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in category Seerah

Did the Prophet (saw) contemplate suicide after his first encounter with Jibreel?

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Islamic researcher, graduated from Al-Azhar University, Islamic Studies in the English language. I also studied at Temple University in the US.
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In a Nutshell:
The Hadiths mention this concept is either weak or fabricated. There is a narration in Bukhari states the concept of contemplating suicide, but it is not attributed directly to the narrator of the companion and it is considered Maqtu' or Mursal which the scholars of Hadith criticism consider weak.
Although the hadith is not authentic, it does not underestimate the status of the Prophet (saw).


Background

The Prophet (saw) first received the revelation at the mountain then the revelation was intermitted for a few days. The Prophet (saw) was yearning for the revelation, so he used to go to the same place where he received the first revelation; i.e. the mountain.

Some narrations considered this kind of going back and forth to the mountain as a sign of willing to commit suicide and so included a non-authentic part arguing for this concept; others regarded it as a sign of yearning to the source of revelation. In this answer, I am going to review the first group of narrations.

It is narrated in Bukhari from Zuhri on the authority of Aisha (ra):

فَتَرَ الْوَحْىُ فَتْرَةً حَتَّى حَزِنَ النَّبِيُّ صلى الله عليه وسلم -فِيمَا بَلَغَنَا-حُزْنًا غَدَا مِنْهُ مِرَارًا كَىْ يَتَرَدَّى مِنْ رُءُوسِ شَوَاهِقِ الْجِبَالِ، فَكُلَّمَا أَوْفَى بِذِرْوَةِ جَبَلٍ لِكَىْ يُلْقِيَ مِنْهُ نَفْسَهُ، تَبَدَّى لَهُ جِبْرِيلُ فَقَالَ يَا مُحَمَّدُ إِنَّكَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ حَقًّا‏.‏ فَيَسْكُنُ لِذَلِكَ جَأْشُهُ وَتَقِرُّ نَفْسُهُ فَيَرْجِعُ، فَإِذَا طَالَتْ عَلَيْهِ فَتْرَةُ الْوَحْىِ غَدَا لِمِثْلِ ذَلِكَ، فَإِذَا أَوْفَى بِذِرْوَةِ جَبَلٍ تَبَدَّى لَهُ جِبْرِيلُ فَقَالَ لَهُ مِثْلَ ذَلِكَ‏.‏
"Divine Inspiration was also intermitted for a while and the Prophet (saw) became so sad -as we have been told- he intended several times to throw himself from the tops of high mountains.
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 Allah's Messenger (saw) in truth" whereupon his heart would become quiet and he would calm down and would return home.
And whenever the period of the coming of the inspiration used to become long, he would do as before, but when he used to reach the top of a mountain, Gabriel would appear before him and say to him what he had said before.)." (Sahih al-Bukhari 6982)

The same meaning was narrated in different phrases in: (Ahmed Vol. 43, pp. 113-114, Musanaf Abd ar-Razaq 9719, Abu Na'eem, Dala'il al-Nubuwah, pp. 68-69, Bayhaqi, Dala'il al-Nubuwah, Vol. 1, pp. 393-395, Tabaqat Ibn Saad)

The Deficiency of Isnad (Chain of Narrators)

All the Hadiths mentioned this part of the Prophet's contemplation of suicide is either weak or fabricated, but the hadith mentioned in Bukhari is the one to be considered.

This part of Hadith in Bukhari is not soundly attributed to Aisha (ra) who narrated the entire narration, rather Bukhari narrated in the hadith the comment of the narrator, 'as we have been told' (كما بلغنا). This is the statement of Zuhri who is a Tabi'i did not attend the event, therefore he must appoint a contemporary source for his narration. This kind of Balaghat (unattributed narrations) in Hadith is considered weak because it is not attributed directly to the companion or its narrator who is not known (Maqtu'). In such narrations, scholars could not know the attribute if this narrator; whether he is a liar, weak, good memorizer or otherwise; therefore, they don't accept.

Imam Ibn Hajar commented on this part of Hadith and said:

إن القائل "فيما بَلَغَنا" هو الزهري ، ومعنى الكلام : أن في جملة ما وصل إلينا من خبر رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم في هذه القصة . وهو من بلاغات الزهري وليس موصولاً.
"The one who said 'as we have been told' is Zuhri. He means this one of the narrations we have been told about the Prophet (saw) is this story. It is one of the Balaghat of Zuhri and it is not Mawsul (directly attributed to the narrator)." (Ibn Hajar, Fath al-Bari, Vol. 12, p. 395)

Imam Abu Shamah al-Maqdisi stated a similar comment in (Sharh al-Hadith al-Muqtafa, p. 177)

Scholars considered the Mursal narrations (the name of the narrator of the companions is missing) of Zuhri weak because he is a good memorizer and he knows very well his narrators, but he did not mention them because scholars will reject their Hadiths for they are not trustworthy.

Yahiyah ibn Sa'id (a leading scholar of hadith) said:

مرسل الزهري شر من مرسل غيره؛ لأنه حافظ، وكل ما يقدر أن يسمّي سمّى، وإنما يترك من لا يستجيز أن يسميه
"The Mursal od Zuhri is worse than the Mursal of others because he is a good memorizer who is able to name whomever he wills. He only leaves those whom he found them non-reliable to name (untrustworthy)." (Ibn Rajab, Sharh 'Ilal at-Tirmizi, Vol. 1, p. 535)

Imam Shafi'i and Ibn Ma'een said:

إرسال الزهري عندنا ليس بشيء
"The Mursal of Zuhri is nothing (not acceptable)." (Ibn Rajab, Sharh 'Ilal at-Tirmizi, Vol. 1, p. 535, Suyuti, Tadreeb ar-Rawi, Vol. 1, p. 232, Bayhaqi, as-Sunan al-Kubra, Vol. 1, p. 228)

Imam Dhahabi argues:

ومن أوهى المراسيل عندهم: مراسيل الحسن. وأوهى من ذلك: مراسيل الزهري
"The worse Mursal narrations according to them (scholars of hadith) is the Mursal of al-Hassan, but the worst at all is the Mursal of Zuhri." (Dhahabi, al-Muqidhah, p. 40)

So this chain of narrators is not sound because the narrator is unknown and one of the main conditions for accepting a narration is the identification of its narrators.

The Deficiency of Matn (Text)

This weak addition of hadith is not mentioned in the other sound hadiths narrated in Bukhari 4953, 3; Sahih Muslim 160 a, and others. All the other narrations state; when the revelation was intermitted, the Prophet (saw) used to frequently visit the mountain where he received the first revelation.

Some narrator misunderstood the action and wrongly thought he was trying to commit suicide. Thus these narrations' texts (Matn) is considered Shadh narrations (contradicting the other authentic narrations).

Arguing someone was contemplating to suicide needs a direct statement from the person himself to tell us about his intention because it is an unseen matter to outsiders. So the intention of the Prophet (saw) to suicide is unknowing except if he expressed it. In the sound narration we have, there is no such thing.

Considering the Hadith as Sound for the Sake of Argument

If we considered this part of narration as sound, we can't find any problem with it, especially because Allah (swt) prevented that to happen. It was an ordinary human reaction of such dejection which is really hard for a human to overstep. In addition, the confusion of the Prophet (saw) regarding what he experienced is an effective factor in understanding the issue.

The concept also does not underestimate the status of the Prophet (saw) because he only contemplated and he did not commit. The intention of doing something sinful without committing, it is not considered a sin as in the story of Prophet Yusuf (as). Allah says:

وَلَقَدْ هَمَّتْ بِهِ وَهَمَّ بِهَا لَوْلا أَن رَّأَى بُرْهَانَ رَبِّهِ كَذَلِكَ لِنَصْرِفَ عَنْهُ السُّوءَ وَالْفَحْشَاء إِنَّهُ مِنْ عِبَادِنَا الْمُخْلَصِينَ
"And she certainly determined (to seduce) him, and he would have inclined to her had he not seen the proof of his Lord.
And thus (it was) that We should avert from him evil and immorality. Indeed, he was of Our chosen servants." (Qur'an 12:24)

The same One Who protected Prophet Yusuf (as) from committing the sinful act and did not blame him for unaccomplished intention is the same One Who protected the Prophet's so-called suicide contemplation and blames him not in any of the sources we have.

the Prophet (saw) also said:

مَنْ هَمَّ بِسَيِّئَةٍ فَلَمْ يَعْمَلْهَا لَمْ تُكْتَبْ وَإِنْ عَمِلَهَا كُتِبَتْ
"Whoever intended a sin, but did not commit it; (intention of the sin) is no written (in his book) against him, but if he committed it, it will be recorded (and so be accounted)." (Sahih Muslim 236)

The Qur'an tells us that Mariyam, the mother of Prophet Jesus (as), wished death when she received Jesus (as) and did not know how she will present him to her community. Allah does not criticise her statement nor blamed her.

Allah says that she said:

يَا لَيْتَنِي مِتُّ قَبْلَ هَٰذَا وَكُنتُ نَسْيًا مَّنسِيًّا
"She said, "Oh, I wish I had died before this and was in oblivion, forgotten." (Qur'an 19:23)

In addition, the rule of prohibition of suicide, along with all the rest of Islamic legislation, was not yet prescribed; so why should he be blamed or underestimated.

Conclusion

The Hadiths mention this concept is either weak or fabricated. There is a narration in Bukhari states the concept of contemplating suicide, but it is not attributed directly to the narrator of the companion and it is considered Maqtu' or Mursal which the scholars of Hadith criticism consider weak.

Although the hadith is not authentic, it does not underestimate the status of the Prophet (saw).

Main References

Ibn Hajar, Fath al-Bari
Abu Shamah al-Maqdisi, Sharh al-Hadith al-Muqtaf
Ibn Rajab, Sharh 'Ilal at-Tirmizi
Suyuti, Tadreeb ar-Rawi


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