Gentleness and kindness were the very essence of Prophet Muhammad's teaching, peace be upon him. He kept saying, "God is gentle [rafiq] and He loves gentleness [ar-rafiq] in everything." (Bukhari, Muslim)
He also said: "He gives for gentleness what He does not give for violence or anything else" (Bukhari). Prophet Muhammad declared to one of his Companions: "There are two qualities in you that God loves: clemency [al-hilm] and forbearance [al-ana, 'nobleness' or 'tolerance']." (Muslim)
He invited all his Comanions to that constant effort of gentleness and forgiveness: "If you hear about your brother something of which you disapprove, seek from one seventy excuses for him. If you cannot find any, convince yourself that it is an excuse you do not know." (Bayhaqi)
A number of new converts to Islam who had no home and often nothing to eat had settled around the mosque, near the Prophet's dwelling. They were destitute (sometimes intentionally, since some of them wished to lead an ascetic life detached from worldly possessions), and their subsistence depended on the Muslims' charity and gifts. Their number kept increasing, and they were soon called ahl as-suffah, the people of the bench.
The Prophet, peace be upon him, was most concerned by their situation and showed them continuous solidarity. He would listen to them, answer their questions and look after their needs. One of the characteristics of his personality and of his teaching, as much in regard to the people of the bench as to the rest of his community, was that:
When Prophet Muhammad was asked about matters of spirituality, faith, education, or doubt, he would often offer different answers to the same questions, taking into account the psychological makeup, experience, and intelligence of the questioner.
The faithful felt that he saw, respected, understood and loved them. Indeed, he did love them, and he told them so. Moreover, he advised them to remember to tell one another of their mutual love: "When someone loves their brother [or sister] let them tell them that they love them." (Abu Dawud, At-Tirmidhi)
He once took young Muadh ibn Jabal by the hand and whispered, "O Muadh, by God, I love you. And I advise you, O Muadh, never to forget to say after each ritual prayer: 'O God, help me remember You, thank You, and perfect my worship of You'." (Abu Dawud, An-Nasai)
Thus the young man was offered both love and spiritual teaching, and the teaching was all the more deeply assimilated because it was wrapped in that love.
 A bench had been set up for them near the mosque. Some commentators looking for the origin of the word Sufi, have linked it to those ahl as-suffah, some of whom ha deliberately chosen to be poor and withdraw from the world, its desires, and its possessions.