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On Self-Abnegation (Ithaar)

The Battle of Yarmuk has come to an end. The companion of the prophet Hadrat Hudhaifah (Radhi Allahu Anhu) carrying water in hand is searching for his nephew among the injured and martyrs. There he found him lying injured.  Hadrat Hudhaifah offered him the water. But at that moment the groaning of another injured was heard. The nephew beckoned his uncle to serve the groaning brother first. He hastened towards him and found him to be Hishaam Bin ‘Aas who was in his last throes. Hadrat Hudhaifah (Radhi Allahu Anhu) was about to serve him water when the groaning of yet another injured was heard. Hishaam (Radhi Allahu Anhu) beckoned towards him. But before he could reach him he was dead.  Then he returned to Hishaam (Radhi Allahu Anhu) who was also dead. Then he came back to his nephew who had also expired. This way each one of them preferred to quench the thirst of his brother first and himself died of thirst.

In a similar episode a lady companion of the prophet gifted him a piece of covering sheet. The Messenger of Allah () was in need of it so he accepted it and covered himself with it. A companion seeing this asked the prophet to give him that sheet. The prophet () was so generous as never to reject anybody’s request. So he put off the sheet from his body and handed it to the companion. Disliking this other companions began to chide the taker. The taker taken aback replied that by God he did not mean to wear it himself. I wished only to make that piece of cloth my coffin shroud which has touched the body of the prophet. This happened actually as intended. It was preserved till he died when it served as coffin shroud [Bukhari].

Similarly once the prophet was present in his masjid when a hungry man approached him for food. The prophet then made an inquiry with his household and was informed that nothing was available except plain water. Then the Messenger of Allah () addressing his companions inquired: Who among you can host this man tonight? One Ansari companion answered the prophet’s call. He took the guest to his home and told the mistress of the house of him. That home also had nothing save a little quantity of food for the children.  The couple found out a way by lulling the children to sleep and offering their food to the guest of the prophet. As the food was not enough even for one man it was agreed that the companion will accompany the guest on the table spread and the lamp put off to show that the host was eating along with the guest.  This way the guest was fed while the host kept hungry. Next morning when the companion came to the prophet he told him that God Almighty was very pleased with your hosting of the guest last night [Muslim]. It was against this background that this ayat was revealed:

وَيُؤْثِرُونَ عَلَى أَنْفُسِهِمْ وَلَوْ كَانَ بِهِمْ خَصَاصَةٌ وَمَنْ يُوقَ شُحَّ نَفْسِهِ فَأُوْلَئِكَ هُمْ الْمُفْلِحُونَ (الحشر: 9)

Translation of Meaning: “They [the believers] prefer others over themselves even if they themselves are in penury” (Al-Hashr:  9).

There has existed a famous personality in Islamic history named Abul Hasan Antaki. Once a group of thirty men arrived at his place as guests. Bread available was not enough for that number so it was decided that bread will be cut into pieces, placed on the table-spread and the lamp put off. It was done so and all sat down to eat. But it so happened that each one of them desisted from eating so that his companions eat to their full. In this way all of them did not touch the bread so all pieces remained intact!

This is a glimpse of a selfless and self-abnegating community which Islam is meant to create. The model of the Islamic character is that one should mould himself as a paragon of self-abnegation and self-sacrifice. One lives not for one’s own self but for the sake of others. He gives up his own comfort for the comfort of others. He suppresses his own needs to meet the needs of others. He feeds others but himself keeps hungry. These traits of fraternal love, self-abnegation and self-sacrifice have characterized the Islamic society throughout the ages. The Messenger of Allah () has taught: Translation of Meaning:  “No one of you can become a believer unless he likes for his brother what he likes for himself” [unanimous]. According to the Mother of Believers Hadrat Ayesha (Radhi Allahu Anha), so long as the Messenger of Allah lived in this world it never happened that we could eat our full for three consecutive days. It was possible for us to eat our full but we always preferred others to ourselves. Can the present generation of Muslims look themselves into the mirror of their Islamic past?