Towards Improving Our Quranic Character – Sacrifice: “Preferring Others over Themselves even though they are in Need of that”
Part 1 | Part 2
In the previous article, our eyes were opened up to how chances of suicide are increased if the people become more individualistic. This has been highlighted by the famous Sociologist Emile Durkheim in his findings. In conjunction with this, we were introduced to the powerful Quranic moral value that helps to push us human beings away from individualism by becoming more socially integrated, thus decrease the chances of suicide. The second article of this series will continue to help us fathom, internalise, thereby easily inculcate this trait within us.
Abū Hurayrah’s Tarbiyah
Another amazing story exemplifying this noble characteristic of “preferring others over themselves even though they were in need of that” is the case of Abū Bakr. He is the best person after the Prophet ﷺ and his closest Companion.
ʿUmar ibn al-Khaṭṭāb reported:
أَمَرَنَا رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم أَنْ نَتَصَدَّقَ فَوَافَقَ ذَلِكَ عِنْدِي مَالاً فَقُلْتُ الْيَوْمَ أَسْبِقُ أَبَا بَكْرٍ إِنْ سَبَقْتُهُ يَوْمًا قَالَ فَجِئْتُ بِنِصْفِ مَالِي فَقَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم ” مَا أَبْقَيْتَ لأَهْلِكَ ” . قُلْتُ مِثْلَهُ وَأَتَى أَبُو بَكْرٍ بِكُلِّ مَا عِنْدَهُ فَقَالَ ” يَا أَبَا بَكْرٍ مَا أَبْقَيْتَ لأَهْلِكَ ” . قَالَ أَبْقَيْتُ لَهُمُ اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ قُلْتُ وَاللَّهِ لاَ أَسْبِقُهُ إِلَى شَيْءٍ أَبَدًا
“The Messenger of Allah ﷺ ordered us to give charity, and at the time I had some wealth. I said to myself, ‘Today I will outdo Abū Bakr, if ever there were a day to outdo him.’ I went with half of my wealth to the Prophet and he said, ‘What have you left for your family?’ I said, ‘The same amount.’ Then, Abū Bakr came with everything he had. The Prophet said, ‘O Abū Bakr, what have you left for your family?’ Abū Bakr said, ‘Allah and his Messenger.’ I said, ‘By Allah, I will never do better than Abū Bakr.’”
Abū Bakr gave everything he had, while having tawakkul (reliance upon Allah) that his family would be looked after. Even though he immensely loved his family members and wanted the best for them, he acknowledged the bigger picture and societal context of the Muslim community. He thus sought to fulfil a great need to ensure the well-being and protection of the Muslims. Abū Bakr aimed at achieving very high and lofty objectives. He personally developed himself to the state where he could be patient and content with giving away all his wealth in such a manner. ʿUmar was competing with Abū Bakr in this good deed, and thought he could outdo him by giving away half of his wealth, which is without any doubt a large amount. However, once he observed how Abū Bakr astonishingly gave away everything, he said: “By Allah, I will never do better than Abū Bakr.” This shows how Abū Bakr’s sacrifice was on another level.
The Process of developing this Quranic Characteristic
To get an insight into the process of developing this lofty and noble trait, we will look at the example of how our Prophet ﷺ nurtured Abū Hurayrah. The latter narrated:
حَدَّثَنِي أَبُو نُعَيْمٍ، بِنَحْوٍ مِنْ نِصْفِ هَذَا الْحَدِيثِ حَدَّثَنَا عُمَرُ بْنُ ذَرٍّ، حَدَّثَنَا مُجَاهِدٌ، أَنَّ أَبَا هُرَيْرَةَ، كَانَ يَقُولُ آللَّهِ الَّذِي لاَ إِلَهَ إِلاَّ هُوَ إِنْ كُنْتُ لأَعْتَمِدُ بِكَبِدِي عَلَى الأَرْضِ مِنَ الْجُوعِ، وَإِنْ كُنْتُ لأَشُدُّ الْحَجَرَ عَلَى بَطْنِي مِنَ الْجُوعِ، وَلَقَدْ قَعَدْتُ يَوْمًا عَلَى طَرِيقِهِمُ الَّذِي يَخْرُجُونَ مِنْهُ، فَمَرَّ أَبُو بَكْرٍ، فَسَأَلْتُهُ عَنْ آيَةٍ مِنْ كِتَابِ اللَّهِ، مَا سَأَلْتُهُ إِلاَّ لِيُشْبِعَنِي، فَمَرَّ وَلَمْ يَفْعَلْ، ثُمَّ مَرَّ بِي عُمَرُ فَسَأَلْتُهُ عَنْ آيَةٍ مِنْ كِتَابِ اللَّهِ، مَا سَأَلْتُهُ إِلاَّ لِيُشْبِعَنِي، فَمَرَّ فَلَمْ يَفْعَلْ، ثُمَّ مَرَّ بِي أَبُو الْقَاسِمِ صلى الله عليه وسلم فَتَبَسَّمَ حِينَ رَآنِي وَعَرَفَ، مَا فِي نَفْسِي وَمَا فِي وَجْهِي ثُمَّ قَالَ ” أَبَا هِرٍّ “. قُلْتُ لَبَّيْكَ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ. قَالَ ” الْحَقْ “. وَمَضَى فَتَبِعْتُهُ، فَدَخَلَ فَاسْتَأْذَنَ، فَأَذِنَ لِي، فَدَخَلَ فَوَجَدَ لَبَنًا فِي قَدَحٍ فَقَالَ ” مِنْ أَيْنَ هَذَا اللَّبَنُ “. قَالُوا أَهْدَاهُ لَكَ فُلاَنٌ أَوْ فُلاَنَةُ. قَالَ ” أَبَا هِرٍّ “. قُلْتُ لَبَّيْكَ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ. قَالَ ” الْحَقْ إِلَى أَهْلِ الصُّفَّةِ فَادْعُهُمْ لِي “. قَالَ وَأَهْلُ الصُّفَّةِ أَضْيَافُ الإِسْلاَمِ، لاَ يَأْوُونَ إِلَى أَهْلٍ وَلاَ مَالٍ، وَلاَ عَلَى أَحَدٍ، إِذَا أَتَتْهُ صَدَقَةٌ بَعَثَ بِهَا إِلَيْهِمْ، وَلَمْ يَتَنَاوَلْ مِنْهَا شَيْئًا، وَإِذَا أَتَتْهُ هَدِيَّةٌ أَرْسَلَ إِلَيْهِمْ، وَأَصَابَ مِنْهَا وَأَشْرَكَهُمْ فِيهَا، فَسَاءَنِي ذَلِكَ فَقُلْتُ وَمَا هَذَا اللَّبَنُ فِي أَهْلِ الصُّفَّةِ كُنْتُ أَحَقُّ أَنَا أَنْ أُصِيبَ مِنْ هَذَا اللَّبَنِ شَرْبَةً أَتَقَوَّى بِهَا، فَإِذَا جَاءَ أَمَرَنِي فَكُنْتُ أَنَا أُعْطِيهِمْ، وَمَا عَسَى أَنْ يَبْلُغَنِي مِنْ هَذَا اللَّبَنِ، وَلَمْ يَكُنْ مِنْ طَاعَةِ اللَّهِ وَطَاعَةِ رَسُولِهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم بُدٌّ، فَأَتَيْتُهُمْ فَدَعَوْتُهُمْ فَأَقْبَلُوا، فَاسْتَأْذَنُوا فَأَذِنَ لَهُمْ، وَأَخَذُوا مَجَالِسَهُمْ مِنَ الْبَيْتِ قَالَ ” يَا أَبَا هِرٍّ “. قُلْتُ لَبَّيْكَ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ. قَالَ ” خُذْ فَأَعْطِهِمْ “. قَالَ فَأَخَذْتُ الْقَدَحَ فَجَعَلْتُ أُعْطِيهِ الرَّجُلَ فَيَشْرَبُ حَتَّى يَرْوَى، ثُمَّ يَرُدُّ عَلَىَّ الْقَدَحَ، فَأُعْطِيهِ الرَّجُلَ فَيَشْرَبُ حَتَّى يَرْوَى، ثُمَّ يَرُدُّ عَلَىَّ الْقَدَحَ فَيَشْرَبُ حَتَّى يَرْوَى، ثُمَّ يَرُدُّ عَلَىَّ الْقَدَحَ، حَتَّى انْتَهَيْتُ إِلَى النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم وَقَدْ رَوِيَ الْقَوْمُ كُلُّهُمْ، فَأَخَذَ الْقَدَحَ فَوَضَعَهُ عَلَى يَدِهِ فَنَظَرَ إِلَىَّ فَتَبَسَّمَ فَقَالَ ” أَبَا هِرٍّ “. قُلْتُ لَبَّيْكَ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ. قَالَ ” بَقِيتُ أَنَا وَأَنْتَ “. قُلْتُ صَدَقْتَ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ. قَالَ ” اقْعُدْ فَاشْرَبْ “. فَقَعَدْتُ فَشَرِبْتُ. فَقَالَ ” اشْرَبْ “. فَشَرِبْتُ، فَمَا زَالَ يَقُولُ ” اشْرَبْ “. حَتَّى قُلْتُ لاَ وَالَّذِي بَعَثَكَ بِالْحَقِّ، مَا أَجِدُ لَهُ مَسْلَكًا. قَالَ ” فَأَرِنِي “. فَأَعْطَيْتُهُ الْقَدَحَ فَحَمِدَ اللَّهَ وَسَمَّى، وَشَرِبَ الْفَضْلَةَ.
“By Allah except Whom none has the right to be worshipped, (sometimes) I used to lay (asleep) on the ground on my liver (abdomen) because of hunger, and (sometimes) I used to bind a stone over my belly because of hunger. One day I sat by the way from where they (the Prophet ﷺ and his Companions) used to come out. When Abū Bakr passed by, I asked him about a Verse from Allah’s Book and I asked him only so that he might satisfy my hunger, but he passed by and did not do so. Then ʿUmar passed by me and I asked him about a Verse from Allah’s Book, and I asked him only that he might satisfy my hunger, but he passed by without doing so. Finally Abū al-Qāsim (the Prophet ﷺ) passed by me and he smiled when he saw me, for he knew what was in my heart and on my face. He said, ‘O Abā Hirr (Abū Hurayrah)!’ I replied, ‘Labbayk, O Allah’s Messenger ﷺ!’ He said to me, ‘Follow me.’ He left and I followed him. Then he entered the house and I asked permission to enter and was admitted. He found milk in a bowl and said, ‘From where is this milk?’ They said, ‘It has been presented to you by such-and-such man (or by such and such woman).’ He said, ‘O Abā Hirr!’ I said, ‘Labbayk, O Allah’s Messenger ﷺ!’ He said, ‘Go and call the people of Ṣuffah to me.’ These people of Ṣuffah were the guests of Islam who had no families, no money, or anybody to depend on. Whenever an object of charity was brought to the Prophet ﷺ, he would send it to them and would not take anything from it, and whenever any present was given to him, he used to send some for them and take some of it for himself. The order of the Prophet ﷺ upset me, and I said to myself, ‘How will this little milk be enough for the people of Ṣuffah, though I am more entitled to drink from that milk in order to strengthen myself?’ But behold, the Prophet ﷺ came and ordered me to give that milk to them. I wondered what will remain of that milk for me, but I could not but obey Allah and His Apostle. So I went to the people of al-Ṣuffah and called them, and they came and asked the Prophet’s permission to enter. They were admitted and took their seats in the house. The Prophet ﷺ said, ‘O Abā Hirr!’ I said, ‘Labbayk, O Allah’s Messenger ﷺ!’ He said, ‘Take it and give it to them.’ So I took the bowl (of milk) and started giving it to one man who would drink his fill and return it to me, whereupon I would give it to another man who, in his turn, would drink his fill and return it to me, and I would then offer it to another man who would drink his fill and return it to me. Finally, after the whole group had drunk their fill, I reached the Prophet ﷺ, who took the bowl and put it on his hand, looked at me and smiled, and said: ‘O Abā Hirr!’ I replied, ‘Labbayk, O Allah’s Messenger ﷺ!’ He said, ‘There only remains you and I.’ I said, ‘You have said the truth, O Allah’s Messenger ﷺ!’ He said, ‘Sit down and drink.’ I sat down and drank. He said, ‘Drink,’ and I drank. He kept on telling me repeatedly to drink, till I said, ‘No. by Allah Who sent you with the Truth, I have no space for it (in my stomach).’ He said, ‘Hand it over to me.’ When I gave him the bowl, he praised Allah, pronounced Allah’s Name on it, and drank the remaining milk.”
From this incident, we observe how Abū Hurayrah was extremely hungry and ‘needed’ to satisfy it. There was only a small amount of milk in the vessel, yet the Prophet ﷺ commanded him to bring the people of al-Ṣuffah as well. They were also very poor members of the Ṣaḥābah (Companions of the Prophet ﷺ), and would live in a section of the Prophet’s masjid. Abū Hurayrah, in dire need of the milk, admitted he felt upset when the Prophet ﷺ commanded him to bring the poor people of al-Ṣuffah. Despite this natural reaction, he still obeyed Allah’s Messenger ﷺ. It is important to remember here that the Prophet ﷺ wanted the best for Abū Hurayrah. By commanding Abū Hurayrah to give preference to the needs of the people of al-Ṣuffah, he ﷺ was nurturing Abū Hurayrah towards the Quranic model of “preferring others over themselves even though they were in need of that”. Abū Hurayrah patiently overcame his nafs (soul) to ensure the people of al-Ṣuffah had the opportunity to drink from the bowl of milk before him. This event was a miracle of mercy from Allah, for there was enough milk in the bowl for the people of al-Ṣuffah, including both Abū Hurayrah and the Prophet ﷺ.
This is how he dealt with Abū Hurayrah. With other members of the Ṣaḥābah, he advised and nurtured them according to what was best for them. Such is the trait of a true leader. One example of this is the advice he gave to Kaʿb b. Mālik. Kaʿb b. Mālik had repented for failing to join the Prophet ﷺ in the Tabūk expedition. He said:
قُلْتُ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ إِنَّ مِنْ تَوْبَتِي أَنْ أَنْخَلِعَ مِنْ مَالِي صَدَقَةً إِلَى اللَّهِ وَإِلَى رَسُولِهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم . فَقَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم ” أَمْسِكْ بَعْضَ مَالِكَ فَهُوَ خَيْرٌ لَكَ ” . قَالَ فَقُلْتُ فَإِنِّي أُمْسِكُ سَهْمِيَ الَّذِي بِخَيْبَرَ
“O Messenger of Allah, because of the acceptance of my repentance I will give up all my wealth by way of charity for the sake of Allah and His Messenger ﷺ.” The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “Keep some of your wealth, as it will be better for you.” I said, “Then I will keep my share from Khaybar with me.”
We can observe here how Kaʿb wanted to give away all his wealth, but the Prophet ﷺ advised him to keep some of it, as that would be better for him. He did not give this advice to Abū Bakr when he gave away all his wealth for the sake of Allah, as already explained in the narration mentioned earlier.
We also acknowledge the tarbiyah (nurturing) that the Prophet ﷺ provided to his wife ʿĀ’ishah, which thereby helped her to develop the Quranic character quality of “preferring others over themselves even though they were in need of that”. This can be seen in an earlier hadith where ‘Ā’ishah gave a date to the lady.
We can note from that hadith how ʿĀ’ishah did not have any food to give to the lady and her daughters, except for just a single date. By no means would have one date constituted as an adequate meal for the Prophet ﷺ and his wife ʿĀ’ishah. Yet, they sacrificed their own needs, preferring the lady and her family’s necessities instead. Imagine we only had a single date or biscuit left inside our homes, and someone came to our door, begging for food. How would we react? Let us carefully gauge our level of development, this key dimension of Quranic character is, within us. With this awareness, we can work towards nurturing it further to the loftiest of levels following the Prophet ﷺ and the Sahābah.
In the next article for this series, we will in Shā Allāh (if Allah wills) learn how weighty this Quranic virtue is in the sight of Allah. We will also examine the experience of a contemporary, namely Tony Robbins to further enhance our understanding.
 Jāmiʿ al-Tirmidhī, 3675.
 Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, 2769.
Mohammed Burhan is a Hāfidh of the Qur’ān, who studied at Dar Al-Arqam institute, where he now delivers courses. A regular Khatīb, he has a Bachelors of Science in Economics with Banking, and is the author of ‘Gratitude to Greatness: Proven Practices Producing Profound Success’. He is passionate about Islamic sciences, particularly Tafsīr and contextualising the Qur’ān and Sunnah in the modern context.