Does Hadith condemn the infant girls buried alive?


Waqar Akbar Cheema


Among the hadith reports with apparently problematic meanings is one related as;

“الوائدة والموءودة في النار”

Usually it is understood as:

“The woman who buries her daughter alive (al-wa’idah), and the girl who is buried (al-ma’udah) will both enter Hell.”

As such, without any context, the hadith is recorded in Sunan of Abu Dawud on the authority of ‘Abdullah b. Mas‘ud,[1] and has been deemed authentic by a number of scholars.[2]

In view of the fact that this appears to contradict the principle laid down by the Qur’an that no one will have to bear the burden of sins of others[3] and more specifically the fact that Qur’an itself alludes to the poor little girls buried alive by certain Arabs before Islam implying that they would be putting to question people responsible for such atrocities on the Day of Judgment rather than being tormented themselves,[4] it has evoked different responses from Muslim scholars since early centuries of Islam.

To some this hadith talks about the burier and the buried in a specific incident and thus its implication is restricted to a specific girl buried alive and not all such girls.[5] Some have further added that the specific girl meant was not even infant or a small child rather she had come of age though some versions of the hadith suggest her brothers thought otherwise. Others have argued that like the child killed by Khidr in the story mentioned in Qur’an the specific girl, even if small, had had predilections of disbelief like her mother. All these interpretation have the undertone of restricting the implications of the apparently general wording of the Prophet (ﷺ) to the specific case.

A few scholars, nevertheless, take a more ingenious approach of parting with the apparent meanings of the hadith suggesting the word “al-ma’udah” does not actually refer to the one buried alive rather to the one for whom or on whose behest (or even consent) she was buried. Accordingly, they imply that the actual construction was supposed to be “al-ma’udah laha” – the adjunct clause (sila), laha,  being elided (mahzuf).

Both these ways of restricting the implications of hadith to the specific incident and the ingenious interpretation appear to be borne of apologetic concerns or seem altogether desperate. This, however, is only before we see more detailed versions of the hadith like the one preserved by Ahmad b. Hanbal in his well-known Musnad.

عن سلمة بن يزيد الجعفي، قال: انطلقت أنا وأخي إلى رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم، قال: قلنا: يا رسول الله، إن أمنا مليكة كانت تصل الرحم، وتقري الضيف، وتفعل، وتفعل هلكت في الجاهلية، فهل ذلك نافعها شيئا؟ قال: ” لا ” قال: قلنا: فإنها كانت وأدت أختا لنا في الجاهلية، فهل ذلك نافعها شيئا؟ قال: ” الوائدة والموءودة في النار، إلا أن تدرك الوائدة الإسلام ، فيعفو الله عنها “

Salama b. Yazid al-Ju‘fi said: I and my brother went to the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) and asked, “Messenger of Allah! Our mother Mulaika kept the ties of kinship, honoured the guest and did so and so [good deeds] and she died in the times of ignorance [before Islam]; will her good deeds benefit her?” He said, “No.” We [then] asked, “In the times of ignorance, however, she had our sister buried alive, will that benefit her [i.e. our sister]?”[6] The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, “Al-Wa’idah and al-Ma’udah will enter Hell except if al-Wa’idah lived to accept Islam for then Allah would forgive her.”[7]

A few facts need to be delineated before we set on to appreciate their significance with regards to meanings of the hadith.

1) The men asking the Prophet (ﷺ) were inquisitive about the fate of their deceased relatives i.e. their mother and sister. First they asked about their mother and learnt that her good deeds would not help her in life hereafter as she had died before accepting Islam.

2) Next they asked about their sister that she was buried alive wondering if this would benefit her in the life hereafter. In mentioning the fate of their sister, however, they mentioned that it was their mother who had her buried, a fact they had not mentioned while asking about their mother moments before.

3) Upon this the Prophet (ﷺ) said, “The woman who buried her alive (al-wa’idah) and al-ma’udah [laha] will both enter Hell” following it with a clarification that “except if the one who buried her lived to accept Islam for then Allah would forgive her.”

4) As generally understood “the woman who buried her alive” refers to the mother of the girl but here the clarifying remark of the Prophet (ﷺ) that “if she lived to accept Islam” tells us that it was not meant about the mother of the girl for it had already been mentioned that the mother of the girl had died before Islam. This in turn tells us that the subject of the burying act here was not the mother of girl buried but some other woman.

5) In view of pt. 4, therefore, we can conclude that al-ma’udah here meant the mother of the girl whose active involvement in the heinous act was mentioned by her sons.

Accordingly, we see that the most significant part of the narration are the clarifying remarks of the Prophet (ﷺ) “except if the one who buried her lived to accept Islam for then Allah would forgive her” because alongwith the prior mention of the death of mother of the girl they are evidently about a woman other than the mother of the girl which in turn leads us to the understanding that the “al-ma’udah [laha]” in fact refers to mother of the girl who was equally responsible for the heinous crime.

In view of the details above we can conclude that:

  1. “al-ma’udah [laha]” here refers to the mother of the girl buried alive for she had her buried, and “al-wa’idah” refers to a woman burier of the infant girl who was someone besides her mother.
  2. the remarks about two women entering Hell had a specific context and they do not relate to the infant girl buried alive.

This interpretation is not the brainchild of this author rather a number of scholars from the past centuries have mentioned this. Al-Qadi al-Baidawi (d. 685/1286), for instance, wrote;

ولعل المراد بالوائدة: القابلة, وبالموؤدة: الموؤدة لها وهي أم الطفل, فحذفت الصلة, إذ كان من ديدنهم أن المرأة إذا أخذها الطلق حفر لها حفرة عميقة, فجلست عليها, والقابلة وراءها تترقب الولد, فإن ولدت ذكرا أمسكت, وإن ولدت أنثى ألقتها في تلك الحفرة, وأهالت عليها التراب

Perhaps, ‘the burier’ (al-wa’idah) refers to the midwife, and ‘al-ma’udah’ to the one for whom burying was done i.e. the mother of the infant. The adjunct (‘for whom’) was thus omitted. It was their custom that when a woman would be in labour pains a deep hole was dug for her on which she was made to sit. Meanwhile the midwife remained behind her waiting for the child. If the mother bore a boy the midwife would hold him and if the mother bore a girl she would through her in that hole and put mud on her. [8]

Others who gave this interpretation include al-Tibi (d. 743/1342),[9] Ibn al-Malak (d. 854/1450),[10] al-Manawi (d.1031/1622),[11] al-Mazhari (d. 1225/1810),[12] al-Alusi (d. 1270/1854),[13]and al-Sahanpuri (d. 1346/1927).[14] More recently al-Albani (d.1420/1999)[15] adopted a similar interpretation.

This interpretation is further corroborated by the fact that some others narrations of the report, albeit those with weaker chain of narrators, mention by the way of condemnation only the mother of the infant buried alive and no one else.[16]

Hadith tradition as great and generally careful it has been is nevertheless a human endeavour and at times there is a possibility for some details or nuances to a talk being missed, as is evident in comparison between the narrations of it preserved in the works of Abu Dawud and Ahmad b. Hanbal. It is, therefore, only natural to view isolated reports in tandem with other reports and established ideals. In another hadith recorded by both Abu Dawud in his Sunan and Ahmad b. Hanbal in his Musnad, the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) is reported to have made a very general announcement;

عن حسناء بنت معاوية الصريميه، قالت: حدثنا عمي، قال: قلت للنبي -صلى الله عليه وسلم-: من في الجنة؟ قال: “النبي في الجنة، والشهيد في الجنة، والمولود في الجنة، والوئيد في الجنة”

Narrated Hasana’ daughter of Mu‘awiyah: She reported on the authority of her paternal uncle: I asked the Prophet (ﷺ): Who are in Paradise? He replied: Prophets are in Paradise, martyrs are in Paradise, infants are in Paradise and children buried alive are in Paradise.[17]

In light of all these details it is clear that rightful translation of the hadith conveying its actual meaning is,

The one who buried the infant girl and the one who had her buried will both enter Hell.

There is no condemnation of the infant girl buried alive.


References & Notes:

[1] Al-Sajistani, Abu Dawud, al-Sunan, (Riyadh: Darussalam Publishers, 2007) Hadith 4717; see next note for further references

[2] The scholars who authenticated it include Ibn Hibban (al-Sahih, Resalah ed. Hadith 7480), Ibn ‘Asakir, (Mu‘jam al-Shuyukh, Dar al-Basha’ir, Hadith 1142) Ibn Kathir (Tafsir al-Qur’an al-Adhim, Dar al-Taiba, Vol.5, 60), al-Haithmi, (Majma‘ al-Zawa’id, Maktaba al-Qudsi, Hadith 466) al-Albani (Tahqiq Mishkat, Hadith 112), Muqbil b. Hadi al-Wadi‘I (al-Jami’ al-Sahih mimma laisa fi al-Sahihain, Hadith 1192, 4389) and Hussain Salim Asad, (Ed. Majm‘ al-Zawaid, Dar al-Ma’mun, Hadith 473)

[3] Qur’an 6:164; 17:15; 35:18; 39:7; 53:38

[4] Qur’an 81:8-9

[5] Ibn Hibban, al-Sahih, Hadith 7480; Ibn Hibban makes his understanding of the hadith clear through the heading of the chapter he places this hadith in; “Mention of the report that has put in doubt one who does not have profound knowledge that an infant girl buried alive shall surely enter Hell.”

[6] That it referred to the sister of the men asking is evident from the flow of the speech itself. Moreover, it is clearly mentioned in some narrations of the hadith; see al-Baghawi, Mu‘jam al-Sahaba, (Kuwait: Dar al-Bayan, 2000) Vol.3, 116; Ibn Manda, Ma‘rifah al-Sahaba, (Al-Ain: UAE University Press, 2006) 688, al-Baihaqi, al-Qada wa al-Qadr, (Riyadh: Maktaba al-Obeikan, 2000) Hadith 620; Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr, al-Tamhid lima fi al-Muwatta min al-Ma‘ani wa al-Asanid, (London: al-Furqan Publishers, 2017) Vol.11, 381; Ibn ‘Asakir, Mu‘jam al-Shuyukh, (Damascus: Dar al-Basha’ir) Hadith 1142

[7] Ahmad b. Hanbal, al-Musnad, Hadith 15932; etc. classified as sahih in Muqbil b. Hadi al-Wadi‘I, al-Jami’ al-Sahih mimma laisa fi al-Sahihain, (San‘a: Dar al-Athar, 2013) Hadith 1192, 4389

[8] Al-Baidawi, Qadi Nasir al-Din, Tuhfah al-Abrar Sharh Masabih al-Sunnah, (Kuwait: Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs, 2012) Vol.1, 110

[9] Al-Tibi, Sharaf al-Din, al-Kashif ‘an Haqa’iq al-Sunan, (Makkah: Maktaba Nazar Mustafa al-Baz, 1997) Vol.2, 575

[10] Ibn al-Malak, Muhammad b. ‘Izz al-Din, Sharh Masabih al-Sunnah, (Beirut: Idara Thaqafah al-Islamiyya, 2012) Vol.1, 129

[11] Al-Manawi, Zain al-Din, Faid al-Qadir, (Cairo: Maktaba al-Tijariya, 1356 AH) Vol.6, 370

[12] Al-Mazhari, Thana Ullah, al-Tafsir al-Mazhari, (Quetta: Maktaba al-Rashidiya, 1412 AH) Vol.10, 206; after mentioning this interpretation he writes, “No other interpretation of the hadith is plausible.” (لا يمكن فى الحديث الا هذا التأويل)

[13] Al-Alusi, Shahab al-Din Mahmud, Ghra’ib al-Ightirab, (Baghdad: Maktaba al-Shabandar, 1327/1909) 105; al-Alusi mentions that on his trip to Samsun (Turkey) some of the notables of the city asked him about a few issues including reconciling the hadith under discussion with the idea that children of disbelievers will also enter Paradise. He says he mentioned this explanation and “with it the dust of doubts was cleared.” (وبهذا يتجلى الغبار)

[14] Al-Saharanpuri, Khalil Ahmad, Badhil al-Majhud fi Hal Sunan Abi Dawud, (India: Markaz Abu al-Hasan Nadvi, 2006) Vol.11

[15] Ale Nu‘man, Shadi b. Muhammad, Mawsu‘a  al-‘Allama al-Mujaddid al-‘Asr Muhammad Nasir al-Din al-Albani, (San‘a: Markaz al- Nu‘man, 2010 ) Vol.5, 918 (Section 772); Video Clip of al-Albani where he mentioned this interpretation is also available here; to al-Albani the elided adjunct clause here was “lahu” making al-ma’udah refer to the father of the buried infant.

[16] From Ibn Mas‘ud through Abu Yaqzan ‘Uthman b. ‘Umair: Ahmad b. Hanbal, al-Musnad, Hadith 3787; al-Bazzar, al-Musnad, (Madina: Maktaba al-‘Ulum wa al-Hikam, 2009) Hadith 1534; al-Tabarani, Mu‘jam al-Kabir, (Cairo: Maktaba Ibn Taimiya, 1994) Hadith 10017; al-Hakim, al-Mustadrak, (Beirut: DKI, 1990) Hadith 3385; al- Asbahani, Abu Nu‘aim, Hilya al-Awliya, (Cairo: al-Sa‘adah, 1974) Vol.4, 238

From Ibn Abi Mulaika through Ibn Abi Laila: al-Dawlabi, al-Kuna wa al-Asma’, (Beirut: Dar Ibn Hazm, 2000) Hadith 326

It may be argued that some versions of the report say “Your mother and the child she buried alive are in Hell” which does not take the interpretation offered here. In response it suffices to say that such versions come through exceptionally weak narrators such as through Jabir al-Ju‘fi as with al-Tahawi, Sharh Mushkil al-Athar, (Beirut: Resalah Publishers, 1994) Hadith 4365. Jabir al-Ju‘fi has been termed as liar by a number of early scholars. Accordingly Shu ‘aib al-Arnaut has graded the narration has “Extremely Weak.” Another such narration comes through Suleman b. Qarm b. Mu’adh who was a weak narrator and Yazid b. Murra whose trustworthiness is not attested. See al-Tiyalsi, al-Musnad, Edited by Dr. Muhammad al-Turki (Cairo: Dar Hijr, 1999) Hadith 1402. Moreover, such an addition is odd for it is not mentioned in other reports.

[17] Al-Sajistani, Abu Dawud, al-Sunan, Hadith 2521; Ahmad b. Hanbal, al-Musnad, Hadith 20583, 20585; classified as hasan by Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani and Shu‘aib al-Arna’ut and sahih by Al-Albani. It is likewise reported authentically through Hasan al-Basri, see Ibn al-Ja‘d, ‘Ali, al-Musnad, (Beirut: Mo’assasah Nadir, 1990) Hadith 3063

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