THE PURPORTED STORY of the Christian monk Baḥîra who lived in Syria during the early life of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ is a rootless and much controversial story. Yet the story has been used against the Prophet and against Islam by some near-sighted Western orientalists, as well as some Eastern heretics, who have concluded that when Prophet Muhammad was only a young boy he earned the inspiration of prophethood and gathered all the knowledge and information of old scriptures and prophets from this monk.

Their propaganda is so strong that even some Muslims have been affected and influenced by it. One such is Muhammad Husayn Haykal who decides, “It was in al-Sham (Syria) that he came to know of Byzantine and Christian history and heard of the Christians’ scriptures. … [This] enabled him at an early age to listen perceptively and to observe details. Later on he would review in memory all that he had seen or heard and he would investigate it all in solitude, asking himself, “what, of all he has seen and heard, is the truth?” (The Life of Muhammad by Muhammad Husayn Haykal, Translated by Isma’il Razi A. al-Faruqi, “The First Trip to al Sham,” pdf format p: 118-119)

http://www.aqeedaonline.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/haykal-the-life-of-muhammad.pdf

The Story

The story has it that at the age of nine (or something up to twelve), the prophet to-be, Muhammad ﷺ, made a business trip to Syria with his uncle Abû Țâlib and some Quraysh men. When their caravan reached the city of Buṣra, in the southern region of Syria, a Christian monk named Baḥîra, who was living in a monastery on their route, saw the cloud of dust that had been overshadowing the caravan—a caravan which trees and rocks had been prostrating towards—centering upon the boy.

Then the monk invited all the men of the caravan to have a meal and he scrutinized the boy in the light of expectations according to Christian books. Consequently he understood that this very boy would be a prophet one day. So he warned the uncle that by getting the identity of the future-prophet as described in the old scriptures, some Christians or Jews would harm the boy.

Only for this reason had the boy to return back to Makkah—some versions say with Abû Bakr and Bilâl—or along with his uncle. It is further seen in the story that the monk talked to some Quraysh men like Abû Țâlib and asked the boy a few questions. Note that–according to the story–their conversation was limited to the time period spent having a meal, or perhaps it extended to when they unfastened the saddles of their pack animals and unloaded their goods and loaded up again.

Analysis of the Sources, Chain of Narrations and the Narrators

However, we now examine the story as to whether it is authentic or whether it is a concocted one.  Apparently the only sources of the story are the Sirât Rasûl Allah by Ibn Isḥâq, Jâmiʿ Al-Tirmidhi and Mustadrak Al-Ḥâkim. The first book is biographical history, and the other two are books of adîth.

Ibn Ishaq

After more than one and a half century after the alleged incident had passed, Ibn Isḥâq wrote down the story (The Life of Muhammad, a Translation of Ibn Isḥâq’s Sirât Rasûl Allah with Introduction and Notes by A. Guillaume, Karachi, Oxford University Press, 1998, p: 79-81).

https://archive.org/stream/TheLifeOfMohammedGuillaume/The_Life_Of_Mohammed_Guillaume#page/n61/mode/2up

Weakness in Sources for the Story of Baḥîra the Monk

Ibn Isḥâq did not mention any narrator or source from which he had received the story. Rather he wrote himself that he had taken the information of the story from people whose names he has not disclosed. In his chapter on the story of Baḥîra the Monk, as source of the story Ibn Isḥâq referred to his sources as “So they allege” and “They allege”—two times each. In addition, the phrases “It is alleged” and “People allege” were mentioned one time each.

Such a story taken from unknown sources, or given without mentioning the name of the eye-witnesses, should not be accepted as historical evidence or truth, although it can make for a good novel. Accordingly, there may be raised a question as to why he did not mention the names of those from whom he had heard the story. If he had mentioned names of witnesses or transmitters, we would be in a position to judge whether his source was reliable or fabricated, taken from a believer or non-believer, originating from the “People of the Book” (a Jew/Christian) or from a munâfiq.

Who was Ibn Ishaq?

We look into the biography of Ibn Isḥâq himself so as to get a sense of his own reliability as a witness. Ibn Isḥâq was born in 85 h/704 ce and died in 768 ce. His grandfather, Yasâr, was a Christian who was captured in 12 h, enslaved, and was manumitted after he accepted Islam.

His book in original form has not been found but has been preserved in at least two recensions—by Ibn Hishâm with many revisions, and by Al-Bakkai Al-Ṭabari. From the beginning this book has been questionable, such that Ibn Hishâm had to reject its first part since he judged the Mubtada’ as actually based upon the Hebrew Bible.

How Have Scholars Regarded Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah?

It is interesting that there are about 600 adîth in this book, but

  • The later adîth-collectors—like Bukhâri, Muslim, and other prominent ones–ignored him as a trustworthy source for their collections.
  • Imam Mâlik branded him a liar and an imposter for writing false stories about Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. He also said that Ibn Isḥâq “reports aâdîth on the authority of the Jews.”
  • Shaykh Al-Islâm ibn Taymiyyah also condemned his writings.
  • Imam Ahmad Ibn Ḥanbal considered his solitary work as unacceptable as a source for sound aâdîth.

http://islamiat101.blogspot.com/2012/10/how-authentic-is-work-of-ibn-ishaq.html

What is at Stake

The infamous modern polemist and anti-Islam hate-monger, Robert Spencer, picks up this line of attack in his book The Truth about Muhammad and says, “However, Ibn Isḥâq’s life of Muhammad is so unashamedly hagiographical that its accuracy is questionable.” For more details see:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ibn_Ishaq

So, Ibn Isḥâq`s credibility has been discounted by our adîth scholars, and his purported biographical data is being scrutinized as containing fabrications. Accordingly, we must be wary of accepting his narrations, and they should not be used as reliable sources of the biography of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ.

Tirmidhi

As a second source of the story, Jâmiʿ Al-Tirmidhi can be considered as an important and strong source among the adîth books. From among the aâdîth of Jâmiʿ Al-Tirmidhi  we discuss  only  the one that narrates the story of Baḥîra the Monk; and the same will be the case when we refer, below, to Al-Mustadrak by Al-Hâkim.

The text of Tirmidhi’s adîth #3620 can be found on pages 318-320 in

www.islamcalling.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/jami-at-tirmidhi-vol-6-a ḥadîth -3291-3956.pdf

Now we turn to the recorded sources reported by Tirmidhi for his adîth regarding the story of Baḥîra the Monk with focus on the narrators. Abû Mûsa Al-Ashʿari narrates the story. The chain of narrators of this adîth is that Tirmidhi reports it from Faḍl ibn Sahl, who reports it from ʿAbd Al-Raḥmân ibn Ghazwân, …from Yunus ibn Abî Isḥâq, …from Abî Bakr ibn Abî Mûsa, …from his father (Abû Mûsa Al-Ashʿari). He said: “Abû Ṭâlib set out for Syria … [and so on].”

Here is what is known regarding the five narrators:

  1. Abû Mûsa Al-Ashʿari, who was not an eyewitness of the event, nor did he even mention the source(s) from which he had got or heard the story. If he had done so, it could be understood whether his source was controversial or not, authentic or fabricated. After all, he was neither Makkan nor Madinian by birth—such that he would be likely to have gotten it from an unbroken chain from an actual eyewitness.
  2. Abî Bakr ibn Abî Mûsa, who heard the adîth from his father has been criticized by some scholars. Imam Ahmad Ibn Ḥanbal has totally rejected his hearing from his father. That’s why Ibn Sʿad has declared him as weak.
  3. ʿAbd Al-Ramân ibn Ghazwân, on whom many adîth scholars have made objections. Allamah Zahabi, in his “Mizan Al-Iʿtidal” says that he relates unacceptable aâdîth; the most unacceptable of which is the adîth regarding the account of Baḥîra. Hâkim says: “He reported an unacceptable adîth from Imam Al-Laith.” Ibn Ḥibbân writes: “He committed mistakes.”
  4. Yûnus ibn Isâq, who generally is considered to be weak and unreliable. Yaḥya says: He was very careless. Shuʿbah has accused him of deceit. Imam Ahmad has termed his reporting, in general, as disturbed and worthless.
  5. Al-Khaṭîb Al-Baghdâdi asserts regarding Al-Fal ibn Sahl Al-Aʿraj that he was one of the foxlike cunning, wily and crafty persons.

Accordingly, It is clearly to be observed that the acceptability and trustworthiness of Jâmiʿ Al-Tirmidhi‘s adîth no. 3620 is very poor. Of the five narrators, the major narrator Abû Mûsa Al-Ashʿari was not an eyewitness; nor did he mention the name of the eyewitness. Furthermore the credibility of the rest of the narrators is questionable. According to the criteria and principles of adîth Science this adîth should not be considered authentic—or used as such. The judgements of our knowledgeable and properly trained scholars must be taken seriously.

Al-Mustadrak of Al-Hakim

Now, we say something briefly regarding our third source, Al-Mustadrak of Al-Ḥâkim. The book is recorded about four and a half centuries (393 h / 1002–1003 ce) after the purported event under discussion.

Firstly, its authenticity has not been recognized among many adîth scholars.

Secondly, Al-Dhahabi, a 14th century scholar, compiled an abridged version of the book Al-Hâkim’s Mustadrak and named his abridgement Talkhî Al-Mustadrak where he presented a judgment on the original book’s authenticity. Regarding what he omitted he remarked: “As for the rest, and that is about a fourth, they are rejected and spurious narrations that are unauthentic. Some of those are fabrications, I came to know of them when I prepared an abridgement of Al-Mustadrak and pointed them out. He also laments: “It would have been better if Al-Ḥâkim had never compiled it.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Mustadrak alaa al-Sahihain

In view of the above evidence regarding the sources of the story of Baḥîra the Monk, there is no need to discuss the telling of this purported event either as found in Haykal’s book—since Haykal does not work directly with adîth sources in regard to this story—or in the three adîth sources since the corroborating evidence from our other adîth sources for this story is poor.

To be continued, Inshâ’Allah, in Part 2

 

4 Comments

  • Sakinah Alhabshi

    Wed 4 Dhul Qidah 1436AH 19-8-2015AD - 4:11 am

    Jefri Irwan Harris

  • Salimah Ahmed

    Wed 4 Dhul Qidah 1436AH 19-8-2015AD - 4:13 am

    Aadil Gutta

  • Yasmin Ahmad

    Wed 4 Dhul Qidah 1436AH 19-8-2015AD - 6:40 am

    Jazaak Allahu khayrfor sharing,I always wondered whether this story was true and yet we see so many contemporary scholars quoting it!

  • abdullah

    Thu 14 Rajab 1437AH 21-4-2016AD - 12:52 am

    Citing wikipedia is not best practice in an academic article

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.