Waqar Akbar Cheema
A few people have objected to the authenticity of a hadith regarding a vow taken by Prophet Sulayman to sleep with a large number of his wives in a single night despite the narration being recorded in Sahih Al-Bukhari and others with authenticated chains. The objectors have trouble with the narrated number of wives – which range from sixty to a hundred in the different chains of the narration – and they deem it irrational that someone could have intercourse with such a large number of women in one night. This essay takes a critical look at the objections and demonstrates that the hadith is authentic and the exact number of wives is peripheral to the crux of the meaning of the hadith.
In Sahih Bukhari and other hadith collections there is a report regarding a vow taken by Prophet Sulayman and a few people have issues with this narration. Lacking due focus on the actual import of the hadith, people have raised doubts about a peripheral aspect of the hadith. There are some who have dubbed the narration as irrational and others have seen a contradiction in its various versions. In this short article we will look at the different lines of criticism against the authentic hadith and, in the process, highlight some principles of the science of hadith criticism.
2. The Narration
Narrated Abu Hurairah (r):
قال النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم،: قال: سليمان بن داود لأطوفن الليلة على سبعين امرأة، تحمل كل امرأة فارسا يجاهد في سبيل الله، فقال له صاحبه: إن شاء الله، فلم يقل، ولم تحمل شيئا إلا واحدا، ساقطا أحد شقيه، فقال النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم: لو قالها لجاهدوا في سبيل الله
The Prophet said, “Sulayman, the son of Dawud, said, ‘Tonight I will sleep with seventy ladies each of whom will conceive a child who will be a knight fighting for Allah’s Cause.’ His companion said, ‘If Allah wills.’ But Sulayman did not say so, therefore none of those women got pregnant except one who gave birth to a half-child.” The Prophet further said, “If he [Prophet Sulayman] had said it [i.e. ‘if Allah wills’] he would have begotten children who would have fought in Allah’s Cause.”
3. Alleged Problems
3.1 How could Sulayman Sleep with So Many Women in a Single Night?
Firstly, it has been said by some that it is irrational to assert that a man slept with sixty or even more women in a single night. Maududi (d. 1399/1979), who generally rebutted the arguments of hadith rejecters on many issues, slips and makes the following skeptical remarks on this narration in his commentary to Qur’an 38:35:
But the subject matter of the hadith is patently against reason, and proclaims aloud that such a thing could not have been said by the Holy Prophet, as reported. But, on the contrary, he might have probably mentioned it as an example of the foolish and nonsensical tale-telling of the Jews, and the hearer might have misunderstood that the Holy Prophet himself had stated it as an event. To force the people to accept such traditions only on the strength of their chains of transmitters would be making religion a matter of mockery and jest. Everyone can calculate for himself that even in the longest night of winter the interval between the ‘Isha and the Fajr Prayers cannot be more than ten or eleven hours. If the minimum number of the wives were 60, it would mean that Prophet Sulayman (peace be upon him) went on having intercourse with them continuously for 10 to 11 hours that night at the rate of six wives per hour, without having a moment’s rest. Is it practically possible? And can it be expected that the Holy Prophet might have related it as an event?
Here his assertions are baseless and lack the depth of analysis that we find with other scholars. Following points need careful consideration:
a) The number of women is not central to the theme of the hadith nor has it any legal or moral significance.
b) The only companion narrating it from the Holy Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) is Abu Hurairah. Therefore, it cannot be said that at different times the Prophet could have, for any reason whatsoever, given different numbers.
c) The different numbers come through narrators who are all trustworthy and nearly equal in reliability, retention and understanding.
d) In fact, at times narration through the same set of successive narrators have different numbers thus making it nearly impossible to decide which one is a more reliable account.
The authoritative position in this case, therefore, is that the number of women is neither proven nor required to be worried about.
Shah Waliullah al-Dehlawi (d. 1176/1762) writes:
وقد تختلف صيغ حديث لاختلاف الطرق وذلك من جهة نقل الحديث بالمعنى فإن جاء حديث ولم يختلف الثقات في لفظه كان ذلك لفظه صلى الله عليه وسلم ظاهرا، … وإن اختلفوا اختلافا محتملا وهم متقاربون في الفقه والحفظ والكثرة سقط الظهور، فلا يمكن الاستدلال بذلك إلا على المعنى جاءوا به جميعا، وجمهور الرواة كانوا يعتنون برءوس المعاني لا بحواشيها
The wording of the hadiths may vary due to variations in the manner of transmission, and this is due to the process of transmitting the hadith according to its meanings, so if a hadith is brought forward and the reliable scholars are unanimous regarding its wording, then these are manifestly the words of the Prophet, may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him … If the transmitters differ with a plausible difference and they were of nearly equal status in legal acumen, memory, and number, then the obviousness [that these are the Prophet’s words] collapses, and only that meaning upon which they all concur can be deduced. The majority of transmitters attended to the main ideas of the meaning, not the peripheral factors.
Therefore, it is wrong to question the whole hadith due to the issue of the number of women. The agreed-upon suggestion is that the number of women to whom Prophet Sulayman vowed to go was fairly large – more than the normal routine – and different narrators mentioned different numbers and at times the number varied in narrations by the same narrators. It is, therefore, clear that no number can be attributed to the Holy Prophet, may the peace and blessings of Almighty Allah be upon him.
3.2 Is it a Case of Contradiction in Hadith?
It is true that the number is varying in different narrations of the same report but this does not mean that the Prophet – may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him – contradicted himself. It is, in fact, the later narrators who did not preserve the exact number as it was not central to the theme of the hadith and had no legal or moral significance. As Shah Waliullah said: “The majority of transmitters attended to the main ideas of the meaning, not the peripheral factors.”
Perhaps the Messenger of Allah said something implying an unusually large number of women and failing to retain it the narrators mentioned different numbers.
Ibn Hajar (d. 852/1449) mentions:
وذكر أبو موسى المديني في كتابه المذكور أن في بعض نسخ مسلم عقب قصة سليمان هذا الاختلاف في هذا العدد وليس هو من قول النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم وإنما هو من الناقلين
Abu Musa al-Madini (d. 571/1185) stated in his book [al-Thamin fi Istithna’ al-Yamin] that in some manuscripts of Sahih Muslim after this story of Sulayman it is written that the different numbers [of women] are not from the words of the Prophet, rather they come from [later] narrators.
Moreover, the contradiction in the reports of the Prophet can be proven only if it can be established that he mentioned the report on two or more occasions. In fact, what we see is that Abu Hurairah is the sole narrator of this hadith and there is no suggestion that he heard it from the Prophet on multiple occasions. For this reason, the contradiction or inconsistency cannot be attributed to the Prophet, and there is no need for an attempt at reconciliation.
4. Does this Fact Make the Complete Hadith Dubious?
It is important to understand that a hadith does not become dubious due to uncertainty regarding a part of the hadith, especially when the uncertainty is vis-a-vis a peripheral issue having no bearing whatsoever on the fundamental import of the hadith.
Ibn Hajar writes:
لا يلزم من وهم الراوي في لفظة من الحديث أن يطرح حديثه كله
A narrator’s confusion on a word does not ask for casting away the whole hadith.
While a number of scholars have criticized Maududi for his rejection of this authentic hadith in his commentary, it appears not many have noticed the fact that elsewhere he himself approached this hadith in a manner similar to that of traditional scholarship. In response to a question about this hadith Maududi wrote:
Hadith reports on this subject are found in various chapters of Sahih al-Bukhari. These reports mention different numbers of Sulayman’s wives – sixty, seventy, ninety and hundred. The chains for authorities for all these reports are different. It is, therefore, difficult to term something reported with numerous chains of authorities altogether baseless. However, it is possible that Abu Hurairah made a mistake in understanding the saying of the Prophet or that he did not listen to it completely. It may be that the Prophet said Sulayman had numerous wives that Jews numbered as sixty, seventy, ninety, ninety nine or hundred, and Abu Huraira thought the Prophet himself mentioned the number. Likewise, it may be that the Holy Prophet mentioned Sulayman’s saying as “I will go to my wives and each of them will bear a mujahid” and Abu Huraira surmised that he mentioned this for one night. Such inadvertencies are found in various reports.
From the above it appears Maududi did realize the fact that a possible inadvertence on the part of a trustworthy narrator regarding peripheral details of a report does not warrant rejection of it or dubbing it as totally baseless. However, in his zeal to criticize some baseless stories of Jewish origins related to a verse of the Holy Qur’an, he overlooked a valid principle that he himself had considered elsewhere.
The hadith is rigorously authentic. It’s only that a number that has no real connection with the fundamental meaning of the hadith is not preserved from the Prophet – may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him. All we can ascertain is that the number mentioned was fairly large and departed from routine. It is a mistake to even hypothetically attribute any of the numbers given in the various reports to the Prophet when there is nothing to prefer one of them over the other or even a solid base to reconcile them. And it is an even greater mistake to build up a speculative skeptical argument on the basis of such an assumption.[divider]
References & Notes:
 Al-Bukhari, al-Sahih, Translated by Muhammad Muhsin Khan (Riyadh: Maktabat Dar-us-Salam, 1997) Hadith 3424
 Ibid., Hadith 7469
 Ibid., Hadith 6639
 Ibid., Hadith 2819
 Maududi, Tafhim al-Qur’an, (Lahore: Idara Tarjuman al-Qur’an, n.d.) Vol.4, 337.
 In Sahih Bukhari, the narration through ‘Abdul Razzaq, Ma’mar, Ibn Tawus, Tawus from Abu Hurairah has the number hundred, whereas in the narration from Hammad ibn Zayd, Ayub, Muhammad ibn Sirin from Abu Hurairah recorded by Bukhari it is sixty.
 In Sahih Bukhari, the narration from Ayub and Ibn Sirin gives the number as sixty (no. 7469), whereas in Musnad al-Bazzar (no. 9836) it is given as a hundred. Likewise, Bukhari’s narration (no. 5242) from ‘Abdul Razzaq, Ma’mar, Ibn Tawus, and Tawus has the number hundred, while Muslim’s narration (no. 24-1654) through them has seventy, and al-Nasai’ (no. 3856) has the number ninety in their narration.
 Shah Waliullah, Hujjat Allah al-Baligha, translated by Marcia Hermansen as The Conclusive Argument from God: Shah Wali Allah of Delhi’s Hujjat Allah Al-Baligha, (Islamabad: Islamic Research Institute, 2003) 411-412.
 Muhammad Taqi Usmani, Takmilah Fath al-Mulhim, (Beirut: Dar al-Ihya al-Turath al-Arabi, 2006) Vol.2, pp.181, 185-187.
 Muhammad Taqi Usmani, Taqrir Tirmidhi, (Karachi: Memon Islamic Books, 1999) Vol.2 pp.184-185.
 Muhammad Taqi Usmani, In’am al-Bari, (Karachi: Hira Publications, 2014) Vol.8, 239.
 Al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bari, Vol.11, 606, and also see, Ibn al-Mulaqqin, Al-Tawdih li-Sharh Jami’ Al-Sahih, Vol.30, 431.
 Al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bari, (Beirut: Dar al-Ma’rifa, 1379 AH) Vol.11, 605, and also see, Muhammad Taqi Usmani, In’am al-Bari, Vol.1, 358
 Al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bari, Vol.9, 286
 Sawati, ‘Abdul Hamid, Tafsir Ma’alim al-Irfan, (Gujranwala: Maktaba Durus al-Qur’an, 2008) Vol.16, 79, and Muhammad Rafi’ Usmani, Dars-i-Muslim, (Karachi: Idara al-Ma’arif, 2012) Vol.2, 284-289
 There is actually an authentic version of the report without any mention of a single night. See Ibn Hibban, al-Sahih, (Beirut: Al-Resalah Publications, 1998) Hadith 4337, and Ibn al-A’rabi, al-Mu’jam, (Dammam: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 1997) Hadith 1875.
 Maududi, Rasa’il wa Masa’il, (Lahore: Islamic Publications, n.d.) Vol.2, 27