As Ramadan edges near, a palpable shift dawns upon the Muslim psyche as they make arrangements for a month of worldly sequestration.
There are preliminary talks of the charitable endeavours to be undertaken during the holy month, which mosque to perform the nightly tarawih prayers at and in naughtier quarters of society, a countdown of the number of days left to party before a month of sobriety.
They may go about it differently, but ultimately all Muslims have a common goal for Ramadhan – to be the best version of themselves.
It is just as much a month of aspiration as it is of self- restraint, and they will no doubt be emulating their role models of spiritual personality, the Prophet Muhammad S.A.W. and his companions during this time.
The former, the unattainable model of perfection and the latter a group of people “as close as one can get” towards that end. The companions are considered the utopian generation of the Islamic nation and comprise of those who lived to see the Prophet, believed in him, as well as died a Muslim (it is pertinent to mention that scholars have differing opinions regarding this definition).
Most Muslims are conversant with giants such as Abu Hurairah’s intelligence, Uthman ibn Affan’s modesty and Khalid ibn Al-Walid’s courage, as such traits are frankly, easily intellectualised as exemplary.
Theirs are the stories that will be conveyed and emphasised above the rest, and whilst some companions do carry more clout than others for their characters, there are lesser known companions whose tales are replete with great wisdom. Wisdom that may not necessarily lie in the companion’s character but rather in the manner which the Prophet dealt with them.
For instance, Hassan ibn Thabit, who was a member of the Banu Khazraj tribe, is typically lauded for being a prolific poet, whose meter and cadence was unrivalled. This was no small compliment for a society then at its height of literary culture.
The Arabs back in the day had a particular genre of poetry which they called “Hija’” that was satirical in nature (lampooning), capable of inflicting greater damage upon the collective esteem of tribes than any weapon could. Given his flair for the spoken word, Hassan was naturally appointed as the official poet of the Prophet to respond to Hija’ crafted about him.
In fact on one such occasion he even instructed Abu Bakr As-Siddiq (then considered the most knowledgeable about lineage and tribal history, in addition to being the closest companion of the Prophet) to assist Hassan with historical facts but to leave the manner of delivery to Hassan.
There was even a special pulpit constructed for Hassan to stand upon when reciting his poetry.
What in my opinion makes the story above beautiful is the little known fact that Hassan ibn Thabit had what today would be akin to traumaphobia. It's something comprehensible today, but which a thousand years ago was considered cowardice that went against the grain of Arabian machismo.
The man was simply not cut out for battle and incapable of even lifting a sword! So extreme was Hassan’s fear of warfare that he would literally be the only able bodied man to stay back with the women, children and physically infirmed in the fortress.
This was the case in the Battle of Khandaq, and there are well-recorded narrations of Hassan declining to physically defend the fortress from an attempted attack on the same by a couple of stray enemy soldiers, leaving the day to be saved by the Prophet’s aunt, Safiya bint Abdul Al-Muttalib.
Much as the aforementioned would have been worthy of mockery, it is extremely inspiring to note that neither the Prophet nor the rest of the Companions, ever did.
The quirks of Hassan ibn Thabit are bound to elicit sympathy and support from most, but a
deeper understanding is required to appreciate the wisdom within the tales of Al-Nuayman ibn Amr, who was, believe it or not, the infamous resident prankster of the companions. He was a prominent Companion who fought in the battles of Badr, Uhud and Khandaq, whose antics would have probably landed him in jail today!
From selling a fellow companion, Suwaybit ibn Harmalah, to slave traders to teach him a lesson for refusing him food until Abu Bakr was present, to pulling pranks on the Prophet himself, nobody was spared!
The most daring of all his pranks no doubt has to be the one played on Uthman ibn Affan during the time when Uthman was Caliph. One day, an old blind man in the mosque needed to urinate and Nuayman offered to guide him outside the mosque to do so.
Instead, he merely led the blind man to another corner inside the mosque where the man proceeded to relieve himself in front of everybody. Unsurprisingly, the poor man had many people shouting at him and was distressed.
He vowed aloud to teach Nuayman a lesson if they were to ever cross paths again, at which point Nuayman approaches the man, changes his voice and offers to guide him to where “Nuayman” is. Instead he leads him to, you’ve guessed it - Uthman the Caliph who was in the middle of prayers!
The man proceeded to jump on Uthman and, amidst the confusion, Uthman realised what had happened, took it in stride and laughed along.
In addition to his penchant for tomfoolery, Al-Nuayman ibn Amr is also narrated to have had a weakness for alcohol and was flogged so often for intoxication that a frustrated Umar ibn al-
Khattab once imprecated “May God’s curse be on him”, to which the Prophet said “No, do not do such a thing. Indeed he loves God and His Apostle. The major sin (as this) does not put one outside the community and the mercy of God is close to the believers”.
Stories such as these lend a more human filter to the otherwise romanticised perception of the companions. They were not a homogenous bunch and each served the community and religion according to what was facilitated of their dispositions.
The Prophet understood that two people could listen to the same reminder of “enjoining goodness and prohibiting evil” and find one aspect more compelling than the other. The action-focused Muslim with their unbridled enthusiasm may have a preponderance towards the former and see in the world, opportunities to do good.
They also have a tendency to fall into complacency with the “don’ts” of the faith. For the restraint-focused Muslims, the world is riddled with temptations and they are motivated by the fear of punishment. While moral austerity is admirable to a degree, it is clear from the tale above that fear and punishment must never be allowed to dominate over love and hope.
There is humour in the religion and at its core, lies mercy.
To quote the famous mystic poet, Jelaluddin Rumi: “Ours is not a caravan of despair. Come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times”.May we open the doors to understanding one another this Ramadan!