Hadith Hadith Exegesis

Camel Milk And Urine Hadiths

I. The Arabian Camel

“Do they not look at the Camels, how they are made?” (Qur’?n, 88:17)

The ability of Arabian camels to withstand water deprivation as well as help humans in harsh arid climates is truly remarkable and stems from several factors. They do not overheat, can withstand water loss, and store fats in the hump for use in times of food and water deprivation. In times of dehydration, the water seems to be lost from tissues, but not blood. For this reason there is no circulatory distress and the animals can sustain a loss of up to 25% of their body weight – up to 200 kilos! – without dehydration (Humans lose water from blood and tissue and will die of sluggish circulation at a loss of 12% of their body water). Camels can also re-hydrate very quickly.1

Camel meat is healthier than beef. A single camel, when slaughtered, feeds ninety to an hundred people. A Bedouin out of water can survive for weeks by slitting the lower lip of his camel and sharing its cud then, later, slaughtering it and drinking the water stored in its four-tiered stomach. In addition to their famed benefits in desert survival, they are highly resistant to many deadly viral diseases and their antibodies could be used for new drugs. Their immune systems are so robust that they remain free from many of the viral diseases that affect other mammals such as foot-and-mouth and rinderpest.2

II. Had?th of Milk

A lactating camel can produce 4 to twelve kilos of milk a day for 9 to eighteen months. Camel milk is so rich in potassium – which helps retain water in the tissues – that the desert Bedouin who drinks it needs only 2 to 4 liters a day, as opposed to twelve liters of water a day to survive. Camel milk also contains lactose – a diuretic, – protein, iron, and more fat, water, phosphorus, calcium, and Vitamin C than cow’s milk in addition to the diuretic and liver-strengthening properties of the wild herbs preferred by camels such as rosemary (ikl?l), thyme (sa`tar), wormwood (shayh), and southernwood (qays?m). It also stays fresh much longer than cow’s milk. In times of drought the camel continues to lactate long after goats, sheep, and cows have stopped.3

The Prophet Muhammad – upon him and his House blessings and peace – alluded to the above facts when he stressed the merit of milk over any other food and said, as narrated from Ibn `Abb?s – All?h be well-pleased with both of them – by al-Tirmidh?, Ab? D?w?d, Ibn M?jah, and Ahmad:

the one All?h feeds milk, let him say: “O All?h, bless us with it and give more!” For I know of nothing that suffices better food drink.

III. Camel Urine in Arab Medicine

The medicinal properties of the Arabian camel were known to Arab physicians. In his magisterial Canon – “a medical bible for a longer time than any other work”4, Ibn S?n? (Avicenna) mentions that chronic imbalance of the liver produces jaundice, dropsy (istisq?’), and swelling of the belly and that the health of the liver can be restored through a temporary diet of camel milk and male Arabian Naj?b camel urine, “the most beneficient type of urine, then human urine.”5 Avicennan textbooks by Ibn al-Azraq (d. 890) and al-Suwayd? (600-690) state, “The cure [for dropsy] is to drink the milk of the she-camel – together with its urine – fresh out of the udder6, and to use that every day and leave everything else, for it is extremely efficient and of proven results.”7

Ibn Sayyid al-N?s specifies, “notably desert camels feeding on wormwood and southernwood.”8 Wormwood is among the herbs that are extremely useful in correcting digestive disorders in general and for helping detoxify the liver in particular, and is used in the treatment of hepatitis.9

Thus, Arabian camel urine was a standard prescription in Arabic medicine and remains a staple of Bedouin natural remedies to this day both as diuretic, snuff and delousing hair wash.10

One of the great Arab physicians was the Antiochene D?w?d ibn `Umar al-Ant?k? (d. 1008) who knew Greek as well as Arabic, worked in Cairo and Damascus, and died in Makka. He produced a number of Arabic treatises, the most famous being his two-volume Tadhkirat Ul?l-Alb?b wal-J?mi` lil-`Ajab al-`Uj?b or “Memorandum Book for Those Endowed with Hearts and the Encyclopedia of Wonders” – still available in print – in which he says:

Urine differs according to its animal origin but it all tends to heat and dryness provided it does not come from an animal devoid of bile such as the camel. In the latter case, its dryness is minimal because it is devoid of salinity since nothing breaks down salinity, with water, other than the bile. All urine types dispel the effects of disease, cure the eye and the ear, chronic cough, difficulty in respiration, the spleen, and uterine pains, especially aged and/or congealed. The most effective types are human urine then the camel’s.11

A camel needs eight times more salt than ovines and bovines – 1kg weekly – and the low salinity of its urine is due to the fact that it produces ADH (anti-diuretic hormone) and aldosterone, a hormone that facilitates reabsorption of urine water from the urinary tracts into blood, reducing the quantity of urine. The liver has few excess amino-acids to degrade into urea and uric acid – highly toxic substances – because of the camel’s vegetarian regimen. At the same time, aldosterone helps retain sodium at the level of the kidneys, which keeps water in the body. All this produces such a concentrated urine that the volume excreted can be reduced from 20 to 5 liters.12

IV. Use of Animal Urine in Modern Medicine

Use of animal urine is endorsed in mainstream modern medicine. Pregnant mare urine is the source of conjugated equine estrogens and has been marketed for over fifty years as the pharmaceutical brand Premarin, “an estrogen treatment for menopausal and premenopausal women” especially postpartum – one of the most prescribed drugs in the United States.13 It was very recently discovered that adding distilled cow urine to medicaments increases their effectiveness while decreasing their side-effects, making anti-cancer and anti-tubercular drugs twenty times more effective and anti-bacterial drugs eighty times more effective.14 Human “urine therapy” is a staple of ayurveda but remains an underground semi-science in the West.

V. Had?th of Stomach Putrescence

The Prophet Muhammad (P) indicated the medicinal properties of camel urine for gastro-intestinal disorders 1,400 years ago when he said, as narrated from Ibn `Abb?s(R) by Ahmad, al-Tah?w? in Sharh Ma`?n? al-Ath?r, and al-Tabar?n? in al-Mu`jam al-Kab?r – a firmly established narration according to al-Shawk?n? in Nayl al-Awt?r:

there is, in the urine of camels and their milk, a cure for those with putrescent stomachs (al-dharibati but?nuhum)15

The Damascene and Cairene physician `Izz al-D?n Ab? Ish?q Ibr?h?m ibn Muhammad al-Suwayd?16 defined putrescence of the stomach as “a disease of the stomach that prevents it from disgesting aliments. They rot in it and it cannot retain them.”17

VI. Had?th of the `Uraniyy?n Nomads

This Prophetic prescription is reiterated in the famous had?th of the `Urayna Bedouins as narrated from Anas – All?h be well-pleased with him – in its main variant wordings by al-Bukh?r?, Muslim, al-Nas?’?, al-Tirmidh?, Ibn M?jah, and Ahmad:

[B = Bukh?r?; M = Muslim; T = Tirmidh?; N = Nas?’?, IM = Ibn M?jah, A = Ahmad, all in the `Alamiyya numbering]

“Some people from `Urayna found Madina noxious (ijtawaw) so the Prophet (upon him peace) allowed them to go to the camels of s.adaqa and drink from their milk and urine.” B 1405 Shu`ba from Qatada from Anas; T 67 and 1965 H.amm?d ibn Salama from H.umayd, Qat?da, and Th?bit, from Anas; N 3961 `Abd All?h al-`Umar? and others from Humayd from Anas.

“Some people [var. Some people or men] from `Ukl and `Urayna had come to Mad?na to see the Prophet (upon him peace) and pronounced Isl?m. They said, “Prophet of All?h, we were people of udders; we were not people of plantation [i.e. nomads, not farmers].” They found Madina insalubrious (istawkham?), so the Prophet (upon him peace) ordered that they be given some three to ten-year old milch camels (dhawd) with a camelherd and that they set out with them to drink [i.e. keep a regimen] of their milk and urine.” B 3871 and 5286; N 303 Sa`?d ibn Ab? `Ur?ba from Qatada from Anas; N 3965 Shu`ba from Qatada from Anas.

“A group from `Ukl came to the Prophet (upon him peace) and stayed in the Suffa. They found Mad?na noxious so they said, “Messenger of All?h, we need milk!” He said, “I have none to give you except if you catch up with the camels of the Messenger of All?h.” They went to them and drank from their milk and urine until they were cured and regained their weight.” B 6306 Ayy?b from Ab? Qil?ba from Anas.

“A group of eight from `Ukl came to the Messenger of All?h (upon him peace) and pledged their oath of Isl?m. Then they found the land insalubrious, they became emfeebled and complained of this to the Messenger of All?h (upon him peace). He said, “Will you not go out with our herdsman and his camels, to drink some of their milk and urine?” They said yes and did so. Then they got better.” B 6390; N 3958 Ab? Raj?’ from Ab? Qil?ba from Anas.

“Bedouin Arabs from `Urayna came to the Prophet (upon him peace) and accepted Isl?m then found Mad?na noxious to the point they became jaundiced and their bellies became swollen. The Messenger of All?h (upon him peace) sent them out to some of his milch-camels that had just given birth (liq?h)18 and ordered them to drink of their milk and urine until they got better.” N 304 and 3967 Talha ibn Musarrif from Yahy? ibn Sa`?d from Anas.

“A group from `Ukl and `Urayna pronounced Isl?m then came to the Messenger of All?h (upon him peace) and told him they were people of udders not people of plantation. They complained of the fever of Madina. The Messenger of All?h (upon him peace) ordered that they be given some three to ten-year old milch camels (dhawd) and ordered them to exit al-Mad?na and drink from their milk and urine. They set out to the vicinity of al-Harra.” A 12207 Ma`mar from Qat?da from Anas.

“A group from `Urayna came to the Messenger of All?h (upon him peace) and said, “We found al-Mad?na noxious, our bellies have swollen and our limbs have thinned!” The Messenger of All?h ( ordered them to join up with the camelherd and drink from the camel’s milk and urine. They did, until their bellies and complexions improved.” A 13572 Hamm?m from Qat?da from Anas.

All the above wordings are narrated solely from Anas ibn M?lik by at least eight trustworthy T?bi`?n with close agreement in both content and wording, give or take certain peripheral additional details, in the 70 chains of the six cited compilations alone.

VII. The Pre-Hijra Pestilence in Mad?na

Yathrib was insalubrious and known for its endemic fever, the humm? of Yathrib. Al-Bukh?r? narrated that `A’isha said: “We came to al-Mad?na when it was the most plague-infested land of All?h. [The valley of] Buth?n was covered with stagnant water.” Dr. Ghiy?th Hasan al-Ahmad avers that the disease referred to in the humm? had?ths is malaria-type marsh fever and chills (humm? al-bard?’).19 The humm? was grave enough to warrant visits and exhortations about death as narrated by al-Tirmidh?, Ibn M?jah, and Ahmad from Ab? Hurayra. Al-Bukh?r?, Muslim, and M?lik narrate from `A’isha(R) that after their emigration Ab? Bakr(R) and Bil?l(R) – All?h be well-pleased with all of them – suffered painful bouts of high fever (wa`k) during which Bil?l(R) would exclaim:

Will I ever sleep again in the valley fragrant with idhkhir and jal?l? Will I ever drink again from the spring of Majanna? Will I ever see again Sh?ma and Taf?l? O All?h, curse [those] who expelled us from our lands to the land of plague!

Then the Prophet(P) pronounced his famous supplication:

O All?h, make al-Mad?na as beloved to us as Makka, and even more beloved! O All?h, bless us in our s?` and our mudd, make it wholesome for us, and take away its fever to al-Juhfa!

`A’isha said: “We came to al-Mad?na when it was the most plague-infested land of Allah. Buthan was covered with stagnant water.”

Al Bukh?r?, Muslim, and al-Nas?’? narrate that another time, a desert Arab caught the fever of Mad?na then came to the Prophet(P) saying, “Rescind my pledge!” But the Prophet(P) refused on two successive occasions. Then the man left Mad?na and the Prophet(P) said: “Al-Mad?na is like a forge. It expels its impurities while its good becomes burnished.” He also said: “I was ordered to a town that devours the other towns. They call it Corrupt – Yathrib – but it is The City – al-Mad?na. It expels [the wrong] people the way a forge expels impurities from iron” (narrated from Ab? Hurayra by al-Bukh?r? and Muslim).

This fever is the immediate reason the Mad?nans on pilgrimage were ordered to practice ramal or vigorous circumambulation, despite their fatigue, as a deterrent showoff to any enemy Meccans that would prey on them due to their ailment, as narrated from Ibn `Abb?s by al-Bukh?r? and Muslim.

VIII. Malaria, Typhus, Dropsy, or Hepatitis?

Dr. Mahm?d N?zim al-Nusaym? saw the diseases caused by the fever of Mad?na as one of two types: either fever caused by gastrointestinal infections such as typhoid and other types of salmonella; or malaria-type marsh fever and chills (humm? al-barda’). The former causes a swelling of the stomach and intestines while the latter causes a swelling in the pancreas and liver. These diseases are carried by insects such as mosquitoes, which fester in stagnant-water and vegetation-rich environments.20

Two Syrian contemporaries, the savant Shams al-D?n Ibn al-Qayyim (d. 751) in al-Tibb al-Nabaw? (“Medicine of the Prophet”) and the eye specialist and antimonist of Safad al-Kahh?l `Al? ibn `Abd al-Kar?m ibn Tarkh?n (d. 759) in al-Ahk?m al-Nabawiyya f?l-Sin?`at al-Tibbiyya (“The Prophetic Prescriptions in Medical Science”) both believed that the disease diagnosed in the had?th of the `Uraniyy?n was a form of dropsy.21 Ascites dropsy is caused mostly by liver imbalance and can lead to cirrhosis.22 We mentioned the standard Avicennan prescription in such cases. This was tested recently. A researcher from a teaching hospital in the Sudan presented a study of 30 patients with ascites dropsy, an accumulation of fluid in the peritoneal cavity of the abdomen that causes distended stomachs.23 The study found that patients responded slightly better to 150ml of camel urine a day than to the standard chemical-based medicine, the strong diuretic furosemide.24 However, ascites is not acquired in a short time and is a lifelong ailment. Nor is it infectious, so it is unlikely that eight people would contract it in a brief time and all at once.

According to our teacher Dr. S?mir al-Nass, the likeliest diagnosis of the symptoms and background described in the had?th of the `Uraniyy?n is that the patients suffered from viral hepatitis (= literally “swelling”), a highly infectious inflammation of the liver that causes jaundice, bloating of the abdomen due to accumulation of fluid, and fever. Among its treatments are diuretics and low-fat diets.

IX. Synopsis of the `Uraniyy?n Had?th

The picture that emerges from the collated variants of the `Urayna had?th is as follows: A group of eight poor desert nomads came to Mad?na, announced their Isl?m, and stayed at the Suffa or Shelter along with the destitute among the Companions. During their stay they contracted hepatitis, possibly complicated by typhoid or malaria resulting in jaundice, weight loss, and distended stomachs. They craved milk and mentioned the fact that they were “people of udders,” not farmers. The Prophet(P) sent them out of Mad?na on a regimen of radical low-sodium diuretics25 – pregnant camel milk and urine – with his herd – the proceeds of zak?t for which they, as travellers, were eligible – at al-Harra for a few days or weeks, where they got better. The camels were herded by a Najd? freedman of the Prophet’s (upon him peace), Yas?r, who had been captured in a raid on the Ban? Tha`laba.

X. But Is Not Urine Filthy (najis)?

Im?m al-Tirmidh? said, after narrating the `Urayna had?th, that the majority of the authorities do not consider the urine of edible animals filthy. Ibn Qud?ma reiterates this ruling in the Mughn? and cites, among those that consider it pure, al-Zuhr?, Yahy? al-Ans?r?, `At?’, al-Nakha`?, al-Thawr?, M?lik, and Ahmad. This is also the position of Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-Shayb?n? as stated by al-Tah?w? in Sharh Ma`?n? al-Ath?r and al-Sarakhs? in al-Mabs?t. `Abd al-Razz?q in his Musannaf and al-Tah?w? narrate the same from Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyya, Ibr?h?m al-Nakha`?, and `At?’, some adding that camel urine is also sniffed for medicine as well as cow urine and sheep urine. Al-Bukh?r? narrated:

Y?nus ibn Yaz?d asked Ibn Shih?b al-Zuhr?: “Can we make ablution with or drink the urine of camels?” He said: “The Muslims of old would use it as medicine and saw nothing wrong with it.”

Im?m al-Sh?fi`? considered the Prophetic prescription of camel urine a life-and-death exception that has the same status as the dispensation for eating carrion meat in case of extreme necessity (and any filthy substance for medication other than intoxicants).26 Similarly, the Hanaf? School considers the ruling of filth annulled if there is certainty of medicinal benefit, otherwise, camel urine remains najis according to Ab? Han?fa and al-Tah?w?. In addition, the `Uraniyy?n had?th itself is abrogated in the Hanaf? view. Several major Sh?fi`?s such as Ibn Khuzayma, Ibn al-Mundhir, Ibn Hibb?n, al-Istakhr?, and al-R?y?n? defected to the position of M?lik and Ahmad.27 In the M?lik? madhhab prayer is valid even on road-paths soiled with the urine and droppings of edible animals.28 Ibn Rushd – Averroes – in his masterpiece of comparative fiqh titled Bid?yat al-Mujtahid says the rationale of the permissive ruling is that the refuse of edible animals is not repugnant, unlike that of humans and inedible animals.

XI. The Colostrum Hypothesis

Shaykh Muhammad al-`Ak?l?, the Syrian-American translator of Ibn al-Qayyim’s al-Tibb al-Nabaw? under the title Medicine of the Prophet(P), informed this writer that he considered the mention of the term “their urine” (abw?lih?) in all the above had?ths a copyist’s mistaken rewording of the word “their colostrum” (alb?’ih?) in view of two factors: the word alb?’ih? is so rare as to remain incomprehensible and therefore implausible to most copyists; second, alb?’ih? looks so much like alb?nih?, “their milk,” as to suggest diplology. The well-intentioned copyist then supplied the closest possible term in his or her mind – abw?lih? (colostrum even beats milk as a vitamin and antibody- packed diuretic and is produced by the parturient camel for four to five days). Yet the hypothesis does not stand to scrutiny in light of the profusion of the transmission chains and written manuscripts unanimous on the abw?lih? wording and the fact that camel urine had a history of medicinal use among desert Arabs with which all the early scholars seemed familiar. And All?h knows best.

XII. Conclusion of the `Uraniyy?n Had?th

As for the conclusion of the had?th of the `Uraniyy?n in which the nomads commited apostasy, killed the camelherd after blinding and maiming him, stole the camels, were caught, blinded, maimed, and left to die of thirst, their execution was a literal retaliation according to Mosaic Law “before the penal laws were revealed” as narrated from Ibn S?r?n by al-Bukh?r?, Ab? D?w?d, al-Tirmidh?, and Ahmad. And All?h knows best.

XIII. Would-be Objectors to the `Uraniyy?n Had?th

As for those that would object to the had?ths of camel urine, they usually share one or more of the following attributes:

  • Ignorance of the Arabic language. They are unable to read the Qur’?n and had?th in the original Arabic, much less discuss them.
  • Ignorance of Arabic history, ethnography, and literature. They do not know the culture of the people among whom circulated the texts that they purport to discuss.
  • Ignorance of Arabic medicine. The have no idea that the medical works of the Islamic world “are the foundation upon which our modern Western medicine is built” (Elizabeth Fee, Chief Librarian, History of Medicine Division, United States National Library of Medicine)29. They are unable to assess the currency of certain medical practices in pre-Islamic and Islamic civilization and in the Arabo-Perso-Turkic literatures on anatomy, embryology, ophthalmology, botany, nutrition, etc. and could not fathom, for example, that non-intrusive diagnosis and treatment for the majority of non-terminal diseases be far superior in a place such as pre-1990s Kabul than in the U.S.A. and Europe.
  • Inability to approach the issues scientifically and reliance on emotion and prejudice. They consider it rational to ask: “Have you filled a prescription for animal urine lately?” (an appropriate answer to such a question could be: Your mother most probably did after giving birth and did or will again around menopause, in the form of “Premarin” equine urine estrogens).
  • Ignorance of Islamic Law. They have no idea of the legal rulings on either filth or medication in Isl?m, nor the methods by which those rulings were extracted.
  • Non-Arabic and/or non-Muslim background. Their knowledge of Islam and Arabic culture is mostly bookish, through the prism of orientalism whose mistakes they slavishly reduplicate, mostly in the language of modernism and agnosticism even if they identify themselves as Muslim.

And only God knows best.

  1. See the comprehensive sites in this link (in French) and Information Resources on Old World Camels: Arabian and Bactrian 1962-2002, November 2001 (Updated August 2002) [Online Documents] []
  2. David Bamford, “Camels could help cure humans”, 10 December 2001 (BBC World), and The Camel: Ancient Ship of the Desert [Online Documents] []
  3. Le DROMADAIRE: Un monde de soif (in French) and Ghiy?th Hasan al-Ahmad, al-Tibb al-Nabaw? f? Daw’ al-`Ilm al-Had?th (2:215). []
  4. William Osler as cited by Monzur Ahmed in his article “Ibn S?n?, Doctor of Doctors”, Muslim Technologist, November 1990. []
  5. In Mahm?d al-Nusaym?, al-Tibb al-Nabaw? wal-`Ilm al-Had?th (3:242) and Muhammad Niz?r al-Daqr, Raw?’i` al-Tibb al-Isl?m?: al-Qism al-`Il?j? (1:257). []
  6. Jaw?d `Al? in al-Mufassal f? T?r?kh al-`Arab Qabl al-Isl?m asserts they used to boil the urine first cf. al-Nusaym?, al-Tibb al-Nabaw? wal-`Ilm al-Had?th (3:237). []
  7. Ibn al-Azraq, Tas-h?l al-Man?fi` fil-Tibbi wal-Hikma [“The Facilitation of Benefits in Medicine and Wisdom”] (1206 Khayriyya Cairo ed. p. 60 =1315 Ham?diyya Cairo ed. p. 51=another old Cairo edition p. 66) cf. al-Sha`r?n?’s epitome of al-Suwayd? titled Mukhtasar al-Suwayd? fil-Tibb (1302 Halab? Cairo ed. p. 51). []
  8. Cited by al-Suy?t? in his Sharh on al-Nas?’?’s Sunan (1:161). []
  9. Andrew Pengelly, Herbal Treatments for Hepatitis [Online Document] []
  10. Cf. Gibr?l Jabb?r, The Bedouins and the Desert, transl. Lawrence I. Conrad (State University of New York Press, 1995) and Hilda & Dagg Gauthier-Pilters, The Camel, Chicago and London, 1981. City Arabs apparently know it only as a hair tonic. []
  11. Al-Ant?k?, Tadhkira (Cairo: Maym?niyya 1308/1891 ed. 1:77). []
  12. Le chameau roule sa bosse au soleil,, and Chameaux, lamas et alpagas (all in French) []
  13. PREMARIN Family of Products; The Truth about Premarin; and Premarin (Premarine) ERT/HRT & PMU Farms Controversy [Online Documents] []
  14. (in French), quoting the British magazine Chemistry and Industry. [Online Document] []
  15. As for the narrations “The stomach is the central basin of the body and the veins are connected to it…” and “The stomach is the house of disease” they are both forgeries cf. al-`Uqayl?, Du`af?’ (1:51), al-Suy?t?, Tadr?b (1:287), al-Q?r?, Masn?`, etc. []
  16. Author of a treatise on synonyms for plant names, a treatise on the medical uses of stones, and a Tadhkira of recipes and procedures for medicaments extracted from a large number of Islamic, Greek, and other sources, arranged from head to foot. Al-Sha`r?n? epitomized his Tadhkira cf. []
  17. Cited in al-Nusaym?, al-Tibb al-Nabaw? wal-`Ilm al-Had?th (3:237). []
  18. The terms used by the Arabs for their camels can be counted in the hundreds. []
  19. Ahmad, al-Tibb al-Nabaw? f? Daw’ al-`Ilm al-Had?th (2:214). []
  20. Al-Nusaym?, al-Tibb al-Nabaw? wal-`Ilm al-Had?th (3:218, 241); al-Daqr, Raw?’i` al-Tibb al-Isl?m? (1:257). []
  21. In al-Nusaym?, al-Tibb al-Nabaw? wal-`Ilm al-Had?th (3:241). []
  22. Search “ascites” at Surgical Tutor [Online Document] []
  23. and []
  24. with the misspelling frusimide. []
  25. “Most patient with cirrhotic ascites respond to dietary sodium restriction and diuretics.” []
  26. Cited by al-Bayhaq?, al-Sunan al-Kubr? (2:413 #3949) cf. al-Nawaw?, Sharh Sah?h Muslim (11:154), al-Sh?fi`?, al-Umm (2:253), al-Suy?t?, Medicine of the Prophet, Ta-Ha Publishers, 1994 (p. 93, 143). []
  27. Cf. Ibn al-Mundhir, al-Awsat (2:199) and Ibn Hajar, Fath al-B?r? (1:338). Yet the latter claims naj?sa is the Jumh?r’s position. See also his Talkh?s al-Hab?r (1:43-44). []
  28. Al-Mudawwana al-Kubr? (1:151). []
  29. Cf. []
Hadith Hadith Exegesis Polemical Rebuttals

Nursing of Adults and Perverted Missionary Mentality

In accordance with classical missionary habits, the Christian missionary Sam Shamoun — who is notorious for his perverted and filthy misinterpretations — has taken the event of Sahla bint Suhail nursing an adult boy, Salim the ally of Abu Huzaifah, as an opportunity to assault Islam by calling it “shameful and disgusting to say the least”.

In this paper, insha’Allah, we are going to refute this perverted missionary whose mind is filled with nothing but filth, wa Allah-ul-Musta’aan.

What is the Significance of Nursing?

According to numerous Prophetic traditions, foster relations are treated like blood relations in marital affairs. These relations can render one Muhram (i.e., unmarriageable), so he can attend at his foster relatives and see them as he does with his blood relatives.

Narrated ‘Aisha: Aflah asked the permission to visit me but I did not allow him. He said, “Do you veil yourself before me although I am your uncle?” `Aisha said, “How is that?” Aflah replied, “You were suckled by my brother’s wife with my brother’s milk.” I asked Allah’s Apostle about it, and he said, “Aflah is right, so permit him to visit you.”1

Narrated Ibn `Abbas: The Prophet said about Hamza’s daughter, “I am not legally permitted to marry her, as foster relations are treated like blood relations (in marital affairs). She is the daughter of my foster brother.”2

Narrated `Amra bint `Abdur-Rahman: That ‘Aisha the wife of the Prophet told her uncle that once, while the Prophet was in her house, she heard a man asking Hafsa’s permission to enter her house. ‘Aisha said, “I said, ‘O Allah’s Apostle! I think the man is Hafsa’s foster uncle.'” ‘Aisha added, “O Allah’s Apostle! There is a man asking permission to enter your house.” Allah’s Apostle replied, “I think the man is Hafsa’s foster uncle.” ‘Aisha said, “If so-and-so were living (i.e. her foster uncle) would he be allowed to visit me?” Allah’s Apostle said, “Yes, he would, as the foster relations are treated like blood relations (in marital affairs).3

Narrated Aisha: Once the Prophet came to me while a man was in my house. He said, “O ‘Aisha! Who is this (man)?” I replied, “My foster brothers,” He said, “O ‘Aisha! Be sure about your foster brothers, as fostership is only valid if it takes place in the suckling period (before two years of age).4

So the purpose of the Prophet’s(P) permission to Sahla bint Suhail was to make Salim her foster son in order that he could attend at her the same way he used to when he was under age of puberty.

Will The Real Pervert Please Stand Up?

Shamoun’s filthy interpretation of the Prophetic permission reminds us of a famous Egyptian joke about an idiot who once wanted to drink hot milk, so he burnt his cow.

Shamoun typically thinks like this idiot. If you wanted to drink some cow milk, will you go below the cow and suckle it? Would you put the cow on a fire to heat its milk and then suckle her?

If you are Sam Shamoun, the answer must be a YES! Only a filthy idiot diseased with congenital hypothyroidism would think like that! However, this is the only way of thinking familiar to Shamoun’s perverted mind.

Direct contact is not necessary for nursing. In other words, the milk is collected in a cup or pot and the foster son drinks it without getting into close contact with the foster mother. This was what actually happened in the case of Sahla bint Suhail and Salim, as reported by Muhamad Ibn Sa’ad and Ibn Hajar Al-‘Asqalani in their respective biographies of Sahla bint Suhail:

    Muhammad Ibn ‘Umar told us: Muhammad Ibn ‘Abdullah, Az-Zuhri’s nephew, told us on the authority of his father that he said: an amount of one milk drink was collected in a pot or glass, so Salim used to drink it every day, for five days. After this, he used to enter while her head is uncovered. This was permission from Messenger of Allah to Sahla bint Suhail.5

We believe that this is a fatal refutation to Shamoun’s perverted mentality. The charge that he had wanted to direct at our Holy Prophet(P) has backfired upon him. It is crystal-clear that this missionary did not derive his filthy interpretation from any Islamic source, rather, it came from his equally filthy mind.

In order for his argument to carry at least a little weight, the missionary needs to demonstrate to the readers that others besides him had also misunderstood the tradition in question, in exactly the same way as he did (note that quoting his fellow missionaries proves nothing other than that they are as perverted as he is). However, we are 100% certain that he is about the only person on this planet who has ever misunderstood the meaning of such a simple, straightforward tradition.

Therefore his lack of comprehension and the perverted nature of his feeble mind does not prove anything against Islam. That is to say that if Sam Shamoun cannot understand and comprehend an issue, then that proves nothing against Islam other than to demonstrate his own lack of intelligence, more so when he is the only individual who seems to have had a “problem” with the passage and got “confused” with its intended meaning.

Why Was the Nursing of Adults Permitted?

According to the following reports in Sahih Muslim, nursing of the young boy, Salim, was permission from the Messenger of Allah(P) to Sahla bint Suhail.

‘Aisha (Allah be pleased with her) reported that Sahla bint Suhail came to Allah’s Apostle (may peace be upon him) and said: Messenger of Allah, I see on the face of Abu Hudhaifa (signs of disgust) on entering of Salim (who is an ally) into (our house), whereupon Allah’s Apostle (may peace be upon him) said: Suckle him. She said: How can I suckle him as he is a grown-up man? Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) smiled and said: I already know that he is a young man. ‘Amr has made this addition in his narration that he participated in the Battle of Badr and in the narration of Ibn ‘Umar (the words are): Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) laughed.6

On quoting this particular hadith, Shamoun has made emphasis on Sahla’s wonderment “How can I suckle him as he is a grown-up man?”, implying that she found it disgusting to nurse an adult boy according to the missionary’s filthy interpretation, and on the Prophet’s(P) laugh implying that it was a “mischievous” one.

In response to this ugly gesture, we note that Sahla knew, as any Muslim, that nursing is effective only in the first two years, this is the reason why she expressed her wonder. When the Prophet(P) confirmed his command, she realized the exceptional nature of this permission.

It is well known that a newborn baby suckles directly from the breast because he/she is unable to drink from a cup in contrast to older children and adults. That is why it is only natural and logical to think of a cup or a similar object when one mentions a grown-up person, not direct suckling from the breast, especially when the Arabic word reda’ – which is rendered to nursing or suckling – does not indicate any direct contact. There is no room for misunderstanding or misinterpretation here.

nursing of adults breasts

We too would like to express our wonder regarding the dirty missionary interpretation and ask Shamoun to explain how the dismay and uneasiness of Abu Huzaifah, Sahla’s husband, on the mere idea of Salim getting a little close to his wife like a son, “disappeared” as the below hadith shows, if direct suckling from his wife’s breast had occurred? How could this act have made Abu Huzaifah any “happier” or receptive towards Salim?

We repeat again that Abu Huzaifah’s dismay was at the mere notion of Salim approaching his wife — as a son approaches his mother. Can we then imagine that such a jealous man would accept or allow a practice that, according to the pervert missionary, would require his wife to literally breast-feed another man, and that his dismay and uneasiness would just “vanish”? You must bring the most irrational explanation to answer this question with a “yes”.

We do congratulate Sam Shamoun for his extraordinary mental “integrity”!

‘Aisha (Allah be pleased with her) reported that Salim, the freed slave of Abu Hadhaifa, lived with him and his family in their house. She (i. e. the daughter of Suhail came to Allah’s Apostle (may peace be upon him) and said: Salim has attained (puberty) as men attain, and he understands what they understand, and he enters our house freely, I, however, perceive that something (rankles) in the heart of Abu Hudhaifa, whereupon Allah’s Apostle (may peace be upon him) said to her: Suckle him and you would become unlawful for him, and (the rankling) which Abu Hudhaifa feels in his heart will disappear. She returned and said: So I suckled him, and what (was there) in the heart of Abu Hudhaifa disappeared.7

Umm Salama said to ‘Aisha (Allah be pleased with her): A young boy who is at the threshold of puberty comes to you. I, however, do not like that he should come to me, whereupon ‘Aisha (Allah be pleased with her) said: Don’t you see in Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) a model for you? She also said: The wife of Abu Hudhaifa said: Messenger of Allah, Salim comes to me and now he is a (grown-up) person, and there is something that (rankles) in the mind of Abu Hudhaifa about him, whereupon Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) said: Suckle him (so that he may become your foster-child), and thus he may be able to come to you (freely).8

Zainab daughter of Abu Salama reported: I heard Umm Salama, the wife of Allah’s Apostle (may peace be upon him), saying to ‘Aisha: By Allah, I do not like to be seen by a young boy who has passed the period of fosterage, whereupon she (‘Aisha) said: Why is it so? Sahla daughter of Suhail came to Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) and said: Allah’s Messenger, I swear by Allah that I see in the face of Abu Hudhaifa (the signs of disgust) on account of entering of Salim (in the house), whereupon Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) said: Suckle him. She (Sahla bint Suhail) said: He has a beard. But he (again) said: Suckle him, and it would remove what is there (expression of disgust) on the face of Abu Hudhaifa. She said: (I did that) and, by Allah, I did not see (any sign of disgust) on the face of Abu Hudhaifa.9

The reader of this report can easily recognize that Salim used to enter Sahla’s home when he was her adopted son, but when Islam forbade the adoption, a transitional phase was necessary because Salim was like a real son to Sahla and it was difficult for her to push him away as a stranger. This is the reason for this kind permission of the Prophet(P). One is indeed shocked to see how this kind gesture of the Messenger(P) is given the most disgusting interpretation by a pervert Christian missionary!

Was this permission for Sahla alone? We say: “Yes!” because the general Islamic view on the matter is that there is no effective nursing after the first two years of age.

Our proof is the report on the authority of ‘Aisha herself that Allah’s Apostle(P) said:

Fosterage is only valid if it takes place in the suckling period (before two years of age).10

Imam Ibn Kathir in his commentary on Qur’an 2:233 notes that:

It is reported in both Sahihs that `Aisha thought that if a woman gives her milk to an older person (meaning beyond the age of two years) then this will establish fosterage. This is also the opinion of `Ata’ Ibn Abu Rabah and Al-Laith Ibn Sa`d. Hence, `Aisha thought that it is permissible to suckle the man whom the woman needs to be allowed in her house. She used as evidence the Hadith of Salim, the freed slave of Abu Huzaifah, where the Prophet ordered Abu Huzaifah’s wife to give some of her milk to Salim, although he was a man, and ever since then, he used to enter her house freely. However, the rest of the Prophet’s wives did not agree with this opinion and thought that this was only a special case. This is also the opinion of the Majority of the scholars (al-jumhur). The evidence of the Majority of scholars who are the Four Imams, the Seven Jurists, eminent Companions and the rest of the Prophet’s wives except ‘Aisha, is what is reported in both Sahihs on authority of ‘Aisha that Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said, “Be sure about your foster brothers, as fosterage is only valid if it takes place in the suckling period (before two years of age).”11

For more information regarding the juristic aspects of Sahla’s hadith, there is a very valuable Arabic work by Dr. Muhammad Al-Hifnawi, Ar-Redaa’ wa Bunouk-ul-Laban”(i.e., Nursing and Milk Banks) for those who are interested.

Is the Nursing of Adults Permitted Now?

The obvious answer to this question is “No!”, for nursing which leads to fosterage is effective only in the first two years of age as the Prophet(P) said:

Fosterage is only valid if it takes place in the suckling period (before two years of age).12

This is the conclusion of the following authorities:

    ‘Umar Ibn Al-Khattab
    ‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib
    Ibn ‘Abbas
    Ibn Mas’ud
    Abu Huraira
    Ibn ‘Umar
    Umm Salam,
    Sa’id Ibn-ul-Musayyab
    Sufyan Ath-Thawri
    Ahmad Ibn Hanbal
    Abu Thawr, and many others.

Imam Abu Hanifah is reported to have allowed an additional six months after the two years, but his chief disciples Abu Yusuf and Muhammad Ash-Shaybani disagreed with this view and joined the above authorities. All scholars of Abu Hanifah’s madhab (i.e., school of thought) follow the view of Abu Yusuf and Muhammad Ash-Shaybani.

Yes, ‘Aisha did hold the view that nursing of adults is permissible, but her opinion cannot stand before the agreement of other wives of the Prophet(P), eminent Companions, Seven Jurists of Madinah (from the generation of tabi’un) and the Four Imams. And only Allah knows best.

Al-Qurtubi in his commentary on Qur’an 2:233 notes the following:

Imam Malik (may Allah be Merciful to him), his followers and a group of scholars has gathered from this verse that nursing which is treated like blood relation is what takes place in the (first) two years; because after two years, nursing is over and there is no considerable nursing after two years. This is his statement in his Muwatta in the report of Muhammad Ibn Abdul-Hakam on his authority. This is the opinion of ‘Umar and Ibn ‘Abbas and it was reported on the authority of Ibn Mas’ud. It was also stated by Az-Zuhri, Qatada, Ash-Shu’abi, Sufyan Ath-Thawri, Al-Awza’i, Ash-Shafi’i, Ahmad, Ishaq, Abu Yusuf, Muhammad and Abu Thawr. Ibn Abdul-Hakam reported on his authority: “two years with additional few days”. Abdul-Malik, “like a month”. Ibn-ul-Qasim related on the authority of Malik that he said, “Nursing is (considerable within) two years and two months later”. Al-Walid Ibn Muslim related on his authority that he said, ‘Nursing one, two or three months after the two years is still considered within the two years, whatever comes after this is nonsense’. It is reported on the authority of (Abu Hanifah) An-Nu’man that he said, “What is after the two years up to six months is (considered) nursing”. But the authentic (opinion) is the first one due to His saying “The mothers shall give suck to their offspring for two whole years”. This indicates that there is no significance of whatever the newborn suckles after the age of two years. Sufyan related on the authority of ‘Amr Ibn Dinar on the authority of Ibn Abbas that he said, Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said, “There is no nursing but within the (first) two years”. Ad-Darqatni said, it is related on the authority of Ibn ‘Uyaiinah but by Al-Haytham ibn Gamil and he is a trustworthy memorizer.

I say: This report in addition to the verse and its meaning disallows nursing of the adult and (indicates) that it has no significance. It was reported on the authority of ‘Aisha that she endorsed it and it was the opinion of Al-Laith Ibn Sa’d among scholars. It was reported about Abu Musa Al-Ash’ari that he used to validate it and reported that he retracted this opinion.13

Ibn Kathir in his commentary on Qur’an 2:233 notes that:

The opinion that nursing does not establish fosterage after the age of two years is reported on the authority of ‘Ali, Ibn ‘Abbas, Ibn Mas’ud, Gaber, Abu Huraira, Ibn ‘Umar, Umm Salma, Sa’id Ibn-ul-Musayyib, ‘Attaa and the Majority of Scholars (Al-Jumhour). This is the Mazhab (School of Though) of Ash-Shaf’i, Ahmad, Ishaq, Ath-Thawri, Abu Yusuf, Muhammad and Malik in one report on his authority. It is reported on his authority that it is two years and two months, and in another report, two years and three months. Abu Hanifah said: “Two years and six months”. Zafar Ibn-ul-Huzayl said, “As long as he suckles, it is up to three years? this is reported on the authority of Al-Awza’i. Malik said, “If the baby weans before the age of two years, then a woman suckles him after weaning, it does not establish fosterage because it becomes like food”, this is reported on the authority of Al-Awza’i. It is reported on the authority of ‘Umar and ‘Ali that they said, “No nursing after weaning”. It is probable they meant either the two years as the Majority state whether he weans or not, or the act itself as Malik said, and Allah knows best.

It is reported in both Sahihs that `Aisha thought that if a woman gives her milk to an older person (meaning beyond the age of two years) then this will establish fosterage. This is also the opinion of `Ata’ Ibn Abu Rabah and Al-Laith Ibn Sa`d. Hence, `Aisha thought that it is permissible to suckle the man whom the woman needs to be allowed in her house. She used as evidence the Hadith of Salim, the freed slave of Abu Huzaifah, where the Prophet ordered Abu Huzaifah’s wife to give some of her milk to Salim, although he was a man, and ever since then, he used to enter her house freely. However, the rest of the Prophet’s wives did not agree with this opinion and thought that this was only a special case. This is also the opinion of the Majority of the scholars (Al-Jumhour). The evidence of the Majority of scholars who are the Four Imams, the Seven Jurists, eminent Companions and the rest of the Prophet’s wives except for Aisha is what is reported in both Sahihs on authority of ‘Aisha that Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said, “Be sure about your foster brothers, as fosterage is only valid if it takes place in the suckling period (before two years of age).” 14

Did Paul Had Homosexual Urges?

Sam Shamoun concluded his disgusting paper with the following:

    Whatever interpretation Aisha, Umar and Ibn Masud may have given to Muhammad’s instruction later on (correctly or incorrectly), the fact that Muhammad would command a woman to nurse a young man is shameful and disgusting, to say the least.

Since we have refuted in detail the distortion concocted by Sam Shamoun, let us now turn the tables upon him and apply his own perverted thoughts upon Christian religious personalities in order to see its outcome.

In the book of Acts we are informed that Paul had Timothy circumcised:

    1: And he came also to Derbe and to Lystra: and behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewess that believed; but his father was a Greek.
    2: The same was well reported of by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium.
    3: He would Paul have to go forth with him; and he took and circumcised him because of the Jews that were in those parts: for they all knew that his father was a Greek.15

Paul circumcised Timothy because he was facing stiff opposition from the Jews. Thus, in order to avoid getting into more trouble, Paul had Timothy circumcised, even though Timothy’s father happened to be a Greek Gentile.

But why was the circumcision debate important for the Jews whom Paul wanted to pacify?

To some Gentile readers, this circumcision debate might seem peripheral. Some men are circumcised, others not – so what? In order to see the revolution that Paul was effecting within Jewish circles (or satellites), we turn to the old rabbinic texts. The rabbis considered circumcision so important that they declared 6 that were it not for the blood of the covenant – that is to say, the blood which flowed from Abraham’s penis when, at God’s insistence, he circumcised himself – heaven and earth would not exist. The teaching of Judaism was that a child must still shed the blood of a covenant…even if he is born without a foreskin, and even if for some medical or other reason he is circumcised before the mystical eighth day. Even the angels are circumcised…

Converts to Judaism in the Roman period had to undergo circumcision…Strangely enough, in Palestine rules were more liberal than in the Diaspora, and there were Proselytes of the Gate, as they were known, who were allowed to ‘become Jews’ without circumcision. But such was not the general rule. It was widely believed that the admission of uncircumcised men into Jewish religious worship ‘impeded the arrival of the Messiah’. While ‘semi-converts’ were allowed, those who observed the Sabbath and the dietary laws, they were to be regarded as heathens if after a twelve-month period they had not undergone circumcision. These stringent rules did not deter converts…16

So now we need to ask, how was circumcision practised then? What was the method used in those days to circumcise someone?

A. N. Wilson further explains that:

By Roman times, circumcision was done with a metal knife, and, if we believe that Paul did insist on Timothy undergoing circumcision, it is perhaps worth reminding ourselves of the three essential parts of the ritual, without which it is not complete. The first part is milah, the cutting away of the outer part of the foreskin. The is done with one sweep of the knife. The second part, periah, is the tearing of the inner lining of the foreskin which still adheres to the gland, so as to lay it wholly bare. This was (and is) done by the operator – the mohel, the professional circumciser – with his thumb-nail and index finger. The third and essential part of the ritual is mesisah, the sucking of blood from the wound. Since the nineteenth century, it has been permissible to finish this part of the ritual with a swab, but in all preceding centuries and certainly in the time of Paul it was necessary for the mohel to clean the wound by taking the penis into his mouth. In the case of a young adult male such as Timothy the bleeding would have been copious. We can easily imagine why Paul’s Gentile converts were unwilling to undergo the ritual; and, given the more liberal attitudes towards the Torah which had already begun to emerge among the Hellenists of Syrian Antioch, it is not surprising that the custom of circumcision should have started to wane. It took the extremism of Paul to think that the knife of circumcision would actually ‘cut you…off from Christ’.17

In other words, Paul had to take the penis of Timothy in his mouth in order to circumcise him!

Note also how strongly Paul opposes circumcision elsewhere in the New Testament:

    2Behold, I Paul say unto you, that, if ye receive circumcision, Christ will profit you nothing.
    3Yea, I testify again to every man that receiveth circumcision, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.
    4Ye are severed from Christ, ye would be justified by the law; ye are fallen away from grace.
    5For us through the Spirit by faith wait for the hope of righteousness.
    6For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything nor uncircumcision; but faith working through love.18

However, when it came to saving himself from some trouble, Paul immediately had Timothy circumcised so that the Jews would not bother him any further. Since we are aware of Paul’s intense opposition to circumcision no matter what the reasons are, surely his circumcision of Timothy indicates the hidden homosexual desires that he wished to fulfil at least once in his lifetime? He probably had a deep desire to take a penis into his mouth, so when an opportunity comes along, he decided to avail it. Hence he now has a good excuse to take a penis into his mouth and no one could object to that.

One cannot claim that someone other than Paul had circumcised Timothy because it is clearly stated that it was Paul who had circumcised him. There was no pressing need for Paul to circumcise Timothy if indeed he was staunchly opposed to the practice, as related in the account in Galatians. But that he did go ahead and conducted the circumcision gives us a reason to pause, as it suggests that he had homosexual urges.

Now it is our turn to say:

    Whatever interpretation Christians may have given to Paul’s action later on (whether correctly or incorrectly), the fact that Paul would put the penis of an adult man in his mouth is shameful and disgusting, to say the least.

Please note that if such a tradition was located within any Islamic literature or in the Qur’an, and if it is required to take the private organ with one’s mouth, the above is precisely the type of argument Sam Shamoun would have vigorously launched in his papers, in order to demonise Muslims and their religion. Hence the above paragraph is, in reality, the outcome if one happens to think like a pervert as Sam Shamoun obviously is.


What leads Sam Shamoun to be such a pervert and think like a mindless idiot? Is it because he is so “bright” and “intelligent” that he happens to be the only person on this planet who “understood” the tradition relating to Sahl bint Suhail correctly whereas everyone else on this planet had failed to comprehend it? This is surely an unlikely, nay, an impossible, presumption.

The reason why Sam Shamoun thinks the way that he does — which leads him to distort, misread and misinterpret simple straightforward passages — is not because he is “bright” but because he is a hate-filled bigot who lacks elementary intelligence. When the two combine and form a unit, that is hate + mediocre intelligence, the result is “Shamounion interpretations” — which are essentially stupid misreadings of the texts.

And only God knows best!

Addendum: Our Challenge to Sam Shamoun

The missionary is now required to offer an unconditional apology for concocting and spreading a vicious lie in order to abuse the Prophet(P) and the religion of Islam. He is required to remove the factually-erroneous and logically nonsensical paper from his website. If, however, he starts whining over something absolutely irrelevant and besides the point, then that would be taken as an indication of his denial of reality and his severe, mental imbalance.

Similarly, his notorious strategy of sending a number of highly abusive e-mails to Muslims will not accomplish anything in trying to cover his gross misuse and misreading of a non-controversial, straightforward passage. Someone who lacks such elementary intelligence, so much so that it drives him mad to the point of twisting and misusing straightforward passages, have absolutely no right to author papers concerning any aspect of Islam (or any topic for that matter), unless and until he makes an attempt to increase the level of his dwindling mental cognizance.

We now wait for his apology for spreading such a vicious and blatant lie about Islam.

Cite this article as: Bismika Allahuma Team, "Nursing of Adults and Perverted Missionary Mentality," in Bismika Allahuma, October 14, 2005, last accessed September 25, 2022,
  1. Sahih-ul-Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 48, Number 812 []
  2. ibid., Number 813 []
  3. ibid., Number 814 []
  4. ibid., Number 815 []
  5. Ibn Sa’ad, Kitab At-Tabaqat Al-Kabir, Vol. 10, p. 257. Also see Ibn Hajar, Al-Isabah, Vol. 7, p. 717 []
  6. Sahih Muslim, Volume 5, Book 8, Number 3424 []
  7. ibid., Number 3425 []
  8. ibid., Number 3427 []
  9. ibid., Number 3428 []
  10. Sahih-ul-Bukhari, Op. Cit., Number 815 []
  11. Ibn Kathir, Tafsir-ul-Qur’an Al-‘Azim, Volume 1, page 358. Published by Maktabat-ul-Iman, Mansoura, Egypt []
  12. Sahih-ul-Bukhari, op. cit. []
  13. Al-Qurtubi, Al-Jami’ le Ahkam-el-Qur’an, Vol. 2, (Dar-ul-Hadith, Cairo, Egypt), pp. 139-140 []
  14. Ibn Kathir, Tafsir-ul-Qur’an Al-‘Azim, Vol. 1, (Maktabat-ul-Iman, Mansoura, Egypt), p. 358 []
  15. Acts 16:3, American Standard Version []
  16. A. N. Wilson, Paul The Mind Of The Apostle, (Pimlico, 1998), p. 128 []
  17. ibid., p. 131 []
  18. Gal 5:2-6, American Standard Version []
Hadith Exegesis

Were She-Monkeys Stoned For Adultery?

An amusing little polemic regarding a hadith that is recorded in Sahih al-Bukhari has recently surfaced and is being circulated by some apostates from Islam. Naturally, the Christian missionaries too had decided to jump on the bandwagon of smearing Islam through a misinterpretation of this hadith as well.

The hadith is recorded as follows:

Volume 5, Book 58, Number 188:

Narrated ‘Amru bin Maimun: “During the pre-lslamic period of ignorance I saw a she-monkey surrounded by a number of monkeys. They were all stoning it, because it had committed illegal sexual intercourse. I too, stoned it along with them.”

The basic premise of their “charge” is that the Prophet(P) had ordered the stoning of a she-monkey and that lapidation for zina (fornication) is extended to animals as well.

Back to Basics: The Issue of Isnad and Matn

The full citation of the hadith as recorded by al-Bukhari is as follows:

On closer scrutiny of the above-recorded hadith, anyone proficient in the sciences of the Hadith (ulum al-hadith) would immediately see the fallacy of such a claim when the matn (text) and isnad (chain of transmission) of the hadith is studied.

Firstly, the person who uttered the above words was not the Prophet Muhammad(P) himself, but by one of his Companions by name of ‘Amru bin Maimun(R). The following is the chain of transmission for this hadith:

The hadith is categorized as mauquf (lit. “stopped”), meaning that it is a saying traced to that of a Companion(R). Therefore, since it is clear that this hadith is not a saying of the Prophet(P), much less ascribed to him, it cannot be a basis for a ruling in Islam.

Secondly, the key phrase in the above hadith is “During the pre-Islamic period of ignorance”, which the critics had obviously overlooked. While we concede that above hadith is indeed accepted as authentic, we would also argue that according to the principles of criticism of the hadith, the matn of the hadith above would be rejected even if it had been ascribed to the Prophet(P). ‘Abdur Rahman I. Doi has outlined this principle by stating that:

As far as the matn is concerned, the following principles of criticism of the Hadith are laid down:

(1) The Hadith should not be contrary to the text or the teaching of the Qur’an or the accepted basic principles of Islam.
(2) The Hadith should not be against the dictates of reason or laws of nature and common experience.
(3) The Hadith should not be contrary to the Traditions which have already been accepted by authorities as reliable and authentic by applying all principles.
(4) The Hadith which sings the praises and excellence of any tribe, place or persons should be generally rejected
(5) The Hadith that contains the dates and minute details of the future events should be rejected.
(6) The Hadith that contains some remarks of the Prophet which are not in keeping with the Islamic belief of Prophethood and the position of the Holy Prophet or such expressions as may not be suitable to him should be rejected.2

Ibn Hajar

Interestingly, Ibn Hajar in his Fath al-Bari had discussed at length the exegesis of the above hadith. He quotes from Ibn Abd al-Barr as follows:

Ibn Abd al-Barr has denounced this report of ‘Amru Ibn Maimun and said: “It includes attributing adultery to a creature not assigned (with distinction between lawful and unlawful) and implementation of legal punishment on animals. This is denounced before scholars”.3

Then Ibn Hajar responds to the above argument of Ibn Abd al-Barr:

…I answer that the event being similar to that of adultery and stoning does not necessitate that it is really adultery or legal punishment. It is called so because it is similar to it, so it does not necessitate assignment of animals (with a distinction between lawful and unlawful).4

In other words, even if we assume for the sake of the argument that the claims of the apostates are true and the above hadith is indeed ascribed to the Prophet(P) , the critics will still not be able to make the charge that the Prophet(P) had ordered the stoning of a she-monkey.

Ibn Qutaiba

Ibn Qutaiba makes further commentary on the above hadith as follows:

They said: You narrated that some monkeys stoned a she-monkey for fornication. If the monkeys stoned her while she is married, the hadith would be funnier. According to this example, you cannot be sure for perhaps monkeys implement many rulings of the Torah! Or probably they embrace Judaism! So, if the monkeys are Jews, then perhaps the pigs are Christians!

Abu Muhammad [‘Abdullah Ibn Qutaiba, d. 276 A.H.] said: In response to this sneer we state that the narrative of monkeys is neither on the authority of Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) nor any of his Companions; it is merely something mentioned by ‘Amr Ibn Maimon. Muhammad Ibn Khalid Ibn Khadash told me that Muslim Ibn Qutaiba said on the authority of Hashim on the authority of Hasin on the authority of ‘Amr Ibn Maimon that he said, “A she-monkey had committed fornication during Jahiliyyah, so the monkeys stoned her and I stoned her with them”.

Abu Muhammad said: He could have seen the monkeys stoning a she-monkey, so he imagined that they were stoning her because she committed fornication, this cannot be known except by supposition because monkeys do not express themselves and the one who sees them gathering cannot tell whether they fornicate or not. This is a supposition. Perhaps, the old man knew she had fornicated for some reason we do not know for monkeys are the most fornicating animals. Arabs refer to them as examples of (exaggerated) fornication and say: “fornicating more than a monkey”. Unless fornication is common among them, they would not be used as an example. There is none closer to man in marriage and jealousy than them. The animals get hostile with one another, jump over and punish one another. Some bite, some scratch, some break and some smash. Monkeys stone with their hands whom Allah created as man stones. If they stoned one another for a cause rather than fornication and the old man thought it is fornication, it would not be far. If the old man knew about fornication by some evidence and that stoning was for it, it would not be far either because – as I have informed you – they are the most jealous among animals and the closest to man regarding understanding.5

The points we have made should make it clear that ‘Amru bin Maimun was relating his thinking or perception prior to the advent of Islam – how he had foolishly believed that even monkeys had committed adultery! It happened during a period whereby the pre-Islamic Arabs would indulge in the most detestable acts such as burying their daughters alive and doing the tawaf while they were naked.

Thus, this means that Islam has elevated the status of mankind by making them more rational and mindful of their actions, a conclusion that the haters and enemies of Islam would certainly not like to admit.

What About The Bible?

If the above hadith is used to condemn Islam with regards to treatment towards animals, then the Bible has the following to say:

If a man has sexual relations with an animal, he must be put to death, and you must kill the animal. If a woman approaches an animal to have sexual relations with it, kill both the woman and the animal. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.6

In other words, an animal that has committed its sin of adultery is liable to be punished for a “crime” it is unaware of in the first place, according to the Bible.


It is clear that where the hadith regarding the stoning of a she-monkey for adultery is concerned, it is simply a recollection of a Companion(R) of the Prophet(P) regarding this maltreatment of animals during the pre-Islamic period of jahiliyyah, which is in total contradiction to Islamic principles and norms. Thus, the claim that this hadith is the basis from which the lapidation for married adulterers in Islam came about is nothing more than a damp firecracker hurled by the haters and enemies of Islam. That their view of Islam had been tainted by deep ignorance, hatred, paranoia and xenophobia is no big secret, and this latest polemic is ipso facto a confirmation of their current condition.

And only God knows best.

Cite this article as: Bismika Allahuma Team, "Were She-Monkeys Stoned For Adultery?," in Bismika Allahuma, October 14, 2005, last accessed September 25, 2022,
  1. Muhammad bin Isma’il ‘Abdallah al-Ja’far (Imam al-Bukhari), Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 5, Bk. 58, No. 188 []
  2. ‘Abdur Rahman I. Doi, Introduction to the Hadith (A.S. Nordeen, 2001), p. 15 []
  3. Ahmed Ibn Ali Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, Fath al-Bari []
  4. ibid. []
  5. Ibn Qutaiba, Ta’wil Mukhtalaf Al-Hadith, pp. 255-256 []
  6. Leviticus, 20:15-16 []
Hadith Hadith Exegesis

“Those Are The High Flying Cranes”

Ever since the publication by Viking/Penguin in the summer of 1998 of The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie, interest in the origin of those so-called “Satanic Verses” was renewed. That episode, which was repeated by a good number of Muslim writers, historians and Qur’anic commentators (some accepting it, some rejecting it, and yet, some others modifying it) became a favourite topic of many Orientalists. It was called by one of them, Sir William Muir (the founder of the Muir Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies at Edinburgh University), “the lapse” of Muhammad, or the temporary concession to Arabian polytheism.1

But what is the origin of that story?

Part One

As mentioned above, it is a story reported in a number of Islamic sources. Al-Tabari, being the best-known Muslim exegete to mention it in both his history and his commentary, provides a full critique which will be given here.

In his commentary on verse 52 Chapter 22, he provides the interpretation of verse 52. “Never did we send an apostle or a prophet before you but when he framed a desire, Satan threw some (vanity into his desire), but Allah will cancel anything (vain that Satan throws in), and Allah will confirm (and establish) His signs, for Allah is full of knowledge and wisdom.”2

    Ibn Ka’ab al-Quzari: When the Messenger of Allah (SAW) realized how alienated the Qurayshites had become, and how intensely they had persecuted his companions, Muhammad expressed the wish that a revelation would come so as to reconcile his people, rather than further alienate them. When, one day, he was sitting with some Qurayshites in on of their club houses around the Ka’abah, he recited to them the chapter of “al-Najm”. After reading the verses:

    Would you consider al-Lat and al-Uzza?
    As well as Manat, the third goddesses?3

    He continued the recitation with the statement “They are the goddesses on high. Their intercession is worthy of being sought.”

    He, then, proceeded with his reading of the Sura’ to the end. When he finished, he prostrated himself and all the attending Qurayshites also prostrated. Subsequently, the Qurayshites proclaimed their satisfaction with what the Prophet had read and said, “We have always known that Allah creates and gives life, gives food and resurrects. But our gods intercede for us with Him. Now that you have allowed for them a place in your new religion, we are all with you.” Thus the difference between Muhammad and the Qurayshites was dissolved. When the news of this reconciliation reached Abyssinia, the Muslims, who had migrated there three months earlier, decided to return to their beloved country and people. As they drew close to Mecca, they met some Kinnanah tribesmen who informed them that Muhammad allowed the gods a good place in his religion, reconciled Quraysh, and was now followed by everyone. The narrative has it that Muhammad reverted to condemning those gods, and the Qurayshites reverted to persecution. The returnees stopped to consider what their next move should be; however, they missed their relatives and next-of-kin so much that they went ahead and entered Makkah. Then Jibreel came to the Prophet (SAW) and said to him, “What did you do? You recited to people what I did not come to you with from Allah, and you said things which He did not say.” The Prophet was grieved and full of fear of Allah.

    Allah, who was ever merciful to him, consoled him, lightening his burden and informed him that, when prophets and messengers before him wished, as he wished, or liked something as he did, Satan would throw in their wishes, etc. Thus, Allah relieved His Prophet of his sorrow, strengthened his confidence, and rectified what Satan had put into his mouth (when the Prophet said of their goddesses that “they are the high flying cranes. And their intercession is to be sought”) by saying concerning al-Lat, al-Uzza and Manat “How many so ever be the angels in the heavens, their intercession will avail nothing, except after Allah has given leave for whom he pleases, and that he is acceptable to Him.” The intercession of these goddesses is therefore of no avail.

    Once Allah rectified the words put by Satan into the Prophet’s mouth, the Qurayshites said: Muhammad renounced the importance he assigned earlier to our goddesses. And it so happened that those two sentences concerning their goddesses became so much liked and repeated by every polytheist when they were rectified by Allah that the polytheists became more hostile than they were before.

This is the story of al-gharaniq as given by al-Tabari and repeated late on by most of the commentators, the Prophet’s biographers and traditionalists.

Part Two

Al-Tabari, from the various authorities he cites, makes it plain that the Prophet uttered these words concerning the goddesses.4 A few instances of the phrase he used variously: Satan threw on his tongue: he [the Prophet] said: these high….: he recited to them: Satan threw in his recitation….: and he went on reciting to them: etc. Throughout these narrations concerning the account of the revelation of verse 52 and subsequent in Chapter 22, Al-Tabari refers to the feelings of the Prophet and his wish that Allah would reveal to him verses either to reconcile him with the Meccans or pacify them.

When it came to defining the verb tamanna (he hoped, or wished) Al-Tabari gives the meaning related to the inner feeling. However, since this meaning does not go with the narrations that stress the Prophet’s uttering of those verses, al-Tabari chose a definition which goes with the context: the definition of tamanna as “recited”. For illustration, he quotes ad-Dahhak, who states that tamanna means to recite, to read. Al-Tabari also finds that this definition is confirmed by the Qur’anic verses: “But Allah will cancel and thing vain that Satan throws in, and Allah will confirm (and establish) His Signs.” The verses which Allah says that He is going to confirm are, no doubt, the verses which He subsequently reveals. It is clear, then, that the verses which Satan has thrown in are those which Allah has cancelled through rectification. The explanation of the words, then, is as follows: No prophet or messenger have We sent before you have read the Book of Allah or read or talked about Satan’s attempt to throw in phrases to alter their message. “Allah suppresses what Satan throws in,” Allah removes that which Satan has put into the mouth of His Prophet and has rendered it vain and obsolete.5

Part Three

The Theological Implication of Al-Gharaniq

Al-Tabari relates the story of al-gharaniq in his Tafsir and in his book on history. As a muhaddith himself, it seems that he was interested, from his own point of view, in the soundness of its isnad (the chain of narrators). He was not troubled by the theological implications of the story, or by the time gap which separates the revelation of chapter 53 (an-Najm) which occurred about the fifth year of the mission of the Messenger of Allah, and that Chapter 22 (al-Hajj), which occurred either in the thirteenth year of the Meccan period (according to one view) or in the early period of Medina (according to another view). He was interested, it seems, in seeking a reason for the revelation of verses 52 and following, which all deal with the same subject. The episode of al-gharaniq provided him with that. Strangely enough, with his great knowledge and theological insight, Al-Tabari did not refer to any inconsistency, or to the religious implication it raises. Besides, no one in Islamic scholarship accused Al-Tabari of inventing the story. He is described in the books comparing hadith reporter as a trustworthy muhaddith himself. The authorities upon whom he relied in relating the story up to at-tabi’un (the followers of the companions), are deemed by hadith scholars as trustworthy at least in two chains of narrations.

The Reaction of Muslim Scholars

Ibn Khozayma

Notwithstanding the high reliability of Al-Tabari and his authority, other scholars rejected – outright – the whole episode as a forgery invented by the zindiqs. The first to condemn it outright was none other than the friend and admirer of Al-Tabari, his great contemporary traditionalist, al-Imam Muhammad ibn Khzayma. Ash-Shawkani writes that “Ibn Khozayma, the Imam of imams, said: ‘This story is invented by zindiqs”. This statement is the most forthright condemnation of the story. Other imams criticised the story on technical grounds. Al-Bazzar writes: “This is a tradition attributed to the Prophet (pbuh), but not founded on a continuous unbroken chain.” Likewise, Al-Bahhaqi states: “This story is not authenticated as far as al-isnad (the chain of narrators) is concerned.”

This point concerning al-isnad was taken up by a number of Muslim scholars. Some, like Ibn Hajar, in his commentary upon al-Bukhari, somehow accept its reliability. Many others, on the other hand, judge it to be a fabrication by the enemies of Islam. But both parties agree that no theological implication follows from it.

Ibn Al-Arabi

Ibn al-Arabi, in his book, Ahkam-ul-Quran, discusses the implications of that fabricated story in detail. After reviewing what has been given as the reason for the revelation of verses 52, 53 and 54, of the Satanic verses, he proposes to deal with the whole question in ten points. While it is beyond the scope of this paper to go into details, the main points will be dealt with, considering that Ibn al-Arabi’s critique is the standard accepted in essence by the subsequent Muslim scholars who dealt with this question, whether from of Hadith, or Tafsir or theology.

Ibn al-Arabi begins his critique by establishing two essential theological points:

a. Allah has protected His Messenger (and for that matter all Messengers and Prophets) from disbelief. This is the consensus of all Muslims. Anyone who argues otherwise will be actually committing an act of disbelief.

b. The Prophet, by receiving Allah’s revelation through the Archangel, thereby receives the ability to recognise that particular Archangel. Without that recognition and certainty, Prophethood cannot be established. Once this recognition is established, the Archangel will be clearly distinguished from any other by the Prophet, and the way of the religion will be safe from any interference from outside.

If it were possible that the prophet could not distinguish between the Archangel and some other creature, he could not possibly say: “What I have received is from Allah”, and we, in turn, could not be sure that the revelation is from Allah. If it were possible for Satan to interfere with this process or to disguise himself as an angel, we would not be sure about one single verse; nor would we be able to distinguish truth from falsehood.

After establishing these two basic points, Ibn al-Arabi goes on to demolish the story of al-gharaniq. He states that “Those who say Satan said those words and the Prophet accepted them from him and was not able to distinguish tawhid (the Unicity of Allah) from disbelief, cannot fail to realize that this is an act of disbelief which could not come from the Prophet. How could the Prophet say that ‘they are the high flying cranes. And their intercession is to be sought’ when he knows absolutely that they are dead stone incapable of any good or harm, and when Gabriel was coming to him day and night with these facts about idols like them? Those who accepted that story went on to claim that, when Gabriel came to the Prophet and corrected the revelation, Allah thereafter revealed the verses:

Indeed they were seducing you from that We revealed to you, that you might forge against us another, and then they would surely have taken you as a friend. And had we not confirmed you, surely you were near to inclining unto them a very little. (Qur’an, 17:73-74)

“Do not they know that these verses negate what they claimed? The Arabic structure of a verb preceded by qad means “almost” doing something or “coming near” to doing it, but it does not mean actually doing it. So Allah is informing us in these verses that they were about to seduce the Prophet but did not succeed. Allah protected and confirmed the unity and the knowledge of the Deity in the heart of the Prophet. So these Qur’anic verses are absolute proof of the infallibility of the Prophet and therefore clear him of what they claim.”6

So far, so good. But what is the explanation of what happened, if indeed it happened at all?

Here Ibn al-Arabi gives an explanation which, in essence, amounts to acceptance of the reasons given for revelation of verses 52-54, in a way which, in his view, does not affect the infallibility of the Prophet. The words were uttered on the said occasion, not by the Prophet, but by Satan himself. The Prophet was in the habit of reciting the Qur’an in a very distinct, slow-paced way, and Stan must have taken advantage of the intervals, between one verse and another. He must have imitated the voice of the Prophet and uttered the verses of al-gharaniq unbeknownst to the Prophet. The disbelievers, not realizing this, must have been deluded into thinking that it was the prophet who spoke these words, and the chain of events, as explained earlier would have followed. The commentators who followed that story have accepted this account as the most plausible of the other explanations.

Al-Qadi Iyad

The critical approach of al-Qadi Iyad: It was left to the student and contemporary of Ibn al-Arabi, al-Qadi Iyad, in his compendium Al-Shifa bita’rifnhuquq al-Mustafa (The Satisfactory Explanation of the Rights of the Chosen One) to fully explain the theological implications and contradictions of the said story. Appropriately enough, Iyad’s treatment of the subject comes in the third section of his book about the requisites for Prophethood as well as miracles and immunities concerning Prophets. In one of the chapters within this section, he deals with the infallibility of the Prophet concerning his statements and actions. He says: “As far as his [the Prophet’s] statements are concerned, clear evidence shows that miracles necessarily imply his truthfulness. The consensus of the Muslim scholars, concerning the delivery of the Prophet’s message, is that he is infallible in what he holds from God. He cannot utter that which is not true about anything whether he intends it or not.7

From this basic rule, which al-Qadi elaborates and substantiates in detail, he moves on to deal with some questions disputing its validity. The first was that story of al-gharaniq. After stating the gist of this story, he gives its different versions. Al-Qadi Iyad then adopts two lines of defence in refuting, or even explaining the theological implications resulting from the story.

In the first line of defence he mentions the technical criticism of the story commentators as it is given above.

The interesting part of this line of defence consists in the four rational arguments which point out the contradictions implied in the story and which express the keen insight of al-Qadi Iyad and his critical ability to explode the myth of al-gharaniq. The four arguments come as follows.

The first is that it is the consensus of the Muslims that Allah has protected His Messenger and made him immune from such evil as the wish that Allah would reveal to him verses that praise the Qurayshites’ idols. Such praise is an act of disbelief (kufr), and to say that the Prophet intentionally or unintentionally praised the idols in an act of kufr, for he is immune from that. It is thus established, through consensus and strong evidences that the Prophet is immune from committing an act of unbelief, whether by heart or tongue, whether intentionally or forgetfully, and that Satan could neither influence him nor say anything false about Allah. Allah Most High warned him: “And if he had fabricated against Us some statements, We would certainly have seized him by the right hand, then cut off his heart’s vein” (Qur’an, 69:44-45) and “Then We would have made you taste a double (punishment) after death, then you would not have found any helpers against Us.” (Qur’an, 17: 75).

The second argument rests upon the linguistic weakness and the contradiction in the meaning. The construction of the added sentences, beginning: “al-gharaniq-ul-ula'” is not up to the high standard of Qur’anic construction. This aspect cannot escape the notice of the ordinary Arab, not to mention the Qurayshites. The contradiction in meaning is very easily noticeable. The verses contain praise and degradation at the same time. When we consider the introductory question:

    “Have you then considered Lat and Uzza, and Manat, the third other?”, then consider the suggestion:
    “They are the high goddesses,
    and their intercession is to be sought” and finally
    “Are yours the males and His the females?
    That indeed were unfair division.
    They are but names, which you have named, you and your fathers, for which Allah has revealed no warrant”

the contradictory attitudes appear obvious and cannot pass unnoticed.

The third argument is: if anything like this had happened, it would not have gone unexploited by the hypocrites and the polytheists, who would have been quick to seize upon such an occasion to torment the believers and rebuke them. Now, there is no mention anywhere of any such incident or of any repudiation of faith on the part of lukewarm converts. One finds reports of how the polytheists tried to ridicule the Prophet when he told them about his night journey or to break the agreement after the conclusion of the Hudaybiya pact, but nowhere is there even mention of such exploitation taking place if we suppose that such an event took place. No doubt, some human Satan or jinn played this trick on some of the apathetic, attentive muhaddiths and weak-minded Muslims so as to deceive them.

The fourth argument is that: some of the narrations of the story say that Allah has revealed the following verses as a result of such an episode:

“And surely they had purposed to turn you away from that which We have revealed to you that you should forge against Us other than that, and then they would have taken you for a friend. And if We had not made you firm you might have indeed inclined to them a little.” (Qur’an, 17:73-74)

These two verses, on the contrary, are a rejection of the report they have. Allah, Most High, is saying that they “might have” succeeded. Had it not been for Allah’s support to His Prophet, the latter might have inclined to them. This implies that Allah has protected His Prophet, confirmed his faith so that he did not even incline a little to the disbelievers, not to mention the ill-fated story of praising their goddesses. B. Abbas says: “All that is in the Quran of term ‘qad’ is ‘might have’ meaning that it did not in fact happen.” Al Qurayshi al-Qadi says: “Quraysh and Thaqif requested the Prophet just to turn his face towards their idols when passing by them, and promised him, for that, to convert to his religion, But he never obliged, and he could not do that.” Ibn al-Anbari says: “He never came close, or inclined, to the disbelievers.”

The Explication of the Verse

The other positive contributions of al-Qadi Iyad was his clear and simple explanation of the verse. He says: “Allah, Most High, is reminding the Prophet of His favour upon him in protecting him and confirming his faith against the trials of the disbelievers and their seductions”8

The second line of defence is that which supposes the story was authentic. The arguments given by Ibn al-Arabi, Ibn Hajar in Fathul-Bari commentary, and all others who were trying to explain the theological implications of the said story, are quite the same, and so there is no need to repeat them.9

Other authorities

(see the bibliographic note under Endnote 9)

Ibn Taymiyah and the Story of Al-Gharaniq

Ibn Taymiyah deals with verse 52 of al-Hajj in his Al-Fatawa (Juristic opinions) in a number of places and from different points of view. In Volume Two, in differentiating between the prophet and al-Muhhaddath (inspired person, talked to directly, like Omar).

In Volumes 13-14-17 and 21, he mentions the verse either in connection with prostration without ablution or the concepts of al-Muhkam and al-Mutashabih or with the use of the term naskh (abrogation generally).

It is in Volumes 10 and 15 that he addresses the story of al-gharaniq.

In Volume 10[10], he mentions the agreed-upon principle of the infallibility of the Prophets as to the flawless accomplishment of the apostolic mission they are entrusted with. This infallibility is the guarantee which fulfils the aim of prophethood and messengership.

He, then, raises the question: Could the Prophets say that Allah, later on, redresses and rectifies, so that He will abrogate the spurious line that Satan has slipped in and confirm His verses? He answers the question in the light of the predominant views. The overall view recorded by the predecessors (as-salaf) is in agreement with the Qur’an. The successors did not accept that view and discredited the account given about the addition to the Chapter of an-Najm (The Star): “These are the high flying cranes. And surely their intercession is to be sought” on the grounds that this account was not established as an authentic one. But those who know that it is well-founded say that this is what Satan has slipped into their ear, and not what the Prophet actually uttered. But the question in still valid notwithstanding the explanation.

Those who confirm the account given by the predecessors say that this is authentically reported beyond any challenge and that the Qur’an bears testimony to it in the statement:

“And We never sent a messenger or a prophet before you, but when he desired Satan proposed [?] Allah is the guide of those who believe, into a right path.” (Qur’an, 22:52-54)

They observe that reports explaining these verses are well-known and authentically reported in the books of tafsir and hadith, and that all of this matches up with the statement in the Qur’an for the rectification by Allah of what Satan had thrown in, and the confirmation of His verses, occur for the specific purpose of straightening out the situation and of separating what is true from what is false so that Allah’s verses will not be mixed up with spurious lines. To make that which Satan has proposed a temptation for those in whose hearts is a disease, and those whose hearts are hardened could happen only if Satan’s spurious line were brought out into the open to be heard by people, not something hidden, in the soul. The temptation which happens as a result of this kind of rectification is like that which happens as a result of this kind of change. Rectification of what has been uttered loudly proves more strongly the truthfulness and self-denial of the Messenger (SAW) than any other measure. Indeed, if he uttered something and later ordered that it be rectified – both instructions being Allah’s – and he is believed, and if he says that the rectification is Allah’s true word, that it abrogates and utterance preceding it, and that that which has been rectified is not Allah’s true word, then this demonstrates that he accepts the truth and that he speaks the truth.[11]

In Vol. 15, when discussing the explication of the Qur’anic verse:

“Till, when the Messenger despaired, deeming they were counted as liars, Our help came to them.” (Qur’an, 12:110)

Ibn Taimiyah introduces the question of mistakes on the part of the Prophets. He says that the majority of Muhadditoun and Fuqaha are of the opinion that the Prophets might err in their personal opinion, ijtihad, but they are invariably corrected through revelation. Then he mentions that in the (Qur’anic) phrase “and thought that — or deeming they were counted as liars” this thought might have come from Satan as suggested in Allah’s saying: “We sent not ever any Messenger or Prophet before you, but that Satan proposed [?] Lo! Allah verily is guiding those who believe unto a right path.” (Qur’an, 22:52-54). Ibn Taimiyah repeats in a shorter way what he has said in Vol. 10. But, here, to those who do not accept the authenticity of the story despite their good intention, his answer is very simple: “something was proposed, then cancelled: so, there is no trouble. This is similar to the one who came to know about abrogation.”[12]

It is clear that Ibn Taimiyah, with his solid traditional background, with his extensive knowledge of the traditions, with his hard attitude against anything that infringes upon the pure concept of Islam and with his awareness of the theological implications of such a story, has no hesitation in accepting its authenticity. Not only does he accept its authenticity, but he goes on to say that tamanna here, absolutely, recited. For Allah thereafter says that “Allah will suppress what Satan throws in, then will confirm His Verses.” This cannot all be the desire of the heart, which the Prophet did not utter.[13]

Part Four

This attitude leaves the critics in a very difficult position. While great scholars like al-Tabari, Ibn. Hajar, Ibn. Taymiyya accept the story as being authentic, the overwhelming majority brand it as a forgery. Is there any way out of this dilemma?

The Context In Which The Story Was Told

The story is not something of a divine nature, i.e. it is not a Qur’anic statement. It is not a tradition attributed to the Prophet. It is not even an authentic athar (a statement of one of the Companions). At best it is a statement of a tabi’i, expressing what he considered to be the reason for the revelation. S So, it should be viewed in the light of the methodology of the branch of knowledge known as ‘ilm marifat asbab-un-Nuzul (the knowledge of the reasons for the revelation).

The scholars in this field divide the Qur’an into two categories. The one, which is the larger of the two, was revealed with no particular reason other than the guidance of mankind to the right path. This includes the concept of Allah, Hid attributes, how He created this world generally and human beings in particular, how He established His relation to them through His Messengers and Prophets, how the communities received the messages, or treated their prophets, and the difficulties and the temptations or frustrations these prophets were exposed to. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is one of these prophets. Their stories were told to him to take heart and bear with patience the troubles he was facing.

In the other category, verses were revealed to answer a question raised, to comment on an incident, to correct a habit or a custom which came to be questioned, and so on. In the first category there is no need to search for a reason for revelation. In the second, it is more helpful to look into the historical background to shed some light on the matter.

In one definition of asbab ul-nuzul (the reason for revelation) Shaikh Azzurqani, in his comprehensive book Manahil-ul-Irfan Fi ‘ulum al-Quran says:

The reason for revelation consists of the circumstances which have called for the Quranic verse or verses to be revealed, dealing with an issue, or explaining the rule concerning if on the day it has happened.

He explains the phrase “day it has happened” by saying that this is a necessary condition in the definition, for it distinguishes this category from the other, which is revealed to deal with past experiences, or future events, like the stories of previous Prophets, or the Day of Judgement and everything related to it, for there are many such topics in the Quran.[14]

The relevance of this condition will be noted later on. But the way in which this or that reason is given for the revelation of such and such verse needs to be looked at. As-Suyuti, in his standard book, Al-Itqan Fil ‘Ulum-al-Quran quotes al-Wahidi as saying: “One cannot speak about reasons for revelation except through the chain of reports traced all the way to those who witnessed the revelation, knew the reasons and verified their knowledge.” He quotes others as saying: “The reason for the revelation of any verse is a matter known to the companions as a result of indications surrounding the events. Some of them may not affirm that such and such is the reason, but they may say: ‘I think this or that is the reason for?'”[15] Shaikh as-Zurqani says:

If the reason is given by one of the Companions, it is acceptable even though it might not be supported by another report. But is it is given by a mursal tradition i.e. no particular Companion is mentioned in the report, but the report is traced up to a tabi’i (one of the Prophet’s followers), it is not acceptable unless it is supported by means of another mursal tradition and the reporter of it was a renowned scholar in tafsir.[16]


As mentioned earlier, asbab al-nuzul (the reason for the revelation) is a statement from a Companion expressing what he understood or thought to be such. Although Muslim scholars accept such a statement, still it does not amount to a definitive statement on the matter. If it comes to one of the followers, the degree of acceptability falls sharply because no follower has witnessed the revelation or mentioned an authoritative source who was present at the moment of revelation. His report may or may not be acceptable even though what he reports may raise no questions.

It seems that those who have accepted the authenticity of the episode of al-gharaniq were mainly interested in the technicality of the chain of reports. Goes it satisfy the conditions of an acceptable report? Their answer was yes. What about its theological implications? Then they started the uphill task of explaining them away. As mentioned earlier, it would have been sufficient for them to drop the episode altogether. It is not worthy of the efforts they have made to corroborate or to explain the story. In fact, there is simply no necessity at all to insert it in order to explain the verse of al-Hajj. The Qur’anic verse came simply as a consolation to the Prophet at a time when Allah was saying to him: “yet it may be, if they believe not in this statement, that you will torment your soul with grief over their footsteps.” (Qur’an, 18:6)

As a human being, he was eager to save his people from the punishment of Allah for their rejection of his call. He was ready to compromise about minor issues, like meeting the notables among them, separately from the ordinary members of the community. At one time he was talking to a group of dignitaries when a blind companion interrupted him, asking him to teach him. The Prophet did not like being interrupted. Both instances are related in the Qur’an (verses 28-29, Ch. 18 and verses 1-10, Ch. 80).

When he was reproached for that, the Prophet felt sorry for what had happened, and Allah reminded him: You are not the only messenger or prophet to face such a situation or to fall into such temptation. But it is My was that you have to be patient, to endure the troubles, inconveniences and persecution until the attitudes become clearly separated, then the judgment of Allah will take place.

The Qur’anic verses 52-55 deal with a universal question met by the previous Prophets and Messengers. No one has claimed that they committed and act of disbelief that can warrant a comparison of the Seal of the Prophets with them. The comparison, then, is with their hopes, fears, aspirations, and with the disruption of their efforts by suggestions, trials or desires thrown into their thoughts by Satan and his collaborators. But the watchful Eye of Allah spoils all these Satanic tricks and keeps His prophets and messengers steady on the right path.

In the definition of asbab ul-nuzul, it is mentioned that the revelation has occurred whenever a particular fact or situation called for it. In this case chapter 53, an-Najm, was revealed in Ramadan in the fifth year of the mission of the Prophet while chapter 22, al-Hajj, was either a very late Makkan revelation or an early Medinan, the time elapse being about eight years or so. According to the definition, this cannot be an explanation of the occasion. The ordinary time lapse between the occasion and revelation is mentioned in relation to two instances of revelation. When the Makkans asked the Prophet about the People of the Cave, he said: “Tomorrow I will tell you.” But without taking care to add: “Allah willing”. Consequently, no verses were revealed to him for some fifteen to forty days, so as to remind him always to leave these matters to the will of Allah. Another instance occurred earlier, in connection with the revelation of Chapter 93, wad-Duha. Once again the time lapse was not so long as to lose the impact of the occasion.

How could it be, after such a long interval when the wounds resulting from it had healed and everything had been forgotten, how could it be that the revelation came to reopen the issue anew? After all, asbab al-nuzul is not definitive, it is an explanation. If it contradicts basic Islamic principles, it loses all its value. This is not something peculiar to asbab al-nuzul; this is a general rule which hadith scholars applied when they discussed the question of fabrications in the hadith. Dr. As-Sabbagh, mentioning the signs of fabrication in the text of the hadith says:

Third: its disagreement with clear Qur’anic indications or the clear indications of authentically handed-down traditions or the general principles adduced from the Quran and the Sunnah or the ijma’ (consensus).[17]

This is one of the rules to be applied to what may be considered technically sound hadith attributed to the Prophet. If it comes to the saying of a Companions, not to mention a follower, any statement contrary to these basic principles is to be rejected. The most appropriate description of that bad history is what Ibn Khuzayma says about it: that it is a forgery invented by atheists to discredit themselves, not Islam or the Prophet.

Part Five

Some Observations

a. As mentioned earlier, the authenticity of the story was denied by great exegetes and jurists like Ibn Kathir, Ash-Shawkani, and Ibn Al-Arabi, but they explained the Quranic verses of al-Hajj 52-55, in the light of the rejected story! They did not advance satisfactory alternative explanations. The only scholar who came nearer to offering a positive alternative explanation was al-Qurtobi. In the third question, he writes that one of the things the disbelievers tried to deceive their common folk was their saying: ‘It is the duty of the Prophets that they are able o do everything. Why, then, could not Muhammad bring punishment upon us, since we have gone far in our enmity of him? And they said, too, that Prophets should not be subject to forgetfulness or mistakes. So, Allah, glory be to Him, made it clear that Prophets are human beings. It is He Who brings punishment according to His will, and human beings are subject to mistakes, forgetfulness until Allah confirms his will and removes the tricks of Satan.[18] This is a good, satisfactory account of the verses. But instead of leaving it at that, al-Qurtobi gets into a long discussion of what was reported, and so leaves the reader in a maze of opinions, unable to sort out the dilemma for himself.

b. Ibn al-Arabi, after severely criticizing the story of al-gharaniq does not offer much consolation. All that he comes up with is his saying “Satan will cast into his wish”, “Satan will cats at his recitation.” Then he goes on to praise al-Tabari saying that no one was guided to this (i.e. the explanation of ‘into’ and ‘at’) except al-Tabari, thanks to his glorified station, clarity of thought, the width of knowledge, and far-reaching sight. Ibn al-Arabi thus praises al-Tabari after mentioning so many reports which have no foundation. Far from being what he has claimed it be, al-Tabari actually accepted the story of al-gharaniq and tried to justify it.

Ibn Kathir, too, misquotes al-Qadi ‘Iyad, when he says that there are variant answers to the story, assuming its authenticity and that al-Qadi ‘Iyad deals with this in his book, Ash-Shifa, and answers what could be summed up as “it is so because it is well established.” But this is not true of the position of al-Qadi ‘Iyad. As has been clearly explained earlier, he rejects it vehemently and goes on to answer the questions it raises, assuming that it is true.

Part Six

The Attitude of the Orientalists

Sir William Muir, in his book, The Life of Mahomet, refers to this story as “one of the strangest episodes in the life of Mahomet.”[19] He goes on to tell the core of the story, closely following what al-Tabari relates of it, then comments:

Pious Musulmans of after days, scandalized at the lapse of their Prophet into so flagrant a concession, would reject the whole story. But the authorities are, in his view, “too strange to be impugned.” It is hardly possible, he argues, to conceive how the tale, if not in some shape or other, founded on truth, could ever have been invented. The stubborn fact remains, and is by all admitted, that the refugees did return about this time from Abyssinia, and that they returned in consequence of a rumour that Mecca was converted. To this fact the narratives of Wackidi and Tabari afford the only intelligible clue.[20]

Professor Burton goes on to say: “It has been accepted as historically ‘true’ by writer after writer up to, and including our own day”. [21] He may be referring to those who dealt with the life of the Prophet, like A. Guillaume, W.M. Watt, and those who have written about the Qur’an and Qur’anic scholarship like Schwally. But Professor Burton, like L. Caetani before him, discredited the whole story in his article, for entirely different reasons. As he says: “We now propose to show the reason why this story must be decisively rejected once and for all”.[22]

However, there is nothing new in the criticism of Sir Muir. Most of the points he raised were answered in the course of this discussion. The only point which needed explanation was what he considered to be irrefragable proof of the story, the return of the emigrants from Abyssinia.

Muhammad Husayn Haykal

In his biography of the Prophet, Dr Haykal deals extensively with the fiction of al-gharaniq, in particular, Sir Muir’s irrefutable proof. Haykal was writing as early as 1934 and was aware of the Orientalist attitude to this particular event. In the English translation of the Arabic original, a translation which was very much delayed, for reasons well known to two American universities which unilaterally opted out of their publishing agreement, the author deals with the fiction from beginning to end. I will mention only the new points in his discussion of about ten pages in the English version. These may be summed up in four points :

1. The return of the emigrants: is far from being the result of what they heard about the conversion of the Makkans to Islam, for at that time there were no communication means to flash the news from Makka to Abyssinia in one month, not to say a few days. The fact of the matter was that Ja’afar ibn Abi-Talib and Umar al-Khattab accepted Islam. And gave a great boost to the spirit of the Muslim community. Stunned by that conversion, the Makkans needed a respite to rethink their strategy towards the Muslims. There prevailed, for a time, an atmosphere of calm and restraint. This encouraged some Muslims to return to Makka and be with their people instead of living far way. Together with this factor, was another, very important local development in Abyssinia. Negus, who welcomed, and gave hospitality to, the fleeing Arabs, was himself under attack. His faith was questioned, his subjects revolted and the Muslims felt that they should not bother the man. Some of them returned, others went into hiding until the ruler succeeded in putting down the rebellion. Al-Imam Ahmad b. Hanbal reports in his Musnad a long tradition on the authority of Umm Salamah (who was among the emigrants living there at that time, and who later on became the wife of the Prophet) what they felt during that rebellion.[23]

2. The construction of Chapter 53 shows the lie of the fabricated story. How could it be that he says:

    “These are the supreme goddesses. And their intercession is to be sought.”

and immediately recites:

    21. Are yours the male and His the female?
    22. That indeed were unfair division!
    23. They are but names which you have named, you and your fathers, for which Allah has revealed no warrant. They follow but a guess and that which they themselves desire.

then goes on to verse

    26. And how many angels are in the heaven whose intercession avails naught save after Allah has given leave to whom He chooses and accepts.[24]

praising and severely criticizing at the same time? The Qur’an being considered the supreme literary Arabic Word, how could it contradict itself in the same chapter, at the same time without any one pointing out this clear contradiction?

3. The word al-gharaniq, says Sheikh Muhammad Abduh, the grand mufti of Egypt at the turn of the century, is a word that the Arabs have nowhere used to describe their gods, whether in their poetry or in their speeches. Nowhere do we find their gods or goddesses described in such words. The word al-ghurnuq or al-gharaniq is the name of a black or white water bird and sometimes figuratively designates a handsome blond youth. It is indubitable that the Arabs never have looked upon their gods in this manner.

4. The truthfulness of the Prophet: he was well-known even before his mission as al-Ameen, the most trustworthy. And as he called upon the Qurayshite clans, he put his integrity to the test when he asked them: “If I tell you that behind this mountain, there is an army about to attack you by surprise, would you believe me?” The answer was: “Yes, for you have never lied to us”. How could he, after all his struggle and persecution, and after the results of his mission began to be felt, suddenly start to praise the idols while he has been repudiating and discrediting?

This is why when Ibn Ishaq was asked what he thought of the story, he dismissed it as a fabrication.[25]

And Allah is the Guide to the Right Way.

Reproduced from Proceedings of the Panel on “Correction of Erroneous Information Published on Islam and Muslims”: The Case of the Satanic Verses, Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO): 1992

[10] Al-Fatawa, v. (sic), p. 289-295, King Khalid edition, Morocco.

[11] Al-Fatawa, v 10, p. 292.

[12] Al-Fatawa, v 15, p. 189-192

[13] Al-Fatawa, pp. 120-121.

[14] Manahil, v. 1, pp. 06-7.

[15] Al-Itqan, pp. 28-29.

[16] Az-Zurqani, p. 114.

[17] The Sunnah and Its Place in Islamic Sharia, see also: al-Hadith an-Nabawi by Dr. M. Lifti as-Sabbagh, p. 320.

[18] Al-Qurtobi, Ahkam-ul-Quran, v. 12, p. 80.

[19] The Life of Mahomet, London 1877, p. 86.

[20] Loc. Cit. 88. This is in an article written by J. Burton in the Journal of Semitic Studies, XV (1970), pp. 246-265, lent to me by the courtesy of Brother Ahmad Bolock.

[21] Prof. J. Burton, p. 248.

[22] Loc. Cit. 248.

[23] Al-Fath-ur-Rahman, vol. 20, pp. 226-230.

[24] Ch. An-Najm (53), verses 21-26.

[25] M.H. Haykal, The Life of Muhammad, translated into English by Prof. I. Raji’ Al-Faruqi, pg. 105-115, 8th edition.

  1. The Life of Mahommet, London 1877, p. 86 []
  2. Jamiul-Bayan v. 9. Pp 131-135 (Darul-Hadith edition) Cairo 1407/1987 []
  3. Ch 53, verses 19-20 []
  4. Al-Tabari’s Tafsir v. 9, pp. 131-135 []
  5. Tafsir, p. 134 []
  6. Ashkam-ul-Quran, v 3, pp. 1299-1301 []
  7. Ash-Shifa, v. 2, pp. 44-6 []
  8. Ash-Shifa, v. 2, pp. 748-758 []
  9. See Ibn al-Arabi, Ahkam-ul-Quran, v. 3, pp. 1299-1300.

    • Ibn Hajar, Fath-ul-Bari, v. 8, Book of Tafsir, Ch. 2 al-Hajj pp. 438-440
    • Al-Baghawi: Ma’alim-ut-Tanzil, v. 3, pp. 293-294, Ch. Al-Hajj.
    • Ash-Shawkani: Fathul-Qadir, v. 3, pp. 461-63.
    • Al-Qurtobi: Al-Jami’ Li ahkam al-Quran, v. 12, pp. 79-87.
    • Al-Jamal: Al-Futuhat al-Hahiyyah, commentary on: Al-Jalalayn., v. 3, p. 173 quoting al-Fakhr al-Razi in rejecting the story, then quoted b. Hajar, in detail, supporting it.
    • Ibn Kathir: Tafsir: Tafsir-ul-Quran al-Azim,v. 3, pp. 229-231. It is worth noting here that the author refers to Ash-Shifa, giving the view of Iyad as accepting the authenticity of the infamous story, while, as has been indicated, al-Qadi Iyad, in his first line of defence rejects it. Then he goes on to say: “Suppose it is authentic?So that supposition does not amount to acceptance of the story as implied in the quote of Ibn Khathir.”
    • Al-Qadi a’dud-ud-Deen al-Ieji: Sharh al-Mawaqif as sadis (the Sixth station) as-Samiyyat (things known through the revelation) al-Maqdis al-Khamis (the fifth goal) the infallibility of the Prophets. After mentioning the proofs of the infallibility of the Prophets, he goes on to discuss what is thought to be an infringement on that concept. In the case of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) he mentions, first, the expression “And he found you wandering – dallan -” [Ch 43, v. 6]. The second was the infamous story of al-gharaniq. He mentions the core of it as mentioned by others who have referred to it with the same answers. Then he goes on to explain the verse in this way: “Or what is intended here, taking tamanni to mean: desire., wishful thinking. The meaning of the verse will be: When the Prophet wishes something, Satan interferes with such a wish, and calls him to what is not proper for him, then Allah Most High will supress such a wish to keep him away from the whispering of Satan. According to this explanation, the story mentioned is a fabrication of heretics. Al-Maqaqif, pp. 573-4.
    • As-Suyuti, Jalal-yd-Dean (sic), Lunan-un-Nuqul Fi Asbab an-Nuzul, p. 138, in connection with verse 73, Ch 17 “And they were about to beguile you?” He adds that this is a proof that the Quranic verse 52 CH 22 is a Meccan revelation. Then he mentions the same story on p. 150 in connection with the Quranic verse 52 again, quoting the judgement of b. Hajar that the story must have an origin. Then he goes on to say: “No one should take notice of what was said by al-Arabi and al-Qadi Iyad: all these narrations are false and have not basis.”


Hadith Hadith Exegesis

Hadiths of the Fly (Bacteriophages)

Only in modern times was it discovered that the common fly carried parasitic pathogens for many diseases including malaria, typhoid fever, cholera, and others. It was also discovered that the fly carried parasitic bacteriophagic fungi capable of fighting the germs of all these diseases. The Prophet Muhammad — upon him and his House blessings and peace — alluded to both facts 1,400 years ago when he said, as narrated from Abu Hurayra and Abu Sa`id al-Khudri by al-Bukhari and in the Sunan:

If a fly falls into one of your containers [of food or drink], immerse it completely (falyaghmis-hu kullahu) before removing it, for under one of its wings there is venom and under another there is its antidote.

A version from Abu Hurayra in Abu Dawud, Ahmad, and al-Tahawi’s Sharh Mushkil al-Athaar (8:341 #3293) adds:

And it [al-Tahawi: “always”] protects itself (yattaqi) with the wing that carries the poison, so immerse it completely.

Ahmad and al-Tahawi add: “Then remove it.”

A sound-chained version in Ahmad, al-Tahawi, al-Nasa’i, and Ibn Majah (the latter two mention only the second half) states:

Sa`id ibn Khalid said: I went in to see Abu Salama. He brought us some butter and date pastry. A fly fell into the dish. Abu Salama began to submerge it (yamquluhu) with his finger. I said, “Uncle! What are you doing?”

He said: “Truly, Abu Sa`id al-Khudri told me that the Messenger of Allah said, ‘In one of the fly’s two wings there is poison and in another, its antidote. If it falls into food, submerge it in it; for it sends the poison first and keeps the cure last.'”

Al-Tahawi in Sharh Mushkil al-Athaar(8:339 #3289) has:

Uncle! Allah forgive you! What are you doing?

Al-Bazzar in his Musnad and al-Diya’ al-Maqdisi in “al-Ahadith al-Mukhtara” (5:206) narrate from Thumama ibn `Abd Allah ibn Anas through trustworthy narrators according to Ibn Hajar in “Fath al-Bari” (10:250) and al-Qastallani in “Irshad al-Sari” (5:304):

Thumama said: We were with Anas and a fly fell into a vessel. Anas motioned with his hand and immersed it (faghamasahu) three times then said: “Bismillah” and he said that truly, thus did the Messenger of Allah order them to do.

Shah Wali Allah al-Dihlawi mentioned in Hujjat Allah al-Baligha that this hadith shows God-given knowledge of the many diseases a fly potentially carries as well as illustrates the Creator’s wisdom in giving every venomous species some immunity or antidotal protection to its own poison insuring its survival.

Shaykh Muhyi al-Din Ibn Arabi in one of his Wasaya specified that the fly always keeps its “antidotal wing” off the substance in which it finds itself mired so as to try and use it to fly away. The Ulema said that this behavior is Divinely-inspired instinct, similar to that of the bees, the ants, the hoopoe, and the earth in the Qur’an.1

Ibn Hajar wrote in his commentary on this hadith:

I found nothing among the variants to pinpoint the wing that carries the antidote but one of the Ulema said he observed that the fly protects itself with its left wing so it can be deduced that the right one is the one with the antidote…. Another said that the poison may be that of pride (takabbur) occurring in one’s soul causing him to disdain eating that food or avoid and discard it altogether, while the antidote takes place by subduing the soul and forcing it to be humble.

Ibn Hajar also cited al-Jawzi’s remark that flies pounded with antimony (stibnite) benefit eyesight but al-Ayni in <em>Umdat al-Qari (7:304) cites Ibn al-Baytar al-Maliqi’s recipe as flies pounded with egg yolk.

Dr. Ghyath Hasan al-Ahmad in his book “al-Tibb al-Nabawi fi Daw’ al-Ilm al-Hadith" ("Prophetic Medicine in the Light of Modern Science") (1995 2:188-189) mentions that a Dr. Nabih Daish ran an experiment at King Abd al-Aziz University in Riyadh in which he created ten bacterial cultures from samples of sterilized fluid into which a fly fell without being immersed; ten more bacterial cultures from samples into which a fly fell and was immersed once; ten more from samples into which the fly was immersed twice; and ten more from samples into which the fly was immersed three times. The results showed that bacterial colonies thrived in the first set but were stunted and depleted in the second, more so in the third, and most in the fourth set.

It is established that houseflies are carriers of dangerous pathogens of animals and humans. Even the muscaphobic critics of this hadith are forced to admit that no one at the time of the Prophet(P) knew that flies carry such harmful organisms. Whence the observation that “under one of its wings there is venom”?

Second, from the perspective of logic, if the fly did not carry some sort of protection in the form of an antidote or immunity, it would perish from its own poisonous burden and there would be no fly left in the world.

Further, the transmission of what the fly carries in or on its body is not an automatic fact. For example, the microbe responsible for ulcers and other stomach ailments can live on houseflies, although it remains to be seen whether flies transmit the pathogen.2

There has long been evidence of bacterial pathogen-suppressing micro-organisms living in houseflies. An article in Vol. 43 of the Rockefeller Foundation’s Journal of Experimental Medicine (1927), p. 1037 stated:

The flies were given some of the cultured microbes for certain diseases. After some time the germs died and no trace was left of them while a germ-devouring substance formed in the flies – bacteriophages. If a saline solution were to be obtained from these flies it would contain bacteriophages able to suppress four kinds of disease-inducing germs and to benefit immunity against four other kinds.3

More recently, a Colorado State University website on entomology states that:

Gnotobiotic [= germ-free] insects (Greenberg et al, 1970) were used to provide evidence of the bacterial pathogen-suppressing ability of the microbiota of Musca domestica [houseflies] …. most relationships between insects and their microbiota remain undefined. Studies with gnotobiotic locusts suggest that the microbiota confers previously unexpected benefits for the insect host.4

So then, flies are not only pathogenic carriers but also carry microbiota that can be beneficent. The fly microbiota were described as:

…longitudinal yeast cells living as parasites inside their bellies. These yeast cells, in order to perpetuate their life cycle, protrude through certain respiratory tubules of the fly. If the fly is dipped in a liquid, the cells burst into the fluid and the content of those cells is an antidote for the pathogens which the fly carries.5

These fly microbiota are bacteriophagic or “germ-eating”. Bacteriophages are viruses of viruses. They attack viruses and bacteria. They can be selected and bred to kill specific organisms. The viruses infect a bacterium, replicate and fill the bacterial cell with new copies of the virus, and then break through the bacterium’s cell wall, causing it to burst. The existence of similar bacteria-killing mechanisms in two bacteriophages suggests that antibiotics for human infections might be designed on the basis of these cell wall-destroying proteins.6

Bacteriophagic medicine was available in the West before the forties but was discontinued when penicillin and other “miracle antibiotics” came out. Bacteriophages continued to flourish in Eastern Europe as an over-the-counter medicine. The “O1-phage” has been used for diagnosis of all Salmonella types while the prophylaxis of Shigella dysentery was conducted with the help of phages.7

“Phage therapy” is now making a comeback in the West:

First named in 1917 by researcher Felix d’Herelle at France’s Pasteur Institute, bacteriophages (or just phages for short) are viruses that prey upon bacteria. They have a simple structure – a DNA-filled head attached by a shaft to spidery “legs” that are used to grip onto the surface of a bacterium. Once a phage latches onto a bacterium, it injects its payload of genetic material into the bacterium’s innards. The bacterium then begins to rapidly produce “daughter” copies of the phage — until the bacterium becomes too full and ruptures, sending hundreds of new phage particles into the open world.

Doctors used phages as medical treatment for illnesses ranging from cholera to typhoid fevers. In some cases, a liquid containing the phage was poured into an open wound. In others, they were given orally, via aerosol, or injected. In some cases, the treatments worked well – in others, they did not. When antibiotics came into the mainstream, phage therapy largely faded in the west.
However, researchers in eastern Europe, including the former Soviet Union, continued their studies of the potential healing properties of phages. And now that strains of bacteria resistant to standard antibiotics are on the rise, the idea of phage therapy has been getting more attention in the worldwide medical community. Several biotechnology companies have been formed in the U.S. to develop bacteriophage-based treatments – many of them drawing on the expertise of researchers from eastern Europe.8

Research on the medical application of bacteriophages is now considered to be in its most promising stage. A University of Pittsburgh researcher said in June 2001:

Given the sheer number and variety of bacteriophages lurking on the planet, the viruses may represent a sizable untapped reservoir of new therapeutics.9

Possibilities for use of bacteriophages in disease control is discussed in the article “Smaller Fleas…Ad infinitum: Therapeutic Bacteriophage Redux”.10

The fact that the fly carried pathophagic or germ-eating agents was known to the ancients, who noticed that wasp and scorpion stings are remedied by rubbing the sore spot with a decapitated fly as mentioned in al-Antaki’s “Tadhkiri” (1:140), al-Ayni’s citation of Abu Muhammad Ibn al-Baytar al-Maliqi’s (d. 646) “al-Jami’ li-Mufradat al-Adwiya wal-Aghdhiya” in “‘Umdat al-Qari” (7:304), and al-Sha’rani’s “Mukhtasar al-Suwaydi fil-Tibb” (p. 98).

Avicenna preferred the use of a live chicken slit in two and applied to the wound.11 A similar use is current even today for camel urine according to a University of Calgary website.12

In the two world wars, the wounds of soldiers exposed to flies were observed to heal and scar faster than the wounds of unexposed soldiers. Even today, fly larvae, or maggots, are used medicinally to clean up festering wounds. They only eat dead tissue and leave healthy tissue alone.

Is the fly ritually filthy (najis)? No. The Jurists concur that the fly is pure (al-dhubab tahir) and does not defile a liquid even if its quantity is small and even if it dies in it except, according to al-Shafi`i, if one of the aspects of the liquid is affected (smell, color, taste).13

The Prophetic Sunnah is an endless manual of healthy living and practical husbandry for people of all walks of life, especially the poor. The Prophet(P) at all times directed his Ummah to avert waste and penury even in unsanitary conditions. Just as the hadith on camel milk and urine reveals knowledge of dietetics and natural medicine, so does the hadith of the fly reveal knowledge of preventive medicine and immunology. In this respect the command in these hadiths, as in many others, denotes an advisory Sunnah of permissibility, not a literal obligation.

The command [of immersing the fly] denotes counsel (al-amru lil-irshad) so as to counter disease with cure.14

Despite the abundance of supporting evidence for the authenticity of these medicinal narrations (camel and fly) on the one hand and for their scientific viability on the other, certain voices continue to reject them on both counts. Principle skepticism of authentically transmitted narrations that pertain to facts demonstrated by ancient and modern science, or whose scientific worth is just now coming into view, is the wont of stagnant minds and diseased hearts, for which there is no cure save the mercy of our Lord.

Cite this article as: Bismika Allahuma Team, "Hadiths of the Fly (Bacteriophages)," in Bismika Allahuma, October 14, 2005, last accessed September 25, 2022,
  1. Cf. al-Tahawi, Sharh Mushkil (8:343-344) and al-Khattabi, Ma`alim al-Sunan (4:459) []
  2. Science News Magazine, []
  3. Cited in `Abd Allah al-Qusami, Mushkilat al-Ahadith al-Nabawiyya wa-Bayanuha, p. 42 []
  4. “Re-assessment of the role of the insect gut microbiota” at []
  5. Cf. footnote in Muhammad Muhsin Khan, Translation of the Meanings of Sahih al-Bukhari (7:372, Book 76 Medicine, Chapter 58, Hadith 5782). []
  6. Science 292 (June 2001), pp. 2326-2329 []
  7. Annales Immunologiae Hungaricae, No. 9, 1966 (in German) []
  8. Hour One: Phage Therapy / Tau Neutrino at []
  9. Science 292 (June 2001), op. cit. []
  10. In Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America [PNAS], Vol. 93, No. 8 (April 16, 1996), pp. 3167-8. Available on the WWW at []
  11. Cf. Ibn al-Azraq, Tas-hil al- Manafi` (1306 ed., p. 171 = 1315 ed., p. 147) []
  12. []
  13. Cf. al-Baghawi, Sharh al-Sunna (11:260-261) and al-Qastallani, Irshad al-Sari (5:304-305) []
  14. Al-Qastallani, Irshad al-Sari (5:304) []
Hadith Exegesis

Were Men Really 60 Cubits Tall?

The Christian missionaries have recently turned their attention to a hadith which states that the height of Adam(P) was 60 cubits (= 90 feet) tall and have charged this hadith as a “scientific error”. The hadith in question is from Sahih al-Bukhari and is recorded as follows:

Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet said, “Allah created Adam, making him 60 cubits tall. When He created him, He said to him, “Go and greet that group of angels, and listen to their reply, for it will be your greeting (salutation) and the greeting (salutations of your offspring.” So, Adam said (to the angels), As-Salamu Alaikum (i.e. Peace be upon you). The angels said, “As-salamu Alaika wa Rahmatu-l-lahi” (i.e. Peace and Allah’s Mercy be upon you). Thus the angels added to Adam’s salutation the expression, ‘Wa Rahmatu-l-lahi,’ Any person who will enter Paradise will resemble Adam (in appearance and figure). People have been decreasing in stature since Adam’s creation.1

Now regarding the above hadith, the matter is very simple even for people with a diminutive mental competency. The pertinent parts of this hadith are:

    “khalaq-Allâhû Aadam wa-tûluhû sittûna thirâ`(an)…”
    (Allah created Adam and his height was 60 cubits…)

This is talking about the height of Adam(P) and all humans in Paradise and not in this world. This can be immediately adduced from the following portion of the hadith:

    “…fa kullu ma[n]-yadkhul al-jannatî `alâ sûratî Aadama fa-lam yazal al-khalqû yanqusû hatta-l Aan.”2
    (So everyone who enters Paradise (will be) upon the likeness of Adam, for they have not ceased from being decreased in stature even until now)

When Adam(P) descended from Paradise to the world, he was given a worldly decrease in stature, of which mankind is still upon to this day. Thus, this hadith is clearly stating that when humans enter Paradise again, they will return to that heavenly tall stature.

To avoid any further confusion, observe the very next hadith which precedes the above:

Narrated Abu Hurayrah: The Messenger of Allah said, “The first group of people who will enter Paradise will resemble the moon in the night of its fullness…All of them will be upon a single semblance, upon the resemblance of their father Adam, 60 cubits (tall) in the sky.”3

So that there is no room for doubt, the Arabic for “…upon the resemblance of their father Adam, 60 cubits (tall) into the sky” is `alâ khalqi rajul wâhid,`alâ sûratî abîhim aadama sittûna thirâ`a fis-samâ'”.

Hence we have successfully refuted the 20+ pages of missionary’s inconsequential diatribe, as we can all see now that the reference to “60 cubits tall” is with regard to the stature of all mankind when they are in Paradise.4

And only God knows best!

Cite this article as: Bismika Allahuma Team, "Were Men Really 60 Cubits Tall?," in Bismika Allahuma, October 14, 2005, last accessed September 25, 2022,
  1. Sahih al-Bukhari, 4:543 []
  2. ibid. []
  3. Sahih al-Bukhari, 4:544 []
  4. See also Ibn Hajar’s exegesis to Sahih al-Bukhari to see how this is the way Muslims in the past have interpreted this hadith, as he places this subject in the context of “Bab Siffat al-Jannah” (“The Chapter of the Characteristics in Paradise”). []