Honouring one’s trust and Keeping One’s Promise

The word ‘amanah’ or trust, comes from the same root as ‘iman’ or faith. The expression ‘mu’min’ which is the collective name for those who believe in Allah, is also one of the beautiful Names of Allah, and indicates that He is the source of security, He instils trust in his servants, and it is He who makes them trustworthy. He is also the One who has given His prophets the characteristic of ‘trust’ and is the One Who has made them trustworthy. From this respect then, the ‘mu’min’ is the one who has iman or faith, who has been given a trust, who engenders trust, and who can be trusted.

Abu Mûsa (r.a) said: “I asked the Messenger of Allah (pbuh), “O Messenger of Allah! Who is the most virtuous of the Muslims?” He replied: “The one from whose tongue and hands Muslims are safe” (Bukhari, Iman 4,5, Rikak 26; Muslim, Iman 64,65).

Being trustworthy and keeping one’s promise, that is, loyalty to one’s word is one of the fundamental principles of individual and social life. The peace of society is based on people being trustworthy and on their keeping their word. Without this characteristic, the reform of neither religion nor the world can be considered.

The following verses touch especially on the characteristic of trustworthiness of the prophets:

‘[I am] transmitting my Lord’s Message to you, and I am a faithful counsellor to you’. (Al-a’raf, 7:68).

‘I am a faithful Messenger to you’. (Al-Shu’ara, 26:107)[1]

These beautiful characteristics are also a sign of the community of Muhammad. Because the Prophet was known for being and addressed as ‘the trustworthy one,’ even before his call to prophethood began.

Aside from trustworthiness, keeping one’s word is another important characteristic. Almighty Allah commands that the promises one makes be kept:

‘You who have faith! Be true to your covenants’ (Al-Maida, 5:1)

‘…And be true to every promise – for, verily, [on Judgement Day], you will be called to account for every promise which you have made’ (Isra, 17:34)

Almighty Allah also expresses the characteristics of a believer who has attained to salvation as follows:

Those who honour their trusts and their contracts’ (Al-Mu’minuun, 23:8)

Let us never forget that the promises and all manner of contracts made to, and with, people are also promises made to Allah. One must definitely abide by the agreements one makes before Allah and keep one’s promise meticulously.

Almighty Allah praises and honours Prophet Ibrahîm as:

…and of Ibrahim, who paid his dues in full’ (Al-Najm, 53:37)

The Prophet Muhammad gave the following good tidings to trustworthy and honest merchants:

“The merchant who speaks the truth, is honest and trustworthy will be next to the Prophets, the righteous and the martyrs on the Day of Judgement”(Tirmidhi, Buyu 4/1209; Ibn Majah, Tijarah, 1).

In contrast to this, there are severe dire warnings to those people who are not trustworthy and do not keep their word. For example the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said:

“The one who has no sense of trust also has no faith” (Ahmad, III, 135).

***

It is a sign of weakness of faith, loss of one’s dignity, and loss of Islamic sensitivity, if a person does not instil a sense of trust to those around him/her. The person is merely a believer in name only, having had the essence of his worship emptied, and having nothing left but an ostentatious and insincere appearance. Umar  informs us of this in a nice way:

“Do not look at the prayer that a person prays or the fast that he fasts. Listen to see if when he speaks, he speaks the truth, and when something is entrusted to him he does not betray the trust, and whether he inclines towards the world and does not care about the lawful and unlawful” [2]

When this state of betraying trust and not keeping one’s word is not treated, it can lead as far as the worst of all traits which is hypocrisy. The Prophet (pbuh) has said:

“There are four characteristics, which if they are found in a person, then he is a complete hypocrite. If he has one of these characteristics, then he has some hypocrisy: 1. He betrays a trust that has been entrusted to him; 2. When he speaks, he lies; 3. He turns back from his word, having given it; 4. He oversteps the limits in being hostile and he does wrong” (Bukhari, Iman 24; Mezalim 17; Muslim Iman 106).

Almighty Allah has said: “On the Day of Judgement I will be the enemy of these three groups of people: 1. The one who swears by My name and then breaks his promise; 2. The one who sells a free man as a slave and who spends the money; 3. The one who hires an employee but does not pay him after he has had his work done” (Bukhari, Buyu 106; Ijarah 0).

Thus trustworthiness and keeping one’s promise are the signs of the Muslim. A believer’s not being trustworthy and breaking his promise is an appalling characteristic that incurs the wrath of Allah and drags one down to the lowest of the low.

Scenes of Virtue

In terms of generosity, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) was considered superior by his tribe, and the noblest in lineage and the best in character. He was the one who would attend to the rights of neighbours, and the most superior in terms of forbearance and loyalty. It was he who was the most trustworthy and trusted, and the one who refrained the most from hurting and harming others. He was never known to condemn or blame anybody unjustly, and he was never seen arguing with anybody. Almighty Allah gathered in him all of the beautiful characteristics and qualities such that his clan had seen him worthy of the title ‘Al-amin’ (The Trustworthy one).[3]

The title of ‘Al-Amin’ became like a second name of the Prophet. In fact when he was 25 years old, this was the only name that he was called by.[4] During the time of the debate about the Ka’bah, when the Quraysh saw the Prophet coming, they were pleased and cried: “Al-Amin is coming!” They had confidence in him and consulted with him in every affair. Aside from his Blessed Companions, who were ready to sacrifice their lives, their property and their everything for him, his enemies too, who had planned to kill him, were unable to say anything against his trustworthiness.

The polytheists too constantly used the term Muhammad’ al-Amin and entrusted their valuable belongings to him rather than to their own sympathisers. Even when the Prophet (pbuh) was about to migrate to Madina he had in his trust certain belongings of the polytheists. And in spite of their death threats to him, he left Ali in charge of returning them.

***

One of the events that resulted in the Messenger of Allah being given the titles ‘Al-Amin’ and ‘As Sadik’ (The Loyal One) is narrated by Abdullah ibn Abi’l Hamsa :

“I once went to the market with the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) before he became a prophet. I had borrowed some money from him and told him that if he just waited a little while, I would bring the money immediately. I then left but forgot my promise. Three days later I remembered and went back to the place we had agreed to meet. I found him waiting there. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) did not rebuke me for the mistake I made, but rather said:

Young man. You have caused me discomfort. I have been waiting here for three days” (Abu Dawud, Adab, 82/4996).

The Prophet was unsurpassed in trustworthiness and keeping his word, however his waiting for three days was not a simple matter of money. What made him go to the trouble of waiting for three days was his great sensitivity when it came to keeping his word.

***

Huzayfa (r.a)  narrates:

“My father Husayl and I had left Mecca and were heading for Madina, when the tribe of Quraysh caught us and said:
“You are going to join Muhammad’s ranks”. We told them:
“No, we are not going to Madina for that reason, we are going for something else”. After that, they made us promise that we would not join the ranks of Muhammad and participate in battle with him. When we arrived in Madina and told the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) what had happened, he said:

Go. We will keep your promise and ask for help from Allah against them”. This is why I was unable to take part in the Battle of Badr” (Muslim, Jihad, 98).

***

It was the time of the treaty of Hudaybiya and the articles that were agreed upon were being written down. Just at that point, Abu Jandal, the son of Suhayl ibn Amr, the representative of Quraysh, appeared before the Messenger of Allah (pbuh), having dragged his feet in chains. Abu Jandal , was being tortured because he became Muslim. He had found an opportunity to escape and fled to where the Muslims were. Suhayl insisted that the first person to be sent back was his own son, according to the pact, and he hit Abu Jandal on the face with a stick. Sad at the events that took place, the Prophet repeatedly and insistently requested from Suhayl that Abu Jandal be immune from the pact and be sent to him. However the hard-hearted polytheist would have none of it. Abu Jandal was delivered back to the Quraysh, amongst cries and pleading of the Muslims. Terribly upset he asked:

“Will you send me back and throw me into the same oppressed fire”? The hearts of the Muslim were torn apart, and they began to cry, not being able to bear it. In an effort to try and console him, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said to Abu Jandal:

“Abu Jandal. Please be a little bit more patient. Await the reward for this from Allah. Allah will undoubtedly give you expanse and a way out, both for you and the other weak Muslims who have no one to save them. We have made an agreement with this tribe and we have made a promise to them by Allah. And they have promised us by Allah. We cannot break our promise. This would not befit us” (Ahmad, IV, 325; Wakidi, II, 607-8; Ibn Hisham, III, 367; Belazuri, I, 220).

***

After the treaty of Hudaybiya a Meccan name Abu Basir (r.a), who had become Muslim, also sought refuge in Madina. However, according to the conditions of the treaty, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) was forced to send him back to the polytheists. At first Abu Basir  could not understand this act of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) and asked him in amazement:

“Will you send me back to a people of idol-worshippers?”

The Prophet quietly consoled him by saying:

“Abu Basir! We cannot break our pact. But if you are patient, Allah Most High will find a peaceful way out for you and for those like you”.

After these words Abu Basir  had nothing more to say and submitted to the will of the Prophet (pbuh). He considered the situation of all of the Muslims and surrendered himself to the polytheists. However, he knew that it was not to Mecca that he was going but to his own death. Knowing this, he decided to defend himself and attacked those taking him at the first chance. He killed Hunays, one of the two people with him, but the other escaped. Abu Basir then took Hunays’ dress, belongings and sword to the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) and said:

“O Messenger of Allah! Take one fifth of these and keep them for yourself”. The Prophet (pbuh) replied:

“If I take these I will have broken the pact I made with them. However your situation is different. Your act and the belongings of the man you killed are your responsibility”.(Wakidi, II, 626-7).

Acting with foresight, Abu Basir left Madina a little while later. He settled on the shore of a place between Mecca and Damascus called Îs. A little while later that place was designated neutral and became a place of refuge. Abu Jandal , mentioned above, also escaped from his oppressors and went to join Abu Basir. In this way the number of Muslims reached 300. The trade route of the Meccans to Damascus was now threatened. Helpless at these events, the Meccan polytheists requested that the Prophet remove the relevant article of the treaty. That is, they requested that the Muslims who had escaped from Mecca be accepted in Madina. In this way the article that was the hardest for the Muslims to accept, was now made favourable for them as a result of their keeping their promise. [5]

Thus the loyalty of the Prophet (pbuh) to his word was a source of mercy and blessings for all of the Muslims.

***

One morning, during the conquer of Hayber, Yasser, who made his livelihood by shepherding sheep belonging to one of the leading Jews, was herding his sheep outside the fortress, when he encountered the Prophet.

After conversing for a short period, Yasser accepted Islam. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) changed his name to ‘Aslam’. Later, Aslam  asked the Prophet (pbuh) what he was to do with the sheep he was herding. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) replied:

“Turn them around and head them back. Have no doubt that they will return to their owner”. Aslam  took a handful of pebbles and threw them at the sheep saying:

“Go back to your owner! By Allah I will never be with you from this moment on”.

The sheep went off together, and entered the fortress as if someone was leading them. As soon as he became Muslim, Aslam joined the battle, and was martyred a little while later. [6]

Even at a time of battle, when provisions were scarce, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) sent back sheep belonging to the enemy which had come to his very feet. The shepherd too, did not betray the property of the owner with whom he had a contract. And this is only fitting for a ‘trustworthy’ Prophet (pbuh) and his community of believers.

***

After Mecca was conquered the Prophet (pbuh) sent word to Uthman ibn Talha who had possession of the key to the Ka’bah to bring it. Uthman, fearing that the key would not be returned to him said:

“I am giving this key to you as a trust of Allah” (Wakidi, II, 833; Haysami, VI, 177).

After entering the Ka’bah and praying, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) came out and gave a victory sermon. At the end of his sermon he asked:

“Where is Uthman?” Uthman ibn Talha arose. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) then recited the following verse:

‘Allah commands you to return to their owners the things you hold on trust and, when you judge between people, to judge with justice. How excellent is what Allah exhorts you to do! Allah is All-Hearing, All-Seeing’ (Al-Nisa, 4:58)

After that he said:

“O sons of Abu Talha. Take this trust of Allah promising to keep it with you always and to act with honesty. Nobody can take it from you as long as you do not become oppressors. Today is a day of goodness and keeping one’s word”. He then gave the key back to Uthman ibn Talha. (Ibn Hisham, IV, 31-32; Wakidi, II, 837-838; Ibn Sa’d, II, 137).

Many of the leading Companions were hoping that the key to the Ka’bah would be given to them, as they considered it a most noble honour and sacred duty to be able to serve the House of Allah. However the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) gave it to the one most worthy of it. Everyone was amazed at this righteousness and in fact some people became Muslim as a result.

***

Because Mecca was conquered through the path of peace there was nothing taken as booty[7]. The Prophet (pbuh) asked for a loan of money and armour from the rich men of Mecca in order to meet the most urgent needs of the army of Islam, which had become great in number. He later paid it back with the booty from Khawazin and said:

The response to borrowing is to give thanks and pay the loan back” (Wakidi, II, 863; Abu Dawud, Buyu, 88/3562: Muwatta, Nikah, 44).

The rich who had given the loans were at first afraid that a victorious commander would take all of their property. However, not long had passed before they were to affirm once that the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) was definitely ‘Al-amin’, or the trustworthy one.

***

When Mûsa (upon whom be peace) came to Madyan, he saw a lot of people there watering their animals. Much further to the back were two young girls who were waiting to water their animals, and would not approach until the shepherd had left. After Mûsa helped them, they went to their father and told him what happened and asked that they invite this young man who had helped them. The younger of the daughters said:

‘…Hire him, father. The best person to hire is someone strong and trustworthy.’(Al-Qassas, 28:26)

The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) informs us that:

“…Shuayb (upon whom be peace) said to them:

“O my daughter, how do you know htat he is strong?”. The young girls answered:

“He took a heavy stone and placed it over the well”. Shuayb then asked:

“Well, then how did you know that he is trustworthy?” His daughter answered:

“When I invited him here in your name he said to me: “Walk behind me and not in front”. From these words of his I gathered that he was trustworthy”(Haysami, VIII, 203-4).

***

The father of Jabir (r.a) was martyred during the Battle of Uhud and left behind a large family in need and a lot of debt. Jabir explains:

“One day the Prophet (pbuh) said to me:

“If alms money arrives from Bahrain I will give you (some of it)”.

However no money came from Bahrain until the death of the Prophet. Later when it did arrive, Abu Bakr  said:

“If there is anybody whom the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) has made a promise or who has a debt to be collected let him approach us”.

Later I entered his presence and said:

“The Prophet (pbuh) said ‘such and such’ to me.” Abu Bakr  dug his hand into the money from the booty and took out a handful. When he counted it, I saw that it amounted to 500 dinars. Then Abu Bakr  said to me:

“Take two more handfuls like these”. (Bukhari, Kafalet, 3).

Abu Bakr  carried out the promise made by the Prophet (pbuh) and thereby demonstrated his faithfulness in keeping his word.

***

Anas  narrates: “My uncle Anas ibn Nadr did not participate in the Battle of Badr and this weighed heavily upon him. He said to the Prophet (pbuh):

“O Messenger of Allah! I was not present at the first battle you made with the polytheists. If Allah Most High allows me to join in another battle with them, then He will definitely see what I will do”.

When the Battle of Uhud consequently took place, he was there. When the Muslims abandoned their ranks he said, indicating his friends: “O my Lord, I apologise to You on behalf of them”, and indicating the polytheists he said: “I declare that I distance myself from what they do”. He then moved ahead and came across Sa’d ibn Muadh  to whom he said:

“O Sa’d! What I desire is Paradise. I swear by the Lord of the Ka’bah that I can smell the scent of Paradise by the skirt of Mount Uhud”.

Later when Sa’d related this story he said:

“I could not do what he did, o Messenger of Allah”.

We found my uncle martyred. He had over seventy wounds from swords, bayonets and arrows. The polytheists had cut off his limbs so that no one could recognise him. It was only his sister who was able to identify him by the tips of his fingers. The following verse was revealed in regard to my uncle and others like him:

‘Among the believers there are men who have been true to the contract they made with Allah. Some of them have fulfilled their pact by death (by fighting and being martyred) and some are still waiting to do so, not having changed in any way at all’(Al-Ahzab, 33:23) (Bukhari, Jihad 12).

***

Bara ibn Ma’rur (r.a) was one of the twelve representatives at the Treaty of Aqaba. Bara had promised the Prophet that he would go to Mecca during the season of Hajj. However, when it came time for the pilgrimage he fell ill and was on his death-bed. He said to his family:

“Turn me to the direction of the Ka’bah as a way of fulfilling my promise to the Messenger of Allah (pbuh). I told him that I would come”. In this way he became the first to turn to the Ka’bah while both still living and after he died.

When the Prophet (pbuh) arrived back in Madina, he went to the grave of Bara ibn Ma’rur  together with his Companions. They stood in rows and he led the funeral prayer over him, praying:

“O Allah! Forgive him. Have mercy on him and be pleased with him”.(Ibn Abdilber, I, 153; Ibn Sa’d, III, 619-20).

***

Hanesh (r.a) has said:

“I saw Ali while he was in the process of sacrificing two rams and I asked him:

“Why are you doing that ?” He replied:

“The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) told me to sacrifice an animal for him after his death. I am carrying out his wish. And I will continue to do so”

***

The Caliph, Muawiya ibn Abu Sufyan, had made a peace treaty with the Byzantines. Before the period of the treaty was completed, Muawiya set off with his army for the Byzantine lands. He was going to wait at a nearby location and then fight against them when the period was completed. As the army headed for Byzantine, a man on a horse was seen. The man cried out:

“Allahu Akbar, Allahu akbar! Promises must be kept and there can be no turning back from one’s word”.

When they looked carefully they could see that it was Amr ibn Adese , one of the first Muslims. The Caliph sent a man to him to ask him what he meant. Amr  explained:

“I heard the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) say: “Whenever one makes a pact with a tribe of people, let him not break it or renew it until the period is complete or until they have informed the other party of their breaking their pact”.

Hearing this, Muawiya withdrew with his army. (Abu Dawud, Jihad, 152/2759; Ahmad, IV, 111, 113, 385-6).

Thus we see that there is no difference between a promise being made to a Muslim or a non-Muslim. When a Muslim makes a pact with someone he must keep his word and fulfil his trust.

***

Amongst the Ottomans, exalted virtues such as bravery, keeping one’s word and loyalty had become engraved as exalted virtues and traits and characters that adorned the hearts. These traits had virtually become part of their personality. It was such that in Europe, the words ‘turkishness’ and ‘muslimness’ had become synonymous with each other. Consequently it was said:

“To be a Turk means to be a trustworthy person, whose word can be relied upon. It was known that in contrast to other nations, the Ottomans would never falsely swear an oath.

The old French general, Comte de Bonneval, sought refuge in the Ottoman Nation during the reign of Ahmad III. He has the following to say about what he witnessed:

“The Turks show a religious loyalty to the promises they make”.

The Swedish ambassador said:

“The Muslim Turks are extremely loyal to their word and their promise. They struggle to not let the name of Allah leave their lips. There is no other proof needed when they make a promise other taking Allah as their witness”.

Henri Mathieu, the French author, famous for his animosity to the Turks has the following confession to make:

‘To fail to affirm the dignity and morals present in the very nature of the Turks as an unparalleled gem would be a great injustice. They are people who believe it sacred to keep their promise and who accept honesty and uprightness as the foundation of virtue.”

***

In short, almighty Allah says in the Holy  Qur’an:

‘…He who breaks his pledge only breaks it against himself. But as for he who fulfils the contract he has made with Allah, Allah will pay him an immense reward’(Al-Fath, 48:10).

When a Muslim makes a promise he should take Allah as his witness. Thus each promise he makes to people will be a promise made to Allah. In that case what befalls the believer is to keep one’s word, and be a trustworthy and reliable person from whose tongue and hands others are safe.

Allah Most High has informed us that He is the Possessor of all things and that all affairs belong to Him, and that ‘Allah will not break His promise’ [8]

The Muslim too must keep his promise, having need only make it once and be trustworthy and reliable. That is, he must reflect the ‘attributes’ of Allah.

Loyalty is a spiritual state that crowns human life at the highest degree and it is a characteristic of the prophets, saints and other people of virtue. In this respect some commentators on the Qur’an have described Islam as being submission and faithfulness to Allah in whatever befalls us, with conviction of the heart and repetition on the tongue.

[1].     See also Al Shu’ara, verses 125,143, 162, 178; Al Duhan, verse 18

[2].     Bayhaki, Sunan al Kubra, Daru’l Fikr ts. VI, 2888; Shuab’l Iman, IV, 230, 326)

[3].     Ibn Hisham, I, 191; Ibn Sa’d, I, 121

[4].     Ibn Sa’d, I, 121, 156

[5].     See Bukhari, Surut, 15: Ibn Hisham, III, 372

[6].     Ibn Hisham, III, 397-8; Ibn Hajar, al Isaba I, 38-9

[7].     Abu Dawud, Kharaj, 24-25/3023

[8].     Al Bakara 2:80; Al’ Imran 3:9; Al Rad 13:31; Hajj 22:47; al Mu’minun 23:27; Al Rum 30:6; al Sajda 32: 13; Al Zumar 39:20; al Qaf 50:29