‘Hadith 38’ isn’t about war

Picture of a young man of Arab appearance, with dark hair and a large dark beard and moustache, with an orange shirt.The BBC reported today that Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez (right), the gunman of Kuwaiti origin who murdered five US marines in Chattanooga, Tennessee, last week, had sent what it called a “war text” to a friend the day before the shooting. The text quoted what the BBC calls “hadith 38”, which the friend “said he thought nothing of the text at the time, but now wonders if it was a hint at the attack to come”. Other friends (also not named) said that he “spoke of his anger about conflicts in the Middle East, including Israeli bombing campaigns in Gaza and the civil war in Syria, after returning from a trip to Jordan last year”, and that “his level of understanding and awareness really rose after he came back”.

Hadith 38 (it is the 38th in Imam Nawawi’s Forty Hadith, which although very well-known is not one of the primary collections; it is sourced from the collection by Bukhari) is one of the most famous of all the hadiths, which are sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam). This one is a hadith qudsi or sacred hadith, in which the speech of God is reported (it is also in the collection known as Forty Hadith Qudsi). It reads:

The messenger of Allah said: “Allah the Almighty has said: ‘Whosoever shows enmity to a friend of Mine, I shall be at war with him. My servant does not draw near to Me with anything more loved by Me than the religious duties I have imposed upon him, and My servant continues to draw near to Me with supererogatory works so that I shall love him. When I love him I am his hearing with which he hears, his seeing with which he sees, his hand with which he strikes, and his foot with which he walks. Were he to ask [something] of Me, I would surely give it to him and were he to ask Me for refuge, I would surely grant him it.’”

Almost all Muslims have heard or read this hadith. I’m not a scholar and there’s really not much I need to say to explain this. I’m sure whole books have been written about it. It’s about the virtues and enormous rewards of performing religious duties and of other rituals which are not compulsory but meritorious. While most readers will see the “religious duties” referred to as meaning prayers, fasting, paying the zakaat and making the Hajj, as well as the things we are required to do as Muslims in our daily life, religious duties sometimes involve fighting as well. But carrying out a random attack on a military base and killing five people when you are living in a non-Muslim country as an immigrant can in no way be described as a religious duty. In fact, there was at least one case of an early Muslim being excused fighting because he had been allowed to go on to Madinah (which composed almost the entire Muslim world then) after agreeing with the then pagan Meccans not to fight against them.

Among Muslims the term “friend of Allah” (waliullah) is commonly used in the same way as “saint” among Christians, although it can be used of a living person as well, usually of a great scholar or Sufi shaikh, or perhaps of a particularly pious ordinary person. Some scholars have said that the term refers to scholars, others to the Believers (Muslims) in general. But Muslim sectarian fighters and rulers who persecute and kill scholars who speak the truth and who obstruct Muslims in performing prayers and harass them for displaying signs of religiousness such as beards or hijab, would appear to fit into the description. Any Muslim thinking of joining an outfit like ISIS thinking they will be building up a great Islamic state should think of how they will be treating those they are ruling, and not be so certain that those they call deviants aren’t in fact awliyaa’ (the plural of wali).

And if someone sent me a text containing that hadith, the last thing I’d imagine is that they were about to carry out a mass shooting or suicide bombing. It’s a very general hadith and this is the first time I have ever heard it linked to violence. And Allah knows best.

(Some media reports have also noted that his school yearbook entry contained a quote from “Hijabman” which said “My name causes national security alerts. What does yours do?”. Hijabman is in fact Javed Memon, a Muslim blogger and photographer who has never been linked to extremism or violence of any sort. It indicates, if anything, that his ‘conversion’ is more recent than that. Hijabman issued a statement on this on Friday.)

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