Living the Sunna of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) in Everyday Life with Others–Human Beings, Believers, Neighbors, Parents, and Relatives
Faraz Rabbani
(notes compiled by Omar Hossino)

[Imam Nawawi’s Riyadh al-Saliheen Commentary Notes]

The imperative of the believer is to promote the good. The righteous person
fulfills the rights of God and the rights of humanity. Fundamentally, the right
of others upon you is that you seek the good for them wherever the good may be
– and this was the sunna of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him

This is why even things which are normally bad, such as lying are actually
permitted at times when they are the only means and ways to the good – such as
a person lying to get to friends who were fighting back together. You should
consult impartial friends for advice to avoid seeing things from only one side
– this is the sunna of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace). If
one overuses permissible lying then one will never be taken seriously. One only
uses permissible lying to the minimum degree necessary in life.

The good is that in which there is benefit – benefit for oneself and benefit
for others in both this life and the next. If it sunna to speak if one can be
of real benefit, however if not or if one is unsure the sunna of the Prophet
(may Allah bless him and give him peace) was to be silent.

One should cover up one’s faults as well as the faults of others. Talking about
one’s sins is the ultimate dishonor. The believer should hasten to fulfill the
needs of all others in everyday life and remember that the reward of actions in
reality is in the next life and in accordance with ones deeds in this life. If
one lifts hardships from a believer, then Allah will lift hardships from you.
This does not just include believers but also disbelievers as well, the sunna
of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace) was to be avid to
benefit and lift hardships from all human beings.

Our default assumption towards all people, following the sunna of our Beloved
(may Allah bless him and give him peace) is that they are upright. Concerning
believers we assume that they are upright socially and religiously, and it is
absolutely unlawful (haram) to think ill of others unless one has sufficient
proof to do so. Certainty is not lifted by mere conjecture or doubt. Suspicion
and doubt not based on sound basis are sinful.

Even in disbelievers the sunna is not hate bad attributes and not the actual
people themselves. We hate the disbelief (kufr) of disbelievers but we do not
hate their actual person (dhat) and only Allah knows the end states of people
at death. If the believer finds dubious actions he must interpret them in a
favorable light. Suspicion should lead to precaution but not ill-thinking.
Prying into the affairs of another, Muslim or non-Muslim, is sinful.

The perfection of belief which was best manifest in the sunna of the Prophet
(may Allah bless him and give him peace) occurs when one loves for one’s
brother what he loves for himself. One must love for all human beings what one
loves for oneself of faith, fair and upright dealings, and good treatment. Our
Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace) was described by Allah as a
“mercy to all creation” and not just as a “mercy to Muslims.” We should love
for every single human being in humanity, as Imam Nawawi explained, what one
loves for oneself – and the ultimate blessing that we love for others is the
blessing of iman which provides safety in the next life, and happiness, rest,
and spiritual closeness to Allah in this life. The Prophet (may Allah bless him
and give him peace) strongly loved for everyone to be given this great blessing
and worked his whole life loving for all human beings to be guided, Allah tells
him in the Qur’an, “You may be killing yourself with grief that they will not
become believers.” Even on the day of judgment, the disbelievers who will be
given eternal hellfire will have the intensity of their punishment lightened
due to the supplication and intercession of the Prophet (may Allah bless him
and give him peace) asking Allah to lighten their punishment.

The sunna of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace) is that
instead of feeling arrogance because one has certain skills, talents, and
blessings – such as knowledge, health, wealth, beauty, friends, social skills,
or a strong work ethic – one should convert this feeling into thankfulness to
Allah. For indeed it is Allah who certainly gave you all of your blessings and
nothing came on your own hands. If the believer finds jealousy in his heart
because he covets the blessing of another then he should pray and ask Allah
continuously to grant that person more than what he has of blessings.

The summary of how the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace) dealt
with people is good character, and the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give
him peace) said “I have only come to perfect good character.” The meaning of
“good character” is to expend all good. This returns to the concept of loving
for another human being what you love for yourself. The lover is a seeker, the
lover seeks! They seek that which they love and they seek all good to come to
that one which they love. Thus, if you love for your brother what you love for
yourself then you seek all means to get it for them even if this means is as
simple as praying for them. It is the sunna of the Prophet (may Allah bless him
and give him peace) to pray for the guidance of disbelievers, and to pray for
the general welfare of believers such as asking Allah to grant them relief,
wealth, health, happiness, security, etc. The believer if he follows the sunna
is a lover for his brother – he seeks both worldly good to come to them such as
their relief, their happiness, their security; and next religious good to come
to them such as good character, upright dealings, praying, fasting, patience,
and repentance.

The second part of “good character” is not only seeking the good for one’s
brother but also warding off harm from them. This first starts with restraining
ons own harm from others so that one does not harm others, yet its perfection
is actively working to ward off all harm from ones brothers in humanity – for
the disbeliever one wards off the ultimate harm of disbelief, and for the
believer one wards off worldly harms such as sadness, sickness, hardship,
worry, grief, and poverty – and religious harms such as arrogance, insincerity,
sinfulness, anger, and jealousy. This is what “good character” means in the
sunna of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace) – to seek and
love the good for all of humanity, and to ward off harm for all of humanity.

The sunna of the Prophet, and the imperative of the believer, is to be of a
happy disposition at all times – even at times when one is inwardly miserable.
The believer deals with people with a genuine and true smile. The means of
achieving the genuine and true smile is by remembering the blessings of Allah
upon one.

The believer should remember the importance of good character and following the
sunna in dealings with others as the heaviest thing on the scales on the day of
judgment is good character.

How can one live this good character? How did the Prophet (may Allah bless him
and give him peace) expend the good to others and ward off harm from them? What
was his sunna? He did so in many ways by fulfilling this to many different
groups: neighbors, orphans, relatives, guests, etc.

It is sunna to help out ones neighbors when one can, to visit the sick, and to
feed the hungry. These are not just concepts or ideas which we write on paper,
but the sunna is lived and the believer should sincerely and genuinely try to
do this as much as he can. The believer should visit friends, relatives, and
work associates to and do nice things to benefit them and spread love and good
feeling. If it is not possible for one to invite them for a celebration then
one should at least send them some sweets. The believer does not forget his
neighbor, and the closer the neighbor is to one the more right that person has
over you.

At least one time in his life the believer should try to take care of an orphan
or do something good for orphans. The Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him
peace) strongly emphasized the reward of the one who helps the orphan saying
that he would be near the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace) in
paradise – what can one ask better than this?

The very least level of being a good neighbor is that the believer does not
harm his neighbor in any way and restrains himself from harming his neighbor –
in his words and actions. Harm is not only done to one’s neighbor through the
bad, but also through the good – if the Qur’an is raised at a high volume at
night for example this may offend one’s neighbor.

The believer should express his care for others for their happiness, sorrow or
need – this is the sunna of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace).
An example of this is if someone one knows is graduating high school then it is
from good character to give them a gift, if someone’s family member dies then
one should share with them in their sorrow, and if anyone is in need the
believer should do his best to help out.

The sunna is to be caring – genuinely caring – for the affairs of other people.
From the very best of faith and good character was the sunna of the Prophet
(may Allah bless him and give him peace) is to lift up happiness in other people’s
hearts. If a teenager is going through turbulent times then one should invite
them to tea and a few nice words may lift up their hearts. However, one should
care for others without prying into their affairs and engrossing oneself in
that which does not concern one.

The sunna with ones guest is to honor them, and the meaning of “honor” is to
seek out the poor, neglected, needy, and emotionally needy as ones guest. The
believer also seeks the pious as his guest for next-worldly benefit. The
believer should treat his guest with the best of manners and genuinely seek the
good for them, which is what everything of the sunna of good character returns

The sunna in speaking is to think before one speaks and not to rush. The
believer is calm and circumspect before acting. Haste is rushing into things
without thinking of the consequences – this is from the devil. Circumspection
is from Allah, and is the sunna of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give
him peace).

The sunna with ones parents is good character and ihsan or excellence and
kindness. The believer treats his parents with ihsan, and then his close
kindred and relatives. Part of good character is to preserve blood ties, and to
assist family members. The believer should fear Allah regarding this.

Obedience to ones parents is of the most important of obligations in Islam and
is the best of all outward works after prayer. While excellence (ihsan) to
one’s parents is unconditional and absolute obedience is neither unconditional
nor absolute. Being good to ones parents is acting with them in excellence and
not allowing any undue harm to come upon them in one’s words, dealings, and
actions. “Being good” includes respect for parents, and causing no sorrow or
grievance on them unduly.

However, sometimes parents demand things from their children which intrude upon
the rights of others, or the rights of Allah. The sunna teaches that if parents
forbid one from religious obligations then it is obligatory to disobey them,
and if they command the prohibited it is prohibited to obey them. If parents
also forbid one from following the sunna duties it is not obligatory to obey
them, but it is prohibited to speak angrily with them regardless.

The sunna of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace) teaches us
that if the believer has something that he would like to do and one’s parents
will not allow it then even if it is of general worldly or religious benefit
one is prohibited from doing it if such an action will lead to the
unfulfillment of ones obligation or duty to be good to his parents. An example
of this is if someone would like to study the religion of Islam, but ones
parents need them for a month physically and financially to help them and by
going to study on this course one is harming one’s parents then one cannot
leave and take this course – even if it is about Islam.

The question arises – what if obedience to them will not lead to your
unfilfillment of their duties but instead will make you miss out on worldly or
religious benefit? One should weigh the options – as obedience to parents is a
great good deed, but one is not obliged to follow them if they will miss out on
worldly or religious benefit – however they must disobey completely
respectfully and with manners. The exception is if parents are exceptionally
upset, which happens often, in these cases one should seek the guidance of a
reliable scholar. This returns to the fact that the believer always seeks good
in this life and leaves the harm and that which does not concern him – he seeks
benefit and not detriment in this life and the next and seeks avoiding troubles
in this life, and the hellfire in the next life.

When one needs to disobey one’s parents they should do so with ihsan or
excellence – they should not respond to parental provocations and should change
the subject in a debate. It is a good idea, and of the sunna, to give them a
gift later as the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace) encouraged
the giving of gifts as it instills love between people.

Although one is obliged to obey one’s parents with the few exceptions given
above – the shari’ah does not oblige the believer to obey their close
relatives. Instead, one should simply deal with them in excellence and sound
customs of the pious.

Ibn Hajar explained “maintaining family ties” as meaning expending the good to
them and being excellent to them in some ways – the least of which is that you
do not harm them directly or indirectly. One major harm is that family ties can
be broken – and it is the sunna of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give
him peace) to work hard to maintain ties. The responsibility one has to ones
family members depends on the degree of the relationship – brother over cousin,
near over far, etc. However even those family members which live far or are
distant relatives should still be corresponded with once in a while – as this
is the teachings of the sunna.

One of the signs of the last days is that people will be bad to their parents
and let their family ties die out. Being good to ones parents does not mean
that one simply obeys them and is caring to them yet at the same time the
person speaks harshly to them – the sunna is to speak in kind and gentle ways
with ones parents and to be silent and not argue with one’s parents.