Forgotten Sunnas: Greetings of Peace – Shaykh Jamir Meah

In this final article of the series, Shaykh Jamir Meah discusses one of the simplest yet most important everyday sunnas that is sometimes neglected; greeting each other with salam, the greeting of peace.

Many Muslims, both in the East and West, are not accustomed to saying salam to family and friends, and even more so to strangers. For others, salams are given multiple times throughout the day, however, it is often restricted to people we know, or only when returning greetings.

When we pass a fellow Muslim on the street, or sit next to each other on the train or bus, we are often hesitant to give salam. This could be for many reasons. However, it is important to try to overcome this barrier and be as free and generous with our greetings of peace with one another as possible, and ideally, stretch ourselves to even smile or look pleased to see another Muslim!

The salam is universal to all Muslims, so does not require translation. Everywhere you go it is understood. Spreading the salam among ourselves is not only affirmed in the Qur’an and Sunna, but as we’ll see from the prophetic traditions. It has a positive affect for both the people engaged, and potentially, the entire Muslim community.

The Effect of A Simple Greeting

Moreover, we all know what the effect of a simple smile can have on a person’s day, even from a stranger, smiling being a sunna in its own right. Sometimes, little unexpected gestures of kindness and sincerity are enough to lift the mood of a person’s otherwise negative or depressive moods. It is often the start to positive energy being released. When a person is genuinely greeted with a warm, smiley, and sincere salam, it can impart a real sense of reassurance and belonging.

This is ever more essential today as so many people feel insecure and detached in modern society. How many a group of Muslims youths have we walked by, religions far from their mind, but when a person says salam to them, they all immediately return the salam with unexpected fervor and pride?

How many an old person do we pass by, coming and going to and from the local mosque as if invisible, but when the greeting of salam is given to them, their eyes light up with all the intensity and vibrancy of youth? Likewise, many more people, whose private circumstances we can never know, can be touched and uplifted by an honest and simple greeting of peace from a stranger.

Peace

One of the Names of Allah is As Salam, the One Who gives Peace. God is the source of all peace. This is why we say after prayer (which itself concludes with the greetings of salam to those on ones right and to those on ones left):

Allahumma antas salam wa minkas salam tabarakta ya dhal Jalali wal ikram.

O Allah, You are peace, and peace comes from You. Blessed are You, O Possessor of Glory and Honor.

The universal greeting of peace is fundamentally a supplication to God for that person. If we truly mean God’s peace to be upon that person, and they return the same greeting, and we all do this throughout the day to different people, then we can expect Allah Most High to answer these prayers, showering His mercy, blessing and peace upon each person, and then the Umma at large.

The greeting of peace is not restricted to this world, for it will be the greeting not only from the angels to those who enter Paradise: “Peace be upon you for what you patiently endured. And excellent is the final home.” (Sura al Ra‘d 13:24) But more importantly, from God Himself: “And ‘Peace!’ will be [their] greeting from the Merciful Lord.” (Sura Ya Sin 36:57)

Spreading the Salam in the Qur’an and Sunna

Allah Most High tells us in many places in the Qur’an about the importance of spreading greetings among ourselves, ‘And when you are greeted with a greeting, meet it with a greeting better than it, or equal to it. Allah takes account of all things.’ (Sura al Nisa 4:86)

Likewise, the are many traditions of the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, which stressed the passing the salam between us, too many to mention in this article. Among the most useful for our purposes are;

Abu Hurairah, Allah be pleased with him, narrated, “You cannot enter Paradise until you are a believer and your belief cannot be complete until you love each other. Should I not guide you to something, which, if you practice it, it will establish bonds of love among you all? Make salam a common practice among yourselves.” (Muslim) Through this simple act, love is implanted in the heart and the sense of unity and brotherhood is given life. Small acts can have tremendous impact on our states.

Abu Umamah, Allah be pleased with him, narrated, The Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him,, commanded us to spread the salam.’ (Ibn Majah)

‘Abdullah ibn ‘Amr bin al ‘As, Allah be pleased with them both, narrated, “A man asked the Messenger of God, blessings and peace be upon him, ‘Which practice of Islam is the best?’ He, blessings and peace be upon him, replied, ‘Give food, and relate the salam to those whom you know and those who you do not know.’”

Methods and Etiquette of Giving Salam

The minimum salam necessary to fulfill the sunna, is to say “Assalamu alaykum” (Peace be upon you). The optimal is to say, “Assalamu alaykum wa rahmat Allah wa barakatuhu” (Peace be upon you and the Mercy of Allah and His blessings).

Note here that one says the plural attached pronoun “kum” at the end of “alaykum” even if the person being greeted is only one or two people.

The person returns the greeting by saying “Wa alaykum assalam wa rahmat Allah wa barakatuhu” (And upon you be peace and the mercy and blessings of Allah).

This full reply is sunna regardless of whether the person was greeted with a simple “Assalam alaykum,” or the optimal “Assalamu alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu.” In the first case, one has fulfilled the words of Allah we mentioned, “meet it with a greeting better than it,” while in the second case one has fulfilled the words of Allah, “or equal to it.”

As mentioned, it is sunna to be genuine, friendly, and cheerful (bashasha) when giving salam and when returning it. One should look the person directly in the face when greeting them.

The salam and its return should be said loud enough so the person it is intended for can hear it. The return should be given straight away, and not delayed.

If a person enters his house, it is sunna to give salam, even if no one is home. The same applies to entering into another’s home, or entering a mosque.

Make It the First and Be the First

One should be eager to offer the greeting first, for the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, said, “The best of the two is the one who begins with the salam.” (Bukhari) Therefore, although it may sometime feel awkward, or we hesitate to say salam to strangers, we should strive to overcome any concerns and be eager to say it first, without fear that the person may not respond. Each person is responsible or rewarded for what is in his capacity.

Likewise, the greeting of peace should be the first thing said before any other talk. This applies to between two people or when addressing a group.

Rulings on Giving and Returning Salam

Giving salam: It is sunna to give the salam. The sunna to give the salam is a communal sunna (sunna kifayah), which means it is disliked not to perform without an excuse. It also means that if there is a group of people, it suffices that one of them offers the salam to fulfill the sunna, although optimal if all say salam.

Returning the salam: In regards returning the salam, it is obligatory. If the salam is said to one person, then it is personally obligatory (fard ‘ayn) for that person to return the salam, while if the salam is said to a group of people, the returning of the salam is communally obligatory. So, if one of them returns it, it suffices for the rest, while if none return the salam, they all incur a sin. The optimal again, is for all to return the salam.

There are times, however, when the salam or returning it is not sunna, but rather, disliked or prohibited. Among them it is disliked to give the salam to a person who is relieving themselves, making love, sleeping, very drowsy, in prayer, saying the adhan or iqama. Likewise, it is disliked to say it to a person who has food in his mouth.

As for returning the salam in these situations, it is disliked to return it whilst relieving oneself or making love, and sunna for the one with food in his mouth, or at least when he has swallowed the food. It is prohibited to return the salam verbally during prayer, but sunna to gesture the return with the hands.

For the mu‘adhdhin, it is permissible (not disliked) to return the salam verbally between the words of the adhan. The muqim, the person who says the iqama, should not return it, but rather gesture or return it afterwards, as the iqama is meant to be swift.

As for saying salam to a person reciting the Qur’an, the sounder opinion is that it is still recommended to give salam and mandatory to return it verbally.

Common Scenarios

One of the reasons why fiqh is so captivating (for some anyway!) is because it enters into the everyday, practical aspects of life. Every human act, from the most significant to the most trivial, falls under a legal ruling. Below are a few common, useful, or just interesting, fiqh rulings related to spreading the greetings of peace:

It is a sunna to send salam to people who are not present via a third person. Among the greatest honor of our Lady Khadija, may Allah be pleased with her and shower her with abundant mercy and favor, was that Allah himself sent His Salam upon her via our master Jibril, may Allah be pleased with him. It is narrated that “Jibril came to the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, and said, ‘O Messenger of Allah! This is Khadija coming to you with a dish of soup (or some food or drink). When she reaches you, greet her on behalf of her Lord and on my behalf.’” (Bukhari)

If a person sends his salam to a person via a third person, such as the third person saying, “So and so sends his salam,” then it is obligatory for the receiver of the message to return the salam verbally. It is also sunna to return the salam to the third person, by saying, “Wa ‘alayka wa ‘alayhi assalam,” (And upon you and him be peace.”)

If one is greeting a deaf person, one should still say the words of the greeting verbally as well as gesture with the hands in a way that the person can understand and is able to return the salam. Likewise, if a deaf person says salam to a person, then one answers by mouth and gesture.

If a person greets a pre-pubescent child, it is not obligatory for the child to return the salam, but it is proper manners and highly recommended for them to do so. If a pre-pubescent child gives salam to an adult, it is obligatory for the adult to return the salam.

If two people greet each other with the salam, and then see each other again very soon after, it is still sunna to greet each other with the salam, and even a third, fifth, sixth time and so on.

It is disliked for a person to say salam to people during the Friday sermon. As for returning his salam, some scholars state that it should not be returned, while others held that it should be returned, but only one person should return it.

Related Issues when Greeting A Person

If a person gives salam to a person who holds religious honor, such as being known for the asceticism, uprightness, knowledge, noble lineage etc., then it is also sunna to kiss their hands, as was the practice of the Sahaba of the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, who kissed his blessed hands and feet.

It is also recommended to kiss the hands or cheeks, or/and hug one’s loved ones, such as parents, siblings, or small children when greeting them, out of love, closeness, and mercy. This also applies to a friend who returns from travel.

As for other than these people or non-travelers, it is disliked to hug or kiss others when greeting them. Rather it is sunna to shake hands (same-gender only) when greeting each other and saying the salam. The Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, is reported to have said, “There are no two servants who love each other for the sake of Allah, who meet each other and shake hands … that they do not depart except that their future and past sins are forgiven.” (Kitab Ibn Sunni)

Practical Challenge

I hope the above information has encouraged us all to eagerly spread the greetings of peace to one another each day. The final practical challenge to this series then, is to try to initiate the greeting of peace with as many people as possible each day, with those whom we know and those whom we don’t know.

It would of course be befitting for me to end this article, and this series, with a very warm (and smiley) farewell greeting of peace to you all,

Assalamu alaykum wa rahmat Allah wa barakatuh.


 

Forgotten Sunnas: Visiting Graves

In this month’s article, Shaykh Jamir Meah discusses the sunna of visiting graves. He covers the benefits and blessings of visiting graves, reflecting on our own state, remembering those who have gone ahead, and ends with a practical challenge for anyone who wants to fully revive the spirit of this sunna.

Man passes through five stages of existence. The first stage of man begins in the passing through the loins of his male and female ancestors. The second phase of life sees his birth into this earthly life and continues until his death. The third phase is spent in his grave and the Intermediate Realm (al barzakh) until the Day of Resurrection. The fourth stage is spent entirely on that momentous Day and continues until his final judgements is passed. The fifth and final phase is his life in the Eternal Abode, be it the Garden or the Fire.

A succinct summary of these stages is mentioned in the Qur’an, when Allah Most High puts to us, “How can you deny Allah? You were lifeless and He gave you life, then He will cause you to die and again bring you to life, and then to Him you will be returned.” (2:228)

Stages on Life’s Way

As the writer of this article, and you as the reader of this article, we can both safely assert that we have passed through phase 1 of our existence fairly successfully, and are now of course, somewhere in phase 2 (perhaps not passing through so successfully!).

We spend years unwittingly being passed down from loin to loin, then having appeared on earth, we spend a good amount of our formal years learning everything we need to survive. We struggle and toil to maintain survival, establish security, while fulfilling our hopes and aspirations for the rest of our lives, and then, ready or not, we’re evicted from Earth’s surface and buried in it. Enter phase 3.

Phase 3 introduces us to the grave and the intermediate realm, both unfamiliar territory to us; we will find ourselves alone and separated from everything we spent attaching ourselves to in those 60 + years of terrestrial existence.

When you or I die, our “judgement” effectively starts then, for a person “will be shown [in his grave] his [final] abode in the morning and in the evening.” (al Bukhari) We remain in this third intermediate phase until the Day of Judgement, much longer a period than the mere 60-90 years we spent laboring on earth.

Phase four is the beginning of eternity, and the rest is, as they say, history (well, not really, for us it is our “future,” while in reality, the earthly concept of time will cease to exist).

Every Soul Shall Taste Death

On reflection then, in the grand scale of the five phases of man’s existence, this earthly stage seems pretty minuscule. It is for this reason we find so many reminders in religious texts concerned with our ultimate ending on earth. Meek or mighty, we all affirm with unequivocal certainty that “Every soul will taste death.” (3:185)

Infinitesimal as earthly life may be; it is not of course without colossal consequence. In this blink-of-an-eye span of earthly life, we either make or break our eternal future. What we do on earth determines where we are post-earth. The user-manual for “what to do and be successful on earth” is of course the Qur’an and Sunna.

The Prophet ﷺ advised us, “Remember often the destroyer of pleasures” (Ibn Maja), meaning death. This is not being morbid or pessimistic. It is dealing with an inevitable reality.

Thou know’st ’tis common; all that lives must die,
Passing through nature to eternity. – Hamlet, Act I, scene 2

In the same way that one would not remain idle nor waste precious time if told by the doctor that they have a terminal illness and only a short time to live, any sensible person who reflects with an open and sincere heart will come to realize that “this worldly life is no more than play, amusement, luxury, mutual boasting, and competition in wealth and children … And in the Hereafter there will be either severe punishment or forgiveness and pleasure of Allah, whereas the life of this world is no more than the delusion of enjoyment.” (57:20)

There are many ways to remember this unrelenting destroyer of pleasures. One way of remembering our inevitable ending is remembering those who have preceded us and already arrived at phase 3 of man’s existence, namely the Intermediate Realm. We can do this by frequenting the graves, which is the subject of this article.

Recommendation and benefits of visiting the grave

Visiting the graves was recommended by the Prophet ﷺ as a means to remind oneself of the passing on from this world and onto the hereafter.

Anas narrates that the Prophet ﷺ said, “I forbade you to visit the graves then it appeared to me that they soften the heart, bring tears to the eyes, and remind one of the hereafter.” (Ahmad)

Abu Huraira, relates the Prophet’s words, “Visit graves, for it reminds one of his death.” (Sahih Muslim).

The recommendation applies to both men and women, as is evident when a Companion saw ‘A’isha visiting the grave of her brother, he said to her, “Did not the Prophet ﷺ forbid this visitation of graves?” She replied, “Yes, he had forbidden it. Then he ordered to visit them.” (Al Hakim, al Bayhaqi)

The benefits of visiting the grave extend beyond the visitor only. It is reported that the Prophet ﷺ said. “There is not a person who passes by the grave of his fellow believer whom he used to know in this life, and sends greetings upon him, except that he recognises him and returns his greetings.” (al Istidhkar) Other narrations describe the solace and happiness the deceased find when a person visits their grave.

Intention When Visiting the Graves

One makes high intentions when visiting the grave. Among these intentions are:

1. To follow the recommendation and actions of the beloved Prophet ﷺ
2. To remind oneself of the fleeting nature of this world, the moment of death, the immediate life, and the Hereafter.
3. To pray for one’s brothers and sisters and others
4. To fulfill some of the rights of the dead and bring comfort to the deceased
5. To encourage others to visit the grave and remember death
6. To hope that in turn, one will have many visitors to their own grave when the time comes
7. To soften one’s heart by remembering one’s lowly return to the earth and review one’s path and relationships with God and others.

The Hard heart which has become rough is softened only by the tokens of decay.” – The “old woman” of Abd al Qays, Ihya ‘Ulum al Din

When to Visit the Grave?

The grave may be visited at any time, but the scholars have generally recommended visiting the cemetery on Thursday night, Friday and Friday night until sunrise. It has been narrated and observed that the spirits of the dead return to their graves at these times.

Etiquettes when visiting the grave

When a visitor enters the cemetery one should say a general salam to all the believers and make dua, by saying:

السَّلاَمُ عَلَى أَهْلِ الدِّيَارِ مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَالْمُسْلِمِينَ وَيَرْحَمُ اللَّهُ الْمُسْتَقْدِمِينَ مِنَّا وَالْمُسْتَأْخِرِينَ وَإِنَّا إِنْ شَاءَ اللَّهُ بِكُمْ لَلاَحِقُونَ

Peace be upon the inhabitants of this abode from among the Believers and the Muslims, and may Allah have mercy on those who have gone ahead of us, and those who come later on, and we shall, God willing, join you. – Sahih Muslim

Some scholars stated it is etiquette to stand facing the top of the buried person’s head. Others have said one should face the chest of the deceased, who would be facing the qibla.

One should place fresh green branches on the grave if available. It is said that the green branches of living leaves bring relief to deceased.

One should enter and sit at the grave with serenity and no hurry, particularly if visiting anyone who had rights over them, such as parents, relatives, teachers.

One should reflect and ponder on the state of the deceased and on one’s own state. Imam al Ghazali says: “The visitor should not neglect to pray for himself and for the one deceased, or to derive a lesson. This latter may only come about through picturing the deceased in one’s heart, and the way in which his members have been scattered abroad, and how he shall be raised from his grave, and that one shall be joining him before long.” (Ihya Ulum al Din:40)

One should recite whatever of the Qur’an they are able to, with the intention of the reward going to the deceased.

One should make abundant supplication for their forgiveness, and through this the dead will rejoice. Imam Abdullah al Haddad relates that “A dead man was once seen in a dream and, upon being questioned about his state, said that he had been greeted by an angel who attempted to burn his face with a flame held in his hand. But one of the living said, ‘God have mercy on so-and-so!’ and the flame went out!” (The Lives of Man)

Unlawful practices

Visiting the graves is solemn act. As such, one should maintain the proper dignity at all times by keeping within the boundaries of the Shariah. One should avoid excessive crying and wailing, which the Prophet ﷺ forbade.

Practical challenge

This month’s practical challenge is for all of us to try to visit a nearby cemetery once. It does not matter whether the deceased is someone known to you or not. Let’s take the time to pray for them, to reflect on our own state and journey, and re-assess our lives and relationships with each other, and our relationship with Allah.

Although we may not see or even know the deceased, on the Day of Judgement we will know them, and it may just be that the person intercedes for us because of what we did for them, and through it, we enter Paradise.

Warmest salams,
Jamir.


Forgotten Sunnas: Sharing Meals

In this month’s Forgotten Sunnas article, Shaykh Jamir Meah discusses the sunna of sharing meals. He covers the benefits and blessings of eating together, what it means to share a meal, and ends with a practical challenge for anyone who wants to fully revive the spirit of this sunna.

Some Companions came to the Prophet ﷺ and complained, “We eat but are not satisfied.” He ﷺ said, “Perhaps you eat separately?” The Companions replied in the affirmative. He ﷺ then advised, “Eat together and mention the Name of Allah over your food. It will be blessed for you.” (Abu Dawud)

Likewise, the Prophet ﷺ said, “Eat together and not separately, for the blessing is associated with the company.” (Ibn Majah)

The Prophet Ibrahim, peace be upon him, never ate alone. He hastened to seek out company when it came to meal times. So much so that if no one was present to share the meal, he looked for a stranger to invite! (Tafsir Ibn Atiyyah).

Benefits of the Eating Together

The idea of people congregating is a central theme in Islam, whether it be the daily congregational prayers, the prayers of the Eid celebrations, the prayer for a rain, as well as gathering in circles of dhikr (remembrance) and knowledge. Islam recognizes the social importance of human interaction and bonding. Not just in times of need, but at times when the reason is nothing other than gathering for the sake of Allah and having good company.

When we share experiences beyond basic interactions, we create bonds. This is more so when other fulfill our absolute needs (physical or spiritual), or when we commonly share daily experiences that are either, such as eating, and praying etc., or significant ones, such as tragedies or triumphs.

Sharing Meals Builds Communities

Other than being a physical necessity, food and meal times can fulfill different aspects of our human nature in myriad ways. One of these important aspects is the ability of food to bring people together and, from this, form personal relationships.

When people sit together to eat, even if they stay silent throughout the meal, they are automatically involved in a sharing process. The food itself becomes the connecting factor between each individual present. Young and old, rich and poor, black and white, scholar or layman: sharing the same food from the same source somehow renders everyone present equal for that moment in time.

Perfect Practice in Yemen

One often sees this practice in Yemen. A person walks into a shop, hotel lobby, masjid, airport or even a police station, and sees the various employees: seniors, managers, workers, handymen, cleaners etc., sat on the floor in a corner or beside the front desk, around a large plate sharing a meal. Often 6 to 8 people huddle together.

Despite their sharing quite a small amount of food on the platter and passing just one flat bread between them, they sincerely turn to the person and say “Marhaba!” (welcome!) and shuffle around and make room without fail .

This is not dissimilar to the way they will ask a person if they prayed in congregation when they were going to pray during their break, just in case the individual may miss praying in the group. Some things just are communal for them, so much so that they go out of their way to check if another person needs or wants to join them.

Spirit in Simplicity

Simple as it seems, there was something always very warming and comforting to see how they interacted with one another during those shared meals, as if they put aside their respective positions and roles of the day, and became, just as in prayer, equals.

When we share food, communication and connection is effortlessly made. The circle offers the opportunity for the sharing of thoughts, sometimes an exchange of cultures. It can be a point for people to share their daily happenings, and even worries and woes.

Similar to when one is tired, eating is a time when the physical, vegetative aspect of the body slightly overtakes the intellectual faculties, causing a relaxation on the mental-emotional sphere. This can result in a “letting down” of one’s guard and the various mechanisms of psychological compensation we put up at other times. While it is important to be on guard of one’s tongue at all time, sitting and sharing with others, in good company, offers a comfortable space for everyone to speak in a relaxed state.

Sharing a Plate

Although it is perfectly fine to eat off separate plates, a further recommendation when sharing meals is to eat off the same plate, such as a large dish. There is something special and uniquely intimate about this practice where everyone puts their hands to the same plate, sometimes even sharing from the same piece of food. Not only do hearts draw closer together with each reach of the hand, but one of the main reasons for the magical feeling in this practice is the Divine blessings that descends upon the food.

The Prophet ﷺ had a large bowl called Al-Gharra’, which would be carried by four men. It is narrated that “One day, when the Companions finished their Duha prayer, Al-Gharra’ was brought full of sopped bread, meat and broth, and they sat down around it. When their number increased,the Messenger of Allah ﷺ sat down on his knees and rested on the soles of his feet. A bedouin said to him. ‘What sort of sitting is that?’ The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, ‘Verily, Allah has made me a courteous slave not a fierce tyrant.’ Then he said, ‘Eat from the sides of the bowl and leave the central part of it so that your food will be blessed.’” (Abu Dawud)

Lessons to Be Learned

He ﷺ also said, “You will be rewarded for whatever you spend for Allah’s sake, even if it were a morsel which you put in your wife’s mouth.” (al Bukhari)

There are many lessons to be learned from these two hadith, especially from the sublime generosity, etiquette, consideration, humility, and tender nature of the beloved Prophet ﷺ. What concerns us most in these words, are a) the instructions of the Prophet ﷺ that taught those present how to maximize the benefit of such meal times, and b) the beautiful image and concept he ﷺ instills of the idea of human intimacy and sharing through food.

Etiquettes of Sharing Meals

Below are some of the main etiquettes associated with sharing meals one should maximize, as well as those things that one should ensure when doing so:

    1. 1. That the food is halal.

2. That the company is good company, otherwise it is better to avoid it.

3. That there are no impermissible aspects to the group, such as prohibited gender mixing, alcohol, unlawful speech (backbiting, lying, obscenities).

4. Be considerate and think of others when eating. Prefer others to yourself.

5. Wash your hands before eating

6. Do not do anything that is off putting to others during the meal, such as putting greasy hands all over the water jug or glass, belching aloud, making noises when eating, or for some (unmarried students mainly), squirting ketchup and other sauces all over the food!

7. If the food is of one type, that one eats from the food that is closest to one, while if of different types, then one may choose and pick from different parts of the plate.

8. If one has been invited, to thank the host and tell them how much you like the food without excess and lying.

In fact, invitation is not a condition for the last recommendation, as it also applies to when your parents or spouse provides the meal, usually mother or wife, even if daily. At every meal, everyone should thank her and tell her how nice the food was. Every day, every meal.

It is important and normal for people to feel appreciated and not taken for granted. After all, it was her hard efforts that allowed everyone else to fulfill a sunna, and provides us with our needs, enjoyment and satisfaction.

Practical Challenge

As always, we end with a practical challenge for us all. The challenge this week is for anyone who doesn’t do so already, to share a meal at least once a week, and if this is not possible, then once a month.

For families, it is a great idea to share a meal once a day. If this is not doable, then once on the weekend. Perhaps everyone could help prepare the meal to make the whole process quality family time.

For friends and couples, make time to share a meal. It doesn’t have to be eating at a restaurant or take out. Cooking together (men included) can be fun and sitting down to eat afterwards can be a good and alternative way to spend time together.

It can be for any meal, including breakfast. Dry foods are particularly good for sharing in large platters. If cleaning up is an issue, keep some disposable plastic spreads (sufras) and paper cups in the house, so the hassle of cleaning is kept to a minimum.

If take-outs are resorted to, it is better than nothing. Buy food that everyone can share and enjoy.

Make the intention to follow a sunna, to spend time with one another as brothers or sisters, and even invite people you have met but are not necessarily close with. Don’t forget to say Bismillah, and insha’Allah, not only will we satisfy our stomachs, other aspects of ourselves will be fulfilled and gratified simultaneously.

May Allah unite us all in Jannah where we may sit around together and share the delights of the Gardens with the very best of company. Amin.

Warmest salams,

Jamir


Resources for Seekers

True Gratitude for Food – Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Riyad al-Salihin: Book on the Adab Related to Food
Content of Character 08 – Food Etiquette
What Are Some of the Sunnahs of Eating

Forgotten Sunnas: Healthy Relationships Through Visiting the Sick

The Prophet (peaceful prayers and blessings be upon him) said, “Every Muslim has five rights over another Muslim: to return the greetings, to visit the sick, to accompany funeral processions, to accept an invitation, to respond to the one who sneezes.” [al-Bukhari, Muslim]

When in good health, we visit each other and hang out. If we have a need to do so, we make time to meet up and speak to one another; through such interactions we form friendships and bonds. If this is the case when we are well, moreover it should be that these ties are strengthened while visiting someone when they are sick, when there is no need or tangible benefit other than pure love, concern, and care.

The sunna of visiting the sick applies to not only people we know, but also people we don’t know, as there is always room for forming new friendships.

When we share the suffering of others, even if the suffering be mild, and we take the time out to offer comfort and support in times of weakness and sickness, whether physical or emotional, we can truly begin to grasp some of the meanings behind the words of the Prophet (peaceful prayers and blessings be upon him) when he said:

The similitude of believers in regard to mutual love, affection, and camaraderie is that of one body; when any limb of it aches, the whole body aches, because of sleeplessness and fever. [Muslim]

And,

Indeed, Allah would say on the Day of Resurrection: ‘Where are those who have mutual love for My Glory’s sake? Today I shall shelter them in My shade when there is no other shade but Mine.’ [Muslim]

The recommendation to visit the sick not only apply to believers, but extends towards non-Muslims. The Prophet (peaceful prayers and blessings be upon him) would visit non-Muslims when they were sick, such as the hadith of the young Jewish boy as narrated by Imam al-Bukhari.

Moreover, in visiting the sick, there is something in it for the one visiting: reminders and rewards.

Rewards for Visiting the Sick

There are many ahadith concerning the merits of visiting the sick. Among them, the Prophet (peaceful prayers and blessings be upon him) is recorded to have said:

When the Muslim visits his [sick] Muslim brother, he is harvesting the fruits of Paradise until he returns. [Muslim]

Whoever visits a sick person or visits a brother in Islam, a caller cries out to him, ‘May you be happy, may your walking be blessed, and may you occupy a dignified position in Paradise.’ [al-Tirmidhi]

There is no Muslim who visits a [sick] Muslim early in the morning but that seventy-thousand angels send blessings upon him until evening comes, and if he visits him in the evening, seventy thousand angels send blessings upon him until morning comes, and he will have a garden in Paradise. [al Tirmidhi]

Etiquettes of Visiting the Sick

Make an intention: We are told that “Acts are according to their intentions” by the Prophet (peaceful prayers and blessings be upon him) [Muslim]. Therefore, one should make noble intentions such as:

  1. Fulfilling the right of a fellow Muslim
  2. To follow the sunna of the Prophet (peaceful prayers and blessings be upon him)
  3. To pray for their recovery and health
  4. To recite the sunna supplications when visiting
  5. To bring joy and happiness to the visited
  6. To help fulfil the needs of another person
  7. In case of a non-Muslim, to guide them to Islam by showing mercy and excellent manners
  8. To remind oneself of the blessings of good health

Timing: It is important to consider what time one visits the sick. Very early morning, very late in the evening, or common nap and meal times should be avoided. One should enquire first what a good time to visit for both the sick person and their family.

Keep visits short: Visits should generally be kept short, so as not to overburden the sick person. It maybe that they are tired or have a need that they are too embarrassed to do with visitors around. Talking may also be undesirable to them. However, if the patient clearly wants one to stay, then there is no harm in staying. There is no need to visit more than once, and one should avoid repeated visits unless the patient requests so or it is known that they will be happy if one does so.

Take a simple gift that will cheer the ill person: Receiving gifts is always nice, but particularly so when a person is feeling low-spirited. Simple, heartfelt gifts that the person will like are always the best, and could be anything from fruits, juice, broth, chocolates, flowers etc. However, a gift is not necessary, and one should not be put off visiting a sick person without a gift. The best gift is to make du’a for the person.

Du’a: There are various supplications that can be made for the sick person:

  1. Imam al-Bukhari narrated that whenever the Prophet (peaceful prayers and blessings be upon him) would visit a sick person, he would say, “No harm will befall you. It is purification, if Allah wills.” (la ba’sa tahurun insha’llah)
  2. Imam al-Tirmidhi narrated that he (peaceful prayers and blessing be upon him) said, “O Allah, make the harm go away, Lord of mankind, and heal him, You are the Healer, there is no healing except your healing, a healing that does not leave any sickness.” (Allahumma adh-hibi‘l-ba’sa rabb an-nasi wash-fi fa-ant ash-shafi la shifa-a illa shifa-uka shifa-un la yugha-diru saqqama)
  3. Imam al-Tirmidhi also narrated that the Prophet (peaceful prayers and blessings be upon him) said, “He who visits a sick person who is not at the point of death and supplicates seven times, ‘I beseech Allah the Great, the Lord of the Great Throne, to heal you (as-alu’llah al-azeemu rabbu’l-’arsh al-azeema in yashfika)’, Allah will certainly heal him from that sickness.”

Ask for du’a: One should also ask the ill person to make du’a for them, as the Prophet (peaceful prayers and blessings be upon him) said, “If you enter upon a sick person, then ask him to supplicate for you, for his supplication is like the supplications of the angels.” [Ibn Maja]

Fulfill a need for the sick person: One should ask the person whether there is anything they desire or need. It is said that the Prophet (peaceful prayers and blessings be upon him) visited an ill person and asked, “Do you long for anything? Do you long for sweet bread (ka’k)?” The man replied, “Yes.” So they sent someone to bring some Ka’k for him. [Ibn Maja]

Make conversation: One should make light-hearted and positive conversation. Related by Ibn Maja with a weak chain, the Prophet (peaceful prayers and blessings be upon him) is reported to have said, “When you enter upon one who is sick, cheer him up.” Therefore, the visitor should be upbeat, encourage the patient to have hope, and make easy conversation.

At the same time, one should avoid joking too much or talking loudly. One should also avoid asking too many questions about the illness, or causing any type of anxiety in the person, such as telling them how bad they look, or that the illness can become serious! Similarly, one should not speak about bad news or events. Nor should one enter and draw the person into prohibited speech such as backbiting (ghiba) and tale-bearing during the visit.

Reminder Against Avoiding the Sunna of Visiting the Sick

One hadith should be sufficient as a stern warning against avoiding the visitation of those who are sick and shut-in:

Imam Muslim narrated that the Messenger of Allah (peaceful prayers and blessings be upon him) said, “Allah the Exalted will say on the Day of Resurrection, ‘O son of Adam, I was sick but you did not visit me.’ He will say, ‘My Lord, how can I visit you when you are the Lord of the worlds?’ Allah will say, ‘Did you not know that my servant was sick and you did not visit him, and had you visited him you would have found Me with him?’”

Build Genuine Relationships by Visiting the Sick

Insha’Allah, the above ahadith of the sunna of the Prophet (peaceful prayers and blessings be upon him) encourages us all to do our best to visit the sick when possible, and thereby sharing in the tremendous rewards offered by such simple acts, acts which not only benefit us in the Afterlife, but build and fortify our relationships with those around us.

In a world of frenzied social media networking and online ‘friends’, the only real and meaningful social networking is in real life, with the people around us; those in need of help and support, those who need a kind word or smile to make that difference to their world, or simply widening our circle of good friends and company.

This is the way of our beloved Prophet (peaceful prayers and blessings be upon him). Despite his many and varied responsibilities in the community and at home, he (peaceful prayers and blessings be upon him) would always make time to visit people, keep the ties of kinship and bonds of friendship strong, and this was even more so when people were unwell.

So, let us try to follow his way, for Allah Most High has told us, “Indeed, in the Messenger of Allah you have an excellent example for whoever has hope in Allah and the Last Day,” [Qur’an 33:21].

And Allah knows best.


About “Forgotten Sunan” by Shaykh Jamir Meah

In this series of articles, Shaykh Jamir Meah presents simple, everyday practices of the beloved Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) that are either often neglected or go unbeknownst by many of us. Like many subtleties in life, these practices carry great reward with the least amount of effort.

Everything that the Prophet (peaceful prayers and blessings be upon him) did was for our benefit; to teach and guide us to that which is more beneficial in this life and the next. This not only applies to the licit (halal) and illicit (haram), or the ‘big’ questions in life, but he also urged us to seek the blessings and rewards in the ‘small’ aspects of everyday life.

When done sincerely, it is the attention to these detailed Prophetic etiquettes that embellishes our worship, breathes spirit into our day, and keeps us in the remembrance of God and his Messenger (peaceful prayers and blessings be upon him) as our days and nights pass.

Other articles in this series:

Forgotten Sunnas: The Siwak

by Shaykh Jamir Meah

The “Forgotten Sunnas” Series

Everything that the Prophet (peaceful prayers and blessings be upon him) did was for our benefit; to teach and guide us to that which is more beneficial in this life and the next. This not only applies to the licit (halal) and illicit (haram), or the ‘big’ questions in life, but he also urged us to seek the blessings and rewards in the ‘small’ aspects of everyday life.

When done sincerely, it is the attention to these detailed Prophetic etiquettes (sunna; pl. sunan) that embellishes our worship, breathes spirit into our day, and keeps us in the remembrance of God and his Messenger (peaceful prayers and blessings be upon him) as our days and nights pass.

In this series of articles, I intend to present simple, everyday practices of the beloved Prophet (peaceful prayers and blessings be upon him) that are either often neglected or go unbeknownst by many of us. Like many subtleties in life, these practices carry great reward with the least amount of effort.


Introduction

Everything that the Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him) did was for our benefit; to teach and guide us to that which is more beneficial in this life and the next. This not only applies to the licit (halal) and illicit (haram), or the ‘big’ questions in life, but he also urged us to seek the blessings and rewards in the ‘small’ aspects of everyday life.

When done sincerely, it is the attention to these detailed Prophetic etiquettes (sunna; pl. sunan) that embellishes our worship, breathes spirit into our day, and keeps us in the remembrance of God and his Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) as our days and nights pass.

In this series of articles, I intend to present simple, everyday practices of the beloved Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him) that are either often neglected or go unbeknownst by many of us. Like many subtleties in life, these practices carry great reward with the least amount of effort.

Among these sunan is the tooth-stick (siwak, miswak), and it is categorized under the general rubric of the qualities of natural human disposition (khisal al-fitra).

The siwak is a sunna from previous generations, as indicated by the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) when he said, “This is my siwak and the siwak of all the Prophets before me” [al-Tabarani], though it is said that the first person to use the siwak was the Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him), and then the nations following him.

A brief, electronic search in the major hadith works tallies 86 narrations related to the siwak. Among the most important are these two sound narrations:

“Were I not afraid that it would be hard on my followers, I would order them to use the siwak.” [al-Bukhari]

“I have indeed urged you with regard to the siwak.” [al-Nasa’i]

Times of Use

The siwak is recommended at all times for all people. The exception to this is the fasting person, for whom it is disliked to use the siwak after Dhuhr and up until sunset (i.e. should not be used for the Dhuhr or Asr prayers).

The most emphasized times to use the siwak are:

  1. At the start of wudu: It can be used just before or after the sunna of washing the hands and before the sunna of rinsing the mouth.
  2. Before beginning prayer (obligatory or supererogatory): The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was reported to have said, ‘A prayer with a siwak is better than seventy prayers without a siwak.’ [al-Bayhaqi]

I used to have my daily legal interpretation (fiqh) lessons after Dhuhr in one of the old masajid behind the marketplace in Tarim, Yemen. One day, noticing that I had forgotten my siwak when we got up to pray, my teacher looked at me disappointedly and mumbled, “It’d be better if you paid for a taxi home and fetched your siwak than to begin your prayer without it.” Since then, I’ve done my best to keep a few sticks in various pockets and bags on me all the time!

  1. When reciting Qur’an, dhikr, or learning sacred knowledge: This could also include any job or communal obligation if one makes the right intention.
  2. Meeting people: Cleanliness, hygiene and good appearances are all part of Muslim character. It is recommended to use the siwak on any occasion when one is meeting others.
  3. Entering the house: This applies to entering any house.
  4. When waking up: This is because the mouth odour changes for various reasons during sleep (e.g. bodily sleeping position, clenching one’s teeth, sleeping with the mouth open, snoring, and general matter accumulating between teeth). It is recommended even if there is no change perceived in the mouth, and even after a short nap.
  5. When going to sleep: To reduce the likelihood of oral changes that may take place during sleep.
  6. When any changes occur in the mouth or teeth, such as smell, taste, or color.
  7. At the time of death: The Mother of the Believers, A’isha (may God be pleased with her) said, “‘Abd al-Rahman bin Abu Bakr entered upon the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) while I was supporting the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) on my chest. ‘Abd al-Rahman had a fresh siwak and he was cleaning his teeth with it. God’s Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) looked at it, so I took the siwak, cut it [chewed it with my teeth], shook it and made it soft [with water], and then gave it to God’s Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) who then cleaned his teeth with it. I had never seen God’s Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) cleaning his teeth in a better way. After he finished brushing his teeth, he lifted his hand or his finger and said three times, ‘O God! Let me be with the highest companions,’ and then he passed away.” [al-Bukhari]

When a person is dying, it is sunna to wet the tip of a siwak with water, softening it, as A’isha did for the Prophet ﷺ, and give it to dying person to sucks on, as it relieves some of the terrible thirst they experience. The dying person feels an incredible thirst at the point of death. Our teacher, Habib Mashhur bin Hafiz, a man with considerable experience of attending those last moments when people are on their deathbeds, said, “Were [the dying person] to be given all the water in the world, it would not quench his thirst.”

He further explained that this insatiable thirst is Satan’s last hope to deceive some servants, appearing at the moment of death and offering a vessel of water in exchange for disbelief. If the servant stays firm, the devil despairs and flees, while if the dying person attempts to take the cup, the devil spills the water, then runs away abandoning his victim to his fate. We ask Allah for a good ending (husn al-khatima)!

Another benefit of the siwak at the time of death is that it reminds the dying person of the testimony of faith (shahada), and it eases the exiting of the soul.

Benefits

Imam al-Bajuri mentioned in his work al-Hashiyat that the siwak is beloved to Allah and abhorred by Satan. He also mentions a few of its benefits, such as it increases intelligence and eloquence, strengthens the gums and eyesight, aids digestion, slows [the signs of] ageing, and increases one’s provision. Who wouldn’t want one any of those?

Conditions of the Siwak

In order to be considered a tooth-stick or to function as such, the siwak must be coarse. Even a toothbrush or a coarse cloth suffices for the basic purpose.

The best trees for siwak, according to many scholars, are the mustard tree (al-arak), the palm tree, and the olive tree.

How to Use the Siwak

It is best to take a dry tooth-stick and dip it in water or moisten it by sucking on one end. It is said that the first juices from a siwak have healing properties, so one should swallow it; but not after this, as it is not hygienic.

The minimum sunna is to brush the entire mouth once with the tooth-stick in one sitting, while the optimal sunna is to brush the mouth three times, starting with the right side.

According to the Shafi’i opinion, in order to gain the reward of the Prophetic practice, one must make the intention that they are using the tooth-stick as a sunna by saying “I intend the sunna of using the siwak” or something similar.

Practical Challenge

It’s no use knowing all these benefits without doing something about it. The challenge this month is for all of us to try to get hold a siwak, and use at least for one prayer in the day. If one really has aspiration, then all five prayers a day. The winner will be known in the next life!