True power and compassion flow when validation comes from within
Of the many stories relating the beautiful character of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, the one I’ll call The Tale of the Trash has been the most present in my life.
From a young age, my mom would tell me and my sisters this story to describe how the Prophet of Islam acted with mercy. The version in my memory goes something like this:
Muhammad lived in a house, much like ours in Canada, perhaps with a front porch and a small front lawn. There was sometimes a fence around the lawn and sometimes the house was situated along a tree-lined cul-de-sac, depending on where we lived. We moved a lot.
One of the prophet’s neighbours, a grouchy woman with deep frown lines on her forehead, would come by every day rain or shine, and throw a little garbage on his doorstep like she was delivering a morning newspaper. And every morning, the Prophet would go out like he was picking up the paper and carefully collect every piece of trash with his bare hands. Every banana peel and used plastic cup, and dispose of it.
He wouldn’t get angry. He wouldn’t fight. He wouldn’t react at all. He’d just gently clear away the mess, and go on with his day.
(Obviously it’s absurd to imagine banana peels or plastic cups or picket-fenced green lawns in the deserts of seventh century Arabia, but allow me to indulge the version of the hadith that nestled itself in my heart as I was growing up.)
This pattern repeated month after month. Until one day, the Prophet went out to pick up the trash like he was collecting the morning paper, and found nothing. The woman hadn’t been by that morning.
This is where the essential message of the story is revealed. Rather than feeling relieved at the prospect of being left alone, the Prophet became concerned. He suspected something must be wrong. He promptly walked over to his neighbour’s home and asked of her whereabouts and condition. It turned out she had fallen ill. The Prophet asked permission to visit her and prayed by her side for recovery, health and wellbeing.
The woman was so moved by Muhammad’s compassion that the hostility she felt toward him quickly dissolved. Eventually, she embraced Islam, that state of being where a human accesses and bows to the Divinity found at the inmost place within the heart. Where we find the Self of and in God.