What Is the Meaning of the Prophet’s Saying (Allah Bless Him and Grant Him Peace): “The Upper Hand Is Better than the Lower Hand”?

Answered by Shaykh Bassem Itani


What is the meaning of the Prophet‘s saying (Allah bless him and grant him peace): “The upper hand is better than the lower hand”?


Praise be to Allah, Lord of the Worlds, and prayers and peace be upon the Messenger of Allah, his family, and all his Companions.

This noble hadith uttered by the Messenger of Allah, the most honorable of creation (Allah bless him and give him peace): “The upper hand is better than the lower hand,” [Bukhari] manifests a wonderful metaphorical meaning and evokes emotional responses toward creative literary images, nourishing the mind and heart.

This prophetic text exemplifies the concise yet profound speech bestowed upon the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace), encompassing brief words with extensive meanings and a unique eloquence granted by Allah to His Messenger.

The Imagery of the Hadith

My beloved brother, you can envision three apparent images from this hadith:

The first image, “The upper hand,” represents the giver, the donor, the spender, the earner, the worker, the dignified, and the self-sufficient.

The second image, “The lower hand,” represents the beggar, the needy, the poor, the weak, the incapacitated, the lazy, and the humiliated with a broken spirit.

The third image is the affirmation of the superiority of the first image over the second.

The Lessons from the Hadith

For many reasons, it becomes apparent that the spender, whether rich or poor, is better than the recipient (i.e., the beggar).

The spender gives to relatives or strangers, thus being charitable. He disposes of his wealth to others, hence being a benefactor and donor. Typically, one cannot spend without working and earning, so he must be a worker and an earner. Those accustomed to spending are used to dignity and self-sufficiency and are reluctant to ask for money. All this is realized in the “upper hand.”

On the other hand, the beggar usually asks for money out of need or poverty. Weakness and incapacity are natural causes that drive a person to beg. Laziness is a flaw in unproductive individuals, leading them to beg for money. Every sane person feels humiliated when asking for money without earning it. All this is realized in the “lower hand.”

The Superiority of the Giver over the Beggar

We can say that the upper hand represents the strong believer, for the spender gives from what Allah has bestowed upon him to support others. He spends for Allah’s sake due to his deep-seated certainty in Allah the Exalted, aiding those in need, charities, endowment institutions, etc. The spender’s benefit is evident, and his goodness spreads among people.

The lower hand represents the weak believer due to not spending and not extending benefits and goodness. Hence, we understand this all in light of the Prophet’s saying (Allah bless him and give him peace): “The strong believer is better and more beloved to Allah than the weak believer, and there is good in each.” [Muslim]

An Important Caveat

An important point to note: The word “upper” in “the upper hand” does not imply negative arrogance or pride over others but signifies nobility—the lofty meanings we mentioned. Conversely, “lower” in “the lower hand” does not mean degradation or insult; far be it from the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) to demean anyone. Rather, it signifies the absence of the specific virtue of spending, known for its benefits and goodness.

It is possible that someone characterized by ”the lower hand” may be superior to one characterized by “the upper hand” in other aspects, such as increased devotion through remembrance, prayer, fasting, or possessing better manners and ethics.


My beloved brother, strive to be among those who work hard, earn, practice self-sufficiency, and spend their wealth in good as much as you can so you may attain the description of “the upper hand” and avoid the other description of “the lower hand.”

May Allah make you and me among those whom He has guided to spend in His cause, achieving the representation of the upper hand.

[Shaykh] Bassem Itani

Shaykh Bassem Itani has a rich background in both academic and administrative fields. He has held significant positions in many governmental and non-governmental institutions in Lebanon and abroad. This includes his role as a member of the Academic Committee at SeekersGuidance and a senior teacher with the free online global seminary.

From 2020 to 2021, he served as the Dean of the College of Da‘wa – University for Islamic Studies (Lebanon) – Postgraduate Studies. He was the Director of Dar Iqra for Islamic Sciences from 1998 to 2018. Shaykh Itani is a well-versed teacher in several academic subjects, including Fiqh, Usul, Aqida, and Tafsir. He has supervised and examined numerous Master’s and Doctoral theses at various universities and colleges in Lebanon.

His contributions to Islamic sciences are also evident in his writings and research. His notable works include “The Relied-upon Statements of Imam Zufar in the Hanafi School,” “Collective Ijtihad: The Sublimity of Thought in the 21st Century,” and “Custom and its Impact in Islamic Jurisprudence.” Shaykh Itani has actively participated in numerous scientific conferences and seminars, both in Lebanon and internationally. He is linguistically adept, excelling in Arabic, proficient in French, and comfortably conversant in English.