The request that surprised the Prophet ‎ﷺ Ten lessons from the story of Rabi’ah bin Ka’b

The request that surprised the Prophet ‎ﷺ Ten lessons from the story of Rabi'ah bin Ka'b

The offer

Rabi’ah bin Ka‘b said:

عن رَبِيعَةَ بْن كَعْبٍ الْأَسْلَمِيّ قَالَ : كُنْتُ أَبِيتُ مَعَ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ، فَأَتَيْتُهُ بِوَضُوئِهِ وَحَاجَتِهِ، فَقَالَ لِي : ” سَلْ “. فَقُلْتُ : أَسْأَلُكَ مُرَافَقَتَكَ فِي الْجَنَّةِ. قَالَ : ” أَوَغَيْرَ ذَلِكَ ؟ ” قُلْتُ : هُوَ ذَاكَ. قَالَ : ” فَأَعِنِّي عَلَى نَفْسِكَ بِكَثْرَةِ السُّجُودِ “. صحيح مسلم.

I was with God’s Messenger at night, and when I brought him his water for ablution and what he required, he told me to make a request. I said, “I ask to accompany you in paradise.” He asked if I had any other request to make, and when I replied that that was all, he said, “Then help me to accomplish this for you by devoting yourself often to prostration.” (Muslim)

Rabi’ah bin Ka’b who was a poor man who lived in the poor people’s shelter in the mosque known as As Sufah. He used to serve the Prophet (peace be on him) day and night and would stay outside his door all night after the Isha prayer in case he needed anything.

On the authority of Rabi’ah bin Ka’b, he said:

I used to serve the Messenger of God (peace be on him) and attend to him for his needs all day, until the Messenger of God (peace be on him) would pray the Isha prayer, and I would sit at his door when he entered his house. I would say to myself he might need something later, until I would hear the Messenger of God (peace be on him) say: “Glory be to God, Glory be to God, Glory be to God and praise be to Him.” When I got tired I would go back home, or when my eyes beat me, and I lay down.

He [the Prophet (peace be on him)] said to me one day, when he saw that I am quick and good in my service to him: “Ask me [for anything], O Rabi’ah, and I will give it to you.”

I said: I will think about it, O Messenger of God, and then I will let you know.

I thought about myself, and I realised that the world will come to an end and is ephemeral. And I have sustenance that will suffice me and come to me. He said: I said: I ask the Messenger of God (peace be on him) for my afterlife, for he is in a special rank from God Almighty. He said: I came, and he asked: What would you like, Rabi’ah? He said: I said: Yes, O Messenger of God, I ask you to intercede for me with your Lord, so that He frees me from the Fire.

The Prophet (peace be on him) said: “Who ordered you to do this, O Rabi’ah?”

I said: No, by God who sent you with the truth, no one commanded me to do it, but when you said: Ask me, I will give it to you. I thought you are in the rank which you are, I looked at my situation, and I knew that the world will come to an end and is transient, and that I have sustenance that will come to me, so I said: I will ask the Messenger of God (peace be on him) for my afterlife.

So the Messenger of God (peace be on him) kept silent for a long time, then he said to me: “I am doing it, so help me to achieve this with a lot of prostration.” (Musnad Ahmad)

The loyal servant

In his own words he said: “I was still quite young when the light of iman shone through me and my heart was opened to the teachings of Islam. And when my eyes beheld the Messenger of God, for the first time, I loved him with a love that possessed my entire being. I loved him to the exclusion of everyone else.

One day I said to myself: ‘Woe to you, Rabi’ah. Why don’t you put yourself completely in the service of the Messenger of God, peace be on him. Go and suggest this to him. If he is pleased with you, you would find happiness in being near him. You will be successful through love for him and you will have the good fortune of obtaining the good in this world and the good in the next.

I lived in the shadow of the noble Prophet. I went with him wherever he went. I moved in his orbit whenever and wherever he turned. Whenever he cast a glance in my direction, I would leap to stand in his presence. Whenever he expressed a need, he would find me hurrying to fulfil it.’

He was loyal and devoted and the Prophet (peace be on him) wanted to reward him for his dedication and service, so he said he would give him anything he asked for. The Prophet (peace be on him) was generous and he liked to reward people for their goodness. If someone did him a good turn, he loved to repay that person with something more excellent.

Rabi’ah’s request

Rabi’ah did not respond to this offer immediately. Instead he asked the Prophet (peace be on him) to let him think about it.

Rabi’ah reflected and came to the conclusion that his rizq (provision) in this life would come to him because it was destined, so what he really needed was in the Hereafter. He said:

‘It occurred to me to ask the Prophet for some worldly good that would save me from poverty and make me like others who had wealth, wife and children. Soon, however, I said: ‘May you perish Rabi’ah. The world is temporary and will pass away. You have your share of sustenance in it which God has guaranteed and which must come to you. The Prophet, peace be on him, has a place with his Lord and no request would be refused him. Request him therefore, to ask Allah to grant you something of the bounty of the hereafter.

I felt pleased and satisfied with this thought. I went to the Prophet and he asked: ‘What do you say, O Rabi’ah?’ ‘O Messenger of God,’ I said, ‘I ask you to beseech God most High on my behalf to make me your companion in Paradise.’

Thus Rabi’ah asked for the Prophet (peace be on him) to intercede for him on the Day of Judgement so he would be saved from Hellfire.

The Prophet (peace be on him) was surprised by this request – it was not what he was expecting from the poor man, so asked him who gave him that idea. Rabi’ah replied that it was his own idea.

The Prophet’s reply (peace be on him)

The Prophet (peace be on him) was silent. Then he replied saying that he would intercede for him but Rabi’ah would also have to help him by doing plenty of sujud (prostrations). He said:

‘Then, in that case, assist me for your sake by performing much prostration to God.’

Ten lessons from the story of Rabi’ah

There are several significant lessons in this interaction.

1. Dua needs action

Firstly, supplication is not enough to secure the salvation. Salvation requires effort and prayer. Dua has to be accompanied by action.

2. Purity is charming

Sometimes people surprise you with their questions and the purity of their hearts and actions.

3. Never underestimate the importance of salah

The hadith of Rabi’ah shows the importance of salah to attain paradise.

4. What is greater prostration or standing in night prayer?

Ma’dan bin Talha said:

I met Thauban the servant of God’s Messenger and asked him to tell me something I should do for which God would bring me into paradise. He gave no reply, so I asked him again, and when he still gave no reply I asked him a third time. He then said that he had asked God’s Messenger about that and received the reply, “Make frequent prostration before God, for you will not make one prostration without God raising you a degree because of it and removing a sin from you because of it.” Ma’dan said that he met Abud Darda’ later, and that when he asked him he received a reply similar to that given by Thauban. (Muslim)

Imam an-Nawawi commented on the Hadith in Sahih Muslim that there is a difference of opinion among scholars on whether this Hadith indicates that a great deal of prostration (sujud) is better than standing in voluntary night prayer (qiyam) or not. This has been a point of huge discussion. Accordingly, is praying many rak’ah better with many sujud or few rak’ah with long recitation?

The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said,

“The servant is closest to his Lord during prostration, so increase your supplications therein.” (Muslim)

فَسَبِّحْ بِحَمْدِ رَبِّكَ وَكُن مِّنَ السَّاجِدِينَ

So glorify the praise of your Lord, and be among those who bow down. (15:98)

وَاسْجُدْ وَاقْتَرِب

kneel down, and come near (96:19)

5. When prioritising your needs put the afterlife first

Moreover it shows that we should prioritise the Hereafter over this life and not sacrifice success in our afterlife for transient gains in this life.

6. Small regular deeds pay dividends

In addition, we see that small acts done with consistency and devotion can pay huge dividends later.

7. Follow the Quran and Sunnah

In your actions and decisions always stick to the Quran and Sunnah and ask Allah to be saved.

8. What makes you the companion of the Prophet (peace be on him) in paradise?

Al-Bayhaqi narrated in Shu’ab al-Iman and others that the Messenger of God (peace be on him) said:

The closest of you to me on the Day of Resurrection in every place is the one who prays the most for me in this world. (Bayhaqi)

Also in the great Sunan of Al-Bayhaqi, the Prophet (peace be on him) said:

Increase the number of prayers for me on every Friday, for the prayer of my nation is presented to me on every Friday, so whoever prayed the most on me was the closest to me in rank. (Bayhaqi)

Rabi’ah had determination (high himmah). He did not just ask for Paradise but to be in the company of the Prophet (peace be on him) in Paradise as he was his companion in this life. This is the true love.

9. Ask for the BEST in this life and the next

Don’t be satisfied with small or humble things in the Hereafter. Ask in your supplications for the best and the top rank. Aim high and be ambitious in your supplication. Ask Allah for goodness in this world and the next. Do not have low expectations from Allah and ask Allah to make it happen with all your heart. Make the Hereafter your priority on your dua list and in when planning your goals.

10. Seize the opportunity

May Allah grant us the best in this life and the next.

عن أنس بن مالك رضي الله تعالى عنه أنَّ الأنصارَ اشتَدَّتْ عليهم السَّواني، فأتَوُا النَّبيَّ صلَّى اللهُ عليه وسلَّمَ لِيدعُوَ لهُم أو يَحفِرَ لهم نَهرًا، فأُخبِرَ النَّبيُّ صلَّى اللهُ عليه وسلَّمَ بذلكَ، فقال: لا يَسألوني اليومَ شيئًا إلَّا أُعطوه. فأُخبِرَتِ الأنصارُ بذلكَ، فلمَّا سَمِعوا ما قال النَّبيُّ صلَّى اللهُ عليه وسلَّمَ، قالوا: ادعُ اللهَ لنا بالمغفرةِ، فقال: اللهمَّ اغْفِرْ لِلأنصارِ، ولأبناءِ الأنصارِ، ولِأبناءِ أبناءِ الأنصارِ.

Anas bin Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Ansar became too difficult for them to carry water for irrigation, so they came to the Prophet (peace be on him) to pray for them or dig a canal for them. So the Prophet (peace be on him) was informed of that. He said: “They do not ask me today for anything, but I will give it to them.” So the Ansar was informed of that, and when they heard what the Prophet (peace be on him) said, they said: “Pray to God for forgiveness for us.” He said: “Oh God, forgive the Ansar, and the sons of the Ansar, and the children of the sons of the Ansar.” (Musnad Ahmad)

The story of the old woman from Bani Isra’il who wanted to be with Musa (peace be upon him) in the Hereafter

The Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) once visited a Bedouin. He received him very well and respected the Prophet (peace be on him) very much and was generous with him. The Prophet (peace be on him) was very happy and he said to him: Come to us, so he came to him, so the Messenger of God (peace be on him) said: “Ask your need.” He said, “Messenger of Allah, a she-camel with her saddle and a few sheep whose milk should satisfy my family members.”
The Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) said, “Were you unable to be like the old woman of Bani Isra’il did ask Musa?”

The Companions (may Allah be pleased with them) asked him, “O Messenger of Allah! What is the story of the old woman of the Bani Isra’il?” He said to them, “Musa (alaihis salam) decided to emigrate with Bani Isra’il but he got lost on the way. He said: what is this? So, their educated said to him, ‘We tell you that Yusuf (peace be on him) had got our ancestors to promise that we would not go away from Egypt unless we took his bones with us. Perhaps, we are lost because we have not fulfilled the promise.’ Musa (peace be on him) asked them which of them could point out his grave.

They said that none apart from an old woman of Bani Isra’il could point out the grave. Musa (peace be on him) sent a messenger to find her and requested her to guide them to the grave of Yusuf (peace be on him). She said, ‘No, by Allah, no! I will never do that unless (you promise me that) I will live with you in Paradise.’

Musa (peace be on him) did not like what she said. However, he was told in a revelation that he should promise her what she wanted and he accepted her demand.

The old woman took them to a small pond and said to them, ‘Take out this water!’ When the water was pumped out, she said, ‘Dig here!’ When they had dug out the earth, they found the bones of Yusuf (peace be on him) inside. Then they continued their exile with the bones of Yusuf with them. The path was clear to them shining like day-light.” [Abu Ya’la and Ibn Hibban and Al-Hakim in Mustadrak]

We ask Allah Almighty to make us the companions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in Jannah.

Shaykh Haytham Tamim Khutbah 2nd Sept 2022

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Shaykh Haytham Tamim is the founder and main teacher of the Utrujj Foundation. He has provided a leading vision for Islamic learning in the UK, which has influenced the way Islamic knowledge is disseminated. He has orchestrated the design and delivery of over 200 unique courses since Utrujj started in 2001. His extensive expertise spans over 30 years across the main Islamic jurisprudence schools of thought. He has studied with some of the foremost scholars in their expertise; he holds some of the highest Ijazahs (certificates) in Quran, Hadith (the Prophetic traditions) and Fiqh (Islamic rulings). His own gift for teaching was evident when he gave his first sermon to a large audience at the age of 17 and went on to serve as a senior lecturer of Islamic transactions and comparative jurisprudence at the Islamic University of Beirut (Shariah College). He has continued to teach; travelling around the UK, Europe and wider afield, and won the 2015 BISCA award (British Imams & Scholars Contributions & Achievements Awards) for Outstanding Contribution to Education and Teaching.