By Sheikh Abd Al-Wahhab Al-Turayri
When the call for the sunset prayer, Maghrib, was made the Prophet salAllahu `alayhi wa sallam tarried little before heading for the mosque. He entered to find some of his Companions radhiAllahu ‘anhum already engaged in voluntary prayer. This was something he encouraged, saying:
“Offer two units of prayer before Maghrib. Offer two units of prayer before Maghrib.”
Though he repeated it twice, he made sure to add, “This is optional.”
These two extra units of prayer were offered quickly since the time between the call for Maghrib and the commencement of prayer is short.
When the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam arrived, congregational prayer commenced. He always led Maghrib at the earliest part of its time. There was still a good amount of light in the sky when the prayer was over. It was bright enough that a marksman would still be able to engage in target practice and make the bull’s eye.
The Prophet salAllahu `alayhi wa sallam rarely prolonged this prayer. He read brief passages from the Qur’an. On one occasion, he read the long chapter al-A`raf, and on another he read al-Tur, but such occasions were rare. [The last prayer he ever led his companions in was the Maghrib prayer. On that occasion, he read al-Mursalat.]
Prophet Muhammad salAllahu `alayhi wa sallam did not sit and speak after Maghrib like he used to after the other prayers. He knew that people wanted to get home and have dinner.
Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam returned home and offered two further units of prayer, which are the Sunnah prayers for Maghrib. He then ate his meal. This was the usual time for dinner. Sometimes, if he was fasting, he took this meal before Maghrib prayer. This is why he said,
“If dinner is served, then start with it before praying Maghrib. Do not be too hasty in eating dinner.”
Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam encouraged his Companions to invite the poor to share dinner with them. He liked to say,
“Whoever has enough food for two people should bring a third. Whoever has enough food for four people should bring a fifth.” [At-Tirmidhi]
Sometimes, when the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam had a good amount of food at his home, he would invite ten people to eat with him. At other times, he had nothing at home but dates and water. Then there were times when days went by and there was nothing at all for him to eat. There was one evening when a man approached the Prophet exhausted and emaciated, with signs of starvation written into the lines of his face. He said, “O Messenger of Allah. I have fallen upon difficulties.” The Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam immediately sent the servant to the home of one of his wives to ask if there was any food to serve this distraught guest. She replied to the Prophet salAllahu `alayhi wa sallam, “I swear by Him who sent you in truth, I have nothing but water.”
He sent the servant to another of his wives’ homes, but she said the same thing. He received the same answer from each of his wives in turn. So the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam appealed to his companions, “Who will be this person’s host today and receive Allah’s mercy?” Abu Talhah radhiAllahu ‘anhu spoke up and said “I will” and took the man to his home.
The Prophet’s Eating Manners
The Prophet salAllahu `alayhi wa sallam ate his meals on a large mat that he spread on the floor. He never ate off a raised table. When the food was served, he invoked Allah’s Name and started with what was immediately in front of him. He did not reach over to other parts of the mat. He ate with three fingers and instructed his followers to eat from the edge of the platter and leave the middle area, where the food is heaped, until the end of the meal. He said, “This is where the blessings are.”
The Prophet salAllahu `alayhi wa sallam did not make an issue out of his food. He ate whatever was ready at hand. He asked his family, “Do you have anything for me to eat?” They would reply that they had nothing. They would say that they had only vinegar to serve with bread, to which he would reply, “What an excellent condiment vinegar is.” [At-Tirmidhi]
Prophet Muhammad salAllahu `alayhi wa sallam never criticized food. If he found it palatable, he would eat it. Otherwise, he just left it alone. When he ate in the company of his Companions, he always engaged in friendly conversation. Occasionally, he spoke about more serious things, like etiquettes or religious knowledge, like the time he instructed `Umar ibn abi Salamah radhiAllahu ‘anhu on table manners. `Umar ibn abi Salamah was the son of the Prophet’s wife Umm Salamah from a previous marriage. He was being raised in the Prophet’s household. Once when they were eating together, the child started reaching all over the platter snatching up pieces of meat. The Prophet salAllahu `alayhi wa sallam said to him,
“O child, start with Allah’s name, eat with your right hand, and eat from what is immediately in front of you.” [Al-Bukhari]
Later on in life, `Umar recalled this incident and said, “I have followed these table manners ever since.”
Whenever the Prophet salAllahu `alayhi wa sallam finished eating, he licked his fingers. He encouraged his Companions to make sure that all of the last remnants of food on the plate were sopped up and eaten, saying, “You do not know in which part of your food the blessings lie.”
When the tablecloth was lifted off the floor, he said,
“Praise be to Allah, a bounteous, good and blessed praise.
Praise be to Allah who has sustained and refreshed us. It cannot be compensated for, nor can it be shown proper gratitude, nor can it be left aside, nor can it be done without.
Our Lord! You have fed us and given us drink. You have enriched us, fulfilled us, guided us, and sustained our lives. O Allah, yours is the praise for each and every thing that You provide.”
He washed his mouth after eating food. He also did so whenever he drank milk. After dinner, he drank nabidh, a local non-alcoholic beverage made from fruit that has been left soaking in water since morning. He also drank this beverage after lunch, for which it was prepared from the night before. When he took dinner with one of his wives, he was warm and sociable while eating. He taught:
“Even the morsel of food that you place in your wife’s mouth is a form of charity.”
`Aisha tells us something of the playful manner in which she would take dinner with the Prophet salAllahu `alayhi wa sallam, saying, “Allah’s Messenger used to call me to eat with him. He would take a bone which had some meat on it and swear that I will have some of it. Then I would take a bite and put it aside. Then he would pick it up and place his mouth at the place I had just taken a bite. He would call for something to drink and swear that I will have some before he drinks anything. I would then take it and drink from it then put it down. He would then take it up and drink from it, placing his mouth on the point of the cup where I had taken a sip.”
We can see from this the way Prophet Muhammad salAllahu `alayhi wa sallam showed his wife how much he loved her. He turned the simple act of having dinner together into an expression of love and emotional sustenance for their marital life.
Published with modification from onislam.net