No doubt, there can be a fine line between veneration and idolisation; reverence and idolatry. The Qur’an is at pains to stress the mortalness of the Prophet ﷺ and that he possesses no aspect of divinity: Say: ‘I say not to you I possess the treasures of Allah, nor that I know the Unseen; and I say not to you: ‘I am an angel.’ I follow only that which is revealed to me.’ [6:50] Another verse explains: Say: ‘I am but a man like yourselves, but to whom it has been revealed that your Lord is only One God.’ [18:110] In fact, in the greatest defining moments of the prophetic career, the Qur’an addresses him simply with the honourable term, ‘abd – “slave”.
So, referring to his Night Journey and Heavenly Ascension (isra wa’l-mi‘raj), Allah said: Glory be to Him Who carried His slave from the Sacred Mosque to the Farthest Mosque the environs of which We have blessed. [17:1] While receiving revelation, Allah says: And He revealed to his slave that which He revealed. [53:10] Speaking of the Qur’an’s timeless challenge (tahaddi), there is this verse: And if you are in doubt concerning that which We sent down to Our slave, then produce a chapter the like thereof, and call your witnesses other than Allah, if you are truthful. [2:23]
The Qur’an depicts the Prophet ﷺ as Allah’s perfect “slave” and Muslim conciousness pays this title the highest respect. Yet this can in no way justify decrying veneration (ta‘dhim, tawqir) of the Prophet in the name of a narrow reading of tawhid. This would be to turn our backs on the immense distinctions Revelation has showered him with, as well as belittle the esteem the salaf accorded him – glimpses of which are offered by Qadi ‘Iyad. So in the section: ‘The Companions’ Reverence, Esteem and Veneration of the Prophet ﷺ’, in his hugely celebrated work, al-Shifa’, he relates the following:1
‘Said ‘Amr b. al-‘As: “There was none more beloved to me than Allah’s Messenger ﷺ, nor anyone more honourable in my sight than him. I could never get my fill of gazing at him due to my reverent awe of him. If I was asked to describe him I could never do so, for I was unable to gaze upon him enough.”2
‘Al-Tirmidhi records that Anas said: ‘The Messenger of Allah ﷺ would go out to his Companions from among the Emigrants and Helpers (muhajirun wa’l-ansar) and they would be sitting; in their midst would be Abu Bakr and ‘Umar. None would raise their gaze towards him save Abu Bakr and ‘Umar; they would look at him and him at them, they would smile at him and him at them.’3
‘It is reported that Usamah b. Sharik said: ‘I once came to the Prophet ﷺ and found his Companions sitting around him [absolutely still] as if birds were perched on top of their heads.’4 In another hadith describing him [it says]: ‘Whenever he spoke, those around him lowered their heads as if birds were perched on them.’
‘When the Quraysh sent ‘Urwah b. Mas‘ud to the Messenger of Allah ﷺ in the year of Hudaybiyah, he saw what he saw of the unparalleled reverence that the Companions accorded him: of how whenever he performed ablution (wudu) they would race to get the leftover water of his ablution,5 almost fighting for it; if he spat, they took it in their hands and wiped it over their faces and bodies; if a hair of his fell, they ran to get it; if he ordered them with something, they hastened to carry it out; and when he spoke, they would lower their voices in his presence, and none of them could look at him out of awe of him. When he returned to the Quraysh, he told them: “O assembly of Quraysh, I’ve been to Chosroes in his kingdom; Ceaser in his kingdom; and Negus in his kingdom. But, by Allah, I have never seen a king among his people treated like how Muhammad is treated by his Companions.”6
‘In another version, it says: “I have never seen a king whose companions revere him as Muhammad is revered by his Companions. I saw a people who could never be disloyal to him.”
‘Anas narrates: “I saw the Prophet ﷺ as his head was being shaved. His Companions would gather around him and no lock of [his] hair would fall, save that it fell into the hand of one of them.”7
‘Another example is when the Quraysh permitted ‘Uthman to perform tawaf of the Ka‘bah when the Prophet ﷺ sent him as an envoy during the Treaty [of Hudaybiyah]. But he refused to do so, saying: “I shall not do so until Allah’s Messenger does so.”8
‘In the hadith of Talhah: The Companions of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ requested an ignorant bedouin to ask the Prophet about those that fulfill their vow – for they were too in awe of him and revered him too much [to do so themselves] – but the Prophet turned away from him. When Talhah came, the Prophet ﷺ said: “He is among those who fulfill their vows.”9
‘It states in the hadith of Qaylah: “When I saw the Messenger of Allah ﷺ seated in a squatting position, I would shudder in fear.”10 This was out of her awe (haybah) and reverence (ta‘zim) of him.
‘In the hadith of al-Mughirah: “The Prophet’s Companions would knock on his door with their fingernails.”11
‘And al-Bara’ b. ‘Azib said: “I wanted to ask the Messenger of Allah ﷺ about a matter, but delayed doing so for years from being in awe of him.”12‘
Having related such wondrous glimpses into how the Companions manifested ta‘zim al-nabi – prophetic veneration and reverence, Qadi ‘Iyad then offers us a section on: ‘Venerating the Prophet ﷺ after his death.’ He writes:
‘Know that it is just as necessary to honour and revere the Prophet ﷺ after his death as it was during his lifetime. This, whenever he is mentioned ﷺ; when mentioning his hadith and Sunnah; on hearing his name and sirah; when dealing with his family and relatives. [It further includes] honouring his Family (ahl al-bayt) and Companions. Abu Ibrahim Ishaq al-Tujibi said: “It is obligatory upon every believer that whenever they mention the Prophet, or whenever he is mentioned in their presence, they must exhibit reverence and humility, being composed and not fidgeting. They must display the utmost reverence – as they would have done had they been standing before him, manifesting the courtesy (adab) toward him that Allah has taught us.” Qadi Abu’l-Fadl states: “Such was the way of our Pious Predecessors (salaf) and past Imams, may Allah be pleased with them all.”’13
Having set the parameters, as it were, Qadi Iyad then records this about Imam Malik and about some of his venerable teachers:
‘Malik said: “I was once asked about what I said of Ayyub al-Sakhtiyani that, “I haven’t narrated from anyone better than him.” I went on Pilgrimage twice and I never heard the Prophet ﷺ being mentioned without him weeping, until we took pitty on him. When I saw from him what I saw of his reverence for the Prophet ﷺ, I then began to write [hadiths] from him.”
‘Mus‘ab b. ‘Abd Allah relates: “Whenever the Prophet ﷺ was mentioned, Malik would grow pale, so much so that it disturbed those sitting around him. He was once asked about it, to which he replied: “Had you seen what I have seen, you would not object to what you see happen to me.”
“I used to see Muhammad b. al-Munkadir, who was the master of the Qur’an reciters. Never was he asked about a hadith, except that he wept to such an extent that we felt pity for him.”
“I used to see Ja‘far b. Muhammad al-Sadiq. He was jovial and would smile a lot. But whenever the Prophet ﷺ was mentioned in his presence, he would start to turn pale. I never observed him narrating a hadith of Allah’s Messenger ﷺ, except in a state of ritual purity (taharah). I visited him for a time and never observed him save in one of three states: he was either praying, observing silence, or else reciting the Qur’an. He never spoke of affairs which did not concern him. He was one of the deeply devout scholar who had true reverent awe of Allah.”
“Whenever ‘Abd al-Rahman b. al-Qasim mention the Prophet ﷺ, his face seemed as if the blood had drained from it. His tongue would become dumb-struck, out of awe of Allah’s Messenger ﷺ.”
“I visited ‘Amir b. ‘Abd Allah b. al-Zubayr. Whenever the Prophet ﷺ was mentioned to him, he would weep so incessantly, till he had no more tears to weep.”
“I would see al-Zuhri: he was one of the friendliest and most approachable of people. Yet whenever the Prophet ﷺ was mentioned in his presence, it was as if he did not recognise you, nor you him.”
“And I would frequent Safwan b. Sulaym. He was an exceptionally devout and diligent worshipper. Whenever the Prophet ﷺ was mentioned to him, he wept so profusely that he wouldn’t be able to stop himself. At this point, people would have to get up and let him be.”’14
Given all the above, it should be crystal-clear that the path of our salaf – the true salafi path – not only demands that we love the Prophet ﷺ, but that we honour and revere him too. Anything short of that just isn’t salafi love or reverence. Allah insists: Those who believe in him, revere him, support him, and follow the light that was sent down with him: those are the successful. [7:157] Imam al-Qazwini contrasts honour, reverence and veneration (described by terms such as tabjil, tawqir and ta‘zim) with that of love, and cites al-Bayhaqi saying: ‘This is a higher degree than that of love; for not all who love revere. A father loves his child, or a master his slave, but doesn’t revere him. Whereas all who revere also love.’15
Indeed, what else other than ta‘zim al-nabi animated our salaf to such deeds of loving awe and veneration? What other than ta‘zim drove Imam Malik to relate hadiths only after taking a full bath or performing ablution, wearing his best clothes and turban, applying kohl and perfuming himself?16 And what else other than ta‘zim spurred Abu Ayyub al-Ansari to refrain from walking across a room simply because the Prophet ﷺ was in the room below?17
1. Al-Shifa’ (Damascus: Maktabah al-Ghazali, 2000), 516-19. The chapter title in Arabic being: fi ‘adati al-sahabah fi ta‘zimihi ‘alayhi’l-salam wa ijlalihi wa tawqirihi.
2. Muslim, no.121
3. Al-Tirmidhi, no.3668; al-Tayalisi, no.2518.
4. Abu Dawud, no.3855.
5. i.e. they would race to collect the water that dripped from him during his ablution because of the blessings, or barakah, it contained. Such is also the case with respect to his hair, nails, sweat and saliva. In fact, his entire body is barakah. The act of seeking barakah from his blessed body, and whatever it came into direct physical contact with, is called tabarruk. Seeking tabarruk from him ﷺ is an agreed upon matter according to Ahl al-Sunnah wa’l-Jama‘ah. Consult: al-Nawawi, Sharh Sahih Muslim (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1995), 14:38.
6. Al-Bukhari, no.2731.
7. Muslim, no.2325.
8. Ahmad, Musnad, no.18910.
9. Al-Tirmidhi, no.3742, saying: ‘The hadith is hasan gharib.’
10. Abu Dawud, no.4847.
11. Al-Hakim, Ma‘rifat ‘Ulum al-Hadith, 19.
12. Cited in al-Suyuti, al-Manahil, no.999.
13. Al-Shifa’, 519-20.
14. ibid., 520-22.
15. Al-Qazwini, Mukhtasar Shu‘ab al-Iman (Beirut: Dar Ibn Hazm, 2003.), 20.
16. Cited in Qadi ‘Iyad, Tartib al-Mudarik (Saudi Arabia: Wizarat al-Awqaf wa’l-Shu’un al–Islamiyyah, 1983), 2:14-16.
17. Muslim, no.2053.