Believing men and women down the centuries have not just affirmed the Prophet Muhammad’s prophethood and teachings, they experienced him as an intimate and intensely beloved presence in their lives too. ‘None of you truly has faith,’ said the Prophet, peace be upon him, ‘until I become more beloved to him than his father, son and all of mankind.’1
The above hadith echoes the Qur’an in its following demand: Say: ‘If your fathers, your sons, your brothers, your wives, your tribes, the wealth you have acquired, the trade you fear may slacken, and the homes you love are dearer to you than God and His Messenger and the struggle in His cause, then wait until God brings about His decision. God does not guide the corrupt.’ [9:24]
This deep sense of love and personal connection to the Prophet, peace be upon him, is generated and nurtured in many ways – the most obvious of these ways being through faithful and devoted emulation of him. The respected historian, acclaimed traditionist and authoritative Shafi‘i jurist, Shams al-Din al-Dhahabi (d.748H/1348CE) wrote about another of those ritual activities that nurtures a deep and abiding love for the Prophet. He wrote:
‘Ahmad b. ‘Abd al-Mun‘im related to us … that Ibn ‘Umar disliked touching the grave of the Prophet, peace be upon him.
I [al-Dhahabi] say: he disliked it, for he thought it disrespectful. Ahmad b. Hanbal was once asked about touching the Prophet’s grave, peace be upon him, and about kissing it, and he saw nothing wrong in them: his son, ‘Abd Allah, related this from him.2
If it is said, ‘Why did the Companions not do this?’ We reply: Because they beheld him with their very eyes when he was alive; they delighted in his actual presence; they kissed his very hand; they almost fought each other over the remnants of his ablution water; they shared his blessed hair on the day of the Greater Pilgrimage; and even if he spat, it would virtually not fall except in somebody’s hand so that he could wipe it over his face.
Since we haven’t had the immense fortune of partaking in this, we throw ourselves on his grave as a mark of commitment, reverence and acceptance – even to kiss it. Don’t you see what Thabit al-Bunani did as he kissed the hand of Anas b. Malik and placed it on his face, saying: “This is the hand that touched the hand of God’s Messenger; peace be upon him”? Muslims are not moved to such acts except by an overwhelming love for the Prophet, peace be upon him. For they are called upon to love God and His Prophet, upon whom be peace, more than their ownselves, their children, humanity, their wealth, and even Paradise and its maidens. There are certain believers who even love Abu Bakr and ‘Umar more than their ownselves …
Don’t you see that the Companions, in their irrepressible love for the Prophet, peace be upon him, asked him: ‘Should we not prostrate to you?’ He replied: “No!” Yet if he had allowed them, they would have done so as a mark of reverence and respect, not as an act of worship – like how the brothers of Joseph prostrated to him. Likewise, some Muslims prostrating to the grave of the Prophet, peace be upon him, is with the intention of honour and reverence. One is not to be accused of disbelief at all because of it; although he is being disobedient. So let him be told that doing so is forbidden; as is the case of praying towards the actual grave.’3
So a true believer’s love for the Prophet, peace be upon him, as deep and profound as it is, should never manifest itself in a way contrary to the rulings of the shari‘ah, or to its adab; its etiquettes and courtesies. Object we may to quantifying love as excessive, for how can one ever love God’s Beloved enough or too much? But object we must if such love is expressed incorrectly or inappropriately. Imam al-Dhahabi takes up the matter elsewhere:
‘One who visits the Prophet’s grave, may God shower him with peace, and oversteps the adab in his visitation, or prostrates to the grave, or does something else that is not prescribed by the shari‘ah, then such a person has done good and bad. He must thus be gently taught; and God is indeed Forgiving, Merciful. By God! A Muslim is not brought to this state of sorrow and lamentation, to kissing the walls [of the chamber], or to weeping profusely, except that he loves God and His Messenger – love of him being a distinctive hallmark between the dwellers of Paradise and those of Hell.’4
1. Al-Bukhari, no.15; Muslim, no.70.
2. For a fuller account of Imam Ahmad’s position on the issue, see my previous posting on this blog: Yearning for the Prophet, footnote no.5.
3. Mu‘jam al-Shuyukh (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1990), no.58.
4. Siyar A‘lam al-Nubala (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 18:105.