Allah (swt) said:” They ask your legal instruction, say: Allah instructs you about them.” (Qur’an 4: 127)
Not every knowledgeable person has the right to issue legal rulings. To be a jurist or judge requires a special set of qualities and talents; knowledge is one quality that is needed, but it is not the only one. A jurist or judge needs wisdom, foresight, a nuanced understanding, an appreciation of a questioner’s situation, the ability to lend each situation its due level of importance and so on. As for the Prophet (saw), Allah blessed him when it came to issuing legal rulings, bestowing upon him knowledge, understanding, wisdom, and many other relevant noble qualities. When various people came to him with a similar question or request – such as:” Advise me, O Messenger of Allah” – he would not repeat the same answer for each questioner; rather he would, in each instance, give an answer that was appropriate to the questioner’s circumstances – an answer that would benefit the questioner both in this life and in the Hereafter.
Whenever a person would come to the Prophet (saw) with a question, it was as if the Prophet had already read that person’s entire biography, having gained an intimate knowledge of that person’s background, way of thinking, and personal circumstances. This was a direct result of blessedness of revelation and of being guided by Allah (swt).
The Prophet (saw) would give each questioner an answer that was a solution to the most serious of his problems, or an answer that showed him the best way to become a better Muslim; or in other words, the Prophet (saw) gave him the advice he most desperately needed.
An ailing elderly man went to the Prophet (saw) and asked him to advise him. Because he was weak and frail, the old man could no longer stand up and pray for long periods of time; he was not able to fast; he was not able to endure the hardships of a journey, and so performing hajj was out of the question. He therefore wanted to learn some simple and easy deed he could perform, a deed that required little physical effort on the other hand, and that entailed great rewards on the other. He did not explain all of this in his question, but the Prophet (saw) understood well enough his circumstances. And so the Prophet (saw) said:” Let your tongue remain moist with the remembrance of Allah.” (Ahmad)
Here, the Prophet (saw) told him to do something that did not require him to exercise his limbs, to walk long distances, or to lift heavy weights; instead, the deed he told him to perform involved – at least on a physical level – nothing more than moving his tongue. And not only was the actual deed simple, but the words to the Prophet (saw) used to describe the deed were also simple, eloquent, and easy to memorize. Had the old man gone to someone else with the very same question, that person would likely have advised him to take advantage of his final years by doing a great many deeds – deeds that the old man, given his frail condition, certainly would not have been able to perform.
Such was the easy to follow advice the Prophet (saw) gave to an old man frail man. Now consider what the Prophet (saw) said when a strong, well-built, and muscular man went to the Prophet (saw) and asked for his advice. That man was Ghaylan ath-Thaqafi (ra), and asked the Prophet (saw) to guide him to a deed that would bring him closer to Allah. As with the example of the old man, the Prophet (saw) responded with a succinct, simple, and easy to memorize answer; but unlike the example that involved the old man, the Prophet (saw) replied by giving the physically-strong Ghaylan advice that was difficult to follow – which was appropriate considering Ghaylan’s ability to meet a tough challenge. The Prophet (saw) said to him:” Perform jihad in the way of Allah.” So because Ghaylan (ra) was endowed with both strength and energy, the Prophet (saw) told him to join the Muslim army and to participate in battle against Islam’s enemies.
And upon once seeing Abu Musa al-Ash’ari (ra) climbing a mountain, the Prophet (saw) said:” Say,’ There is neither might nor power except with Allah’, for indeed, it (i.e., this phrase) is a treasure from the treasures of Paradise.” (Bukhari). Why was this advice appropriate to Abu Musa’s situation? Abu Musa was climbing a mountain, an endeavor that requires strength and effort, an endeavor that can be accomplished through Allah’s help. And so one is likely to be helped by Allah in that endeavor when one humbly acknowledges one’s own weakness, and when one acknowledges the fact that “ There is neither might nor power except with Allah.”
Glory be to Allah, who guided His messenger and blessed him with the ability to give each person advice that was appropriate to his situation and circumstances.
(Prepared by Dr. ‘Aid Al-Qarni)