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Mu’atta’ Imam Malik (5)
Hadith & Sunnah
Amin Ahsan Islahi
(Tr. by:Nikhat Sattar)


A Complete Chapter on Eating and Drinking


1. ‘Abdullah ibn Abi Talhah (rta) said that he heard from Anas ibn Malik (rta). He said that Abu Talhah said to his wife Umm Sulaym (rta): “I have felt weakness in the voice of the Prophet (sws). I think he might be hungry. Do you have anything to eat?” She answered in the affirmative and took out a few biscuits of barley, wrapped them in a corner of her shawl and gave it to him and put the other end of the shawl around his shoulders. She then sent him to the Prophet (sws). He saw the Prophet (sws) sitting in the mosque with people around him. He also went and stood there. The Prophet asked: “Has Abu Talhah sent you?” He said: “Yes.” He asked: “Has he invited me to a meal?” ‘Abdullah ibn Talhah said: “Yes.” The Prophet (sws) asked his companions to come with him and everyone walked with him at the front. He came to Abu Talhah and informed him. Abu Talhah told Umm Sulaym (rta) that the Prophet (sws) was coming but there was not enough to feed so many people. She said that God and His Prophet (sws) knew this well. Anas said that Abu Talhah went and met the Prophet (sws). Then both of them entered the house together. The Prophet (sws) asked Umm Sulaym to give whatever was present in the house. She gave him the same biscuits. The Prophet (sws) had them ground and Umm Sulaym poured her leather belt over the ground barley and made it into a curry. Then the Prophet (sws) prayed upon it and asked for 10 people to be asked in. They ate with his permission and satiated, left. Then the Prophet (sws) asked for 10 more men to be invited and they ate with his permission and, satiated, left. He asked for an additional 10 men who ate with his permission, were satiated and left. He asked for 10 more men to come in. They ate with his permission, were satiated and left. He asked for 10 more men. They ate with his permission, were satiated and left. All men ate and were satiated. All these people were around 70 or 80.

Explanation: This narrative is also found in Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim but the wording is different in each. Zarqani has given references of 10 narratives, in all of which the words are different. In his view, the situation was the same but incidents may have been various and putting all of them together does not make one cohesive event. Some scholars believe that the events for each of these narrations might have been different, but different events do not indicate that their situations too were different.

According to some narratives, this incident took place during the Battle of the Ditch. This narrative includes mention of bread of barley which was ground and then softened by adding oil or ghee. Other narratives include mention of slaughtering of a goat and making a curry of its meat and then feeding people with bread. If this event was related to the Battle of the Ditch, the mosque that has been mentioned could not have been Masjid-i Nabawi. It was probably the place where all men would gather for prayers. According to this narrative, the bread was ready, whereas the other narrative says that grain was purchased by income from labour and then it was ground and bread made from it. The narratives also differ in the number of people who were fed. Some say that this number was forty.

As far as the point of increase in the food is concerned, it is a factual observation. After the Prophet (sws) had prayed, any sort of blessing could have been expected. It has been mentioned in the miracles quoted in the Bible that when Jesus (sws) was surrounded by many people, he would invite them to a meal. When his servant asked where he would feed them from, he would answer: “You will feed them.” At the time of the meal, he would ask the servant how much bread he had. He would say, three or five. Then Jesus (sws) would show his miracle: the entire group would eat their fill and even then there would be baskets of bread left over. Thus, expansion in food is possible through the prayer of the prophets.


2. It is narrated from Abu Hurayrah (rta) that the Prophet (sws) said that food for two men is sufficient for three and that for three is sufficient for four men.

 Explanation: The fact is that if there is space in the heart, the food also expands. If the heart is stingy, the food becomes restricted too. We experience this every day: the food may be for two people but three or four can have their fill. The narrative does not mean that this is an instruction but that this should happen so. One’s heart should be generous and open, satisfied and be ready to sacrifice, not greedy and self centred.


3. It is narrated from Jabir ibn ‘Abdullah (rta) that the Prophet (sws) said that doors should be locked before going to sleep; the water storage bags should be tied up; all utensils should be covered and lamps put out. Satan does not open closed doors, open the knots of water bags or uncover utensils. But the mouse sets fire to the homes of people.

 Explanation: The instructions given by the Prophet (sws) for daily life are very valuable. This is the imparting of wisdom. The consequences of small errors can be grave. Hence, one should be very careful. In the light of the Qur’an, the only right that Satan has been given is to create superstitions and false thoughts within humans; he can do no more than this. Thus he creates misunderstandings in the hearts of people which in turn produce conflicts. If he had the power to do something practically, no home would have been left unharmed. This reality has been clarified by the Prophet (sws).

The word fuwaysiqah in the Arabic text of the narrative means also a false woman and the Prophet (sws) has used it in the sense of a female mouse which can cause great harm inside homes. In the olden days and even today, lamps use mustard oil which is food for mice. The latter snatches the wick of the lamp and runs amok, setting fire to the house.


4. It is narrated from Abu Shurayh al-Ka‘bi (rta) that the Prophet (sws) said that whoever puts faith in God and the Day of Judgement should speak well, or keep quiet. Whoever puts faith in God and the Day of Judgement, should respect one’s neighbor. And whoever puts faith in God and the Day of Judgement should respect one’s guest, take care of him for one day and one night and be his host for three days. After this, whatever he does is charity. And it is not right for a guest to stay in his host’s house, that he may become frustrated.

 Explanation: There is no part of life that the Prophet (sws) has not shed light upon. In this narrative, he has provided guidance about various aspects of one’s life. The demand of faith in God and the Day of Judgement is that one should open one’s mouth to speak well, otherwise remain silent. All problems arise because of the irresponsible use of the tongue and ultimately lands one in Hell. One should not talk uselessly, gossip, backbite, and be sarcastic or libelous. If the spoken word is good, fine, otherwise the right way is to maintain silence.

It is also a requirement of faith in God and the Day of Judgement that one respect one’s neighbour and guest, otherwise one’s belief in God and in the Afterlife is not legitimate. The Prophet (sws) also said that a guest should be specially looked after for the first one day and night and then hosted for three days. That is, be fed whatever the host eats. After this, if he is fed, this would be considered charity and the guest be considered a beggar. The Prophet (sws) advised the guest not to overstay so as to become a nuisance for the host.


5. It is narrated from Abu Hurayrah (rta) that the Prophet (sws) said that a man was going on his way when he felt thirsty. He found a well in which he went down, drank water and when he came up, saw that a dog was sitting nearby, licking mud due to thirst. The man thought that the dog too was suffering from the same thirst as him. He went down again, held his sock in his hand, filled it with water and brought it back up. Then he let the dog drink the water. God liked this service to the animal and forgave him. People asked the Prophet (sws): “O Messenger of God! Is there merit in serving animals too?” He answered: “Yes. Every animal that has a liver, it is served, there is merit.”  

Explanation: Sometimes one does something under the influence of an emotion that is one’s real nature. The man who felt that the dog had the same thirst that he had was a good man; he could not have been a hard hearted and cruel man. Every person cannot act this way. This man acted in such a way as to please God who accepted his service and forgave him. In my view, such types of people are very good and pious. They possess feelings of mercy. The mistakes committed by such people are not such as to take them to Hell. Rather, their errors are washed away by such kind deeds.

But if someone were to say that if an adulterous woman were to do such an act, she would be forgiven, it is debatable. This is against nature. Such people never get the opportunity to do such good acts. Good people who are blessed by God, even when they commit small acts of kindness, do it with such graciousness that God becomes happy with them and that is sufficient for them to be forgiven.

Another point could be that the act of kindness made the weight of the good deeds of this man so heavy that his sins became comparatively light. God added His acceptance to the man’s sincerity in his act of kindness and this made his overall good acts tip the balance in his favour.


6. It is narrated from Jabir ibn ‘Abdullah (rta): “The Prophet (sws) sent a mission towards the coast and made Abu ‘Ubaydah ibn Jarrah (rta) its commander. I too, was among its members. We were on our way when all our food finished. Abu ‘Ubaydah (rta) ordered the army to collect all the remaining food at one place. This comprised two boxes of dates. The commander gave everyone a little by ration every day, until this also finished and only a date each could be afforded. I said: “How would one date suffice?” We felt its significance when that also finished. Then we reached the coast where we found a mountain like fish along the coast line. The whole army fed on it for 18 days. Then under Abu ‘Ubaydah’s orders, two of its ribs were hoisted up, the saddle of the camel was placed on its back and the camel was driven under the ribs without touching them.”

Explanation: This incident is of the sariyyah of Sayf al-Bahr. The food being finished, finding of a giant fish was help from God for the Mujahidun who ate from it for 18 days. There were no freezers during that period. They would dry the meat of fish and animals to keep it from going sour. In the shari‘ah, sea food is halal and is not required to be captured alive. We have two groups of jurists who are both at extremes. Hanafites do not consider any fish except the most well known to be halal, although many fish are very large. The Shafites consider all marine life except a few to be halal. Sea horses, hogs, turtles and crabs are halal in their religion. Their concept of religion is generous while the Hanafites have made it much more restricted. In my view, there is a degree of lack of balance in both. It has been observed in reality that just as there are snakes, bears and scorpions among land animals, there are birds and beasts too. Among the birds are carnivorous birds that eat flesh. Nature lets us decide which things we should eat and which are unsuitable for us. Many four legged animals found in the forest such as deer, antelopes etc all fall in the category of edibles. Similarly, there are many marine animals that resemble beasts of the land or reptiles and many that resemble those which we eat. We are allowed to eat the former, but not those that resemble snakes and scorpions. As far as we can see, sea birds do not fall within the category of fish and they should be slaughtered although they stay both at land and at sea. They move from one place to the other. Even among these, debates arise as to which ones may be halal and which may not be. I have travelled by sea and seen swarms of birds and it appears that they cannot be eaten, but there are some which certainly can be.

As far as the issue of such a large fish between the ribs of which a camel can pass through is concerned, it is feasible. Whales are very huge and can take in several elephants in their stomachs. Sometimes they are also found dead on the coast. It seems that it was one such fish that became food for the Mujahidun.


7. It is narrated from the grandmother of ‘Amr ibn Sa‘d that the Prophet (sws) said: “O wives of believers! Do not hold anything worthless for your neighbor, even if it is a goat’s burnt foot.”

 Explanation: This is an advice from the Prophet (sws) for all believing women, not to consider any gift worthless for their neighbours, even if this gift is a burned foot of a goat. This simile has been made to indicate that one should not think that a small thing is useless to be given. Whatever one has, one should be generous in giving from it. This is an expression of love. It has been stated in another narrative that to express love, one should give gifts and not wait for something worthwhile to be available. To express one’s relationships, it is necessary to give from whatever one possesses and for the receiver, it is necessary that one does not consider what is received to be below one’s standards. Kura‘ is the name given to the foot of a goat and it is burnt over fire and then made into soup which is no ordinary food. It is quite precious, although the foot itself is not. These days, goat’s feet are so expensive that had ‘Umar (rta) been alive today, he would not have eaten such an expensive dish. Psychologically, it is a fact that gifts are a tried and tested means to enhance love.


8. ‘Abdullah ibn Abu Bakr (rta) said that the Prophet (sws) said that God curse the Jews. When they were prohibited from eating tallow, they (made this excuse), sold it and ate from the earnings.  

Explanation: The Qur’an says that as a punishment for the rebellion of the Jews, the various things made haram for them among their several yokes and constraints was also that they were disallowed to eat tallow. They invented a way out by selling the tallow and using up the earnings. This Hadith shows that if anything is haram for human consumption, its trade is also haram. If anything is allowed to be eaten, there is no reason for it not to be traded.


9. Imam Malik said that it had reached him that ‘Īsa, son of Maryam used to say: “O Israelites! For you are clean water, vegetables from farms and barley bread. Eat this and do not eat wheat bread as you will not be able to pay gratitude for it.”

 Explanation: This is from one of the eloquent rhetorics of Imam Malik. It is not known where he heard this from. It is not from any Hadith, nor is it found in any of the books of the Bible. It seems that it could be one of Jesus’s well known parables. From this, we see that Imam Malik did not give attention to authenticity of the line of narration. If the saying was useful he would narrate it.


10.  Imam Malik said that it had reached him that when the Prophet (sws) entered the mosque, he saw Abu Bakr (rta) and ‘Umar (rta) there. When he asked them why they had come, they answered that they were hungry. The Prophet (sws) said that he had also come out because of hunger. Then they went to Abu al-Haytham ibn al-Tihan Ansari who had barley flour. The Prophet (sws) gave orders for it to be cooked. He got up to slaughter a goat but the Prophet (sws) asked him not to slaughter one who was suckling. Abu al-Haytham ibn al-Tihan Ansari slaughtered a goat and brought cold water and hung the water bag from the bark of the date tree. Then food was served and everyone ate and drank water. After this, the Prophet (sws) said that they would be questioned about the blessings they had received that day on the Day of Judgement.

Explanation: This Hadith has been narrated by Imam Muslim from Abu Hurayrah (rta) but it is one of Imam Malik’s sayings in the Mu’atta’. 

There are three most significant facts to be considered in this narrative. For our ummah, these three personalities are its precious wealth. According to the narrative, all three left their homes in sheer hunger. Of course it is normal to feel hungry, but to leave one’s house so desperately? What was the purpose? If anyone asked us, we would say: we are unwell. Give us something to eat. Or, someone would feed us, taking pity on our hungry looks. I cannot believe this of myself, let alone believe it of the Prophet (sws). He had been hungry several times but no incident is known when he left his home in the hope that someone would feed him.

A group of scholars say that the Prophet (sws) said that his Lord feeds him. This shows that he did not feel hungry, while the above narrative says that he said that hunger had forced him to leave home.

It is stated in a similar narrative by Tirmidhi that when the Prophet (sws) asked of Abu Bakr of the reason for his coming, he answered that they wished to see him. This seems to be more acceptable.

The other point is that although here this narrative is among the reports reaching Imam Malik without any isnad, it is also an authentic Hadith given in Muslim and its narrator is Abu Hurayrah (rta). Abu Hurayrah’s Islam was during the days after the Battle of Khyber. In those days, the condition of Muslims was not such that they would suffer starvation. The Prophet (sws) had received considerable property as a result of the Battle of Khyber. Other Muslims too had become quite prosperous. Hence the situation described in the narrative goes against the facts. If Abu Hurayrah (rta) had heard this from someone else and it related to an earlier period, he should have clarified that he had heard from so and so, because he, himself, had not witnessed it. A narrative about an event that happened at a time when he was not even a Muslim does not prove him to be the narrator.

Thirdly, if all three of these leaders of the ummah were hungry, whose house could they have gone to as guests in the society of those times? The companion whose name has been mentioned is not a known name among those whom the Prophet (sws) visited. Also, narrators have not agreed about his personality. In another narrative, there is mention of them going to Abu Ayyub Ansari’s house, but he did not have a date orchard as has been mentioned here. Abu Talhah (rta) owned a date orchard. Whenever the Prophet (sws) went there, he would be presented with dates and cold water. Zarqani has quoted several variants of this narration and each one has a different statement. Its facts cannot be determined.

These are the difficulties of this narrative. As far as the incident is concerned, a similar one must have occurred. And the Prophet’s statement was very apt: that there would be questions asked about these blessings, because they had left their homes in hunger but due to God’s grace, they had a full meal of meat.


11.  ‘Umar (rta) was eating bread with oil when he called over a man from the people of dhimmah. He started eating from the oil that had stuck to the corners of the plate. At this, ‘Umar asked him if he had been hungry for long. He said that he had never had oil and not seen anyone eating bread with it since a very long time. ‘Umar (rta) said that he would not have oil until the first drop of rain falls upon his people.

 Explanation: It seems that this narrative belongs to the time of the drought which had occurred during the caliphate of ‘Umar (rta). Another translation is “until the condition of people becomes the same as before,” ie., the state of famine disappears. Rain is also a means of eliminating drought and bringing life back to people. This is why I have used the meaning “of rain drops falling upon people.” ‘Umar (rta) was very affected by the condition of that dhimmi and swore that he would not eat bread with oil again until the end of the drought. Thus, the leader of Muslims set an example for them. If a leader feels the pain of his people in his heart, this is how he sets discipline upon himself.


12.  It is narrated from Anas ibn Malik (rta) that he saw ‘Umar (rta) who was then the caliph. Three kilograms of dates would be put in front of him and he would eat them, even those which had gone bad.

 Explanation: The Arabic word hashaf mentioned in the text of the narrative means a date which has become dried and gone bad. The meaning is that when dates were put in front of ‘Umar (rta) he would eat even those that were rotten. He would only throw away that part which was inedible. No care would be taken in the manner in which the dates were given to him, because he had always adopted a very simple way of life.


13.  It is narrated from ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar (rta) that ‘Umar ibn Khattab (rta) was asked for his verdict about crickets. He said that he wished a basket full of crickets would be placed in front of him and he would eat from that. 

 Explanation: It is said about Yahya (sws) that he lived on the honey of the jungle and crickets. This depends upon the need. If nothing else is available, eating crickets is allowed. The thing that was eaten by Yahya (sws) and for which ‘Umar (rta) expressed a desire is legitimate to be eaten. Some people say that the crickets that are found in our cities and those found in the desert are very different, but this does not seem to be correct. There could, however, be a difference of size.

These are the incidents related to ‘Umar (rta) about which ‘Ali (rta) had said that he had defeated all the caliphs to come after him. There would be no one who could copy his example.


14.  Humayd ibn Malik said that he was with Abu Hurayrah (rta) in his grounds: al-Atiq. Some people from Madinah came on their camels and got down. Abu Hurayrah (rta) asked him to go to his mother, greet her and ask her to send some food. His mother placed three biscuits, some oil and salt in a plate and put it on his head, which he brought to the men. When he placed the plate in front of them, Abu Hurayrah (rta) said: “Allah u Akbar! Gratitude be to Allah Who gave us bread to eat, whereas previously we had only two black things; water and dates. There was nothing else to eat.” When the people had left, Abu Hurayrah (rta) asked Humayd ibn Malik to take good care of his goats, clean their noses, keep their places very tidy and even offer his prayers there. Goats are among the animals of Paradise.” By the Being Who holds my life in His palm, near is the time when a flock of goats will be more precious to their master than Marwan’s palace.”   

Explanation: This narrative is about Abu Hurayrah (rta). Speaking about the bygone days of his past, he said that there was a time when only dates and water were available as food. Now, gratitude be to God that bread and oil were available. He has used the word aswadayn (two black things) for dates and water, although water is not black, but dates are blackish. The use of this word is of the nature of ‘ala sabil al-taghlib (addressing the dominant element) and a common style of speaking.

Abu Hurayrah (rta) has predicted about the future: the time was near when a man would hold his faith dear, rather than being close to the palace of Marwan ibn al-Hakam (the Umawi Caliph). He would prefer to take his goats to the mountain pastures for grazing and thus earn his living. Abu Hurayrah (rta) also said that goats were animals of Paradise. The question about the basis of the above prediction and this statement arises here. Scholars of Hadith explain that companions could not have said something like this themselves. He must have heard this from the Prophet (sws). Hence this narration becomes a Hadith. This statement from the scholars of Hadith seems to be correct in some places, but raises concerns at others. It is not easy to accept this as a principle.


15.  Wahb ibn Kaysan said that when food was brought to the Prophet (sws), his rabib ‘Umar ibn Salamah was also with him. The Prophet (sws) said: “Eat in the name of Allah and from what is in front of you.”

Explanation: Rabib is the name given to the child of the wife from her former marriage. ‘Umar ibn Salamah was the son of Umm Salamah’s first husband, Abu Salma and the Prophet (sws) brought him up. He might have been eating from different parts within the plate at which the Prophet (sws), teaching him the etiquette of eating, told him to begin with the name of Allah, and if several people were eating from the same plate, to be respectful about others, not strike his hands around and to eat only from the corner which was in front of him.

Bismillah means reciting Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim. There is no reality in what some people have said that Bismillah should be recited at the first bite and al-Rahman al-Rahim at the second. The entire verse should be recited. However, if one forgets in the beginning, one can recite it anytime one remembers or at the end.


16.  Yayha ibn Sa‘id said that he heard from Qasim ibn Muhammad. He said that a man came to ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas and asked him if he could drink milk from the camels belonging to an orphan who was in his guardianship. Ibn ‘Abbas answered that if he searches for a camel that has been lost, rubs oil on those that become itchy, plasters their drinking well and takes them to drink water, then certainly he can drink their milk, provided the camel’s kids do not suffer and all the milk is not drained out.

Explanation: The Qur’an has allowed the guardian of an orphan to take benefit from the latter’s property according to his status. Ibn ‘Abbas (rta) had clarified this in the light of this allowance: that if he did all these chores, he could drink the milk provided the camel’s kids are not deprived.


17.  Hisham narrated from his father, ‘Urwah that whenever anything to eat or drink, even if it was medicine, was offered to him and he would partake of it, he would pray: “gratitude be to Allah, Who gave us guidance, fed us and gave us blessings. O Allah! You are Great. Your blessings have found us, despite all our weaknesses and we are taking benefit from them day and night. O Allah! We ask You for the completion of these blessings and the capacity to be grateful. There is no good, except You and no God but You. O Allah of the pious and O Lord of the worlds, all thanks is to Allah. There is no God but Allah. Whatever Allah wills happens. O Allah! There is no Power except You. O Allah! Place blessings upon the food that You have given us and protect us from the punishment of Hell.”

 Explanation: The narrative does not say whether ‘Urwah learned this prayer from the Prophet (sws) and he has not given a reference himself. It seems to be his own prayer. The sequence of the words also indicates a difference from the prayers of the Prophet (sws). It does not have the crispness found in the Prophet’s prayers. In any case, he would say this prayer to offer gratitude to God for food.


18.  Yahya said that Imam Malik was asked for his verdict on a woman eating with a non mahram or her slave. Imam Malik said that there was no harm in this provided she ate with the etiquette that was acceptable for a woman. He said that a woman eats sometimes with her husband, someone else with whom he eats and drinks or sometimes with her brother. But it was not right that a woman would be alone with a man who was not her mahram.

 Explanation: It was Imam Malik’s decree that there was harm in a woman eating and drinking with a man who was not her mahram. But if relatives or friends who were trusted, joined the meal, there would be no harm in eating with them. If this did not happen, society would suffer.

I have explained the instructions for pardah in the light of the Qur’an in a booklet. For details, please refer to it. 


(Translated by Nikhat Sattar)


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