Ali Ibn Abi Talib (r.a) his ijtihad and burning people alive

 

“Because of that, We decreed upon the Children of Israel that whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption in the land -(after found guilty in a court of law) it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one – it is as if he had saved mankind entirely. And our messengers had certainly come to them with clear proofs. Then indeed many of them, after that, throughout the land, were transgressors.” (Qur’an 5:32)

 

Narrated `Ikrima:

Some Zanadiqa (atheists) were brought to `Ali and he burnt them. The news of this event reached Ibn `Abbas who said, “If I had been in his place, I would not have burnt them, as Allah’s Apostle forbade it, saying, ‘Do not punish anybody with Allah’s punishment (fire).’ I would have killed them according to the statement of Allah’s Apostle, ‘Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him.'”

Source: (Bukhari Volume 9, Book 84, Number 57)

 

Now we are going to examine a hadith that reports that Ali Ibn Abi Talib (r.a) had a group of apostates burned alive.

We are also going to look at how a top Sunni scholar and a top Sunni apologist approach the issue.

Now according to the scholars of our brothers from ‘Ahl Sunnah’, all of the companions are ‘adil‘-just.

Burning people alive doesn’t seem to be a very upright thing to do!

By the way, I have saved the published works of both links. Things do tend to disappear from the internet (from time to time)..

Let us deal with imminent and respected scholar Shaykh Abdullah Bin Bayyah and his response to this first.

http://binbayyah.net/english/2012/01/19/did-imam-ali-burn-the-kharijites/

Question:

“I read on a website that Ali ibn Abu Talib (may Allah be pleased with him) burnt some of the Kharijites during his caliphate. But this made me confused due to the hadith we know where the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) forbade torturing others with fire since this is a sort of associating others with Allah. So how did Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) do this?”

Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyah replies:

“And upon you is the peace of Allah, together with his mercy and blessings.
This report was narrated by al-Bukhary (6922) on the authority of `Ikrimah who said: Heretics were brought before Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) and he burnt them.
When Ibn `Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) was informed about this, he said, “If I were in his place, I would not have burnt them for the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) forbade this saying, “Do not torment with the torment of Allah” and I would have killed them, for the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Whoever changes his religion, kill him.”

When a deviant group called al-Saba’iyyah, who were the followers of the Jewish `Abdullah ibn Saba’, went astray and believed that Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) was a god – we seek refuge with Allah from this – he (Ali) set them on fire and said, “When I saw such an enormous evil, I set them on fire and called.

 

 

Besides, this issue is a particular case that has no general application, as al-Shatiby said,


In general, there are many interpretations concerning this report, whether he burnt them after he had killed them, or he was just about to burn them but he did not. Whatever the case was, this was an opinion viewed by a companion that has nothing to do with associating gods with Allah. Burning a person is not permissible in the Shari`ah; but this does not amount to associating others with Allah. Associating others with Allah means to worship another god with Allah or to believe in other gods with Almighty Allah. Yes, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) forbade burning others and said “None should torment with fire except Allah.” [Reported by al-Bukhary (3016)]”

 

Yet, this does not mean that whoever burns others with fire is considered as associating others with Allah. It rather means that this punishment is a punishment in the Hereafter, not in this world. This is what we should believe. The issue has no relation to associating others with Allah. As mentioned above, this interpretation may prove untrue. Perhaps he intended to burn them but he did not or he intended to burn them after killing them. Even if he actually burnt them, this would be a kind of ijtihad from a companion that disagrees with the text. The ultimate reference is always to the text. Nonetheless, we have to believe that they acted according to their ijtihad and that they are illuminating guides.” -Shayh Bin Bayyah (May Allah continue to benefit many by him and bless him)

 

Our focus here is on the following statement:

Even if he actually burnt them, this would be a kind of ijtihad from a companion that disagrees with the text. The ultimate reference is always to the text. Nonetheless, we have to believe that they acted according to their ijtihad and that they are illuminating guides.”

This is because for our brothers in ‘Ahl Sunnah’ the doctrine is that the companions can do no wrong. Even though we clearly have Ibn Abbas (r.a) (may Allah have mercy on him) saying that he would not have done what Ali (r.a) did!

 

My comments:

Notice that Shaykh Abdullah Bin Bayyah did not attack the chain of narrators. He also did not have any critique of the hadith at all.

 

The frightening prospect from respected Shaykh Bin Bayyah’s response is that even if he did burn them it’s simply his ‘ijtihadand we have to believe he is still an illuminating guide.

Can you imagine? This is the standard for being ‘adil‘ -upright.

 

The noble Shaykh Bin Bayyah’s response was short and yet it has left us wanting.

In many ways, Shaykh Bin Bayyah’s understanding of this text actually gives grounds for extremism. Why?

 

“Even if he actually burnt them, this would be a kind of ijtihad from a companion that disagrees with the text. The ultimate reference is always to the text. Nonetheless, we have to believe that they acted according to their ijtihad and that they are illuminating guides.”- Shaykh Abdullah Bin Bayyah.

 

Now take a moment and think about that.  So even if Ali (r.a) actually burned apostates it was his ijtihad.  In other words, he did what he thought was right!  The very problematic response by Shaykh Abdullah Bin Bayyah is that No principles of the sanctity of life, rules of engagement, etc were given to us.

So what if now ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and others want to use their ‘ijtihad’?

 

So let us look at how brother Bassam Zawadi deals with the issue:

http://www.call-to-monotheism.com/why_did_ali_burn_some_apostates___by_understanding_islam

Question:

A Christian missionary has cited the following Hadith from Bukhari and is demanding an explanation:

Volume 9, Book 84, Number 57:

Narrated `Ikrima:

Some Zanadiqa (atheists) were brought to `Ali and he burnt them. The news of this event reached Ibn `Abbas who said, “If I had been in his place, I would not have burnt them, as Allah’s Apostle forbade it, saying, ‘Do not punish anybody with Allah’s punishment (fire).’ I would have killed them according to the statement of Allah’s Apostle, ‘Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him.'”

—————

Can you briefly describe the background, which compelled Hadhrat `Ali to take this action? How valid is the isnad[1] and matn [2] and the legality of such a punishment? If there is an argument that Hadhrat `Ali cited to justify this action, that too is welcome. Jazakumallah Khaira”

 

Answer Bassam Zawadi:

 

The referred narrative is placed in the Kitaab Al-Jihaad as well as the Kitaab Istitaabah Al-Murtaddeen by Al-Bukhari in his “Sahih”.

Although Bukhari’s narratives do not give any details regarding the incident, yet in his exegesis on Bukhari – “Fath Al-Baari” –  Ibn Hajar has mentioned a few other versions of the same incident [3]. Considering all the narratives reporting this incident, the following major variations come to the forefront:

Firstly, there is quite a bit of variation regarding the people, who were subjected to this punishment. According to one version, they were atheists, according to a second version, they were apostates, according to a third version, they were a group of people, who secretly used to practice idolatry and according to a fourth version, they were a group of Rawafidh [4], who believed in the divinity of Ali (ra).”

 

Secondly, there is a significant difference between the reports regarding the incident itself. Although, the narratives given in Bukhari do not give any details of how the incident happened, yet Ibn Hajar has given a few narratives, which give some details of the happening. According to one version, when `Ali (ra) was informed regarding a people who considered him to be god, he called them and asked them to refrain from such blasphemy. They refused to comply. This went on for three days. Till, finally, `Ali (ra) ordered to dig a deep pit and burn a huge fire in it. The criminals were brought to the fire. `Ali (ra) told them that if they do not agree to refrain from their blasphemy, they would be thrown in the fire. They persisted in their refusal and were, subsequently, thrown in the fire. According to a second version, `Ali (ra) was informed of a people who secretly worshipped idols in a house. `Ali (ra) went to investigate the report. An idol was recovered from the house and, subsequently, the house was burnt to ashes. According to a third version, `Ali (ra) was informed of some apostates. He called for them. When they arrived, `Ali(ra) gave them food to eat and asked them to return to Islam. They refused. At their refusal, `Ali (ra) made them stand in a pit and killed them in it. Subsequently, he burnt them.”

These are some of the various versions of the incident as reported in books of history and Hadith. One may take whichever explanation he believes to be more plausible to be accurate.”

In my opinion, the second and third versions of the incident are quite considerable. It seems that:

  1. After it had become evident that the house was secretly being used for idolatry, `Ali (ra) ordered that it be burnt down. However, due to a mistake on the part of one or more of the narrators, the incident has been reported in a way that it gives the impression that the house was burnt down with its inhabitants. Whereas, it may not have been so; or
  2. People were killed for their apostasy and later on, their corpses were burnt to ashes. This is clearly implied in the third stated version of the incident.”

 

Nevertheless, if someone is not willing to accept any of the above explanations and is persistent that `Ali (ra) actually burnt these criminals to death, even then the most that can be said is that `Ali’s decision of burning the criminals to death was not correct, in view of the directive of the Prophet (pbuh) to the contrary. This, obviously, would amount to criticism on Ali’s decision – not a criticism on Islam.”

After all, `Ali (ra) was but a human being, he may have erred in his decision.”

I hope this helps.

October 11, 2000

 [1] That is the chain of narrators of this reporting.

 [2] That is, the text of this reporting.

 [3] Al-Fath Al-Baari, Kitaab Istitaabah Al-Murtaddeen, Vol. 12, Pg. 270

 [4] i.e. rejecters.


My comments:

Now, this is why I really miss brother Bassam Zawadi when he was involved in apologetic. I know brother Bassam Zawadi is passionate about his understanding of Islam, but who isn’t?

Notice also, that brother Bassam did not attack the chain of narrators nor does he have any issue with the hadiths themselves.

Though it would have been nice to have all the narrations laid out for us, we can clearly see a there is a need to rescue Ali (r.a)  from anything wrongfully attributed to him. That is admirable.  That is understandable because that is usually what our brothers from the ‘Ahl Sunnah‘ will do to rescue the character of all the companions.

However; at least brother Bassam is willing to make the following assertion.

`Ali (ra) actually burnt these criminals to death, even then the most that can be said is that `Ali’s decision of burning the criminals to death was not correct, in view of the directive of the Prophet (pbuh) to the contrary. This, obviously, would amount to criticism on `Ali’s decision – not a criticism on Islam.

After all, `Ali (ra) was but a human being, he may have erred in his decision.”

Beautiful!  Well said! So in other words like Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyah, brother Bassam is trying to clear Ali (r.a) of these reports.  Yet; unlike Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyah, brother Bassam is not willing to be defined by this!  In other words, look the companions could have made mistakes, big errors in judgment, and did things that are not correct.

I also hope that one has gleaned the following from what brother Bassam has said as well.

Although Bukhari’s narratives do not give any details regarding the incident”

Firstly, there is quite a bit of variation regarding the people, who were subjected to this punishment. According to one version.”  

“according to a second version,”  

“according to a third version”

“according to a fourth version,”

the narratives given in Bukhari do not give any details of how the incident happened, yet Ibn Hajar has given a few narratives, which give some details of the happening.”

However, due to a mistake on the part of one or more of the narrators, the incident has been reported in a way that it gives the impression….”

I hope people reflect well on these statements.  This is true for the vast corpus of hadith literature. They simply give you snippets and snapshots. Just bits and pieces of information.

The interesting observation is how two champions of the ‘Ahl Sunnah‘ have made their concluding remarks.  To me, in my humble opinion brother, Bassam’s response was more robust and also more keeping to the truth.

Whatever these companions and successors did does not have to be a reflection upon Islam!

 

Lastly, I also think that Bassam Zawadi’s understanding and response is much grounded, and keeping with the justice and compassion of Islam.  Bassam Zawadi’s response does not give room for groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda to act brash in the name of “personal ijtihad“.

 

Also, Bassam Zawadi’s response shows that Ali (r.a) could have made an error in his ijtihad. In fact, Ibn Abbas (r.a) is shown to not agree with Ali’s decision. This means that Ibn Abbas (r.a) felt that the Ijtihad of Ali (r.a) was incorrect.

 

If Ali (r.a) could be wrong in ijtihad in this area could he have been wrong in his ijtihad in the battle of Siffin?

 

Whereas Shaykh Abdullah Bin Bayyah’s response was, Well, ‘It was his opinion’.  This is important in the jargon of ‘Ahl Sunnah‘ because it implicitly implies that Ali (r.a) could very well have made an error.  However, he would still be rewarded for his error. Whereas Bassam Zawadi made clear daylight between the teachings of the Blessed Messenger (saw) and a very probable and unjust emotional decision based upon a companion.    Islam does not stand or fall based upon what companions did or did not do but based upon the teachings of the Qur’an and the clear teachings of the Blessed Messenger (saw).

 

Allah knows best and Allah’s help is sought in all matters.

 

15 Comments

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15 responses to “Ali Ibn Abi Talib (r.a) his ijtihad and burning people alive

  1. lookingfortruth1

    Salam o alaikum

    First of all, jazakallah for all ur efforts in compiling these ‘controversial ahadith’ and clarifying the matter.

    Can I jut ask, was it just wrong for Ali (ra) to burn the apostates because the prophet (pbuh) said not to torture with fire or because killing apostates is wrong in the first place.

    Can u please clarify ur standpoint on that because that is really the important issue.

  2. Muslim

    Salam bro,

    I think another possibility is that since Abbasids were trying to gain legitimacy for their rule by force over the Muslims, they would have loved to show some oneupmanship of Ibn Abbas over Ali since the Abbasids were descendants of Abbas. When the Abbasids were trying to gain support for overthrow of the Ummayads, they would say they are championing the family of the Prophet which would have meant Ali’s descendants in particular since the Prophet’s descendants through Fatima came through Ali since Ali married Fatima and had Hasan and Husain. So, the political advantage of such a hadith could have been an issue….it may have also been an organic add on to an earlier narration that Ali burned such people when the Shia Muslims were splintering into sects including a few ghulat who did think Ali was divine…and then to attack those ghulat, a narration could have developed that Ali hated them so much that he burned them. Of course, only God knows…but I just think that with Ali as such a towering intellect and such a unsurpassed pious companion of the Prophet, an unsurpassed ascetic of the companions, it is hard for me to imagine him killing anyone like that….I am not a Shia and I think Shia hadiths are in general weaker than Sunni hadiths but I think all should read the Nahj ul Balagha sermons of Ali to show he was such an unsurpassed humanitarian of the companions.

  3. Nazam Guffoor

    Another option is that Ikrimah wasn’t a realibale source of authority but his righteousness is disputed amongst scholars.

    • Nice to see your comments here brother. I would say that his “righteousness” is contested by those who do not follow his understanding of Islam. What I mean by that is that Ikrimah is called “kwarij” and they are not known for lying, and those who disparage him are most likely ‘Ahl Sunnah’ or ‘Shi’a….

      So yes, someone is either telling the truth or not telling the truth.

      I am open to the proposition that because Ikrimah is following what is called the “kwarij” that he may have a vested interest in disparaging Ali.

      I am also equally open to the idea that what Ikrimah reported is accurate, given Ali’s killing of the Muslims at Narahawan.

      Wallahu ‘Alim.

      • Nazam

        Is the incident at Narahawan also narrated from those who politically opposed Imam Ali? Note, that in Hadith it not only tries to show that Ali opposed the teachings of the prophet but at the same time it matains The Khawarij view that all apostates should be killed.

      • Yes the hadith is narrated in the books of the Sunni denomination. Sunnis accept as upright Abu Musa al-Ash’ari, ‘Amr ibn al-‘As, and Muawiyah bin Abi Suffyan all three of which either opposed or betrayed Ali ibn Abu Talib.

        Keep in mind after Siffin the Muslims had three caliphs.

        1) Caliph of Muawayah who was an usurper. Many sahabah followed.

        2) Caliph of Ali who was tricked into abdicating. Many sahabah followed.

        3) Caliph of Abdullah ibn Wahb Al-Rasibi who became rightful Caliph of the Muslims because 1) is an usurper and 2) broke his trust and abdicated. Many sahabah followed.

        So the hadith in question would definitely be aimed at group 2 and 3.

        Just out of curiosity for myself and the readers could you kindly define for us the term: Khawarij?

        A) what is the lexical meaning of the word?
        B) Do you see Khawarij as political succession or religious?
        C) Which works of the “Khawarij” have you read that explains their position?

        Lastly this particular post was more to draw attention to how two Muslim’s of the Sunni denomination dealt with this hadith and not necessarily how those from group 1 mentioned above or the Ummayads may have used it to tarnish the image of their opponents.

        Thank you.

      • I should also mention the rift between Ali Ibn Abu Talib and Ibn Abbas especially after the way Ali handled the Muslim’s of Narhawan. Thus, narrations that would widen the distance between these two shops certainly be looked at with a keen eye.

  4. Hamza Malik

    What do you think of Shaykh Muhammad al-Yaqoubi’s response in his book Refuting ISIS (2nd edition, p.27) in regards to Sayyiduna Ali using fire to punish.

    “ISIS uses the story of Ali as a proof, as it is narrated that he burned someone. However, the story does not provide any proof to the permissibility of burning people for the following reasons. First, Ibn Abbas, cousin of Ali, opposed him and declared that it was wrong. Second, Imam al-Bukhari narrated this story to caution the reader that it is not valid, as he narrated the counter-proofs. His job was to compile every text related to the subject, and the job of the doctors of law was to establish what is valid and what is not. Third, Ali himself agreed with his cousin Ibn Abbas that this is forbidden, as narrated by al-Tirmidhi (Tuhfat al-Ahwadhi, vol. 5, pp. 24-25).”

    • Thank you for this piece of information. May it be of benefit to all who read this thread. May you be rewarded for sharing knowledge and information.

      I think it is very interesting that the respected Shaykh Muhammad al-Yaqoubi would see Ali as possible of make errors in judgement , being corrected by Ibn Abbas.

      It’s also an interesting reading from Shaykh al-Yaqoubi about narrating every proof, because indeed Bukhari did do that ( or at least the ahadith that he was aware of on the matter ).

      I guess my question is on the third part.

      “Third, Ali himself agreed with his cousin Ibn Abbas that this is forbidden, as narrated by al-Tirmidhi (Tuhfat al-Ahwadhi, vol. 5, pp. 24-25).”

      Agreed with Ibn Abbas in the sense that Ali, realized the error of his way and consented to the view point of Ibn Abbas or that Ali never done such an action to begin with.

      Either way, I think Shaykh Yaqoubi’s response is quite refreshing.

      I felt that Bin Bayyah’s response as just being ‘ijtihad’ was a bit scary.

      Also as stated I felt that Bassam Zawadi’s perspective was refreshing in that he is basically saying, ‘look Ali made an error.’.

      Again thank you for this.

  5. ok brother then what’s ur study on them many sunni believe them to be believers and many do not believe them as muslims specially salafis and shia consider all ancestors and uncle Abu Talib to be pure muslim

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