Prophet Muhammad (sa) bore great hardships throughout his life, particularly in the years of his prophethood. Indeed, some of the tragedies he encountered – including witnessing the deaths of six out of his seven children – were far beyond an ordinary person’s share of grievances in this world. Despite such difficulties, the Prophet (sa) maintained a very positive and friendly demeanour: he used to meet others cheerfully, was good-humoured, and most noticeably, he used to smile very often.
Ibn Jaz states: “I have not seen anyone who smiled more than the Messenger of Allah (sa).” (Tirmidhi) Jarir bin Abdullah (rtam) says regarding the Prophet (sa): “Whenever he saw me, he would receive me with a smile.” (Bukhari) Even though he was a prophet of Allah (swt), and had a lofty status among his people, he never considered it beneath himself to appear cheerful or to express his pleasure with a smile at the small things in life. Let us see some instances from the life of the Prophet (sa) where he smiled.
Once, a poor man came to the Prophet (sa) in a state of panic, saying he had sinned by being intimate with his wife while fasting. The Prophet (sa) asked him if he could afford to manumit a slave as compensation, to which he replied in the negative. The Prophet (sa) then asked if he could fast for two consecutive months or feed fifty poor persons, and he again replied in the negative to both these questions. Soon, a basket of dates was brought to the Prophet (sa), which he gifted to that man and told him to give it in charity. But the man remarked: “By Allah, there is no family between these two mountains, which is poorer than mine!” At this, the Prophet (sa) smiled broadly and told the man: “Feed your family with it.” (Bukhari)
A rabbi once said to the Prophet (sa): “O Muhammad (sa), we (Jews) learn that Allah (swt) will put all the heavens on one finger, and the earths on one finger, and the trees on one finger, and the water and the dust on one finger, and all the other created beings on one finger. Then He will say: ‘I am the King.’” The Prophet (swt) smiled broadly at this description and recited a verse of the Quran that conveyed a similar meaning. (Bukhari)
A woman came to the Prophet (sa) and said that her first husband Rifa’ah had divorced her irrevocably and indicated she did not wish to remain with her second husband Abdul-Rahman, revealing something very personal about him. At this, Khalid bin Saeed (rtam), who was shocked at her directness, said: “Abu Bakr (rtam), why do you not stop this woman from saying such things openly before Allah’s Messenger (sa)?” Instead of feeling offended or embarrassed, the Prophet (sa) merely smiled at the woman and said: “Perhaps you want to return to Rifa’ah? That is impossible, unless Abdul-Rahman consummates his marriage with you.” (Bukhari)
Abu Hurairah (rtam) was a poor migrant to Madinah. One day, feeling very hungry but not wanting to ask anyone directly for food, he inquired something from Abu Bakr (rtam), hoping that Abu Bakr (rtam) would invite him to his house for a snack. However, Abu Bakr (rtam), not perceiving his hunger, did not do so, and the same episode was repeated with Umar (rtam). Then the Prophet (sa) passed by and sensing Abu Hurairah’s (rtam) hunger, he smiled at him warmly. The Prophet (sa) then invited Abu Hurairah (rtam) to his house and offered him a bowl of milk which he drank to his fill. (Bukhari)
The Prophet (sa) was cheerful and forgiving even towards those who were rude to him. Once, a Bedouin man came to the Prophet (sa) and pulled at his mantle so violently that it left marks on the side of his neck. The Bedouin then said: “Muhammad (sa), issue the command that I should be given out of the wealth of Allah (swt), which is at your disposal.” The Prophet (sa) merely turned to him, smiled, and ordered a provision for him. (Bukhari)
The Prophet (sa) shared a very close and affectionate relationship with his wives, but they would sometimes respond to him sharply or in an unpleasant tone – something inevitable in a marital bond. However, when Umar (rtam) learned of this, he rebuked his daughter and the Prophet’s (rtam) wife Hafsa (rtaf), admonishing her to fear Allah (swt). Then, he approached another wife of the Prophet (sa) Umm Salama (rtaf), who cut him short with the words: “Umar bin Al-Khattab (rtam), how strange it is that you meddle in every matter so much so that you are anxious to interfere between Allah’s Messenger (sa) and his wives!” When Umar (rtam) informed the Prophet (sa) about his rebuke to Hafsa (rtaf), the Prophet (sa) smiled, and when Umar (rtam) informed him about Umm Salama’s (rtaf) counter-rebuke, he smiled again. (Bukhari and Muslim)
The Prophet (sa) was lenient towards others’ follies and was sometimes amused by them. Once, a Bedouin entered the Prophet’s (sa) mosque and declared loudly, “’O Allah (swt), forgive me and Muhammad, and do not forgive anyone besides us!” Instead of reprimanding him, the Prophet (sa) merely smiled and said: “You have confined something that is vast,” referring to Allah’s forgiveness. (Ibn Majah)
During the Khaybar expedition, Abdullah bin Mughaffal (rtam) found a bag containing food and fat, and said to himself, “I will not give anything from it to anyone today.” Then he turned around to see the Prophet (sa) smiling at his words. (Muslim)
The Prophet (sa) would smile when glad tidings were conveyed to him. Once, he slept in Umm Haram’s (rtaf) house and woke up smiling. When she inquired the reason for his pleasure, he said that he saw his followers sailing on ships in the middle of the sea like kings on thrones, and the magnificence of the site pleased him. (Bukhari) He also smiled when the tidings of a river in Paradise were conveyed to him through the revelation of Surah Al-Kauthar. (Muslim) Similarly, when the verses confirming Aisha’s (rtaf) innocence were revealed, condemning the slander against her, the Prophet (sa) smiled joyously and immediately conveyed the news to Aisha (rtaf). (Muslim)
After the Fajr prayer, the Prophet (sa) would sit with his companions in the mosque, remembering Allah (swt). The companions would sometimes discuss matters from the days of ignorance and recite poetry. They would laugh while doing so, and the Prophet (sa) would smile. (Nasai) On the morning of the last day of his life, the Prophet (sa) lifted the curtain of Aisha’s (rtaf) room to see the Muslims offering the Fajr prayer led by Abu Bakr (rtam), just as he had taught them. He smiled with pleasure at the sight, knowing that he had succeeded in communicating Allah’s (swt) word to people and was leaving behind a devoted community of followers. (Bukhari)
Indeed, the Sunnah and Seerah are full of incidents that brought a smile to the Prophet’s (sa) face – these being just a few instances. The Prophet (sa) encouraged his followers to be likewise cheerful, saying: “Do not consider any good deed insignificant, even if it is meeting your brother with a cheerful face.” (Muslim) He equated smiling at someone to giving in charity and described cheerfulness as a blessing. It is thus important to revive this Sunnah in our lives and not to take Allah’s (swt) blessings for granted – especially one as beautiful and convenient to share as a smile.