The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said: “None of you truly believes until I am more beloved to him than his father, his child and all the people.”
Loving our Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) is an obligatory duty in Islām and an act of obedience to Allāh. To love the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) we must first know him. In this new series we embark on a journey to increase our knowledge of the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam), to view him as the Sahāba viewed him, and to love him as we should.
This series is an adapted translation of Shamāʾil al-Muḥammadiyyah by Imām Tirmidhī (raḥimahu Allāhu). We will begin with an exploration of the stature and physical characteristics of the Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam).
Abū Rajāʾ, Qutaybah b. Saʿīd informed us; from Mālik b. Anas; from Rabīʿah b. Abū ʿAbdu’l-Raḥmān; that he heard Anas b. Mālik (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) saying,
“The Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) was neither noticeably tall nor was he short. He was not extremely white nor was he particularly brown. His hair was not very curly nor completely straight. Allāh commissioned him towards the end of his fortieth year and he stayed in Mecca for ten years and in Madīnah, ten years. Allāh caused him to pass away at the turn of his sixtieth year and there were barely twenty white hairs on his head and beard.”
The Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) was neither noticeably tall nor was he short
He was of medium height. His being short has been categorically negated but only his being so tall as to be clearly noticed has been negated; this indicates that he was of medium height tending towards being tall.
It is in this sense that Barāʾa said, ‘He (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) was of medium stature but closer to being described as tall.’ Therefore, there is no contradiction between this and the description that he (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) was of medium stature because such a statement is relative as is proven by the narration of ʿĀʾishah that ‘He (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) would seem to be of medium stature,’ i.e. by way of approximation. Similarly, Umm Maʿbad said, ‘He was of middle stature, neither loathsome for tallness, nor offensive to the eye for shortness.’
His (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) personality was so imposing and awe-inspiring that his very presence would dominate any gathering. Bayhaqī and Ibn ʿAsākir record that, ‘No one would be perceived to be taller than him (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam): sometimes two tall men would stand on either side of him and he would seem taller than them, yet when they parted, he would seem to be of medium height.’ Others mention that when he (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) sat, his shoulder seemed higher than all those sitting around him. Therefore, it would seem to those around him (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) that just as none was spiritually and morally above him, so too was no one physically above him. Umm Maʿbad said, ‘He seemed like the branch that stood out between two others, being the most beautiful to look at and the most harmoniously proportioned of the three.’
He was not extremely white nor was he particularly brown
This description does not contradict the fact that he had a brownish complexion mentioned in the next ḥadīth since what is negated here is his (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) being dark brown. There are a number of narrations that describe his (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) complexion in different ways, but the overall picture given is that it was pale or light brown, with the parts of the body usually concealed by garments being of an even lighter colour, having a lustre or a luminescence about it.
Anas said, ‘He (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) had a rosy white colour (azhar al-lawn), neither completely white, nor deep brown.’ It is also possible that term azhar al-lawn mean that he had the best skin colour. ʿAlī said, ‘He (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) was white skinned with a reddish tinge.’ Anas said, ‘He was white, a whiteness leaning towards brown,’ and Ibn ʿAbbās said, ‘He was (light) brown, leaning towards white.’ A red-white colour is often referred to by the Arabs as asmar, brown and this is why Anas said, ‘The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) was brown.’
Ibn Ḥajr said,
‘Upon considering all the various reports on this it becomes clear that the whiteness which has been negated from him (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) is that whiteness that has no tinge of red and the brownness affirmed for him is redness that is mixed with white.’
Some narrations, however, describe that ‘he was extremely white’. Abū’l-Ṭufayl said, ‘I have not forgotten the extreme whiteness of his face.’ These refer to the lustre, sheen and glitter of his skin under the light of the sun as shown by the ḥadīth, ‘It was as if the sun were pursuing its course across his face, radiating out of it.’ As such, there is no contradiction between these narrations. Umm Maʿbad described him (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) saying, ‘I saw a radiant man with a luminous face and handsome physique.
There are also numerous narrations highlighting the paleness or lightness of the skin colour of various parts of his (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) body. His (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) leg has been described as being white by Abū Juḥayfah and Anas, as were his thighs and shins. His (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) forearms were described as being white, and so too were his armpits and abdomen. The Companions also related how they saw the whiteness of his cheeks as he (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said the salām at the end of the prayer. Abū Hurayrah narrated that when the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) removed his upper garment, he would resemble an ingot of silver. Miḥrash al-Kaʿbī also stated that he saw his (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) back and it resembled an ingot of silver. Anas narrated that one time a Bedouin came and asked, ‘Who amongst you is Muḥammad?’ They replied, ‘This white man reclining on his arm.’ All of these narrations are understood to mean his (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) having light brown skin colour. When describing skin colour, Arabs would refer to pale or light brown skin as white (abyaḍ) and they would call the colour of Caucasian white, yellow (asfar), hence the Romans would be referred to as Banū Asfar.
His hair was not very curly nor completely straight
His (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) hair was in-between the two and the best of affairs are those that are between the two extremes. Zamakhsharī said, ‘The predominate course amongst the Arabs is to have curly hair and amongst the non-Arabs, straight hair.’ Allāh has blessed His Messenger (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) with the best of virtues and qualities and has combined in him all that He has scattered amongst the different races.
Allāh commissioned him towards the end of his fortieth year
Allāh commissioned him as a Prophet and Messenger, and sent him to both the worlds of jinn and man. This is an integral part of the Muslim faith and whoever rejects it becomes a disbeliever. Some scholars postulated that he was also sent to the Angels.
The commentators have stated that, in this sentence, the meaning of ‘the raʾs of his fortieth year’ means the latter part and not the turn of. This is because the majority of historians and biographers state that he was commissioned after having entered his fortieth year. Ṭībī said, ‘Raʾs here is metaphorically used to refer to the end of the year [and not its beginning] in the same way as one says, “Raʾs of the verse” i.e. its last part.’ Ibn Ḥajr said,
‘[Understanding it to mean the turn of the fortieth year] would mean that he was commissioned in the month of his birth which is Rabīʿ al-Awwal; however, he was commissioned in the month of Ramaḍān and therefore his age would have been forty and a half or thirty nine and a half. Those who mentioned that he was forty years old did so by ignoring the addition or subtraction. However, both Masʿūdī and Ibn ʿAbdu’l-Barr mention that the correct opinion was that he was commissioned in Rabīʿ al-Awwal, so according to this view he (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) would have just turned forty. It is also postulated that he was commissioned when he was forty years and ten days or forty years and twenty days old. Qāḍī ʿIyāḍ relates an irregular report from Ibn ʿAbbās and Saʿīd b. al-Musayyab that he (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) was commissioned at the turn of his forty-third year.’
The “fortieth year” could refer to when a person has turned forty and moves towards the forty-first, or it could refer to when a person turns thirty-nine and moves toward the fortieth, both usages are common. However, here, the first sense is more likely.
It is said that he was born on Monday, revelation came to him on Monday, he migrated to Madīnah on Monday, he arrived at Madīnah on Monday and he passed away on Monday.
He stayed in Mecca for ten years
This narration has caused some confusion since the Muslims are agreed that he (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) stayed in Mecca for thirteen years; the scholars have explained it by saying that those who mentioned ten years, rounded down and hence did not mention the additional three years, a style commonly used by the Arabs. Others said that, put simply, the narration of those who mentioned thirteen years is stronger and this one is weak. “And in Madīnah,” i.e. after the Hijra for “ten years,” there is no difference concerning this. He (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) remained there until the people entered into the religion in droves, until Allāh perfected the religion for him and his nation, and completed His favour upon them.
Allāh caused him to pass away at the turn of his sixtieth year
The statement implies that he passed away at the age of sixty, some also said that he passed away at the age of sixty-five but the strongest opinion is that he was sixty-three years old when he passed on. The different narrations are reconciled by stating that those who stated sixty-five included the year of his birth and death. Those who mentioned sixty-three did not and those who mentioned sixty rounded down, all methods used by the Arabs when discussing the age of an individual.
And there were barely twenty white hairs on his head and beard
Ibn ʿUmar said, ‘He had approximately twenty white hairs.’ Ibn ʿUmar further said, ‘The Messenger of Allāh’s (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) white hairs only came to about twenty, all towards the front.’ To be more precise, Anas said, ‘There were only seventeen white hairs on his head and beard.’ While describing his (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) beard, ʿAbdullāh b. Busr said, ‘His white hairs did not exceed ten,’ and he further said that these were concentrated between his lower lip and chin. The remainder was on his temples and head. Bukhārī records that Anas was asked if the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) used to dye his hair to which he replied, ‘He did not reach that stage, there was just something on his temples.’ Muslim records on the authority of Anas that the white hairs were on his lower lip, temples, and a scarce scattering on his head. Otherwise his (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) hair was jet black.
There are some narrations stating that he (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) had no white hair, but these are understood to mean that he did not have a lot of white hair, they were not meant to be a negation in totality. A more detailed discussion concerning his (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) age and white hairs follows in the parts in this series.
ʿAbdu’l-Wahhāb al-Thaqafī narrated to us; from Ḥumayd; from Anas b. Mālik (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) from Ḥumayd b. Masʿadah al-Baṣrī that Anas b. Mālik (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) said,
“The Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) was of medium stature: neither tall nor short, and of a handsome physique. His hair was neither curly nor completely straight. He had a brownish complexion and when he walked he leant forward [walking briskly].”
The Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) was of medium stature: neither tall nor short, and of a handsome physique.
Bukhārī records on the authority of al-Barāʾa that ‘The Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) was the most handsome of people with the best of physiques.’ Another narration mentions that “his (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) body was well proportioned: stout and muscular.” He (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) had a nice laugh.
His hair was neither curly nor completely straight. He had a brownish complexion
This does not contradict the previous description of his skin as has already been explained. However, some said that this contradicts the ensuing description that he ‘was white skinned as if moulded of silver.’ One explanation offered is that the brownish complexion applied to his skin that was exposed to the sun and the whiteness referred to his skin that was concealed by his garments. However, this reconciliation is problematic because of the narration that mentions his neck being white as if it was made of silver and the neck is usually exposed to the sun. The more plausible explanation is that this comparison holds true when considering the lustre and sheen of his skin under the light of the sun and the smoothness of his skin.
And when he walked he leant forward [walking briskly]
“When he walked, he (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) placed his entire foot on the ground,” but without “stamping it down,” instead placing it comfortably. Moreover, when he (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) walked, he did not turn left or right, nor did he walk idly or languidly. Indeed, Ibn ʿAbbās said that when he (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) would walk a person could tell that he was not weak or lazy. Abū Hurayrah said, ‘I have not seen anyone who walked faster than the Messenger of Allāh: it was as if the earth was compacted for him, we would strive to keep up with him yet he was not hard-pressed at all.’
Another version of this ḥadīth has the word yatawakkaʾu instead of yatakaffaʾu, meaning to walk confidently. This description is also reported by Ibn ʿAbbās when he said,
‘He (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) walked confidently and not languidly.’
This steady, energetic yet comfortable gait is characteristic of those with firm determination, those who have a sense of gravity and dignity, and those with courage and valour. It stands in stark contrast to those who saunter, strut, stride, parade or swagger when walking, all of which are gaits of the ostentatious or empty headed. Allāh describes the manner of walking of His servants,
“The servants of the Lord of Mercy are those who walk humbly on the earth.”
And He says,
“Do not strut arrogantly about the earth: you cannot break it open, nor match the mountains in height.”
“Do not turn your nose up at people, nor walk about the place arrogantly, for Allāh does not love arrogant or boastful people.”
His (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) manner of walking will be discussed in further detail in a later part in this series.
Preview of the next ḥadīth in the series:
“…he wore a red ḥulla. I have never seen anything more beautiful than him.”
This is an updated commentary as part of a new series.
 Narrated by al-Bukhāri, 15; Muslim, 44
 Bukhārī #3547-3548-5900 and Muslim #2347.
 This statement also recorded by Dhuhlī, al-Zuhriyyāt and Bayhaqī, Dalāʾil 1:253 on the authority of Abū Hurayrah and Ibn Ḥajr, Fatḥ 6:705 said the isnād was ḥasan. It is also recorded by Bayhaqī, Dalāʾil 1:252 on the authority of ʿAlī.
 Bayhaqī, al-Dalāʾil 1:298
 Qārī, Haythamī pg. 41.
 Ḥākim 3:9-10, Ṭabarī, al-Tārīkh, Ṭabarānī, al-Kabīr 4:48, Abū Nuʿaym, al-Dalāʿil pg. 282
 Bayhaqī 1:298, on the authority of ʿĀʾishah, cf. Ibn Ḥajr 6:709.
 Ibn Sabaʿ, al-Khaṣāʾiṣ as cited by Qārī
 Ḥākim 3:9-10, Ṭabarī, al-Tārīkh, Ṭabarānī, al-Kabīr, Abū Nuʿaym, al-Dalāʿil pg. 282
 cf. ḥadīth #8
 Bukhārī #3547
 Suyūṭī, Qārī
 Bayhaqī 1:204
 Aḥmad #3410. Munāwī said the isnād was ḥasan.
 Aḥmad #13715 and Ibn Ḥibbān #6286. The ḥadīth is ṣaḥīḥ, cf. Ibn Ḥajr 6:706. This description is also recorded on the authority of Anas by Tirmidhī #1754 and Abū Dāwūd #4863 who said it was ḥasan ṣaḥīḥ gharīb, with Albānī and Arnaʿūṭ ruling it ṣaḥīḥ.
 See for example ḥadīth #7. This is also the description reported of him by Anas in Muslim #2347 and Jābir by Ibn Saʿd as per Ibn Ḥajr 6:705.
 Bayhaqī 1:208 from Abū Hurayrah. Ibn Ḥajr 6:706, said, ‘with a strong isnād.’
 Tirmidhī #3548 and declared ṣaḥīḥ by Ibn Ḥibbān #6309. The full ḥadīth will be mentioned later in the chapter, ‘The manner of walking of the Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam).’
 Ibn Ḥajr, Munāwī
 Ḥākim 3:9-10, Ṭabarī, al-Tārīkh, Ṭabarānī, al-Kabīr 4:48, Abū Nuʿaym, al-Dalāʿil pg. 282
 Bukhārī #3566
 Bukhārī #376, Muslim
 Bukhārī #3566, Muslim
 Abū Dāwūd #3206
 Bukhārī #6636, Muslim
 Bukhārī #7236, Muslim
 Bayhaqī 1/203,
 Nasāʾī 2:30
 Bukhārī #63
 Fatḥ 6:707, Qārī
 Aḥmad 1:277 from Ibn ʿAbbās.
 Munāwī, Qārī
 Munāwī, Qārī
 In Mājah #3630 and Aḥmad #5633 with a ḍaʿīf. isnād.
 Ibn Ḥibbān #6294-6295 and Bayhaqī, Dalāʾil 1:239; cf. fn. 15
 Ibn Saʿd, al-Ṭabaqāt
 Bukhāri #3545-3546. The phrase “few white hairs,” has been employed using jamʿ qillah and in the Arabic language, this does not exceed ten. It is for this reason that that Munāwī quotes it by meaning, ‘His white hairs did not exceed ten.’
 Bukhāri #3550-5894 and Muslim #2341
 Muslim #2341
 Bayhaqī 1:164, 1:178, 1:203
 Bukhārī, Ṣifatu-n Nabī, Libās and Muslim, Faḍāʾil.
 Bukhārī #3549, Muslim #2337
 Ḥadīth #8
 Aḥmad #3410
 Ḥadīth #12.
 Haythamī, Majmaʿ 8:273 references this to Ṭabarānī, al-Kabīr
 Qārī, Baghawī, Sharḥ al-Sunnah 12:320, ibn al-Qayyim, Zād 1:169, Qārī, Mirqāt 9:3704
 Bayhaqī 1:252
 Bayhaqī 1:241, 1:274; cf. Bukhārī, Adab al-Mufrad #1155 from al-Barāʾa
 Haythamī, Majmaʿ 8:273 references this to Ṭabarānī, al-Kabīr
 cf. ḥadīth #8
 Ḥākim #7794, cf. Albānī, al-Ṣaḥīḥah #2086
 Aḥmad #3033
 Bazzār #2391
 Ibn ʿAsākir, Tarīkh Dimashq 4:61, cf. Albānī, al-Ṣaḥīḥah #2140
 Tirmidhī, Manāqib #3648. Aḥmad #8604-8943
Tirmidhī said the ḥadīth was gharīb and Arnaʿūṭ said it was ḥasan
 Qārī, Munāwī
 Aḥmad #3034, cf. Albānī, al-Ṣaḥīḥah #2086
 Munāwī, ibn al-Qayyim, Zād 1:169, Qārī, Mirqāt 9:3704
 al-Furqān 25:63
 al-Israʾ 17:37
 Luqmān 31:18