Hadith: Consider not the poor to be lowly
Below are some narrations from the Best of Creation (Allah’s peace and blessing be upon him) concerning one’s regard for the poor, and scholarly commentary by Maulana Manzoor Nomani.
Sahl bin Sa’ad narrated that once a person [who, perhaps, came from the class of the rich and the distinguished] passed in front of the Prophet. [On seeing him], the Prophet asked one of those who were sitting with him at that time what he thought of him. He replied, “Sir, he is one of the most respectable men. Such is his eminence that if he makes an offer of marriage to the daughter of any family, it will be accepted and she will be married to him, and if he makes a recommendation in any matter, it will be granted.” At this reply, the Prophet kept quiet and did not say anything. After some time, another bondsman of the Lord passed by and the Prophet asked the same person again, “What do you think of him?” He replied, “O Apostle of God! He is one of the weak and indigent Muslims. He is such a man that if he makes on offer of marriage anywhere, it will be rejected, and if he makes a recommendation in any matter, it will be turned down, and if he wants to say anything, it will not be heard.” The Prophet, thereupon, said, ‘If people like the one who passed by earlier [are so numerous as to] fill the earth, this weak and poor bondsman, still, is better than [all of] them’.”
-Bukhari and Muslim
Commentary: Generally, material prosperity and worldly eminence are considered to be the criterion of greatness and people are impressed by them while those who are not rich and influential are looked down upon as lowly however good and noble they may be from the moral and spiritual point of view. The above saying is aimed at removing the folly.
It is quite possible that the person who was sitting with the Prophet and with whom he was talking, at that time, was, also, a victim of it and the Prophet had spoken to him like that for his correction.
Commentators have opined and the words of the Tradition also show that both the persons who passed by were Muslims but with the difference that the one to go past first was superior in wealth and position but inferior in faith and piety while the other was superior in faith and piety but inferior financially and in social rank. It was because of it that the Prophet remarked that if the likes of the first mentioned were so numerous that the earth was filled with them, the poor and the needy bondsman who passed by later would by himself be better and nobler than the whole of them.
It is related by Abu Hurairah that the Apostle of God said: “Many among those whose hair are disheveled and bodies covered with dust and who are pushed away from the door [due to their apparent wretchedness] [occupy such a lofty place in the sight of the Lord] that if they vow in the name of God, God, surely, will fulfill the vow.”
Commentary: It shows that no one should be scorned at or rejected as inferior because of his unkempt and untidy condition. Some of them attain a position of such nearness and preference with the Lord, by effacing themselves for His sake, that if, relying upon Him, they swear about a thing that it will or will not be that way, God does not put them to shame and makes it happen accordingly.
It is worth remembering that the object of the above Tradition is not to encourage squalor and untidiness, as some people imagine. From the Prophet’s sayings and other biographical accounts it is clear that he, generally, liked to be neat and clean and advised others, also, not to be dirty and ill clad. When he saw anyone going to the extreme of self-denial and wearing dirty and tattered clothes and caring nothing for his appearance, he reproved him sternly. This Tradition is intended merely to give a warning advice to those who regard the poor and destitute bondmen of the Lord as despicable and do not want to mix with them due to self-conceit.