Thursday, 15 September 2016

Do the Bodies of the Prophets Decay After Death?

One of the more bizarre doctrines that the overwhelming majority of Muslims hold to, without any real evaluation, is that the bodies of the Prophets (peace be upon them) do not decay after death. This is based on an alleged Hadith attributed to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him):
إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ حَرَّمَ عَلَى الْأَرْضِ أَجْسَادَ الْأَنْبِيَاءِ
Translation: “Verily, Allah (Azza wa Jall) has made the bodies of the Prophets forbidden for the Earth.”

This Hadith is generally held to be in order by most Muslim scholars. This despite the fact that for the mainstream Ulama, the contents of a Hadith are binding for Muslims in dogma provided it meets the criteria of Tawaatur. This means that the report attributed to the Prophet (peace be upon him) must be narrated from such a large number of narrators, at each level of transmission, so as to preclude logically the possibility of it being a fabrication or in any way inaccurate. As we shall see, the Hadith about the earth being forbidden to consume or decay the bodies of the Prophets, far from being a Mutawaatir (mass-narrated) report, is not even solidly authentic as a Khabr al-Wahid (solitary report). I shall cite evidence in this entry proving that this particular Hadith is in fact weak, even if slightly so. Furthermore, the fact that it apparently contradicts the verdict of the Holy Qur’an itself as well as more authentic material from the Sunnah is more than enough reason to reject it outright.

First let us see what the eminent Imam of Hadith sciences, al-Khatib al-Baghdadi (d. 463 A.H) has said regarding the conditions for accepting a solitary Hadith, or Khabr al-Wahid:
ولا يقبل خبر الواحد في منافاة حكم العقل وحكم القرآن الثابت المحكم والسنة المعلومة والفعل الجاري مجرى السنة كل دليل مقطوع به
Translation: “A solitary report is unacceptable if it negates the verdict of the intellect, the verdict of the Quran, the Sunnah al-Ma’lumah (the well-known Sunnah), and a continuously practiced action from the Sunnah.”

Reference: Al-Kifayah Fi ’Ilm al-Riwayah; p.432

Hence, based on this principle of the classical Muhaditheen and Ulama, the Hadith of the bodies of the Prophets being immune from decay after death must not be believed in because it it clearly against the intellect to accept such a belief. However, the main reason is that such a Hadith opposes the concise text of the Holy Quran itself:

وَمَا أَرْسَلْنَا قَبْلَكَ إِلَّا رِجَالًا نُّوحِي إِلَيْهِمْ فَاسْأَلُوا أَهْلَ الذِّكْرِ إِن كُنتُمْ لَا تَعْلَمُونَ﴿٧﴾وَمَا جَعَلْنَاهُمْ جَسَدًا لَّا يَأْكُلُونَ الطَّعَامَ وَمَا كَانُوا خَالِدِينَ﴿٨
Translation: And We did not send before you (O beloved Prophet) anyone but men, to Whom We inspired unto. So ask the people of remembrance if you do not know. And nor did We bestow upon them a body that does not eat food, nor were they immortal.
(Surah 21:7-8)

This verse, although generally applicable to all human beings, is in fact specifically addressing the reality of the Prophets and Messengers of God. This passage of the Holy Quran emphatically states that the bodies of the Prophet are not such that they can subsist without food. Since the bodies of the Prophets are buried in their respective earthen graves, they do not have access to food, therefore, they are unable to subsist. Furthermore, Allah Most High says that the Prophets are not granted Khuld (immortality). The belief that the bodies of the Prophets are preserved and that their freshness is maintained for all time is undoubtedly a kind of immortality which the Holy Quran is negating, and Allah knows best.

In an authentic Hadith, the Prophet (peace be upon him) is reported to have informed us about the reality of death and how it effects the human body:

كُلُّ ابْنِ آدَمَ يَأْكُلُهُ التُّرَابُ إِلَّا عَجْبَ الذَّنَبِ مِنْهُ خُلِقَ وَفِيهِ يُرَكَّبُ

Translation: “All of the son of man is consumed by dust except the tailbone (coccyx) from which he was created and from which he shall be re-assembled [on the Day of Ressurection].” (Sahih Muslim)

This Hadith is general in its reference to the sons of Adam (human beings), and there is no reason to exclude the Prophets, who are human beings, sons of Adam.

Yet if the opposing side were to insist that this Hadith cannot be used as a proof for the belief that the bodies of the Prophets decay specifically, since it is too general, then I refer them to another Hadith which is specific to a Prophet. That is because if it is proven from the Sunnah that even a single Prophet’s body decayed to nothing but bones after death then the foundation of the opposing side’s doctrine will have been shattered. In an authentic Hadith, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) mentions the details about the death and burial of the ancient Prophet Yusuf (Joseph):

إِنَّ مُوسَى عَلَيْهِ السَّلامُ لَمَّا سَارَ بِبَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ مِنْ مِصْرَ ، ضَلُّوا الطَّرِيقَ ، فقَالَ : مَا هَذَا ؟ فقَالَ عُلَمَاؤُهُمْ : إِنَّ يُوسُفَ عَلَيْهِ السَّلامُ ، لَمَّا حَضَرَهُ الْمَوْتُ أَخَذَ عَلَيْنَا مَوْثِقًا مِنَ اللَّهِ أَنْ لا نَخْرُجَ مِنْ مِصْرَ حَتَّى نَنْقُلَ عِظَامَهُ مَعَنَا ، قَالَ : فَمَنْ يَعْلَمُ مَوْضِعَ قَبْرِهِ ؟ قَالَ : عَجُوزٌ مِنْ بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ ، فَبَعَثَ إِلَيْهَا فَأَتَتْهُ ، فقَالَ : دُلِّينِي عَلَى قَبْرِ يُوسُفَ ، قَالَتْ : حَتَّى تُعْطِيَنِي حُكْمِي ، قَالَ : وَمَا حُكْمُكِ ؟ قَالَتْ : أَكُونُ مَعَكَ فِي الْجَنَّةِ ، فَكَرِهَ أَنْ يُعْطِيَهَا ذَلِكَ ، فَأَوْحَى اللَّهُ إِلَيْهِ : أَنْ أَعْطِهَا حُكْمَهَا ، فَانْطَلَقَتْ بِهِمْ إِلَى بُحَيْرَةٍ مَوْضِعِ مُسْتَنْقَعِ مَاءٍ ، فَقَالَتْ : أَنْضِبُوا هَذَا الْمَاءَ ، فَأَنْضَبُوهُ ، فَقَالَتْ : احْتَفِرُوا ، فَاحْتَفَرُوا ، فَاسْتَخْرَجُوا عِظَامَ يُوسُفَ ، فَلَمَّا أَقَلُّوهَا إِلَى الأَرْضِ ، وَإِذَا الطَّرِيقُ مِثْلُ ضَوْءِ النَّهَارِ

Translation: “Verily when Moses (peace be upon him) emigrated from Egypt with the Children of Israel, they got lost along the way. So their scholars said: “When Joseph (peace be upon him) was about to die he took a covenant from them (Israelites) that they would not go away from Egypt unless they took his bones with them. Moses (peace be upon him) asked them which of them could point out his grave.
They said that none apart from an old woman of the Children of Israel could point out the grave. Musa (alaihis salam) sent a messenger to fetch her and requested her to guide them to the grave of Joseph (peace be upon him). She said, ‘No, by Allah, no! I will never do that unless (you promise me that) I will live with you in Paradise.’ Moses (peace be upon him) did not like what she said. However, he was told in a revelation that he should promise her what she wanted and he accepted her demand. The old woman took them to a small pond and said to them, ‘Take out this water!’ When the water was pumped out, she said, ‘Dig here!’ When they had dug out the earth, they found the bones of Joseph (peace be upon him) inside. Then they continued their exile with the bones of Joseph with them. The path was clear to them shining like day-light.”

Reference: A Hadith reported in the collections of Sahih Ibn Hibban, Mustadrak al-Hakim, and Musnad Abi Yaala.

The implications of the Hadith are obvious. The specific mention of Izaam (bones) being dug out from the grave of Prophet Joseph (peace be upon him) leaves no room for doubt that, despite being a Prophet, his body had decayed over the years after having died and been buried, like all other ordinary human beings. All that remained in his grave were his bones.

This authentic Hadith related from the Prophet (Sallallahu alayhi wasallam) is enough to contradict and therefore dispense with the Hadith of more questionable authenticity that states that the bodies of the Prophets are not decayed. Furthermore, the authentic story of Joseph is also corroborated in the Torah or Hebrew Bible (Genesis 50:25, Exodus 13:19, Book of Joshua 24:32).

Apart from these authentic Ahadith and historical evidence, there is also a statement from an eminent companion and relative of the Prophet Muhammad (Sallallahu alayhi wasallam), namely his paternal uncle Abul-Fadl al-Abbas (Radiyallahu anhu). It is authentically reported from Al-Abbas that he delivered a sermon on the occassion of the death of the Prophet (peace be upon him) when some of the Companions were in deep shock and confusion:

تُوُفِّيَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ يَوْمَ الِاثْنَيْنِ ، فَحُبِسَ بَقِيَّةَ يَوْمِهِ وَلَيْلَتَهُ وَالْغَدَ حَتَّى دُفِنَ لَيْلَةَ الْأَرْبِعَاءِ ، وَقَالُوا : إِنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ لَمْ يَمُتْ ، وَلَكِنْ عُرِجَ بِرُوحِهِ كَمَا عُرِجَ بِرُوحِ مُوسَى ، فَقَامَ عُمَرُ ، فَقَالَ : إِنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ لَمْ يَمُتْ ، وَلَكِنْ عُرِجَ بِرُوحِهِ كَمَا عُرِجَ بِرُوحِ مُوسَى ، وَاللَّهِ لَا يَمُوتُ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ حَتَّى يَقْطَعَ أَيْدِيَ أَقْوَامٍ وَأَلْسِنَتَهُمْ ، فَلَمْ يَزَلْ عُمَرُ يَتَكَلَّمُ حَتَّى أَزْبَدَ شِدْقَاهُ مِمَّا يُوعِدُ وَيَقُولُ ، فَقَامَ الْعَبَّاسُ ، فَقَالَ : إِنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ قَدْ مَاتَ ، وَإِنَّهُ لَبَشَرٌ وَإِنَّهُ يَأْسَنُ كَمَا يَأْسَنُ الْبَشَرُ ، أَيْ قَوْمِ فَادْفِنُوا صَاحِبَكُمْ

Translation: The Messenger of Allah (Sallallahu alaihi wasallam) expired on a Monday, but he was not buried until Wednesday. Some people said: “The Messenger of Allah Sallallahu alayhi wasallam has not died, but rather his soul has ascended like the ascending of the soul of Moses.” So Umar stood up and said: “The Messenger of Allah Sallallaho alaihi wasallam has not died, rather his soul has only ascended like the ascending of the soul of Moses. By Allah! The Messenger of Allah Sallallahu alaihi wasallam cannot die until he cuts the hands and tongues of nations. Umar continued to speak thus until he increased in the severity of his threat. Then al-Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) stood up and addressed the people with the following words: “Verily, the Messenger of Allah (Sallallahu alaihi wasallam) has died. Indeed he was a mortal human being, and he shall change as mortal human beings change (after death). So people bury your Companion...”
Reference: Sunan al-Darimi; Chapter on the Death of the Prophet
In fact, the word used by al-Abbas (Allah be pleased with him) is from the root conveying a sense of passage of time and alteration in quality (Arabic-English Dictionary of Quranic Usage, p.460). Another derivative of the same root is found in the Holy Quran:

فَانظُرْ إِلَىٰ طَعَامِكَ وَشَرَابِكَ لَمْ يَتَسَنَّهْ

So look at your food and your drink, it has not changed with time (Surah 2: 259)

The word used by Al-Abbas is commonly used in reference to the spoiling or rotting of food and the decay of the human body after death with the passage of time. It clearly indicates that this eminent companion and paternal uncle of the Prophet (may Allah be pleased with him) did not hold the commonly accepted belief of today's Muslims that the bodies of the Prophets do not change after death and do not decay in their graves.

Now, before concluding, let us analyze the authenticity (or lack thereof) of the disputed Hadith which states that Allah has forbidden the Earth from consuming the bodies of the Prophets. In fact, the Hadith is even more questionable and dubious when we analyze it in its proper context. The Hadith in full states to the effect that the Prophet (Sallallahu alayhi wasallam) instructed that an abundance of Salawaat or Durood (invocations of blessings) should be invoked upon him on Fridays since those invocations would reach him. The companions asked how that was possible even after his death. The Prophet (Sallallahu alaihi wasallam) then explained that even after his death it was possible for their Salawaat to reach him because Allah has forbidden the earth from consuming the bodies of the Prophets.

The blatant problem with the Hadith due to which its authenticity from the Prophet becomes suspect is that it is essentially implying that the preservation of the physical body of a human being after death is necessary in order for people's invocations of blessings and other beneficial supplications on their behalf reach them or have an effect on them. Islam, of course, does not teach such a theology. Such a theology is more remnicient of the ancient Egyptian, cultic belief about the necessity of preserving the human body after death (through mummification) in order for it to continue to persist in the afterlife. Islam, however, teaches and encourages the living to pray for and invoke blessings and peace upon those who have died, Prophets or otherwise, since such invocations benefit them as it reaches their souls. Hence, there is a major theological problem with this isolated and weak Hadith which is reason enough to disregard it.

As for the Isnaad (chains of narration) for this Hadith, there are two main narrations, one through the companion Aws b. Aws, and another through Abu Dardaa (may Allah be pleased with them both). The narration of Aws b. Aws, as reported in Sunan of Abi Dawud and Ibn Majah, contains the narrator Abdur Rahman b. Yazid. He is referred to as Abdur Rahman b. Yazid b. Jabir. However, this is a mistake by the one who has transcribed the chain of the Hadith because the narrator is actually Abdur Rahman b. Yazid b. Tamim (i.e. The grandsom of Tamim and not Jabir) who is classified as Da'if (weak) by the scholars of Hadith. How do we know this? Because the one narrating from Abdur Rahman b. Yazid is Hussain b. Ali al-Ja'afi, and the teacher of al-Ja'afi from whom he took Hadith narrations was Abdur Rahman b. Yazid b. Tamim. For this reason, prominent Muhadditheen like Imam al-Bukhari, Abu Zur'ah al-Razi, Abu Hatim al-Razi and others have declared this chain of narration as problematic and an error.

The second narration is the one of Abu Dardaa (Allah be pleased with him). The chain for that narration has the narrator Zayd b. Ayman narrating from 'Ubadah b. Nusayi. This chain is weak due to Inqitaa (disconnection in the chain) because Zayd b. Ayman did not narrate directly from 'Ubadah b. Nusayi, there is Irsaal between them according to Imam al-Bukhari.

For the sake of argument, if it were conceded that the problems or weakness with this Hadith are minor or do not justify outright rejection of it, the answer to that objection is, in summary, threefold:

  1. The Hadith is in relation to Aqaa'id (doctrine), not in Fadaa'il (virtues) or Ahkaam (laws). The conditions for accepting a Hadith in matters of creed are much more rigorous, according to many classical scholars, such a Hadith must be mass-narrated and not a solitary report. This Hadith does not meet such rigorous conditions.
  2. Even if the Hadith was undisputably authentic, it still contradicts other authentic Hadith, including the story of the bones of Prophet Joseph, and the authentic Hadith related by Imam Muslim about the decay of the human body except for the tailbone. According to principle, the Ahadith of Bukhari and Muslim are given predecence to otherwise authentic Hadith which are related in other collections but not found in Sahih al-Bukhari and/or Sahih Muslim.
  3. The Hadith is apparently contradicting the verse of the Holy Quran (21: 8) which states that the earthly bodies of the Prophets (peace be upon them) cannot subsist without food.

*In Sha Allah, I shall analyze and refute other evidence presented by the opposing side regarding this controversy in future entries on this blog.

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