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Understanding The Prophet's Life

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From Issue: 1024 [Read full issue]

Musa and Death

Abu Hurayra reported that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, "The Angel of Death came to Musa, peace be upon him, and said, 'Respond to your Lord.' Musa, peace be upon him, punched the Angel of Death in the eye and knocked it out. So the angel returned to Allah Almighty and said, 'You sent me to a slave of Yours who does not want to die and he has knocked out my eye.' Allah restored his eye to him and said, 'Return to My slave and ask him, "Do you want life? If you want life, place your hand on the back of an ox and you will have a year for every hair your hand covers."' He said, 'Then what?' 'Then you will die,' he said. He said, 'The time is near. Allah, make me die a stone's throw from the Holy Land.'" The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace then said, "By Allah, if I were with him, I would show you his grave beside the road at the Red Dune." [Bukhari]

Anyone who accuses someone of heresy for denying the hadith is careless of the honour of Muslims. The truth is that the text contains an impairing fault which makes it less than sound. Its acceptance or rejection is a matter of intellectual dispute, not a dispute involving dogma. The fault in the text was noted by exacting scholars but is hidden from people of superficial thought.

If the angel had told Musa, "Respond to your Lord," meaning "Your life has ended, so prepare to surrender your soul and return to Your Lord," why should this grieve Musa? Those who defend the hadith say that Musa, like all people, hated death. We reply, "Dislike of death is understood in normal circumstances for normal people but it has no sense at the end of someone's lifespan when the angel comes to take back the trust. Why would Musa dislike the unavoidable meeting to the extent that this dislike was transformed into the anxiety and anger which caused Musa to knock out the eye of the angel as is said! Those who defend the hadith say that Musa knocked the eye out of the form that the angel took because he came in the form of a human being; but that is refuted by what one hadith says about Allah restoring his eye to him.

The real point is that this hadith and those like it have no relevance to doctrine or conduct which would make it important for the practical teachings of Islam. So why do people delve into it, distract others with it and ascribe heresy to those who hesitate to accept it? The enemies of the Islamic Resurgence are behind this pointless exercise. The imams of hadith reject the soundness of its isnad and fault its text, and so by these shortcomings it fails to meet the preconditions of soundness.

Compiled From:
"The Sunna of the Prophet" - Muhammad al-Ghazali

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