There are those who say that the parents of the Messenger of God are polytheists, is it true?
There are those who say that the parents of the Messenger of God are polytheists (mushrikin) and that they are in the hell fire. Is this true?
Previously we stated that love of the Messenger of God is amongst the greatest acts by which one draws near God. We have also discussed the place of this love in Islam in a previous question. It is enough to cite by way of review the hadith of the Prophet, “By the One in whose hands lies my soul none of you truly believes until I become more beloved to them than their parents, offspring, and all of humanity.” This love is also counter to the feeling of wanting to harm and insult the object or person of one’s love.
Therefore there is no doubt that negative talk regarding the parents of the Messenger of God hurts him as God has stated: “those who vex the messenger of God, for them there is a painful doom” and “Lo! those who malign God and His messenger, God hath cursed them in the world and the Hereafter, and has prepared for them the doom of the disdained.”
God has forbidden us clearly from hurting and insulting the Messenger of God and has reminded us in this by mentioning the story of the Israelites and their relationship with Moses, “O you who believe! Be not as those who slandered Moses, but God proved his innocence of that which they alleged, and he was well esteemed in God's sight.”
The Qadi Iyad has stated “we do not say anything that is displeasing to God and His Messenger and we do not violate his noble state and insult him with words that he would find negative.”
The parents of the Prophet and his grandparents, even if there is a sound tradition indicating that they engaged in something that outwardly resembles polytheism, are not polytheists since they were not recipients of a messenger from God. The scholars of Sunni Islam in their entirety are in agreement that those who engaged in polytheism and changed the laws of Divine Monotheism between messengers are not punished in the hell-fire. The proof text regarding this issue is in the statement of God “We never punish until we have sent a messenger,” “this is because thy Lord destroys not the townships arbitrarily while their people are unconscious (of the wrong they do),” “And We destroyed no township but it had its warners.” Proofs cannot be levied except when a messenger was sent to a certain people.
This is the creed of the true faith, the people of the Sunna, that God out of His mercy and generosity does not punish anyone until He sends them a messenger. One might say perhaps that the parents of the Messenger of God were given a messenger, then they apostatized after firm proofs were established to them. However, such a claim is not supported by texts, in fact there are many texts that refute this claim: “And We have given them no scriptures which they study, nor sent We unto them, before thee, any warner,” saba:44”, “that you may warn a folk unto whom no warner came before thee, that haply they may give heed, ” and “And never did thy Lord destroy the townships, till He had raised up in their mother(-town) a messenger reciting unto them Our revelations. And never did We destroy the townships unless the folk thereof were evil-doers.” These texts prove that the parents of the Messenger of God are not amongst those who are punished in the hell-fire. Not because they are his parents, but because they are from the “people of the period”, meaning the period between messengers which we have defined above.
Al-Shatabi has written, “It has become amongst His sunna that He does not take anyone to account for their bad deeds until a messenger has been sent to them. If firm proofs have been established and delivered then whoever desires let them believe and whoever rejects let them reject and to each is an appropriate reward.” Al-Qasimi has said regarding the exegesis of the verse, “and We do not punish anyone until a messenger is sent to them.” ‘otherwise it would not be right, rather it would be impossible according to our habits and customs which are based on clear wisdoms that we would punish a people before a messenger be sent to them to guide them to truth and to keep them away from darkness so that the proofs can be established for them without excuse.’” Ibn Taymiyya has stated, “Both the Quran and the Sunna have demonstrated that no one is taken to account for their misdeeds except after a message from God has been sent.
So whoever does not receive a message is not punished at all, and whoever receives a message in total without the details they are not punished except if they deny that which has been demonstrated clearly from the message.”
As to those texts that specifically reflect the state of the parents of the Messenger of God as being one free of punishment is the statement of God, “And your turning over and over among those who prostrate themselves before God.” Ibn Abbas said regarding this verse, “meaning through the progeny of the children of Adam, Noah, Abraham until you were delivered into this world as a prophet.”
On the authority of Wathila ibn al-Asqa’ that the Prophet said, “God has chosen from the children of Abraham Ishmael, and He has chosen from the children of Ishmael Bani Kinana, and He has chosen from the children of Bani Kinana Quraysh, and He has chosen from Quraysh Bani Hashem, and He has chosen me from Bani Hashem.” On the authority of Abbas that the Prophet said, “God created creation and made me from the best of them, from the best generation then He chose the tribes and made me from the best tribe, then He chose the families and made me from the best of families. I am the best of them and from the best family.”
The Messenger of God therefore described himself and his lineage as being pure and the best, and these are two traits that are counter to disbelief and polytheism as God has stated regarding the polytheists “indeed the polytheists are filthy.”
There are those who unfortunately hold an opposing view, citing two singularly transmitted hadiths to support their claim. The first is that the Messenger of God said, “I asked God that I seek forgiveness for my mother and He refused, and He permitted me to visit her grave” , and the second, “A man said ‘O Messenger of God where is your father?’ and the Messenger of God replied, ‘in the hell fire’. When the man left he called him back and said ‘my father and yours are both in the hell fire.”
As for the first text there is nothing that stipulates that the prophet’s mother is in the hell fire as lack of permission for seeking forgiveness for her does not indicate that she was a polytheist. If this were the case he would not have been given permission to visit her grave, as it is not permissible to visit the graves of the polytheists.
As for the second text it is possible that the prophet meant his uncle, not his father, as Abu Talib died after the commissioning of the prophet and he did not become a Muslim. It is commonly known that the Arabs call their uncles father as is found in the Qur’an when Abraham refers to his uncle as such by saying: “Remember when Abraham said unto his father Azar: Do you take idols for gods?” The father of Abraham was Tarih or Tarikh as is mentioned by Ibn Kathir and other of the great Quraic exegists.
If this explanation still does not satisfy our detractors and they hold to their claim that one should understand these texts prima facie, even though this understanding does not aid them in the first text, and if we hold the second text to mean that the parents of the prophet are not saved from hell fire, then we are still obliged to reject the two texts as they contradict clear Quranic verses as has already been discussed.
This is a well known principle as has been stated by al-Hafidh al-Baghdadi, “if reliable narrators narrate a text with a linked chain of transmission it is reject based in certain conditions: if it contradicts a verse from the Quran or a diffusely congruent hadith. If this is the case then know that the text in question has no basis or it has been abrogated.”
This principle has been applied elsewhere. For example, the following text, “God created the earth on Saturday, and created in it mountains on Sunday, and created trees on Monday, and created minerals on Tuesday, and created light on Wednesday, and created the animals on Thursday, and created Adam in the afternoon on Friday, and created the rest of creation in the final hour of Friday during the time between afternoon and evening.” This has been rejected, as Ibn Kathir says, since it contradicts God’s statement “Lo! your Lord is God Who created the heavens and the earth in six Days.” Imam al-Nawawi has done the same thing with the statement of Aisha, “the prayer became obligatory on us two by two at home and while traveling. The prayer of the traveler remained the same and it increased at home” even though this text is agreed upon.
Nawawi said regarding it, “the prima facie meaning of the text is that the two units of prayer during traveling is the original prayer, not a dispensation in shortening, and the prayer at home is elongated. However, this contradicts the text of the Quran and the consensus of the Muslims in it being named a ‘shortened prayer’, and whenever a singular text contradicts the text of the Quran or the consensus of the Muslims it is obligatory to leave its prima facie meaning.”
Let the detractors take either of these explanations: either a deeper explanation of the mentioned texts which is preferable as it does not entail leaving a text, or rejecting them since they contradict both the text of the Quran and the consensus of the Muslims. In either case it should be clear that the parents of the prophet are saved from the hell fire, as is all of his grandparents. May God grant us love of him, a sound knowledge of his rank, and our final prayer is all praise is due to God. God is most high and all knowledgeable