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Others before Ourselves


(The Life of Ummu Sulaim [radhiyallahu ‘anha] #6)

A man once came to Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) and complained of hunger. Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) thus sent a message to his respected wives, enquiring as to whether they had any food. However, they all replied, “We do not have anything besides water.” Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) then turned to the Sahaabah (radhiyallahu ‘anhum) and asked, “Who will host this man as his guest?” Hearing the request of Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam), Abu Talhah (radhiyallahu ‘anhu), the husband of Ummu Sulaim (radhiyallahu ‘anha), stood and said, “I will!”

Abu Talhah (radhiyallahu ‘anhu) thereafter proceeded home with the guest. On arriving home, he encouraged his wife, Ummu Sulaim (radhiyallahu ‘anha), to feed the guest saying, “Honour the guest of Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam).” His wife replied, “We only have food for the children!” Abu Talhah (radhiyallahu ‘anhu) instructed, “Prepare the food, distract the children and put them to sleep.”

Ummu Sulaim (radhiyallahu ‘anha) did as instructed. She prepared the food and put the children to sleep. Thereafter, while the guest was eating, Ummu Sulaim (radhiyallahu ‘anha) pretended to adjust the lamp while actually extinguishing it. They were thus in darkness and the guest was under the impression that his host was eating with him, whereas Abu Talhah (radhiyallahu ‘anhu) did not eat as the food was insufficient. Abu Talhah (radhiyallahu ‘anhu) and Ummu Sulaim (radhiyallahu ‘anha) spent that night in hunger.

The following morning, Abu Talhah (radhiyallahu ‘anhu) went to Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam). When Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) met him, he said, “Allah Ta‘ala was delighted at the manner in which you and your wife conducted last night.”

It was on this occasion that the following verse was revealed:

وَيُؤْثِرُونَ عَلَىٰ أَنفُسِهِمْ وَلَوْ كَانَ بِهِمْ خَصَاصَةٌ

And they give preference over themselves, even if poverty be their lot.

(Reference: Saheeh Bukhaari #3798, Saheeh Muslim #5359 and Fathul Baari vol. 7, pg. 150) 

Note: The children were not in need of the food. However, children are such that even if they are not hungry, they want to eat when they see food. For this reason, the children were put to sleep so that they would not disturb the guest by asking for the food while he was eating. (Sharhun Nawawi – Saheeh Muslim vol. 2, pg. 184 and Mirqaat vol. 10, pg. 623)


1. One of the glaring features in the lives of the Sahaabah (radhiyallahu ‘anhum) was their generosity and big-heartedness – especially when it came to opening their doors and entertaining guests in their homes, a practice which is a sunnah, an integral part of Deen and a sign of imaan. Sadly, there are many people who care more for their reputation than they do for the comfort of the guest. Hence, even if there is a person who is a stranger or has nowhere to eat, they refuse to bring him home, not because there is insufficient food, but because they did not have the chance to prepare a lavish multi-course meal. They think, “How can we serve this ordinary food or ‘leftovers’ to the guest?” instead of realizing that being warmly welcomed into a home and being served even a simple meal is better than being given the cold shoulder and left hungry.

2. In the above verse of the Quraan Majeed, Allah Ta‘ala praised the Sahaabah (radhiyallahu ‘anhum) and highlighted their willingness to sacrifice their own comfort for the comfort of others. This quality is indeed the hallmark of a believer, but is rapidly diminishing on account of each person being concerned for only his own welfare and material progress. Hence, the concept of forgoing one’s right or sacrificing for the next person has become alien and inconceivable. This is glaringly evident in cases where siblings are at each other’s throats and cut off ties due to inheritance issues, spouses are on the brink of divorce as each is unwilling to make a small change to accommodate their partner, and mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law are at war as none wishes to swallow their pride and back down.