“The poor Muslims are admitted into Paradise before their rich by half a day.” (Tirmidhi, Zuhd, 37) Will you explain this hadith?

Details of the Question

“The poor Muslims are admitted into Paradise before their rich by half a day.” (Tirmidhi, Zuhd, 37) Will you explain this hadith?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

“The poor believers will enter Paradise forty years before the rich believers.” (see Majmauz-Zawaid, 8/105)

"The poor will enter Paradise five hundred years before the rich." (Tirmidhi, Zuhd 37)

These different narrations may indicate different groups of poor people; it is also possible that these numbers are not exact numbers but indicate a long time.

Everybody who goes to Paradise is rich. Everybody will attain their needs and desires there. However, it is a necessity of divine justice that the degrees and pleasures attained there will be parallel to the degree of worshipping and servitude in the world.   

For instance, in accordance with the hadith “a person is together with the one he loves”, an ordinary believer can sit at the same table as the Prophet (pbuh) in Paradise and find pleasure in it. However, there is a great difference between the pleasure the Prophet (pbuh) finds in the same table and the pleasure this ordinary believer finds.

What matters is not being rich or poor but living in accordance with Allah’s orders and prohibitions. This balance can be valid among those who have the same level of worshipping and servitude. Otherwise, there are so many rich people who spent all of their property and wealth in the way of Allah that it is definite that they will enter Paradise before many poor people. 

There are glad tidings for both the poor and the rich in the hadiths of the Prophet (pbuh). These hadiths and similar ones are some of the narrations that include glad tidings for the poor. However, in many narrations regarding the issue, the characteristics of the poor and the rich that are given glad tidings are mentioned. 

Basically, we see that the poor who show patience and the rich who are honest and who thank Allah are put before the others. Accordingly, we cannot reach a general decree that every poor person will enter Paradise before every rich person.  

There will be so many poor people who will enter Paradise the last and rich people who will enter Paradise first. For, it is necessary not to forget the hadith of the Prophet (pbuh) stating that the honest and reliable merchants will be resurrected together with prophets, veracious people and martyrs  (Suyuti, al-Fathul-Kabir, II/40) and other similar narrations.

These narrations and other similar ones do not aim to blame richness and to praise poverty. They aim to mention the rewards they will get in return for their patience. For, it is necessary to evaluate each statement in its own context. As a matter of fact, the nice statements uttered for a person who becomes rich through legitimate means and spends this wealth in the way of Allah should be evaluated like that too. 

It is stated in various narrations that the reckoning of the poor will be easier and faster than that of the rich on the Day of Judgment. For, people will be called to account for everything they had in this world in the presence of Allah; they will be held responsible for where and how they gained their wealth and property, and how they spent it.

Considering that the poor will enter Paradise five hundred years, which is a very important time difference, before the rich, it may be thought that the religion of Islam encourages poverty. However, what we should pay attention here is to comprehend the fact that the reckoning of the rich will be tough and that a wealth that does not include haram will be hard to find. Besides, it is also a fact that the length of the year in the hereafter cannot be compared to that of the world. The following is stated in the Quran:

“Verily a Day in the sight of thy Lord is like a thousand years of your reckoning.” (al-Hajj, 22/47)

In conclusion, it is necessary to state that the decrees about the poor and the poor mentioned here do not cover all of the individuals of the class of the poor and the rich.

1. Patient poor people who do good deeds are superior to the rich who do not know the value of the boons they have and who do not thank for them.

2. The poor that have the qualities mentioned above will enter Paradise before the rich.

3. Those who lead an ascetic life in the world are superior to others whether they are poor or rich.

In some other hadiths, the Prophet (pbuh) mentioned the spiritual degrees of the poor and that most of those who attained salvation would be the poor. Some of those hadiths are as follows:

“Shall I tell you of the people of Paradise? They comprise every poor humble person, and if they swear by Allah to do something, Allah will fulfill it. Shall I tell you of the people of Hell; they comprise every violent, cruel arrogant person.” (Bukhari, Ayman, 9; Muslim, Jannah, 47)

“I stood at the gate of Paradise and saw that the majority of the people who had entered it were poor people, while the rich were forbidden (to enter along with the poor, because they were waiting the reckoning of their accounts); besides, the people of the Fire had been ordered to be driven to Hell.” (Bukhari, Riqaq, 51, Muslim, Dhikr, 93)

The hadith mentioned in the question is as follows:

“The poor Muslims are admitted into Paradise before their rich by half a day. And that is five hundred years.” (Tirmidhi, Zuhd, 37)

The glad tiding that the hadiths give to the poor is so pleasing and heartfelt! However, this does not show that poverty is absolute superior to richness according to our religion. A poor person who does not comply with divine orders have no value in Islam. What makes him valuable is thanking Allah for what He gives and showing patience to his state.

The reason why the rich cannot enter Paradise together with the poor is the fact that they are called to account how they obtained their wealth, which made them live comfortably in the world, and how they spent it. After this reckoning, those who are acquitted will go to Paradise and those who are not acquitted will go to Hell to bear the penalty.

Our Prophet (pbuh) condemned strongly the poor who did not show patience and disobeyed Allah using their poverty as an excuse; he warned that poverty could lead a person to ingratitude and hence unbelief. The Prophet (pbuh) advised us as follows in another hadith (Tirmidhi, Zuhd, 3):

“Seek refuge with Allah from poverty, want, humiliation and wronging others or being wronged.” (Nasai, Istiadha, 14)

The Prophet (pbuh) once prayed as follows:

“O Allah, I seek refuge with You from poverty and unbelief.” One of the Companions said,

"Are unbelief and poverty equal?"

Thereupon, the Prophet (pbuh) said,

“Yes.” (Nasai, Istiadha, 29)

We also see the following supplication among the prayers of the Prophet (pbuh):

“O Allah! I am weak, make me strong; I am low, elevate me. I am poor, give me sustenance.” (Hakim, I, 708)

“I take refuge in Allah from the mischief of evil.” (Nasai, Istiadha, 17)

The Prophet gave the following warning and advice to the poor about avoiding begging, and making one’s living by working:  

“Nobody has ever eaten a better meal than the one he has earned by working with his own hands.” (Bukhari, Buyu' 15)

“There are three things for which I swear and narrate to you about, so remember it. The wealth of a slave (of Allah) shall not be decreased by charity; no slave (of Allah) suffers injustice and is patient with it except that Allah adds to his honor; no slave (of Allah) opens up a door to begging except that Allah opens a door for him to poverty” (Tirmidhi, Zuhd, 17)

“A poor man (miskin) is not the one who goes round to the people for one or two morsels and one or two dates. The real miskin is the one who does not have enough to satisfy him and he is not considered so; he is not given charity but he does not beg anything from people.” (Muslim, Zakah, 102)

"It is better for anyone of you to take a rope and bring a bundle of wood from the forest over his back and sell it, because of which Allah will save his face, rather than to ask the people who may give him or not.” (Bukhari, Zakah, 50)

“The upper hand is better than the lower one (the upper being the one which bestows and the lower one which begs).” (Muslim, Zakah, 106)

Along with asking the poor to be chaste and modest and avoiding barefacedness, the Prophet (pbuh) attracted attention to the fact that they should avoid conceitedness by making a fuss about their poverty by the following hadith: 

“Allah will not speak to three people on the Day of Judgment; He will not acquit them or look at their faces; they will also be exposed to horrible torture. They are an old man who commits fornication, a king who tells lies and a poor person who acts conceitedly.” (Muslim, Iman, 172)

The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) also consoled the poor people who became sorry by looking at the state of the rich people regarding material and spiritual issues.

Abu Hurayra narrates:

The poor amongst the poor Muslims who migrated from Makkah to Madinah came to the Prophet (pbuh) and said,

“O Messenger of Allah!  The possessors of great wealth have obtained the highest ranks in Paradise and the lasting bliss.

Thereupon, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said,

“What did they do?”

The poor muhajirs said,

“They pray as we pray, and they observe fasting as we observe fasting; in addition, they give charity but we do not give charity; and they set slaves free but we cannot set slaves free.”

Upon this, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said to them,

“Shall I teach you something by which you will catch upon those who have preceded you, and get ahead of those who come after you, only those who do as you do being more excellent than you?”

They said, “Yes. O Messenger of Allah!”

The Messenger of Allah said,

“Say subhanallah, alhamdulillah, Allahu akbar thirty-three times after every prayer.

A few days later, the poor Muhajirs came to the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) again and said,

“Our wealthy brothers heard what we said after the prayer and they did the same.”

Thereupon, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said,

“This is Allah's grace which He gives to whom He wishes.” (Muslim, Masajid, 142)

Hz. Umar uttered the following nice statement regarding the issue:

“Richness and poverty are two similar mounts. I do not care which one will ride.”

That is, wealth and poverty are like vicious horses that are hard to ride. It takes a skill to ride them. What matters is to try to be a good rider. The following is stated in a verse:

“Verily thy Lord doth provide sustenance in abundance for whom He pleaseth, and He provideth in a just measure.” (al-Isra 17/30; ar-Ra'd 13/26)

In that case, it is Allah Almighty who gives poverty and wealth to anyone whom He wishes. Everybody is subject to a test one way or another. What matters is not the type of the test but the result of the test. What we need to do is to try to pass the test.

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