How did the Prophet Muhammad deal with those who made mistakes?
A mercy to the world
Alhamdullilah, Allah Almighty sent Muhammad (peace be upon him); a mercy for all mankind; a mercy for the worlds. Today I will be focusing on his mercy, his character with those who might have committed mistakes – big mistakes, small mistakes, small sins and big sins etc.
How the Prophet (peace be on him) dealt with people when they made mistakes, which is part and parcel of our nature and society reflected the greatness of his character. We cannot pretend that we are angels, yet we tend to give the impression in our teachings that the companions were angels. This was not the case. Although we respect the companions as they had the companionship of the Prophet (peace be upon him), and no one can reach their level, they were not an angelic society. They were a human society. Therefore, by definition, they made mistakes, had shortcomings, and committed sins, as we do.
Anas bin Malik reported that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
‘All the children of Adam are liable to make mistakes and the best amongst those are those who repent’. (Tirmidhi)
This is our reality. How did the Prophet (peace be upon him) deal with those who committed mistakes in the community? I’m addressing this issue because we tend to lack his mercy, especially when we have somebody in our midst who has committed a mistake. We make a big hoo-ha about it. I’m not saying we should celebrate his mistake or his sin, but equally we shouldn’t push him off the cliff, as we often do. We all have some good aspects and some bad aspects in our character, but when it comes to others, we do not give them that allowance. This was not the way of the Prophet (peace be upon him).
Mercy – the Prophetic Way
1) Do not be the supporter of the shaytan against your brother
I’d like to highlight some practical examples on dealing with sins in a prophetic manner from the life of the Prophet (peace be on him). For instance, Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that a man who was drunk was brought to the Prophet (peace be upon him). The Prophet (peace be upon him) said that as he had broken a command would be punished. There are set punishments for different sins and crimes, and for being drunk it is being flogged. The Prophet (peace be on him) told them to carry out the punishment of beating him. Some of the companions started beating him with their hands, some with shoes, some began berating him, crying ‘Don’t you feel ashamed?!’ and then one of them cursed him.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) retorted immediately, ‘Do not say this, rather say “O Allah, forgive him. O Allah, have mercy on him.”’ Compare this hadith with people’s typical reaction when someone has committed a big sin. When they cross the limits it makes people bubble up with fury and tell them that they should feel ashamed etc.’ This is a human response, and thus it is very common and very natural. However the Prophet (peace be upon him) stopped people when they broke laws, but at the same time, prevented others from making statements like, ‘May he be cursed! May he be punished in hell!’
In another narration, he says:
‘Do not be the supporter of the shaytan against your brother.’ (Bukhari)[i]
This is instilling the concept of how to deal with somebody who has committed a mistake. Don’t side with the shaytan, but say ‘O Allah forgive him, O Allah have mercy on him.’ It’s very deep. The Prophet (peace be upon him) is definitely not accepting the sin, but what does he want from the person who committed a mistake? To throw him to the shaytan so shaytan can play him more and show him more evil ways or show him mercy? You can either pull him towards mercy, as is the prophetic way, or push him further off the edge. If you are in that position, you would want a hand to pull you out of it, not a kick of the edge.
It takes a big heart to do that. It’s not easy; but you need to see the bigger picture. Definitely be angry because somebody has crossed the limits of Allah, we do not celebrate the sin, as many people are doing on social media etc. by sharing their sins in public which is absolutely unacceptable and prohibited. We celebrate goodness not evil, and we have a border between us and the sins. If somebody commits a mistake or a sin it’s not the end of the world. You should try to help him be a good member of society rather than a criminal.
This is the mercy of the Prophet (peace be upon him) training our hearts and our brains to control our anger when somebody breaks the limits. We have to be angry, but we have to be balanced.
We talked about the theory, but let’s see the practice.
2) Deliver the Message Nicely and Mercifully
As the revelation was constantly descending on the Prophet (peace be upon him), and Jibreel would bring the updates; from version 1.0.1, version 1.0.2, version 1.0.3 etc. many companions would not be aware of this if they were abroad, and would be advised of this by other companions on their return.
In the early years in Madinah, there were new Muslims who had barely learned how to pray. They had taken their shahada, learned the basics, but had gaps in their knowledge as they had been away. One man entered the mosque while the congregation were praying. One of them sneezed in the salah, so the man said, ‘Yarkamukallah’, which is the Sunnah. The whole mosque looked at him and tried to stop him from talking but this confused him even more and he wondered what was wrong with them all. Why were they looking at him like that? So they put their hands on their thighs to make a noise, as a gesture to indicate that he should be quiet, as the rules were that they could not speak. When the Prophet (peace be upon him) finished the salah; the Prophet (peace be on him) came to him and he advised him without shouting, or frowning, or any harshness. He treated could tell the man wasn’t in the community, so didn’t know the updates.
Until then, they used to speak in their salah. If someone asked about something or entered the mosque and said ‘Asalamalaikum’, they would reply ‘wa alaikum salaam’. Later Allah Almighty revealed ‘So preserve and pray your salah on time especially the middle salah and stand attentive in your salah’. [2:238] When this ayat was revealed the Prophet (peace be upon him) told the companions they could no longer speak during their salah. He said:
“In this prayer nothing of human speech is permitted; it is only tasbeeh (glorifying Allah), takbeer (magnifying Allah) and recitation of Quran.” (Muslim, Abu Dawood and al-Nasaa’i)
The Prophet (peace be upon him) knew the man was not disturbing the salah or breaking the etiquettes deliberately and he taught him gently.
He delivered the message kindly and mercifully, whereas the companion commented that he was a bit anxious when he finished the salah, expecting to be reprimanded. And he was so relieved instead that he commented how merciful he was, saying ‘I have never seen anyone with such character’ and indeed he had the best character as Allah stated in Surat Al Qalam ‘Indeed you have the best character’. [68:4]
3) Be people of ease and not people of hardship or difficulties
On many occasions, in the seerah of the Prophet (peace be upon him), Bedouins would approach him to seek knowledge. However due to their harsh upbringing and environment they were quite rough and uncouth. Yet the Prophet (peace be upon him) exercised the utmost patience with them, making allowance for their rude behaviour.
One day, as Anas (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated, a Bedouin entered the mosque and decided to relieve himself inside it. He was clueless that this would be unacceptable. He felt the urge and simply began urinating. The companions were shocked and angered and began shouting at him.
The Prophet (peace be upon him), to their surprise, told them not to disrupt him. He told them to leave him alone and let him finish. When he was done, the Prophet (peace be upon him) told them to bring a bucket of water and pour it on that and showed them that this is how you purify the najasa (impurity). He then spoke to that Bedouin and explained that ‘These mosques are not suitable places for urine and filth but are only for remembrance of Allah.’
Anas bin Malik reported:
حَدَّثَنَا زُهَيْرُ بْنُ حَرْبٍ، حَدَّثَنَا عُمَرُ بْنُ يُونُسَ الْحَنَفِيُّ، حَدَّثَنَا عِكْرِمَةُ بْنُ عَمَّارٍ، حَدَّثَنَا إِسْحَاقُ بْنُ أَبِي طَلْحَةَ، حَدَّثَنِي أَنَسُ بْنُ مَالِكٍ، – وَهُوَ عَمُّ إِسْحَاقَ – قَالَ بَيْنَمَا نَحْنُ فِي الْمَسْجِدِ مَعَ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم إِذْ جَاءَ أَعْرَابِيٌّ فَقَامَ يَبُولُ فِي الْمَسْجِدِ فَقَالَ أَصْحَابُ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم مَهْ مَهْ . قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم ” لاَ تُزْرِمُوهُ دَعُوهُ ” . فَتَرَكُوهُ حَتَّى بَالَ . ثُمَّ إِنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم دَعَاهُ فَقَالَ لَهُ ” إِنَّ هَذِهِ الْمَسَاجِدَ لاَ تَصْلُحُ لِشَىْءٍ مِنْ هَذَا الْبَوْلِ وَلاَ الْقَذَرِ إِنَّمَا هِيَ لِذِكْرِ اللَّهِ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ وَالصَّلاَةِ وَقِرَاءَةِ الْقُرْآنِ ” . أَوْ كَمَا قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم . قَالَ فَأَمَرَ رَجُلاً مِنَ الْقَوْمِ فَجَاءَ بِدَلْوٍ مِنْ مَاءٍ فَشَنَّهُ عَلَيْهِ .
While we were in the mosque with Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ), a desert Arab came and stood up and began to urinate in the mosque. The Companions of Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said: Stop, stop, but the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: Don’t interrupt him; leave him alone. They left him alone, and when he finished urinating, Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) called him and said to him: These mosques are not the places meant for urine and filth, but are only for the remembrance of Allah, prayer and the recitation of the Qur’an, or Allah’s Messenger said something like that. He (the narrator) said that he (the Holy Prophet) then gave orders to one of the people who brought a bucket of water and poured It over. (Muslim)
Imagine if somebody urinated in your local mosque. Even if it was a baby, the mosque would be in uproar. They would shout his parents and say they were bad. Yet, the Prophet (peace be upon him) had surmised immediately that this man was ignorant. He knew that he was not trying to create trouble, or deliberately defiling the mosque. Had that been the case, he would have dealt with it in a different manner, but the Prophet (peace be upon him) could read people accurately and solve situations simply. A bucket of water. All done.
This is how he tolerated the ignorant and embraced everyone with his big heart. He didn’t say, ‘Shame on you! How could you do this?!’ He said, ‘Indeed you have been sent like people of ease and not people of hardship or difficulties’. From his example we learn not to be harsh with others, but to make it easy.
Tolerating the small sin to avoid the bigger sin/balancing between the two
Handled badly, you may cause someone to lose their faith. They may leave Islam altogether. I know many real stories with new Muslims who came to Islam and then met the wrong people and it put them off. They left because they got the impression that Islam is harsh and difficult because those people lacked gentleness and wisdom.
However, the Prophet (peace be on him) was looking at the bigger picture. And we need to do the same – zoom out not in and look at the bigger picture. Making a mistake is one thing, and leaving the fold of Islam is much worse. Therefore it is wiser to tolerate the small harm to avoid the bigger harm.
Punishment a deterrent
In another example we see that the Prophet (peace be upon him) did not treat mistakes as occasions to take revenge, nor did he dole out punishments for the sake of punishment. The concept or philosophy of punishment in our terms today is to deter people from committing the mistakes and the sins. Penalties for traffic offences are less punishments and more deterrents.
Many people have the impression that Islam is about chopping off hands, and heads and lashing people. No, this is completely wrong. The core message of Islam is mercy and love.
4) Remorse is a repentance
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
عَنْ مَالِك أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ قَالَ بُعِثْتُ لِأُتَمِّمَ حُسْنَ الْأَخْلَاقِ
Malik reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him said:
“I have been sent to perfect good character.” (al Muwatta)
On one occasions, the Prophet (peace be upon him) received a man, who said, ‘Ya Rasool Allah I have kissed a woman and she’s not my wife’. So he asked for the punishment. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, ‘Have you prayed with us?’ He said, ‘Yes’. He said, ‘Then Allah has forgiven you your sin’ (al Muwatta)
By this, he was not encouraging him to sin but he did not punish it as a major sin. Though it is haram, with istighfar and tawbah and what the regret he could read in that man’s speech and tone and face, he knew he regretted what he had done. The man felt remorse. As Abdullah ibn Mas’ud reported, the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said:
‘Remorse is a repentance.’ (ibn Majah)
When you are remorseful about the mistakes you have done, this is tawbah (repentance). There are conditions for the sincere tawbah.
Repentance for a mistake can be between you and Allah alone. For instance, if you missed a prayer, this is between you and Allah Almighty; it is enough for you to dosincere tawbah, ask Allah for forgiveness, regret what you have done, stop what you are doing and intend not to do this again. If you want to repent you have to quit, you can’t repent whilst you are continuing sinning.
There is another scenario, in which you have wronged someone. You may have insulted somebody, or hurt them. In this case, it’s not enough for you to ask for Allah’s forgiveness. You have to ask for forgiveness from Allah Almighty AND you have to ask the one whom you have wronged in the first place because it is upto them whether they forgive you for this, not Allah, as it was them that you wronged. Allah forgives you when you ask Him for forgiveness sincerely, but you also need people’s forgiveness.
A sin is a sin whether minor or major
We can see from this, that when you praying regularly and keep asking Allah for forgiveness, Allah will forgive your sins. This does not mean that you take sinning lightly, as something you can keep doing and then deleting. That is not the prophetic way. The Prophet (peace be upon him) definitely did not encourage people to sin. He was teaching them to repent and keep connected to Allah Almighty,.
However I have witnessed this approach in my country, where there was a group who believed that it was fine to touch a non-mahram to you, even kiss them because they said it is a small sin, and they can do wudu, pray two rakaats, and be forgiven. No, this is unacceptable; it is completely haram. Whether is a small sin or a big sin, a sin is a sin.
Patient and Understanding approach
Another young man came to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and asked for permission to commit zina (fornication), he said, ‘O Messenger of Allah, allow me to commit zina’.[i] The companions were outraged by his audacity and lack of shame. They began shouting at him but the Prophet (peace be upon him) again said, ‘Leave him alone, let me deal with it’. He invited the man to come forward. Just this invitation speaks volumes because it shows he was not frowning, or showing him a long face, otherwise this young person would have just left the mosque. No, the Prophet (peace be upon him) was very welcoming, he could see that the man was troubled and needed help to navigate his predicament.
Their proximity is important because it shows how he took a keen interest in the man and his dilemma, he did not dismiss his question from afar, or shut him down by saying ‘Don’t you know it is haram?!’ Rather he took him under his wing, and in the closeness gave him a sense of comfort and security. The man would be more responsive to advice now and would be protected from the companions who wanted to jump on him and attack him for posing such a question.
Then the Prophet (peace be on him) dug deeper under the surface of the question to understand why he asked this. Sometimes if our immediate response is anger, it blocks our thought process, and we jump to conclusions, or raise our voice and start shouting. However this was not the prophetic way. Instead he broke down the issue and tried to figure out what was the reason behind this question. A) He was a young man; B) He he probably could not afford to marry; C) He was filled with testosterone and needed to fulfil his desire and did not know what to do. Moreover it is evident that he did not want to sin because he could have done this, but he sought permission, so that he would not be blameworthy. Thus he found himself asking this question and seeking approval for a sin. We also see his naïvety in thinking that it might even be a possibility that he is given permission to sin.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) then gently guided him through the reason why it is not acceptable and that he would not wish this on the women in his own family, so why would he wish it on any other woman?
As he worked through the logic of it, he made the young man use his own brain to come to the same conclusion as his mind was clouded by his desire. The Prophet (peace be upon him) helped him see through this fog, and finally, made dua for him.
He made a special dua for him, the Prophet (peace be upon him) and look at his actions. So he put his hand, the Prophet (peace be upon him) on that boy’s chest and then he says, he made a dua. He says, ‘O Allah forgive him his sins, purity his heart and facilitate for him chastity’. Look at his mercy, the Prophet (peace be upon him). He could have said to him, ‘It’s haram to do zina; Allah made it clear in the Quran – don’t come near zina because it’s a great sin, a major sin. But no, he wants to give him extra because he felt he needs extra care, so he made dua for him.
This is the core of the mercy – he knew what he needed more than what he was asking for, he needed extra support, he needed his protection. He asked Allah to forgive his sin, to purify his heart, to protect him from haram, to facilitate chastity and thereby marriage for him to fulfil his desire in a halal way.
That young man was saved from haram. This is the prophetic remedy of the Prophet (peace be upon him). In another narration, it says that nothing became more hateful to that man than zina, following the dua made by the Prophet (peace be upon him).
Mercy of the Prophet (peace be upon him)
This is exactly what we need. Mercy in action. The Prophet (peace be upon him) was mercy in action. He talked to people, read their faces, read their minds, understood where they were coming from, why they were asking their questions. What was the motive behind their actions – was it deliberate, accidental or out of forgetfulness etc. We see this not just on this occasion, but across the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him).
`Abdullah (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated:
We were with the Prophet (ﷺ) while we were young and had no wealth. So Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said, “O young people! Whoever among you can marry, should marry, because it helps him lower his gaze and guard his modesty (i.e. his private parts from committing illegal sexual intercourse etc.), and whoever is not able to marry, should fast, as fasting diminishes his sexual power.” (Bukhari)
The Prophet (peace be upon him) recommended that young people who have the ability, should marry and those who couldn’t should fast because it diminishes their desire. With hormones raging, if young people cannot fulfil their desire in a halal way, it might lead to haram. Therefore until then, they can take the middle way and fast. He also facilitated marriage by recommending that women do not ask for a mahr that puts men off marrying them. unless their mahr is affordable it will be hard for them to find a spouse who is wealthy enough to marry them.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
“The best of marriage is that which is made easiest.” (Ibn Hibban)
“The best of mahrs is the simplest (or most affordable).” (al-Haakim and al-Bayhaqi)
Thus he opened the halal door for marriage rather than overburdening those who are seeking marriage with hefty mahr and a long list of requirements etc. This is balanced on both sides.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) told the companions not to help the shaytan against their brothers; this is the concept. If someone commits a mistake, the Islamic approach is to shield his mistake, not to publicise it. It helps him get back on track rather than pushing him further to sin.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) wanted the ummah to practice to be balanced, to be merciful, to be understanding. To treat others as we would like to be treated. Not ostracised and made to feel ashamed. You cannot guarantee that you will not be in that position one day. Allahu alam, may Allah protect all of us.
Whoever conceals the mistakes of his brother, Allah will conceal his sins on the Day of Judgement. Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said:
“Whoever removes a worldly hardship from a believer, Allah will remove one of the hardships of the Day of Resurrection from him. Whoever grants respite to (a debtor) who is in difficulty, Allah will grant him relief in this world and in the Hereafter. Whoever conceals (the fault of) a Muslim in this world, Allah will conceal him (his faults) in this world and in the Hereafter. Allah will help a person so long as he is helping his brother.” (Muslim)
Again it’s not encouraging the sin but trying to minimise the sin and not to publicise and magnify the sins. This is a very important concept when you talk about the prophetic character this is so important to embrace and practice in our communities.
Every now and then we have plenty of cases, events and things, which are exposing this or that person or celebrity or teacher or a community leader etc. How do we deal with this? We tend to fail every time. This was the greatness of his character. He taught us how to deal with each other in different scenarios and how to deal with our weaknesses, how to support one another; not to have more conflicts with one another.
Shaykh Haytham Tamim – New Muslim Group 9th November 2021
Transcribed by Rose Roslan.
[i] Abu Umamah reported: A young man came to the Prophet (peace be upon him), and he said, “O Messenger of Allah, give me permission to commit adultery.” The people turned to rebuke him, saying, “Quiet! Quiet!” The Prophet said, “Come here.” The young man came close and he told him to sit down. The Prophet said, “Would you like that for your mother?” The man said, “No, by Allah, may I be sacrificed for you.” The Prophet said, “Neither would people like it for their mothers. Would you like that for your daughter?” The man said, “No, by Allah, may I be sacrificed for you.” The Prophet said, “Neither would people like it for their daughters. Would you like that for your sister?” The man said, “No, by Allah, may I be sacrificed for you.” The Prophet said, “Neither would people like it for their sisters. Would you like that for your aunts?” The man said, “No, by Allah, may I be sacrificed for you.” The Prophet said, “Neither would people like it for their aunts.” Then, the Prophet placed his hand on him and he said, “O Allah, forgive his sins, purify his heart, and guard his chastity.” After that, the young man never again inclined to anything sinful.
In another narration, the Prophet said to him, “Then hate what Allah has hated, and love for your brother what you love for yourself.” (Musnad Ahmad)
[i] Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated:
A drunk was brought to the Prophet and he ordered him to be beaten (lashed). Some of us beat him with our hands, and some with their shoes, and some with their garments (twisted in the form of a lash). When that drunk had left, a man said, “What is wrong with him? May Allah disgrace him!” Allah’s Apostle said, “Do not help Satan against your (Muslim) brother.” (Bukhari)
Shaykh Haytham Tamim – New Muslim Group November 2021.
Recommended reading: 11 Leadership Qualities that changed the world. Nabeel Al Azami
The Lasting Miracle of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him)
Muhammad (peace be on him) the Maker of a Civilisation
- Defending the Prophet (peace be on him) vs the misuse of blasphemy laws
- What is the protection against black magic (sihir)?
- Ghazali on breaking free from anger
- Can you combine salah?
- Ghazali on the problems with praise
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