It can be easily deciphered from the Holy Quran, several Hadiths, and other Islamic literature that Prophet Muhammad (s) came from very humble family background and mostly led an austere & ascetic life. [1][2] He became orphaned in his childhood and was raised under the care of his grandfather Abd al-Muttalib, and upon his death, by his uncle Abu Talib (May Allah bless them all). Moreover, there are hundreds of hadiths that reveal that the Prophet (s) led a life of poverty and austerity

  • Sahih Muslim Book 9, Number 3507 Umar ibn al-Khattab (r) reported: “I visited Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him), and he was lying on a  mat. I sat down and he drew up his lower garment over him and he had  nothing (else) over him, and that the mat had left its marks on his  sides. I looked with my eyes in the storeroom of Allah’s Messenger (may  peace be upon him). I found only a handful of barley and an equal quantity of the leaves of Mimosa Flava and a semi-tanned leather bag hanging (in one side), and I  was moved to tears (on seeing this extremely austere living of the Holy  Prophet), and he said: Ibn Khattab, what wakes you weep? I said: Apostle of Allah, why should I not shed tears? This mat has  left its marks on your sides and I do not see in your storeroom (except  these few things) that I have seen; Caesar and Chosroes are leading their lives in plenty whereas you are Allah’s Messenger. His chosen one,  and that is your store! He  said: Ibn Khattab, aren’t you satisfied that for us (there should be the prosperity) of the Hereafter, and for them (there should be the  prosperity of) this world? I said: Yes.” 
  • Sahih Bukhari Volume 8, Book 76,  Number 465 Narrated  ‘Aisha (wife of Prophet): A complete month would pass by during which we would not make a  fire (for cooking), and our food used to be only dates and water unless  we were given a present of some meat
  • Sahih Bukhari Volume 5, Book 59, Number 738 Narrated ‘Amir bin Al-Harith: Allah’s Apostle (Prophet Muhammad) did not leave a Dinar or a Dirham or a male or a female slave. He  left only his white mule on which he used to ride, and his weapons, and  a piece of land which he gave in charity for the needy travelers.  
  • Sahih Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 56, Number 748: Narrated Anas: Allah’s Apostle was neither very tall nor short, neither absolutely white nor deep brown. His hair was neither curly nor lank. Allah sent him (as an Apostle) when he was forty years old. Afterwards he resided in Mecca for ten years and in Medina for ten more years. When Allah took him unto Him, there was scarcely twenty white hairs in his head and beard

Even when he presided over an Islamic authority in Madinah by the grace of Allah s.w.t., he steered away from all aspects of affluence & extravagance, and yet diligently performed all the duties of family, society and nation and it has also been recorded in several hadiths that if some wealth came to his possession in the morning, by sunset he would distribute them amongst the needy. He continued to live in a mud house and prayed in a sheepfold before the construction of a mosque which was made of mud and straws.

  • Sahih Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 8, Number 421- Narrated Abu Al-Taiyah: Anas said- ‘Prophet Muhammad prayed in the sheep fold, Later on I heard him saying, “He prayed in the sheep folds before the construction of the, mosque.”  
  • Sahih Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 8, Number 437- Narrated ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar- ‘In the lifetime of Allah’s Apostle the mosque was built of adobes (clay), its roof of the leaves of date palms and its pillars of the stems of date-palms. Abu Bakr did not alter it. ‘Umar expanded it on the same pattern as it was in the lifetime of Allah’s Apostle by using adobes, leaves of date-palms and changing the pillars into wooden ones. ‘Uthman changed it by expanding it to a great extent and built its walls with engraved stones and lime and made its pillars of engraved stones and its roof of teak wood.

In his childhood, he grazed sheep and camels as a shepherd, and in his youth, he did not shy away from manual labour. He proudly praised the meal earned by manual labour and hard work as the best meal as can be observed from the Hadith below.

  • Sahih Bukhari Volume 3, Book 34, Number 286: Narrated Al-Miqdam: The Prophet said, “Nobody has ever eaten a better meal than that which one has earned by working with one’s own hands. The Prophet of Allah, David used to eat from the earnings of his manual labor.” 

Later he got work in the household of an influential businesswoman named Khadija (r) who also happened to be a widow.[3] Taking advantage of her condition, her employees often embezzled the gains of her business. So when Muhammad (s) worked honestly for her, she was impressed and later proposed to marry him to which Prophet (s) agreed and it was by all counts a happy marriage. When he (s) was told about his prophethood while meditating in a cave (named Hira), he trembled with fear to which his wife Khadija (r) replied-

Allah (God) will never disgrace you. You unite uterine relations; you bear the burden of the weak; you help the poor and the needy, you entertain the guests and endure hardships in the path of truthfulness.

And when he started preaching Allah’s message, people made fun of him. His own tribe turned against him and he was mercilessly abused and mocked. People not only did accuse him of hypocrisy but also labeled him with insinuating epithets. When he used to pass from a street, many would spit on him and many would pour trash from above. When he prayed, some would place dung, blood and the abdominal contents of dead animals around his neck.

  • Sahih Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 9, Number 499- Narrated Amar ibn Maimuin- ‘Abdullah bin Masud said, While Allah’s Apostle was praying beside the Kaba, there were some Quraish people sitting in a gathering. One of them said, ‘Don’t you see this (who does deeds just to show off)? Who amongst you can go and bring the dung, blood and the abdominal contents (intestines, etc) of the slaughtered camels of the family of so and so and then wait till he prostrates and put that in between his shoulders?’ The most unfortunate amongst them went and when Allah’s Apostle prostrated, he put them between his shoulders. The Prophet remained in prostration and they laughed so much so that they fell on each other.’

But when all this could not stop Islam from expanding in leaps and bounds with the grace of Allah s.w.t., rich Arabs started threatening him and even made several attempts on his life and his followers who were generally poor people like him and together they faced a severe socio-economic boycott from all sides.

When the situation became so intense and out of control, Prophet (s) left Mecca for Medina to safeguard the well-being of his persecuted followers. The people of Medina were generous and they not only welcomed him to their city but also converted to Islam en-masse. Meccans did not let him live in peace even there and laid seize on Medina several times until they were finally defeated in a war.

The companions of Prophet Muhammad would often weep at his poverty and austere life-style. Commenting on the persona of Prophet Muhammad (s), Ali Eteraz writes- 

That you could lose your parents within your first eight years and still become a man; that you could lose your family and their protection and still become a leader; that you could lose numerous sons in that age in which children are the most innocent and still be compassionate; that you could have stones thrown at your head till pools of blood accumulated in your shoes and still not give in to vengeance; that you could have your uncle impaled upon spears and his heart literally eaten and still forgive the killers; that you could sleep on mats of hay and still be regal; that you could be so lonely that rather than sitting in the city circles you had to withdraw to caves and yet still come down with a book like the Quran; in this survival, no, affirmation of life, is a miracle that underlies Islam.

Indeed, he was a prophet adorned in simplicity and austerity untouched by any sort of hubris, yet Quran reminds him on this issue repeatedly that he is but a plain warner, probably for the sake of abundant caution.

  • Al-Quran 46:9 Say [O Muhammad], ‘I am not the first of God’s messengers, and I do not know what will be done with me or with you: I do not follow anything but what is revealed to me, and I am merely a plain warner.
  • Al-Quran 42:27 And if Allah had extended [excessively] provision for His servants, they would have committed tyranny throughout the earth. But He sends [it] down in an amount which He wills. Indeed He is, of His servants, Acquainted and Seeing.

It can be seen all over the world, that most of the world religions as they exist today have been founded by rich persons from influential backgrounds and later monopolised and patronised by the same elite rulers and classes. In several cultures/civilisations like those of the Jews and Brahmins, there was and still is the firm belief that amongst all human beings only they are the people chosen by God to preside over the affairs of religion and matters connected thereto. So it was natural for people with such thinking to object get irked when a simple & poor person like Muhammad (s) declared himself not only the messenger of God but also the last and final one to receive direct revelations (in form of Quran) from the Almighty and to convey it to all Humankind. Holy Quran elaborately responds to such objections and queries.

  • Al-Quran 43:31-32 They said, ‘Why was this Quran not sent down to one of the great men of the two cities?’ Is it they who apportion the mercy of your Lord? It is We who distribute among them their livelihood in the life of this world, and raise some of them above others in rank, so that they may take one another into service; and the mercy of your Lord is better than [the wealth] which they amass.
  • Al-Quran 3:73-74 Say to them, ‘Surely, the true guidance is the guidance from God.’ [But you think it is impossible that] someone else may be granted [revelation] such as you were granted or else that they should contend against you before your Lord. Say, All grace is in the hands of God; He grants it to whom He wills: for God is boundless, and all knowing, He singles out for His mercy whoever He pleases. God is the Lord of exceeding bounty.

What compounded the anger of the self-declared patrons and priests of religions was the fact that Muhammad (s) was delivering the message of Allah to mankind free of cost. Unlike Priests, Popes and Pandits, he was not charging any money for these exalting, egalitarian and empowering messages but in return only asking the recipients to be good to one another especially to their kith and kins and to do good deeds. Subhanallah!

  • Al-Quran 42:23 It is that of which Allah gives good tidings to His servants who believe and do righteous deeds. Say, [O Muhammad], “I do not ask you for this message any payment but only good-will through kinship.” And whoever commits a good deed – We will increase for him good therein. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Appreciative.

This he not only preached but also diligently observed and practiced in his day to day life as can be observed from the Hadith quoted below.

  • Sahih Bukhari Volume 8, Book 73, Number 65: Narrated Al-Aswad: I asked ‘Aisha what did the Prophet use to do at home. She replied. “He used to keep himself busy serving his family and when it was time for the prayer, he would get up for prayer.” 
  • Sahih Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 8, Number 432- Narrated Sahl ibn Sa’d- Allah’s Apostle went to Fatima’s house but did not find ‘Ali there. So he asked-Where is your cousin? She replied-There was something between us and he got angry with me and went out. He did not sleep (mid-day nap) in the house. Allah’s Apostle asked a person to look for him. That person came and said- O Allah’s Apostle! He (Ali) is sleeping in the mosque. Allah’s Apostle went there and ‘Ali was lying. His upper body cover had fallen down to one side of his body and he was covered with dust. Allah’s Apostle started cleaning the dust from him saying-Get up! O Abu Turab. Get up! O Aba Turab (literally means: O father of dust).
  • Sahih Bukhari Volume 1, Book 4, Number 223: Narrated Um Qais bint Mihsin: I brought my young son, who had not started eating (ordinary food) to Allah’s Apostle who took him and made him sit in his lap. The child urinated on the garment of the Prophet, so he asked for water and poured it over the soiled (area) and did not wash it

Despite being raised in an environment full of poverty and deprivation, the prophet (s) was excellent in manners and character as can be observed from the Hadiths quoted below. Even when given the choice of wine and milk, he chose the milk and not the wine. Also, he never spoke ill of any food presented to him. He would humbly eat it without complaining. And when he spoke, he did so clearly and gracefully.

  • Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 60, Number 232: Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah’s Apostle was presented with two cups one containing wine and the other milk on the night of his night journey at Jerusalem. He looked at it and took the milk. Gabriel said, “Thanks to Allah Who guided you to the Fitra (i.e. Islam); if you had taken the wine, your followers would have gone astray.
  • Sahih Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 56, Number 764: Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet never criticized any food (presented him), but he would eat it if he liked it; otherwise, he would leave it (without expressing his dislike)
  • Sahih Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 56, Number 768: Narrated ‘Aisha: The Prophet used to talk so clearly that if somebody wanted to count the number of his words, he could do so. Narrated Urwa bin Az-Zubair: ‘Aisha said (to me), “Don’t you wonder at Abu so-and-so who came and sat by my dwelling and started relating the traditions of Allah’s Apostle intending to let me hear that, while I was performing an optional prayer. He left before I finished my optional prayer. Had I found him still there. I would have said to him, ‘Allah’s Apostle never talked so quickly and vaguely as you do.”

Peace!

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • Holy Quran
  • Sahih Bukhari
  • Sahih Muslim
  • The Sealed Nectar (Ar-Raheequl Makhtum)