, 10/210; Haythami, Majmau’z-Zawaid wa Manba’ul-Fawa’id, 10/319.

[4] Tirmidhi, “Birr” 35; Abu Dawud, “Adab” 12.

[5] Tirmidhi, “Birr” 63.

[6] Surah Al-Insan, 76/9.

[7] Surah Ash-Shura, 42/40.

[8] Ibn Sa’d, Kitabu’t-Tabaqat al-Kabir, 2/142.

[9] Surah Fussilat, 41/34.

[10] Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Musnad, 24/383 (no: 15617), Muassasatu’r-Risala 2001; Abdurrazzaq ibn Hammam, Musannaf, 10/226 (no: 21306), Second edition, Daru’t-Ta’sil 2013; Tabarani, al-Mu’jam al-Kabir, 17/269 (no: 739), Maktabatu Ibn Taymiyyah, Cairo, 1994.

[11] Ma’mar ibn Rashid, al-Jami’, 10/438, Majlis Ilmi, Beirut 1983.

[12] Surah Al-Baqarah, 2/179.

[13] Muslim, Fada’il 79.

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