In our previous two articles, we had discussed the date of the birth of the Prophet, salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam, and demonstrated that there are over half a dozen opinions, the strongest being that he was born on the 8th of Rabīʻ al-Awwal, in the Year of the Elephant. We also mentioned that the first recorded instance of a public celebration of the mawlid occurred in Shi’ite Fatimid Egypt, around the turn of the sixth century of the hijra. In this article, we shall mention the earliest references in Sunni lands to the mawlid.
The Mawlid in Sunni Lands
The earliest recorded reference in Sunni lands of the mawlid occurs in a history book written by ʻImad al-Dīn al-Iṣfahānī (d. 597 AH/1200 CE), entitled al-Barq al-Shāmī. This work mentions the main political occurrences of Greater Syria (i.e., Sham) during the last three decades of the sixth Islamic century, in particular the wars of the Muslims against the Crusaders. Unfortunately, the original work remains in manuscript form and has yet to be edited, but a number of summaries exist, the most famous one being Sanā al-Barq al-Shāmī of al-Bundari. It is from this printed work (Sanā al-Barq al-Shāmī, Cairo edition, p. 49-52) that the following is extracted.
In the year 566 A.H./1170 CE, Nūr al-Dīn al-Zangī’s (d. 569/1174) brother passed away in Mosul, a well-known city of Iraq. Nūr al-Dīn was the famous leader of the Zangid dynasty, and helped propel Salāh al-Dīn al-Ayyūbī (d. 588/1193) to fame. Nūr al-Dīn visited the city of Mosul in order to quell a dispute regarding the succession of his brother, who had been the governor of the region. There, the historian tells us, he met a certain Umar al-Mulla, who was in charge of a zawiya (Sufi monastery). This zawiya was a popular place for the local leaders and noblemen to visit, and in particular “…every year, during the days of the mawlid of the Prophet, salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam, he would invite the governor of Mosul, along with the poets, who would come and sing their poems, and be rewarded [by the governor] for this.” (Also see Ibn Kathir, al-Bidāyah wa-l-Nihāyah, vol. 12, p. 782)
This small reference, in passing, is the earliest reference we have to a public mawlid being celebrated in Sunni lands. The person who initiated it, Umar al-Mulla, was a venerated Sufi ascetic, and not a scholar of the religion. We do not know many details of his life or even date of death. And while the historian Imad al-Dīn did claim he was a righteous saint (a claim that was mentioned by all those who copied the story from Imad al-Dīn’s work), another scholar strongly disagreed. Ibn Rajab (d. 795), in his biographical dictionary Dhayl Ṭabaqat al-Ḥanabilah, mentions this Umar al-Mulla, also in passing, in the context of a famous Ḥanbalite scholar. Under the entry of Muhammad b. Abd al-Bāqī (d. 571 AH), a Ḥanbalite scholar from Mosul, he mentions how Umar al-Mulla was greatly respected in the city of Mosul, and a disagreement happened between the two of them, which resulted in Muhammad b. Abd al-Bāqī being falsely accused of stealing, because of which he was beaten. Writes Ibn Rajab [Dhayl, vol. 1, p. 254], “As for this Umar, he outwardly showed himself to be a pious man and ascetic, but I believe him to be [a follower] of the innovated groups. And this incident [with Muhammad b. Abd al-Bāqī] also shows his injustices and transgressions [against others].” And Ibn Kathīr (d. 774 AH) mentions that when Nūr al-Dīn Zangi abolished the unjust taxes that had been levied on the people, Umar al-Mulla actually wrote him a letter chastising him for his decision, and saying that this would lead to an increase of evil in the land. At which Nūr al-Dīn responded back, saying,
“Allah created the creation, and legislated the Sharīʻah, and He knows best what is beneficial for them. So if He knew that there should have been an increase [in revenue from taxes], He would have legislated it for us. Hence, there is no need for us to take more than what Allah has decreed, since whoever adds to the Sharīʻah has presumed that the Sharīʻah is incomplete and he needs to perfect it by his addition. And to do this is arrogance against Allah and against what He has legislated, but darkened minds will never be guided, and may Allah guide us and you to the Straight Path” [al-Bidāyah wa-l-Nihāyah, vol. 12, p. 805].
In what can only be described as a reversal of traditional roles, it was the ruler who chastised the ʻsaint’ when Umar al-Mulla actually encouraged the collection of unjust taxes, while Nūr al-Din sought to abolish it.
Before proceeding, it is noteworthy that the mawlid instituted by Umar al-Mulla involved singing poems in praise of the Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam, and nothing more than this. Unfortunately, the books of history do not mention the nature or content of these poems; however, it would not be too far-fetched to assume that at this early stage the poems would have praised the Prophet, salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam in the manner that he truly deserves, and without the attribution of Divine characteristics to him that later poets are guilty of.
The city of Mosul was located in a relatively small province, and remained under the control of the larger Zangid Empire. Hence, it was only natural that mawlid celebrations performed in Mosul would not garner too much attention nor have a large budget at their disposal to use for the mawlids. Rather, for this to occur, it had to be sponsored by a dynasty that could afford to do so, and this dynasty was found in the neighboring province of Irbil, a city less than a day’s journey from Mosul. As news of the mawlid spread to this city, the ruler of the semi-autonomous province, Muẓẓafar al-Dīn Kokburi (d. 630/1232), took it upon himself to celebrate the mawlid in an extremely lavish manner. It would take another few decades for the mawlid to spread to Irbil, but eventually, sometime in the early part of the seventh century, Muẓẓafar al-Dīn became famous for the extravagant mawlid ceremonies that were sponsored through the State Treasury of his principality.
The historian Ibn Khallikān (d. 681/1282) mentions that Muẓẓafar al-Dīn was known for his generosity, for he had built many khānqahs (monasteries) for the Sufis to worship in. Ibn Khallikān was also from Irbil, and was a friend of Muẓẓar al-Dīn, and witnessed first-hand the mawlid celebrations. Writes Ibn Khallikān (in his Wafayāt al-Ayān, vol. 5, p. 78-9):
Two days before the mawlid, Muẓẓafar al-Dīn would take out camels, cows and sheep – a large number, beyond counting – and he would send these animals, accompanied with drums and song and other instruments, until they would reach the large open ground [outside the city]. Then, these animals would be slaughtered, and pots would be set up, and all types of different foods would be cooked, until finally it would be the Night of the Mawlid itself [meaning the night before the mawlid]. On that night, he would allow samāʻas [special poems] to be sung in his fort, and then he would descend down [to the people], the procession being led by countless candles. Amongst these candles were two, or four – I forget now – that were so large that each one had to be carried on a mule, and behind it was a man in charge of keeping the candle erect [on the mule], until it reached the Sufi monastery. Then, on the very morning of the mawlid, he commanded that the Royal Robe be taken out from the Palace to the khānqah (Sufi monastery), by the hands of the Sufis. Each Sufi would wear an expensive sash around his hand, and they would all walk in a procession, one behind the other – so many in number that I could not verify their quantity. Then, Muẓẓafar al-Dīn himself would descend to the khānqah, and all of the noblemen and leaders and gentry would gather together. A chair would be placed for the preachers, and Muẓẓafar al-Dīn himself would be in a special tower made of wood [that he had built for the occasion]. It had many windows, some of which faced the people and others faced the open ground, which was a large ground of immense size. The infantry would also gather there, in procession. So Muẓẓafar al-Dīn would listen throughout the day, sometimes looking at the people and sermons, and sometimes at the infantry, and this would continue until the infantry finished their processions. Then, a general tablecloth would be laid out for the poor, and all who wished could eat from it, bread and other types of foods beyond count! And there was another tablecloth laid out as well, for the people of the monastery, those close to the throne, and while the sermons would be delivered, he would call [each speaker] one by one, and the noblemen and leaders and guests who had come for this season: scholars, and preachers, and reciters, and poets, and he would give each of them garments, and they would then return to their seats. Once this was finished, they would all gather at the tablecloth to partake of the food. This would continue until the ʻAsr prayer, or even after that, and he would spend the night there, and the samaʻās would continue to the next day. And this would be done every year, and what I have described is in fact a condensed summary of the reality, for to mention it in detail would be too cumbersome and take a long time. Finally, when these ceremonies would be completed, he would gift an amount to every visitor who had come from afar, as provision for his journey home. And I have already mentioned how, when Ibn Diḥya passed by Irbil, he wrote up a work regarding the mawlid, because of what he had seen Muẓẓafar al-Dīn do, and because of this he was gifted a thousand gold coins, along with the generous hospitality he was shown for the duration of his stay.
As can be seen, the ceremony of Muẓẓafar al-Dīn was an extremely lavish and extravagant affair, and would draw large crowds of locals and also visitors. It is clear that the relatively innocuous mawlid of Umar al-Mulla was now being taken to a different level. And because the celebrations of Muẓẓafar al-Dīn attracted more attention than those of ʻUmar al-Mulla, they played a crucial role in spreading the custom of the mawlid and increasing its popularity.
From this, it is clear that the mawlid was imported into Sunni lands at the beginning of the seventh Islamic century, through the actions of Umar al-Mulla and then Muẓẓafar al-Dīn. A contemporary author proves this point beyond a shadow of doubt. Abū Shāmah al-Maqdisi (d. 665) was a famous historian from Damascus. He wrote a number of works, and is most famous for his book Kitāb al-Bāʻith ʻalā inkār al-bidaʻ wa-l-ḥawādith. In it, he follows the opinion that religious innovations can be either reprehensible or praiseworthy (a theological opinion which was and remains the subject of debate amongst scholars, and which deserves to be discussed in another article), and considers the mawlid to be a praiseworthy innovation. What concerns us here is not Abū Shāmah’s legal verdict on the mawlid, but rather his historical context. He writes, [Kitāb al-bāʻith, (Cairo print, 1978), p. 24],
And of the best matters that have been introduced in our times is that which occurs in the city of Irbil – may Allah protect it – every year, on the day that the Prophet salla Allah alahyi wa sallam was born. [On this day], charity is distributed, and good [deeds performed], and pageantry is displayed, and happiness [is abundant]. And all of this, in addition to being beneficial to the poor, is an outward manifestation of the love of the Prophet salla Allah alahyi wa sallam and demonstrates respect for him, and honor in the heart of the one who does this [celebration], and thankfulness to Allah for what He has blessed us with in the existence of the Messenger that He has sent as a mercy to the worlds. And the first person who ever did this was [a man] from Mosul, the Shaykh Umar b. Muhammad al-Mulla, a well-known, righteous man, and it was from his custom that the Governor of Irbil, and others besides him, took this act from.
From this passage, it is clear that the custom of the mawlid was already known to Abū Shāmah in Damascus, but he points out that the celebration occurs in Irbil , and not in Damascus. Hence, at this stage, in the middle of the seventh century, news of the mawlid has reached Damascus, which is around 500 miles away, but the city of Damascus itself has yet to start its own mawlid.
It is also striking to note the similarities between the Fatimid celebrations of the mawlid and the ones sponsored by Muẓẓafar al-Dīn: in both cases, the pomp and pageantry and generosity lavished upon the population must have played a vital role in popularizing these rulers amongst the people.
Before moving on, it is relevant to backtrack a few decades and mention another rudimentary version of the mawlid (if it can even be called such). This version is found in the travelogue of Ibn Jubayr (d. 614 AH), who set foot from Andalus to perform the Hajj and spent the next few years touring Muslim lands, finally settling down in North Africa to record his travels. Ibn Jubayr entered Makkah in 579 AH, and he mentions that on the first Monday of Rabīʻ al-Awwal, the house in which the Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam was reputed to have been born in would be open for visitors, along with some other ancient historic sites associated with the life of the Prophet, and visitors would enter these houses and seek blessings from it [see: The Travels of Ibn Jubayr, ed. M. J. De Goeje, p. 114-5].*
Therefore, it is clear that Muslims of Makkah did do something special on the first Monday of Rabīʻ al-Awwal, and that is to open the house of the Prophet’s birth. Of significance, though, is that that is all they did. There are no celebrations, no festivals, no songs, no ceremonies. All of this was to come later. In fact, in Makkah the mawlid was not even ‘celebrated’ on the 12th of Rabīʻ al-Awwal, but rather on the first Monday of the month. This was the extent of the mawlid in Makkah in the latter part of the sixth century, before the customs of Muẓẓafar al-Dīn were done in the far away city of Irbil. Hence, to quote this as justification for modern-day mawlids is simply not appropriate.
It can be seen, then, that slowly but surely, the practice of celebrating the mawlid spread to other Muslim lands, and as the decades turned to centuries, more and more layers of celebrations were added. For most lands, it is impossible to document the precise date when the mawlid was initiated, or even the person who exported the idea to each land. Sometimes, however, we are provided such clues. For example, we can trace the beginnings of the mawlid in North Africa, and thence to Andalus to the efforts of a certain Abū al-ʻAbbās al-Azafī (d. 633 AH), who wrote a work entitled ʻThe Edited Pearl Regarding the Birth of the Honored Prophet‘. The work was the spearheading effort that eventually legitimized the celebration of the mawlid. In it, Abū al-ʻAbbās clearly states that his purpose in legitimizing the celebration of the mawlid is so that the Muslims desist in the evil and reprehensible act of celebrating Christmas, Nawruz and other holy days of the Christians and pagans that some Muslims of Andalus had begun to adopt. He writes, “I have searched intensively and racked my brains to find something that would distract the attention of the people away from these bidʻahs to something that is permissible, which does not cause the one observing it to sin…Therefore, I drew their attention to the birth of the Prophet Muḥammad…” Later in the work, he refutes those who have criticized this act as being a reprehensible innovation by claiming that the mawlid is a praiseworthy innovation, not a reprehensible one. This in itself shows that there were scholars in Andalus who were opposed to this practice and dissaproved of it, hence al-Azafi was forced to defend the practice. [See: P. Shinar, “Traditional and reformist mawlid celebrations in the Maghrib” in: Studies in Memory of G. Wiet, Jerusalem 1977, pp. 371-413; and N. G. J. Kaptien, Muhammad’s Birthday Festival, Brill, pp. 76-96].
From all the above, we can derive:
1) The very first Sunni to publically celebrate the mawlid was a Sufi mystic by the name of Umar al-Mulla. He seems to be a person of dubious character, and the least that can be said about him was that he was by no means a scholar of the religion.
2) Government-sponsored mawlids in Sunni lands were first introduced by Muẓẓafar al-Dīn, who got the idea from Umar al-Mulla. These celebrations were extremely popular amongst the masses, and helped secure popularity for the rulers.
3) Late in the sixth Islamic century, the mawlid had been introduced to some Sunni lands, but the mainlands of Islam (e.g., Makkah, Damascus, etc.) had not yet begun to commemorate the day with any festival.
4) In Makkah, no festival or public celebration occurred, instead the birth-date was an occasion to open up historic sites for the people. Also, the birth-date itself had not yet been associated with the 12th of Rabīʻ al-Awwal; rather, it was associated with the first Monday of Rabīʻ al-Awwal.
5) The association of the mawlid with the 12th of Rabīʻ al-Awwal was clearly a Fatimid influence, which was later followed by other government-sponsored mawlids.
5 ) The mawlid spread in various lands due to miscellaneous factors. In some lands, it was patronized by the rulers and used as a means of legitimizing their rule. In other lands, it was used as a tactic to divert Muslims from that which was clearly impermissible to a matter that was deemed to be praiseworthy.
Later Claims Regarding the Origin of the Mawlid
It is quite clear that the Fatimid celebration, having preceded the Sunni one by almost a century, was the actual origin of the mawlid. However, most later authorities (most famously al-Suyūtī (d. 911) in his treatise on the subject), either knowingly or unknowingly glossed over the Fatimid origins of the mawlid, and attributed it to the Sunni ruler Muẓẓafar al-Dīn Kokburi. A few modern researchers (such as Kaptein) have theorized that this was done intentionally, in order to cover up the Shiʻite origins of the festival and attribute it to a popular Sunni ruler, viz., Muẓẓafar al-Dīn. But for our purposes it matters little whether al-Suyūtī was aware of the Fatimid origins of the mawlid or not; the fact that cannot be denied is that the origin of a public celebration goes back to their empire, and Muẓẓafar al-Dīn’s suspicously similar festival occurred almost a century after theirs.
Therefore, to attribute the origins of the mawlid to Muẓẓafar al-Dīn, or even ʻUmar al-Mulla, is simply not accurate.
The purpose of this article was to give a brief overview regarding the origins of the celebration of the Prophet’s birthday, and some examples of how it spread to other lands. It did not discuss the legal validity for such a celebration, as that is another topic altogether, and one that has been hashed and rehashed on many different sites and forums.
My own leanings, which I have never shied away from expressing, are the same as those of Ibn Taymiyya (d. 728) that he mentioned in his work Iqtiḍā Sirāt al-mustaqīm: that the general ruling is that such a celebration is not a part of the religion, but was added by later generations, and hence should be avoided; but it is possible that some groups of people who practice it out of ignorance will be rewarded due to their good intentions. The mawlid of the Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam should be celebrated every day, by following his Sunnah and doing in our daily lives what he salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam wanted us to do.
I also stress that even if I disapprove of a public celebration of the mawlid, not all mawlids are the same, and if the only matter that is done on a mawlid is to praise the beloved Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam in an appropriate manner, and mention aspects of his sirah, and thank Allah for blessing us to be of his Ummah, then this type of celebration is permissible, in fact praiseworthy, on any day of the year, and hence even if some groups choose one specific day to do it, others should not be harsh in their disapproval of it. I believe that the fatwas given by such esteemed authorities as Ibn Hajr (d. 852) and al-Nawawi (d. 676) legitimizing mawlids refer, in fact, to such ‘innocent’ mawlids. Sadly, it is well-nigh impossible to find such ‘pure’ mawlids practiced in our times!
To conclude, it is appropriate to quote a non-Muslim author who has specialized in the topic of the mawlid and written a doctoral dissertation on it, N. J. G. Kaptein. He writes in his monograph [p. 29],
At the end of this chapter, I would like to draw attention to a number of points that are important for the general history of the mawlid al-nabi:
a) the mawlid was originally a Shiʻite festival
b) the mawlid came into being in the sixth hijri / twelfth Christian century
c) in the Fatimid period the mawlid was not always celebrated on the same date: in 517 the mawlid was celebrated on the 13th Rabīʻ I, while according to Ibn Ṭuwayr this festival always fell on the 12th Rabīʻ I
d) The mawlid was celebrated during the daytime
e) the ruler played a central role
f) sermons were given and recitations from the Quran took place
g) presentations to officials took place
h) by means of these presentations, amongst other things, the Fatimid’s close relationship with the ahl al-bayt was emphasized, in order to cultivate loyalty to the Fatimid imam-Caliph
i) after the fall of the Fatimids, the mawlid continued to exist.
Kaptein’s conclusions are very reasonable and have clear evidence to back them up, as this article has also showed.
And Allah knows best…
* It must be mentioned here, of course, that the practice of seeking blessings from ancient relics was one that was disputed amongst the scholars of Islam, and legal textbooks of the period reference this fact. The more Orthodox scholars disapproved of this practice, and it was generally sanctioned by the masses, and not scholars. However, that is the topic of another paper.
Ten Things You Didn’t Know About The Kaaba- Video
Every Muslim knows the Kaaba, but did you know the Kaaba has been reconstructed several times? The Kaaba that we see today is not exactly the same structure that was constructed by Prophets Ibrahim and Ismail, may the peace and blessings of Allāh be upon them. From time to time, it has needed rebuilding after natural and man-made disasters.
Watch to learn ten things that most people may not know about the Ka’aba, based on the full article Ten Things You Didn’t Know About the Ka’aba.
Emotional Intelligence: A Tool for Change
Why do we consider emotional intelligence to be half of the Prophetic intellect? The answer lies in the word “messenger.” Messengers of Allah are tasked with the divine responsibility of conveying to humanity the keys to their salvation. They are not only tasked with passing on the message but also with being a living example of that message.
When ʿĀʾishah, the wife of the Prophet ﷺ, was asked to explain the character of the blessed Prophet ﷺ, her reply was, “His character was the Qurʾān.” We are giving emotional intelligence a place of primacy in the construct of Prophetic intelligence because it seems implausible that Allah would send a messenger without providing that messenger with the means necessary to exemplify and transmit the message to others. If the Prophets of Allah did not have the necessary knowledge and skills needed to successfully pass on the message to the next generation, the argument would be incomplete. People could easily excuse themselves of all accountability because the message was never conveyed.
We also see clear examples in the Qur’ān that this knowledge was being perpetually perfected in the character of the Prophet ﷺ. Slight slips in his Emotional Intelligence were rare, but when they did occur, Allah gently addressed the mistake by means of revelation. Allah says in the Qurʾān, “If you (O Muḥammad) were harsh and hardhearted, then the people would flee from you.” This verse clearly placed the burden of keeping an audience upon the shoulders of the Prophet ﷺ. What this means is that the Prophet ﷺ had to be aware of what would push people away; he had to know what would create cognitive and emotional barriers to receptivity. When we study the shamāʾil (books about his character), we find that he was beyond exceptional in his ability to make people receptive. He took great care in studying the people around him and deeply understanding them. Only after the Prophet ﷺ had exhausted all the means of removing barriers to receptivity would the responsibility to affirm the message be shifted to those called to it.
Another example of this Prophetic responsibility can be found in the story of Prophet Mūsa when he was commissioned to call Pharaoh and the children of Israel to Allah. When Allah informed him of the task he was chosen for, he immediately attempted to excuse himself because he had a slight speech impediment. He knew that his speech impediment could potentially affect the receptivity of people to the message. He felt that this disqualified him from being a Prophet. He also felt that the act of manslaughter he committed might come between the people and guidance. All of these examples show that Allah’s Prophets understood that many factors can affect a person’s receptivity to learning something new, especially when the implications of that new information call into question almost every aspect of a person’s identity. History tells us that initially, people did not accept the message of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ; they completely rejected him and accused him of being a liar.
One particular incident shows very clearly that he ﷺ understood how necessary it was for him to remove any cognitive or emotional barriers that existed between him and his community. When the people of his hometown of Makkah had almost completely rejected him, he felt that it was time to turn his attention to a neighboring town. The city of Ṭā’if was a major city and the Prophet ﷺ was hopeful that perhaps they would be receptive to the message. Unfortunately, they completely rejected him and refused to even listen to what he had to say. They chased him out of town, throwing stones at him until his injuries left him completely covered in blood. Barely making it outside the city, the Prophet ﷺ collapsed. Too weak to move, he turned his attention to his Lord and made one of the most powerful supplications made by a Prophet of Allah.
“اللهم إليك أشكو ضعف قوتي، وقلة حيلتي، وهواني على الناس، يا أرحم الراحمين، أنت أنت رب المستضعفين وأنت ربي، إلى من تكلني؟ إلى عدو يتجهمني؟ أو إلى قريب ملكته أمري؟ إن لم يكن بك علي غضب فلا أبالي، غير أن عافيتك أوسع لي، أعوذ بنور وجهك الذي أشرقت له الظلمات، وصلح عليه أمر الدنيا والآخرة، من أن ينزل بي غضبك، أو يحل علي سخطك، لك العتبى حتى ترضى، ولا حول ولا قوة إلا بك”
“Oh Allah, only to You do I complain about my lack of strength, my insufficient strategies, and lowliness in the sight of the people. You are my Lord. To whom do you turn me over? Someone distant from me who will forsake me? Or have you placed my affair in the hands of my enemy? ”
The Prophet ﷺ felt that he was the reason why the people were not accepting the message. His concern that “my low status in the eyes of the people,” informs us that he understood that people naturally judge the seriousness of a message based on the stature of the message bearer. The people of Ṭā’if were extremely ignorant, so much that they adamantly refused to enter into any dialogue. In reality, this was not due to any shortcoming of the Prophet ﷺ; he demonstrated the best of character and displayed extreme patience in the face of such ignorance. But the beginning of the supplication teaches us what he was focused on: making sure that he was not the reason why someone did not accept the message.
Because his message was not geographically restricted like that of other Prophets, those who inherited the message would have the extra burden of transferring the message to a people with whom they were unfamiliar. The intelligence needed to pass the message of the Prophet Muḥammad ﷺ around the world included an understanding of the cultural differences that occur between people. Without this understanding effective communication and passing on of his message would be impossible.
A sharp Emotional Intelligence is built upon the development of both intra- and interpersonal intelligence. These intelligences are the backbone of EQ and they provide a person with emotional awareness and understanding of his or her own self, an empathic understanding of others, and the ability needed to communicate effectively and cause change. Emotional Intelligence by itself is not sufficient for individual reform or societal reform; instead, it is only one part of the puzzle. The ʿaql or intellect that is referenced repeatedly in the Qurʾān is a more comprehensive tool that not only recognizes how to understand the psychological and emotional aspects of people but recognizes morally upright and sound behavior. After that this intellect, if healthy and mature, forces a person to conform to that standard. Therefore, we understand the ʿaql to be a comprehensive collection of intelligences analogous to Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences theory.
Taking into consideration the extreme diversity found within Western Muslim communities, we see how both Moral Intelligence and Emotional Intelligence are needed. Fostering and nurturing healthy communities requires that we understand how people receive our messages. This is the interpersonal intelligence aspect of EQ. Without grounding the moral component of our community, diversity can lead to what some contemporary moral theorists call moral plasticity, a phenomenon where concrete understandings of good and evil, right and wrong, are lost. Moral Education (Moral Education, which will be discussed throughout the book, is the process of building a Morally Intelligent heart) focuses on correcting the message that we are communicating to the world; in other words, Moral Intelligence helps us maintain our ideals and live by them, while Emotional Intelligence ensures that the message is effectively communicated to others.
My father would often tell me, “It’s not what you say, son; it’s what they hear.”
Interpersonal understanding is the core of emotional intelligence. My father would often tell me, “It’s not what you say, son; it’s what they hear.” From the perspective of Emotional Intelligence, this statement is very accurate. The way we interpret words, body language, verbal inflections, and facial expressions is based on many different factors. The subtle power of this book lies in the simple fact that your emotional intelligence is the primary agent of change and thus the most powerful force you have. You must understand how people perceive what you are communicating to them. What is missing from my father’s statement is the primacy of Moral Intelligence. Throughout this book, I attempt to show how the Prophet Muḥammad ﷺ demonstrated a level of perfection of both of these intelligences.
*With the Heart in Mind is available for pre-order at https://www.qalam.foundation/qalambooks/with-the-heart-in-mind
Bayhaqī, Shuʿb al-ʾĪmān, vol. 3, p. 23.
 Ibn Kathir, al-Bidāyah wa al-Nihāyah, vol. 3, p. 136.
The Languages of the Sahaba
Arabs – during the time of the revelation- were known as an illiterate nation for whom the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was sent from among themselves. Yet, there are instances in the prophetic hadiths that draw attention to some literate companions who were even able to speak and write in more than one tongue. In this article, we shed light at samples of the companions who were multilingual.
The Prophetic stand towards foreign languages:
One hadith is well known among current Muslims in which the Prophet ﷺ says: “Whoever learns a language of a people (other than Arabic), he becomes safe from their wickedness”. Although this saying is well known among Muslims, the fact is that it is not a hadith of the Prophet ﷺ. Hadith scholars say it is root-less, fabricated, but its meaning is sound. Another fabricated hadith is the one that goes “Seek knowledge even in China”. Some people deduce that one cannot seek knowledge in China without being able to communicate with the Chinse in their own language.
Although these two fabricated hadiths are well known, there is no real need for them to establish the importance of learning a foreign language as perceived by the Prophet ﷺ and the companions in their dealings. After all, the Prophet’s tradition (Sunnah) is not just verbal hadiths; it includes his dealings and actions. Prophet Muhammad ﷺ is known to have used messengers to carry his messages to kings and emperors after the 6th year of Hijra. He sent Hatib ibn Abi Baltaa to Egypt because he was knowledgeable about Greek that was spoken by the rulers in Egypt at that time. He also sent Jaafar Ibn Abi Talib to the king of Abyssinia, because Jaafaar learned their tongue while he was there in the first Hijra, where he spent more than 10 years there. The Prophet ﷺ even ordered some of his companions to learn the tongue of the Jews so as to translate for him the messages they used to send to him.
In addition, he ﷺ used very few non-Arabic words in his hadiths that were known to his interlocutors. In Al Bukhari, Um Khalid (the daughter of Khalid bin Sa`id) who was a very young child narrated “I went to Allah’s Messenger ﷺ with my father and I was wearing a yellow shirt. Allah’s Messenger ﷺ said, “Sanah, Sanah!” (`Abdullah, the narrator, said that ‘Sanah’ meant ‘good’ in the Ethiopian language). I then started playing with the seal of Prophethood (in between the Prophet’s shoulders) and my father rebuked me harshly for that. Allah’s Messenger ﷺ said. “Leave her,” and then Allah’s Messenger ﷺ (invoked Allah to grant me a long life) by saying (thrice), “Wear this dress till it is worn out and then wear it till it is worn out, and then wear it till it is worn out.” (The narrator adds, “It is said that she lived for a long period, wearing that (yellow) dress till its color became dark because of long wear.”)
In another hadith, The Prophet ﷺ said, “Near the establishment of the Hour, there will be the days of Al-Harj, and the religious knowledge will be taken away (vanish i.e. by the death of Religious scholars) and general ignorance will spread.” Abu Musa said, “Al-Harj, in the Ethiopian language, means killing.”
These rare instances of using non-Arabic words in the Prophet’s speech do not mean that he knew foreign languages. Rather, it means that he knew a few words that were known to most people to whom he spoke. He used them for recreation purposes (the case of Um Khalid), or for drawing attention to the importance of the idea (the case of Abu Musa).
- Abu Huraira:
There different instances where Abu Huraira spoke Faris (Persian). In Al Bukhari, Hilal ibn Usamah quoted Abu Maimunah Salma, a client of the people of Madinah, as saying:
While I was sitting with Abu Huraira, a Persian woman came to him along with a son of hers. She had been divorced by her husband and they both wanted custody. She said: Abu Huraira, speaking to him in Persian, my husband wishes to take my son away. Abu Huraira said: Cast lots for him, saying it to her in a foreign language. Her husband came and asked: Who is disputing with me about my son?
Abu Huraira said: O Allah, I do not say this, except that I heard a woman who came to the Messenger of Allah ﷺ while I was sitting with him, and she said: My husband wishes to take away my son, Messenger of Allah, and he draws water for me from the well of Abu Anabah, and he has been good to me. The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: Cast lots for him. Her husband said: Who is disputing with me about my son?
The Prophet ﷺ said to the boy: This is your father and this your mother, so take whichever of them you wish by the hand. So he took his mother’s hand and she went away with him.
In addition to Persian, Abu Huraira is reported to have spoken in Abyssinian. In Al Bukhari, Abu Salama narrated that ‘Abd al-Rahman bin ‘Auf reported Allah’s Messenger ﷺ as saying:
There is no transitive disease, but he is also reported to have said: A sick person should not be taken to one who is healthy. Abu Salama said that Abu Huraira used to narrate these two (different hadiths) from Allah’s Messenger ﷺ, but afterwards Abu Huraira became silent on these words:” There is no transitive disease,” but he stuck to this that the sick person should not be taken to one who is healthy. Harith b. Abu Dhubab (and he was the first cousin of Abu Huraira) said: Abu Huraira, I used to hear from you that you narrated to us along with this hadith and the other one also (there is no transitive disease), but now you observe silence about it. You used to say that Allah’s Messenger ﷺ said: There is no transitive disease. Abu Huraira denied having any knowledge of that, but he said that the sick camel should not be taken to the healthy one. Harith, however, did not agree with him, which irritated Abu Huraira and he said to him some words in the Abyssinian language. He said to Harith: Do you know what I said to you? He said: No. Abu Huraira said: I simply denied having said it. Abu Salama said: By my life, Abu Huraira in fact used to report Allah’s Messenger ﷺ having said: There is no transitive disease. I do not know whether Abu Huraira has forgotten it or he deemed it an abrogated statement in the light of the other one.
So, while Abu Huraira used Persian in the first Hadith for communication purposes, he used Abyssinian in the second for expressing his anger. Did he try to conceal his anger by holding his tongue in Arabic, and releasing it in a foreign language? This may be the case.
- Zaid ibn Thabit:
Zaid is known as on the geniuses of the companions. He was the one entitled with the responsibility of collecting the Quran during the time of Abi Bakr and the time of Othman Ibn Affan. He tells us about how the Prophet (ﷺ) ordered him to learn a foreign language.
Narrated Zayd ibn Thabit: The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) ordered me (to learn the writing of the Jews), so I learned for him the writing of the Jews. He said: I swear by Allah, I do not trust Jews in respect of writing for me. So I learned it, and only a fortnight passed before I mastered it. I would write for him when he wrote (to them), and read to him when something was written to him.
The hadith indicates that Zaid learnt Syriac/ Aramaic which the Jews used in their writings. Zaid states that only 15 days were enough for him to master the language. It seems that Zaid focused more on the orthographic system rather than the phonic system because he does not tell us about instances where he used Syriac/ Aramaic in speaking.
- Salman The Persian:
As Salman was a native speaker of Persian, he was the first choice for the companions when they wanted to communicate with Persians. Narrated Abu Al-Bakhtari: “An Army from the armies of the Muslims, whose commander was Salman Al-Farisi, besieged one of the Persian castles. They said: ‘O Abu ‘Abdullah! Should we charge them?’ He said: ‘Leave me to call them (to Islam) as I heard the Messenger of Allah ﷺ call them.’
So Salman went to them and said: ‘I am only a man from among you, a Persian, and you see that the Arabs obey me. If you become Muslims then you will have the likes of what we have, and from you will be required that which is required from us. If you refuse and keep your religion, then we will leave you to it, and you will give us the Jizyah from your hands while you are submissive.’ He said to them in Persian: ‘And you are other than praiseworthy and if you refuse then we will equally resist you.’ They said: ‘We will not give you the Jizyah, we will fight you instead.’ So they said: ‘O Abu ‘Abdullah! Should we charge them?’ He said: ‘No.'” He said: “So for three days he called them to the same (things), and then he said: ‘Charge them.'” He said: “So we charged them, and we conquered the castle.”
We can deduce from the story of Salman that in seeking the last prophet, he knew some other languages, especially Syriac/ Aramaic as he used to serve Jewish and Christian monks and read their books. It is also narrated that a group of Persians asked Salman to translate the opening chapter of the Quran (Al Fatiha) for them to be able to understand its meaning. It is reported that he translated it or part of it. If this is true, then Salman would be the first translator of the meanings of the Quran –or part of it- in history.
- ‘Abdur-Rahman bin Hatib
Although we know very little about ‘Abdur-Rahman bin Hatib , he is reported in Al Bukhari to have saved a non-Arab woman from the punishment for adultery. It was during the reign of Uman Ibn Al Khattab that a Persian woman was forced to commit adultery. She came to Umar, and ‘Umar said in the presence of ‘Ali, ‘Abdur-Rahman, and ‘Uthman, “What is this woman saying?” (the woman was non-Arab) ‘Abdur-Rahman bin Hatib said: “She is informing you about her companion who has committed illegal sexual intercourse with her.” Umar realized that she didn’t know that adultery was prohibited in Islam and that she was complaining from her companion who forced her to commit it. So Umar released her.
- Abu Jamra Al Basri
Abu Jamra is not one of the companions. He is one of the Tabieen (followers). He used to keep the company of Ibn Abbas, and while Ibn Abbas is known as the turjuman (interpreter) of the Quran, Abu Jamra was the inter-lingual interpreter of Ibn Abbas. Abu Jamar said – as narrated in Al Bukhari, “I was an interpreter between Ibn ‘Abbas and the people.” Based on four instances of using translators (The Roman translator at the palace of Heraclius in Abu Sufian’s account, the hadith by Zaid ibn Thabit, the account of Abdur-Rahman ibn Hatib and the account of Abu Jamara), Al-Bukhari commented that “a ruler should have two interpreters.”
These are just some instances of companions and followers who are narrated to have spoken or written in foreign languages. It is strongly believed that there were numerous cases of other bilingual transactions in the early Muslim community, but they were not recorded as they were not relevant to religious matters. Learning foreign languages then is deeply rooted in the Islamic tradition, and we do not need to go to China to prove this.
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