hadith

On the Evil Eye, Hadith Authenticity and Confirmation Bias

I’ve always read protection from evil eye, al fatiha and 4kuls over my daughter before she sleeps every night. But every time I post her picture on Instagram and it’s only in stories so it’s not up very long, she soon starts vomiting and more difficult than usual. I don’t understand tho, I’ve read protection over her every night and everyone uploads their children’s pictures and they’re perfectly fine. What am i doing wrong? She’s perfectly pleasant otherwise.

Further to my question about the evil eye, someone recommended to wear gold and diamonds as a cure as women are prone to being frail and weak. It sounded ridiculous to me. Is there any merit to that suggestion?

I have never liked the concept of the evil eye because of how superstitious it sounds, the fact that it is not mentioned in the Quran, and the fact that it attributes supernatural causation to other than God, which feels almost pagan to me. But I spent a whole day studying the hadith narrations on the evil eye and their authenticity. There are a number of “authentic” narrations that mention it, but there are various shades of authenticity that would be invisible to a non-specialist, and the quality of these narrations does not enable them to prove the existence of the evil eye beyond doubt according to the methodology of the scholars of uṣūl al-fiqh (legal theory) like Imam al-Ghazali, which is the methodology I prefer (as opposed to the methodology of traditionalist hadith scholars, who consider something proven if they can find a single authentic narration about it).

We have “authentic” narrations from Companions like Abdullah ibn Umar in Sahih al-Bukhari that say women are a “bad omen”, i.e. just seeing a woman would cause a bad thing to happen in your life. And then we also have authentic narrations that refute them:

Two men from Banu Aamir came to Aisha and told her that Abu Hurayra narrates that the Prophet said, “Bad omen is in a house, a woman and a horse." She was enraged, full of anger and said; "By the One Who Revealed the Quran to Muhammad, God’s Messenger did not say that, what he said was that in the days of pre-Islamic ignorance people used to see bad omen in these things.” (Musnad Ahmad 24841, authenticated by al-Albani)

We have to be extremely careful in reading hadith and not take out particular hadith narrations from Sahih al-Bukhari and Muslim and run away with them as some Muslims do. Even such highly respected Companions like Ibn Umar and Abu Hurayra were capable of (unknowingly) completely corrupting the meaning of something the Prophet said, so we have to take all of the relevant evidence into account. Of course, not every Muslim can be a scholar and study these matters for themselves, so they can rely on the opinions of scholars they respect for most things, except when a scholar’s opinion sounds absurd and unreasonable, in which case they can get the opinions of other scholars to find out more.

Much deeper study will be required to conclusively show that the evil eye is a false and fabricated concept, so at the moment I consider the issue mawqūf (in abeyance), meaning that I neither say it is true nor false until further study. But in my mind and thinking I continue to ignore it as I have always done.

As for the issue of your daughter suffering those symptoms, I cannot say it is not the evil eye because, like I said, it is not proven to be false. But it could also be confirmation bias, which is a well-attested fact of human thinking. If you keep thinking about the evil eye when you upload pictures of your daughter, and if a quarter of the time something bad happens afterwards, you might blame it on the evil eye even though three quarters of the time nothing bad happens. When we are looking for supernatural causes for what happens around us, we tend to find all the evidence we want and ignore the evidence that goes against it.

If you were to keep a diary in which you make a note every time you upload a picture, writing whether something bad happened afterwards or not, you may find out that something bad only happens 10% of the time, nowhere sufficient to prove that it is caused by uploading pictures of your daughter.

There are superstitious people who think the color of their clothing affects what happens to them throughout the day, and just like people who keep track of the evil eye, they too find ample “evidence” that the color of what they wear is causing all kinds of things to happen to them. But if they too were to keep a diary, they will likely find out that what happens to them has no relationship with what they are wearing, it is something that they think is happening because of confirmation bias, because they are only giving weight to the evidence that confirms their beliefs and ignoring the evidence that goes against it.

I have not heard anything about it being recommended to wear gold and diamonds for frailness. It is probably just a folk belief.

On the unreliability of the hadith narrations mentioning 73 Muslim sects, 72 of which are supposedly doomed to the Hellfire

There are a group of hadith narrations, not found in al-Bukhārī and Muslim, but found in various other collections, in which the Prophet Muhammad mentions that the Muslims will divide into 73 groups, 72 of which will enter the Hellfire, meaning that only one among these 73 groups will be saved. This one group is known as al-firqa al-nājiya (“the group that attains salvation”).

These narrations have unfortunately been a favorite polemical tool. Each group can claim to be al-firqa al-nājiya to imply that the members of every other group will enter the Hellfire:

But they tore themselves into sects; each party (self-righteously) happy with what they have.1

The truth of the matter is that these narrations are all likely corrupted or fabricated, and there is no authentic evidence whatsoever for the part that says “all of them will enter the Hellfire except one”.

The Kuwaiti Islamic scholar Dr. Ḥākim al-Muṭayrī (b. 1964, holds PhDs in Islamic studies from Birmingham University and University of al-Qarawiyyin in Fez, Morocco) has conducted a study (Arabic PDF – 3 MB) of all of the relevant hadith narrations regarding this issue. He mentions that Ibn Ḥazm rejected the narration, and that al-Shawkani considered the part that says “all of them are doomed save one” a fabrication. In the conclusion, he writes:

وعلى كل فكل طرق هذا الحديث مناكير وغرائب ضعيفة ومنكرة، وأحسنها حالا حديث أبي هريرة وهو حديث حسن، مع تساهل كبير في تحسينه لتفرد محمد بن عمرو به، وهو صدوق له أوهام خاصة في روايته عن أبي سلمة عن أبي هريرة، ولهذا كان القدماء يتقون حديثه كما قال يحيى بن معين.

All of the ṭuruq (the chains of narrators) of this hadith are objectionable and unauthentic. The best of them is the hadith of Abū Hurayra, which is a ḥasan hadith (i.e. not good enough to be considered authentic, but having an acceptable meaning and not clearly fabricated), provided that we extend it great latitude (i.e. lower our standards) for the fact of Muhammad bin ʿAmr being its only transmitter, who is known to be a truthful person who has awhām (plural of wahm, "confusion" or "delusion", meaning he gets confused and mixes up narrations), especially in his narrations from Abū Salama, from Abū Hurayra, and for this reason the early hadith scholars were cautious of his narrations, as Yaḥyā bin Maʿīn has mentioned.

Note that this best hadith that Dr. Muṭayrī refers to does not have the part that says “all of them will enter the Hellfire save one” (see page 24 of the PDF). The most we can learn from these narrations is that the Muslims will possibly divide into 73 sects (which could possibly be a randomly chosen number used to imply “a great many”, as is typical in Arabian usage).

In conclusion, there is no justification whatsoever for using these narrations to imply that Muslims from other groups will enter the Hellfire; anyone who says such a thing has uttered a falsehood, either out ignorance or dishonesty.

On sexism and misogyny in hadith narrations and the books of scholars

Salam. This thing has bugged me for a while and I try to not care but it's an important topic . Basically many scholars, many ahadith, are very sexist. The work of bukhari, ibn abbas, alkatherr , it feels like I can't escape it and no matter how much I try to think that woman have rights in Islam I still feel as if my being is worth noting. I genuinely feel bad. I already deal with misogynism on daily basis in the country im from It's like being a woman is a bad thing.

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

It is true that since the beginning of Islam until modern times most men had a low opinion of women. The same is true of non-Muslims throughout history. Women generally had less access to education and fewer interactions with other people, so that they appeared naive and unintelligent to men. Therefore when a historical personality says women are inferior or foolish, for them this seemed to be the truth, since they rarely met intelligent women who could think on the same level as men. For them it was an obvious fact of life that women are unintelligent, and anyone who doubted that could simply go and talk to some women in their society and verify that this was true.

Things only began changing in the past few centuries, when women in both Europe and the Middle East started to be more involved with their societies and started to get an education. Even in the United States, the universities only started admitting female students in the latter part of the 19th century. Cornell admitted its first female student in 1870, and its alumni, who were some of the best educated men in the country, strongly opposed letting in females.1

When it comes to sexism in hadith narrations, you should keep in mind that only a very small subset of hadith narrations reach the authenticity of the Quran. The overwhelming majority belong to a spectrum of authenticity. Some have a 99% likelihood authenticity, some 95%, and so on. Even highly authentic narrations can be rejected if the case can be made that they describe an earlier policy of the Prophet that may have been superseded by his later practice or by a Quranic revelation. For Imam Malik’s rejection of authentic narrations despite admitting their authenticity see Wymann-Landgraf, Mālik and Medina. For the issues surrounding hadith authenticity, see Brown, The Canonization of al-Bukhari and Muslim and idem, Misquoting Muhammad: The Challenge and Choices of Interpreting the Prophet’s Legacy, London, 2014.2

The Quran is our only 100% reliable source for God’s opinions, therefore you should base your thinking on it. It nowhere teaches that women are unintelligent and foolish, it rather stresses the equality of the worth of men and women, guarding their dignity and prohibiting various abuses that were common in the pre-Islamic era (such as forced marriages, selling them as slaves, not letting them get a share of inheritance). If you find a hadith or scholarly opinion that teaches to view women as inferior, instead of thinking that this is Islam, you should think the opposite, that this is not Islam, and you should do the research necessary to find out the truth. If one hadith teaches a negative thing about women, you will find others that teach positive things. If one scholar voices a sexist opinion, you will find others who reject it, and in fact there are scholars who can be described as feminist in that they think women are better and more moral humans than men.

Islam is simply a tool for you to know God better and to worship Him in the possible way. This is the purpose of this religion, everything else is a side issue complicated by the vagueness of the Quran, the unreliability of hadith narrations and the sexist cultures of the past. Rather than letting these things color your understanding of Islam, make your own understanding out of the Quran and the best opinions of the people of the past and present.

Dealing with sexist hadith narrations as a woman

There are endless of hadiths that ridicules us woman. That says that we aren't rational, intellectual etc. Many of them are of sahih. For instance the hadith in which asmaa bint Yazid was talking to the prophet sws and he and his companions were amazed that a woman could express herself as she did (which means that they normally doubt woman's intellect). Then you got the straightforward ones that says woman are stupid, inferior etc...

Our conceptualization of Islam comes from the Quran. The Quran is our program and our guide in life, and it doesn’t contain any of the things you describe.

As for hadith, hadith exists on a second tier, it is there to provide us with an example of the Prophet’s efforts to follow the Quran. Everything in hadith is considered z̧anni, meaning of doubtful certitude. Imam Malik and Abu Hanifa recommend skepticism toward hadith, including authentic ones, whenever they deviate from the Quran or from well-established practices of the Sunna. Therefore, for example, Imam Malik refuses to act by various hadith narrations even though they were considered authentic, because the narrations go against the well-established practices of the people of Medina (see The Origins of Islamic Law: The Qur’an, the Muwatta’ and Madinan Amal by Yasin Dutton).

Imam al-Bukhari himself rejects an authentic hadith because it contains a prophesy that does not come true (the Prophet says this thing will happen, but 200 years have passed and it has not happened, so al-Bukhari concludes the hadith is false). For more examples of scholars rejecting authentic narrations see the (freely available) paper How We Know Early Ḥadīth Critics Did Matn Criticism and Why It’s So Hard to Find by Jonathan Brown.

There is an authentic narration (in Sahih Muslim) that says if a woman, black dog or donkey passes in front of a person praying, their prayer is invalidated. In a different narration, also in Sahih Muslim, it is recorded that when Aisha (wife of the Prophet ), may God have mercy on her, hears this hadith (this is after the Prophet’s death), she angrily retorts “You have compared us to dogs!” Instead of sitting quietly and accepting the hadith, she challenges it because she finds it ridiculous and insulting.

You can do the same. Instead of submitting to other people’s visions about what Islam should be, do your own research and build your own vision of Islam based on a wide variety of sources. If someone uses some random hadith to belittle you, challenge them using the Quran’s principles, or research the hadith and you will usually find that there are other hadith narrations that contradict it.

Marriage is not necessarily “half our religion”

You said marriage is not obligated but we're told it's half of the deen

The “half our dīn” saying comes from a group of hadith narrations all of which are of questionable authenticity. One of them comes from al-Bayhaqī’s collection and the chain of narrators includes Yazīd al-Raqāshī, who is untrustworthy according to al-Tirmidhī and Ibn Ḥajar. Another version comes from al-Ḥakām’s collection, and the chain contains ʿAbd al-Raḥmān bin Yazīd, who is also untrustworthy according hadith scholars.

There is another famous saying that says “A woman completes part of a man’s faith”, this is not from the Prophet, but from Ṭawūs ibn Kaysān, it is just a scholar speaking his personal opinion.

The hadith scholar al-Albānī performed a detailed study of these narrations and considers all of the them untrustworthy except one that says “A woman supports a man in part of his dīn, so let him worry about the second part.” This hadith is not authentic due to its chain containing at least one person whose is known to be of arbitrary reliability (he sometimes speaks the truth, sometimes says something completely wrong). Al-Albānī concludes that the hadith has a status of ḥasan, meaning that it is not authentic (ṣaḥīḥ), but that its meaning sounds good and one cannot say with certainty that it is fabricated.

In conclusion, therefore, this “half our dīn” concept is not firmly established and cannot be used as a basis for deriving principles.

Did the Prophet marry a 9-year-old girl? (She may have actually been close to 18)

So, I am someone who likes using logic and I have defended Islam and my Muslim-ness many times from criticisms, some well-founded, others not so much. How can I defend Mohammad's marriage to a young girl? He was old at the time. I can't imagine being a child and being given away to an older man. Why did he think that was okay? How do you defend that without sounding like a pedophile apologist? -It is an honest question. How do other Muslims deal with this and remain moral?

The matter at issue with Aisha’s age is the validity of the hadith literature. An admission that Aisha’s age at marriage may have been different from 9 would shake the foundations of hadith science since it would imply that there are false statements in Sahih Bukhari and Muslim, therefore the majority of traditionalist scholars are unwilling to go that route. From what I have seen, using traditional methodology, the evidence in support of Aisha being 9 stronger than the evidence against it. Unfortunately I cannot find any source that researches this issue in an unbiased manner; they are either angrily defending the “honor” of al-Bukhari and Muslim (the traditionalist sources), or they mix weak and strong arguments, bad research and a disrespectful attitude toward the scholarly community in supporting a different age.

A minority of prominent modern scholars, such as Ali Gomaa (Egypt’s Grand Mufti from 2003 to 2013) and Taha Jabir Alalwani (an Iraqi scholar who teaches in the United States) believe that Aisha was “in her late teens” at the time of the consummation of her marriage (mentioned in Misquoting Muhammad by Jonathan Brown). So the matter is not very cut-and-dry. The most prominent authority for Aisha’s age is Hisham bin Urwa (her nephew). But this same person is quoted in al-Dhahabi’s Siyar Aʿlām al-Nubalāʾ as saying that Aisha died at the age of 67 in the year 672, which would logically mean she was born around the year 605. Since her marriage was consummated in or around 622, that would make her 17 at the time of consummation.

Before her marriage to the Prophet, there is mention in authentic sources of Abu Bakr having promised to marry off Aisha to a pagan man (Jubayr bin Mutam bin Adi). This promise must have been made before Islam, because it is highly unlikely that Abu Bakr would promise a pagan his daughter after he became Muslim himself. This means that, even if the promise was made when Aisha was an infant, it would have been made on or before 610 CE (the year of revelation), making her at least 12 in 622 CE when her marriage with the Prophet was consummated. 12 is not much “better” than 9, but the point is that this conflict with the official narrative is sufficient to throw doubt on the whole story. And if we assume she was bigger than an infant, perhaps 3, at the time of the promise, then that would make her 15 in 622 CE at the time of the consummation of her marriage with the Prophet .

The Syrian hadith scholar Dr. Salah al-Din al-Idlibi, he has taught as a professor at al-Qarawiyyin University in Morocco, Imam Muhammad bin Saud University in Riyadh, College of Islamic and Arabic Studies in Dubai and al-Makkah al-Maftuha University in Jeddah.

Professor Salah al-Din al-Idlibi is the fairest-minded voice on this issue that I have found. He is a not a liberal Muslim who dismisses tradition, he is a hadith expert who works within the tradition and concludes in a 2018 paper that it is most likely Aisha was born about 4 years before the Revelation, making her close to 18 at the time of the consummation of her marriage near the end of the first year of the hijra.1 Maybe I will translate his paper one of these days, he has discovered three new clues apparently not examined by others.

Another aspect of Aisha’s age is that, due to the Hypocrites in Medina, and later some of Shia, claiming that she was unchaste, there was a strong incentive for Muslims to give preference to any evidence that suggested she was extremely young at the time of her marriage while dismissing evidence against it. They did not necessarily fabricate evidence, but it is possible that there were authentic hadith narrations that supported a different age but that were not written down by the hadith scholars in their hadith collections because they preferred the age of 9. We know that hadith scholars refused to write down narrations they considered “absurd”, even if their chain was authentic. (See Jonathan A.C. Brown, “The Rules of Matn Criticism: There Are No Rules.”)

Listening to Music is Permissible in Islam

Is music really haram? I'm not talking about the Rihannas "Wild Thoughts" kind of music, more of peaceful piano, flute, violin, ancient music. The kind of music that doesn't give off sexual vibe and stuff, but the music that adheres peace, you know?

[Below is a quick survey of opinions on this matter gleaned from Arabic-language sources. I may eventually write out a full essay on this, although it is not one of my topics of interest, since the permissibility of music is such an obvious thing that it is almost not worth talking about.]

Many Islamic scholars reject the idea that music is prohibited. The scholar Ibn Hazm (d. 1064 CE, creator of the “fifth” school of Islamic jurisprudence) considers every hadith that has been used to make music haram fabricated, and considers listening to music the same as taking joy from a nature walk.

The scholar al-Shashi (d. 976 CE) says that Imam Malik permitted music. Imam al-Shafi`i says that there is no clear evidence to prohibit music.

The scholar al-Mawardi (d. 1058 CE) says that Abu Hanifah, Imam Malik and al-Shafi`i did not prohibit music.

The respected theologians Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, Ibn Daqeeq, Izz al-Din ibn Abd al-Salam (famous Shafi`ite scholar, known as the Sultan of Scholars in his time, d. 1262 CE), Abdul Ghani al-Nablusi, Ibn Qutaybah, al-Maqdisi, al-Dhahabi, Abu Talib al-Makki, Ibn al-Arabi al-Maliki and Imam al-Shawkani consider music permissible.

Among modern scholars who reject the prohibition on music are the Azhar scholars Muhammad al-Ghazali and Yusuf al-Qaradhawi, Hasan al-Attar, Mahmud Shaltoot, Ali al-Tantawi and Muhammad Rashid Radha.

For a very detailed discussion of the relevant evidence on both sides of the debate, see the following (Arabic) article:

https://archive.islamonline.net/?p=25

Certain types of music can be considered forbidden due to things associated with the music, but that is a different matter.