Ibn Rajab’s Commentary on Hadith #2 of Imam Nawawi’s 40

Ibn Rajab’s Commentary on Hadith #2 of Imam Nawawi’s 40

Ibn Rajab’s Commentary on Imam Nawawi’s Forty Hadith 

Translation and copyright: Mohammed Fadel

Hadith #2

Hadith of Jibril (as)

It is reported on the authority of ‘Umar b. al-Khattab that he said:

“One day, while we were sitting with Rasulallah (s), a man appeared before us.  His garments were sparkling white; his hair the darkest black.  No signs of travel appeared on him.  None of us recognized him.  He went to the Prophet (s) and sat in front of him, placing his knees before [the Prophet’s] knees.  He also placed his hands upon the Prophet’s thighs, saying: ‘Muhammad, What is Islam?’                 Rasulallah, (s), replied, saying: ‘Islam is to testify that there is no deity save Allah and that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah; to establish regular prayer; to give regular alms; to fast Ramadan; and, to visit Allah’s House as a pilgrim, if you are able.’                 The stranger said, ‘You speak the truth.’                 ‘Umar said: We were amazed that he would ask him [a question], then tell him he was truthful!                 The stranger said: ‘Muhammad, what is faith?’                 “Rasulallah replied, saying: ‘Faith is to believe in Allah, His angels, His books, His messengers, the Last Day, and to believe in [the Divine] Power, its good and its ill.’                 The stranger said: ‘You speak the truth.’  Then, he said: ‘What is Ihsan?’                  Rasulallah replied, saying: ‘Ihsan is to serve Allah as though you see Him, but if you see Him not, then [to serve Him knowing] He sees you.’ The stranger said: ‘You speak the truth.’  Then, he said: ‘Can you inform me about the Hour?’ Rasulallah replied, saying: ‘The questioned knows no more about it then the questioner.’ The stranger said: ‘Then tell me of its signs.’ Rasulallah said: ‘[Among] its signs are that the slave woman shall give birth to her mistress, and that the poor, naked and barefoot, the herders of sheep, shall compete in raising tall buildings.’ The stranger tarried but a moment before departing.  The Prophet (s) said to me: ‘ ‘Umar, do you know who was the questioner?’  I replied that Allah and His Messenger knew better.  Rasulallah (s) said: ‘This is Jibril.  He came to teach you your religion.’”

This hadith, or versions similar to it, is transmitted in several of the famous collections of hadith, including Muslim and Tirmidhi.

Ibn Rajab describes this hadith as being “of momentous importance (‘azim al-sha`n jiddan)” because it explains the entirety of religion.  For that reason, the Prophet (s) said at the end of the hadith, “That was Jibril.  He came to teach you your religion.”  The hadith explains that religion is made up of three elements:

                1. Islam.

                2. Iman (faith).

                3. Ihsan (excellence).


 The Prophet (s) explained that the first category consists of external actions, both conduct and speech (qawl wa ‘amal).  The first external action is to testify that there is no deity save Allah and that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.  The remaining acts, namely, regular prayer, regular alms, fasting Ramadan, and Pilgrimage, all involve conduct that can be described as either involving only  the body, e.g., salat and sawm, or involving only property, e.g., paying regular alms, or a composite of the two (murakkab minhuma), e.g., Pilgrimage for one who lives at a distance from Makka al-Mukarrama.

In the transmission of Ibn Hibban, the additional terms are included in the definition of Islam: performing ‘Umra, purification from major impurities (al-ghusl min al-janaba) and performing wudu` completely (itmam al-wudu`).  This indicates that all external acts that are obligatory are included in the meaning of Islam.  The Prophet (s), however, in this version of the hadith mentioned only these five acts because they are the foundations of Islam upon which everything else is based.  Therefore, whoever discharges these five duties becomes a true Muslim, whereas a person who performs only the first obligation, i.e., testifying that there is no deity save Allah and that Muhammad is Allah’s messenger, becomes a Muslim only as a matter of law for purposes of this world, and remains obliged to perform all the remaining acts required of him.  As for someone who rejects the declaration of faith, he has no share whatsoever in Islam.

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