A young brother sent me the following question a few days ago:
A shia brother posted this status:
The Holy Prophet said:
Surely, there exists in the hearts of the Mu’mineen (believers), with respect to the martyrdom of Hussein , a heat that never subsides.
[Mustadrak al-wasail vol 10 pg 31]
Basically he is claiming the Prophet Muḥammad knew that Hussain was going to be martyred…what is your take on this?
So I started looking in the Sunni references. My focus was to find out whether the Prophet knew that his grandson al-Hussain was going to be martyred, whether he referenced it anywhere, or told anyone. As Ahlu-Sunnah, we believe that the Prophet does not know the future on his own, so it would have to be some form of revelation from God. Alḥamdulillāh, I found some really good and elaborate discussion on this topic, from the Hadith point of view, in Silsitat al-Ahaadeeth as-Saheehah by Sheikh Muḥammad Nasiruddin al-Albani, vol. 3, p. 159, hadith 1171. Here, and for the sake of brevity, I will not mention all the narrations or references that the Sheikh mentioned in his book. Rather, I will focus on three distinctive narrations [from three different Companions] found in Musnad al-imām Ahmad, followed by some commentary (basically grading the level of authenticity of each narration) by Sheikh al-Albani .
The Narration of Ali bin Abi Talib
حدثنا محمد بن عبيد حدثنا شرحبيل بن مدرك عن عبد الله بن نجي عن أبيه أنه سار مع علي، وكان صاحب مطهرته، فلما حاذى نينوى وهو منطلق إلى صفين فنادى علي: اصبر أبا عبد الله، اصبر أبا عبد الله بشط الفرات، قلت وماذا؟ قال: دخلت على النبي ذات يوم وعيناه تفيضان، قلت: يا نبي الله أغضبك أحد؟ ما شأن عينيك تفيضان؟ قال: بل قام من عندي جبريل قبل فحدثني أن الحسين يقتل بشط الفرات، قال: فقال هل لك إلى أن أشمك من تربته؟ قال قلت نعم. فمد يده فقبض قبضة من تراب فأعطانيها فلم أملك عيني أن فاضت. أخرجه أحمد ٨٥/١
Narrated Muḥammad bin Udaid, narrated Shurahbil bin Mudrik, from Abdullah bin Nujayy, from his father, that he traveled with Ali , and he used to carry his purifying water. When they were next to Nainawa on his way to Siffin, Ali called, “Be patient Oh Abu Abdillah (the kunya of his son al-Hussain), be patient Oh Abu Abdillah by the banks of the Euphrates. I [Nujayy] said, “what is this?”. He [Ali] said, “I entered upon the Prophet one day while his eyes were shedding tears. I said, ‘what is it with yours eyes shedding tears?’. He said, ‘Rather, Jibreel was here earlier and he told me that al-Hussain will be killed by the bank of the Euphrates and he [Jibreel] said ‘do you want me to provide you a sample from his soil [where he will be killed] so you can smell it?’ and I said ‘yes’. So he extended his hand and he took a grip from the soil and gave it to me so I couldn’t help my eyes to fill with tears’”. [Recorded by Ahmad, vol. 1, p. 85.]
Sheikh al-Albani commented on this narration:
قال الألباني: قلت وهذا إسناد ضعيف، نجي والد عبد الله لا يدرى من هو كما قال الذهبي، ولم يوثقه إلا ابن حبان، وابنه أشهر منه، فمن صحح هذا الإسناد فقد وهم
“I say this is a weak chain of narration. Nujayy the father of Abdullah is unknown according to Dhahabi, and no one said he’s reliable except ibn Hibban. His son is more famous than he is. So whoever authenticated this chain has erred.”
The Narration of Anas bin Malik
حدثنا مؤمل حدثنا عمارة بن زادان حدثنا ثابت عن أنس بن مالك أن ملك القطر استأذن ربه أن يأتي النبي فأذن له، فقال لأم سلمة املكي علينا الباب لا يدخل علينا أحد، قال وجاء الحسين ليدخل فمنعته، فوثب فدخل فجعل يقعد على ظهر النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم وعلى منكبه وعلى عاتقه، قال: فقال الملك للنبي أتحبه؟. قال نعم. قال: أما إن أمتك ستقتله، وإن شئت أريتك المكان الذي يقتل فيه. فضرب بيده فجاء بطينة حمراء، فأخذتها أم سلمة فصرتها في خمارها. قال قال ثابت: بلغنا أنها كربلاء. أحمد ٢٤٢/٣
Narrated Mu’ammal, narrated Umaarah bin Zaadaan, narrated Thaabit from Anas bin Malik that the Angel of Rain took permission from his lord to visit the Prophet so He gave him permission. The Prophet told Umm Salamah to watch the door so no one could come in. Al-Hussain came wanting to enter and I stopped him. But he jumped, entered, and started sitting on the back of the Prophet [al-Hussain was a young child at the time], and on his shoulders. Then the angel asked the Prophet , “Do you love him?”. He said, “yes”. The angel said, “Indeed your Ummah will kill him, and if you wish, I can show you the place where he will be killed”. Then, he struck with his hand and came with red clay. So Umm Salamah took it and tied on it in her veil. Thaabit [the sub-narrator] said, “it has reached us that it’s Karbala”. [Recorded in Musnad al-imām Ahmad, vol. 3, p. 242]
Sheikh al-Albani said about this chain of narration:
قلت ورجاله ثقات غير عمارة هذا. قال الحافظ: صدوق يكثر الخطأ. وقال الهيثمي: رواه أحمد وأبو يعلى والبزار والطبراني بأسانيد، وفيها عمارة بن زادان وثقه جماعة وفيه ضعف وبقية رجال أبي يعلى رجال الصحيح
“Its narrators are trustworthy except for Umaarah. Al-Haafidh [ibn Hajar] said about him, ‘he tells the truth but his mistakes are many’. Al-Haythami said, “this hadith was narrated by Ahmad, Abu Ya’la, al-Bazzar, and Tabarani through several chains, in it is Umaarah bin Zaadaan, some affirmed his trustworthiness but he has some weakness. The remaining narrators of [the chain of] Abu Ya’la are the narrators of Sahih [narrators found in Bukhāri and Muslim].’”
So we see here that al-Albani related to us the difference of opinion regarding one narrator in this Hadith and that is Umaarah bin Zaadaan. The issue with Umaarah is not trustworthiness but rather his weak memory which renders this narration as slightly weak.
The Narration of Umm Salamah, the Wife of the Prophet
حدثنا وكيع قال حدثني عبد الله بن سعيد عن أبيه عن عائشة أو أم سلمة. قال وكيع: شك عبد الله بن سعيد. أن النبي قال لإحداهما: لقد دخل علي البيت ملك لم يدخل علي قبلها فقال لي: إن ابنك هذا حسين مقتول، وإن شئت أريتك من تربة الأرض التي يقتل بها. قال: فأخرج تربة حمراء. مسند الإمام أحمد ٢٩٤/٦
Narrated Wakee’, narrated Abdullah bin Sa’eed, from his father from Aisha or Umm Salamah [Wakee' said this doubt came from Abdullah bin Sa'eed] that the Prophet said to one of them [either Aisha or Umm Salamah ], “An angel entered the house on me, he never entered on me before, and he said to me, ‘this son of yours, al-Hussain, will be killed, and if you wish I can show you the soil from the earth where he will be killed’. Then he took out some red soil”. [Recorded in Musnad al-imām Ahmad, vol. 6 p. 294]
Al-Albani commented on this narration,
قلت: وهذا إسناد رجاله كلهم ثقات رجال الشيخين فهو صحيح إن كان سعيد وهو ابن أبي هند سمعه من عائشة أو أم سلمة، ولم أطمئن لذلك، فإنهم لم يذكروا له سماعا منها، وبين وفاته ووفاة أم سلمة نحو أربع وخمسين سنة وبين وفاته ووفاة عائشة نحو ثمان وخمسين سنة. والله أعلم
“This chain of this narration has all trustworthy narrators, narrators of the two Sheikhs [i.e. Bukhāri and Muslim]. Therefore, this narration is authentic IF Sa’eed, and he’s ibn Abi Hind, has heard it from Aisha or Umm Salamah . But I’m not at peace with that since they [Hadith scholars] have not mentioned that he has heard from her. Meanwhile, between his death and the death of Umm Salamah is about 54 years, and between his death and the death of Aisha is about 58 years, and Allāh knows best.”
So again we see here a slight weakness in the narration. Everything looks good except the question of whether Sa’eed bin Abi Hind heard from one of the wives of the Prophet or not. Here we’re not negating that he heard from them. We just don’t possess solid evidence that he did. Also, you notice here the precision of the scholars of Hadith in calculating the difference in death years between narrators. Depending on the gap, this can increase or decrease the likelihood of one narrator meeting the other or hearing from them.
Final Verdict on the Hadith
As we see from above, every narration has a slight weakness one way or another. So what’s the final verdict? Does the story stand. Can we say that the Prophet , for certain, was told that his grandson, al-Hussain , was going to be killed? And the answer is YES. Al-Albani makes the following conclusion after going over more narrations:
قلت وبالجملة فالحديث صحيح بمجموع هذه الطرق، وإن كانت مفرداتها لا تخلو من ضعف، ولكنه ضعف يسير، لا سيما وبعضها قد حسنه الهيثمي، والله أعلم
“Altogether, the Hadith is authentic by collectively considering all the chains of narration. This is true even though each single chain is not free from defects, but it’s minor defects. This is not to mention that some of those chains were graded as Hassan [less authentic than Sahih, yet authentic] by al-Haythamee. And Allāh knows best.”
Here al-Albani is following a well-known rule among the scholars of Hadith. If the Hadith is narrated through different chains of narrations all with slight weakness, then the chains of narration corroborate each other and the minor weakness is overlooked. This means that the essence of the story holds true. However, unique details mentioned in one version but not the other don’t have to be authentic. For example, we notice that there is no agreement on who the angel is among the narrations. One narration mentions Jibreel, another mentions the Angel of Rain, yet another doesn’t identify the angel at all. So here we don’t have to dwell on this difference since we may not have enough evidence to prove it one way or another.
Some Final Words
No doubt, loving Ahlul-Bayt [the family of the Prophet ] should be in the heart of every Muslim. Loving Ali, Fatima, al-Hassan, and al-Hussain (may Allāh’s mercy be upon them all) is part of our faith. Therefore, the killing of al-Hussain along many members of his family was a great calamity that afflicted this Ummah. It should ache our hearts just like it ached the heart of our Prophet Muḥammad when he was foretold as we saw in the narrations above. But that does not justify the extremism that we see around this whole issue. Some people still scream revenge for al-Hussain up till today. You hear expressions like “يا لتارات الحسين” which translates “Oh [how many are] the revenge(s) for Hussain”. Others are in a constant state of mourning as they proclaim “كل أرض كربلاء وكل يوم عاشوراء” which translates “every land is Karbala and every day is Ashoura”. This is not to mention the repulsive self-beating that happens every year on the Day of Ashoura. And recently, we have seen the name of al-Hussain being invoked by some Shia groups fighting on the side of Assad against the oppressed people of Syria. To me, this is the biggest disgrace to al-Hussain whose most important legacy was to fight on the side of the oppressed against the oppressor!!