Understanding “Satan urinates in the ear” hadith


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Waqar Akbar Cheema


Once again, we come across a hadith that seems to have an ‘odd’ phrasing when looked at from the literal perspective – even more so when approached from the English language. Some have called it vulgar, others think it sounds superstitious; but one thing is for sure: none of them have any idea what the phrase actually means! The hadith in question uses a phrase that involves Satan urinating in one’s ear, but if we take a look at the use of this phrase in the Arabic language, we will quickly come to the conclusion that this phrase cannot be taken at face-value. This article will examine the hadith and other ones like it. It will also note what the scholars have said about this phrase, and it will clear up any misconceptions about the hadith.

1. Introduction

Condemning a person sleeping through the night till the day-break like a dormouse, a hadith tells us that the Prophet – may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him – said Satan urinates in that person’s ears. As expected, anti-Islamic polemicists take exception to this and dub it as superstitious. Non-conversant with the true significance of the words used, some Muslims also wonder about its real meanings.

Here is the narration often quoted:

عن عبد الله رضي الله عنه، قال: ذكر عند النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم رجل نام ليله حتى أصبح، قال: ” ذاك رجل بال الشيطان في أذنيه، أو قال: في أذنه “

Narrated ‘Abdullah: It was mentioned before the Prophet that there was a man who slept the night till morning (after sunrise). The Prophet said, “He is a man in whose ears (or ear) Satan had urinated.”[1]

2. Explanation

2.1 The reasoning for this mention

In another narration, there is a clear mention of missing the prayers:

عن عبد الله رضي الله عنه، قال: ذكر عند النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم رجل، فقيل: ما زال نائما حتى أصبح، ما قام إلى الصلاة، فقال: «بال الشيطان في أذنه»

Narrated ‘Abdullah: A man was mentioned before the Prophet – peace and blessings of Allah be upon him – and he was told that he had kept on sleeping till morning and had not got up for as-Salat (i.e., Fajr prayers).. The Prophet said, “Satan urinated in his ears.”[2]

In other reports, we have more to help us understand the gravity of the issue addressed in the hadith:

عن عبد الله بن مسعود رضي الله عنه، قال: سئل النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم عن الذي ينام من أول الليل إلى آخره، قال: ” ذاك الذي بال الشيطان في أذنه “

Narrated ‘Abdullah bin Mas‘ood: The Prophet – peace and blessings of Allah be upon him – was asked about one who slept from the beginning of the night towards its end. He said: “He is the one in whose ear Satan has urinated.”[3]

This narration says the person slept all night and must have missed isha (night) prayers in addition to missing the morning prayers.

2.2 Reference to Satan

Explaining Satan’s likeness for yawning, Ibn Battal (d. 449 A.H.) writes:

وكذلك كل ما جاء من الأفعال المنسوبة إلى الشيطان فإنها على معنيين إما إضافة رضى وإرادة أو إضافة بمعنى الوسوسة فى الصدر والتزيين

And similar is the case for all the activities ascribed to Satan, and they have two meanings; [it is] either by the way of [Satan’s] pleasure and will or by the way of whispering in the heart and making something attractive.”[4]

Most certainly, Satan wants a person to sleep for long hours, become lazy, fail to discharge his or her duties towards Allah and fellow humans and miss the obligatory prayers and blessings from Allah. If a person gives in to Satan once, he or she becomes easy prey in the future – unless he or she exerts extra effort to control and recover from the loss.

2.3 Reference to ear(s)

Ears representing the faculty of listening stand for the ability to reason. Its relation to tight sleep and disconnection from the world is obvious. A related use is in Qur’an 18:11.

2.4 The mention of urination

Being the most important point in the narration, this phrase requires good knowledge and understanding of the Arabic language.

The mention of urination is actually to denote the worst overpowering of sleep that pleases Satan.
Ibn Hajar (d. 852 A.H.) writes:

هو مثل مضروب للغافل عن القيام بثقل النوم كمن وقع البول في أذنه فثقل أذنه وأفسد حسه والعرب تكني عن الفساد بالبول

“It is an example used for the one who is negligent of prayers due to heavy sleep as if he has got his ear filled with urine till it became weighed down and his senses became corrupted. Arabs have used urination as a metaphor for corruption.”[5]

Likewise, an-Nawawi (d. 676 A.H.) explains:

معناه استخف به واحتقره واستعلى عليه يقال لمن استخف بإنسان وخدعه بال في أذنه وأصل ذلك في دابة تفعل ذلك بالأسد إذلالا له وقال الحربي معناه ظهر عليه وسخر منه

“And its meaning is to scoff at, deride and belittle. It is said for the one who scorns a human and deceives him so that he urinated in his ear. The origin of this term came from an animal doing it to a [sleeping] lion as an act of humiliation. Al-Harbi said, ‘It means he became victorious over him and is ridiculing him.’”[6]

Furthermore, it is actually a proverbial use denoting the spoilt. A poet once said:

بال سهيل في الفضيخ ففسد

“Canopus urinated in the beverage and it was spoiled.”

However it means: “…that when Canopus rises [aurorally, which it does, in central Arabia, early in August, the making of that beverage is stopped, for] the season of unripe dates has passed, and they have become ripe.”[7]

Ibn Battal points to a verse of the poet al-Farazdaq in which there is a link of urine with corruption and trouble. He said:

وإن الذى يسعى ليفسد زوجتى

 كساعٍ إلى أسد الشرى يستبيلها

“And verily he who strives to corrupt my wife is like one betaking himself to the lions of Esh-Shara’ (a certain road abounding with those animals) to receive their urine in his hand.”[8]

We can see urine represents changing the condition, perversion and trouble. Therefore, urination in the hadith under consideration is about evil due to negligence from the duties prescribed by Allah – something Satan loves so much!

The following comment by the great hadith scholar and jurist Abu Ja‘far at-Tahawi (d. 321 A.H.) explains it very well:

وكان النوم المذكور في الحديث … نوما كان من نائمه تضييعه فرض الله عز وجل في العشاء، ثم خلافه لما كرهه له نبيه صلى الله عليه وسلم من النوم قبلها الذي كان سببا لتضييعها، ولترك أداء فرضها في الوقت الذي أوجب الله عز وجل عليه أداءه فيه، فكان في ذلك مخالفا لربه عز وجل، مطيعا للشيطان فيما يريده منه، فضرب على أذنيه بذلك النوم، وهو ما ألقي فيهما من ثقل النوم، والعرب تسمي مثل ذلك ضربا على الأذن ومنه قول الله عز وجل في أهل الكهف: {فضربنا على آذانهم في الكهف سنين عددا} [الكهف: 11] ، وأضيف ذلك الفعل به إلى الشيطان، لأنه مما يرضاه الشيطان منه، وذكر فيه بول الشيطان في أذنه، أي: فعل به أقبح ما يفعل بالنوام وليس ذلك على حقيقة البول منه في أذنه، ولكن على المثل والاستعارة في المعنى

“And this sleep (mentioned in the hadith being discussed)…is a sleep in which a person misses the obligation towards Allah at night (i.e. obligatory prayers). Moreover it is also for sleeping before isha prayers disliked by the Prophet – peace and blessings of Allah be upon him – which causes the missing (of isha prayers) and also delaying it from the time prescribed by Allah; in all this, he goes against the commandment of his Almighty Lord while showing obedience to Satan in what he wants from him. So, a covering is put over his ears due to this sleep, and it is from the affliction of sleep in his ears. Arabs termed such a thing as covering over the ears as is the word of Allah regarding the people of the Cave, “Therefore we put a covering over their years for a number of years.(Qur’an 18:11) And this act is attributed to Satan for it pleases Satan. And the mention of urination of Satan in his ear means it is worse than what happens in sleep (ordinarily). It is not urination in the ear in the real sense; rather it is by the way of simile and allusion.”[9]

3. Summary and Conclusion

The context of the hadith narrations is inordinate sleep leading to missing ritual obligatory prayers.

The mention of Satan is for the fact that missing the prayers pleases him and that he actually whispers to a person and allures that person into negligence.

The reference to urination is actually an Arabic proverb suggesting the change in condition.

There is nothing of superstition or absurdity in this hadith. It is all about established facts phrased with metaphors to make the expression forceful.


[1]al-Bukhari, as-Sahih, Translated by Muhammad Muhsin Khan (Riyadh: Maktabat Dar-us-Salam, 1997) Hadith 3270

[2] Ibid., Hadith 1144

[3] at-Tahawi, Sharh Mushkil al-Athar, (Beirut: ar-Risalah Publications, 1994)  Vol.10, Hadith 4020

[4] Ibn Battal, Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari, (Riyadh: Maktabat ar-Rushd, 2003) Vol.9, 370

[5] al-‘Asqalani, Ibn Hajar, Fath al-Bari, (Beirut: Dar al-Ma’rifah, 1379 AH) Vol.3, 28-29

[6] an-Nawawi, Sharh Sahih Muslim, (Beirut: Dar Ihya’ at-Turath al-‘Arabi, 1392 AH) Vol.6, 64

[7] Lane, Arabic-English Lexicon, (Beirut: Librairie du Liban, 1968) Vol. 1, 276-277

[8] Ibn Battal, Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol.3, 136; Lane, Arabic-English Lexicon, Vol. 1, 277

[9] at-Tahawi, Sharh Mushkil al-Athar, Vol. 10, 193-194

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Waqar Akbar Cheema