Opinion, August 2003, www.aljazeerah.info
The Road Has Rights
Arab News, August 1, 2003
The Prophet was a most considerate person. He did not like to inconvenience people in any way. He was keen that he would always have a pleasant smell, so that people would not feel displeased when they came near him. He was also very kind to all people. He would respond to any one’s request, unless the request was not in line with Islamic values and principles. Moreover, he would remove any inconvenience from people’s way.
Al-Harith ibn Amr Al-Sahmi reports: “I went to see the Prophet when he was in Mina, or probably in Arafat, and people were gathered around him. When Bedouins saw his face, they would say: ‘This is the face of a blessed man.’ I said to him: ‘Messenger of God! Pray for my forgiveness.’ He said: ‘My Lord! Forgive us.’ I turned around and said again: ‘Pray for my forgiveness.’ He said: ‘My Lord! Forgive us.’ I turned again and said once more: ‘Pray for my forgiveness.’ And once again he said: ‘My Lord! Forgive us.’ He went aside, carrying his spit in his hand, and rubbed it on his shoes so that it would not fall on anyone around.” (Related by Al-Bukhari in Al-Adab Al-Mufrad, Al-Nassaie and Abu Dawood).
We note in this Hadith that the Prophet did what is very inconvenient for any person, which was to carry his spit in his hand, so that he would not cause irritation to anyone. He ensured that it was properly removed. When something like this happens, the person concerned is preoccupied with it, trying to find a way to get rid of the irritant before attending to anything. The reporter of this Hadith requests the Prophet to pray for his forgiveness, three times in succession. The Prophet is not fed up with the repeated request. Every time the man repeats his request, the Prophet prays for him and those around, thus teaching him, and us, to include others when we address a prayer to God. When the Prophet said, each time the man repeated his request: “My Lord! Forgive us,” he actually did as the man requested, but he included those who were around in his prayer for forgiveness.
But we also note the reporter’s observation that those who saw the Prophet for the first time always commented on how pleasant the Prophet looked. Bedouins, who were known to have a keen eye when it came to assessing people at first sight, always commented that the Prophet had a “blessed face.” The same comment was echoed by many people, because people recognized him to be a man whom they can trust and be safe with.
Another aspect of social behavior the Prophet taught his companions, and all Muslims, relates to what may be done when one sits by the roadside. Abu Hurayrah reports that the Prophet told his companions that they must not sit by the roadside. Apparently, this was a social habit practiced by many people. Hence, some of them complained: “Messenger of God! It is very hard for us to sit at home.” He said: “If you sit by the roadside, you must make sure of what is due from you.” They asked him to explain what that was. He said: “To guide whoever needs guidance, return people’s greetings, lowering one’s gaze, enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong.” (Related by Al-Bukhari in Al-Adab Al-Mufrad and Abu Dawood).
An even more authentic version of this Hadith is reported by Abu Saeed Al-Khudri who quotes the Prophet as saying: “Beware of sitting by the roadside.” His audience said: “Messenger of God! We cannot dispense with our sitting places, as we sit to talk together.” He then said: “Since you refuse, you must give what is due for the road.” They requested him to explain what he meant by that. He said: “To lower one’s gaze, refrain from what upsets people, enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong.” (Related by Al-Bukhari, Muslim and Abu Dawood).
The first thing to note about this Hadith, in both its two versions, is that the Prophet begins with a warning against a social practice. He was fully aware that his audience would find it very difficult to comply with the warning, since the practice was interwoven with their social relations. People used to sit by the road, because it was close to their homes, gave them a pleasant atmosphere and provided them with a chance to sit with neighbors and friends. They least expected that such a practice would be forbidden. Hence their reply that they would find that very difficult. The Prophet’s rejoinder tells us that he wanted to ensure that they were attentive to what was coming later, which is an explanation of the right behavior if one has to occupy a position by the roadside. The Prophet describes this as a right “due to the road”. This means that we are duty bound to fulfill it. What is this right, then? It consists of a number of practices that ensure better social relations within the community. The first is to provide guidance for people who inquire about something or another. People may ask about the way, or the residence of someone they want to see. To provide such guidance is very important.
Secondly, if someone greets you when you are sitting by the roadside, you must return the greeting. This is required in all situations, but the Prophet re-emphasizes it here because when someone is sitting by the roadside, he is likely to be offered greeting by many passers by. He must be always ready with a civil return of their greetings.
“Lowering one’s gaze” refers to the way we look at others. People may have something or another which they would not like to be deliberately looked at, or they may prefer to be unnoticed. If one does not look very attentively at people as they pass by, this may be appreciated.
Lastly, the Prophet re-emphasizes a very essential duty of every Muslim, namely to encourage or enjoin what is right and to speak out against what is wrong or unjust. This requirement is repeatedly stated in the Qur’an and the Hadith. It ensures that the moral standards of the Muslim community remain high. When people sit outside, they are bound to notice other people’s behavior. Hence, they should try to help and encourage what is good and right, and speak out against what is wrong.
Opinions expressed in various sections are the sole responsibility of their authors and they may not represent Al-Jazeerah's.