“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 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)
“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 had a group of apostates burned alive.
What is important to note is that Ibn Abbas felt that Ali made an error in his ijtihad, in his decision to burn apostates.
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.
“I read on a website that Ali ibn Abu Talib 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 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 and he burnt them. When Ibn `Abbas 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 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 saying that he would not have done what Ali did!
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 ‘ijtihad’ and 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 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:
A Christian missionary has cited the following Hadith from Bukhari and is demanding an explanation:
Volume 9, Book 84, Number 57:
“Some Zanadiqa(atheists) were brought to `Ali and he burnt them. The news of this event reached Ibn `Abbaswho 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 and matn  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 . 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 , who believed in the divinity of Ali .”
“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 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 ordered to dig a deep pit and burn a huge fire in it. The criminals were brought to the fire. `Ali 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 was informed of a people who secretly worshipped idols in a house. `Ali 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 was informed of some apostates. He called for them. When they arrived, `Ali gave them food to eat and asked them to return to Islam. They refused. At their refusal, `Ali 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:
- 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
- People were killed for their apostasy and later, 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 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 of Ali’s decision – not a criticism of Islam.”
“After all, `Ali was but a human being, he may have erred in his decision.”
I hope this helps.
October 11, 2000
 That is the chain of narrators of this reporting.
 That is, the text of this reporting.
Al-Fath Al-Baari, Kitaab Istitaabah Al-Murtaddeen, Vol. 12, Pg. 270
 i.e. rejecters.
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 hadith themselves.
Though it would have been nice to have all the narrations laid out for us, we can clearly see that there is a need to rescue Ali 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 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 of `Ali’s decision – not a criticism of Islam.
After all, `Ali 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 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.”
THE REACTION OF IBN ABBAS IS KEY
Also, Bassam Zawadi’s response shows that Ali could have made an error in his ijtihad. In fact, Ibn Abbas is shown not to agree with Ali’s decision. This means that Ibn Abbas felt that the Ijtihad of Ali was incorrect. After all that is a key part of these hadith reports about what Ali is said to have done. Surely Ibn Abbas is not going to object to Ali burning dead bodies?
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 ‘AhlSunnah’ because it implicitly implies that Ali 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.
This is also important because this is exactly what happened at Siffin. Many companions felt that Ali not only made an error in his ijtihad but that he failed to judge by what Allah (swt) had instructed us to judge by.
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).
May Allah (swt) bless brother Bassam Zawadi and Shaykh Bin Bayyah for their sincere efforts.
Allah (swt) knows best and the help of Allah (swt) is sought in all matters. It is also interesting that this hadith so bothers crypto-Shi’i (Shi’a in the guise of a Sunni) a group of them tried to discredit ‘Ikrma altogether! Even though, ‘Ikrma also narrates a juicy hadith that the Shi’i like to use about Ammar bin Yassar being killed by the rebellious group. Can’t have your cake and eat it to folks!
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