Q&A: The Frontier at Ashkelon
Is the following ḥadith recorded by al-Ṭabarāni and narrated from Ibn ‘Abbās authentic, Ṣaḥīḥ? I have received a post concerning this and it says that the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him said: ‘The beginning of this matter is Prophethood and mercy, then it will be Khilāfah and mercy, then it will be kingship and mercy, then it will be government and mercy. Then, they will fight over authority like fighting donkeys biting one another. So hold fast to Jihād and the best of your Jihād is Ribāṭ (frontier guarding) and the best and most virtuous of your Ribāṭ is ‘Asqalān (Ashkelon).’
- The ḥadith in question is recorded by al-Ṭabarāni in Mu’jam al-Kabir [Vol. 11, no. 11138 (Shamela edition)]. It is further mentioned by al-Haythami in Majmu’ al-Zawā’id [Vol. 5, no. 8964, p. 246] and also cited without the full isnād by al-Hindi in Kanz al-Ummāl [Vol. 2, no. 10711, p. 139]. Imām al-Suyuṭi records this in his compendium of ḍaef ḥadith, al-Llāli’ al Maṣnu’ah fil Aḥādith al Mawḍu’ah, [Vol. 1, p. 422]. We are not aware of any other line of reporting for this wording except the tradition as recorded by al-Ṭabarāni.
- The ḥadith is not Ṣaḥīḥ. Even without the analysis of the isnād, which will follow, the addition within the wording ‘then it will be kingship and mercy,’ provides a clear indication that there is a defect within the tradition. The only other narration which appears to have this wording, is that which is purportedly to be from Umar ibn al-Khaṭṭāb cited by al-Ḥākim in al-Mustadrak [Vol. 4, no. 8525, p. 641]. Although al-Ḥākim didn’t provide anything further by way of comment upon this, neither did al-Dhahabi in al-Talkheeṣ, the isnād is incredibly weak, containing several weak and rejected narrators.
- Despite the rhetoric of sycophants, primarily though not exclusively attached to the Church of Najd, monarchy, let alone hereditary monarchy, is not a system of governance that Islam has proscribed. Indeed, there is no king except Allah, the Almighty and Majestic. We have previously detailed this in two posts, one on the nature of monarchy, the other in response to queries raised upon this.
Writing in al-Mulukiyyah al-Warāthiya Nidthām Kufr wa’Jur (pp. 53/54, translated as: ‘Hereditary monarchy is a system of disbelief and injustice’), Professor Muḥammad ibn Abdullah al-Massari provides an astute analysis of the ḥadith in question and its wording that is rejected. Here, we provide this in full:
Another Sāqiṭ ḥadith is cited in Mu’jam al-Kabir by al-Ṭabarāni, which reads:
حدثنا أحمد بن النضر العسكري حدثنا سعيد بن حفص النفيلي حدثنا موسى بن أعين عن بن شهاب عن فطر بن خليفة عن مجاهد عن بن عباس قال قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم أول هذا الأمر نبوة ورحمة ثم يكون خلافة ورحمة ثم يكون ملكا ورحمة ثم يكون إمارة ورحمة ثم يتكادمون عليه تكادم الحمر فعليكم بالجهاد، وإن أفضل جهادكم الرباط، وإن أفضل رباطكم عسقلان
Aḥmad ibn al-Naḍr ibn Bahr al-‘Askari narrated to us Sa’eed ibn Ḥafṣ al-Nufayli narrated to us Musa ibn Ayan narrated to us from Ibn Shihāb from Fiṭr ibn Khalifa from Mujāhid from Ibn ‘Abbās, he said the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him said: The beginning of this matter is Prophethood and mercy, then it will be Khilafah and mercy, then it will be kingship and mercy, then it will be government and mercy. Then, they will fight over authority like fighting donkeys biting one another. So hold fast to Jihād and the best of your Jihād is Ribāṭ (frontier guarding) and the best and most virtuous of your Ribāṭ is ‘Asqalān (Ashkelon).
Here, I would argue that Abu Ja’far Aḥmad ibn al-Naḍr ibn Bahr al-‘Askari is from among the thiqāt of the people, many being prolific in writing, as has been said by Imām al-Khaṭeeb al-Baghdādi in Tārikh Baghdād. He died in the year 290 AH (903 CE). It is feared that he may have heard this ḥadith from Sa’eed ibn Ḥafṣ after he reached old age and his ikhtilāṭ. This is because Sa’eed ibn Ḥafṣ died in the year 237 AH (851 CE), which is a complete fifty-seven years between their deaths, especially when considering the eagerness of narrators for ḥadith had put them in pursuit of the very elderly, even on their deathbeds. The desire was to secure stronger channels of transmission and collect rare reports. While in general, Sa’eed ibn Ḥafṣ is considered thiqa (trustworthy), of the six (major ḥadith collectors), only Imām al-Nasā’i narrated from him. Even then, he provided a single ḥadith by way of Muḥammad ibn Yaḥya ibn Muḥammad ibn Kathir al-Kalbi al-Ḥirāni, nicknamed with ‘Lu’lu’ (pearl); he died in the year 267 AH (880 CE).
As for Musa ibn Ayan, he is judged as thiqa ʿĀbid, he wasn’t contemporaneous with the famous Imām Ibn Shihāb al-Zuhri. Therefore, the ‘Ibn Shihāb’ as mentioned in the isnād is in fact a different individual altogether. He is, one of three potentially possibilities:
- He is the nephew of al-Zuhri. His name is Muḥammad ibn ‘Abdullah ibn Muslim. He is very distant and we don’t know that he has heard (traditions) except from the narrators of Medina. His father is ‘Abdullah ibn Muslim; his uncle is the famous acclaimed Imām Muḥammad ibn Muslim ibn Shihāb al-Zuhri. Very few are the individuals like him, they mostly narrated from the people of Kufa, such as the narrator Fiṭr ibn Khalifa. We do not know of Musa ibn Ayan hearing from him. Although being the nephew of al-Zuhri, he had weakness of memory, wahm (delusions) and manākeer (pl. munkar, disclaimed/discredited reports) from the Imām al-Zuhri, despite the association with him. Thus, his narrations are not accepted if they are standalone unsupported narratives.
- ‘Rajulun majhulun’ – an unknown (or anonymous) man. His status and veracity is not known, and it is not permissible to rely on him. This is what we consider to be the most likely scenario in the given circumstances.
- Compounding the above, this addition has no factual basis and is likely a result of the ikhtilāṭ of Sa’eed ibn Ḥafṣ. This possibility cannot be denied. Therefore, this ḥadith is not Ṣaḥīḥ, substantive proofs cannot be established with it. Although speculative, it might have an original form that resembles one of the Ṣaḥīḥ texts previously mentioned, for example: ‘This matter began with Prophethood and mercy, then it turned to Caliphate and mercy, then it became kingship, and people almost compete for it like they do camels.’ While its conclusion could be: ‘If that is the case, then you should engage in Jihād, and indeed the best form of your Jihād is to remain steadfast.’ Ultimately, Allah knows best, and all praise is due to Him.
Criticism of monarchy exists in the ḥadith of Ḥudhayfa, may Allah be pleased with him, which is recorded in Musnad of Aḥmad with a Ṣaḥīḥ isnād:
حدثنا سليمان بن داود الطيالسي حدثني داود بن إبراهيم الواسطي حدثني حبيب بن سالم عن النعمان بن بشير قال كنا قعودا في المسجد مع رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم وكان بشير رجلا يكف حديثه فجاء أبو ثعلبة الخشني فقال يا بشير بن سعد أتحفظ حديث رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم في الأمراء فقال حذيفة أنا أحفظ خطبته فجلس أبو ثعلبة فقال حذيفة قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم تكون النبوة فيكم ما شاء الله ان تكون ثم يرفعها إذا شاء ان يرفعها، ثم تكون خلافة على منهاج النبوة فتكون ما شاء الله ان تكون ثم يرفعها إذا شاء الله أن يرفعها، ثم تكون ملكا عاضاً فيكون ما شاء الله ان يكون ثم يرفعها إذا شاء أن يرفعها، ثم تكون ملكا جبرية فتكون ما شاء الله ان تكون ثم يرفعها إذا شاء ان يرفعها، ثم تكون خلافة على منهاج النبوة
Sulaymān ibn Dāwud al-Ṭayālisi narrated to us Dāwud ibn Ibrāhim al-Wāsiṭi narrated to me Habeeb ibn Sālim narrated to me from al-Nu’mān ibn Basheer, he said: We were sitting in the mosque of the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him. Basheer was a man who didn’t speak much, so Abu Thalabah al-Khushani approached and he said: ‘O Basheer ibn Sa’d – have you memorised the words of the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, regarding the rulers?’ So Ḥudhayfa said – ‘I have memorised his words.’ Abu Thalabah then sat down and Ḥudhayfa said, the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him said: Prophethood will be among you as long as Allah wishes, then He will lift it up when He chooses to do so. Then there will be Khilāfah established on the way of Prophethood, and it will be as long as Allah wishes it to be, then it will be lifted as He chooses. Then there will be hereditary kingship, it will last as long as Allah wishes it to last, then He will raise it up. Then there will be tyrannical kingship, it will last as long as Allah wishes it to be, then Allah will raise it when He chooses to. Then, there will be Khilāfah established upon the way of the Prophethood.
Political governance in Islam is not textually based upon the concept of a ‘divine right of rule,’ nor that of hereditary monarchy. That is not something that was proscribed by the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, by way of revelation. Out of the array of textual evidences upon this topic, the following are noteworthy. First, where the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him described that following him, there will be Khulafāh (pl. Khalifs, Caliph), as recorded in al-Jāmi al-Ṣaḥīḥ al-Mukhtaṣr by Imām al-Bukhāri:
حدثني محمد بن بشار حدثنا محمد بن جعفر حدثنا شعبة عن فرات القزاز قال سمعت أبا حازم قال قاعدت أبا هريرة خمس سنين فسمعته يحدث عن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم قالكانت بنو إسرائيل تسوسهم الأنبياء، كلما هلك نبي خلفه نبي، وإنه لا نبي بعدي، وسيكون خلفاء فيكثرون. قالوا فما تأمرنا قال فوا ببيعة الأول فالأول، أعطوهم حقهم، فإن الله سائلهم عما استرعاهم
Muḥammad ibn Bashār narrated to me Muḥammad ibn Ja’far narrated to us Shu’ba narrated to us from Furrāz al-Qazzāz, he said I heard (from) Abu Ḥāzim, he said I accompanied Abu Hurayrah for five-years, upon which I heard from him narrations from the Prophet peace and blessings be upon him. He said: The Children of Israel were ruled political by their Prophets. When one died, he was succeeded by another after him. But there is no Prophet after me. There will be Caliphs, increasing in number. They said: ‘What do you order us to do?’ He said: Obey the one who will be given the pledge of allegiance first. Fulfil their rights, for Allah will ask them about (any shortcoming) in ruling those Allah has put under their guardianship.
Secondly, and coupled with the additional Qur’ānic principles concerning ruling in general (see 4: 59 and 42: 10), and the command to uphold justice (4: 135), there is the edict to undertake affairs by way of Shura (mutual consultation). This is expressly set out in the following verses:
فما أوتيتم من شيء فمتاع الحياة الدنيا وما عند الله خير وأبقى للذين آمنوا وعلى ربهم يتوكلون
والذين يجتنبون كبائر الإثم والفواحش وإذا ما غضبوا هم يغفرون
والذين استجابوا لربهم وأقاموا الصلاة وأمرهم شورى بينهم ومما رزقناهم ينفقون
والذين إذا أصابهم البغي هم ينتصرون
What you have been given is only the fleeting enjoyment of this world. Far better and more lasting is what Allah will give to those who believe and trust in their Lord; who shun great sins and gross indecencies; who forgive when they are angry; respond to their Lord; keep up the prayer; conduct their affairs by mutual consultation; give to others out of what We have provided for them; and defend themselves when they are oppressed. [Qur’ān, 42: 36/39].
Given the current genocidal war being undertaken by Israel in Gaza, it is understandable that many look for hope by turning to the Book of Allah and the Prophetic Sunnah. Only those with the foul disease of hypocrisy and latent Khawarijism in their hearts revel in the misery being endured by the oppressed in both Gaza and the West Bank. But solace and hope cannot be built upon foundations which are weak or inauthentic. Palestine is and has been for over a century, a stain upon the conscience of this entire Ummah. That the holy land which contains Masjid al-Aqsa is routinely defiled by a proto-fascist colonial entity shows just how inept we have become as an Ummah. Many still seem bewildered that fifty plus ‘Muslim countries’ cannot or will not lift a finger to help those facing a genocidal onslaught. Many of those states are openly allied to the fascist Zionist occupier. But perhaps even here, there is a bitter lesson for us to learn. Palestine will not be liberated, the oppressed will not receive justice, by calls to entities which by there very nature, are built upon systems other than Islam. Moreover, this injustice is coordinated by way of the major powers and the structures and institutions of the international system.
Every sincere Muslim must help those in Palestine. Not just today or tomorrow, but continually, by whatever lawful means is available at ones disposal. As a matter of urgency though, the borders of the surrounding states must be opened up for substantive help to be sent. The tinpot dictatorships that have colluded with fascist Zionism must be brought to account. The seats upon which their litany of injustices rest upon, must be torn down. This Ummah sooner rather than later, must face up to its responsibilities.