Adil Salahi, Arab News
Some people try to impart to those around them an expression of their position or an air of superiority by the way they behave or by the postures they take. Appearances count for much in social relations, practically in all societies. The Prophet (peace be upon him), however, was keen to give an air of friendliness to all people. Therefore, he behaved naturally, doing what other people do without affecting any air of superiority. On the contrary, he was keen to impart by his postures that he was not different from others, and that he viewed all people as equal.
However, he was one to inspire awe. When people looked at him they felt that they owed him respect. This came to him naturally without any affectation by gesture or posture. When he sat, he might sit in any suitable position, but always reflecting a natural attitude. Qaylah bint Makhzamah reports that she saw the Prophet in the mosque, taking the squatting position. She says: “When I saw God’s Messenger sitting humbly, I was surely terrified.” (Related by Al-Bukhari in Al-Adab Al-Mufrad, Al-Tirmidhi and Abu Dawood).
This may sound strange, because the woman states that the Prophet’s posture reflected his humility, rather than any attitude that might terrify anyone. Yet she felt a dread. She does not explain why she should be scared, but apparently her fear was keen enough that she should remember it later and report it to others. Her statement serves to emphasize that the Prophet always inspired awe and people could not look at him without feeling that there was a man of high esteem. As for the Prophet’s posture, it showed his humility.
This comes out again and again in Hadiths in which the reporters mention the way the Prophet sat or reclined on different occasions. Abu Saeed Al-Khudri mentions: “When the Prophet sat with his companions he would use his hands to keep his body together.” (Related by Al-Tirmidhi and Abu Dawood). This means that either he would put his legs up and join his hands around them, or put his hands behind him for support to give an impression of being firmly seated. The description here suggests that he looked very strong and stable in his position.
This feeling of strength is clearly imparted in many Hadiths that describe the Prophet in different positions and situations. We often have a physical description of the Prophet in Hadiths that may be more concerned with the message the Hadith gives rather than providing a description of the Prophet. However, the description is given in order to share an image of what actually took place, or give the background to the statement being reported, as in the following Hadith reported by Abu Bakarah who quotes the Prophet as saying: “Shall I tell you about the most grievous of sins?” He repeated his question three times, and his companions requested him to give them that information. He said: ‘Associating partners with God; and undutifulness to parents.’ He was reclining but at this point he sat up and continued: ‘And deliberately stating what is false.’ He repeated this one again and again until we wished that he would stop.” (Related by Al-Bukhari, Muslim, Al-Tirmidhi and Al-Baghawi).
In this Hadith, the physical description of the Prophet’s action serves to emphasize the importance of what comes after the gesture. Although the Prophet was stating the most grievous of sins, his sitting up and repetition of the last one serves to emphasize its special importance. People very often take a light attitude to telling a lie or stating what is false, particularly when it serves their purpose or gives them some gain. Hence, the Prophet was keen to emphasize that such an action deserves to be viewed on a par with the association of partners with God, and with being undutiful to one’s parents.
Other Hadiths mentioning how the Prophet sat or walked confirm that he was always far from affectation, and he behaved normally as he felt comfortable. Jabir ibn Samurah, for example, reports: “I saw the Prophet reclining on a pillow on his left side.” (Related by Al-Tirmidhi and Abu Dawood). Some people suggest that the Sunnah is to lie on one’s right side, when we sleep. However, this Hadith goes to show that there is nothing wrong if one lies on one’s left side. Had there been anything wrong with it, the Prophet would not have done it. As for the pillow the Prophet used, we have another Hadith that says: “The pillow the Prophet used was made of hide and filled up with fiber.” (Related by Al-Bukhari and Muslim). This means that it was an ordinary pillow made of material that was easily found in his environment.
Another Hadith reported by Anas states: “The Prophet was unwell and he came out leaning on Usamah and wrapping a robe made of cotton over his shoulders, and he led the congregational prayer.” (Related by Al-Tirmidhi and Al-Baghawi).
Jabir ibn Abdullah reports: “The Prophet stood up on the day of the Eid Al-Fitr (which occurs immediately after the end of Ramadan) and he led the Eid prayer, starting with it before he gave a sermon. When he finished, he went to speak to the women and reminded them (of their duties and what is permissible or forbidden). He was leaning on Bilal’s arm, while Bilal put down his robe so that women could place their charitable donations in it.” (Related by Al-Bukhari, Muslim and Al-Shafie).
The last Hadith we quote relevant to our subject is that reported by Aishah, the Prophet’s wife, who says: “God’s Messenger used to put his head on my lap and read the Qur’an when I might be in my period.” (Related by Al-Bukhari, Muslim and Abu Dawood).
All these Hadiths confirm what we have already said about the Prophet behaving in the most natural manner, reclining when he needed to recline, or sitting comfortably when he needed to sit, leaning on someone else for support when he needed such support. He did not stay away from people because of an illness requiring him to have some physical support. Nor did he leave women without admonition when he realized that they could not have heard his sermon in their position in the praying place. We should remember here that at Eid prayer, the whole community attends and the prayer is offered in an open place.
There were no public address systems at the time, nor even loudspeakers. Hence, the Prophet needed to address the women at a close distance.
The last Hadith tells us that the Qur’an can be read in all situations, except by a person who is in the state of ceremonial impurity. Such a person cannot read the Qur’an, but the Qur’an can be read very close to him, even in this instance in a woman’s lap.