Does The Prophet Permitting Us to Narrate From the Jews Mean that He Held Their Torah to be Authoritative?


Bassam Zawadi


Christian Argument:

Muhammad permitted Muslims to narrate from the traditions of the Jews:

Saheeh Bukhari

Volume 4, Book 56, Number 667

Narrated 'Abdullah bin 'Amr:

The Prophet said, "Convey (my teachings) to the people even if it were a single sentence, and tell others the stories of Bani Israel (which have been taught to you), for it is not sinful to do so. And whoever tells a lie on me intentionally, will surely take his place in the (Hell) Fire."

Sunan Abu Dawud

Book 25, Number 3654

Narrated AbuHurayrah:

The Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) said: relate traditions from the children of Isra'il; there is no harm.

Book 25, Number 3655

Narrated Abdullah ibn Amr ibn al-'As:

The Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) used to relate to us traditions from the children of Isra'il till morning came; he would not get up except for obligatory prayer.

He wouldn't have allowed such a thing if he believed that their traditions were corrupted. This shows that Muhammad thought the Torah of the Jews during his time was unchanged and pure.

My Response:

None of the above-mentioned hadeeths say that the books the Jews had are true and original Torah. Muslims believe that the Torah is a book revealed to Moses (peace be upon him), not by him or about him. These Hadeeths are not about taking rulings from or ascribing religious authority to the Jewish scriptures because the Quran clearly states that the Quran is dominant above all other books (5:48)

So, what do the narrations mean? What did the Prophet (peace be upon him) mean by saying we can relate traditions about Bani Israel? Why did he allow it? What did he mean that there is "no harm" in doing so?

Ibn Hajar Al Asqalani has it in his commentary: 

وقيل : معنى قوله " لا حرج " : لا تضيق صدوركم بما تسمعونه عنهم من الأعاجيب فإن ذلك وقع لهم كثيرا

وقيل : لا حرج في أن لا تحدثوا عنهم لأن قوله أولا : " حدثوا " صيغة أمر تقتضي الوجوب فأشار إلى عدم الوجوب وأن الأمر فيه للإباحة بقوله : " ولا حرج " أي في ترك التحديث عنهم 

وقيل : المعنى حدثوا عنهم بمثل ما ورد في القرآن والحديث الصحيح

وقال الشافعي : من المعلوم أن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم لا يجيز التحدث بالكذب , فالمعنى حدثوا عن بني إسرائيل بما لا تعلمون كذبه , وأما ما تجوزونه فلا حرج عليكم في التحدث به عنهم وهو نظير قوله : " إذا حدثكم أهل الكتاب فلا تصدقوهم ولا تكذبوهم " ولم يرد الإذن ولا المنع من التحدث بما يقطع بصدقه ..

And it is said: "there is no harm" means that it should not bother you when you hear strange stories about them (Bani Israel), since many of these events have occurred to them.

Relate traditions from the children of Isra'il; there is no harm., firstly "Relate" indicates that it is compulsory, then he pointed out that it is not compulsory but permissible when he said "there is no harm", meaning no harm in not relating their traditions.

It is said that it means relating traditions about them found in the Qur'an and authentic hadith.

Imam Shafi said: It is known that the Prophet (peace be upon him) did not permit speaking lies when he said, "Relate traditions from the children of Israel," It meant that you relate traditions that you know not to be lies. Whatever you find to be compliant with your beliefs, there is no harm in narrating those traditions from them. This is in obedience to the Prophet's statement, "Do not believe the people of the Scripture or disbelieve them." He did not recommend nor prohibit relating those traditions known not to be lies. (Ibn Hajar Al Asqalani, Fathul Bari, Kitab: Ahaadeeth Al 'Anbiyaa,' Bab: Ma Thakr 'an Bani Israel, Commentary on Hadith no. 3202, Source)   

Muhammad Shams al-Haqq al-Adhim Abadi has it in his commentary on Sunan Abu Dawud: 

( حدثوا عن بني إسرائيل ) ‏

‏ قال الخطابي : ليس معناه إباحة الكذب في أخبار بني إسرائيل , ورفع الحرج عمن نقل عنهم الكذب , ولكن معناه الرخصة في الحديث عنهم على معنى البلاغ وإن لم يتحقق صحة ذلك بنقل الإسناد وذلك لأنه أمر قد تعذر في أخبارهم لبعد المسافة وطول المدة ووقوع الفترة بين زماني النبوة وفيه دليل على أن الحديث لا يجوز عن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم إلا بنقل الإسناد والتثبت فيه ‏

( ولا حرج ) ‏

أي لا ضيق عليكم في الحديث عنهم لأنه كان تقدم منه صلى الله عليه وسلم الزجر عن الأخذ عنهم والنظر في كتبهم ثم حصل التوسع في ذلك , وكان النهي وقع قبل استقرار الأحكام الإسلامية والقواعد الدينية خشية الفتنة


      Traditions from the children of Isra'il:

      Al Khattabi said: It does not mean that it is permissible to speak lies regarding the traditions of Bani Israel and that there is no harm in doing such a thing. Rather, it means that there is permission to narrate from them simply by informing others about the stories, even if there was no chain of transmission to verify the truth of the claims. The reason for not needing a chain of transmission is because there is such a great time gap between the Bani Israel and the Prophet's time. In it there is evidence that if one were to speak about the Prophet (peace be upon him) then he is required to provide a chain of transmission when doing so.

      There is no harm:

That means that there are no constraints in narrating the stories regarding them. The Prophet (peace be upon him) previously prohibited taking from them (the Jews) and looking into their books, but later on, the rules became more lenient. The initial forbiddance was because the rulings of Islam had not been stable yet and the principles of Islamic creed were also not formulated, thus there was fear that Muslims would have acquired false beliefs from the Jews. (Muhammad Shams al-Haqq al-Adhim Abadi, Awn al-Mabud Sharh Sunan Abu Dawud, Kitab: Al 'Ilm, Bab: Al Hadeeth 'an Bani Israel, Commentary on Hadith no. 3177, Source)

Also see Shaikh Abdur-Rahman Al-Mubarakpuri's commentary on Sunan Al Tirmidhi (Shaikh Abdur-Rahman Al-Mubarakpuri, Tuhfat AI-Ahwadhi, Kitab: al 'ilm 'an Rasool Allah, Bab: Maa Jaa'a fee al hadeeth 'an Bani Israel, Hadith no. 2593, Source)

Thus, we see that the Prophet (peace be upon him) did not recommend nor forbid us from narrating stories from the Jews if they did not conflict with Islamic teachings.

This is because the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:

Saheeh Bukhari

Volume 6, Book 60, Number 12:

Narrated Abu Huraira:

The people of the Scripture (Jews) used to recite the Torah in Hebrew and they used to explain it in Arabic to the Muslims. On that Allah's Apostle said, "Do not believe the people of the Scripture or disbelieve them, but say:-- "We believe in Allah and what is revealed to us." (2.136)

Here the Prophet (peace be upon him) is telling us that we should not put our trust in what the Jews are telling us (since truth can only be verified through Islamic sources) nor disbelieve in them (since it can be true if it didn't conflict with Islamic sources even if Islamic sources can't verify it). Surely, the Prophet (peace be upon him) wouldn't have issued such an order if we were to hold as a religious authority or trustworthy whatever the Jews say to us.

Therefore, one cannot argue that when the Prophet (peace be upon him) told us to narrate traditions from them, that somehow means that we are to believe in and accept everything they tell us.

One may ask "why would the Prophet (peace be upon him) even allow us to narrate stories from them even if they didn't conflict with Islamic teachings?"

Well, the Prophet (peace be upon him) did not recommend or prohibit it. He only said that it was permissible.

Therefore, it is not necessary for there to be some wisdom behind the Prophet (peace be upon him) permitting it.

Maybe the Prophet (peace be upon him) said it was allowed because it could be beneficial to have general knowledge of the faith of the Jews or that there could be some lessons learned from their stories (e.g. how they disobeyed God and how we are not to follow their footsteps).

The main reason that I believe that the Prophet (peace be upon him) made this claim is because the Muslims initially thought that it was prohibited for them to do so.

Muhammad Ibn al-Alâ' told us that Ibn Numayr reported from Mujâlid from Ibn Aamir from Jaabir that Umar Ibn al-Khattâb brought a copy of the Torah to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and said: "O Apostle of God, this is a copy of the Torah." But [the Prophet] kept silent. Then Umar started reading and the face of the Prophet kept changing. So, Abu Bakr interrupted him violently: "Don't you see the face of the Prophet (peace be upon him)?" Umar looked at the Prophet's face and said "May God preserve me from His anger and from the anger of his Apostle (peace be upon him), we accepted God as Lord and Islâm as religion and Muhammad as prophet." Then the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: "By the One Who owns Muhammad's soul, if Moses (peace be upon him) appeared to you and you followed him and left me, you would go astray from the right path and if he were alive and reached [the time of] my prophethood he would have followed me. " (Sunan Al Daarimi, Kitab: Al Muqadimmah, Bab: Maa Yuttaqaa min tafseer Hadeeth Al Nabi Salaah Allaahu 'Alayhi Wassallam, Hadith no. 436, Source)

So here we see that the Prophet (peace be upon him) rebuked Umar ibn Al Khattab for reading the Torah. Maybe from this incident and others, the Muslims thought that it was wrong for them to read the Torah of the Jews in an absolute sense. However, what the Prophet (peace be upon him) was rebuking Umar for was that reading the scriptures of the Jews for taking rulings or obtaining spiritual guidance is wrong.

Also, as Al Khattabi mentioned, the Prophet (peace be upon him) could have possibly prohibited reading the Torah of the Jews in an absolute sense because the principles of Islamic creed and Islamic rulings were not finalized yet at that time. Therefore, it would have been safe to avoid reading other sources and mix their teachings with Islamic teachings. However, after the Islamic laws were fully stable and principles of Islamic creed have been put forth, there was no harm in narrating the stories of the Jews.


Sheikh Ahmad al-Hulaybi, - Dean of Islam Studies at King Faysal University - said:

It is possibly this critical approach that is established by the Qur'ân that caused many of the early Qur'ânic commentators to relate the stories and traditions of the People of the Scripture in their commentaries. This is especially evident when those traditions agreed with what is found in the Qur'ân and Sunnah or discussed matters that do not conflict with Islamic beliefs.

This is something permitted by Islamic Law, for the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: "Convey from me even a single verse. You may relate from the Children of Israel without objection. Anyone who deliberately tells a lie against me will have prepared his seat in the Hellfire." [ Sahīh al-Bukharī (3461)]

Narrating such matters does not come under the prohibition expressed by the Prophet (peace be upon him) when he said: "Do not ask the People of the Scripture about anything, for they will never guide you and they have gone astray, lest you deny something that is true or believe something that is false." In another narration, it reads: "If you do ask the people of the Scripture - as is inevitable - then consider what agrees with Allah's Book and accept it, and whatever contradicts Allah's book reject it." [ al-Musannaf (6/112)]

On this basis, al-Muhallib says: "Asking them about matters confirmed by our religious teachings and matters pertaining to the nations of the past do not come under the prohibition." [ Fath al-Bârî (13/334)]

Someone might be led to believe that looking into the books of the Jews and Christians and quoting from them in order to demonstrate the falsehood of their doctrines and to refute them is something prohibited on the basis of the following hadith:

`Umar brought to the Prophet (peace be upon him) a book that he had gotten from some of the People of the Scripture. `Umar read to him from it, which angered the Prophet (peace be upon him). He said: "I have brought to you what is clear and pure. Do not ask them about anything, lest they inform you of something true and you deny it or inform you of something false and you believe it. I swear by Him in whose hand is my soul, if Moses were alive today, he would do naught but follow me." [ Musnad Ahmad (3/387)]

This hadith has a weak chain of transmission. Ibn Hajar says: "It contains Mujâlid b. Sa`îd who is a weak narrator." [ Fath al-Bârî (13/334)] However, there are other chains of transmission for this hadith that might, taken together, bring it to the level of being acceptable ( hasan li-ghayrihi ).

In any event, this hadith must be understood to indicate that there is a restriction upon looking into the books of the Jews and Christians when there is no assurance that the person reading them is secure from being influenced by them. The reason for this is the other hadith that reads: "You may relate from the Children of Israel without objection." This hadith indicates permissibility, that the restriction is lifted when the reason for that restriction is no longer present.

Ibn Hajar writes, while commenting on this hadîth:

It means: "There is no restriction upon you in relating from them." This is because the Prophet (peace be upon him) had formerly denounced taking from them and looking into their books. Then he relaxed this restriction. It seems as if the prohibition had come before the Islamic rulings and religious principles had been firmly established, to prevent any possible confusion from taking place. Then, when the negative consequences ceased to be present, permission was given. This is because of the lessons to be gotten from listening to the stories of their times. Fath al-Bârî (6/498)]

On the basis of this permissibility, many scholars have cited a considerable number of passages from the Torah and the Gospel as evidence to demonstrate the falsehood of Jewish and Christian beliefs, to show how at times some of their doctrines resemble the beliefs of the pagans, and to show how their religion has deviated from the pure truth that had been brought by Moses (peace be upon him).

Notable among these scholars was Ibn Hazm, who, in his encyclopedia of religions and sects, follows up on a number of obvious contradictions and clear errors in the Torah, then writes:

Here we have concluded our presentation of what we have found in the Torah of the Jews that all Jewish sects as well as the Christians uphold without any disagreement among them; (texts) that contain obvious falsehoods in what they say about Allah Almighty, then about the angels, then about the Messengers (peace be upon them all). If there had been only one of the many categories that we have mentioned, it would have been sufficient for us to conclude that they were definitely corrupted and amended with falsehoods. How is it then, when there are fifty-seven such categories, some of which contain within them seven errors or contradictions?

He then goes on to say:

So what must we think when we find such a number of errors and contradictions in a book the size of their Torah, which is only 110 pages long, each page consisting of twenty-three lines of text written in a reasonably open hand so that a single line of text contains a little more than ten words? [ al-Fasl fî al-Milal wa al-Ahwâ' wa al-Nihal ]

We find that a similar approach has been taken by numerous other scholars, all of whom cited in their works passages from the books of the Jews and Christians for the purpose of comparison and criticism. Notable among these are Abû al-Barakât al-Anbârî, Abû `Ubaydah al-Khazrajî, `Alî b. Muhammad al-Bâjî, Najm al-Dîn al-Baghdâdî al-Tufî, Ibn Taymiyah, Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah, Rahmah Allah b. Khalîl al-Rahmân al-Hindî, and most recently, the popular Islamic worker Ahmad Deedat. (Sheikh Ahmad al-Hulaybi, Citing the Bible When Calling People to IslamSource) 

In conclusion, nowhere do we see the Prophet (peace be upon him) in the hadeeths ascribing religious authority to Jewish scriptures. He only permitted narrating traditions from them. The most likely reason for the Prophet (peace be upon him) doing so is to remove the misconception that was probably there amongst Muslims who believed that it was forbidden to do so, either due to misunderstanding the Prophet's command regarding not being able to read the Torah or due to not knowing that the Prophet's initial command was only temporary and not permanent.


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