Did the Prophet forbid reading the Bible?

Israeliyyat Narrations(narrations from Jews and Christians)

by Ibn Anwar

Recently, under the Trinity thread on seekingilm a brother with the nick name tru_quran asked the following:

Assalamu ‘alaykum,

Can anyone give me the reference where Prophet Muhammad(saws) forbade the Sahabah from reading other religious book except Qur’an…..then the reference where he(saws) allowed them later; i think it was because their Imaan was high enough and they understood tawhid so he(saws)allowed them to read them.?

Jazak’Allah khair

http://seekingilm.com/archives/205

I am aware that there are Muslims out there who disagree with our usage of the Bible apart from the Qur’an and Sunnah in our da’wah activities. They say that the Prophet s.a.w. never used it and even forbade its usage, so we shouldn’t follow the likes of the late Ahmed Deedat, Shibli Zaman, Bassam Zawadi etc. However, disagreement does not equal to binding religious prohibition. This article is a humble attempt in response to the first request from tru_quran and the claim against using Bible for da’wah purposes. The following material is based on notes from my Ulum Al-Qur’an or Sciences of the Qur’an course under the tutelage of Assoc. Prof. Dr. Israr Khan. Note that the translations of the quotations provided are the professor’s.

In Islamic Arabic literature works or books related to Judaism and Christianity are simply called “Israeliyyat”. Outwardly the word itself may seem to imply that it consists only Jewish literature e.g. Torah, Talmud. However, technically, it also includes Christian traditions i.e. the New Testament. Thus, the term Israeliyyat may be correctly interpreted into the English language as “Judeo-Christian Traditions”.

The reason why the term Israeliyyat is opted for to describe both Jewish and Christan traditions or literature instead of for example Israeliyyat wa Nasraniyyat  traditions is simply because when the Bible in totality is considered the Jewish traditions supercede and dominate(in quantity) the Christian traditions. So, for the sake of ease, brevity and simplicity both are called “Israeliyyat”.

Permissibility on the use of Israeliyyat traditions(Judeo-Christian Traditions)

The method of the Sahaba, the Salaf, the khalaf and the latter scholars in regards to the use of Judeo-Christian traditions or the Israeliyyat was governed and dictated by the guidelines of the Qur’an ad Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. In this regard three Ahadith are usually considered by the scholars.

1. Abu Hurairah r.a. says that the Jews used to read the Torah in Hebrew and interpret it in Arabic for Muslims, whereupon the Prophet s.a.w. instructed: “Don’t endorse the statements of the people of scripture nor reject them”

(Sahih Bukhari, Kitab Al-Tafsir, Hadith No. 4485)

2. Abdullah Bin Amr B Al-As says that the Prophet s.a.w. said: “Convey to others wha I say even though one message. And report from the Bani israel, there is no problem in it. But beware that one who attributes something wrongly to me will certainly get his abode in the hell-fire.”

(Sahih Bukhari, Kitab Al-Anbiya, Hadith No. 3461)

3. Jabir Bin Abdullah reports that once Umar Bin al-Khattab read a book, which he had received from a Jew, to the Prophet who got angry and said: “O the son of al-Khattab, ar you embarrased? By the One in whose hands is my life, I have brought to you something which is pure and immaculate. Don’t ask them(the Jews) anything. There is a possibility that they tell you the truth and you refute it, or they tell you the false and you confirm it. By the One in whose hands is my life, even if Musa were alive today he would have followed me.”

(Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, Hadith no. 4736)

How do we understand the three Ahadith which on the face of it seem to be conflicting with one another?

The first hadith actually conveys a message of being extra cautious and wary while considering Israelite and Christian sources. It also informs us that we should not be dependant of their traditions since it is not so easy to distinguish that which is true from the false due to the fact that their scriptures are not perfect and preserved.

The second hadith is an explicit and categorical permission for receiving and accepting information from Judeo-Christian traditions/Israeliyyat. But at the same token, it warns and cautions us from attributing them to the Prophet s.a.w., perhaps in hopes of giving it better credance. Further more, when the tradition is read in light of Abdullah Bin Amr’s treatment of some Jewish treatises which he is reported to have possessed during the Yarmuk expedition as mentioned by Ibn Taimiyyah in Muqaddimah Fi Usul Al Tafsir, published by Dar ‘Ammar, Jordan on page 48, it becomes even more clear that Iraeliyyat traditions can be accepted so long as there is no contradiction between them and the Qur’an which is the ultimate criterion(and the authentic hadith).

Amir Al-Mu’mineen Fil Hadith, Ibn Hajar Al-Asqalani r.a. explains the issue in light of what Imam Al-Shafi’e r.a. said:

“It is a known fact that the Prophet s.a.w. does not allow false reporting. In this light the Prophet’s hadith about Israelites sources means that the information which do not appear false could be narrated.”

(Al-Dhahabi, Muhammad Hussain, Al-Tafsir wal Mufassirun, vol. 1, pg. 17)

The third hadith according to Ibn Hajar Al-Asqalani is confined to the time prior to the perfection and completion of Islamic rulings and fundamental maxims or principles of divine revelation in reference to the scheme of life. After that period of time was over when the sahabah were already truly grounded in Islam the application of the prophet’s instruction found in the third hadith became null and void. Apart from that the Prophet’s ban does not include Judaic information which conform to what is found in Islam on the accounts of previous people.

(Al-Dhahabi, Muhammad Hussain, Al-Tafsir wal Mufassirun, vol. 1, pg. 172)

Sources for Israeliyyat traditions in Tafsir

Israeliyyat traditions applied in Tafsir are mainly quoted from four persons:

1. Abdullah Bin Salam r.a.

2. Ka’b Al-Ahbar r.a.

3. Wahb Bin Munabbih r.a.

4. Ibn Juraij r.a.

1. Abdullah Bin Salam r.a. was a Jewish scholar who held an esteemed position among his Jewish people prior to his conersion to Islam under the Prophet s.a.w. himself, almost immediately after he came to Madinah.

Mu’adh B. Jabal reported to have said, “Behold, the knowledge and the fith are with four people, Abu Al-Darda, Salman Al-Farsi, Abdullah Bin Mas’ud and Abdullah Bin Salam.”

(Al-Dhahabi, Muhammad Hussain, Al-Tafsir wal Mufassirun, vol. 1, pg. 186)

Further more, several Quranic verses e.g. Surah Al-Ahqaf 46:10 nd Al-Ra’d 13:430 are reported to have been revealed in his honour.

(Sahih Bukhari, Kitab Manaqib Al-Ansar, hadith No. 3812 and Al-Tabari Jami’ Al-Bayan, Darul Kutub al-Ilmiyyah, Beirut, vol. 7, pg. 409)

2. Ka’b Al-Ahbar is Ka’b Bin Mati’ al-Himyari r.a.. He embraced Islam either in Abu Bakr’s r.a. or Umar’s r.a. caliphate. Prior to that he was a Jew from Yemen. He has reported from several major sahabah such as Suhaib Al-Rumi r.a. , Umar r.a., and Aishah r.a. Such sahabah as Mu’awiyya r.a., Abu Hurairah r.a. and Abdullan ibn Abbas have all reported from him. Imam Muslim, Imam Abi Daud, Imam Al-Tirmidhi and Imam Al-Nasai accept his reports as authentic.

3. Wahb Bin Munabbid r.a. was a Persian. His father, Munabbih accepted Islam during the Prophet’s s.a.w. life but did not get the chance to meet the Rasullullah s.a.w. Wahb Bin Munbbih is considered belonging to the most famous tabi’een scholars. Imam Bukhari, Imam Muslim, Imam Al-Nasai, Imam Al-Tiridhi and Imam Abi Daud have ll used him as a reliable source.

4. Ibn Juraij r.a. is Abdul Malik Bin Abdul Aziz Bin Juraij r.a. He comes from a Christian family and was a freed slave of the Umayyah tribe of the Quraisy. He was considered an authority on Judeo-Christian traditions in the period of the tabi’een.

(Al-Dhahabi, Muhammad Hussain, Al-Tafsir wal Mufassirun, pg. 198 )

Imam Al-Tabari reports most of the traditions related to Quranic verses that deal with Christians on the authority of Ibn Juraij.

Conclusion:

The reading and usage of Israeliyyat narrations whilst using the Qur’an as a yardstick or criterion goes back to the time of the Prophet s.a.w. It is not a later innovation by ordinary men. In fact, the study of different religions i.e. comparative religion or muqaranat al-adyan and conveying the truth with it is something which can be traced back to the likes of Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawzi. And there are numerous instances which I myself have wtinessed and experienced that using the Bible in da’wah activities can be very beneficial and many have actually come to Islam through such endevours by Allah’s grace. In any case, we should all try our best to invite all to the way of Islam as instructed in Surah Al-Nahl 16, vere 125.

***It is worthwhile to note that there was no Bible(as a canon) available in the lands of Arabia during the time of the prophet Muhammad s.a.w that could have been directly accessed by Arabs. In fact, most Christians(especially the lay) themselves did not possess personal copies of the texts of the Bible. Reading material was quite scarce back then and most people were not even literate to begin with.

Allah knows Best!

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2 Responses to “Did the Prophet forbid reading the Bible?”

  1. Ibn Saad says:

    MashAllah, nice article. I think the main point is, if ur giving dawah with the Bible you should know what ur talking about. Some Muslims who do dawah dont know enough about the Bible to do it.

    Alhamdillah, Ibn Anwar is very capable so keep up the good work.

    P.S. Here is the opposing view of this article:

    http://qa.sunnipath.com/issue_.....38;CATE=88

  2. Ibn Anwar says:

    Assalamu’alaikum,
    What should be noted is that the Prophet s.a.w. or any of his contemporary was never exposed to the Bible per se as a book since the earliest Arabic translation of it came about much later.

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