Hadith 31: The Concept of Al-Zuhud in Islam
(The Concept of Asceticism in Islam)
By Imam Nawawi
In the name of Allāh, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful;
All the praise and Thanks is due to Allāh, the Lord of Al-`ālameen. I testify that there is none worthy of worship except Allāh, and that Muhammad, Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam, is His Messenger
On the authority of Abu Al-`Abbas Sahl Bin Sa`ad Al-Sa`idi, (radiyallāhu’anhu), who said:A man came to the Prophet, (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam), and said:
“O Messenger of Allāh, direct me to an act which if I do it, [will cause] Allāh to love me and people to love me.” Rasulullah, (Sallallāhu`alayhi wasallam), answered: “Be indifferent to the world (worldly matters) and Allāh will love you; be indifferent to what people possess and they will love you.”
[A good hadith recorded by Ibn Mājah and others with good chains of authorities]
This hadith is a weak hadith as pointed out by many scholars. Ibn Rajab (rahimahullāh) gave a detailed argument about the weakness of this hadith. However, later scholars still recorded their commentaries on the text of the hadith for several reasons. The major two reasons are:
1. Sometimes the chain of the narrators (sanad) is not strong and the hadith consequently is not an authentic hadith. But the meaning of the text of the hadith is correct and acceptable. In this case the scholars still give their comments on the hadith.
2. The hadith is related to one of the major concepts in Islam which is Al-Zuhud (Asceticism, simplicity, plainness, cleanness, sobriety, self-discipline). Unfortunately, many Muslims misunderstand and misinterpret this concept due to the influence of other cultures. We need to remove this misunderstanding or misinterpretation which is linked to this concept.
Ibn Rajab (rahimahullāh) says that this hadith contains some great advice:
Prophet Muhammad, (Sallallāhu`alayhi wasallam), said the renouncing of these worldly matters will lead to the love of Allāh.In other words, the one who practices this zuhud is the giving of high priorities to matters of Day of Resurrection that will be loved by Allāh; rather than the temporary worldly matters. Secondly, to renounce what people possess and that will cause the love of people to the person who practices zuhud.
Al-Zuhud has been emphasized in the Qur'an and hadiths especially zuhud in this world. In Surah An-Nisā' Ayah 77, Allāh says: “Brief is the enjoyment of this world whereas the life to come is best for all who are muttaqun or conscious of Allāh”. In Surah Al-Ra'd Ayah 20, Allāh says: “The life of this world is nothing but a flitting pleasure.” In Surah Al-A'la Ayah 16-17, Allāh says: “But may you prefer the life of this world although the life to come is better and more enduring.”
In Sahih Muslim, on the authority of Jabir Ibn `Abdullah, (radiyallāhu`anhu): who said: “The Prophet, (Sallallāhu`alayhi wasallam), one day was passing through the market and he passed by a dead goat, which had its ears cut. Rasulullah (Sallallāhu`alayhi wasallam) held the goat by the ear and asked who would like to have it for one dirham (which was a very low price of currency at that time). The people said they wouldn't take it even if it was free. What could they do with it? Rasūlullāh, (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam), asked if they liked it if it was theirs. They said even if it was alive they would still not buy it because of its cut ears. So how could they buy it now especially since it was dead? The Prophet, (Sallallāhu 'alayhi wasallam), said: "This worldly life is so little in the sight of Allāh as this dead animal or goat is so little in your sight".
There are many other hadiths where the Prophet, (Sallallāhu`alayhi wasallam), commanded Muslims to avoid asking others for anything, especially money, and to do the best not to indulge in the act of asking others.
One of the early scholars, Abu Muslim Al-Hawlani, (rahimahullāh) says zuhud in this world does not mean forbidding what is permissible or wasting wealth. Zuhud with respect to this world is only where a person puts more in fear and as well of trust in Allāh, more than what was is in his own hands. If he was afflicted with calamity by losing something of this world, he is more hopeful for its reward and what is in store for him in the Hereafter than if it were to have remained with him.
Based on this, Ibn Rajab (rahimahullāh) states that zuhud can be interpreted as three actions of the heart:
1. The Muslim should realize that all provisions come from Allāh Almighty and not simply the result of his own acts. He should trust Allāh and what Allāh has more than what he has in his hands.
2. If he loses anything in this world, this should not bother him because he is looking for its reward.
3. The Muslim should not care whether he is going to be blamed or praised by others. He will not look for praise. In his heart, he is not touched by such praise. And if he is blamed, he will not be offended by being blamed. If the accusation is not true, he has nothing to worry about; if it is true then he has to face it and try to be a better Muslim, he fear Allāh Almighty most in losing the Allāh’s rahmah and be thankful of Allāh’s bounty.
We can also try to see and compare what was narrated by Al-Imam Abu Muslim Al-Hawlani (rahimahullāh) and what has been narrated by other scholars. Al-Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal (rahimahullāh) was asked one day if someone owns one thousand dinar, can he still be a zahid. He replied yes, he can be still a zahid if he does not feel rejoice if the money increases and he does not become sad if it decreases. We must not become slaves to money or our worldly possessions. We can be wealthy and zahid if we are still thankful to Allāh and use wealth in the right way (provided also that we obtained this wealth in the right way). This meaning has been emphasised by Sufian Ibn `Uyainah (rahimahullāh), one of the great scholars, when he was asked who is to be considered as zahid. He said whoever Allāh bestowed a bounty on him then he is thankful and then when he is under trial, he is patient.
Sufian Al-Thawri (rahimahullāh) said: Al-Zuhud in this world is that the Hereafter is always in your heart and think of the Hereafter - you think of death. We should be prepared for the next world. This is a definition of al-Zuhud. Zuhud means a status of the heart where a person fears he will not live a long life. This will motivate everyone to be a good Muslim. If we have this feeling that we are going to leave this world at any time, this will lead us to be closer to Allāh and fulfill our obligations and also to get away from disobedience.
Types of Zuhud
This is why some scholars point out that there are different types of zuhud:
1. Al-Zuhud of getting away from disobedience and sin
2. Not to be misled by our desires.
3. Not to exceed the limits of the permissible or the allowable acts (mubah). For example, we should not exceed the limits of sleeping (i.e. sleeping unnecessarily long hours) or eating (i.e. eating too much) which is permissible.
Ibn Rajab (rahimahullāh) said the one, who is hopeless of living a long life, then he is looking forward to meeting Allāh and he is eager for the Hereafter - this is the maximum level of zuhud. Ibn Rajab (rahimahullāh) then says that looking at this worldly life as blameworthy is not because of the day or nights, which are signs of Allāh, and not the place and not what He planted in the land, or the animals He created. All of these are bounties from Allāh and beneficial to us. The blameworthy is actually with regards to the actions of the people in this life because most of these actions are not done in accordance to the guidance of revelation in a way that will lead to good consequences. Usually the consequences will be bad ones. People will not be able to do good things.
What should be done then is to be like the righteous and good people who used their lives as a means of getting them to the final destination. They were satisfied and contented by whatever they got. Even permissible acts and desires are treated in the same way. Sleeping and eating are good for us because this will help us to perform our obligations. That is why Ibn Rajab (rahimahullāh) says all the early scholars looked for these permissible actions as means of fulfilling their obligations. He quoted Al-Hasan Al-Basri (rahimahullāh) who said: Doing whatever is beneficial for you is not considered as the love of this world. So we should not belittle some professions and consider them as part of worldly life.
Some Muslims misunderstand the term and meaning of zuhud. This will lead the Muslim community to become backward. Since we are entrusted for the establishment of Islamic civilization, this requires that we have professionals, and different fields of specializations. All these take effort and time. But what we do here is for the betterment of the community where there is a great need for professional people. If we do it with good intentions and for the sake of Allāh we will be rewarded - this is the real zuhud.
Zuhud does not mean that we stay in one place and worship Allāh Almighty. Worshiping Allāh is a broad concept. The betterment of the community is considered as a form of worship. So asceticism or zuhud does not clash with any of the worldly affairs that the community needs. The zuhud here becomes that we do it in the right way, with a good intention and for the sake of Allāh. This should not keep us from fulfilling the obligations towards Allāh.
Ibn Rajab (rahimahullāh) mentions that the worldly life is cursed because it keeps people away from Allāh. They will be deprived from fulfilling the obligations. This life is a test for us, as stated in Surah Al-Kahf, 18: 7: “Indeed, We have made that which is on the earth adornment for it that We may test them [as to] which of them is best in deed”. We either use it in the right way or are rewarded or we use it in the wrong way which will cause us to fail the test - we will go astray and indulge in disobedience.
All approaches that bring us closer to Allāh and to be loved by Him is al-zuhud. There are other actions that make Allāh love us:
1. To love Allāh much. If we love Allāh, He will love us.
2. The love of meeting Allāh (as stated in another hadith).
3. The love of the Prophet, (Sallallāhu`alayhi wasallam), more than we love ourselves and our family and to love his Sunnah and to follow his model.
4. Remembrance of Allāh, and all forms of dzikir.
5. To practice the preferable good deeds: amalan saliheen.
If we claim that we love Allāh Almighty, we should test ourselves by taking the above points as criteria. By loving Allāh, we will be successful in this life and the Hereafter.
'Abdullah bin Mas'ud (radiyallāhu`anhu) reported that the Prophet (Sallallāhu`alayhi wasallam) used to say: "Allāhumma inni as’alukal-huda wat-tuqa wal-‘afafa wal-ghina (O Allāh! I ask You for guidance, piety, chastity and self-sufficiency)". [Recorded by Muslim].
This Hadith contains four words, the meanings and implications of which constitute its essence. These words are guidance, piety (fear of Allāh), chastity and sufficiency. Guidance here means guidance at every turn of life and steadfastness on the path of truth. Fear of Allāh is the greatest means of piety and strongest defense against sins. Chastity is the state of being free from what is unlawful. Self-sufficiency is the antonym of poverty and here it means the self-contentment. What it implies is that one should not care for what people possess. In view of all these qualities, the do’a of the Prophet (Sallallāhu`alayhi wasallam) mentioned in this Hadith is very comprehensive and valuable.
Ibn Abi Hatim and Ibn Jarir recorded that Umm Salamah (radiyallāhu`anha), said that the Prophet (Sallallāhu`alayhi wasallam) used to supplicate: ‘Ya muqallibal-qulubi, thabbit qalbi `ala deenik (O Controller of the hearts make my heart steadfast in Your religion).” Rasulullah (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) then recited: Rabbana la tuzia’qulubana ba’ daiz hadaitana wahab Lana min laduñ karahmah; Iñnaka an tal wahhāb. (Our Lord! Let not our hearts deviate (from the truth) after Thou have guided us, and grant us mercy from Thou. Truly, Thou are the Bestower.) (Al-’Imran, 3:8) [This is recorded by Muslim and At-Tirmidzi]
Anas bin Malik (radiyallāhu'anhu) reported: The supplication most often recited by the Prophet (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) was:“Allāhumma atina fid-dunya hasanatan, wa fil-akhirati hasanatan, wa qina ‘adhab-annar (O our Rabb! Give us in this world that which is good and in the Hereafter that which is good, and save us from the punishment of the Fire).”‘[This is recorded by Al-Bukhāri, Muslim, and Tarmidzi].
It is desirable to recite this Du’a which is mentioned in the Qur’an (Al-Baqārah, 2:201) and which comprehends all that is good both in this life and the Hereafter. The Prophet (Sallallāhu `alayhi wa sallam) made it a habit to recite this Du’a, and the Companions were eager to follow him in all his words and actions. Tarmidzi (rahimullāh) said: “Hasanah is very comprehensive and includes in all kinds of good and benefits of this world and of the Hereafter. Good health, wealth and satisfaction of the world and good status in Jannah, forgiveness from sins and Allāh’s bounties and favours in both worlds are included in this duā’” [ Jāmi’ At-Tarmidzi]
And Allāh Almighty Knows best.
[Excerpted with minor modification from “Hadith 31 : "The Concept of Al-Zuhud (Asceticism) In Islam", 40 Hadiths Of Imam Nawawi” By Dr. Jamal Ahmed BadiVia IC Truth]