Home / Featured / You Before Me: The Antidote to Individualism
Prazis Images / Shutterstock

You Before Me: The Antidote to Individualism

Towards Improving Our Quranic Character – Sacrifice: “Preferring Others over Themselves even though they are in Need of that”

Part 1 | Part 2

When we look around our globalised world today, we observe much discussion on various ideologies and principles of life being championed and criticised. Despite the benefits which some of these ideologies may provide, there are aspects within them which drive humans to go against their innate nature. This ultimately produces long term harms, which include the destruction of families, societies, and nations. Such ideologies include individualism[1] and capitalism[2]. Upon analysing the former, we find a study which reveals that the US, Australia, UK, Netherlands, and New Zealand are the most individualistic countries.[3] With that in mind, we realise that although there are aspects of individualism which can be beneficial, this way of thinking in general steers us towards selfishness, greed, and the ‘me, myself, and I’ mentality which is evident in such countries. This has lead to moral decline, short sightedness, and the devaluation of family values. All of these factors lead to loneliness, the break up of family homes, depression, and ultimately suicide. To understand this further, the causes and effects in association with this phenomenon have been highlighted by the sociologist Emile Durkheim, who is “widely regarded as the founder of the French school of sociology”.[4] He concluded in his text Suicide: a Study in Sociology: “…the more socially integrated and connected a person is, the less likely he or she is to commit suicide. As social integration decreases, people are more likely to commit suicide.”[5] This reflects the fact that the more individualistic a person is, the more likely he is to feel suicidal, entertain suicidal thoughts, or actually commit suicide. As a matter of fact, “Durkheim found, through a study of suicide rates of Protestants and Catholics in nineteenth-century Europe, that the suicide rate was higher among Protestants. Understanding the different values of the two forms of Christianity, Durkheim theorized that this occurred because Protestant culture placed a higher value on individualism. This made Protestants less likely to develop close communal ties that might sustain them during times of emotional distress, which in turn made them more susceptible to suicide.”[6] Of course, even when we are at our lowest, as believers we have the gift of having our hearts fortified by tawakkul (reliance upon Allah), thinking good of His decree, as well as observing taqwā (consciousness of Allah) by fearing His punishment and seeking His reward. These religious factors constitute as strong deterrents by blocking the path to suicide.

With the above concepts in mind, this article aims to explore a section of a verse shining this lofty quality of sacrifice. In this verse, Allah praises those noted for altruistically “preferring others over themselves even though they are in need of that”. By developing this character quality within us, we can steer the Ummah and humanity back towards their pure fiṭrah (natural disposition) via moral revival. By understanding and developing this Quranic characteristic, we can return back to our optimum potential, and move away from the darkness of selfishness and disconnection from society. This can then lead to a reduction in suicide rates and the other negative repercussions which individualism begets. The best way incorporates relevant components from individualism, capitalism, and collectivism, whilst at the same time filtering out the extreme aspects.

Allah says:

وَالَّذِينَ تَبَوَّءُوا الدَّارَ وَالْإِيمَانَ مِن قَبْلِهِمْ يُحِبُّونَ مَنْ هَاجَرَ إِلَيْهِمْ وَلَا يَجِدُونَ فِي صُدُورِهِمْ حَاجَةً مِّمَّا أُوتُوا وَيُؤْثِرُونَ عَلَىٰ أَنفُسِهِمْ وَلَوْ كَانَ بِهِمْ خَصَاصَةٌ ۚ وَمَن يُوقَ شُحَّ نَفْسِهِ فَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُونَ

“And those who, before them, had homes (in al-Madinah) and had adopted the Faith, love those who emigrate to them, and have no jealousy in their breasts for that which they have been given (from the booty of Banū al-Naḍīr), and give them (Emigrants) preference over themselves, even though they were in need of that. And whosoever is saved from his own covetousness, such are they who will be the successful.”[7]

In this verse, Allah is highlighting the lofty virtues of the Anṣār (Helpers) from Madinah during the time of the Prophet ﷺ. For the purposes of this article we will investigate the section of the verse “give them (Emigrants) preference over themselves, even though they were in need of that”. This is the quality of sacrifice to the uppermost degree, a practice which is not easy to find in current times. What does this mean? It means that the one in ‘need’ of something – not ‘want’ but ‘need’ (i.e. you need this element to survive, such as food, water, and so on) – gives others preference, as they also are in ‘need’ of such essentials. In order to understand this practically, we will analyse the following incident, which subsequently led to the revelation of this verse’s segment.

Abū Hurayrah narrated that:

أَنَّ رَجُلاً، أَتَى النَّبِيَّ صلى الله عليه وسلم فَبَعَثَ إِلَى نِسَائِهِ فَقُلْنَ مَا مَعَنَا إِلاَّ الْمَاءُ‏.‏ فَقَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم ‏”‏ مَنْ يَضُمُّ، أَوْ يُضِيفُ هَذَا ‏”‏‏.‏ فَقَالَ رَجُلٌ مِنَ الأَنْصَارِ أَنَا‏.‏ فَانْطَلَقَ بِهِ إِلَى امْرَأَتِهِ، فَقَالَ أَكْرِمِي ضَيْفَ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم فَقَالَتْ مَا عِنْدَنَا إِلاَّ قُوتُ صِبْيَانِي‏.‏ فَقَالَ هَيِّئِي طَعَامَكِ، وَأَصْبِحِي سِرَاجَكِ، وَنَوِّمِي صِبْيَانَكِ إِذَا أَرَادُوا عَشَاءً‏.‏ فَهَيَّأَتْ طَعَامَهَا وَأَصْبَحَتْ سِرَاجَهَا، وَنَوَّمَتْ صِبْيَانَهَا، ثُمَّ قَامَتْ كَأَنَّهَا تُصْلِحُ سِرَاجَهَا فَأَطْفَأَتْهُ، فَجَعَلاَ يُرِيَانِهِ أَنَّهُمَا يَأْكُلاَنِ، فَبَاتَا طَاوِيَيْنِ، فَلَمَّا أَصْبَحَ، غَدَا إِلَى رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم فَقَالَ ‏”‏ ضَحِكَ اللَّهُ اللَّيْلَةَ ـ أَوْ عَجِبَ ـ مِنْ فَعَالِكُمَا ‏”‏ فَأَنْزَلَ اللَّهُ ‏{‏وَيُؤْثِرُونَ عَلَى أَنْفُسِهِمْ وَلَوْ كَانَ بِهِمْ خَصَاصَةٌ وَمَنْ يُوقَ شُحَّ نَفْسِهِ فَأُولَئِكَ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُونَ‏}‏

“A man came to the Prophet ﷺ. The Prophet ﷺ sent a messenger to his wives (to bring something for that man to eat), but they said that they had nothing except water. Then Allah’s Messenger ﷺ said, ‘Who will take this (person) or entertain him as a guest?’ An Anṣārī man said, ‘I.’ So he took him to his wife and said to her, ‘Entertain generously the guest of Allah’s Messenger ﷺ.’ She said, ‘We have got nothing except the meals of my children.’ He said, ‘Prepare your meal, light your lamp, and let your children sleep if they ask for supper.’ So she prepared her meal, lighted her lamp, and made her children sleep, and then stood up pretending to mend her lamp, but she put it off. Then both of them pretended to be eating, but they really went to bed hungry. In the morning the Anṣārī went to Allah’s Messenger ﷺ, who said, ‘Tonight Allah laughed or wondered at your action.’ Then Allah revealed: ‘But give them (Emigrants) preference over themselves even though they were in need of that. And whosoever is saved from his own covetousness, such are they who will be the successful.’”[8]

First of all, it is important to understand the principles surrounding the quality of sacrifice by preferring the needs of others over that of ourselves and family members. The general rule entails that our own needs and that of our family ought to be prioritised over others. The scholars highlight that if one has dependents such as family members, they are not permitted to give away all of their wealth in charity if that would mean their family’s needs are unmet. This would be the case unless their own family members, whom they are obliged to spend on, approve of it. They should also be patient and satisfied willingly in executing this noble deed of sacrifice. If this is their state, then they have a golden opportunity to reach lofty ranks with Allah.

The great scholar al-Shawkānī رحمه الله said: “The hadith of Kaʿb indicates that it is prescribed for the one who wants to give all his wealth in charity to keep some of it. That does not imply that if he wanted to go ahead with it, he would not be able to do so. It was said that giving all of one’s wealth in charity varies according to one’s situation. If a person is strong and knows that he will be able to bear the consequences with patience, then there is no reason why he should not do that. Based on that, we may interpret the action of Abū Bakr al-Ṣiddīq and the way in which the Anṣār preferred others to themselves, even though they were in need of that [cf. al-Qur’an, 59:9]. But if a person is not like that, then he should not do that. This is how the words ‘there is no charity except when one has the means’ should be interpreted. According to another report, ‘The best of charity is that which is given when one has the means.’”[9]

Imam al-Nawawī رحمه الله, another great classical scholar, commented regarding Kaʿb b. Malik wanting to give away all his wealth in charity by saying:

“The Prophet ﷺ ordered him to confine himself to giving a portion thereof in charity, out of his fear for him being harmed by poverty and out of fear that he would not have patience to bear a hard life. This does not contradict the fact that Abū Bakr رضي الله عنه gave all his wealth in charity, as he was patient and satisfied.”[10]

Moving on to the chapter heading of this hadith, Imam al-Bukhārī رحمه الله titled it as: “Chapter: ‘…(they) give them (Emigrants) preference over themselves…’” This heading has been taken from the verse I mentioned earlier in this article. This denotes the key practical benefit which this hadith provides. Secondly, this hadith reflects the type of lifestyle the Prophet ﷺ was living in. The state of poverty he found himself in was due to exercising the aforementioned Quranic quality of sacrifice. Another hadith demonstrates the same theme, where he ﷺ said to Abū Dharr:

‏”‏ مَا يَسُرُّنِي أَنَّ عِنْدِي مِثْلَ أُحُدٍ هَذَا ذَهَبًا، تَمْضِي عَلَىَّ ثَالِثَةٌ وَعِنْدِي مِنْهُ دِينَارٌ، إِلاَّ شَيْئًا أُرْصِدُهُ لِدَيْنٍ، إِلاَّ أَنْ أَقُولَ بِهِ فِي عِبَادِ اللَّهِ هَكَذَا وَهَكَذَا وَهَكَذَا ‏”‏‏.‏ عَنْ يَمِينِهِ وَعَنْ شِمَالِهِ وَمِنْ خَلْفِهِ‏.‏ ثُمَّ مَشَى فَقَالَ ‏”‏ إِنَّ الأَكْثَرِينَ هُمُ الأَقَلُّونَ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ إِلاَّ مَنْ قَالَ هَكَذَا وَهَكَذَا وَهَكَذَا ـ عَنْ يَمِينِهِ وَعَنْ شِمَالِهِ وَمِنْ خَلْفِهِ ـ وَقَلِيلٌ مَا هُمْ ‏”

“…I would not like to have gold equal to this mountain of Uḥud, unless nothing of it, not even a single dinar of it remains with me for more than three days, except something which I will keep for repaying debts. I would have spent all of it (distributed it) amongst Allah’s slaves like this, and like this, and like this.” The Prophet ﷺ pointed out with his hand towards his right, his left and his back (while illustrating it). He proceeded with his walk and said, “The rich are in fact the poor (little rewarded) on the Day of Resurrection except those who spend their wealth like this, and like this, and like this, to their right, left and back, but such people are few in number…”[11]

This hadith signifies that when the Prophet ﷺ would be given wealth, he had the mindset of hastening to give it all away to the needy, unless he had debts. He was the best in exemplifying all noble character traits, for as Allah says:

“Indeed in the Messenger of Allah (Muhammad ﷺ) you have a good example to follow for him who hopes in (the Meeting with) Allah and the Last Day and remembers Allah much.”[12]

Returning back to the first hadith of this article regarding the Anṣārī man, we can see that the Prophet ﷺ  and his wife ʿĀ’ishah “had nothing except water”. If they had even one date to give to the needy, they would do so. The following hadith narrated by ʿĀ’ishah indicates this:

حَدَّثَنَا بِشْرُ بْنُ مُحَمَّدٍ، قَالَ أَخْبَرَنَا عَبْدُ اللَّهِ، أَخْبَرَنَا مَعْمَرٌ، عَنِ الزُّهْرِيِّ، قَالَ حَدَّثَنِي عَبْدُ اللَّهِ بْنُ أَبِي بَكْرِ بْنِ حَزْمٍ، عَنْ عُرْوَةَ، عَنْ عَائِشَةَ ـ رضى الله عنها ـ قَالَتْ دَخَلَتِ امْرَأَةٌ مَعَهَا ابْنَتَانِ لَهَا تَسْأَلُ، فَلَمْ تَجِدْ عِنْدِي شَيْئًا غَيْرَ تَمْرَةٍ فَأَعْطَيْتُهَا إِيَّاهَا، فَقَسَمَتْهَا بَيْنَ ابْنَتَيْهَا وَلَمْ تَأْكُلْ مِنْهَا، ثُمَّ قَامَتْ فَخَرَجَتْ، فَدَخَلَ النَّبِيُّ صلى الله عليه وسلم عَلَيْنَا، فَأَخْبَرْتُهُ فَقَالَ “‏ مَنِ ابْتُلِيَ مِنْ هَذِهِ الْبَنَاتِ بِشَىْءٍ كُنَّ لَهُ سِتْرًا مِنَ النَّارِ ‏”‏‏.‏

“A lady along with her two daughters came to me asking (for some alms), but she found nothing with me except one date. I gave it to her and she divided it between her two daughters, and did not eat anything herself, and then she got up and went away. Then the Prophet ﷺ came in and I informed him about this story. He said, ‘Whoever is put to trial by these daughters and he treats them generously (with benevolence), then these daughters will act as a shield for him from Hell-Fire.’”[13]

Even though they needed food for their own survival, they still preferred the lady to themselves. ʿĀ’ishah willingly gave the only food her house had, namely a date, whilst the Prophet ﷺ was absent. The lady she gave the date to was a mother of two daughters. This mother also exhibited the Quranic trait by satisfying the hunger of her own two daughters whilst remaining hungry herself.

Continuing on with the first hadith of the Anṣārī man, we note that they had enough food for his wife’s children. However, they did not apologise to their guest and tell them that they could not host him. The wife also did not disobey her husband when he prioritised his guest over her children. Rather, she obeyed him in this noble opportunity, which caused both of them to acquire great honour in the sight of Allah. Look at how special their honour was. They were honoured to such an extent that Allah laughed or wondered (in a manner that suits his Majesty), at their action. He then even revealed a section of the verse praising this manifestation of noble and altruistic behaviour. This verse has been recited by billions of people over time, starting from more than 1400 years ago. And it will continue to be recited for generations to come. What a magnificent honour this is! One can only wonder how much ṣadaqah jāriyah (ongoing charity) they have obtained through their act of generosity. This is a great reward given for such a high level of sacrifice.

In the next article for this series, we will in Shā Allāh (if Allāh wills), gain insights through real life examples of remarkable personalities. These are individuals who have shone brightly this lofty honourable characteristic: ‘preferring others over themselves even though they are in need of that’. We will also be analysing the process by which this trait is developed.

Source: www.islam21c.com


[1] The idea that freedom of thought and action for each person is the most important quality of a society, rather than shared effort and responsibility [Cambridge Dictionary].

[2] An economic, political, and social system in which property, business, and industry are privately owned, directed towards making the greatest possible profits for successful organizations and people [Cambridge Dictionary].

[3] http://clearlycultural.com/geert-hofstede-cultural-dimensions/individualism/

[4] https://www.britannica.com/biography/Emile-Durkheim


[6] Durkheim, Emile. Suicide: A Study in Sociology. https://www.thoughtco.com/anomie-definition-3026052

[7] Al-Qur’n, 59:9.

[8] Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, 3798.

[9] Nayl al-Awṭār, 8/288.

[10] Sharḥ Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim.

[11] Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, 6444.

[12] Al-Qur’an, 33:21.

[13] Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, 1418.

About Mohammed Burhan Uddin

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.

One comment

  1. Lamin Kanuteh

    It couldn’t have been said any better, my Allah accept this beautiful article from you and make us all benefit from it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Send this to a friend