In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
Narrated Anas radhiAllahu ‘anhu that the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said:
“None of you will have faith till he wishes for his (Muslim) brother what he likes for himself.”
[Volume 1, Book 2, Number 13]
A question arises does this mean that if one does not prefer others over himself then he is not a Muslim? No, this is not what this hadeeth means. One will still be a believer, however, his emaan will not be at the level of perfection.
A Muslim does not have Double Standards
This hadeeth teaches us that a Muslim does not have double standards. He cannot choose something for himself and the opposite for his brother. Whatever he desires for himself, be it food, clothing, behavior, actions, words, etc. he chooses the same for his brother. If he hates to be abused and mistreated he would hate to do the same to his brother. Likewise, if he likes to wear branded clothes, he would buy the same for another person. He would not buy a high-quality product for himself and gift an inferior quality item to another person.
What standards do we have when giving away gifts? What kind of gifts do we give to the person that is lower in financial standing than us or someone that we do not like? Most of the time we are trying to get rid of our junk and clutter. What kind of items do we give to our house servants? Ragged clothes and rotten food? If something is not fit for our consumption then how is to appropriate for another person?
We also have double standards when it comes to treatment. We will treat the rich and elite with honor and respect, and handle anyone below our standards with conceit. If we will never want our parents, spouses or supervisors to scream at us then why is it okay to yell at and be disrespectful to one’s children, spouse or subordinates?
Islam does not Call for Self-Sacrifice
In loving for others what we love for ourselves, what needs to be remembered is that it does not mean preferring them over own selves. Rather, it means that we start from ourselves. We will not sacrifice our needs to fulfill another’s desires because in another hadeeth we learn that the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said: Start from yourself.
Is there a contradiction between the two ahadeeth?
Not at all! What the two ahadeeth mean is that you will put your needs first and if you are able (have the necessary means) then you will fulfill the needs of another person as well. For example, you like a bag at a shop and you buy it. Your friend is standing next to you and she also likes the bag but she does not have the money to buy it. You are both college students living on a small pocket money. It is not obligatory on you to buy her the bag as well. Later, if there is a need and you have the necessary means then you may buy the bag as a gift for your friend as well. What needs to be remembered is that we give them gifts of equal quality and not sub-standard things.
The Liked and Disliked Love for Others
Another important thing to remember is that when thinking of others we need to distinguish between what is important and what is not. For example, if it is time for Maghraib Salah and your friend asks you to give them a drop at the train station. You know that if you go to the train station you will miss your congregational prayer. You should excuse yourself and tell your friend that you cannot miss the Jam’ah prayer. Likewise, your family has asked to bring some groceries. At the prayer time, you know that the stores are empty so you decide to shop while it’s time for prayer. You will fulfill the need of your family. This is wrong; preference should be given to the obligatory.
Remember the story of Khawlah and ‘Umar radhiAllahu ‘anhum? Khawlah was the lady who complained of her husband to the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. Though ‘A’ishah radhiAllahu ‘anha sitting in the corner of the same room could not hear her plea, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala heard her in the heavens. Right then, Angel Jibreel descended and revealed the first few ayaat of Surah Mujadilah for this great lady, Khawlah radhiAllahu ‘anha. After that she became renowned and people would respect her and say: How can we not listen to her when Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala heard her plea in the heavens? ‘Umar radhiAllahu ‘anhu would especially attend to her chores and whenever she stopped him on the street to talk, he would stand there without agitation. But as soon as he would hear the call to prayer, he would excuse himself, offer the prayers and return so that this elderly lady could continue her conversation. The obligations always came first.
No Discrimination between Rich and Poor
An important lesson that we learn from this hadeeth is that there should be no discrimination between the rich and the poor. This should be remembered not only while giving gifts but also in other areas of life. For example, you are traveling by bus and an elderly maid gets in. There is no place to sit. You will not ignore her because she is poor but get up and give her your place. She is like a mother even if she’s a maid. Don’t we learn this from the Seerah of the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam? He treated Umm Aimen and Haleema Sa’adia as his mothers even though they were paid to look after him.
Because we do not transfer these etiquette to our children, we see an increase in the cases of servant abuse. Adult servants are being insulted by five year olds. What are we teaching our children?
Also remember when you invite guests over to your place, do not present the fancy dishes only to them. Let the house servants also have a share in what you eat. On ‘Eid when you are buying 3-5 new dresses and shoes for each family member, don’t forget to buy at least one new dress for the house servants. This is both a mean for expressing our gratitude for the blessings that we enjoy and a mean for barakah [an increase in blessings].