The shari'ah prohibited the killing of an innocent life (nafs) and considered it a great sin (as the verse in the background) and as Allah says:
وَلَا تَقْتُلُوا النَّفْسَ الَّتِي حَرَّمَ اللَّهُ إِلَّا بِالْحَقِّ
"And do not kill the soul which Allah has forbidden, except by right." (Qur'an 17:33)
Protecting the life of Muslims (and innocent people as a whole) is one of the fundamental purposes of shari'ah (maqasid al-Shari'ah) and it comes immediately after the value of protecting the deen in the five major aims of the deen (al-Kuliyat al-Khams).
The Shafi'i jurist al- Bujayrami said regarding these al-Kuliyat al-Khams of Shari'ah:
الْكُلِّيَّاتِ الْخَمْسِ وَهِيَ حِفْظُ النَّفْسِ وَالدِّينِ ... فَشُرِعَ الْقِصَاصُ حِفْظًا لِلنَّفْسِ
"Kuliyat al-Khams are the protection of soul, deen, … so Qasas (legal retribution) was legislated for the protection of soul." (al-Bujayrami, al-Tajreed, Vol. 4, p. 209)
He also added the protection of life comes after the protection of deen:
وَيَلِيهَا الْقَتْلُ ظُلْمًا
"And comes after it (in priority) the unjust murder." (Ibid, Vol. 4, p. 237)
It was also narrated the Prophet (saw) when he was asked about the greatest sins, he said the disbelief in Allah and the killing of the innocent soul:
ذَكَرَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم الْكَبَائِرَ، أَوْ سُئِلَ عَنِ الْكَبَائِرِ فَقَالَ " الشِّرْكُ بِاللَّهِ، وَقَتْلُ النَّفْسِ ...
"Allah's Messenger (saw) mentioned the greatest sins or he was asked about the greatest sins.
He said, "To join partners in worship with Allah; to kill a soul which Allah has forbidden to kill. …." (Bukhari 5977, Muslim 160)
As Allah says killing one life (even the non-Muslim innocent life) is like killing all humanity:
أَنَّهُ مَن قَتَلَنَفْسًا بِغَيْرِ نَفْسٍ أَوْ فَسَادٍ فِي الْأَرْضِ فَكَأَنَّمَا قَتَلَ النَّاسَ جَمِيعًا وَمَنْ أَحْيَاهَا فَكَأَنَّمَا أَحْيَا النَّاسَ جَمِيعًا
"Whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption (done) in the land - it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one - it is as if he had saved mankind entirely." (Qur'an 5:32)
There is no dispute among classical scholar on this issue as it takes the priority over any issue in the shari'ah except the deen. So whether the hadith of prioritising Muslim life over the ka'bah is authentic (which indeed it is) or not, its meaning is true.
Some contemporary writers believe the sanctity of ka'bah is given the priority over that of a Muslim, which is actually not true. They justified their opinion by attacking the authenticity of the hadith prioritising Muslim life over the ka'bah.
It was narrated the Prophet (saw) said:
لَهَدْمُ الْكَعَبَةِ حَجَرًا حَجَرًا، أهْوَنُ مِنْ قَتْلِ الْمُسْلِمِ
"Destroying the ka'bah stone by stone is better (easily achieved but of little value) than killing a Muslim." (Qari, al-Asrar al-Mawqu'ah, p. 282 and others)
This narration is a weak narration (as having a lair narrator) but there are many other narrations (shawahid) supporting its meaning. As Shawkani noted:
مَعْنَاَهُ مَرْفُوعٌ بِلَفْظِ مَنْ آذَى مُسْلِمًا بِغَيْرِ حَقٍّ فَكَأَنَّمَا هَدَمَ بَيْتَ اللهِ
"Its meaning is marfu (soundly narrated and directly attributed to the Prophet) in the phrase: 'Whoever harms (not kills) a Muslim undeserving of that is equal to the destruction of the bayt of Allah (ka'bah)'" (Shawkani, al-Fawa'id, p. 212, similarly in Sakhawi, al-Maqasid al-Hasanah, p. 401)
There are many ahadith with the same meaning or even the same example of ka'bah giving priority of Muslim life over anything else except the deen. For instance, ibn Abbas (ra), Abdullah ibn Amr (ra) and Abdullah ibn Umar (ra) narrated:
لَمَا نَظَرَ رَسُولُ اللهِ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ إِلَى الْكَعْبَةِ فَقَالَ مرْحَبًَا بِكَ مَنْ بَيْتٍ مَا أَعْظَمَكَ وَأَعْظَمِ حُرْمَتِكَ وَلَلْمُؤْمِنِ أَعْظَمَ عِنْدَ اللهِ حُرْمَةٍ مِنْكَ
"When the Prophet (saw) looked at the ka'bah and said: Welcome such honourable house. You are very great!
What is it that is more honoured than you, and whose honour is more sacred than yours! And the believer's honour is more sacred to Allah than yours"
(Tabarani, al-Mu'jam al-Kabir 10966, Tabarani, al-Mu'jam al-Wasitt 5749, Suyuti, al-Dur al-Manthur, Vol. 1, p. 319, Ibn Wahb, al-Jami, p. 225, Tirmidh 2032, ibn Hiban 5763, ibn Majah 3932, Baghawi, Sharh al-Sunah 3526, Ibn Kathir, Musnad al-Faruq, Vol. 1, p. 509, Albani considered it hassan in Ghayat al-Muram, p. 197)
The narration of ibn Umar (ra) added:
مَا أَطْيَبَكِ وَأَطْيَبَ رِيحَكِ مَا أَعْظَمَكِ وَأَعْظَمَ حُرْمَتَكِ وَالَّذِي نَفْسُ مُحَمَّدٍ بِيَدِهِ لَحُرْمَةُ الْمُؤْمِنِ أَعْظَمُ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ حُرْمَةً مِنْكِ مَالِهِ وَدَمِهِ وَأَنْ نَظُنَّ بِهِ إِلاَّ خَيْرًا
"How good you are and how good your fragrance; how great you are and how great your sanctity.
By the One in Whose Hand is the soul of Muhammad, the sanctity of the believer is greater before Allah than your sanctity, his blood and his wealth, and to think anything but good of him." (Ibn Majah 3932)
Jabir ibn Abdullah (ra) also narrated a similar hadith:
ُلما افْتَتَح النَّبِيُ صلى الله عَلَيْهِ وَسلمَ مَكَّةَ اسْتَقْبلهَا بِوَجْهِهِ وَقَالَ: أَنْتِ حرَامٌ مَا أعظمَ حُرْمَتِكِ وَأَطْيّبَ رِِيحُكِ وَأَعْظَمُ حُرْمَةً عِنْدَ اللهِ مِنْكِ الْمُؤمن
"When the Prophet (saw) entered Mecca, he directed his face (to the ka'bah) and said: You are haram (prohibited to be affected by any evil). How sanctity you are? How beautiful your smell is?
What is more haram (or sanctity) than you is the believer." (Suyuti, al-Dur al-Manthur, Vol. 1, p. 319)
This weighted the authenticity of the hadith being said by the Prophet (saw) due to its multiple different chains of narrators from a number of companions. As the leading jurist and muhaddith al-Manawi commented on one weak narration of the hadith:
لَكِنَّ تَعَدُّدَ الطُّرُقِ دَلٌّ عَلَى أَنَّ لِلْحَديثِ أَصْلٌ
"But the multiplicity of the chains of narrators proves the hadith's Asl (originally said by the Prophet)." (Al-Manawi, Fath al-Qadir, Vol. 5, p. 366)
Al-Baraa ibn Azib (ra) narrated the Prophet (saw) prioritised the destruction of the world rather than the life of a Muslim:
لَزَوَالُ الدُّنْيَا أَهْوَنُ عَلَى اللَّهِ مِنْ قَتْلِ مُؤْمِنٍ بِغَيْرِ حَقٍّ
"If this world were to be destroyed, that would be less significant before Allah (swt) than the unlawful killing of a believer." (Ibn Majah 2717)
Anas (ra) also narrated the Prophet (saw) stated only harming (not killing) the Muslim equals destroying the ka'bah:
مَنْ آذَى مُسْلِمًا بِغَيْرِ حَقٍّ فَكَأَنَّمَا هَدَمَ بَيْتَ اللَّهِ
"Whoever harms (not kills) a Muslim, without deserving it, is equal the destruction of the bayt of Allah (ka'bah)" (Sakhawi, al-Maqasid al-Hasanah, p. 401)
In another narration (shahid) of this hadith, he (saw) said harming a Muslim equals destroying the ka'bah and rebuilding it ten times. (Shirweeh, al-Firdaws bi Ma'thur al-Khattab, Vol. 3, p. 618)
Abdullah ibn Amr (ra) narrated – in a hasan hadith – commenting on burning the ka'bah by al-Hajaj:
أيّ سَعِيِدْ! أَعَّظَمْتُم ما صُنِعَ بالبيتِ؟ قالَ: قُلتُ: ومَا أَعْظَمَ منه؟! قال: دَمُ المُسْلِمِ يُسْفَكُ بِغَيِرِ حَقِّهَِ.
"O Sa'id (his tabi'i student), did you find what happened to the house great (sin)?
Sa'id said: What is greater than that?
He replied: The shedding of Muslim blood without a (legal) cause." (Musanaf ibn Abd ar-Razaq 9186, Ibn Kathir, Musnad al-Faruq, Vol. 1, p. 509)
It was narrated Umar ibn Al-Khattab (ra) said:
المُؤْمِنُ أَكْرَمُ عَلَى اللهِ مِنَ الكَعْبَةِ
"The believer is more honourable in the sight of Allah than the ka'bah." (Ibn Kathir, Musnad al-Faruq, Vol. 1, p. 509)
This narration is munqati (a branch of weak) but was supported by the above narrations as said by ibn Kathir. (Ibid)
Some contemporary Salafi scholars would argue the hadith was considered da'eef by Imam Albani, so it is not authentic.
These kind of statements are not scholarly as other leading classical scholars have supported it and it's all about the discussion of why the hadith is sahih or da'eef, not the sheer statement of a (later) scholar.
In addition, Albani only weakened the hadith of ibn Majah (3932) and authenticated the others. He himself even said:
وَقَدْ كُنْتُ ضَعًّفْتُ حديثَ ابنِ ماجةَ هذا في بَعْضِ تَخْريجَاتِي وتعليقاتي قَبْلَ أن يُطْبَعَ "شُعَبِ الإيمانِ"، فلما وَقَفْتُ على إِسْنَادِهِ فيهِ، وتَبَيَّنْتُ حُسْنَهُ؛ بادَرْتُ إلى تَخْرِيجِهِ هُنا تَبرئةً للذِمَة… وبناء عليه؛ يُنْقَلُ الحديثَ مِن "ضَعِيفِ الجَامِعِ الصَغِيرِ" و"ضَعِيفِ سُنَنِ ابن ماجه " إلى "صَحِيحِيَّهِمَا ".
"I weakened this hadith of ibn Majah in some of my books of takhreej and comments before the book (of al-Bayhaqi) Shu'ab al-Iman' was printed.
But when I saw the isnad of this hadith in it, I found it hasan.
I rushed to make its takhreej here (in the book of sound ahadith) to release myself from (committing a sin) … So, this hadith should be removed from the books of da'eef to the books of sahih." (Albani, Silsilah al-Ahadith al-Sahihah, Vol. 7, p. 1250)
There is no dispute among classical scholars on the prioritising of Muslim life over everything and anything in the world – including the ka'bah.
This notion was narrated by multiple chains of narrators – a couple of them are weak but the rest are sound – and on the authority of a large number of companions. So, the Prophet (saw) certainly said this hadith.
Qari, al-Asrar al-Mawqu'ah
Baghawi, Sharh al-Sunah
Al-Manawi, Fath al-Qadir
Suyuti, al-Dur al-Manthur
Sakhawi, al-Maqasid al-Hasanah
Tabarani, al-Mu'jam al-Kabir
Tabarani, al-Mu'jam al-Wasitt
Ibn Kathir, Musnad al-Faruq
Albani, Silsilah al-Ahadith al-Sahihah
Albani, Ghayat al-Muram
Ibn Wahb, al-Jami
Shirweeh, al-Firdaws bi Ma'thur al-Khattab
Musanaf ibn Abd ar-Razaq
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