The hyperbolic language of the hadiths

Extract from Misquoting Muhammad: The Challenge and Choices of Interpreting the Prophet’s Legacy by Jonathan A.C. Brown

The prophetic language of the Hadiths is consistently hyperbolic. We often find the phrase that someone who commits a certain sin or holds some incorrect belief ‘Is not from among us,’ for example. ‘Whoever carries arms against us is not from among us,’ the Prophet warns in one such Hadith.

Does this mean that a person committing this act ceases to be a Muslim, leaving the faith for doing so? Recognizing the hyperbolic flair in the Prophet’s rhetoric, the medieval ulama understood this phrase as a type of preventative rebuke (zajr) and not a formal excommunication (takfir). Tirmidhi explains that this is not an accusation of unbelief but rather indicates that the person was simply ‘not following the path of the Muslims’ in committing such acts. Condemning certain actions to perdition is also common in Hadiths. ‘Whatever [robes] extend lower than the ankles go into Hellfire,’ the Prophet admonishes. This does not mean that the wearer is condemned to perdition. Khattabi explains that the Hadith should be interpreted as meaning that this action or habit is considered to be among the behaviors of people condemned to Hellfire.

Furthermore, other Hadiths make clear the reason behind this declaration. Wearing one’s  robes so low that they drag on the ground was boasting about one’s wealth, since it assumed that one had spare clothes and enough servants to wash  the soiled ones. In one narration of this Hadith, the Prophet condemns ‘dragging one’s clothes arrogantly in the dust’ but excuses those whose robes droop low without that intention.

Misquoting Muhammad: The Challenge and Choices of Interpreting the Prophet’s Legacy by Jonathan A.C. Brown, p. 90

Categories: Hadith, Islam, Quotation, Recommended Reading

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