The Prophet (Pbuh) often taught by practical example. He might not state any recommendation, but he would make his conduct clearly visible so that people would learn and emulate his practice. Muslims have always been keen to follow his example, because they realised that whatever the Prophet (Pbuh) did was good.
Even in ordinary matters that are not related to religion, we will earn reward from God if we intentionally follow the Prophet’s example. Hence, we read about scholars refraining from doing some ordinary thing because they did not know how the Prophet did with such a matter. When they learned how he did, they performed that thing in the same way. They did so out of their love for the Prophet.
To give a simple example: there are certain religious aspects to how one starts a meal or takes a drink, such as saying, ‘bismillah’, or ‘in the name of God,’ and praising Him for what He has given us of sustenance.
Likewise, when we finish a meal or a drink, we praise God and thank Him. There is, however, nothing religious about taking a drink in large gulps or short sips. Yet the Prophet’s companions were keen to follow his example in the way he drank water. Anas (ra) reports: “When the Prophet took a drink of water, he stopped to take a breath three times. He used to say that in this way, the drink is ‘more gratifying, enjoyable and helps healing.’ Therefore, I stop three times to take a breath when I drink water.” (Related by Muslim).
There is no doubt that drinking slowly, in small portions, and taking a breath each time is better and healthier. Moreover, there are a number of reports that the Prophet mentioned God’s name each time before resuming drinking, but these reports are rather poor in authenticity.
This is a highly authentic Hadith which proves that the Prophet did not attach any importance to one’s position when drinking. In fact, he behaved in ordinary matters like all of us, as is convenient at the time.
Lady Ayesha (ra) reports: “God’s Messen-ger used to drink while standing or seated, pray while wearing his shoes or without them, and when he has finished his prayers he would leave, turning to the right or to the left.” (Related by Abu Al-Shaykh)
Unfortunately, we often insist on doing things in a particular way, attributing this to the Prophet and claiming that it is a Sunnah. Most of us today would view wearing shoes when praying as totally unacceptable. Yet the Prophet and his companions often did that.
Other reports also confirm that the Prophet used to take his drink of water standing: Ali ibn Abu Talib, the fourth caliph, “prayed Dhuhr one day and then sat down in the main square in Kufah, attending to people’s needs and requests until it was time for Asr prayer. He was then brought some water, and he drank, washed his face and hands, as well as his head and feet. He then stood up and drank the remainder of water. He then said: ‘Some people dislike drinking in the standing position, but the Prophet did exactly as you have seen me doing.” (Related by Ahmad, Al-Bukhari, Abu Dawood, Al-Nassaie and Al-Tirmidhi.)
There is no doubt about the message this authentic Hadith conveys. Ali was one of the closest companions of the Prophet. He was his young cousin brought up in his home under his care and was later to become his son-in-law. On this occasion, he wanted to clarify a misconception. Therefore, he emphasized that what he did was done by the Prophet. Other Hadiths confirm this.
A lady companion of the Prophet named Kabshah (ra) reports: “The Prophet entered my home, held a water-skin that was hanged to the wall and drank from it standing. Therefore, I cut off its mouth.” (Related by Al-Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah.) In fact, Ibn Majah adds an explanation of the lady’s action, saying: “She wanted to have the blessing of treasuring the point where the Prophet put his mouth.” In another Hadith one of the Prophet’s companions reports: “I have seen the Prophet (Pbuh) drinking when standing and when seated.” (Related by Ahmad, Al-Nassaie and Al-Tirmidhi.)
The Prophet always demonstrated the most refined of manners. This is particularly significant because he often had to deal with Bedouins who were mostly rough in their approach to all things.
Anas ibn Malik (ra) reports: “One day the Prophet was giving his companions water to drink. They said: ‘Would you not drink first, Messenger of God!’ He said: ‘The one pouring the drinks is the last to drink.’” (Related by Abu Dawood and Al-Tirmidhi.)
Two other Hadiths show that the Prophet was fair to all his companions, not preferring anyone for seniority of position. Anas ibn Malik (ra) says: “One day the Prophet was brought some milk which was diluted with water. To his right sat a Bedouin while Abu Bakr (ra) sat to his left. The Prophet drank first and then gave the Bedouin to drink and said: ‘Take it in turn starting on the right side’. (Related by Malik, Al-Bukhari, Muslim and others.) This meant that Abu Bakr (ra), the closest to the Prophet of all his companions, was the last to drink. The Prophet thus demonstrated that when there is a preferred way, it should be followed in all situations and should not be disregarded in order to appease someone of a senior position.
Indeed when another rule required a more differential treatment, the Prophet gently asked the person concerned whether he accepted the change. This other social rule requires that older people have preference over younger men. Sahl ibn Saad (ra) reports: “One day the Prophet was brought something to drink. A young man was to his right and some older men were to his left. He said to the young man: ‘Would you allow me to give these people first?’ The young man said: ‘By God, no, Messenger of God! When it comes to what I receive from you, I would not give preference to anyone whomsoever.’ The Prophet put the drink into the young man’s hands.”