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Explanation of the Ḥadīth of Kaʿb ibn Mālik

Shaykh Abū Muḥammad al-Maghribī

A series of lectures from the 2009 Toronto seminar,  From the Gems of the Sunnah: Benefits from the Story of Kaʿb ibn Mālik, explaining the great ḥadīth of Kaʿb ibn Mālik and his patience, compliance and obedience of the orders of the Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ). This ḥadīth is one which makes the heart melt, and the eyes shed tears.

Our noble brother Abū Muḥammad al-Maghribī (ḥafiẓahullāh) goes through the great ḥadīth of Kaʿb ibn Mālik (raḍī Allāhu ʿanhu), outlining this noble Companion’s truthfulness to Allāh and His Messenger, and the compliance and acceptance of his boycotting and separation from his wife with the utmost of patience. Abū Muḥammad al-Maghribī includes benefits from the explanation of the ḥadith by Shaykh Muḥammad ibn Ṣalīh al-ʿUthaymīn (raḥimahullāh) in ‘Sharḥ Riyāḍ al-Ṣāliḥīn’ of Imām al-Nawawī Vol. 1, ‘Chapter of Ṣidq’ (truthfulness), along with commentary from ‘Fat‘ḥ al-Bārī’, which is the explanation of Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī by Imām Bulūgh al-Maram Vol. 7.

It is narrated in Saḥīh al Bukhārī: Volume 5, Book 59, Number 702
Narrated ʿAbdullāh ibn Kʿab ibn Mālik:


Kʿab ibn Mālik said, “I did not remain behind Allāh’s Apostle in any Ghazwa that he fought except the Ghazwa of Tabūk, and I failed to take part in the Ghazwa of Badr; but Allāh did not admonish anyone who had not participated in it, for in fact, Allāh’s Apostle had gone out in search of the caravan of Quraysh till Allāh made them (i.e. the Muslims) and their enemy meet without any appointment. I witnessed the night of al-ʿAqaba (pledge) with Allāh’s Apostle when we pledged for Islām, and I would not exchange it for the Badr battle although the Badr battle is more popular amongst the people than it (i.e. al-ʿAqaba pledge). As for my news (in this battle of Tabūk), I had never been stronger or wealthier than I was when I remained behind the Prophet in that Ghazwa.


By Allāh, never had I two she-camels before, but I had then at the time of this Ghazwa. Whenever Allāh’s Apostle wanted to make a Ghazwa, he used to hide his intention by apparently referring to different Ghazwa till it was the time of that Ghazwa (of Tabūk) which Allāh’s Apostle fought in severe heat, facing a long journey, desert, and a great number of the enemy. So the Prophet announced to the Muslims clearly (their destination) so that they might get prepared for their Ghazwa. So he informed them clearly of the destination he was going to. Allāh’s Apostle was accompanied by a large number of Muslims who could not be listed in a book namely, a register.” Kaʿb added, “Any man who intended to be absent would think that the matter would remain hidden unless Allāh revealed it through Divine Revelation.”


So Allāh’s Apostle fought that Ghazwa at the time when the fruits had ripened and the shade looked pleasant. Allāh’s Apostle and his companions prepared for the battle and I started to go out in order to get myself ready along with them, but I returned without doing anything. I would say to myself, ‘I can do that.’ So I kept on delaying it every now and then till the people got ready and Allāh’s Apostle and the Muslims along with him departed, and I had not prepared anything for my departure, and I said, I will prepare myself (for departure) one or two days after him, and then join them.’ In the morning following their departure, I went out to get myself ready but returned having done nothing. Then again in the next morning, I went out to get ready but returned without doing anything.


Such was the case with me till they hurried away and the battle was missed (by me). Even then I intended to depart to take them over. I wish I had done so! But it was not in my decree. So, after the departure of Allāh’s Apostle, whenever I went out and walked amongst the people (i.e, the remaining persons), it grieved me that I could see none around me, but one accused of hypocrisy or one of those weak men whom Allāh had excused.


Allāh’s Apostle did not remember me till he reached Tabūk. So while he was sitting amongst the people in Tabūk, he said, ‘What did Kaʿb do?’ A man from Banu Salāma said, ‘O Allāh’s Apostle! He has been stopped by his two Burdas (i.e. garments) and his looking at his own flanks with pride.’ Then Mu ͑ ādh ibn Jabal said, ‘What a bad thing you have said! By Allāh! O Allāh’s Apostle! We know nothing about him but good.’ Allāh’s Apostle kept silent.”


Kaʿb ibn Mālik added, “When I heard that he (i.e. the Prophet ) was on his way back to Madīnah. I got dipped in my concern, and began to think of false excuses, saying to myself, ‘How can I avoid his anger tomorrow?’ And I took the advice of wise member of my family in this matter. When it was said that Allāh’s Apostle had come near, all the evil false excuses abandoned from my mind and I knew well that I could never come out of this problem by forging a false statement. Then I decided firmly to speak the truth.


So Allāh’s Apostle arrived in the morning, and whenever he returned from a journey, he used to visit the mosque first of all and offer a two raka ͑ah prayer therein and then sit for the people. So when he had done all that (this time), those who had failed to join the battle (of Tabūk) came and started offering (false) excuses and taking oaths before him. There were something (to the number of) over eighty men; Allāh’s Apostle accepted the excuses they had expressed, took their pledge of allegiance asked for Allāh’s Forgiveness for them, and left the secrets of their hearts for Allāh to judge.


Then I came to him, and when I greeted him, he smiled a smile of an angry person and then said, ‘Come on.’ So I came walking till I sat before him. He said to me, “What stopped you from joining us. Had you not purchased an animal for carrying you?” I answered, “Yes, O Allāh’s Apostle! But by Allāh, if I were sitting before any person from among the people of the world other than you, I would have avoided his anger with an excuse.”


“By Allāh, I have been bestowed with the power of speaking fluently and eloquently, but by Allāh, I knew well that if today I tell you a lie to seek your favour, Allāh would surely make you angry with me in the near future, but if I tell you the truth, though you will get angry because of it, I hope for Allāh’s Forgiveness. Really, by Allāh, there was no excuse for me. By Allāh, I had never been stronger or wealthier than I was when I remained behind you.”


Then Allāh’s Apostle said, ‘As regards this man, he has surely told the truth. So get up till Allāh decides your case.’ I got up, and many men of Banu Salāma followed me and said to me. ‘By Allāh, we never witnessed you doing any sin before this. Surely, you failed to offer excuse to Allāh’s Apostle as the others who did not join him, have offered. The prayer of Allāh’s Apostle to Allāh to forgive you would have been sufficient for you.’ By Allāh, they continued blaming me so much that I intended to return (to the Prophet) and accuse myself of having told a lie, but I said to them, ‘Is there anybody else who has met the same fate as I have?’ They replied, ‘Yes, there are two men who have said the same thing as you have, and to both of them was given the same order as given to you.’ I said, ‘Who are they?’ They replied, Murara ibn al-Rabi ͑ al-ʿAmri and Hilāl ibn Umaiya al-Waqifī.’ By that they mentioned to me two pious men who had attended the Ghazwa (Battle) of Badr, and in whom there was an example for me. So I did not change my mind when they mentioned them to me.


Allāh’s Apostle forbade all the Muslims to talk to us, the three aforesaid persons out of all those who had remained behind in that Ghazwa. So we kept away from the people and they changed their attitude towards us till the very land (where I lived) appeared strange to me as if I did not know it.


We remained in that condition for fifty nights. As regards my two fellows, they remained in their houses and kept on weeping, but I was the youngest of them and the firmest of them, so I used to go out and witness the prayers along with the Muslims and roam about in the markets, but none would talk to me, and I would come to Allāh’s Apostle and greet him while he was sitting in his gathering after the prayer, and I would wonder whether the Prophet did move his lips in return to my greetings or not. Then I would offer my prayer near to him and look at him stealthily. When I was busy with my prayer, he would turn his face towards me, but when I turned my face to him, he would turn his face away from me.


When this harsh attitude of the people lasted long, I walked till I scaled the wall of the garden of Abū Qatada who was my cousin and dearest person to me, and I offered my greetings to him. By Allāh, he did not return my greetings. I said, ‘O Abū Qatada! I beseech you by Allāh! Do you know that I love Allāh and His Apostle?’ He kept quiet. I asked him again, beseeching him by Allāh, but he remained silent. Then I asked him again in the Name of Allāh. He said, “Allāh and His Apostle know it better.’ Thereupon my eyes flowed with tears and I returned and jumped over the wall.”


Kaʿb added, “While I was walking in the market of Madīnah, suddenly I saw a Nabati (i.e. a Christian farmer) from the Nabatis of Shām who came to sell his grains in Madīnah, saying, ‘Who will lead me to Ka ͑ b ibn Mālik?’ The people began to point (me) out for him till he came to me and handed me a letter from the king of Gḥasan in which the following was written:


“To proceed, I have been informed that your friend (i.e. the Prophet) has treated you harshly. Anyhow, Allāh does not let you live at a place where you feel inferior and your right is lost. So join us, and we will console you.”


When I read it, I said to myself, ‘This is also a sort of a test.’ Then I took the letter to the oven and made a fire therein by burning it.


When forty out of the fifty nights elapsed, behold! There came to me a messenger from Allāh’s Apostle and said, ‘Allāh’s Apostle orders you to keep away from your wife,’ I said, ‘Should I divorce her; or else! What should I do?’ He said, ‘No, only keep aloof from her and do not cohabit her.’ The Prophet sent the same message to my two fellows. Then I said to my wife. ‘Go to your parents and remain with them till Allāh gives His Verdict in this matter.’


Kaʿb added, “The wife of Hiḷāl ibn Umaiya came to Apostle and said, ‘O Allāh’s Apostle! Hilāl ibn Umaiya is a helpless old man who has no servant to attend on him. Do you dislike that I should serve him?‘ He said, ‘No (you can serve him) but he should not come near you.’ She said, ‘By Allāh, he has no desire for anything. By Allāh, he has never ceased weeping till his case began till this day of his.’


On that, some of my family members said to me, ‘Will you also ask Allāh’s Apostle to permit your wife (to serve you) as he has permitted the wife of Hilāl ibn Umaiya to serve him?’ I said, ‘By Allāh, I will not ask the permission of Allāh’s Apostle regarding her, for I do not know what Allāh’s Apostle would say if I asked him to permit her (to serve me) while I am a young man.’
Then I remained in that state for ten more nights after that till the period of fifty nights was completed starting from the time when Allāh’s Apostle prohibited the people from talking to us.


When I had offered the Fajr prayer on the fiftieth morning on the roof of one of our houses and while I was sitting in the condition which Allāh described (in the Qur ͗ ān) i.e. my very soul seemed straitened to me and even the earth seemed narrow to me for all its spaciousness, there I heard the voice of one who had ascended the mountain of Sala calling with his loudest voice, ‘O Ka ͑ b ibn Mālik! Be happy (by receiving good tidings).’ I fell down in prostration before Allāh, realizing that relief has come. Allāh’s Apostle had announced the acceptance of our repentance by Allāh when he had offered the Fajr prayer. The people then went out to congratulate us. Some bringers of good tidings went out to my two fellows, and a horseman came to me in haste, and a man of Banu Aslam came running and ascended the mountain and his voice was swifter than the horse. When he (i.e. the man) whose voice I had heard, came to me conveying the good tidings, I took off my garments and dressed him with them; and by Allāh, I owned no other garments than them on that day. Then I borrowed two garments and wore them and went to Allāh’s Apostle.


The people started receiving me in batches, congratulating me on Allāh’s Acceptance of my repentance, saying, ‘We congratulate you on Allāh’s Acceptance of your repentance.” Ka ͑ b further said, “When I entered the Mosque. I saw Allāh’s Apostle sitting with the people around him. Talḥah ibn ʿUbaydullāh swiftly came to me, shook hands with me and congratulated me. By Allāh, none of the Muhājirīn (i.e. Emigrants) got up for me except him (i.e. Talḥah), and I will never forget this for Talḥah.”


Kaʿb added, “When I greeted Allāh’s Apostle he, his face being bright with joy, said “Be happy with the best day that you have got ever since your mother delivered you.” Kaʿb added, “I said to the Prophet ‘Is this forgiveness from you or from Allāh?’ He said, ‘No, it is from Allāh.’ Whenever Allāh’s Apostle became happy, his face would shine as if it were a piece of moon, and we all knew that characteristic of him.


When I sat before him, I said, ‘O Allāh’s Apostle! Because of the acceptance of my repentance I will give up all my wealth as alms for the Sake of Allāh and His Apostle. Allāh’s Apostle said, ‘Keep some of your wealth, as it will be better for you.’ I said, ‘So I will keep my share from  (the battle of) Khaibar with me,’ and added, ‘O Allāh’s Apostle! Allāh has saved me for telling the truth; so it is a part of my repentance not to tell but the truth as long as I am alive.


By Allāh, I do not know anyone of the Muslims whom Allāh has helped telling the truth more than me. Since I have mentioned that truth to Allāh’s Apostle till today, I have never intended to tell a lie. I hope that Allāh will also save me (from telling lies) the rest of my life. So Allāh revealed to His Apostle the Verse:


“Verily, Allāh has forgiven the Prophet, the Muhājirīn (i.e. Emigrants (up to His Saying) And be with those who are true (in word and deed).”
[Sūrah al-Tawbah: 9:117-119]


By Allāh, Allāh has never bestowed upon me, apart from His guiding me to Islām, a greater blessing than the fact that I did not tell a lie to Allāh’s Apostle which would have caused me to perish as those who have told a lie perished, for Allāh described those who told lies with the worst description He ever attributed to anybody else.


Allāh said:
“They (i.e. the hypocrites) will swear by Allāh to you when you return to them (up to His Saying) Certainly Allāh is not pleased with the rebellious people”
[Sūrah al-Tawbah: 9:95-96]


Kaʿb added, “We, the three persons, differed altogether from those whose excuses Allāh’s Apostle accepted when they swore to him. He took their pledge of allegiance and asked Allāh to forgive them, but Allāh’s Apostle left our case pending till Allāh gave His Judgment about it. As for that Allāh said:


“And to the three (He did forgive also) who remained behind.”
[Sūrah al-Tawbah: 9:118]


What Allāh said (in this Verse) does not indicate our failure to take part in the Ghazwa, but it refers to the deferment of making a decision by the Prophet about our case in contrast to the case of those who had taken an oath before him and he excused them by accepting their excuses.
Published: June 26, 2015
Edited: February 1, 2023


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