Explanation of the Hadith ⟪Do not exaggerate in praising me⟫

1. Hadith and Its Explanation

The Prophet (SAW) said:

لاَ تُطْرُونِي كَمَا أَطْرَتِ النَّصَارَى ابْنَ مَرْيَمَ، فَإِنَّمَا أَنَا عَبْدُهُ، فَقُولُوا عَبْدُ اللَّهِ وَرَسُولُهُ

Do not exaggerate in praising me like the Christians exaggerated in praising (Jesus) Ibn Maryam, because I am only Allah’s slave, so call me: slave and messenger of Allah.

Sahih Bukhari

One of the many signs that the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was a true prophet is that he never sought out exaggerated praise for himself. Instead, he would correct people if they ever went too far in praising him.

One well-known example of this is when there was an eclipse on the day the Prophet (SAW)’s son Ibrahim died. People started saying the eclipse happened due to his death, because they had the superstition that solar eclipses happened for the birth and death of great people. The Prophet (SAW) corrected them and said, “[The sun and the moon] are two signs of Allah. They do not eclipse for the death or birth of anyone. So, if you see them [eclipse], supplicate and pray to Allah until it is over.” (Sahih Bukhari)

Another example of him correcting people is when two girls were singing poetry and one of them said, “And we have a prophet that knows what will happen tomorrow.” The Prophet (SAW) said, “Leave this (statement), but continue singing what you were singing before.” (Sahih Bukhari)

In fact, he would also prefer people not to give him praise that he deserved. The Prophet (SAW) only mentioned his superiority over all mankind in one statement, “I am the leader of the children of Adam on the Day of Judgement, and I am not boasting.” (Sunan Tirmidhi) At all other times, he disliked people comparing him to other prophets. He said, “None of you should say I am better than Yunus (Jonah) ibn Matta.” (Sahih Bukhari)

2. False Explanation of the Hadith

Some of the people of desires and scholars influenced by wrong conceptions who wish to exaggerate in praising of the Prophet (SAW) misconstrue and lie against the Prophet (SAW) by misinterpreting his statement.

These people exaggerate about the Prophet (SAW) to the point that they approach polytheism if not being in polytheism directly, like saying Allah gave the Prophet (SAW) knowledge of everything, that Allah gave the Prophet (SAW) control of the universe and everything in it, or that the Prophet (SAW) answers the calls of anyone who calls to him!

All of these beliefs contradict the Quran directly, and any reader of the Quran can see how these claims fly in the face of the its message and its teaching of monotheism.

Then, they say to get around this clear hadith: When the Prophet (SAW) said, “Do not exaggerate in praising me like the Christians exaggerated in praising (Jesus) Ibn Maryam,” that means nothing is considered exaggeration in praising the Prophet (SAW) except if you claim he has divinity because that is what the Christians did. Everything else is fair game!

The complete ridiculousness of this understanding of the hadith is obvious to anyone who hears the word of the Prophet (SAW), but I will show its falsehood with logic and language and with the explanation of the scholars.

2.1 Disproving With Language

If a man hits his mother then your mother tells you, “Don’t you ever disrespect me like that man disrespects his mother,” no one would imagine the meaning of this statement is that nothing is considered disrespect of your mother other than hitting her!

Rather, the clear meaning of this statement is that the man is a particularly egregious example of disrespect and you should not disrespect your mother even in smaller ways than he did.

Allah says in the Quran:

Or do you intend to ask your Messenger as Moses was asked before? And whoever exchanges faith for disbelief has certainly strayed from the soundness of the way.

Quran 2:108

In this verse, Allah discourages asking unnecessary questions, but no one would say the verse allows asking any question except the color of the cow because that is what the Children of Israel asked Musa (AS) about!

2.2 Disproving With Shurooh

No early or classical sharh (commentary) of this hadith claims that it is allowed to praise the Prophet (SAW) as long as you do not ascribe divinity to him. These are some examples of shurooh that state exaggerating in praise in general is forbidden.

Khattabi wrote one of the earliest commentaries on Sahih Bukhari, and he is clear that the prohibition of exaggerating praise is general and not about divinity alone:

Itra (إطراء): Praising with falsehood. And [the Christians are described as] this is because they used to call him (Jesus) a son of Allah and they took him as a god other than Allah. That is from among their exaggeration in praise of him. Because of this reason, [the Prophet SAW] understated himself in ahadith that were mentioned before, like saying ⟪Do not prefer me over Yunus ibn Matta⟫. He was afraid that they would exaggerate in praising him and say falsehood about him.

Sharh of Khattabi on Sahih Bukhari 3/1561 (388 AH)

Ibn Qurqul explains the hadith in a similar way without limiting it to divinity:

Itra (إطراء): Crossing the boundary in praise by lying in it.

Matāli’ al-Anwār by Ibn Qurqul 3/267 (569 AH)

Ibn Jawzi notes how overpraising and over-glorifying someone can lead to shirk even if he is someone worthy of a lot of praise and glorification:

Itra (إطراء): Crossing the boundary in praise. The meaning here is false praise. Those who exaggerated in praising Isa (AS) called him a son of Allah and took him as a god. Because of that, he (SAW) said ⟪Rather, call me: slave and messenger of Allah⟫.

If someone says: We don’t know anyone who claims about the Prophet (SAW) what was claimed about Isa (AS).

The answer is: They exaggerated in glorifying him (تَعْظِيمه) to the point that Muaz (RA) said, “O Messenger of Allah, I say people in Yemen prostrating to each other. Shouldn’t we prostrate to you?” […] So, he forbade them from something which might have caused them to reach worship.

Additionally, it is not necessary that someone forbidding something must be in response to an action that has been done. It can simply be something that could possibly happen.

Kashf al-Mushkil by Ibn Jawzi 1/65 (597 AH)

Ibn Mulqin notes the prohibition of describing the Prophet (SAW) with anything incorrect in general, not just limited to divinity:

[The hadith means]: Do not describe me with descriptions that do not apply to me in an attempt to praise me, like the Christians described Isa (AS) with something that was wrong i.e. they attributed being God’s child to him and fell into disbelief and misguidance as a result. As for describing him with what Allah favored and honored him with, that is an obligation on everyone he was sent to.

Sharh of Ibn Mulqin (804 AH)

Ibn Hajr notes, when commenting on the hadith of the singing girls mentioned before, that the Prophet (SAW) does not know the future and describing him as such is an exaggeration:

He said, “Leave this” i.e. Leave whatever is related to praise which contains the exaggeration that is forbidden. The riwayah of Hammad ibn Salamah adds: “No one knows what happens tomorrow except Allah” so that indicates the reason for this prohibition. […]

He only forbade what was mentioned in terms of exaggerated praise where she attributed unrestricted knowledge of the unseen to him even though it is a quality specific to Allah alone, like Allah says ⟪Say: No one in the heavens and earth knows the unseen except Allah⟫ (27:65) and says to the Prophet (SAW) ⟪Say: I do not possess any benefit or harm for myself except what Allah wills. If I knew the unseen, I could have acquired much wealth, and no harm would have touched me⟫ (7:188).

Whatever the Prophet (SAW) informed us about the unseen was by Allah telling him, not that he himself knew that. Like Allah says ⟪[He is] Knower of the unseen, and He does not disclose His [knowledge of the] unseen to anyone Except whom He has approved of messengers⟫ (72:26-27)

Fath ul-Bari by Ibn Hajr 9/203 (852 AH)

So, it is clear in the Shurooh of the scholars that this explanation offered by the people of desires is baseless nonsense which they invented because they wanted to continue describing the Prophet (SAW) with the absurdities.

Allah says: ⟪But if they do not respond to you – then know that they only follow their [own] desires. And who is more astray than one who follows his desire without guidance from Allah? Indeed, Allah does not guide the wrongdoing people.⟫ (28:50)

3. Conclusion

In conclusion, it is necessary to describe the Prophet (SAW) with what Allah and the Prophet (SAW) himself described him as. But, it is forbidden to exaggerate in praising him and attribute magnified qualities to him without evidence.

Some of these attributions even have the risk of falling into shirk, like claiming the Prophet controls the universe or knows everything.

There are two important reports to always keep in mind. The Prophet (SAW) said, “It is enough of a lie for a man to pass on everything he hears.” (Muqaddimah Sahih Muslim) The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) also said, “Whoever lies upon me (deliberately), let him take his seat in the fire,” and this hadith is not limited to lying about statements (Sahih Bukhari). The hadith applies to all lying.

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