Board of Advisors, Center for Muslim Life at Maryland
It is related in the Mustadrak of Imam al-Hakim that Umar b. al-Khattab was sitting amongst a group of his companions when he asked them what they longed for.
One said that he longed for a room full of gold so that he may spend it in the way of God. Another longed for a room full of precious stones so that He may also spend it in the way of God. They then asked Umar himself, “What do you long for?”
He responded, “For a room full of the likes of Abu Ubaydah, Mua’dh b. Jabal, Salim Mawla Abi Hudhaifah, and Hudaifah b. al-Yaman.”
What the greatest companions, scholars, and poets all understood is that the most valuable asset to any community are the people themselves. The late Muhammad al-Ghazali asserts that the greatest miracle of the Prophet (pbuh) after the revelation of the Qur’an was his ability to nurture people.
Indeed, the Prophet (pbuh) himself teaches us that the blood of a human being is more sanctified in the sight of God than the Ka’bah itself.
There has certainly come to you a Messenger from among yourselves. Grievous to him is what you suffer; [he is] deeply concerned for you and to the believers is kind and merciful. – Surah al-Tawbah
So, how exactly did our Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) mentor his companions?
1- He was present
What strikes the reader of the Prophetic tradition is the detail of people’s lives the Prophet (pbuh) was aware of. He nicknamed Anas b. Malik after a plant that he used to take care of [Tirmidhi]. He was aware of the pet nightingale that Abu Umayr had [Bukhari]. He heard hunger in the voice of Abu Hurayrah when no one else did [Bukhari].
He answered the same questions with different advice depending on who was asking. All of this would only be possible if he had an intimate awareness of the companions. It’s said the most important thing in life is showing up. The Prophet (pbuh) was present, despite being a statesmen, a family man, and well, a Prophet!
2- He was concerned
This concern spanned both the physical and spiritual well-being of his community. When a loud noise was heard on the outskirts of Medinah, the Prophet was there first to ensure everything was ok. The companions would say that when the going got tough during battle they would seek protection with the Messenger of God [Bukhari].
He, peace be upon him, likened himself to one swatting flies away from the hell fire. He was so concerned with the state of his community that God himself had to tell him in the Qur’an, ‘do not let yourself perish over them in regret!’
3- He understood how to deal with those who were broken
When the drunk companion was being punished for repeated public intoxication, the companions cursed him. He responded, “Do not curse him, for all I know of him is that he loves Allah and his Messenger!”
He gently taught the bedouin man the etiquette of visiting the mosque when he urinated in it. The man was so impressed with the Prophet that he prayed for ‘Muhammad, and no one else!’ He gave Hateb the benefit of the doubt when he shared the news of the state to others (what we call treason today).
He repeatedly praised the sinners’ strengths and gently dealt with their weaknesses. What all of this should teach us is simple: mentorship works. It is the Prophetic model. And for that reason, our communities’ primary investment should be in facilitating this Prophetic work.
I’ve worked with college students for many years, and can personally attest to the impact mentorship has. I myself am but the result of a number of mentors who cared enough to take me under their wing. The Center for Muslim Life at Maryland (CMLMD) is doing this Prophetic work daily, and it is incumbent upon us to support it.
And Allah knows best.