The Prophet’s prayer for Ibn Ubayy, the hypocrite
Source: Al-Nass Wal-Ijtihad, Text and Interpretation
By: Allama Abdul Husayn Sharafuddin al-Musawi
When the Prophet (S) wanted to offer the prayer for Ibn Ubbayy, who was dead, Umar resisted him and objected to him severely and harshly.
Al-Bukhari mentioned in his Sahih 40 a tradition narrated by Abdullah bin Umar who had said: “When Abdullah bin Ubayy died, his son came to the Prophet (S) and said: “O Messenger of Allah, give me your shirt to enshroud my father with it and please pray for him and invoke Allah to forgive him!” The Prophet (S) gave him his shirt and said to him: “If you finish enshrouding him, send for us.” When he finished enshrouding his father, he sent for the Prophet (S).
The Prophet (S) went to offer the prayer for (the dead) Abdullah bin Ubayy. Umar pulled the Prophet (S) and said to him: “Has Allah not forbidden you from offering prayer on the hypocrites when He has said to you: “Ask forgiveness for them or do not ask forgiveness for them; even if you ask forgiveness for them seventy times, Allah will not forgive them” (Qur’an 9:80)?”
Ibn Umar added: “After that this verse “And never offer prayer for any one of them who dies and do not stand by his grave; surely they disbelieve in Allah and His Messenger and they shall die in transgression” (Qur’an 9:84)
was revealed to the Prophet (S) and so he stopped offering prayers for them.”
As if Umar had understood that this verse: “Ask forgiveness for them or do not ask forgiveness for them…”
had prohibited offering prayers for the hypocrites. In fact this verse had not prohibited that. We will explain this soon. When Umar saw the Prophet (S) standing to offer the prayer for the dead hypocrite, he thought that he had contradicted the verse that had prohibited such a prayer and hence Umar did not control his anger. He denied this doing of the Prophet (S) and so he pulled him to prevent him from offering this prayer.
Allah forbid! Far be it from Him and far be it from His Messenger! The verse: “Ask forgiveness for them or do not ask forgiveness for them; even if you ask forgiveness for them seventy times, Allah will not forgive them”
did not show any kind of prohibition. It just informed that whether the Prophet (S) asked Allah to forgive the hypocrites or he did not ask Him to forgive them; it would be the same for them and it would not benefit them a bit.
The umma has agreed unanimously that prohibiting the prayer for the hypocrites had been determined by this verse: “And never offer prayer for any one of them who dies and do not stand by his grave”(Qur’an 9:84)
and that this verse had been revealed after this event according to the consensus of the umma. Yet the tradition of Ibn Umar was clear in showing this fact; that the verse, which had prohibited offering prayer for the hypocrites, had been revealed after this event; therefore the Prophet (S) did not pay attention to this resistance but he overlooked it due to his great discernment and wisdom.
When Umar insisted too much on trying to prevent the Prophet (S) from offering this prayer using bad statement that did not behoove one like Umar to say to one like the Prophet (S), the Prophet (S) said: “O Umar, be away from me! I have been inspired. It has been said to me: “Ask forgiveness for them or do not ask forgiveness for them; even if you ask forgiveness for them seventy times, Allah will not forgive them” (Qur’an 9:80).
If I know that when I ask Allah more than seventy times to forgive them, He will forgive them, I will have done more.” Then the Prophet (S) offered prayer for Ibn Ubayy, participated in his funerals and stood by his grave.” 41
When the Prophet (S) offered the prayer for Ibn Ubayy, he acted according to what he should do in dealing with people due to their apparentness. Ibn Ubayy was not one of the unbelievers, who had denied Islam. He had accepted Islam apparently and announced the shahada but he practiced hypocrisy and yet it had not been prohibited to offer prayers for the hypocrites; therefore the Prophet (S) had offered prayer for him owing to his apparent belief and in order to conciliate his people (the tribe of al-Khazraj), from among whom one thousand men became Muslims soon after that. Hence the Prophet’s shirt and his prayer for this man brought the Muslims a great conquest.
Then Umar regretted his hastiness and often said after that: “I have committed a mistake in Islam that I have never committed its like; the Prophet (S) wanted to offer prayer for Abdullah bin Ubayy but I pulled him by his clothes and said to him: “By Allah, Allah has not ordered you to do so. Allah has said: “Ask forgiveness for them or do not ask forgiveness for them; even if you ask forgiveness for them seventy times, Allah will not forgive them”.
The Messenger of Allah said: “Allah has given me the option by saying “Ask forgiveness for them or do not ask forgiveness for them” and I have chosen…”42
The Prophet’s prayers for some of the believers
Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani said in his Isaba, vol.4: “Al-Baghawai and Abu Ahmad al-Hakim mentioned a tradition narrated by Isma’eel bin Ayyash and at-Tabarani mentioned a tradition by Baqiyya; both narrated from Buhayr bin Sa’d from Khalid bin Ma’dan that Abu Atiyya had said: “A man died at the time of the Prophet (S). Some said (he meant Umar): “O Messenger of Allah, do not offer the prayer for him!” The Prophet (S) said: “Has anyone seen him doing something good?” Someone said: “Yes, he has guarded with us some nights.” Then the Prophet (S) offered the prayer for him and participated in the funerals unto the grave. He poured earth on him and said (addressing the dead): “Your companions think that you will be among the people of Hell but I witness that you will be among the people of Paradise.” Then he said to Umar: “Do not ask about the deeds of people but ask about the unseen (or people’s nature).”
Ibn Hajar also mentioned this tradition in his Isaba when talking about the biography of Abul Munthir. He said: “Mutayyan mentioned a tradition from Muhammad bin Harb al-Wasiti from Hammad bin Khalid from Hisham bin Sa’d from Yazeed bin Tha’lab from Abul Munthir who said that the Prophet (S) had poured earth on the grave three times.
At-Tabarani mentioned the tradition in details from Amr bin Abu at-Tahir bin as-Sarh from his father from Abdullah bin Nafi’ that Hisham bin Sa’d had said: “Once a man came to the Prophet (S) and said: “O Messenger of Allah, so-and-so died and we want you to offer the prayer for him.”
Umar said to the Prophet (S): “He is dissolute; do not offer prayer for him!”
The man said: “O Messenger of Allah, he was among the guards at that night when you were there.”
The Prophet (S) went (to offer the prayer for the dead) and I followed him. When the funerals finished, the Prophet (S) poured earth over the grave three times and said: “People think evil of him and I think good.”
Umar said: “O Messenger of Allah, how is that?”
The Prophet (S) said: “O Umar, please be quiet! He, who fights for the sake of Allah, deserves to be in Paradise.”
Paradise is for the monotheists
The Prophet (S) has brought good news to the believers that Paradise would be the reward of believing loyally in the oneness of Allah. He declared this good news to the people to show them the end of the monotheists and to encourage the believers to keep on their faith.
He ordered Abu Hurayra to announce that among the people. He said to him: “Go and tell anyone you meet; who witnesses loyally that there is no god but Allah, he will be among the people of Paradise.” The first one that Abu Hurayra met was Umar. He asked him what the matter was. Abu Hurayra told Umar of what the Prophet (S) had ordered him to do.
Abu Hurayra said - as mentioned in Muslim’s Sahih, vol.1: “… and then Umar hit me on my chest and I fell to the ground. He said: “Go back!” I went back to the Prophet (S) and began crying. Umar followed after me. The Prophet (S) asked me: “O Abu Hurayra, what is the matter with you?” I said: “I met Umar and I told him of what you have told me but he hit me on my chest until I fell to the ground and he asked me to go back.”
The Prophet (S) said to Umar: “Why did you do that?” Umar said: “O Messenger of Allah, have you really sent Abu Hurayra to tell whoever witnesses loyally that there is no god but Allah that he would be among the people of Paradise?”
The Prophet (S) said: “Yes, I have.”
Umar said to the Prophet (S): “Do not do that! I fear that people may rely on this. Let them keep on practicing good deeds.”
The Prophet (S) said: “Let them!”
An-Nawawi, here, found an excuse to justify this objection of Umar. He quoted it from Judge Ayyadh and others. He said that Umar did not object to the Prophet (S) in this event or that he denied the matter, with which the Prophet (S) had sent Abu Hurayra, but he feared that people might rely on this good news and they then would give up doing good. So Umar thought that keeping this matter secret would be better for people and would be more advantageous to them than informing them of it.
It was this that led him to hit Abu Hurayra and to make him go back. And it was this that made him say to the Prophet (S) “do not do that” to forbid him from carrying out the order he had determined to inform the believers of the good news of being among the people of Paradise.
This justification is not more than what we have said that Umar has preferred his own opinion to the clear verdicts of the Prophet (S). It is just a personal ijtihad before a clear divine text. In fact this event did not concern Umar alone; yet he forced Abu Hurayra, after being hit, to give up what the Prophet (S) had ordered him to do. Moreover Umar was not satisfied with this but he asked the Prophet (S) himself to give up the matter. He said to the Prophet (S) audaciously: “Do not do that!”
But the Prophet (S), as he had been always, was patient with him and treated him with discernment. He was as Allah had said about him: “Thus it is due to mercy from Allah that you deal with them gently, and had you been rough, hard hearted, they would certainly have dispersed from around you; pardon them therefore and ask pardon for them, and take counsel with them in the affair; so when you have decided, then place your trust in Allah; surely Allah loves those who trust (in Him)” (Qur’an 3:159).
This resistance had no effect on the Prophet (S). He himself informed this good news to his Umma after relying on Allah. Umar himself, Othman bin Affan, Ma’ath bin Jabal, Ubada bin as-Samit, Utban bin Malik and many others had heard this from the Prophet (S).43 It was one of the necessities among the different sects of the Muslims.
How odd and astonishing it was that great scholars such as Allama an-Nawawi, Judge Ayyadh and their likes said that the rightness in this event was with Umar and they pretended that the Prophet (S) had confirmed Umar’s opinion. Glory be to Allah! We have not but to resort to Him!
Here is what an-Nawawi has said: “In this tradition (the tradition of Abu Hurayra about this event) there is an evidence showing that if an absolute imam thinks something and one of his followers thinks the opposite, then the inferior follower has to show his opinion to the superior imam to think of it. If it appears that the opinion of the inferior is right, the superior has to adopt it; otherwise he has to explain to his follower the defects of his opinion…” 44
This speech would be listened to if the superior leader was not a prophet but if he was a prophet, then all the umma had to obey him and to believe in him sincerely with no suspicion. Allah said: “And whatever the Messenger gives you, accept it, and from whatever he forbids you, keep back, and be careful of (your duty to) Allah; surely Allah is severe in retributing (evil)” (Qur’an 59:7) and: “Most surely it is the Word of an honored messenger. The processor of strength, having an honorable place with the Lord of the Dominion. One (to be) obeyed, and faithful in trust. And your companion is not gone mad” (Qur’an 81:19-22) and: “Most surely, it is the Word brought by an honored Messenger. And it is not the word of a poet; little is it that you believe. Nor the word of a soothsayer; little is it that you mind. It is a revelation from the Lord of the worlds” (Qur’an 69:40-43) and: “Nor does he speak out of desire. It is naught but revelation that is revealed. The Lord of Mighty Power has taught him” (Qur’an 53:3-5) and: “Whither then will you go. It is naught but a reminder for the nations. For him among you who pleases to go straight. And you do not please except that Allah please, the Lord of the worlds” (Qur’an 81:26-29).
40. Vol.4 p.18 and vol.3 p.92. It has also been mentioned by Ahmad in his Musnad and by others.
41. It has been mentioned by al-Bukhari, Muslim, at-Tarmithi, Ahmad bin Hanbal, Ibn Jareer, Ibn Abu Hatim, Ibn Mardwayh and others. Refer to Kanzol Ummal by al-Muttaqi al-Hindi, vol.1 p.247.
42. Mentioned by Ibn Abu Hatim from ash-Shi’bi from Umar and mentioned in Kanzol Ummal and Muntakhab Kanzol Ummal printed on the margins of Ahmad’s Musnad.
43. Refer to Muslim’s Sahih.
44. Sharh Sahih Muslim, vol.1 p.404.