Contented with Bread, Dates and Vinegar
The Prophet (Pbuh) always expressed gratitude for having any type of food, making it clear that no matter how simple or humble the food was, God was to be praised for having provided it.
Commentary by Adil Salahi
Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) led a simple life, free of all pretence. With regard to his food, he always ate whatever was available, criticising nothing. If he did not like something, he did not eat it, saying nothing against it. He always expressed gratitude for having any type of food, making clear that no matter how simple or humble the food available, God was to be praised for having provided it. Umm Hani’ was a cousin of the Prophet whom he frequently visited. She reports: “The Prophet came to my house once and asked if I had anything to eat. I said: ‘No, I have nothing except dry bread and vinegar.’ He said: ‘Bring it. Blessed is the house that has vinegar to go with bread.’” (Related by Al-Tirmidhi.)
We can look at this Hadith from different angles, but however we look at it, we find something to admire in the Prophet’s character. If we take it as an indication of the living standards of the Muslim community, we realize that the Muslims at that time were in dire poverty. The Prophet asks his cousin if she has anything to eat, realising that she might very well be without food. She tells him that the only food she has is dry bread and vinegar. It is hard to think of anything more indicative of poverty. Yet the Prophet partakes of it, blessing the house that gives him such a meal. We also note how the Prophet was keen not to embarrass his cousin. Had he wanted better food, he could have gone somewhere else. Any of his companions would have welcomed him and given him a decent meal. But he did not do that. Instead he sat down and ate such humble food, thankful for God’s blessing. We also see in his statement a reference to the healthy qualities of vinegar, which occurs in other Hadiths as well.
Jabir ibn Abdullah, a young companion of the Prophet, reports: “The Prophet passed by my place and gave me a signal. I went up to him, and he held my hand as I walked with him. He then came to one of his wives’ homes and went in. He then let me in and I entered behind his wife’s screen. He then asked: ‘Do you have anything to give me for lunch? They said, ‘Yes.’ Three small loaves were brought to him and placed on a high spot of the floor. He took one loaf and placed it near him, and placed another next to me. He then took the third loaf and broke it in two, placing one half for himself and the other for me. He then asked his family if they had anything to go with the bread. They said: ‘No, except a drop of vinegar.’ He said: ‘Bring it. Fine it is to go with bread.’” (Related by Ahmad, Muslim.) Another Hadith also reported by Jabir quotes the Prophet as saying: “Fine is vinegar to eat with bread.” (Related by Ahmad, Muslim, Al-Nassaie, Abu Dawood and Al-Tirmidhi.)
These two Hadiths may be referring to one or two different occasions. They are both reported by Jabir, but the first gives a full description of the occasion, while the second merely quotes the Prophet’s comment on the type of food he was served. Yet the second is related in several anthologies, which suggests that Jabir reported it several times, as occasions arose.
Other Hadiths describing the Prophet’s attitude to simple food are numerous. Yusuf ibn Abdullah reports: “I saw the Prophet taking a piece of barley bread and placing on it a single date. He then said: ‘This one, i.e. the date, is fine to go with this bread.’ He proceeded to eat.” (Related by Abu Dawood and Al-Tirmidhi.) In this Hadith, we see the Prophet having a single date with his bread. What humility and what contentenment!
Yet the Prophet liked tasty food. His taste was not different from that of other people. Hazrath Ayesha, his wife, reports: “God’s Messenger used to like sweet food and honey.” (Related by Ahmad, Al-Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawood, Al-Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah.) He ate of these whenever they were available, but if things were scarce, he was content to have anything, even if it consisted of nothing other than bread and vinegar.
When the Prophet traveled, or went on an expedition, the food that was carried would not last the whole journey. Suwayd ibn Al-Numan reports: “I joined the Prophet on his expedition to Khaybar. When we arrived at Al-Sahba’, which is on the outskirts of Khaybar, the Prophet dismounted and offered Asr prayer. He then asked for the food to be brought in. Nothing was put out except Saweeq(made from wheat and barley) and it was made wet. The Prophet ate it and we joined him. Then he rose to offer Maghrib prayer, rinsing his mouth. We also rinsed out mouths. He prayed without performing a fresh ablution.” (Related by Malik, Al-Bukhari and Al-Nassaie). The Saweeq must have become very dry after such a long journey. Hence, the Prophet instructed his companions to wet it so that it could be eaten.
The Hadith specifically mentions that the Prophet offered his prayers after eating without performing a fresh ablution. This is to make clear that ablution is not required after eating something cooked. Some scholars say that performing a fresh ablution is required, but this is not the case, because we have several reports to the contrary.
One of these is given by Abu Hurayrah: “I saw the Prophet performing ablution after eating a piece of dried milk, and I saw him later eating a piece of meat of lamb shoulder, then praying without performing a fresh ablution.” (Related by Al-Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah.) This Hadith clearly indicates that the Prophet preformed ablution after a meal if he needed to do so. If he had already performed ablution, then eating something cooked does not invalidate his ablutions.