Seeking Blessing through the Relics of the Prophets and the Pious

Translated by Zameelur Rahman

Hamid ibn ‘Umar narrated to us: Abu ‘Awanah narrated to us: from Tariq: from Sa’id ibn al-Musayyab: he said:

“My father was one of those who pledged [allegiance] to Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) at the tree[1]. [My father al-Musayyab] said: ‘Then we proceeded [to Makkah] the following year, as pilgrims, and the tree’s location was hidden from us. So if it is clear to you, then you are more knowledgeable than us!'” (Sahih Muslim)

His statement “its place was hidden from us”: it is mentioned in the following narration: “then they forgot its location the following year”, and in the narration of al-Bukhari: “its location was unclear to us”. Ibn ‘Umar (Allah be pleased with them both) related the same incident according to al-Bukhari in Kitab al-Jihad (no. 2958). He said “We returned the following year and no two of us agreed about the location of the tree beneath which we pledged [allegiance]. This was a blessing from Allah.”

Al-Hafiz said in al-Fath (6:118) under the hadith of Ibn ‘Umar “The explanation of the wisdom behind this is that no misdeed will ensue as a result of the good that occurred beneath it. Were it to remain, it would not be safe from some ignorant people glorifying it, until it may lead them to the belief that it has the power to benefit or harm, as we see today plainly in that which is lesser than it [in value]. Ibn ‘Umar alluded to this by his statement ‘this was a blessing from Allah’ by which he meant its obscurity to them was a blessing from Allah Most High after that. It is possible that the meaning of his statement ‘a blessing from Allah’ is that the tree was the place of Allah’s mercy and the location of His pleasure, due to the descent of pleasure over the believers near it.”

Al-Hafiz said in al-Maghazi (7:448) “Moreover, I found that according to Ibn Sa’d, with an authentic chain from Nafi’, ‘Umar (Allah be pleased with him) was informed that a group of people approached the tree and prayed near it, so he admonished them, and commanded it be cut down and so it was cut down.”

The Issue of Seeking Blessing (Tabarruk) through the Relics (Athar) of the Prophets and the Pious

Some ‘ulama adduce from this narration of Ibn Sa’d proof that tabarruk through the relics of the pious is prohibited. However, this inference is not strong, because it is possible ‘Umar (Allah be pleased with him) cut down the tree because he was aware that the tree at which the pledge was taken was not known to anyone; and because the tree that people claimed was the Tree of Ridwan and prayed near, should not be identified as the tree at which the pledge was taken. This is proven by what al-Bukhari transmitted in al-Maghazi with the complete [wording] of the hadith of this chapter whose phrasing is:

From Tariq ibn ‘Abd al-Rahman: he said: “I went as a pilgrim and I passed by a group of people praying, so I asked: ‘What mosque is this?’ They said: ‘This is the tree at which Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) pledged the allegiance of Ridwan.’ I then went to Sa’id ibn al-Musayyab and related this to him, and Sa’id said: My father narrated to me that he was one of those who pledged [allegiance] to Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) beneath the tree. He said: ‘When we went out the following year we forgot its location and were unable to recognise it.’ Then Sa’id said: ‘Verily the Companions of Muhammad (Allah bless him and grant him peace) did not know and you know [its location], so you are more knowledgeable than them!'”

It is, therefore, clear that the tree which the people would pray near was not the tree beneath which the pledge of Ridwan occurred, and for this reason Sa’id ibn al-Musayyab did not repudiate them for their tabarruk in praying near it; he only repudiated their tenacity in specifying the location of that tree. So it is possible ‘Umar (Allah be pleased with him) cut down the tree from this standpoint, not because he did not believe in tabarruk through relics. As regards to what has passed from [the narration of] Jabir (Allah be pleased with him) in which he said: “If I could see I would show you the place of the tree”, this does not prove anything besides that he (Allah be pleased with him) was confident in his knowledge of the location of the tree and that he could guide to it to the best of his belief. This does not entail that it corresponds to the same thing.

The permissibility of tabarruk through the relics of the Prophets and the pious has been established from a number of hadiths:

From them is what al-Bukhari transmitted in Kitab al-Libas, Bab ma Yudhkaru fi l-Shayb (no. 5896) from ‘Uthman ibn ‘Abd Allah ibn Mawhab (Allah be pleased with him) that he said: “My people sent me with a bowl of water to Umm Salamah (Allah be pleased with her).” Isra’il approximated three fingers [indicating the small size of the container] in which there were some hairs of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace). ‘Uthman added: “If any person suffered from an evil eye or some other disease, he would send a vessel (containing water) to Umm Salamah. I looked into the container [that contained the hair of the Prophet] and saw a few red hairs in it.”

Al-Hafiz said under it in al-Fath (10:353): “The intended meaning is that one who complained [of an illness] was sent to Umm Salamah with a vessel, in which she placed those hairs and bathed them in it and then returned it. The owner of the vessel would then drink [from it] or bathe with it in seeking a cure from it. Thus, he would acquire its blessing.”

From them is what al-Bukhari transmitted in Kitab al-Isti’dhan (no. 6271) from Anas (Allah be pleased with him): “Umm Sulaym (Allah be pleased with her) used to spread a leather sheet for the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) and he used to take a midday nap on that leather sheet at her home.” Anas said: “When the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) had slept, she would take some of his sweat and hair and collect it in a bottle and then mix it with suk (a kind of perfume) while he was still sleeping.” Abu Thumamah said: “When the death of Anas bin Malik approached, he advised that some of that suk be mixed with his hanut (perfume for embalming the dead body).” He said: “and it was mixed with his hanut.” Muslim added in his narration: “The Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) woke up and said ‘What are you doing?’ She said ‘We hope for its blessing for our children.’ He said: ‘You have done what is right.'” This is unequivocal in [proving] the Prophet’s (Allah bless him and grant him peace) approval of her act.

From them is what al-Bukhari transmitted in Kitab al-Ashribah, Bab al-Sharb min Qadh al-Nabi sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam (no. 5637) in the hadith of Sahl ibn Sa’d (Allah be pleased with him): “Then the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) and his Companions went towards the shed of Bani Sa’ida and sat there. Then he said, ‘Give us to drink, O Sahl!’ So I took out this bowl and gave them to drink from in it.” The sub-narrator added: “Sahl took out for us that very bowl and we all drank from it.” He added: “Later on ‘Umar bin ‘Abd al-‘Aziz requested Sahl to present it to him as a gift, and he presented it to him as a gift.”

This hadith is to come from the compiler (Muslim ibn Hajjaj) in Kitab al-Ashribah (Bab Ibahatu al-Nabidh) if Allah wills, and al-Nawawi said under it: “This contains [proof] of tabarruk through the relics of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace), that which he touched, wore or took as a means. This is close to something that has been agreed upon. The Predecessors (salaf) and the Successors (khalaf) practiced tabarruk through praying at the prayer-place of Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) at the Noble Rawdah, and entering the cave which he entered etc. Related to this is the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) giving Abu Talha (Allah be pleased with him) his hair to distribute amongst the people and his (Allah bless him and grant him peace) giving his loincloth to shroud his daughter…”

From them is what al-Bukhari transmitted in Kitab al-Ashribah (no. 5638) from ‘Asim al-Ahwal that he said: “I saw the bowl of the Prophet with Anas bin Malik, and it had been broken, and he had mended it with silver plates. That bowl was quite wide and made of Nadar wood. Anas said, ‘I gave the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) to drink from that bowl more than so-and-so times.'” Consider how Anas cared for the bowl to the extent that he mended it with silver plates after it had broken. This [act] is nothing besides tabarruk through it.

From them is what Ibn al-Sakan transmitted from Thabit al-Banani that he said: “Anas ibn Malik said to me: ‘This is a hair from the hairs of Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace). Put it beneath my tongue'” He said “So I placed it beneath his tongue and he was buried while it was beneath his tongue.” Al-Hafiz ibn Hajar mentioned this in al-Isabah (1:84) in the biography of Anas (Allah be pleased with him).

As for tabarruk through religious places (mashahid) and visiting them, the most balanced view on this is what Ibn Taymiyyah transmitted from Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal that “he was asked whether a man should go to those religious places (mashahid) in Madinah and outside Madinah? He said: ‘With regards to the hadith of Ibn Umm Maktum (Allah be pleased with him) that he asked the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) to come and pray in his house so he could adopt [that area] as a place of prayer, or regarding what Ibn ‘Umar used to do by tracing the places from the journey of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) until he was seen pouring water at a certain place and was asked about this and said the Prophet would pour water here.’ Ahmad said: ‘As regards to this, there is no harm’ and he said: ‘there is a dispensation in this.’ Then he said: ‘However people go too far in excess and go overboard on this purpose’. He then mentioned the grave of al-Husayn (Allah be pleased with him) and what the people do near it. Al-Khallal narrated these in Kitab al-Adab.”

Al-Hafiz ibn Taymiyyah (Allah have mercy on him) after relating the statement of Imam Ahmad said: “With regards to religious places which are places at which the relics of the Prophets and pious are present, and are not mosques, like certain places in Madinah, Abu ‘Abdullah (Ahmad ibn Hanbal) distinguished between a few which people do not take as places of celebration (‘id) and many which they take as places of celebration, as has passed. This distinction combines between the narrations and statements of the Companions, for indeed al-Bukhari narrated in his Sahih from Musa ibn ‘Uqbah that he said: ‘I saw Salim ibn ‘Abdullah searching for places in the road and praying at them, and he narrated that his father (Ibn ‘Umar) would pray at them, and that (Ibn ‘Umar) saw the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) pray at those places.’ Musa said: ‘Nafi’ narrated to me that Ibn ‘Umar would pray at those places.'” See Iqtida al-Sirat al-Mustaqim by Ibn Taymiyyah (pp. 374-5).

The upshot is that if visiting these religious places is like visiting historical sites, or to envision what happened there of blessed acts, and to increase faith and contentment by remembering them, and to attain blessings from them, there is no harm in that. As for taking them as places of celebration or believing that they benefit or harm or glorifying them in ways that resemble worship (bima yushbih al-‘ibadah), that is not permissible.

By this [principle] is understood what Sa’id ibn Mansur narrated in his Sunan from Ma’rur ibn Suwayd that he said with regard to ‘Umar (Allah be pleased with him): “We went out with him in the Hajj he performed … When he returned from Hajj he saw people hastening to a mosque. He said: ‘What is this?’ They said: ‘The mosque at which Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) prayed.’ He said: ‘This is how the Ahl al-Kitab (People of the Book) before you perished. They took the relics of their Prophets as synagogues. One who finds the prayer there should pray and one who does not find the prayer there should leave.'”

And in a narration from him “he saw the people going along paths and said: ‘where are these people going?’ And it was said: ‘O Commander of the Believers! The mosque at which the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) prayed.’ He then said: ‘Those before were destroyed for the like of this. They would trace the relics of their Prophets and take them as churches and synagogues, so whoever from you acquires the prayer in these mosques should pray and whoever does not should leave and not [pray] there purposefully.'”

Thus ‘Umar (Allah be pleased with him) disliked taking the prayer-place of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) as a place of celebration, fearing that this will lead to innovations and abominations. Otherwise it has been proven ‘Umar (Allah be pleased with him) showed eagerness in protecting the relics [of the Prophet] in what al-Bukhari transmitted from al-Zubayr that Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) requested from al-Zubayr (Allah be pleased with him) the spear with which he killed Abu Dhat al-Karish on the day of Badr. In it is mentioned: “When Allah’s Messenger died, al-Zubayr took it back. After that Abu Bakr (Allah be pleased with him) demanded it and he gave it to him, and when Abu Bakr (Allah be pleased with him) died, he took it back. ‘Umar then demanded it from him and he gave it to him. When ‘Umar (Allah be pleased with him) died, al-Zubayr took it back, and then ‘Uthman (Allah be pleased with him) demanded it from him and he gave it to him. When ‘Uthman (Allah be pleased with him) was killed, the spear remained with Ali’s (Allah be pleased with him) offspring. Then ‘Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr (Allah be pleased with him) demanded it, and it remained with him till he was martyred.” See Kitab alMaghazi in Sahih al-Bukhari, Bab Shuhud al-Mala’ikati Badran.

This proves the importance the rightly guided caliphs, particularly al-Faruq (Allah be pleased with him), attached to preserving a spear although there are many spears in the world. This was not [done for any reason] besides [the fact] that the spear remained with Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) for a period of time, so they sought tabarruk through it.

(Takmilah Fath al-Mulhim vol 3 pp. 301-5)

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  1. This refers to the tree situated in Hudaybiyyah, a town ten miles north of Makkah, at which 1,400 believers pledged to the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) their willingness to fight against the pagans of Makkah who had captured ‘Uthman (Allah be pleased with him) when he was dispatched to them as a peaceful envoy. It is known as the Tree of Ridwan (pleasure) due to Allah’s pleasure descending on the believers as mentioned in Qur’an 48:18. (Translator) []