Prophet King or Slave Messenger : Imam Ibn Rajab

By al-Haafidh Ibn Rajab al-Hanbalee
Excerpt from the last chapter of Ibn Rajab’s famous book: al-Khushoo’ fis-Salaat

Al-Ibaanah Issue No.3


The Prophet (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) chose the station of al-’uboodiyyah (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 (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam), who, being shocked, said to him, “Do not trouble yourself! Indeed, I am not a king. Rather, I am merely the son of a Qurayshee woman who eats dry meat.” [2]

It has also been authentically reported from the Prophet (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) that he said, “Do not over praise me as the Christians over-praised ’Eesaa, son of Maryam. Indeed, I am only a slave. So call me the Slave of Allaah and His Messenger.” [3]

Imaam Ahmad (d.241H) – rahimahullaahu ta’aalaa – reports from Muhammad Ibn Fudayl, from ’Ammaarah, from Aboo Zur’ah who said: I do not know this except from Aboo Hurayrah – radiyallaahu ’anhu – who said: Jibreel was sitting with the Prophet (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) looking towards the sky, when he saw an angel. So Jibreel – ’alayhis-salaam – said to him: Indeed, this angel has never descended before today. So when the angel had descended, he said: O Muhammad! 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 Yahyaa Ibn Katheer – rahimahullaah that the Prophet (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) 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 Sa’d in at-Tabaqaat.

There is also a narration related by Aboo Ma’dhr from al-Maqburee from ’Aa‘ishah – radiyallaahu ’anhaa – that the Prophet (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) said, “An angel came to me and said: Allaah sends blessings upon you and says: If you wish you may be a Prophet-King or a Slave-Messenger. So Jibeel – ’alayhis-salaam – indicated to me that I should humble myself: So I said: A Prophet-Slave.” So ’Aa‘ishah said: So after that day, the Prophet (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) 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-Zuhree – rahimahullaahu ta’aalaa – who said: we were informed that an angel came to the Prophet (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam), who had never come to him before. Accompanying him was Jibreel – ’alayhis-salaam. So the angel spoke, and Jibreel – ’alayhis-salaam – remained silent, so he said: Your Lord inquires whether you wish to be a king or a Prophet-Slave. So the Prophet (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) looked towards Jibreel – ’alayhis-salaam – as if he was seeking his advice. So Jibreel indicated that he should be humble. So Allaah’s Messenger (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) said, “A Prophet-Slave.” Az-Zuhree said: So it is said that from that day onwards, the Prophet (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) never ate whilst reclining, until he departed from this world. [7]

And it is related in the Musnad, or in the Sunan of at-Tirmidhee, from Aboo Hurayrah radiyallaahu ’anhu), from the Prophet (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) 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-’uboodiyyah (slavery and servitude to Allaah), but desires still remain with him, then he is lying in his claim. Indeed, al-’uboodiyyah 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. ’ibaadur-Rahmaan: the Slaves of the Most Merciful).

Al-Haafidh Aboo Nu’aym – rahimahullaahu ta’aalaa – relates in the book: Asmaa‘us-Sabaabah, by way of Shaykh Aboo Sulaymaan ad-Daraanee (d.215H) – rahimahullaahu ta’aalaa – who related from ’Alqamah Ibnul-Haarith al-Azdee, from his father, from his grandfather who mentioned the saying of Luqmaan 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 Allaah 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 Allaah, then do it in a place where He cannot see you.”

Ibraaheem al-Khawwaas – rahimahullaahu ta’aalaa – said, “The cure for the hearts is in five things: reciting the Qur‘aan 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 saaliheen (righteous).”

Ibraaheem Ibn Adham (d.160H) – rahimahullaahu ta’aalaa – said in an admonition, when he was asked (by some people) about the saying of Allaah – the Most High -:

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

(They said): We call upon Him, but He does not respond to us. So he said to them, “You know Allaah, yet you do not obey Him. You recite the Qur‘aan, but you do not act according to it. You know Shaytaan, but still agree with him. You claim to love Allaah’s Messenger (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam), 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 Allaah provides for you, yet you are not grateful to Him. You bury your dead, but you have not heeded its lesson.”

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


[1] He is the Imaam, the haafidh, the zaahid (abstainer from this world), the admonisher Abul-Faraj ’Abdur-Rahmaan Ibn Ahmad Rajab as-Salamee better known as Ibn Rajab al-Hanbalee. Ibn Fahd said about him, “The Imaam, the haafidh, the hujjah (proof), the knowledgeable Scholar, the dependable one. He was one of the Scholars who shunned the world, and one of the Imaams and worshippers. He was an instructive Scholar from the Scholars of Hadeeth – and an admonisher of the Muslims.” Ibn Fahd also said, “He – rahimahullaahu ta’aalaa – was a pious Imaam 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.” As-Suyootee said about him, “The Imaam, the haafidh, the Scholar of Hadeeth, the admonisher ’Abdur-Rahmaan…” He learnt from some of the major Scholars of his time, such as Ibnul-Qayyim al-Jawziyyah, al-Haafidh al-’Iraaqee, Ibnun-Naqeeb and others. He authored many books in the field of tafseer, hadeeth, biography and history, raqaa‘iq (heart-affecting matters) and also in fiqh. He is enumerated as one of the great scholars of Fiqh of the Hanbalee madbhab – as is proven by his excellent book: al-Qawaa’idul-Kubraa fil-Furoo’ – about which Ibn Muflih said, “It is a proof about his complete knowledge of the madhhab.” And al-Haafidh Ibn Hajar also spoke with similar praises about the book. He – rahimahullaah – died in the year 795H.

For a complete biography, refer to: Inbaa‘ul-Ghamr bi Anbaa‘il-’Umar (3/175-176) and ad-Durarul-Kaaminah (2/321-322) of Ibn Hajr, Dhayl Tabaqaatul-Huffaadh (p.532) of as-Suyootee and Luhdhul-Labaadh (p.180-182) of Ibn Fahd al-Makkee. This article has been taken from the last chapter of his book: al-Khushoo’ fis-Salaah (p. 57-62).

[2] Saheeh: Related by Ibn Sa’d in at-Tabaqaat (1/23) in mursal form. However, it has been related in connected form by Ibn Maajah (no. 3312) and al-Haakim (3/47) from Aboo Mas’ood radiyallaahu ’anhu. Shaykh al-Albaanee authenticated it in as-Saheehah (no. 1876).

[3] Related by al-Bukhaaree (6/345), ad-Daarimee (2/320) and others, from ’Umar Ibnul-Khattaab radiyallaahu ’anhu.

[4] Related by Ahmad (2/321), al-Bazzaar (no. 4262) and al-Haythamee in al-Majma’ (9/18-19) where he said, “It has been narrated by Ahmad, al-Bazzaar and Abu Ya’laa, and its initial narrators are all the narrators of as-Saheeh.”

[5] Saheeh: Related by Ibn Sa’d in at-Tabaqaat (1/371) and Shaykh al-Albaanee authenticated it in Saheehul-Jaami’ (no. 8). Refer also to Takhreejul-Ihyaa‘ (2/4) of al-Haafidh al-’Iraaqee.

[6] Hasan: Related by al-Baghawee in Sharhus-Sunnah (no. 4683) and Abush-Shaykh in Akhlaaqun-Nabee (no. 213), and al-Haythamee authenticated it in al-Majma’ (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 ’Abbaas – which is related by al-Baghawee (no. 3684) and Abush-Shaykh (no. 213-214).

[8] Da’eef Jiddan: Related by Ahmad (5/254) and at-Tirmidhee (no. 2348), from Aboo Umaamah radiyallaahu ’anhu. It was declared weak by Shaykh al-Albaanee in Da’eeful-Jaami’ (no. 3704).


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