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The Prophet’s ﷺ Sadness

Question:

I am having trouble understanding the following narration from al-Bukhari’s Sahih:

“The divine inspiration paused for a while and the Prophet ﷺ became so sad, as we have heard, that he intended several times to throw himself from the tops of high mountains, and every time he went up the top of a mountain in order to throw himself down, Gabriel would appear before him and say: “O Muhammad! You are indeed Allâh’s Messenger in truth,” whereupon his heart would become quiet and he would calm down and return home. Whenever the period of the coming of the Revelation used to become long, he would do as before, but Gabriel would appear again before him and say to him what he had said before.” [Bukhari, 2/340]

Does this imply that suicide is acceptable in Islam? I am confused between the Prophet ﷺ as a role model, and this narration?

Answer:

Scholars offer a few explanations which I will try and summarize using a few important legal axioms:

Opinion #1: “The Prophet’s intentions, if not acted on, are not legal proof.

The key phrase here (and considered the soundest) is “He intended.” There is an important legal axiom that states, “The intentions of the Prophet ﷺ if not acted on, are not a source of legislation.” For that reason the sound hadith, “I wished or intended that I could order a group of men to stay and pray while I went and burned down the houses of those who failed to come to the prayers” is not acted on by any of the jurists, and there is a consensus that one is not allowed to burn down other people’s homes. In fact, the majority of jurists use this hadith as a proof that “the Prophet ﷺ not acting on it, shows that praying in one’s home is valid.”

In Surat Yusuf, Allah describes Yusuf as “inclined towards her.” Commenting on this, Ibn Taymiyyah said “With that in mind, there is no account of Yusuf repenting in this story with her; [this] is proof that he did not sin in the first place.” This is because the aforementioned axiom kicks in.

The second axiom is, “People are judged by their actions not their thoughts.” We know from the sound hadith of Abu Hurairah, that if one does not act on such thoughts, “A good deed is written for that person,” and in another sound hadith, “My community will not be called to account for their bad thoughts if not acted upon.”

People are not called to account for their inclinations if they fail to act upon them.

Opinion #2: This Happened at the Beginning of Revelation, and was a Clear Sign that the Prophet was Ma’sōm (Protected from Error)

Scholars note that, at the time, Islam was still in its infancy and there were no rules regarding suicide. However, they maintain that the Prophet ﷺ was protected by Allah just as he was when he went to a party in his youth, and the time he tried to take off his loin cloth while building the Ka’bah.

One of my teachers explained to me something that was very interesting; the word used to describe the prophets is ma’sōm, which is in the passive participle. Thus, the Prophet ﷺ is not in charge of protecting himself; rather he trusts in Allah to do so. That does not mean he is not of the best character, but that without Allah, the Prophet ﷺ would never have reached the flawless perfection we know of today.

About the author

Suhaib Webb

Suhaib Webb is a contemporary American-Muslim educator, activist, and lecturer. His work bridges classical and contemporary Islamic thought, addressing issues of cultural, social and political relevance to Muslims in the West. After converting to Islam in 1992, Webb left his career in the music industry to pursue his passion in education. He earned a Bachelor’s in Education from the University of Central Oklahoma and received intensive private training in the Islamic Sciences under a renowned Muslim Scholar of Senegalese descent. Webb was hired as the Imam at the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, where he gave khutbas (sermons), taught religious classes, and provided counselling to families and young people; he also served as an Imam and resident scholar in communities across the U.S.

From 2004-2010, Suhaib Webb studied at the world’s preeminent Islamic institution of learning, Al-Azhar University, in the College of Shari`ah. During this time, after several years of studying the Arabic Language and the Islamic legal tradition, he also served as the head of the English Translation Department at Dar al-Ifta al-Misriyyah.

Outside of his studies at Al-Azhar, Suhaib Webb completed the memorization of the Quran in the city of Makkah, Saudi Arabia. He has been granted numerous traditional teaching licenses (ijazat), adhering to centuries-old Islamic scholarly practice of ensuring the highest standards of scholarship.

Webb was named one of the 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center in 2010 and his website, www.SuhaibWebb.com, was voted the best “Blog of the Year” by the 2009 Brass Crescent awards.

Suhaib Webb has lectured extensively around the world including in the Middle East, East Asia, Europe, North Africa and North America. Upon returning from his studies in Egypt, Webb lived in the Bay Area, California, where he worked with the Muslim American Society from Fall 2010 to Winter 2011. He currently serves as the Imam of the Islamic Society of Boston’s Cultural Center (ISBCC).

Add Comment

  • I had read before of his sadness at the interruption in revelation, but I had not read of his intention to throw himself from the mountain. I’m glad you answered this, because these are the kinds of issues that, if not dealt with openly, can cast doubts into the hearts of Muslims, and can be used by the enemies of Islam as a weapon against the uninformed.

  • Asalaamu Alaikum! Can we know more about these stories? “just as he was when he went to a party in his youth, and the time he tried to take off his loin cloth while building the Ka’bah.”

  • Assalamu alaykum

    Awesome. Much needed article, at least for me. I didn’t know it was an axiom of Islamic law that if the Prophet (S) intended but didn’t do it, it is not used as a bases of Islamic legislation. Especially with the hadith of the burning house.

    By the way, why didn’t the Prophet (S) burn the houses?

    Assalamu alaykum
    Ali S.

  • I heard a Shaykh say, it was not the intention of the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa alihi wasalam) to kill himself, but what happened was due to the greatness, and heaviness of revelation that was pouring into him, that is what was happening.

  • Allahu Akbar ya shaikh!

    What shaikh Suhaib has done here is the effects of deep scholarship and defending the texts which have been transmitted with authenticity. I know of scholars who have sought to dismiss this hadith as not in accordance with the protection of Allah as stated in the Qur’an thus the hadith is unacceptable. But what we see here is the actual fulfillment of that protection.

  • Salaam,
    May Allah swt reward you for posting this. These very human experiences that our dear Prophet, pbuh, went through are the ones we can learn a great deal from. He, pbuh, was so different from any of us b/c of how special he was but where we are similar, in emotion and how we deal with things, are a million lessons for us to use and be motivated by in our daily lives.

    I shared this hadeeth with a group of young people to try and help them relate to the Prophet, pbuh, more. I did this b/c they were speaking about God, The Magnificent, and the Prophet, pbuh, in very limited aspects of their lives and in an irrelevant manner i.e. when I pray and when I go to camp is when I interact with God. I feel that the way the Prophet, pbuh, is portrayed in current resources developed by Muslim activists, scholars, religious establishment etc. is such that he is not someone we can relate to b/c of how amazing he was. This is not true- there is a lot that he dealt with that are similar to negative life experiences we go through that we can relate to.

    Khadigah
    MAS Youth Detroit

  • This hadith just increases one in respect for the Noble Messenger ﷺ. The torture, physical and psychological, that he went through to carry out his mission is unparalleled and will remain so to the day of judgment. It reminds us to increase in our fervor for the deen and hold strong against whatever trial comes our way because no matter how big that trial may be it is nothing compared to what the Messenger ﷺ had to face. If the best of creation can have his shoes filled with blood, his tooth broken off, fall unconscious, have two stones tied to his stomach out of hunger then we can loose a little bit of sleep for the beautiful deen those sacrifices brought us. What an incredible debt we owe to the Messenger of Allah ﷺ .. SubhanAllah

  • Salaams Sh Suhaib, a some q’s…
    regarding the axiom “The Prophet’s intentions, if not acted on, are not legal proof”, what about the Ikhtilaf over what is the best type of Hajj? Some say it is Qiran and some say it is Tamattu based on the fact that the Prophet had performed one of them and then expressed a desire to perform the other next year. Some took the one he did and others took the one he desired to do the next year. So going by the latter opinion, didnt they give more weight to his intention rather than his practice? Does that mean they didnt agree on this maxim fully?

    Secondly, Can you inform of the sources of the two maxims? Its just i would like to do some reading in my spare time (insha’Allah when i have some)

    JzkAllah!
    Haq…

    • The axiom used can be found in most usool texts under the chapter “The Prophets actions”. Sh. Dedew Al-shinqiti in his sharh of Nukhbat al-Fikr says that if the prophet had the intention to act and didnt, even though he had the opportunity, then there is no ruling based upon that intention (the example used above). On the otherhand, if the prophet had the intention, but did not act due to an extrenuating cirumstance (such as death, in the example of the fasting of ashoora), in that case there can be a ruling (it is sunnah to fast Ashoora, even though the prophet never did).

  • Walaykum Asallaam

    Jazak Allahu Khayr for the amazing explanation, it sums things up pretty well Alhamdulillah! Another thing that this has helped me understand is that the Prophet (s) was indeed human, but it was his character and Allah’s help that made him always do the right action, despite his initial intention, and that requires an even greater jihad on the Nafs which is why we are rewarded even more for not acting upon an evil intention.

  • Ibn Hajar explained in Fath al-Bari that this means that the addition of “fi ma balaghana” was an addition to the narration and it would be referred to as “Balaghaat az-Zuhri” only; Zuhri added it to Aisha’s narration based on what he had heard from other sources. Such an addition is considered Dhaeef (weak) because of the large gap between Zuhri and Aisha. Furthermore, this story is found in other sources but without Zuhri’s addition. Zuhri’s narration is graded as Mursal; Mursal means that the chain is “hurried” and incomplete, so we are in doubt of its authenticity. Everything Mursal by az-Zuhri is considered Dhaeef (weak) by the scholars of Hadith. Imam Yahya ibn Saeed al-Qattaan said: “Mursal az-Zuhri is worse than the Mursal of any other!”

  • Masha’Allah.

    It’s good to see a analytical response to this hadith. There are those out there who would rather re-write history or say the hadith is fabricated or extremely weak, instead doing what a scholar is supposed to do, i.e. the explanation in the article.

    Jazak’Allaho khairan.

  • great article, always love this site, in fact I visit this site every day. May reward all those who work for his cause.

  • SubhanAllaah.

    May Allaah (swt) have mercy on Br. Talha (comment above) and May He (swt) bring him out of his ignorance and accusations and into an understanding of the ahadith and the revelation.

    ws

  • […] The Prophet’s ﷺ Sadness – An explanation of how to understand narrations describing a time when the Prophet ﷺ became so sad that he intended to throw himself from the tops of high mountains, but was compelled to stop every time. […]

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