The Prophet’s Smile: “O Allah, show mercy to me and Muhammad and no one else!”

A Bedouin man once entered the Prophet’s Mosque. Feeling the need to answer the call of nature, and not appreciating the place he was in, he went off to the side of the Mosque and began to urinate. The Prophet’s Companions were naturally outraged. They began to rebuke him and some stood up ready to physically prevent him from what he was doing. But the Prophet  , who had been observing everything, forbade them from doing anything. Instead, he told them to let the man finish and then wash away the urine with a bucket of water. He reminded them that their role was to make things easy and not difficult.

When the man had finished, the Prophet himself approached him. The Prophet did not rebuke him and did not insult him. He very simply told him that the Mosque is a place of prayer and not a place to urinate. He was so impacted by the kindness of the Prophet that he prayed: “O Allah, show mercy to me and Muhammad and no one else!”

The Prophet smiled and said: “You have restricted something which is vast.”

(narrated by Bukhari, Ibn Hibban and others)

Every event in the life of our Prophet and the people around him was an opportunity to learn. The people present at the time of this event learnt something and we continue to learn many centuries later. There will always be people who do not know the correct behaviour or etiquette that a particular place or situation demands. If we know the correct etiquette and wish to teach it to someone else, how do we go about doing so? Sometimes our attempts to give advice or correct someone may do more harm than good. Sometimes we are too harsh and lack wisdom when we do this. But not the Messenger. He immediately read the situation. This man was most likely entering the Mosque for the first time. It may have been his first experience of Islam and how it is practised. At the very least, he did not know what the right thing to do was. The Prophet took all this into account. It was not that he didn’t care about the sanctity of the Mosque, but he was teaching us that people are more important than buildings. The Prophet was concerned for this man’s wellbeing – his physical, psychological and spiritual wellbeing. Forcing him to stop urinating may have caused him physical harm. Publicly humiliating him may have caused him psychological harm. Driving him away may have distanced him from Islam, causing him spiritual harm. The Prophet cared about every individual. No one was too insignificant to receive his full attention. He did not instruct someone else to teach the Bedouin, but he himself spoke to him. He did not give him a lengthy lecture about the sanctity of the Mosque and the rules of ritual purity. Instead he very gently and simply said what the Mosque was and what it was not.

The beauty of the Prophet’s approach won over the Bedouin, whose response was to pray to God. Having been on the receiving end of the rebukes of the Companions, he excluded them from his prayer. As a general principle, it is good to make dua for individuals and mention them by name, but we should also include everyone in our prayers. The Prophet smiled when he heard the Bedouin praying only for himself and the Prophet. He smiled in a way a father might smile at his son when he can ask for anything from Allah and all he asks for is something small. Of course, Allah’s forgiveness is not something small, but His love, mercy and compassion are so vast and all-encompassing that she would never restrict them to certain individuals based on our limited understanding.

The Prophet’s Smile: “Around Us and Not on Top of Us!”

Anas narrates that a Bedouin man came to the Prophet ﷺ while he was delivering the Friday sermon in Madinah and complained to him that there was a drought: their livestock were dying and their women and children were hungry. He then beseeched the Prophet to ask for rain. The Prophet raised his hands in supplication. At that point, there was not a cloud in the sky, but as soon as he began to supplicate, clouds began to form and pile up like mountains. Then it began to rain. Even before he had stepped down from the pulpit, the Prophet’s beard was dripping with rainwater. It continued to rain that day and the following day and the rain continued until the following Friday.

On that day, the Prophet was once again delivering his sermon on the pulpit when the same man returned (or another man – Anas could not be sure). “O Messenger of Allah,” he said, “our homes are falling apart and our livestock are drowning, so ask your Lord to make it stop!”

The Prophet smiled and raised his hands in supplication saying: “O Allah, around us and not on top of us, around us and not on top of us!” He pointed to the sky and signalled for the clouds to move and they began to clear until there was a circle of clear sky around Madinah, while rain continued to fall upon the areas around the city for another month. (Narrated by Bukhari and Muslim)

Life was not easy for the early community in Madinah which mostly relied on agriculture and livestock for its sustenance. Drought was a very serious threat to the survival of the people of the city. This Bedouin man came in a state of desperation. He was obviously feeling the effects of the drought hard as he tried to graze his animals in the area around Madinah. He was so desperate that he did not even wait for the Prophet to finish speaking, but interrupted his sermon and complained about the severity of the situation. The Prophet could have told him to sit down and wait but he responded immediately, knowing that the man was speaking not just for himself but for the whole community. Allah says of the Prophet: Your suffering distresses him: he is deeply concerned for you (9:128).

The Prophet is Allah’s Beloved and when the Beloved asks, the One who loves him so much instantly responds. Within seconds rain started pouring down. Rain is symbolic of Allah’s mercy and when the one who was sent as a mercy to everything asks the All-Merciful for mercy, it duly pours down. In fact, it comes in such abundance day after day that people cannot handle it. And this was perhaps what brought a smile to the Prophet’s lips when the request came to stop the rain. It tells us something about human nature – as Allah says: man was created hasty (21:37). We want something very badly and then we get it, we realise we want something else. Blessings can quickly turn into trials. The Prophet’s smile may also have been an expression of his wonder at his Lord’s bounty and generosity.

Here we witness not just one but two miracles, two acts of divine mercy – the immediate sending down of rain and then the immediate removal of that rain. It is noticeable that the Prophet did not ask for the rain to stop completely, but instead he asked for it to be removed from the city of Madinah itself where the damage was being felt. He asked for the harm to be removed but the benefit to continue and this is what happened: the valleys around Madinah continued to receive plentiful rainfall for a month. There is a lesson in this that if we receive a blessing but it then becomes difficult, we should not ask for it to stop coming but we should ask for whatever detracts from that blessing to be removed. Scholars also teach us when we ask for something, to ask for it accompanied with gentleness and wellbeing (lutf and afiyah).

We see time and time again that when the Companions were in difficulty or had needs great or small they would go to the Messenger. The Bedouin man could have asked Allah directly for rain but he knew that the Prophet was infinitely closer to Allah and his prayers would be answered. They understood the concept of an intermediary. They knew the status of the Prophet in Allah’s sight and they knew the Prophet was happy to play the role of an intermediary. And he did so with a smile.

May Allah give our beloved Prophet the greatest of rewards on our behalf.

The Prophet’s Smile: “Are you making fun of me, my Lord?”

Abdullah ibn Mas’ud narrates that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ once described the last person to leave the Fire and enter Paradise. This man moves away from the Fire, at times staggering, at times walking, at times crawling, with the Fire still burning his face. When he reaches safety, he breathes a sigh of relief, looks back at it and praises Allah for saving him from it, which he sees as the greatest blessing imaginable. Then he catches sight of a tree next to a pool of water and asks Allah to be brought to it in order to rest in its shade and to drink from the water.

Allah says to him: “Perhaps if I answer your request, you will ask for something else.”

The man promises not to ask for anything else, but once he has drunk the water and sat in the shade, he catches sight of another tree that is more beautiful than the tree which he is under. So he asks to be able to go to it. Allah reminds him of his promise not to ask for anything else and says that if He answers the man’s request, perhaps he will ask for something else. The man promises once again not to ask for anything else and his request is granted. But then he catches sight of a third tree at the gates of Paradise which is more splendid than the first two. Once again, he promises this will be the last thing he asks for. Allah grants his request, knowing that it will not be the last.

When he is in the shade of the third tree, he begins to hear the voices of people enjoying the pleasures of Paradise and cannot resist asking permission to enter.

Allah asks him: “What will stop you from asking Me repeatedly? Would you be content if I gave you everything the world contains twice over?”

The man says, somewhere between incredulity and intense joy: “Are you making fun of me, and You are the Lord of All Creation?”

At this point, the Prophet laughed in amusement at the man’s statement. Ibn Mas’ud would also laugh when he narrated the hadith.

Allah replies: “I am not making fun of you. I have the power to do whatever I wish.”

In another narration of the hadith, Allah allows the man to keep asking and asking until He gives him everything the world contains ten times over. (Narrated by Muslim)

An element of the Messenger of Allah’s prophecy was his being shown specific events that will unfold in the next life. He describes these events as though he is watching them unfold in front of him.

We believe that anyone who has even an atom’s weight of faith will enter Paradise. Unfortunately some believers who have committed grave acts of disobedience will experience punishment in Hell before entering Paradise. This person will be the last believer to leave the Fire. He must have committed some pretty terrible crimes to warrant such a lengthy punishment and to be the lowest in rank of all the believers. But he “does his time” and eventually comes out and experiences the unimaginable relief of salvation.

He is happy just to be safe from the Fire, but when he sees the beauty of Allah’s gifts in the form of a tree and a pool of water, he cannot help himself asking. Don’t forget that he has spent a long time seeing nothing but fire and brimstone. The more he sees, the more he asks for, until he finally enters Paradise. There is a lesson in this that as believers we would set our sights high and ask for the greatest of things, not because we deserve them, but because our Lord’s generosity knows no bounds. Allah is as we perceive him to be and if we have high hopes in Him, He will not dash those hopes. If this is what is awaiting the person who has the lowest rank of all the believers, what will those who lived a life of obedience receive? What will those who attained higher stations be given? We cannot begin to imagine: no soul knows what joy is kept hidden in store for them as a reward for what they have done (32:17).

A further thing we notice is that Allah does not abandon anyone who does not abandon Him. However bad this person was, he still had some faith and Allah recognises that and does not deny him his eventual reward. Furthermore, He tells this man’s story to the Prophet ﷺ who then tells it to his nation so that we can learn about how Allah treats His servants.

The Prophet ﷺ does not forget a single member of his Ummah, regardless of how far they stray from the path. On the Day of Judgement, he does not rest until he has interceded for as many people as he is able. He is a gift of mercy to all creation but he has a special concern for those who believe in him and he is aware of their plight. There is always room for one more person at the Prophet’s banquet, regardless of how late they arrive.

Finally, we see how the Prophet ﷺ laughed at the ridiculousness of the man’s statement. He found humour in the exchange between Allah and His servant. Allah’s generosity and bounty defies belief. 

The Prophet’s Smile: Responding to Rudeness With a Smile

Anas narrates that he was once walking with Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace) who was wearing a Najrani shawl with a rough edge. All of a sudden, a Bedouin came up behind him, took hold of the shawl, and pulled it with great force. The Prophet turned to face the man and Anas noticed that the force of the pull had left a mark on the Prophet’s neck.

“Muhammad,” he said, “Give me some of Allah’s money which is in your possession!”

The Prophet looked at him, smiled and instructed that he be given something. (Narrated by al-Bukhari and Muslim)

This short incident brings to the fore a number of the Prophet’s astounding character traits.

The fact that he was walking with his servant, Sayyiduna Anas, who was a child at the time, shows his humility. Although he was the greatest human ever to walk the earth, he was happy to walk with anyone regardless of their age, gender, race and social standing. His choice of clothing is further evidence of his humility and lack of concern for worldly things. He could have worn the finest and smoothest of fabrics but he was happy with a shawl made in the Najran region of Yemen with an edge so rough as to be uncomfortable.

Then we witness the immensity of the Prophet’s forbearance, a beautiful quality known in Arabic as hilm. We are told that the description of the Prophet in the Torah is that the more rudely he is treated, the more he increases in forbearance. The Bedouin came from behind and, without any warning, grabbed the Prophet’s shawl, pulling it so hard that it physically hurt him. Then to add insult to injury, he addressed him in the most rude and blunt fashion. We are told in the Quran not to address the Prophet by his first name, as we might address our peers and equals, but this man was obviously ignorant of this. With no regard for common courtesy and without explaining his situation, he demanded that he be given some charity or zakat.

We have to ask ourselves: how would we react in a similar situation? Our surprise and shock at being accosted from behind would quickly turn to anger and indignation. Then perhaps some pride and arrogance would creep in: how dare this person treat me like this! Who does he think he is? Does he really think he’ll be given anything after this?

This might well be our reaction. But it was not the reaction of Allah’s Beloved (Allah bless him and give him peace). He had every justification for becoming angry, but he did not. He could have turned away and ignored the man, and this would have taken great self-control, but rather he turned towards him. Instead of turning away from him, he turned towards him. The Companions tell us that whenever someone called the Prophet from behind, he would turn his whole body to face them, give them his full attention, and respond.

The Prophet’s response to the rudeness of the man’s demand was a smile or even a chuckle, depending on how the hadith is translated. Ugliness was met with beauty. He then instructed that the man be given something.

The Prophet recognised the truth of the Bedouin’s statement – that indeed it was not his money, but rather Allah was the true giver and he was merely distributing what Allah had given. This is true humility – to accept words of truth from whoever utters them, even if they come in such a blunt form.

The Bedouin had most likely recently embraced Islam and the Prophet knew that he had to be treated with special care. In this there is a lesson for us in how we should treat those who are new to the faith or born into the faith but new to practising it. They may not be familiar with some of the manners and etiquettes that we have learnt over time. They may have grown up and lived in difficult environments.

This was perhaps the only time that the Prophet and the Bedouin were to meet and had the Prophet rebuked him, it could have shaken the man’s faith.

Instead his faith would have been made firm by the Prophet’s beautiful character and the receipt of financial support. This would have been his abiding memory of the Prophet. This is what he would have told his family, his children and his tribe about. The Prophet’s smile would have lived with him for the rest of his days.

The Prophet’s Smile:  Salawat are a Source of Joy

Abu Talha narrates that one day the Messenger of Allah ﷺ was in good spirits. Joy could be seen on his face. The Companions said: “O Messenger of Allah, today you are in good spirits and joy can be seen on your face.”

“Yes,” said the Prophet, “A visitor came from my Lord and said: ‘When a member of your nation bestows one prayer upon you, Allah records for that person ten good deeds, erases ten of his bad deeds, raises him ten degrees and bestows upon him a prayer like the prayer he bestowed.’” (Narrated by Ahmad and al-Nasa’i)

Nothing pleased the Companions more than to see the Prophet with joy on his face. They could not help remarking on this, hoping to know why this was the case. The Prophet ﷺ explained that an angel had come to him bearing good tidings. In some narrations this angel is named as Jibril, peace be upon him.

The angel’s message from his Lord relates to the reward given to someone who bestows one prayer upon the Prophet. The Prophet ﷺ was overjoyed at what had been gifted to his nation through this simple act. His joy was in what benefited his followers the most – an increase in their good deeds, an erasure of their bad deeds and the raising of their ranks  – all of this multiplied tenfold! But what is even greater, is that Allah Himself bestows prayers upon such a person.

Allah’s Prayers Upon Us

Other hadiths tell us that if we bestow one prayer upon the Prophet, Allah responds by bestowing ten prayers upon us. But even if it is only one, this is more than enough since a prayer from Allah is something that cannot be measured or quantified. Imam Ibn Ata’illah al-Iskandari said that if all the good actions of the whole of creation from the time of Adam to the Day of Judgement were placed on one side of the scales and one prayer from Allah was placed on the other, the prayer from Allah would outweigh all those actions.

This is one of many hadiths that inform us of the benefits of bestowing prayers (salawat) upon the Prophet. When we take a few moments to do this, we recognise the huge debt that we owe our guide and acknowledge our inability to recompense him. We thus ask Allah to do this on our behalf and hope that it brings joy to our beloved Prophet ﷺ.

The Prophet’s Smile: Giving Charity to Please the Beloved ﷺ 

Jarir bin Abdullah narrates that he was sitting in the middle of the day with the Messenger of Allah along with some of the Companions when a group of people appeared. They were barefoot and hardly had any clothing. Jarir recognised them to be from the tribe of Mudar. The Prophet’s face went pale when he saw the state they were in. After everyone had assembled and prayed the congregational prayer, the Prophet stood up and addressed the people. He reminded them to have taqwa and to prepare for their meeting with Allah. Then he exhorted them to give whatever they could in charity: gold, silver, clothing or food, even if it was only half a date.

A man from the Ansar then came with a bag of coins so large that he could hardly carry it. From then on, people came one after the other bringing donations. Soon there were two piles, one of food and one of clothing.

When the Prophet saw this, his face shone with joy. He then said: “When someone establishes a good practice in Islam, they will have the reward for it and the reward of those who later act upon it without this detracting in the least from their reward.  When someone establishes a bad practice in Islam, they will bear the responsibility for it and for those who later act upon it without it detracting in the least from their responsibility.”  (Narrated by Muslim)

It pains the Prophet ﷺ to see members of his nation in a state of destitution and hardship and nothing pleases him more than to see people making sacrifices to help those in need.

When he saw these people in a state of hardship he was greatly moved. The fact that he shared a common ancestor with them – since he himself was a descendant of Mudar – made him treat them with extra compassion. By helping them the Prophet was also honouring the ties of kinship, which was something at the heart of his teachings.

The Prophet ﷺ could have asked Allah to feed and clothe these people in whatever way He wished, but he wanted his Companions to take action. Once the community had come together for prayer, he called upon them to give whatever they could to help these unfortunate people. But he only did this after reminding them of their relationship with Allah – to show them that their belief in Him and awareness of Him dictated that they act in situations such as this. He wanted each person to give according to their means and their intention. So half a date from one man may have been more significant than another man’s gold or silver.

What made his face shine with joy was to see a man from the Ansar coming forward with a generous donation. He loved the Ansar dearly and Allah Himself testifies to their readiness to sacrifice out of love for Him: “they give others preference over themselves, even if they too are poor” (al-Hashr, 59:9). He was happy that this man had taken the initiative and that others would follow his example. He then clarified an Islamic principle: that when someone establishes a good practice, they will be rewarded for doing so and they will be rewarded for the actions of those that follow that practice. The opposite is also true, as the Prophet stated.

We ask Allah to grant us the ability to do things that please Him and His Beloved ﷺ and that in doing so we set an example for others to follow.

The Prophet’s Smile: His Special Supplication

Abd al-Rahman bin Abi Aqil al-Thaqafi narrates that he came to visit the Messenger of Allah with the delegation of the tribe of Thaqif. He said: “When we entered into his presence there was no one that we hated more than him. We entered, greeted him and pledged allegiance to him. When we left there was no one that we loved more than him.

I said to him: ‘O Messenger of Allah, did you not think of asking your Lord for a kingdom like the kingdom of Sulayman?’

The Prophet smiled and said: ‘Perhaps Allah has given your companion (meaning himself) something better than the kingdom of Sulayman. Whenever Allah sent a Prophet he gave him a (special) supplication. Some of them used it for something worldly and they were given what they asked for, and some used it to pray for the destruction of their peoples, and their peoples were duly destroyed.  Allah gave me this special supplication and I have kept it in reserve with Him to use as a means of intercession for my nation on the Day of Judgement.’” (Narrated by al-Hakim)

The tribe of Thaqif were the noblemen of the city of Ta’if. When the Prophet ﷺ came to call them to Allah, they rejected him in the most offensive manner. In spite of that rejection, the Prophet refused to command their destruction but rather hoped that they would be guided. If they were not guided, he hoped that their children and descendants would.

The Muslims later defeated Thaqif at the Battle of Hunayn and unsuccessfully laid siege to Ta’if. The tribe eventually sent a delegation to the Prophet to reluctantly announce their acceptance of Islam. The narrator admits that he hated the Prophet when he first met him but during the course of one sitting, that hatred was transformed into love. Instead of bearing a grudge against them, the Prophet welcomed them with open arms. We can only imagine the wise words and the beautiful character that the Prophet showed in order to win over their hearts.

The narrator began to get a glimpse of the Prophet’s status. He began to realise that in front of him was Allah’s Beloved and he could ask whatever he wanted from his Lord. He thought that the greatest thing someone could ask for was a vast kingdom, but the Prophet corrected that notion with a gentle smile. He showed that the greatest thing you can ask for is what benefits people the most in their hour of greatest need. This is one of many narrations which tell us about the intercession of the Prophet on the Day of Judgement.

His mercy surpassed the mercy of other Prophets and he will not be content until as many members of his nation as possible are in Paradise. May none of us be deprived of his intercession on that day.

The Prophet’s Smile: Don’t Forget to Mention Allah’s Name!

Umayah bin Makhshi narrates that the Messenger of Allah was sitting with a man who was eating. The man did not mention Allah’s name and he kept eating until there was only one mouthful left. When he raised the food to his mouth he said: “In the name of Allah at the beginning and the end.”

The Prophet laughed and said: “The devil was eating with him until he mentioned Allah’s name, at which point the devil vomited up everything that was in his stomach!” (Narrated by Abu Daud)

This hadith reminds us of the importance of mentioning Allah’s name before even the smallest and most mundane actions such as dressing, entering and leaving our homes, going to sleep and waking up, and, of course, eating and drinking.

The Messenger of Allah ﷺ taught us the precise etiquette in all of these situations and revealed to us the consequences of neglecting it. When we mention Allah’s name, it acts as a barrier that prevents darkness and evil from entering our lives. Beyond this, it reminds us that only Allah sustains the existence of all things. When we eat, sleep and walk in Allah’s name, those actions take on a new meaning. This is because they are connected to the Divine and are blessed with Allah’s support and care.

If, however, we are not conscious of this reality (as is often the case) it is never too late. The key is to return to Allah as soon as we remember. If we forget to mention Allah’s name before we eat, we can say the following supplication when we remember:

بِسْمِ اللهِ أَوَّلَهُ وآخِرَه

Bismillāhi awwalahu wa ākhirahu

In the name of Allah at the beginning and the end

This incident also shows us that the Prophet ﷺ was actually witnessing the unseen. The angelic and demonic realms were unveiled to him. Although they are veiled to us (with very rare exceptions), it is part of our faith to believe that they exist just as the Prophet informed us of them.

Just as the devil is happy to see our actions come to nothing, the Messenger ﷺ laughed and was happy to see the devil’s actions come to nothing. His happiness was always for the victory of light over darkness. In this case, a member of his nation was neglectful even though he was in the presence of the Prophet. But what pleased the Prophet was that he made amends. We can take comfort from the fact that however heedless or forgetful we are, we can always make amends. In doing so, we make our guide and teacher happy. May Allah shower him with blessings and peace.

Introduction to the Prophet’s Smile

Every year in the blessed month of Rabi al-Awwal, we should come to know our Prophet ﷺ a little better. In this series, the Prophet’s Smile, we try to do this by looking at the things that brought a smile to his blessed face and at times made him laugh.

Have you ever wondered how the Messenger of Allah ﷺ smiled? Have you ever thought about what amused and pleased him? In this series we look at some of the things that brought a smile to his blessed face and at times made him laugh. In doing so we gain insights into the things he talked and thought about and into the beauty of his character. By gaining a greater knowledge of him we hope to increase in love for him and in turn gain his love and pleasure, which cannot be separated from the love and pleasure of Allah most high.

We begin with a description of the Prophet’s laugh and smile and will then look at various instances recorded in the books of Hadith in which the Prophet laughed and smiled and briefly discuss their significance.

The Companions describe the Prophet’s Laugh and Smile

Sayyiduna al-Husayn asked his father, Sayyiduna Ali (peace be upon them both), to describe how the Messenger of Allah ﷺ was with his Companions. He said: “He was always cheerful and smiling, gentle in character.” The commentators say that this does not negate the fact that he is also described as being constantly in a state of sadness out of concern for the wellbeing of his nation. Outwardly he was cheerful, but his inner state was one of sadness.

Sayyiduna Ali went on to say that the Prophet ﷺ would laugh at the same things his Companions would laugh at and would marvel at the things which they marvelled at. He did this to make them feel comfortable and at ease.

One of the Companions said that he had never seen anyone who smiled more than the Messenger of Allah ﷺ .

Another narrates that since he became Muslim, the Prophet ﷺ would always smile at him when he met him.

Several narrations tell us that ‘his laugh was his smile’ or that ‘most of his laughter was smiling’, which is understood to mean that generally he would smile when amused and only rarely would he actually laugh out loud. The same applies to the Prophet Sulayman (peace be upon him) who smiles broadly in amusement at the words of the ant (Quran, 27:19).

When he was happy, the Prophet’s face would light up as brightly as a piece of the moon.

When he opened his mouth to laugh, his teeth would shine as brightly as lightning and were as brilliantly white as hailstones.  Imam al-Llahji says that this metaphor is appropriate because lightning strikes very quickly and the Prophet ﷺ would not keep his mouth open for more than an instant. Also lightning is followed by rain, which is a manifestation of Allah’s mercy, and the Prophet’s laughter would invariably be followed by a kind word or a gift or some other manifestation of his mercy. 

Imam al-Busiri perfectly sums all this up in the Burdah:

 أكرم بخلق نبيّ زانه خلق 

بالحسن مشتمل بالبشر متّسم

How noble is the form of a Prophet whose character further adorns him

So full of beauty is he, so full of cheer

كأنّما اللّؤلؤ المكنون في صدف 

من معدني منطق منه ومبتسم

It is as if precious pearls protected in their shells

Poured forth from the treasury of his speech and smile

May Allah allow us to see his blessed smile and may we please him so that he smiles at us ﷺ.

In Memory of Stella Talih

Stella was a very special person, a star in fact. That’s what her name actually means – a star. After a long journey, she embraced Islam late in her life and developed a deep love and commitment to her new faith. Sadly this didn’t last long as she contracted cancer and eventually passed away.

We were honoured to attend the funeral proceedings in her hometown of Alness, north of Inverness. After members of the Muslim community of Inverness prepared her for burial, the funeral prayer was performed for her and then the hearse carrying her body drove down the town high street. Everywhere people stood out of respect for her, including her colleagues at the medical centre where she used to work. Final respects were paid to her at the graveyard in a moving ceremony attended by many family members and friends. We heard of her numerous good deeds and the people’s hearts that she touched, in particular her regular blood donations.

Her husband, Simo Muhammad, told us of her dedication to Islam: her dogged determination to fast Ramadan in 40-degree heat in Morocco, how she would wake him up to perform the dawn prayer and push him to complete the recitation of the Quran in Ramadan.

This is her account of her journey to Islam:

If any of this offends you, I am sorry. Some of it offends me too but this has been my road to Islam and you just know it has a happy ending.

Hi. As-salaamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh. (Peace be upon you and Allah’s mercy and blessings)

At the time of writing this, I have been a Muslim for 4 weeks. Islamic understanding though is that I have been a Muslim since I was born 48 years ago – it’s just taken me a long time to find my way back on to the right path.

My Early Years

As a teenager, I still went to church on Sundays, and yes, I did toy with the idea of becoming a nun – apparently that’s quite common – but boys were too much of a distraction. I did, however, go through a phase of wearing all black and wore a big silver cross around my neck

And then God threw a nice little tester my way. I fell in love with, and married a man who unfortunately had his own demons to deal with. We had two good years together and four which were difficult.

I didn’t go to church much anymore but it wasn’t until my maternal grandfather died in 1990 that I fell out with God. It wasn’t because my granddad had died. I accept people die. But I was sitting in church listening to the sermon and thinking “This is wrong. I don’t know what’s wrong, but this is wrong”. In church on that day, in my head, I apologised to God and said “I’m sorry, I’m not going to see you for a while. Goodbye.” Those exact words.

Kind of like a rebellious teenager, I would attend christenings, weddings and funerals and I would stand for hymns but not sing. I would refuse to close my eyes and join in prayers. I also know that deep down I had questions but I wouldn’t actively go and seek answers. I wanted someone to take me aside and tell me what was what. I still respected churches and appreciated them as beautiful architectural structures and I always respected people’s right to follow their religion whatever it may be but I had lost my way and, to avoid the issue, I declared myself an atheist. It was the easy and lazy way out.

Time continued to pass. I have three beautiful, respectful, well-adjusted, polite, funny, well-educated, hard-working children who I love to bits. The eldest from my marriage, the younger two from a long relationship that didn’t work out.

The Long Road Home

I didn’t work for years while bringing up my children. We lived on the Isle of Skye for many years and – well, it was complicated. However, I did feel like I was wasting my life so, in 2002, I decided to study an Open University course. I always regretted not going to uni. The first year of the course was called Humanities. Literature, architecture, music, art …. and religion.

While studying the different religions, I guess the first chink in the armour broke open. Although my interest was primarily in Literature, the ‘religion’ element caught my interest – particularly Hinduism and Buddhism. With the exception of my rebellious teenager years, when basically I was just a brat pushing boundaries (I never did anything really bad, I was just sulky and wanting my own way all the time) I have always been a peace-loving, slightly hippyish kind of person. I love people. I’m interested in people. All people. My mantra was “We’re all just humans sharing the planet”.

Although Hinduism wasn’t quite what I was looking for (and I did realise that I was looking for ‘something’), Buddhism was a big attraction. It struck me as being so peaceful. Love life, love the planet, love your fellow man. Just chill, man! During this phase, I began to accept some of the bad things that had happened to me in life. I’ve had some pretty rough patches. But what could I do about it? It had already passed. The past has been and gone. You can’t change it. With some deep-breathing and some calming (and totally amateurish) meditation, I let go of hate and the world soon became a brighter place.

I read a lot about Buddhism. I was excited to see the Dalai Lama when he visited Inverness a few years ago. I felt an enthusiasm I hadn’t in so many years. My children bought me a necklace with an Om symbol because they thought it suited their hippy, tree-hugging, slightly off-the-wall mother. People started buying me buddhas. I bought a couple too. But I never said “I’m a Buddhist”. There was no open declaration. People just assumed. Equally, I didn’t argue when people talked about me being a Buddhist.

Buddhism, while still holding my interest, didn’t feel quite right. There was still something missing. I re-opened dialogue with God. I didn’t turn to Him I looked over my shoulder and said “Hi”….. literally. I couldn’t quite work it out yet but I knew that God – the one God – is what is missing from Buddhism.

I was such a crazy, mixed-up kid (albeit in my 40s). No one really discusses religion in my circles but it was assumed I was atheist or Buddhist but I was missing having God in my life and, for me, that meant returning to Christianity. I tried to discuss it but some people just aren’t very good listeners and I really needed someone to just hear me out. It’s been a bit of a lonely road.

Around that time, I attended three funerals in sad, quick succession. I sang the hymns, I folded my hands and closed my eyes and listened to the prayers. I took a tiny step towards God. He took ten towards me. Allahu Akbar!

Are we nearly there yet?

I’m a deep thinker. I read. I research. I keep my cards very close to my chest. I can quietly consider for weeks, months or years – then bam! It’s done. 

Then, one evening, my sister said she wanted to go to Morocco. She usually goes on holiday with our mum but mum didn’t want to go to Africa so I said I would love to go. It sounded nice and hippyish. My children were all grown. I had a full-time job. So we went. I LOVED IT! I loved the weather, the people, the food, the city, the mental traffic system (you have to watch it for a few days before you realise there is actually a system)..

And then, first night there, I was sitting on the balcony, glass of beer in hand, listening to the birds tweeting, when I heard this extraordinary sound. I’d heard it before on TV – usually on some drama where good old British/US Intelligence Agencies and spies are in the Middle-East hunting down Muslim terrorists – but oh my, this was different. This call to prayer. To hear it up close. I put down my drink and listened and I’m getting goosebumps recalling the sound. (The Qur’an asks us to look for the signs). What is so unusual is the conflicting feelings I had of both peace and excitement. I would hear it at what I thought then were just random times of the day. I felt like a child wanting to follow the Pied Piper of Hamlin. I wanted to know what Muslims did when they heard it. Did they stop and pray on the spot? Did they have to hurry to their nearest mosque? Or did they just stand, listen to what was being chanted, and then go about their daily lives? What did they do?!

My Muslim husband

Also on that holiday, I met a man who worked at the hotel. He is now my lovely husband. I feel totally blessed that he is in my life. In Islam, there is a belief that Allah has created you in twos. We have both since said that when we met, we bonded. It was that simple. It was like we already knew each other. We are so similar in our thoughts, our tastes, our humour, our personalities, that he’s not just my other half, he’s the other half of me. When I returned home, I was heartbroken. I felt like I was in mourning. I wrote to him just to say hi. He wrote back. As our relationship slowly developed, so did my interest in Islam which I had touched upon briefly during my studies.

Islam. In my part of the world it’s the religion you don’t speak about. This religion you only know about through the media. The religion that allows men to beat their wives and never let them see the light of day. When George W. Bush declared a War on Terror, you knew he meant Islam. I never hated Islam the way you were expected to do – I just didn’t have any real understanding of it. I had only crossed this path briefly as part of my studies. In Morocco, about 97 or 98% of the population is Muslim. I could not equate the lovely people I met there with media-Islam. And, for the record, there is so much love and respect shown between the husbands and wives that I met – there’s no need for shows of open intimacy, you can just see the affection in a shared look or a smile. And the wives were far from beaten or submissive!

Out of curiosity, I downloaded the Qur’an onto my kindle and began to read – and read. By the time our relationship had reached the point where we were communicating by email every couple of days, I had questions. Because we were writing, I could ask a whole question without being interrupted. He read my questions and answered every single one. His family were celebrating Eid al-Adha. He wanted to share it with me and sent me loads of photos – and answered my questions. The meaning behind this Eid seems strikingly similar to the Harvest festival.

After a year, and a lot of discussion, we decided we wanted to spend our lives together and marry. I returned to Morocco and met his family who were funny, kind and respectful – and I knew, without a shadow of doubt, that I had been duped by Western media into forming misconceptions about a beautiful religion. My husband’s family invited me to attend a dawn prayer on Arafat Day just before Eid al-Adha. Of course, I was happy to go along for the experience. Praying outdoors at dawn with thousands of Muslims was incredibly moving.

In Morocco, I learned the greeting, As-salaamu Alaikum – hello – but it’s not hello, it’s peace be unto you. Peace. Really? Is this what I’ve been searching for? Islam?!!  But I’m a white, Scottish woman struggling with Christianity! How can this be?

A brief sidestep into alcohol

My family likes whisky. We’re whisky drinkers. A good dram. A fine malt. For me, undiluted – no water, no ice. And in the pub, a nice cold lager. Or Baileys. We used to party hard back in the day, at regular big family get-togethers. Thing is, as a bit of a rebellious individual, I wouldn’t touch alcohol until I was 16 years old. It was openly encouraged but I would sulk when the drinking began. I thought it was pointless. Why would you drink it if it was just going to make you fall over, be sick and wake up with a headache? But I eventually gave in and got stuck in to vodka, or cider, or rum, or brandy…. basically whatever was going. As I got older, my alcohol consumption became a little more refined and I stopped drinking the alcoholic drinks I didn’t like – because before then, if it was in my hand I would drink it. “See me! I’m Scottish, I can drink anything!”

In my last days of alcohol, I would not drink at home – only at the pub, or out for a meal, and it would only be lager or whisky. During my holiday in Morocco, I would just drink small glasses of beer. After I met Simo’s family, and once we decided to marry, I stopped. That was it. No problem. I didn’t miss it and quite frankly, I was quite glad to see the back of hangovers and lying in a spinning bed. My child-self jumping up and down and hollering “I told you so!” For my hen night, I had once last blow out – a farewell to alcohol. Now I don’t get invited out anymore because apparently sober people are no fun. At a traditional wedding I was invited to, and also at my own wedding in Morocco, everyone was eating and laughing and dancing and basically having a great time – and not a drop of alcohol was had. My husband has never drunk alcohol and has no interest in ever trying it.

“So you converted for your husband!”

I hear you declare. “Because he told you to. Because he forced his wife to become a Muslim. Yes?”.

No. I have a mind of my own and I know how to use it. Also, Allah is still testing me – because of current immigration rules, my husband is still in Morocco and I am 2500 miles away in Scotland while we jump through government hoops to meet visa requirements. We use a free text service to communicate – and boy, do we communicate! I have never had a relationship with ANYBODY – male or female – who I have talked with so much and on so many subjects and with whom I have felt so much accordance. During any discussion about Islam, he has always said there is no obligation or compulsion for me to become a Muslim. We can be Christian and Muslim together. It was purely down to my own relationship with God.

Hearing that first call to prayer made me sit up and think “Oh hello, what’s this?” and, certainly, it was meeting my husband that instilled in me the need for further research. Even before we married, my interest had developed into “This is right!”. Out for a walk together one day, we were discussing Islam and I asked him to recite the shahada for me so I could hear it. He said it and I thought, “Oh, I can’t become a Muslim because there’s no way I’ll remember that!”.

Back home – brought together by Allah, married by law, and separated by the British Government – I bought a paperback English translation of the Qur’an to read while waiting for my husband. I also bought ‘How to Pray’ and ‘Welcome to Islam’ –  both written by Mustafa Umar.

I trawled the internet and became so confused. My husband advised me to stay off the internet and read the Qur’an. Just read. So I did. He said he knew by my nature and my thoughts and feelings and actions that I was already a good Muslim. I pretty much knew by then that I would take the shahada.

(The Qur’an asks you to look for the signs). I was at work one afternoon. I still had How To Pray in my bag. I had read it from cover to cover several times. It’s a small book – doesn’t take long. Suddenly, I heard a chance conversation between one of my colleagues and Muslim man who works in the same building discussing languages. I rudely interrupted (I apologise) and asked if he would help me with some pronunciation and showed him the book. He was happy to help. My brother in Islam has offered me advice and answered questions. I told him I was thinking about becoming a Muslim but I needed to be sure that I was doing it for me and not because my husband was a Muslim – so if my husband was not in the picture, is this still what I wanted? I think I already knew the answer. He invited me to meet some local Muslims during Islam Awareness Week. I also asked if I could see inside the mosque and he arranged for me to meet some lovely sisters and brothers there.

That night, speaking to my husband, I told him I was ready but I didn’t want to do it without him. We share everything. We share our days. We share the funny moments and our problems. He tells me about the surprisingly heavy rainfall they had in Morocco … I tell him about the surprisingly warm sunshine we had in Scotland. I have wandered around a supermarket, taking photos and asking what he wants me to buy (Do you like this juice? Do you need new razors? That kind of thing). So sharing something as life-changing as shahada was really important.

My name is Stella and I’m a Muslim

The conversation basically went like this:

(me) I know there is no obligation for me to revert but I want to. I’ve been practicing shahada in my head. But I don’t want to say it without you. Do you understand what I mean?

(he) You want me to be with you when you say it?

(me) Yes.

(he) I’m with you, my wife. I’m always with you. Do you want to say it now?

(me) Yes.

(he) I’m here with you. Say the words.

And I did.

7 April 2014: 01:09am  Ashadu an la ilaha illallah wa ashadu anna muhammadan rasulu’llah.

(he) So you are a Muslim now. That’s great. Welcome. You are a Muslim.

(me) Really?

(he) You are the best Muslim. That’s such a big thing you did.

Three weeks later, in a hall across from the local mosque, at a celebration to welcome me to the community, I publicly recited shahada

I have A LOT to learn but I am back on the right road and a new journey has begun.

Epilogue

It was a long struggle as the government kept raising the earnings threshold which meant Stella was working three jobs at one point to earn enough. But eventually Simo made it to Scotland and they lived happily together for a few years.

Then came the sad news that Stella had been diagnosed with cancer. She eventually passed away on 2nd September 2021 at the age of 56. Her funeral took place on 7th September.

Our condolences go to Simo and all her family and loved ones.

Please pray for Stella and her family and recite Fatihah for her.

We ask Allah to make her grave a garden of bliss and give her a high rank in the hereafter.