Khaled Abou Fadl on Abu Hurayrah

I was reading Speaking in God’s Name having left it unread for a few years and was very happy to note again that Abou El Fadl has written on all the *difficult* hadith which have bothered many Muslim women. The two ahadith (women outnumbering men in Hell; and angels cursing women who don’t want sex), along with a few others, are discussed at length in the book.

Abou El Fadl writes, “It is not exaggeration to say that according to these traditions, the wife lives as the husband’s humble servant; she is to submit sexually on the back of a camel and lick his puss-filled ulcers if need be. A similar message is affirmed by another tradition also reported by Abu Hurayrah asserting that the Prophet said: “If a man calls his woman to bed, and she refuses to come, the angels will continue to curse her till morning.” (pg. 212)

He continues, “There is no question that these traditions, and others discussed below, have grave theological, moral, and social consequences… they also contribute to the general denigration of the moral status of women. After all, even the angels in the heavens are moved to the point of cursing women if they do not surrender their will and body to their husbands. Regardless of the jargon generated by apologists about how Islam liberated and honored women, these traditions subjugate a woman’s honor to the will of men.” (Ibid) [Emphasis mine].

Abou El Fadl donates three pages to Abu Hurayrah, the original transmitter of the traditions which according to Abou El Fadl “denigrate the moral status of women.” He gives several reasons why Abu Hurayrah’s transmitted ahadith should be scrutinized by “thinking beings who carry the burden of free will, accountability and God’s trust” …by asking “to what extent did the prophet really play a role in the authorial enterprise that produced this tradition? Can I, consistently with my faith and understanding of God and God’s message, believe that God’s prophet is primarily responsible for this tradition?” (pg 213).

Abu Hurayrah, Abou El Fadl explains, was a late convert to Islam and spent only three years in the Prophet’s company but transmitted the most ahadith. Aishah and Omar Ibn Khattab chided Abu Hurayrah on several occasions for transmitting traditions wrongly. Eventually Omar threatened to exile Abu Hurayrah if he did not stop transmitting Prophet’s traditions which increased tremendously upon Omar’s death. Abou El Fadl presents several stories, evidences, and traditions of Aishah and Omar to explain Abu Hurayrah’s position in early Islamic history.

According to Abou El Fadl the Prophet could have never said that if prostration to another human were allowed he would have asked a woman to prostrate to her husband because “a powerful symbolic association is created between the status of the Prophet and the status of husbands. We observe a similar association between husbands and the symbols of Divinity in the submission tradition. A whole host of angels in the Heaven are aggrieved by the frustration of a man’s libido. This only raises the question: what is it about a man’s sexual urges that make them so fundamental to the pleasure of the Heaven?” (pg 214) [Emphasis mine]

Abou El Fadl feels that such traditions “require a conscientious-pause, and perhaps a faith-based protest. These traditions seem self-evidently immoral and shocking.”  Overall, Abou El Fadl asserts that the Quran and Prophet’s life (sirah) oppose the traditions that demean women because such traditions “contradict the theological notion of the undivided supremacy of God and God’s Will …evidence suggests that [such traditions] cannot be relied upon because we cannot conclusively assert that the Prophet played the primary role in the authorial enterprise that produced them.” (pg 214).


23 thoughts on “Khaled Abou Fadl on Abu Hurayrah

  1. Khadeeja says:

    I think it is in Mernissis book, the veil and the male elite, that she also discusses Abu Hurayrah. One I anecdote whichi I particularly enjoy is where Aisha chastises him for narrating a Hadith incorrectly and he retorts: you were busy putting eyeliner (kohl) on when he said that. Capitalizing on this stereotype reminds me of many chauvinists today!

    Thanks for reminding me 🙂

  2. Coolred38 says:

    Always nice when someone of “renown” highlight abuhurarya’s hadith and history. Muslims love to trot out his hadith as if they are the basis of the islamic treatment and position of women in islam…forgetting (or never even researching to begin with) how controversial his position was among the prophet’s circle and how others, at that time, viewed him and his prolific hadith output. And who would have a better honest and open opinion of him than the prophet’s two closest allies, Aisha and Umar?

    • Metis says:

      I want to understand just how important hadith is really. Someone left a thought-provoking comment earlier and I want to study what would Islam be for men and women if we take out hadith from Islam.

  3. almostclever says:

    These hadith don’t surprise or enrage me when considering the timeframe. Shit, in the 1940’s and 50’s in America that was basically the role of women. Obvious cultural oppression.

    I would think that anyone believing in God would see these verses as “problematic” for an all knowing being to condone, and would therefore reject it. Of course, I have seen men on cable television in the mid east say that beating a wife is God’s gift of discipline..

    These verses are where I see religion becoming a hindrance for women. Men have made subjugation a divine notion. Oppression has become debatable.

    • Metis says:

      I see much sense in your last two sentences. I think MFs feel enraged because they can’t believe that a prophet of God could say such things even in the 7th Century. I had a very tough time reading about those ahadith and once a woman got very angry with me for doubting them. It is not just men but even some women want to believe in Abu Hurayrah.

      • Zuhura says:

        I think the reason some people refuse to question such hadith is because, if you’ve been taught that hadith are to be followed, it’s overwhelming to try to figure out which ones are (not) to be believed. Even if scholars have determined which ones are sahihi most of us encounter hadith outside of their compilations when they are just quoted out of context.

  4. Lat says:

    I’ve stopped crying over these hadiths for a long time now.Now when i come across it,I laugh literally because I see men’s insecurity in them,their fear and most of all their weakness.scholar Khaled has done the right thing by excersing his “free will, accountability and God’s trust”.

  5. My favorite is the dog ahadeeth when his kunya obviously states his biases.

    Or the one how you know a true believer who loves him unconditionall?

  6. I added the book to my wishlist 🙂

  7. amatullah76 says:

    Amazing, thanks for this. Have wishlisted the book. I’ve long admired Khaled Abou Fadl, but haven’t really dug in to his work yet.
    It’s interesting how just about every time I mention Abu Huraira’s questionable narrations, people assume I’m Shi’i. Most are unaware that Imam Abu Hanifah rejected his narrations and refuse to believe me when I mention it. I wonder how that bit of knowledge became obscured.

    • Metis says:

      Amatullah, thank you so much for sharing that about Imam Abu Hanifah. I didn’t know that and it is an interesting piece of information. Wow!

  8. Coolred38 says:

    It’s interesting that Abu Huraira’s credentials are so stellar among mainstream muslims who, by and large, are strong advocates for hadeeth. Those very hadeeth are where one can find condemnation of him and his anti women “sayings” (among other contraditions) by Aisha and Omar. Interesting because most muslims I have spoken to about it never knew there was questionable opinions about his validity. How can you support a body of work so ardently (hadeeth) and yet not really know what it is you support…or probably even why?

  9. Loved this posts! And this is part of the reason why I don’t believe in hadith.

  10. Tasmiya says:

    I have read this book and felt comforted by it but at the same time troubled. Was I comforted because it was truth or because it just conveniently fitted with my opinion on those troublesome hadith?

    Welcome back, by the way – I owe you an email!

  11. susanne430 says:

    “A whole host of angels in the Heaven are aggrieved by the frustration of a man’s libido. This only raises the question: what is it about a man’s sexual urges that make them so fundamental to the pleasure of the Heaven?”

    Nicely stated!

  12. […] — judged “weak” by scholars, and that in some cases, related by people who were distrusted by the Prophet’s own wife or ordered by the Caliph Omar to refrain from fabricating sayings or otherwise face exile (source). […]

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