Did Aishah Doubt Prophet Muhammad’s Prophethood?


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Waqar Akbar Cheema & Adeel


Statements related to Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, are often taken out of context in order to further propagate the agenda of certain individuals that despise Islam. In this paper, we will examine a narration where such individuals claim that Aishah doubted the prophethood of Muhammad. It goes without saying that if such a disparaging claim from the wife of the Prophet were true, then this would change everything. However, the actual context of the statement, its wording in Arabic and the grading of the hadith must be examined before anyone can jump to false conclusions. It is always important to analyze such suggestions very closely, not only to disprove such claims, but so that we can know what the truth actually is.

1. Introduction

Some people refer to a statement attributed to ‘Aishah, the blessed wife of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), in a bid to disparage her. Missionaries pick up on it to raise questions about the Prophet himself, saying he was doubted by those nearest to him. Others use it to disparage the blessed lady by questioning her fidelity towards her Prophet husband.

The statement as quoted by such people is, “It is you who pretends to be a prophet from Allah.”[1]

In this paper, we look into the details of this narration with special attention on the authenticity and true meanings of the actual wording in the original sources.

2. Full narration from the original sources

With full chain of authorities, the narration is found with Abu Ya’la al-Musali (d. 307 AH) and Abu ash-Shaikh al-Asbahani (d. 369 AH).

The following is the full narration as it appears in the earliest source, Abu Ya’la al-Musali’s Musnad:

حدثنا الحسن بن عمر بن شقيق بن أسماء الجرمي البصري، حدثنا سلمة بن الفضل، عن محمد بن إسحاق، عن يحيى بن عباد بن عبد الله بن الزبير، عن أبيه، عن عائشة أنها قالت: ” وكان متاعي فيه خف، وكان على جمل ناج، وكان متاع صفية فيه ثقل، وكان على جمل ثقال بطيء يتبطأ بالركب، فقال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: «حولوا متاع عائشة على جمل صفية، وحولوا متاع صفية على جمل عائشة حتى يمضي الركب» . قالت عائشة: فلما رأيت ذلك قلت: يا لعباد الله غلبتنا هذه اليهودية على رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم. قالت: فقال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: «يا أم عبد الله إن متاعك كان فيه خف وكان متاع صفية فيه ثقل، فأبطأ بالركب فحولنا متاعها على بعيرك، وحولنا متاعك على بعيرها» . قالت: فقلت: ألست تزعم أنك رسول الله؟ قالت: فتبسم. قال: أو في شك أنت يا أم عبد الله؟ ” قالت: قلت: ألست تزعم أنك رسول الله؟ أفلا عدلت؟ وسمعني أبو بكر وكان فيه غرب – أي حدة – فأقبل علي فلطم وجهي فقال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: «مهلا يا أبا بكر» فقال: يا رسول الله أما سمعت ما قالت؟ فقال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: «إن الغيرى لا تبصر أسفل الوادي من أعلاه»

Al-Ḥasan bin ‘Umar – Salamah bin al-Fadl – Muhammad bin Ishaq – (narrating with ‘an from) – Yahya bin ‘Ibad – ‘Ibad bin ‘Abdullah – Aishah, who said:

My luggage was light I was on a strong camel whereas the luggage of Ṣafiyah was heavy and she was on a sluggish camel that lingered. The Messenger of Allah – peace and blessings of Allah be upon him – said: “Shift the luggage of Aishah to Ṣafiyah’s camel and that of Ṣafiyah to Aishah’s camel so that the caravan moves.” Aishah said: When I saw this, I said, “O servants of Allah, this Jewess has overwhelmed us with the Messenger of Allah.” She further narrated, the Messenger of Allah said, “O Umm ‘Abdullah (Aishah)! Your luggage is light and that of Ṣafiyah is heavy and it was making her ride slower so we shifted her luggage to your camel and your luggage to her camel.” I said, “Do you not say (taz‘um) you are the Messenger of Allah?” He smiled and said, “Are you in a doubt, O Umm ‘Abdullah?” I said, “Do you not say (taz‘um) you are the Messenger of Allah? Will you not do justice?” Abu Bakr heard what I said and he was vehement. He came up to me and slapped my face. The Messenger of Allah – peace and blessings of Allah be upon him – said, “Take it easy, O Abu Bakr!” He said, “O Messenger of Allah, did you hear what she said?” The Messenger of Allah – peace and blessings of Allah be upon him – said, “A jealous woman cannot tell the bottom of the valley from its top.”[2]

The narration is same in al-Asbahani’s al-Amthal fi Ḥadith an-Nabawi with precisely the same chain of narrators.[3]

3. Authenticity of the narration

Before explaining the meanings of the hadith, as interpreted in the translation, it is important to talk about the reliability of the hadith. The authority of the hadith has been put to question by a number of scholars.

Al-Ghazali (d. 505 AH) said, “In its chain is Ibn Ishaq and he narrated with ‘an’nah (i.e. his tadlis[4] is involved)”[5]

Al-‘Iraqi (d. 806 AH) in his research on the hadith reports in al-Ghazali’s work pointed out the same problem.[6]

Al-Haithami (d. 807 AH), after quoting the narration, stated: “Abu Ya’la narrated it; it involves Muhammad bin Ishaq (as a narrator) and he is mudallis[7]. Salamah bin Fadl has been deemed reliable by a number of scholars, including Ibn Ma‘in, Ibn Ḥibban and Abu Ḥatim, and a number of scholars have graded him as weak.”[8]

Al-Busiri (d. 840 AH) said: “Abu Ya’la narrated it with a weak (da‘if) chain due to tadlis of Ibn Ishaq.”[9]

It was, likewise, graded it as weak by al-Albani (d. 1420 AH)[10], ‘Abdur-Rahman bin ‘Umar Jurdi[11] and Dr. ‘Abdul-‘Ali ‘Abdul-Ḥamid Ḥamid.[12]

Abu Ishaq al-Ḥuwaini summarizes all the factors weakening the report: “This chain is weak (da‘if). Salamah bin al-Fadl has been graded as weak (da‘if) by an-Nasa’i and others. Al-Bukhari said, ‘There are some rejected reports in his narrations.’… Ibn Ishaq is a mudallis and reports with ‘an (i.e. in an ambiguous way). Its subject matter has evident problem in the statement of Aishah. The narration was graded as weak (da‘if) by al- Busiri.”[13]

It can be argued that al-Haithami said: “Abu ash-Shaikh has narrated this report through Usamah bin Zayd al-Laithi and hinted that there is no other problem with it except some weakness of Usamah.”

This, however, is irrelevant, as Abu ash-Shaikh al-Asbahani’s work is extant and no such chain is found in it.[14]

Furthermore, one may argue that Ibn Ḥajar has stated that Abu Ya’la narrated the report with a chain that has no problem (bi-sanad la ba’sa bihi).[15] The answer is this comment, even though coming from a learned scholar, cannot stand against empirical evidence for the weakness of the report.

 Al-Ḥuwaini adds to his above mentioned comment: “[Ibn Ḥajar stated], ‘Its chain has no problem,’ but indeed, we have shown you the problem with it.”[16]

4. Reflection on the wording of the hadith

This is how the contentious sentence has been translated above:

ألست تزعم أنك رسول الله؟

“Do you not say (taz‘um) you are the Messenger of Allah?”

This is markedly different from how the contenders put it. The reason is that word زعم does not necessarily and always mean “pretention,” “supposition,” etc. It is even used to state things positively.

In Lisan al-‘Arab, the most extensive Arabic lexicon, we find:

الزعم والزعم والزعم، ثلاث لغات: القول، زعم زعما وزعما وزعما أي قال، وقيل: هو القول يكون حقا ويكون باطلا،

“Za‘am (in all three dialectic forms means): Saying; he did za‘am (i.e. he said); it is stated – it means a saying that may be correct or false.”[17]

The well-known hadith exegete an-Nawawi (d. 676 AH) stated:

أن زعم ليس مخصوصا بالكذب والقول المشكوك فيه بل يكون أيضا في القول المحقق والصدق الذى لاشك فيه وقد جاء من هذا كثير في الأحاديث وعن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم قال زعم جبريل كذا وقد أكثر سيبويه وهو إمام العربية في كتابه الذي هو إمام كتب العربية من قوله زعم الخليل زعم أبو الخطاب يريد بذلك القول المحقق

Za‘ama is not exclusively used for a lie or a doubtful saying. In fact, it is used for established, truthful and indubitable statements as well. It is used like this in a number of hadith reports, as it is reported from the Prophet, ‘Gabriel said (za‘ama).’ At numerous instances, Sibwayh, the profound scholar of Arabic, in his book of prime importance, says ‘Khalil said (za‘ama).’ ‘Abul-Khattab said (za‘ama) and thereby means confirmed statements.”[18]

Ibn Ḥajar (d. 852 AH) wrote:

وقد يطلق على الكذب وقد يطلق على المحقق وعلى مطلق القول ويتميز بالقرينة

“It could be used for lies, the established and for any statement as such. A given usage is distinguished by its context.”[19]

5. Context of Aishah’s statement

The complete narration is reproduced above and the meanings of the key word have been stated. The context of the statement shows Aishah did not mean to doubt the prophethood of the Messenger of Allah.

The first thing to note is that years later when Aishah allegedly reported the incident she refers to the Prophet as the Messenger of Allah – may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him. In fact, even in the reported incident and in the very words of complaint, she said, “This Jewess has overwhelmed us with the Messenger of Allah.” That statement by itself dispels all the suggestions of doubt.

As for her dialogue with the Prophet, it proves nothing to the contrary. The relevant part of her narration is:

I said: “Do you not say (taz‘um) you are the Messenger of Allah?” He smiled and said, “Are you in a doubt, O Umm ‘Abdullah?” I said, “Do you not say (taz‘um) you are the Messenger of Allah? Will you not do justice?”

When she first made the statement, the Prophet asked if she doubted, to which she replied with the same line, but added the words to convey her real feelings of complaint and grief. She, in her jealousy, thought she was being treated unjustly and in making her complaint she, so to say, meant to rhetorically ask why, as a prophet, he was doing ‘injustice.’

Her reply to the Prophet’s question is the key and it is evident that she meant not to doubt prophethood but to refer to the lofty status of her husband to make a strong complaint.

As for Abu Bakr’s reaction, it was for Aishah’s complaint regarding the Prophet’s justice because no human can be more just in his dealings than the Prophet. It is like what is reported in another weak report that the blessed Prophet and Aishah, as it happens between spouses, had an argument on some issue and they both agreed to present the issue to Abu Bakr. While the Prophet was about to speak she said, “O Messenger of Allah, say it right!” and Abu Bakr slapped her, saying, “Do you tell the Messenger of Allah to put it right?”[20]

Likewise, in the hadith under consideration, Abu Bakr’s reaction was for Aishah to speak about the Prophet’s justice. Abu Bakr was being legally correct and behaved in the capacity of a father who reacted to his daughter’s behavior towards the Messenger of Allah. The Prophet, on the other hand, saw it from the perspective of a loving spouse and knew that this comment itself originated in Aishah’s extreme love for him, mixed with her jealousy towards her co-wife.

6. Summary and Conclusion

a. The hadith is weak and is graded as such by a number of scholars. Even al-Ghazali, whose reference is generally quoted, pointed out the problem with its chain of narrators.

b. Even if accepted, the hadith does not carry the meaning that some present. The word “za‘am” is not only used to speak of false or doubtful things, it is even used to make positive statements. It is the context that determines its meaning in a given instance.

c. The context makes it clear that Aishah did not mean to doubt the prophethood; rather, she referred to her husband’s status as a prophet to lodge her complaint about what she, in her natural jealousy, understood as injustice.

d. Abu Bakr’s reaction was for her daughter’s comment about the Prophet’s justice, whereas the Prophet viewed it as a loving husband.

e. All these details prove that there is no strength in the arguments of those who try to disparage the Mother of the Believers and those who try to pick up on it to raise questions about the Messenger of Allah – peace and blessings be upon him.


References and Notes:


[1] al-Ghazali, Ihya’ al-‘Ulum ad-Din,  (Beirut: Dar al-Ma’rifah, n.d.) Vol.2, 43

[2] al-Musali, Abu Ya’la, al-Musnad, (Damascus: Dar al-Ma’mun lil-Turath, 1984) Ḥadith 4670

[3] al-Asbahani, Abu ash-Shaikh, al-Amthal fi Ḥadith an-Nabawi, Edited by ‘Abdul-‘Ali ‘Abdul-Hamid Hamid (Bombay: Dar al-Salafiyyah, 1987) Ḥadith 56

[4] tadlis: phenomenon in which the narrator conceals the identity of the narrator before him in a subtle way.

[5] al-Ghazali, Ihya’ al-‘Ulum ad-Din, Vol.2, 43

[6] al-‘Iraqi, Takhrij Ahadith al-Ihya’, (Beirut: Dar Ibn Hazm, 2005) Vol.1, 481

[7] mudallis: one who is known for practicing tadlis, see note 4 above.

[8] al-Haithami, Majma‘ az-Zawa’id wa Manba‘ al-Fawa’id, (Cairo: Maktabah al-Qudsi, 1994) Vol.4, 322, No. 7694

[9] al-Busiri, Ithaf al-Khayyirah al-Maharah, (Riyadh: Dar al-Watan, 1999) Vol.3, 154-155, No. 2426

[10] al-Albani, as-Silsalat Ahadith ad-Da‘ifah, (Riyadh: Dar al-Ma’arif, 1992) No. 2985

[11] al-‘Asqalani, Ibn Ḥajar and Jurdi (ed.), al-Maṭalib al-‘Aliyah, Edited by ‘Abdur-Rahman bin ‘Umar Jurdi (Riyadh:  Dar al-‘Asimah, , 1998) Vol.8 Ḥadith 1599

[12] al-Asbahani, al-Amthal fi Ḥadith an-Nabawi, Ḥadith 56

[13] al-Ḥuwaini, Fatawa al-Ḥadithiyyah, Vol.1, 244-245

[14] al-Albani, as-Silsalat Ahadith ad-Da‘ifah, Vol.6, 556, No. 2985

[15] al-‘Asqalani, Ibn Ḥajar, Fath al-Bari, (Beirut: Dar al-Ma’rifah, 1379 AH) Vol. 9, 325

[16] al-Ḥuwaini, Fatawa al-Ḥadithiyyah, (Shamela ed.) Vol.1, 244-245

[17] Ibn Manẓur, Muhammad ibn Mukarram, Lisan al-‘Arab, (Beirut: Dar Ṣadir, 1414 AH) Vol.12, 264

[18] an-Nawawi, Yahya bin Sharaf, Sharh ‘ala Muslim, (Beirut: Dar Ihya’ at-Turath al-‘Arabi, 1392 AH) Vol.1, 170

[19] al-‘Asqalani, Ibn Ḥajar, Fath al-Bari, Vol.1, 127

[20] al-Hindi, ‘Ali al-Muttaqi, Kanz al-‘Ummal, (Beirut: ar-Resalah Publications, 1981) Ḥadith 37785; graded as weak (da‘if) in al-Albani, as-Silsalat Ahadith ad-Da‘ifah, No. 4996

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Waqar Akbar Cheema

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