Thursday, June 09, 2016

Ramadan 2016, Day 4 – Hadiths, part two

Moving to the next book of the Sunan Abu Dawud is the Book of Prayer, the hadiths regarding the five daily prayers. This Book runs over 400 pages, 1000 hadiths, and on its own is probably about half the size of the Qur’an. That's a lot of information for a Muslim to know, which gives you an idea of why it takes many years of study to become an Islamic Scholar. Islamic scholarship is not just about knowing the Qur’an, you have to be very familiar with the thousands of hadiths and learn how to assess or interpret them in light of what the Qur’an says.

While reading the Book I came across a hadith that at first might appear to be a little innocuous:

Jabir bin Abdullah said, “I would pray Zuhr with the Messenger of Allah, and would take a handful of pebbles in my hand in order to cool them. I would place them for my forehead, and prostrate on them due to the severe heat."

It doesn't seem like much but I wondered if this was one of the key hadiths for Shi’a Muslims. I’ve noticed in my travels that, unlike Sunnis, when Shi’a Muslims pray they place a small clay disc on the ground and their foreheads touch that when they bow on the ground. A little googling later and my assumption was incorrect. The disc is called a turbah and there's a number of other rulings and hadiths that Shi’a use to support praying with a turbah. This hadith maybe provides additional support to the concept but it’s not the main reason. Sunnis do not use turbah but rather I think they take the interpretation that it's fine to pray with your head touching dirt or pebbles, but it’s not mandatory and you can pray on a carpet if you wish, and nowadays prayer rugs are a standard item for prayers.

Many hadiths relate to the timing of prayers. While nowadays people just use prayer timetables developed by scholars & astronomers, recall that back in the time of the Prophet your average Muslim would not have had access to such detailed information. Thus being able to tell the position of the Sun was important, but it would not have been an exact science for most people. Hadiths cover this in-depth, with discussions of the size of shadows or how to time the prayer based on the Sun rising/setting.

The hadiths to give some leeway to followers, noting that it is okay if the prayer is delayed by a little bit, and specifically says if the mid-day prayer will be in the extreme heat of the day then it is permissible to delay it for a little bit until a cooler time (I think this was referring to if you're doing prayers outdoors, I don't think it would apply if you were indoors). Even if you miss a prayer, such as because you overslept, it's fine to do the prayer late. However, a few hadiths warn that deliberately delaying the prayer is a sin, so followers should not be using the previous hadiths to justify delaying prayers to whenever they feel like it or when it is convenient.

I later found an interesting hadith, something that I was not aware of:

Abu Hurairah narrated that he heard the Messenger of Allah say: "Whoever hears a man announcing his lost animal in the masjid (mosque), then let him say, ’May Allah not return it to you,’ for the masjids have not been built for this purpose.”

So you're not allowed to make announcements in a mosque regarding lost items. My copy of the Sunan Abu Dawud has an aside that notes that scholars differed on whether you can make an announcement about lost children, some say you can and others say you should not. I’ll ask my Muslim friends about this one and see what the Hanbali interpretation is.

Next up was about a dozen or so hadiths regarding spitting in a mosque or during prayer. No surprise, you shouldn’t spit in a mosque, if need be spit into your garment and carry the spit out. If praying, and not in a mosque, never spit forward (the direction of Mecca) nor to your right side. Two hadiths state that preferably you should spit under your left foot and use your foot to rub it into the dirt, three different hadiths reported witnessing the Prophet Mohammed do this.

Finally, I read an interesting hadith that noted the Prophet said: “All of the earth is a place of prostration, except a hammam (bathroom), and a graveyard.”

I hadn't really thought about it before but in Qatar and other parts of the Gulf I haven't seen any graveyards or graves next to or surrounding a mosque. Graveyards in Qatar tend to be secluded places well out view, the main one is close to the Industrial Area and I haven't visited it yet. Contrast that with many European churches where there is a graveyard next to the church (or even have graves in the church). I'm not sure whether this hadith is universally applied in the Islamic world, I have seen mosques in Turkey and Damascus that were near, or contained, grave(s) of notable leaders or religious individuals.

(The next hadith added an additional location you shouldn't pray in, camel pens, but I'm sure people wouldn't be too inclined to do that anyway.)

As I read more hadiths through the month I’ll summarize them in later blog posts.

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