Hadīth Translation Errors (1/2)

Alhamdulillah, the effects of the work revived by Mawlānā Ilyās, throughout the world is well-known to all and needs no elucidation. However, weaker ones like us often commit errors which detract from the nobleness of the original effort. One common such matter for concern is that in our efforts to spread Dīn, we sincerely, but nevertheless often incorrectly, quote the blessed words of Rasūlullāh صلى الله عليه و سلم. It is out of concern for this that the following incorrect translations have been compiled. We ask that Allāh to save us from falling within the ambit of the warning of Rasūlullāh صلى الله عليه و سلم, “He who intentionally lies against me, should prepare his abode in Hell-fire.”

Care in narrating Ḥadīth

The Ṣaḥābah رضي الله عنهم took such stern warnings to heart. To quote but two instances from Faḍāil A ‘māl:
‘Amr bin Maymūn رضي الله عنه says: “I stayed with ‘Abdullāh bin Mas‘ūd رضي الله عنه every Thursday for one year. I never heard him attributing any words direct to the Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم. Once he was narrating Ḥadīth. When he uttered the words, ‘The Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم said so,’ then his body began to shiver, his eyes became full of tears, his forehead sweated, his veins swelled and he said, ‘Insha-allah, the Prophet said so, or something like that. It might be something less or something more.’”


….On the other hand, we go on quoting Aḥādīth without being sure of their authenticity and fear not the serious consequences of attributing wrongly anything to the Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم.

[Faḍāil A‘māl, Stories of the Ṣaḥābah رضي الله عنهم, Zeal for Knowledge, story 8]

‘Āishah رضي الله عنها says: “My father (Ḥaḍrat Abū Bakrرضي الله عنه ) had a collection of 500 Ḥadīths. One night I noticed that he was very restless. He was tossing in the bed and could not sleep. I got worried over this and inquired, ‘Are you suffering from any trouble or [are you] worried about anything[?]’ But he did not sleep and remained restless throughout the night. [The] next morning he called me and said, ‘Bring the collection of Ḥadīth that I gave you to keep.’ I brought the book and he set fire to it, till it was burnt. He said, ‘The collection contained many Ḥadīths that I heard from other people. I thought if I died and left behind a Ḥadīth accepted as authentic by me, but [is] really not so, then I should have to answer for that.’”
 [Faḍāil A‘māl, Stories of the Ṣaḥābah رضي الله عنهم, Zeal for Knowledge, story 2 ]

Whilst nobody can match the Ṣaḥābah رضي الله عنهم in their Taqwā, history testifies to the great care the Muḥaddiththīn also showed to the sacred words of Rasūlullāh صلى الله عليه و سلم, even stipulating that two separate Ḥadīth should not be read as to create the impression that they are a single Ḥadīth, e.g. “Marriage is part of my Sunnah,” and, “He who detests my Sunnah is not of me,” should never be read, “Marriage is part of my Sunnah and he who detests my Sunnah is not of me.”
Al-Imām ash-Shāfi‘ī said, “Which sky can give me shade and which earth can carry me if I should narrate a Ḥadīth as from Rasūlullāh صلى الله عليه و سلم and it was not said?” [Tarīkh Madīnah Dimashq 388/51]

Whilst the translation errors under discussion, are just that, i.e. “errors,” and not intentional lies, are we excused for continuing the same error for over half-a-century? If we truly believe in the virtues of learning, what prevents us from learning the correct Ḥadīth of Rasūlullāh صلى الله عليه و سلم, while we can spend much time, energy and money learning less virtuous subjects? Most importantly, one with even a speck of love for Rasūlullāh صلى الله عليه و سلم will feel ashamed to meet him on the Day of Qiyāmah after having spent a lifetime of misquoting him and being too lazy rectify himself. May Allāh guide us all.

Hadīth 1

عن أبى هریرة رضى الله عنه عن النبي صلى الله علیه و سلم قال:
 من تمسك بسنتى عند فساد أمتى فله أجر شهید – رواه الطبراني

This we recite by rote as, “He who revives a Sunnah during the time of corruption of the Ummah will receive the reward of a hundred martyrs.”
Before even looking at the errors in this translation, we should firstly be advised of the etiquette of the Ḥadīth narrating, that we do not narrate in such a way that non-Ḥadīth words appear to the listener to be Ḥadīth, or two separate Ḥadīth become joined. In this case, the explanation many people offer on the virtue of a martyr is not part of the Ḥadīth. Do not read it as such. At least pause in between.

This Ḥadīth is narrated as #101 in the section, Kalimah Tayyibah, of Muntakhab Aḥadīth. There the correct translation is given, i.e. “He who holds firmly to my Sunnah during the time of corruption of my Ummah, for him is the reward of a Martyr.” There exists another narration mentioning 100 Martyrs. Let us look at the two errors commonly made:
1. “man tamassaka,” means “he who holds fast,” not, “he who revives.”
2. “Sunnatī” means “my Sunnah” or when quoted in indirect speech as we do, “the Sunnah”. The Arabic grammatical classification of this term is ma‘rifah or proper noun. “A Sunnah,” on the other hand is a common noun and hence incorrect. “The Sunnah” would refer to the general lifestyle of Rasūlullāh صلى الله عليه و سلم as opposed to just one Sunnah.

Ḥadīth 2

عن أبى هریرة رضى الله عنه أن رسول الله صلى الله علیه و سلم قال:
 كل أمتى یدخلون الجنة إلا من أبى. قالوا یا رسول الله و من یأبى؟ قال من أطاعنى دخل الجنة و من عصانى فقد أبى – رواه البخاري

The translation which appears under the Chapter, “Keeping company with the Righteous,” of Virtues of Tablīgh is as follows: The Holy Prophet (Sallallho alaihi wasallam) said: “All my followers will enter Paradise, but not those who have denied me.” The Companions said: “Who would deny you?” He said, “Those who followed me would enter Paradise, but those who disobey me, they in fact deny me.”

This Ḥadīth also appears as #97 in Muntakhab Aḥadīth where “abā” is correctly translated as “refuse” instead of “disobey.” A correct translation is: Rasūlullāh صلى الله عليه و سلم said, “All of my Ummah will enter Jannah except he who refuses.” The Ṣaḥābah asked, “O Rasūlullāh! Who would refuse?” He replied, “He who obeys me will enter Jannah. He who disobeys me, has [in fact] refused!”

In short the Ḥadīth explains that those who disobey Rasūlullāh صلى الله عليه و سلم are in fact refusing to enter Jannah. Besides the incorrect translation of “abā” the Arabic has no reference to “…denied me,” and “…deny you.” These additions into the translation change the real meaning. In addition it makes the Ṣaḥābah رضي الله عنهم to appear ill-informed. How could they ask, “Who would deny you?” when up until today the vast majority of humanity still denies Rasūlullāh صلى الله عليه و سلم, and in their era the ratio of denial was even more overwhelming.


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One response

  1. […] in such matters which can be rectified. I had previously written on incorrectly translated common narrations and […]

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