The Prophet & the Desert Dweller

Sheikh Târiq b. Abd al-Rahmân al-Hawwâs

We cannot be heedless of the fact that trying to remedy a wrong with another wrong only makes the first wrong all the more stubborn and assertive. When we seek to right a wrong, or correct someone else’s bad behavior, we should ourselves exercise good behavior. We need to be as gentle and tactful as possible, and we should exhibit both reason and sensitivity. Severity and harshness will get us nowhere.

If we want to work for the betterment of others, we need to exercise patience and put ourselves forward as a good example of conduct. If we do not show people how to behave in a kind and dignified manner, how can we expect to help them learn to do so?

The following story of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his encounter with a course and ill-mannered desert dweller illustrates what we are saying. We should observe how the Prophet (peace be upon him) responded to that man’s harshness with clemency, kindness, and impeccable manners. In doing so, the Prophet (peace be upon him) protected the man from falling into unbelief.

A desert dweller came to the Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) imploring help about some matter – possibly the payment of blood money – and Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) gave him something, then asked: “Have I done well by you?”

The man replied: “No! Nor have you acted decently.”

Upon hearing this, some of the Muslims who were present became angry and wanted to take out their anger on the man. However, the Prophet (peace be upon him) signaled them to hold their peace. He then stood up and headed for his home. When he arrived at the doorway, he invited the desert dweller to join him in his home.

Then the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “You came to us and asked help from us, and we gave to you. Then you said what you said.”

The Prophet (peace be upon him) gave the man some more. He then asked: “Have I done well by you?”

The desert dweller replied: “Yes. And may Allah reward you in your family and kinsmen.”

Then the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “You came to us and asked help from us, and we gave to you. Then you said back then what you said. Because of this, my Companions now have bad feelings about you. When you come around again, say in front of them what you have just said to me now, so that their bad feelings about you will leave their hearts.”

The desert dweller agreed. When he approached them, Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said: “Your fellow here came to us ad asked of us and we gave to him. Then he said what he said. Then we had invited him and again gave to him and he attested that he was pleased. Is this correct, O desert dweller?”

The desert dweller said: “Yes. And may Allah reward you in your family and kinsmen.”

The Prophet (peace be upon him) later said to his Companions: “What took place now between me and this desert dweller is comparable to a man whose camel bolted off. Some people began pursuing it, but this just caused it to run further away. Then the camel’s owner said: ‘Leave me to my camel. I will show it more mercy,and I know it better..’ He then headed in its direction and caught up with it in some dusty ground. He called to it and it came to him. Then he secured its saddle on its back.

“Had I left you to do as you wished when that man said those words, he would have entered the Fire.”

[Narrated by al-Bazzâr (2476) and by Muhammad b.Nasr in Ta`zîm Qadr al-Salâh (992). Its chain of transmission has some weakness in it.]

We should think about how the Prophet (peace be upon him) handled the situation with the desert dweller. He did not get upset when, after being generous to the desert dweller and fulfilling his request, instead of being received with happiness and gratitude, the man used harsh words against him.

The Prophet’s heart was one of kindness and mercy. It was a heart full of compassion. This is why the man’s harshness towards him only increased his gentleness in return. And this helped to protect the desert dweller’s faith.

Indeed, the man’s words: “No! Nor have you acted decently.” was an open denial of the Prophet’s goodness and a description that can not be reconciled with the character of someone who is the Prophet of Allah. Such an outlook on the man’s part was already close to unbelief. It is quite possible that had the Prophet (peace be upon him) merely refused to give the desert dweller more money – let alone allow his Companions to deal with him – the man might have abandoned Islam and resented the religion. This would have put the man on the path to the Hellfire.

When we meet people today who are troubled and who respond with harshness and anger, we need to remember this lesson from the Prophet’s life and try to emulate it in our own behavior.

It is not enough for us to have our arguments and evidence in order, so that we can prove our points. We must covey our message with kindness. We must have genuine love and affection towards those whom we are addressing.

Gentleness, good manners, and a smiling countenance, coupled with positive words – these are the messengers that reach the heart. They are the means of dissipating the anger and incivility of others.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Whenever kindness enters into something, it beautifies it, and whenever something is bereft of kindness, it will be ugly.” [Sahîh Muslim (2594)]

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