Hadith Al-Man’aam (The Hadith of the Night Vision)
Although the following hadith is being offered in full, the notes on it will be offered in parts. The notes are either by the author, or from Ibn Rajab Hanbali’s commentary on this hadith in his work, ‘Ikhtiyar al-Awla fi Sharh Ikhtisam al-Mala’ al-A`la.
Mu`adh ibn Jabal2 reports: “One morning the Prophet was held back from us for the dawn Prayer3 until we began to see the sun’s horns.4 Then he emerged in haste. The call for starting the Prayer was made.5 He led in the Prayers,6 shortening it.7 After he had said the termination formula, he said, `Remain in your rows.’ Then he turned to us and said,8 `Let me tell you what held me back.9 This morning I rose up after the night and Prayed as much as I was destined to.10 Then I dozed off in my Prayers, until I felt heavy.11 And lo! I was in the presence of my Lord, the Exalted, the Supreme – in the best form.12 He asked, `Muhammad! What are the angels of the upper-most constellation13 disputing over?’14 I said, `I do not know, my Lord!’ He asked, `Muhammad! What are the angels of the upper-most constellation disputing over?’ I replied, `I do not know, my Lord!’ He repeated, `Muhammad! What are the angels of the upper-most constellation disputing over?’ I answered, `I do not know, my Lord!’ Then I saw Him placing His palm between my shoulders until I felt the coldness of His fingers over my breast,15 and everything became clear to me.16 And I knew.17 Then He asked, `Muhammad! What are the angels of the upper constellation disputing over?’ I said, `Over expiations and ranks.’ He asked, `What are the expiations?’ I replied, `Walking over towards the mosques, sitting in the mosques after the Prayers and doing the ablution well despite discomfort.’ He asked, `What are the ranks.’ I replied, ‘Feeding (the people), kind words, and Prayers when people are asleep.’ He said, `Ask.’ I asked, `O Allah. I ask you for the best of deeds, shunning away of evil deeds, love of the poor and the humble, that You forgive me and show me mercy. And, when You wish tribulation for a people, deal me death untried. And I seek Your love, the love of those who love You and love of the deeds that take one nearer to You.’ Then the Prophet added, `This is the truth, therefore, learn and teach.'”
(Ahmed, Tirmidhi, Ibn Khuzaymah in “Kitab al-Tawhid,” and in several other books of traditions, through dozens of different narrators, with variations in words, additions and deletions, with some experts declaring the report weak, but others as trustworthy, such as Haythami, Hafiz, Hakim, Ahmed Shakir and Tirmidhi, the last of whom reports that when he spoke to Imam Bukhari about it, he said it was trustworthy).
1. This hadith is also known as “Hadith Ikhtisam al-Mala` al-A`la” meaning, “Hadith concerning the dispute between the angels of the upper constellation” (Au.).
2. Various other versions of the hadith have also been narrated by the following Companions of the Prophet: `Abdul Rahman b. `Aa’ish, Ibn `Abbas, Thawban, `Abdullah ibn `Umar, Abu Umamah, Abu Rafe`, Abu Hurayrah, Anas, `Adiyy b. Hatim and Abu Ubaydah b. al-Jarrah. However, the companionship of `Abdul Rahman b. `Aa’ish has been questioned by some scholars. Some say he didn’t meet with the Prophet (Au.).
3. That is, something must have held him back, as it was unusual of him to appear late (Au.).
4. Before one can see the edge of the sun rising from behind the dark stretch of land, especially if the landscape is mountainous, one might see a cluster of rays emerging from several sides either of a hill or through patches of cloud. That was referred to as the sun’s horns (qarn al-shams).
This is the time in the morning when the dawn prayer may not be offered as first choice, for, the sun is about to emerge.
Bukhari and Muslim have reports that the Prophet offered the dawn Prayer, much early, at dawn: just about when the morning light began to penetrate the darkness of the night (taghlis in Arabic). This is the position taken by most jurists.
However, Hanafiyy jurists have a different opinion. It is based on a Hasan Sahih hadith in Tirmidhi which reports Rafe` b Khadij as saying, I heard the Prophet say, “Do your Fajr prayer in the fair light of the dawn (isfaar) for it has a greater reward.” Ibn Hibban has a similar report. The report is also in Bazzar and Haythamiyy who said it was trustworthy. To a similar report in Nasa’i, Zayla`i said that it is trustworthy. In fact, Suyuti has said that the report reaches the status of “Tawatur” (i.e., unanimity). In addition, Tahawi reports Nakha`i (a reliable narrator but who never met any Companion) saying that the Prophet’s Companions never agreed upon anything as they agreed upon doing the Fajr prayers in the fair light of the dawn. Zayla`i once again treated this report as trustworthy. Further, it is reported of `Ali, Ibn Mas`ud, Mu`awiyyah, Qays b. Thabit and others that they did their Fajr Prayers in the brightness of the dawn (isfaar). For the Hanafiyy scholars these are very weighty reports since, to them, a deed is weightier than a word: and these are reports of what they did (and not what they said, which can always be interpreted variously).
As regards the hadith of Taghlis (when it is still quite dark), the Hanafiyy opinion is that the narrator meant Taghlis within the mosque where it was darker than outside. This is supported by a hadith in Muslim which reports Abu Barzah Aslami as saying, “The Prophet recited between 60 to 100 verses in the Fajr Prayers, and we used to disperse in a situation when we could recognize each other.” (That is, within the mosque in which there were no lamps then). A similar statement is in Bukhari.
These are but a few of the evidences put forward by the Hanafiyyah. Enumerating all their arguments will fill a book. The other Fuqaha’ of course, disagree with the Hanafiyy view-point on several scores, and the debate goes on without end. The Hanafiyyah themselves do not deny that none of the two opinions can be considered emphatic and able to rule out the other. Hence they respect the other opinion. The debate is interesting for the scholarly, but the point for the common man is that the difference in opinion is only about the best time, not about the legality. The legality covers a longer period: From the break of dawn until sunrise – just before which the Prophet did the Prayer on this particular day (Au.).
5. That is, the Iqamah was said (Au.).
6. The Prophet was both the spiritual as well as the temporal leader of the Muslim community, and so, led in all the Prayers. They were held back until he stepped into the mosque from his house adjacent to it.
After him and the holy Companions, although Islam could not be split, the leadership of its adherents split into two: spiritual and temporal – the former in the hidden hands of the scholars and the latter, in the very much visible hands of the rulers.
To weaken the parallel leadership, the rulers in the contemporary world try, on the one hand, to buy off the loyalty of some of the scholars, and, on the other, to draw strength, sell off a part national wealth and resources to a foreign power. By this stratagem, they manage to hold on to power. The two-pronged strategy leads, on the one hand, to confusion over whom to trust and whom not, and, on the other, to poverty among the masses.
Consequently, the loyalty of the Muslim masses also splits. At heart it is for the spiritual leadership, but for all practical purposes, it is – unwillingly and grudgingly – for the tyrannous temporal rulers. They despise each other. As a result, the rulers pretend to serve the masses, and the masses pretend to obey them. Between them, nothing ever works (Au.).
7. The message in this part of the hadith is that if someone is short of time, at any Prayers, he might shorten it, and not postpone it. One might, for e.g. offer the Fajr Prayers, even if very close to the sunrise. In fact, the Prophet has instructed that if someone is doing his Fajr Prayers, but finds that the sun has risen while he is doing his second cycle, he might yet complete it (Ibn Rajab).
8. This shows that if a man sees a good, promising dream, he might share it with others (Ibn Rajab).
9. The Prophet had come in late. He had kept the congregation waiting and so they deserved to know why. This was to demonstrate the rights of the people as well as to emphasize that the law-giver himself, far from being above the law, or robbing off big chunks of state wealth, didn’t even have the right on the subjects’ time (Au.).
10. He didn’t say how much he Prayed, in keeping with the rule that one may not publish his good deeds (Au.).
11. This means that if someone feels heavy after the Tahajjud Prayers and then, as he dozes off, experiences a good dream, then, that is a good sign. Hasan (al-Busri) has narrated a report from the Prophet, (directly, although he never met him: in other words a weak report, although all the other narrators are trustworthy) that he said, “If a man dozes off in his prostration, Allah points it out to the angels with pride saying, `O My angels. Look at My slave. His body is in My obedience while his soul is here with Me’” (Ibn Rajab).
12. Two great Companions of the Prophet: `A’isha and Ibn `Abbas disagreed over the issue of the Beatific Vision: Did the Prophet see his Lord during his nocturnal journey on the Night of Ascension (Me`raj), or did he not? `A’isha said no, Ibn `Abbas thought yes. Both were correct. For, the Prophet did not see his Lord with his physical eyes (which was `A’isha’s point), rather, he saw Him with his inner vision (which was what perhaps Ibn `Abbas maintained). Most scholars are of the opinion that no human can see Allah (swt) in this life, with his physical eyes. But, seeing Him in a night vision is a different thing. As for e.g., the Prophet seeing Him in this report. In fact, some scholars have said that anyone can experience this kind of vision. It is up to Allah (swt) to choose whom He will, and reveal Himself to him or her in the form He will. It cannot be achieved by any other means. Alusi (the famous Qur’anic commentator) said that he saw Allah (swt) in his dreams three times. Imam Abu Hanifah is also reported to have been blessed with the vision several times.
Further, Allah (swt) Himself chooses the form for Himself. Somehow the perceiver knows He is seeing Allah (swt). In this hadith the Prophet didn’t specify the form. Allah (swt) is, in any case, above a form that we can imagine for Him (Au.).
13. Contrary to beliefs given by other religions, where the spiritual world is a huge space of chaos in which devils, ghosts, ghouls, angels, evil spirits and human souls fly about like bats in a dark night, Islam gives us the concept of a highly organized universe. It has seven constellations that we know of, each with its well defined borders, limits, enclosed, with gates and gate keepers. To each are assigned angels, trillions of them, who maintain order within. No one moves but in obedience of a command. The devils cannot reach out even the first constellations. There are no ghosts, ghouls or evil spirits flying about. It is only human souls that remain under the watchful eyes of the angels assigned to them. The angels in the upper-most constellation (Mala’ al-A`la) are superior to the rest. Among them there are a few that have important positions. Some we know by name only, such as Jibril, Mika’il, Israfil, etc. Most others we do not know. They are the closest to Allah (swt), receiving commands from Him directly, without an intermediary. They then pass on the commands to those lower to them. The reference here is to the select band of angels in the upper-most constellation. Mala’ in Arabic is for a group (Au.).
14. In contrast to the Western man’s perpetual fear of this world, under constant pressure to act, work and produce, in order to defeat the merciless nature, against which he stands alone, filling his days with unending work, and nights with tension and anxiety, the concept of this worldly life that Islam gives to a Muslim is that he may not be afraid of it or its constituents. He is dealing with a Lord who is Most Kind, Most Merciful who has power over everything. So he can relax (Au.). Even the angels in the heavens are interested in his affairs, seek forgiveness for him (the Qur’an, Ghafir, 7) and discuss among themselves what course of action is best for them in order to win Allah’s mercy and forgiveness. According to a weak hadith Abu Hurayrah said, “When a man dies his inheritors ask, `What has he left behind?’ But the angels ask, `What has he sent forward?’” Meaning what good deeds has he sent forward. So, the angels are interested in men’s salvation (Ibn Rajab).
The word used in the original is “yakhtasimun,” meaning, not discussing or even arguing, rather, disputing. This has the connotation of a heated debate. This shows the intensity of their interest in human affairs and destiny: they argue fiercely over the best course of action by them to gain salvation (Au.).
15. The information about the Prophet seeing his Lord, or his Lord placing His Hand between his shoulders, or he feeling the coldness of His fingers, are all of the nature of “mutashaabihaat” (the uncertain). We are required to believe in them as they are reported, without adding, without deleting anything. To ask why and how is innovation in religion, for the first generation Muslims did not ask how and why (Ibn Rajab).
Our Lord is not like the human beings. He hasn’t got hands and fingers like our hands and fingers. There is nothing like unto Him (Au.).
16. That is, it became clear to him what it was that the angels of the upper constellation were disputing among themselves (Ibn Rajab).
17. That is, He knew the answer to the question he was being asked. Or, in view of other ahadith, he knew everything. That is, pertaining to human guidance. In addition, it could mean he saw all the evidences of Allah’s Oneness and His powers just as Ibrahim (asws) saw. Allah (swt) said about Ibrahim (saws) (An`am, 75) “That is how, We show Ibrahim the signs of the kingdom of the heavens and the earth” (Ibn Rajab).
The Prophet’s statement that “I knew everything” did not of course cover the Unknown whose knowledge no one but Allah (swt) possesses (Au.).
[To be continued].