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Prophet King or Slave Messenger

Imām ibn Rajab al-Ḥanbalī

This is an excerpt from the last chapter of Ibn Rajab’s famous book: al-Khushūʿ fī-al-Ṣalāt. Here, he deals with the status of a slave-messenger which the Prophet (ﷺ) actually selected for himself when given the choice. The chapter expounds upon the nobility of such a choice and the reasons behind it. Pay special attention to the advice of Ibrāhīm Ibn Adham at the end, although it is ḍāʿīf jiddan in its chain, it is tremendous in meaning.

Imām ibn Rajab al-Ḥanbalī Mentions:1 The Prophet (ﷺ) chose the station of al-ʿubūdīyyah (slavery and servitude) over and above the station of kingship. Once – on the day of the conquest of Makkah – a man stood-up (out of reverence) for the Prophet (ﷺ), who, being shocked, said to him, “Do not trouble yourself! Indeed, I am not a king. Rather, I am merely the son of a Qurayshī woman who eats dry meat.”2

It has also been authentically reported from the Prophet (ﷺ) that he said,

Do not over-praise me as the Christians over-praised ʿĪsá, son of Maryam. Indeed, I am only a slave. So call me the Slave of Allāh and His Messenger.3

Prophet Muḥammad ﷺ (Related in al-Bukhārī 6/345)

Imām Aḥmad (d.241 AH) – raḥimahullāhu taʿālá – reports from Muḥammad Ibn Fuḍayl, from ʿAmmārah, from Abū Zurʿah who said: I do not know this except from Abū Hurayrah – raḍī Allāhu ʿanhu – who said: Jibrīl was sitting with the Prophet (ﷺ) looking towards the sky, when he saw an angel. So Jibrīl – ʿalayhi al-Salām – said to him: Indeed, this angel has never descended before today. So when the angel had descended, he said: O Muḥammad! I have been sent by your Lord (to inquire) whether He should make you a Prophet-King or a Slave-Messenger.4

And in a mursal narration from Yahyá Ibn Kathīr – raḥimahullāh that the Prophet (ﷺ) said, “I eat as a slave eats, and I sit as a slave sits. Since indeed I am a slave.”5 This has been related by Ibn Saʿd in at-Tabaqāt.

There is also a narration related by Abū Maʿdhr from al-Maqburī from ʿĀʾishah – raḍī Allāhu ʿanha – that the Prophet (ﷺ) said, “An angel came to me and said: Allāh sends blessings upon you and says: If you wish you may be a Prophet-King or a Slave-Messenger. So Jibrīl – ʿalayhi al-Salām – indicated to me that I should humble myself: So I said: A Prophet-Slave.” So ʿĀʾishah said: So after that day, the Prophet (ﷺ) never ate whilst reclining, saying, “I eat like a slave eats and I sit like a slave sits.”6

And from the mursal narrations of az-Zuhrī – raḥimahullāhu taʿālá – who said: we were informed that an angel came to the Prophet (ﷺ), who had never come to him before. Accompanying him was Jibrīl – ʿalayhi al-Salām. So the angel spoke, and Jibrīl – ʿalayhi al-Salām – remained silent, so he said: Your Lord inquires whether you wish to be a king or a Prophet-Slave. So the Prophet (ﷺ) looked towards Jibrīl – ʿalayhi al-Salām – as if he was seeking his advice. So Jibrīl indicated that he should be humble. So Allāh’s Messenger (ﷺ) said, “A Prophet-Slave.” Al-Zuhrī said: So it is said that from that day onwards, the Prophet (ﷺ) never ate whilst reclining, until he departed from this world.7

And it is related in the Musnad, or in the Sunan of al-Tirmidhī, from Abū Hurayrah (raḍī Allāhu ʿanhu), from the Prophet (ﷺ) who said, “My Lord – the Mighty and Majestic – gave me the choice that the valley of Makkah be filled with gold, but I said: No! O Lord. However, grant food to me one day, and hunger the day after. So when I am hungry I humble myself before You and remember You, and when I am full, I am grateful to You.”8

Some of the knowledgeable people have said: Whoever claims al-ʿubūdiyyah (slavery and servitude to Allāh), but desires still remain with him, then he is lying in his claim. Indeed, al-ʿubūdiyyah will only be true for the one who annihilates his desires and establishes the will of his Master, where his name is what He called him (i.e. ʿibād al-Raḥmān: the Slaves of the Most Merciful).

Al-Ḥāfiẓ Abū Nuʿaym – raḥimahullāhu taʿālá – relates in the book: Asmāʾa‘us-Sabābah, by way of Shaykh Abū Sulaymān ad-Darānī (d.215H) – raḥimahullāhu taʿālá – who related from ʿAlqamah Ibn al-Ḥārith al-Azdī, from his father, from his grandfather who mentioned the saying of Luqmān the wise when he said to his son, “I have gathered my wisdom for you in six sentences: Work for this world in proportion to how long you shall remain in it, and work for the Hereafter in proportion to how long you shall remain in it. Commit acts of sin in proportion to how much you can endure it. Act for Allāh in accordance to how much you are in need of Him. Commit acts of disobedience in accordance to how much you can endure the punishment. Do not ask except from the One who is in need of no one. And when you intend to commit a sin against Allāh, then do it in a place where He cannot see you.”

Ibrāhīm al-Khawwās – raḥimahullāhu taʿālá – said, “The cure for the hearts is in five things: reciting the Qurʾān with reflection and contemplation; emptying the stomach (i.e. frequent fasting); praying at night; humbling oneself in the early hours of the morning; and being in the company of the sāliḥīn (righteous).”

Ibrāhīm Ibn Adham (d.160H) – raḥimahullāhu taʿālá – said in an admonition, when he was asked (by some people) about the saying of Allāh – the Most High -:

وَقَالَ رَبُّكُمُ ادْعُونِي أَسْتَجِبْ لَكُمْ ۚ ‎﴿٦٠﴾

“Call upon Me and I will respond to you.”
[Ghāfir, 40:60]

(They said): We call upon Him, but He does not respond to us. So he said to them, “You know Allāh, yet you do not obey Him. You recite the Qurʾān, but you do not act according to it. You know Shayṭān, but still agree with him. You claim to love Allāh’s Messenger (ﷺ), yet you abandon his Sunnah. You claim to love Paradise, yet you do not work for it. You claim to fear the Fire, yet you do not stop sinning. You say: Indeed death is true, yet you have not prepared for it. You busy yourselves with the faults of others, but you do not look at your own faults. You eat the sustenance that Allāh provides for you, yet you are not grateful to Him. You bury your dead, but you have not heeded its lesson.”

We ask Allāh to grant us the ability to please Him and to bestow upon us His mercy.


  1. He is the Imām, the ḥāfiẓ, the zāhid (abstainer from this world), the admonisher Abū al-Faraj ʿAbdur-Raḥmān Ibn Aḥmad Rajab as-Salamī better known as Ibn Rajab al-Ḥanbalī. Ibn Fahd said about him, “The Imām, the ḥāfiẓ, the hujjah (proof), the knowledgeable Scholar, the dependable one. He was one of the Scholars who shunned the world, and one of the Imāms and worshippers. He was an instructive Scholar from the Scholars of Ḥadīth – and an admonisher of the Muslims.” Ibn Fahd also said, “He – raḥimahullāhu taʿālá – was a pious Imām who shunned the world. Hearts inclined towards him with love, and the different sects accepted him. His sittings for advising the general people were of great benefit and used to open up the hearts.” Al-Ṣuyutī said about him, “The Imām, the ḥāfiẓ, the Scholar of Ḥadīth, the admonisher ʿAbdur-Raḥmān…” He learnt from some of the major Scholars of his time, such as Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyyah, al-Ḥāfiẓ al-ʿIrāqī, Ibnun-Naqīb and others. He authored many books in the field of tafsīr, ḥadīth, biography and history, raqāʾiq (heart-affecting matters) and also in fiqh. He is enumerated as one of the great scholars of Fiqh of the Ḥanbalī madbhab – as is proven by his excellent book: al-Qawāʿid al-Kubrā fī al-Furooʿ – about which Ibn Muflih said, “It is a proof about his complete knowledge of the madh′hab.” And al-Ḥāfiẓ Ibn Ḥajar also spoke with similar praises about the book. He – raḥimahullāh – died in the year 795H.For a complete biography, refer to: Inbāʿ al-Ghamr bi Anbā‘il-ʿUmar (3/175-176) and al-Durarul-Kāminah (2/321-322) of Ibn Hajr, Dhayl Tabaqāt al-Huffādh (p.532) of as-Suyootī and Luhdhul-Labādh (p.180-182) of Ibn Fahd al-Makkī. This article has been taken from the last chapter of his book: al-Khushooʿ fis-al-Ṣalāh (p. 57-62).
  2. Ṣaḥīḥ: Related by Ibn Saʿd in at-Ṭabaqāt (1/23) in mursal form. However, it has been related in connected form by Ibn Mājah (no. 3312) and al-Ḥākim (3/47) from Abū Masʿūd raḍī Allāhu ʿanhu. Shaykh al-Albānī authenticated it in al-Ṣaḥihah (no. 1876).
  3. Related by al-Bukhārī (6/345), al-Dārimī (2/320) and others, from ʿUmar Ibn al-Khaṭṭāb raḍī Allāhu ʿanhu.
  4. Related by Aḥmad (2/321), al-Bazzār (no. 4262) and al-Haythamī in al-Majmaʿ (9/18-19) where he said, “It has been narrated by Aḥmad, al-Bazzār and Abū Yaʿlā, and its initial narrators are all the narrators of as-Ṣaḥīḥ.”
  5. Ṣaḥīḥ: Related by Ibn Saʿd in at-Ṭabaqāt (1/371) and Shaykh al-Albānī authenticated it in Ṣaḥīḥ al-Jāmiʿ (no. 8). Refer also to Takhrīj al-Iḥyāʾ (2/4) of al-Ḥāfiẓ al-ʿIrāqī.
  6. Ḥasan: Related by al-Baghawī in Sharḥ al-Sunnah (no. 4683) and Abūsh-Shaykh in Akhlāqun-Nabī (no. 213), and al-Haythamī authenticated it in al-Majmaʿ (9/19).
  7. Although this is a mursal narration, it does however, have support from those narrations that have already preceded, and it has a further witness from the narration of Ibn ʿAbbās – which is related by al-Baghawī (no. 3684) and Abūsh-Shaykh (no. 213-214).
  8. Daʿīf Jiddan: Related by Aḥmad (5/254) and al-Tirmidhī (no. 2348), from Abū Umāmah raḍī Allāhu ʿanhu. It was declared weak by Shaykh al-Albānī in Daʿīful-Jāmiʿ (no. 3704).
Published: May 24, 2007
Edited: January 8, 2022

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