Hilm and Musamaha (gentleness and tolerance)

Hilm is a term that describes a person who does not feel any resentment in their hearts even towards those who hurt them in some way. It is to be patient and tolerant of others.

Hilm or clemency and gentleness of nature is a trait that is most beloved to Allah Most High. It is the opposite of wrath. Harshness and austerity, which are the opposites of hilm, are vile unpleasant traits that hurt people, that cause them to fear and hate and to turn away. Thus hilm is one of the characteristics of the prophets. The one who is not halim, or clement and gentle, cannot carry out an important duty such as that of prophethood. Having learned of this matter from their books, and then having witnessed the gentle and clement nature of the Prophet Muhammad, various Jewish scholars became Muslim. Allah Most High says in the Qur’an:

‘It is a mercy from Allah that you were gentle with them. If you had been rough or hard of heart, they would have scattered from around you. So pardon them and ask forgiveness for them, and consult with them about the matter. Then when you have reached a firm decision, put your trust in Allah. Allah loves those who put their trust in Him’ (Al’I Imran, 3:159).

Islam has accepted as an essential principle the adoption of a stance of moderation, without going to extremes, especially in matters such as teaching human beings and in propagation of faith. This principle can only be realised through the attribute of hilm.

Almighty Allah informs us that He is Al-Halim, that is, the possessor of hilm. And all of the gatherings of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh), the mildest of human beings, were places where traits such as clemency, knowledge, modesty, patience, reliance upon Allah, and trust were present and in fact dominant.

The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) desired that this principle of gentleness and toleration be present throughout his entire life. He spoke of the virtue of this beautiful trait being applied to trade as follows:

May Allah have mercy on the one who shows ease in matters of buying, selling and asking for payment of his debt” (Bukhari, Buyu’, 1; Ibn Maja, Trade, 28)

The Prophet (pbuh) also said:

“There was once a man who loaned money to people. He said to his servant (who collected his debts):

“If you come across a poor person in dire straits (whom we have lent money to), forgive him his debt immediately; then we can hope that Allah will forgive us our sins”

Eventually that man returned to Allah and Allah Most High forgave him all his sins” (Bukhari, Anbiya, 54; Muslim, Musakat, 31; Bukhari, Buyu’ 18)

Another hadith of the Prophet is as follows:

“On the day when there will be no shade, Allah Most High will shade (protect) the one who gives respite to the one who owes him money, (or who cancels his debt)”(Muslim, Zuhd, 74)

However this does not mean that the one who borrows money should take advantage of this virtuous trait of the one who lends money. The topic of lending money is so important that whenever a dead body was brought for the funeral prayer, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) would firstly ask:

Did he have any debts?” If he did so, he would have it paid and then he would pray his funeral prayer and if his debt remained unpaid he would not pray it.

On the other hand, the Prophet would always be very tolerant of new Muslims and those who did not have the opportunity to learn enough about religion. Thus clemency and tolerance are two most important traits of the saints and righteous believers who have taken on the character of the Prophet.

The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) once said to Ashajj of the sons of Abdulqays:

You possess two traits which are most beloved to Allah: hilm (mildness of nature) and being careful in one’s actions” (Muslim, Iman, 25,26)

Luqman Hakim said:

“O my son! Three things can be known only by three other things: Hilm at the point of anger; bravery on the battlefield; and brotherhood in times of need”.

Just like with all other virtuous traits, clemency and tolerance have their measure. To yield to oppression out of clemency and to show tolerance for the infringement of Allah’s laws is never a correct stance to take. Such behaviour is docility or complaisance[1] and is wrong as it leads to evil people becoming more prone to carry out their desires and encourages them.

Scenes of Virtue

Abu Said al-Khudri (r.a) narrates:

One time a Bedouin came to the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) and asked for his loan and he did this very harshly. In fact he said:

“I am not going to leave you be until you pay your debt.” The Companions rebuked the Bedouin, saying:

“Shame on you! Do you know who you are talking to?” The man replied:

“I am asking for my right”. The Prophet (pbuh) then said to his Companions:

Why are you not on the side of the one who is in the right?” Then he turned to Khawlah bnt-i Kays and said:

If you have any dry dates pay my debt for me; when our harvest of dates come in I will pay you back”.

Khawlah replied:

“By all means! May my father be sacrificed for you o Messenger of Allah!”

The woman loaned some dates to the Prophet who then paid back his debt to the Bedouin. He also offered him a meal. The Bedouin said, in an expression of his gratitude:

“You have paid back your debt nicely. May Allah reward you completely”

The Prophet (pbuh) then said:

“Those who pay back their debts are the best of people. A society in which the weak cannot obtain their rights without being hurt will never prosper” (Ibn Majah, Sadaqa, 17)

As can be seen, the life of the Prophet is full of the most beautiful behaviour and is a model for the human being for each and every state that can ever befall him. All we need to do is study him well and make efforts to follow in his footsteps.

***

Jubayr ibn Mut’im (r.a) narrates:

On returning from the battle of Hunayn, some of the Bedouin Arabs who were walking with the Prophet began to insist on their share of booty. They eventually stopped the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) under a Semura tree, where his robe got tangled in a branch of the tree. The Prophet stopped his camel and said:

“Give me back my robe! Had I as many animals as these trees that you see here I would share them all with you. And you would see that I was not miserly, deceitful or cowardly!”(Bukhari, Jihad 24, Humus 19).

The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) was mild and tolerating even with people who had recently became Muslim and had not yet imbibed within their spirit the delicacy and subtlety of the religion.

***

Anas (r.a) narrates:

“I never touched anything, neither satin nor silk, that was softer than the hands of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh). I never smelt any scent sweeter than the scent of the Messenger of Allah. I served the Messenger of Allah for an entire ten years. Never once did he say “oof” to me. Never once did he ask me about something I did: “Why did you do that?” nor did he ever ask me about something that I did not do: “Couldn’t you have done so and so?” (Bukhari, Sawm 53, Manakib 23; Muslim, Fadail 82).

This is how, in action and state, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) trained and educated Anas(r.a), who was entrusted to his care when he was only ten years old. This is also the method of training in tasawwuf. A person admires a certain personality and character and begins to imitate the person they admire. This is because the tendency to imitate is one of the most foundational tendencies in the nature of the human being. This is why both the physical and spiritual development of a person – whether positive or negative – is realised under the influence of the one that they are in admiration of and whom they are imitating.

***

Muawiya ibn Hakem (r.a) narrates:

While we were praying in congregation behind the Messenger of Allah (pbuh), somebody sneezed. I immediately said: “Yarhamakullah”[2]. The congregation began to stare at me angrily. I then said to them:

“What is wrong? Why are you looking at me like that?”

Then they began to strike their knees with their hands. Realising that they were trying to silence me, I became angry but I still chose to remain silent.[3]

May my mother and father be sacrificed for the Messenger of Allah (pbuh). I never saw a more beautiful teacher than him, neither before him nor after him. By Allah he neither rebuked me nor did he strike me. After the prayer, he said to me very gently:

This worship that we do is called salat. While we are in salat, we do not speak any words that pertain to this world. Because salat consists of glorifying and extolling Allah and reciting from the Qur’an”.

I then said to him:

“O Messenger of Allah! I have only just recently become Muslim…” (Muslim, Masajid, 33).

***

Zayd ibn Sa’na, one of the Jewish scholars, was analysing whether the written descriptions of the awaited last prophet that were contained in the Torah, could be applied to the Messenger of Allah. One day he saw the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) leaving his house with Ali beside him and he began to follow him. At that time a man dressed like a Bedouin approached the Messenger of Allah and said:

“O Messenger of Allah! I told such and such tribe that if they became Muslim, Allah Most High would make their provision plenty. They then became Muslim. However unfortunately they met with drought. They are now in a very bad state. I now fear that having become Muslim out of worldly hopes they will now turn back to their former religion, having not had their expectations met. If you would like to help them, I will take whatever you give to them”

On sensing an opportunity to test the Messenger of Allah, Zayd ibn Sa’na who was listening to this conversation interrupted and said:

“O Muhammad! If you decide to help these people I will make a contract with you and give you a loan”

The Prophet (pbuh) accepted a loan of 80 dinar from that man and gave it to the Companion to take to the people. He then said to him:

Go to them immediately and help them”.

Another day, the Prophet, along with Abu Bakr (r.a), Umar (r.a) and some other of the Companions, were taking a corpse to be buried in Jannatu al-Baqi.[4] After the Prophet led the man’s funeral prayer, Zayd approached him and with all his might, pulled his robe off his blessed back. Not yet having realised why Zayd did this, the Messenger of Allah first looked at the fallen robe and then at the sour face of Zayd in amazement. Having already planned his words, Zayd then began to speak to him:

“Are you not going to pay back your loan o Muhammad? You sons of Abdulmuttalib are always late with paying back your debts”

However, the term of the Prophet’s loan that he accepted from Zayd was not complete.

Zayd, who narrates this event has the following to say:

“I then turned to look at Umar. When I saw that he was full of rage, my heart skipped a beat. Umar (r.a) looked at me harshly and said:

“O enemy of Allah! Are these words of yours addressed to the Messenger of Allah? You are disrespectful to him and you speak very ill-manneredly. I swear by the One who sent him as a prophet that if the Prophet did not owe you money I would cut your head off”…

Umar (r.a) could not stand to see a Jew insult the Messenger of Allah. Seeing how enraged Umar (r.a) became, the Prophet smiled and said:

“Calm down o Umar! At this moment both I and this person here expect a very different sort of behaviour from you. You should have advised me to pay back my debt in the best way and you should have advised him to ask for his money with a more suitable tone, even though I still have three days to pay back my loan. Now rise and pay back my loan for me. And give him some extra money because you frightened him”.

Having received more than he gave, Zayd (r.a) then confessed to Umar (r.a):

“Look here o Umar! Every time I looked at the Messenger of Allah I could see signs of prophethood in his face. However until this day, I was still unsure as to whether or not he had two particular qualities. Did he forgive those who behaved harshly towards him? And did his clemency and tolerance increase as the harshness towards him increased? And so today I tested both of these. And I now have firm conviction that he is the awaited prophet. Bear witness that I accept Allah as my Lord, Islam as my religion, Muhammad (pbuh) as my prophet and I pledge half of my wealth in charity to the community of Muhammad”

Umar (r.a)  was very pleased at Zayd’s becoming Muslim and he gently cautioned him:

“You do not have enough wealth for all of the Muslims. At least say that you give charity to some of the Muslims”

Zayd then said, in correction of his previous words:

“You are right. I pledge half of my wealth to some of the Muslims” (Hakim, III, 700/6547).

***

Allah’s Messenger’s (pbuh) elevated character and personality captivated people with its gentle nature, tolerance, and patience. By the grace of Allah he was able to spread Islam over the whole of the Arabian Peninsula in a very short time.

Amongst the prisoners of war that were taken during the expedition of Abdullah ibn Jahs  to Batn-i Nahla was Hakem ibn Kaysan. The Prophet invited Hakem to Islam. He explained at length all of the beauty of Islam. He repeated himself over and over again in order to dispel his doubts. Despite all of these efforts of the Messenger of Allah, Hakem still do not become Muslim and this angered Umar (r.a) greatly.

“O Messenger of Allah! What are you still talking to him for? By Allah he will never become Muslim. Allow me to strike his neck so that he can go at once to Hell, his ultimate destination”. However the Prophet continued to tell Hakem about Islam. At one point, Hakem became all ears and asked:

“What is Islam?” The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) replied:

“It is to serve Allah without attributing any partners to Him and to bear witness that Muhammad is His slave and Messenger”.

Hakem then said:

“I have become Muslim.”

The Prophet then turned to his Companions and said to them:

Had I complied with your wishes just now, this man would have been for the Hellfire”.

Umar (r.a) says after:

“When narrates the following event:

“One of the Bedouins had relieved himself in the Prophet’s Mosque. The Companions immediately began to rebuke him. The Prophet then said:

“Leave the man be. Pour a bucket of water over the place where he relieved himself. You were brought to make things easy, not to make things hard”(Bukhari, Wudu’, 58; Adab 80).

***

Anas (r.a) narrates:

“I was once walking with the Messenger of Allah (pbuh). He was wearing a cloak made from Najran cloth, which was very hard and thick. A Bedouin approached the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) and tugged his cloak harshly. This action of the Bedouin left a red mark on the Prophet’s neck. The Bedouin later said:

“O Muhammad! Order that some of the property of Allah that is with you be given to me”.

The Prophet turned to the Bedouin and smiled. Later he complied with the Bedouin’s request (Bukhari, Khumus 19, Libas 18, Adab 8; Muslim, Zakat 128).

What amazing tolerance and clemency…

***

Once when Abu Darda (r.a) was wandering around the city, he saw the people abusing a sinner with very harsh words. He asked them:

“If you saw a man who had fallen into a well, would you not try to help him out?”.

The people said:

“Yes we would help him out” Then Abu Darda said to them:

“In that case do not abuse your brother. And praise Allah that He has given you well-being”.

The people asked him:

“Are you not angry with this sinner?”

This beautiful Companion who had been raised under the guidance of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) answered them:

“I am not angry with him, but rather with his deed. When he abandons his sin he is still my fellow brother” (Abdulrazzak, XI, 180; Abu Nuaym, Hilya I, 225).

***

During the time of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) there was a man by the name of Abdullah. This man who was known as “Khimar” would make the Prophet laugh with his jokes. However the Prophet would also punish him from time to time because he would drink alcohol…

One day after another episode of punishing him and after Abdullah had left, those present made a prayer against him by saying: “O Allah curse him”. The Prophet then turned to them and said:

Do not speak such words. Do not help Satan against your brother. By Allah I know that he loves Allah and His Messenger. Instead of cursing him you should pray: “O Allah. Forgive him his sins. O Allah have mercy on him” (Bukhari, Hudud, 4, 5; Abu Dawud, Hudud 35).

This event is an evident example of the clemency and tolerance that sprang from mercy, compassion and love that the Prophet had for his community.

***

One time while Rabi ibn Haysam was performing the prayer, his horse worth 20 thousand dirhams was stolen right before his very eyes. But instead of heading off after the thief, he preferred to finish his prayer in great peace of mind.

Hearing of his great loss, his friends ran to console him. He said to them:

“I saw the thief as he was untying my horse. However at that time, I was busy with something more important and beloved to me. That is why I did not drive out the thief”.

Upon this, his friends began to curse the thief. Rabi ibn Haysam said to them:

“Calm down, he has not harmed me. He has harmed his own soul. As if it is not enough what the poor man has done to himself, let us not harm him too” (See Babanzade Ahmad Naim, “Islam Ahlakinin Esaslari,” p 85-6).

What a peerless example of the peak of mercy and compassion… This is the unique state of the friends of Allah, who look upon creation through the eyes of the Creator…

***

Imam Sha’bi,’ who was one of the leading Tabi’een once said to a corrupt man who had insulted him:

“If what you say is true, then may Allah forgive me! If you are a liar, then may Allah forgive you!”

What an example of great virtue…

***

In short, clemency and tolerance which are the result of beautiful traits like mercy, compassion and love, are the essence of social relations. They are the divine command of Almighty Allah and the essential nature of the Prophet (pbuh), who said:

“The one who has a share of rifk (gentleness and kindness) has been given much good. However the one who has no share of rifk has been deprived of goodness” (Tirmidhi, Birr, 67/2013).

[1].     Hilmi khimari which indicates the docility of an animal

[2].     Yarhamakullah is an expression said after a person sneezes and means: ‘May Allah have mercy on you’ (translator’s note)

[3].     To perform an action in prayer that is not worship is obviously in contradiction to the spirit of the prayer. However we must excuse this Companion who got angry and the Companions whom he got angry with who displayed such behaviour. This is because at that time, the society consisted of people who had newly converted to Islam and who were only beginning to learn about worship and its etiquette.

[4].     Jannatu al-Baqi is the famous graveyard in Madina located just 100 metres from the Prophet’s Mosque.