Action, Not words, is the Criterion
Action, Not words, is the Criterion
Commentary by Adil Salahi
“Messenger of Allah, what about a man who loves some people but cannot match their good deeds?” The Prophet replied: “You, Abu Zarr, will be with those whom you love.” Abu Zarr said: “I love Allah and His messenger.” The Prophet replied: “You will be with whom you love.”
All over the Muslim world, people speak of “loving the Prophet (Pbuh)” as the ultimate virtue. Unless one loves the Prophet from the depth of one’s heart, one is not a true Muslim, or so we are told. They say that it is genuine, deep, profound love for the man who taught us Islam which ensures salvation in the hereafter. Everyone, therefore, should work hard for the achievement of that pure love if he cares about what happens to him in the life to come.
There is no doubt that these people are well meaning and genuine in their belief. To them, loving the Prophet is an ideal to be always cherished and conveyed in all forms and modes of expression. Hence, they often speak of it, try to impress on others the overriding need of loving the Prophet (Pbuh) genuinely. They praise the Prophet (Pbuh) in their ordinary speech and in gatherings held specially for the purpose.
When you speak to such people trying to understand why they attach so much importance to loving the Prophet (Pbuh) they will tell you that they only want to make sure of being admitted into heaven in the hereafter. To love the Prophet (Pbuh) is the shortest way to achieve that goal. In support of their argument they quote the Hadith in which the Prophet says to Abu Zarr, one of the companions: “You, Abu Zarr, are with those whom you love.” They will point out that this Hadith refers to the hereafter and that the Prophet is the only one who is absolutely certain to be in heaven. If you want to be with him in heaven then you must love him.
That is a perfectly sound argument in as far as it goes. The Hadith they quote enjoys a good degree of authenticity and the idea it expresses is correct. Moreover, when the Prophet (Pbuh) said it, it was in context of loving Allah and His messenger. We may wonder, then, why scholars and others always tell us that we must do all sorts of things by way of worship and implement a strict code of conduct in order to stand a chance of being forgiven our sins and scrape through to heaven.
In order to understand all that, we need to look at the Hadith carefully and to understand what sort of love ensures that high degree in heaven. The Hadith in question is related by Al-Bukhari in his priceless book Al-Adab Al-Mufrad and also related by Ahmed, ibn Hibban, Abu Dawood and others. It is attributed to Abu Zarr himself who states that he said to the Prophet” “Messenger of Allah, what about a man who loves some people but cannot match their good deeds?” The Prophet replied: “You, Abu Zarr, will be with those whom you love.” Abu Zarr said: “I love Allah and His messenger.” The Prophet replied: “You will be with whom you love.”
It does not take much reflection on the words and meaning of this Hadith to understand that its framework is that of action, nor sentiment. Abu Zarr, the noble and conscientious companion of the Prophet (Pbuh) phrases his question in his typically modest way. He is not satisfied with what he does in the service of Islam. He believes that others are far ahead of him in this respect. His love of the Prophet (Pbuh) is, however, genuine and sincere. He wonders what he should do in order to catch up with those who are recognized to be better servants of Islam. Hence, he specifies in his question that he is asking about catching up with their work; that is, their good deeds in the service of Islam. The question he puts to the Prophet (Pbuh) is about “a man who loves some people but cannot match their good deeds.” So, an effort is made by him, but he views that effort as modest and unsatisfactory. Hence, he wonders what will happen to him. Will be have a chance to be with those whom he loves?
The Prophet (Pbuh), who knew everyone of his companions thoroughly well, immediately recognized what was troubling Abu Zarr. He, therefore, reassures him that he will be with the ones he loves. Abu Zarr was a man of true faith and a conscience which was always alert. Moreover, ever since he became a Muslim, he showed that he was prepared to make any sacrifice that was required of him. In the Tabuk expedition which was meant as a test to all the companions of the Prophet (Pbuh), the task the Prophet (Pbuh) set was very hard indeed. The Muslim army traversed the desert from Madinah to Tabuk, a distance of 1,000 km, in the blazing sun of the hot summer days. Those who did not have camels to ride had no hope of joining the army. Abu Zarr had no hope of joining the army. Abu Zarr had but a weak camel. After having travelled some distance, his camel kept falling behind. When he realized that he ran the danger of not being able to catch up with the rest of the army, Abu Zarr carried his stuff on his back and walked as fast as he could until he caught up with the Muslim army when they encamped for rest. He did not do that for any reason other than his burning desire to be always with the Prophet in any effort to defend Islam and establish its state on solid foundations. Knowing him to be a man who understood that love must be expressed by action, the Prophet gave him that reassuring answer that he would be in the hereafter with those whom he loved. Abu Zarr wanted to make absolutely sure that he understood the Prophet well. So he said that he loved Allah and His messenger and the Prophet repeated his earlier answer.
It is then within the context of action as an expression of love that we must understand this Hadith. Islam is a religion which requires action by its followers. It is for this reason that it has detailed legislation for every aspect of life. If action was of little value, it would not have been given that emphasis in the Qur’an and the Hadith. There is also a very similar Hadith which further clarifies this point. It is reported by Anas that a man asked the Prophet (Pbuh): When does the last hour fall? The Prophet (Pbuh) said: “What have you prepared for it?” The man said: “I have not prepared much, except that I love Allah and His messenger.” The Prophet (Pbuh) said: “Everyone will be with those one loves” Anas comments: “I have never seen the Muslims more pleased with anything after having embraced Islam that with this Hadith.” (Related by Abu Dawood, An-Nassaie’, Al-Tirmizi and Al-Bukhari in Al-Adab Al-Mufard).
The context of this hadith is set by the first question and the Prophet’s (Pbuh) answer to it. The man asks about the time when human life ends and people are resurrected to face the reckoning and the judgement. It is a basic principle of Islam that everyone is judged on the basis of his or her deeds and actions. We go through this life preparing for the life to come by word and deed. We know that it is not enough to say that we have faith, unless our claim has the proper practical effects. It is our deeds that we put forward in preparation for that reckoning in the hope that we will be judged favourably. Hence, the Prophet’s (Pbuh) answer is a question: what the man has prepared for that hour? This is highly significant on more counts than one. Firstly, it draws the attention of the questioner that he should not try to know it. That timing is something that Allah has kept to Himself. The hour, however, is certain to come and it always comes suddenly. Hence the need for conscientious preparation for its arrival. Secondly, there is an implicit reminder of the fact that for every person the hour falls at the time when he dies. Preparations for it can only be made during one’s life. When one dies, one no longer prepares anything for the life to come. There is, thirdly the emphasis that it is action and good deeds which make all the difference when that hour comes.
The man acknowledges that he has not prepared much, except to love Allah and His Messenger. And the Prophet’s (Pbuh) answer is the one which gives his companions the greatest moment of happiness after they have become Muslims: “Everyone will be with those one loves.” Within this context, love can only have one meaning: it is practical love which manifests itself in action and sacrifice that counts.
We do not demonstrate our love of the Prophet (Pbuh) by singing his praises. It is not enough for anyone to sing, recite, or even compose a poem extolling the Prophet beyond any measure. Words count for very little. It is how conscientiously one follows the Prophet by conducting his life according to his teachings that really proves that one loves the Prophet. Otherwise, it is extremely easy to spend a couple of hours everyday repeating expressions of love. That does not require any effort. Heaven is earned only through great efforts. Martyrs are admitted into heaven because they make the greatest effort of all to demonstrate their love of Allah and the Prophet. We should follow their example if we truly love the Prophet and want to be with him in the hereafter.