muhammad provided the highest example of the power to overcome life. he achieved such a degree of mastery over life that he did not hesitate to give all that he had whenever he wanted to give. a contemporary of muhammad once said of him, "muhammad gives as if he has no fear of want at all." in order not to allow anything to exercise any power over him but rather to enable himself to determine it, muhammad led a very ascetic life. despite his strong desire to know the secrets of life and understand its structure, he was quite contemptuous of its joys and attractions. he slept in a bed of palm fibers; he never ate his fill; he never ate barley bread on two consecutive days, gruel being his main daily meal together with dates. neither he nor his family had ever had enough tharid[a dish made out of layers of bread often topped with meat, rice, and soaked with gravy. -tr.]. he felt the pangs of hunger more than once, and learned to press a stone against his stomach as a means to silence those pangs. this remarkable restraint, however, did not prevent his enjoying the delicacies of god's bounty if such were available, and he was known to love to eat leg of lamb, squash, honey, and other sweets.
in his dress he was as ascetic as he was in his food. his wife once gave him a new robe because he was in need of one. one of his companions asked him for something with which to shroud a dead relative, and muhammad gave him the new robe he had just received. his wardrobe consisted of shirts and robes made out of wool, cotton, or linen. but on special occasions he had no objection to wearing a luxurious robe from yaman should it be called for. he used to wear a simple sandal, and he did not wear slippers until the negus of abyssinia sent him some together with other clothes.
muhammad's denial of the world and its luxuries was not pursued for its own sake. nor was it a duty imposed by religion. the qur'an said: "eat of the delicacies of god's providing," and "do seek the other world in what god has given you of this, but do not give up your share of this world. do good, as god has done good to you."[qur'an, 2:57; 28:77]. in the traditions of the early muslims it is said, "work for this world as if your life in it is eternal; work for the other world as if you were to die tomorrow." certainly muhammad sought to give mankind the highest possible example of a mastery of life absolutely free of weakness, in which no goods, wealth, or power dedicated to another being beside god could have any effect. when brotherhood is based upon such a power over life and its attractions issue into such exemplary deeds as muhammad had done, it is pure, candid, and has no other object whatever besides the lofty fraternalism of man and man. in it, justice dovetails with mercy, and the subject is not determined except by his own free and deliberate judgment. islam places both mercy and forgiveness side by side with justice. it insists that if they are to be themselves at all, mercy and forgiveness must issue from power. only then will their purpose be the genuine good of the neighbor and his reconstruction.
the sunnah of muhammad
the foundation for a new civilization which muhammad laid down was expressed very succinctly in a report by 'ali ibn abu talib. he asked the prophet of god concerning his sunnah, and the latter replied: “wisdom is my capital, reason the force of my religion, love my foundation, longing my vehicle, the remembrance of god my constant pleasure, trust my treasure, mourning my companion, knowledge my arm, patience my robe, contentment my booty, poverty my pride, asceticism my profession, conviction my strength, truthfulness my intercessor, obedience my argument, holy war my ethics, prayer my supreme pleasure.”