This most comprehensive description of the Messenger of Allah (saw) is taken from Imam at-Tirmidhi’s (rh) ash-Shama’il an-Nabawiyyah (The Prophetic Traits) and Qadhi ‘Iyadh’s (rh) ash-Shifa’ (The Healing).
The main narrator of this hadith is the Companion, Hind ibn Abu Halah (ra) who is Lady Khadijah’s (ra) son from a previous husband, i.e. the Prophet’s step-son.
Other narrators of this hadith include the grandsons of the Prophet (saw), al-Hasan (ra) who was seven years old when the Prophet (saw) passed away and his younger brother by two years al-Husain (ra). The Messenger of Allah (saw) referred to them both lovingly as, ‘the chiefs of the youth of Paradise’. [Tirmidhi]
Part One: His (saw) physical appearance and body language
For ease of reading, we have divided Hind ibn Abu Halah's (ra) description into six parts.
You can hear the description in Arabic and English by playing the videos. These make up a six-part series filmed in partnership with Islam Channel, entitled 'To Know Him is to Love Him'.
On the authority of al-Hasan ibn ‘Ali (ra) who said, ‘I asked my maternal uncle Hind ibn Abu Halah [ra] about the description of the Messenger of Allah (saw) since he was wont and fully capable to describe them. I desired and wanted him to describe them to me because I wanted something to hold on to.
“The Messenger of Allah (saw) was imposing and majestic. His face shone like the full moon. He was somewhat taller than medium height and a little shorter than what could be described as tall. His head was large, and he had hair that was neither curly nor straight. If his hair parted, he would leave it parted and it did not go beyond the lobes of his ears if he allowed it to go long. He was very fair skinned with a wide brow and had thick eyebrows with a narrow space between them. He had a vein there which throbbed when he was angry. He had a long nose [aquiline] with a line of light over it which someone might unthinkingly take to be his nose. His beard was thick and full. He had black eyes, firm and high cheeks, a wide mouth and white teeth with slight gaps [between his front teeth]. The hair of his chest formed a fine line. His neck was like that of a statue made of pure silver. His physique was finely-balanced [in perfect harmony and proportion]. His body was firm and full. His belly and chest were equal in size. His chest was broad and the space between his shoulders wide. He had full calves. He was luminous [the parts of his body that could be seen while he was clothed shone a brilliant white]. Between his neck and his navel there was a line of hair, but the rest of his torso was free of it. He had hair on his forearms and shoulders and the upper part of his chest. He had thick wrists, wide palms, thick hands and feet. His fingers were long. He was fine sinewed. He had high insteps and his feet were so smooth that water ran off them.
When he walked, he walked as though he were going down a hill. He walked in a dignified manner and walked easily. He walked swiftly. When he walked, it was as though he were heading down a slope. When he turned to address somebody, he turned his whole body completely [giving full attention]. He lowered his glance, glancing downwards more than upwards. He restrained his glance. He would lead his Companions by walking behind them and was the first to greet any person he met”.
Part Two: His (saw) speech and communication
I [Al-Hasan (ra)] said, ‘Tell me how he spoke’.
He [Ibn Abi Halah (ra)] replied:
“The Messenger of Allah (saw) was always subject to grief and was always reflective. He had no rest and he only spoke when it was necessary. He spent long periods in silence. He began and ended what he said correctly [with full expression]. His words were comprehensive without being either superfluous or wordy or inadequate. He had a mild temperament, being neither harsh nor cruel. He valued a gift / blessing, even if it was small.
He did not censure anything nor criticise or praise the taste of food. He did not get angry because of it. He did not attend to securing his own due nor did he get angry for himself nor would he seek to avenge himself. When he pointed, he did so with his whole hand. When he was surprised about something, he turned his palm upside down, [i.e. facing upwards].When he talked, he held/struck his right thumb in his left palm. When he was angry, he turned away and averted his face. When he was happy, he looked downwards. Generally, his laughter consisted of a smile and he showed his teeth which were as white as hailstones”’.
Part Three: His (saw) time management at home and concern for others
Al-Hasan [ra] said, ‘I refrained from mentioning this to [my younger brother] al-Husain ibn ‘Ali [ra] for a time.
Then I spoke to him and found that he had beaten me to it. He had asked his father [i.e. ‘Ali (ra)] about how the Messenger of Allah (saw) behaved at home and when he was out, his assemblies and about his features. He had not omitted anything’.
Al-Husain [ra] said:
‘I asked my father about how the Messenger of Allah (saw) was at home.
Then he [‘Ali (ra)] said:
“It was allowed him to enter his house for his own comfort. When he retired to his house, he divided his time into three parts – one part for Allah, one for his family and one for himself. Then he divided his part between his people and himself.
He used the time for the people more for the common people than for the elite. He did not reserve anything for himself to their exclusion. Of his conduct in the part reserved for himself was that he would show preference to the people of merit and would divide the time according to their excellence in the religion.
Some people needed one thing, some needed two, and some had many needs. He concerned himself with them and kept them busy doing things that were good for them and the community. He always asked about them and what was happening to them. He used to say, “Those who are present should convey things to those who are absent, and you should let me know about what is needed by people who cannot convey their needs to me. On the Day of Rising, Allah will make firm the feet of a person who conveys to a ruler the need of someone who cannot convey it himself.” This was all that was mentioned in his presence and he would only accept this from people”’.
And he [‘Ali (ra)] then said in the Hadith of Sufyan ibn Waki‘ [ra], ‘They entered as seekers [seeking decisions or knowledge] and only parted after having tasted something, leaving as guides, i.e. as men of Fiqh’.
Part Four: His (saw) behaviour outside
I [al-Husain (ra) addressing his father ‘Ali (ra)] then said:
‘Tell me about when he went out and how he behaved then?’
He [his father ‘Ali (ra)] replied:
“The Messenger of Allah (saw) held his tongue except regarding what concerned people. He brought people together and did not split them. He honoured the nobles of every group of people and appointed them over their people. He was cautious about people and on his guard against them, but he did that without averting his face from them or being discourteous. He asked about his Companions [ra] and he asked people how other people were.
He praised what was good and encouraged it and disliked what was ugly and foul and discouraged it. He took a balanced course, without making changes. He was not negligent, fearing that people would become negligent or weary. He was prepared for any eventuality. He did not neglect a right nor did he let his debts reach the point where others had to help him. The best and most preferred people in his eyes were those who had good counsel for all. Those he most esteemed were those who supported / served and helped [people]”.
Part Five: His (saw) meetings and assemblies
I [al-Husain (ra)] then asked him [‘Ali (ra)] about his assembly and how he behaved in it.
He [ra] said:
‘The Messenger of Allah did not sit down or stand up without mentioning Allah. He did not reserve a special place for himself and forbade other people to do so. When he came to people, he sat down at the edge of the assembly and told other people to do the same. He gave everyone who sat with him his share so that no one who sat with him thought that anyone was honoured more than he was. If anyone sat with him or stood near him to ask something, he put up with that person until the person turned away. When someone asked him for something he needed, he either departed with it or with some consoling words. He had the kindest and best behaviour of all people, being like a father to them. They were all equal in respect of their rights with him.
His assembly was one of clemency, modesty, patience and trust. Voices were not raised in it nor were shortcomings made public or lapses exposed. Its members were attached to each other by fear of Allah and were humble. They respected the old and showed mercy to the young. They helped those with needs and showed mercy to strangers’.
Part Six: His (saw) behaviour with the Companions (ra) and his moments of silence
I [al-Husain (ra)] then asked him [‘Ali (ra)] about the Messenger of Allah’s [saw] behaviour with those who sat with him [i.e. his Companions (ra)].
He [‘Ali (ra)] said:
‘The Messenger of Allah (saw) was always cheerful, easy-tempered and mild. He was neither rough nor coarse. He did not shout [even in the marketplaces] nor utter obscenities. He did not find fault with nor over-praise people. He ignored what was superfluous and left it. He abandoned three things in himself: ostentation, storing things up and what did not concern him. He also abandoned three things in respect of other people: he did not censure anyone, he did not scold them, nor try to find out their faults.
He only spoke about things for which he expected a reward from Allah. When he spoke, the people sitting with him were as still as if there were birds on their heads. When he was silent, they talked, but did not quarrel in his presence. When someone talked in front of him, they kept quiet until he had finished. Their conversation was about the first topic broached [until they had finished with it]. He laughed at what they laughed at and was surprised at what surprised them. He was patient with a stranger who had coarse language.
He said, “When you find someone asking for something he needs, then give it to him”. He did not look for praise except to counterbalance something. He did not interrupt anyone speaking until that person had himself come to an end by either speaking or getting up from where he was sitting’.
This is the end of the Hadith of Sufyan ibn Waki‘ [ra].
Other narrators [at-Tabarani and others] added: I [al-Husain (ra)] asked [‘Ali (ra)] what his (saw) silence was like?
He [‘Ali (ra)] said:
‘He was silent for four reasons: forbearance, caution, appraisal and reflection. As for his appraisal, it lay in constantly observing and listening to people [to be just]. As for his reflection, it was upon what would endure and what would vanish. He (saw) had forbearance in his patience. Nothing provocative angered him.
He was cautious about four things: in adopting something good which then would be followed, in abandoning something bad which then would be abandoned, in striving to determine what would be beneficial for his nation and in establishing for them what would combine the business of this world and the next’.
The description has ended with the praise and help of Allah.
- Read Ali ibn Abu Talib's (ra) description of the Prophet (saw)
- Read Umm Ma'bad's (ra) description of the Prophet (saw)
- Listen to a commentary about the Prophet's (saw) description