30 July 2013
The ash-Shifa bi Ta'rif Huquq al-Mustafa (Healing by the recognition of the Rights of the Chosen one) is written by one of the most famous scholars of Islam in Mālikī fiqh, Qāḍī `Iyad ibn Musa al-Yahsubi (d.544/1149), the imam of his time in hadith and its sciences. This work has been translated in to English by Aisha Abdarrahman Bewley and is considered a renowned classical Islamic text. This is reflected in the number of commentaries on this book by various scholars including Imam Jalal al-din Suyuti (d.911/1505).
It is not a biography of the Prophet Muhammad (ṣallā Allāhu ʿalayhi wasallam) per se; rather it details extensively his exalted stature in his qualities, marks of honour, miracles, rank, excellence and nobility. It is about his life but not in the style of a traditional biography. It details elements of his being under specific headings so that you can establish the correct belief about him with regard to his status. It is unique in this sense and Qāḍī `Iyad was the first to compose such a work, (p.511) spending many sleepless nights investigating the virtues of the Messenger of Allāh (ṣallā Allāhu ʿalayhi wasallam). The book is arranged systematically in to four parts containing thirteen chapters in total which are topically arranged in to a total of one hundred and fifty-eight sections. The chapter titles will give you a better idea of the content of the book:
Chapter 1.1 - Allāh's praise of him and His great esteem for him
Chapter 1.2 - Allāh's perfecting his good qualities of character and constitution, and giving him all the virtues of the deen and this world
Chapter 1.3 - On the sound and well-known traditions related about the immense value placed on him by his Lord, his exalted position and his nobility in this world and the next
Chapter 1.4 - On the miracles which Allāh manifested at the Prophet's hands and the special properties and marks of honour (karamat) with which He honoured him.
Chapter 2.1 - The obligation to believe in him, obey him, and follow his Sunna
Chapter 2.2 - On the necessity of loving the Prophet
Chapter 2.3 - Exalting him and the necessity to respect and honour him
Chapter 2.4 - The prayer on the Prophet and asking peace for him, and the obligation of doing it and its excellence
Chapter 3.1 - Concerning matters of the deen and the Prophet's being protected from imperfection
Chapter 3.2 - The states of the Prophet in respect of this world and what non-essential human qualities he could have
Chapter 4.1 - Clarification about cursing the Prophet or saying that he is imperfect by allusion or clear statement
Chapter 4.2 - The judgements against someone who curses the Prophet, reviles him, disparages him or harms him, and how someone who does this should be punished; about calling on him to repent and the status of his inheritance
Chapter 4.3 - Concerning judgement on anyone who curses Allāh, His Angels, His Prophets, His Books, and the Family of the Prophet and his Companions
Each of these chapters contains various sub-sections which then discuss the topic at hand. For example within chapter 1.3, section 10 is entitled, "His being given Intercession and `the Praiseworthy Station'". Qāḍī `Iyad then brings forth evidence from the Holy Qur'an, the ahadith of the Messenger of Allāh (ṣallā Allāhu ʿalayhi wasallam) and the sayings of the Companions to exhibit the statement in the title. For this section (1.3.10) alone he quotes no less than twenty-one accounts in five pages (pp.114-118) from the three sources of evidence given above to validate the heading of the section. For example in this section he writes, "Abu Musa al-Ash'ari said that the Prophet said, "I was given a choice between having half of my community enter the Garden or being granted intercession. I chose intercession because it is more encompassing. Do you think that it is on behalf of those who fear Allāh? It is for those who err and commit wrong actions" (Hadith in Ibn Hanbāl), p.114 and "Umm Habiba said that the Messenger of Allāh said, "I was shown what would happen to my community after me and that they would shed each other's blood and that what had happened to previous communities from Allāh would also happen to them. Therefore I asked Allāh to grant me intercession on their behalf on the Day of Rising, and He did that" (Al-Hakim and al-Bayhaqi), p.115.
The book is not restricted to simply presenting a concise arrangement of various topics related to the splendid stature of the Prophet (ṣallā Allāhu ʿalayhi wasallam) and then inundate you with evidences to this effect, rather it contains discussions of some of these topics which some Muslims may be confused by thus the opinions of the scholars on these issues are presented as well as that of the great Qāḍī himself. For example, 1.3.12, (pp.120-122) discusses "The hadiths related about the prohibition of disparity between the Prophets" in that it has been established by the proof of the Qur'an and the Sahih ahadith that the Prophet Muhammad (ṣallā Allāhu ʿalayhi wasallam) is the best of mankind and the best of the Prophets but then what do we make of the ahadith where the Messenger of Allāh (ṣallā Allāhu ʿalayhi wasallam) explicitly stated do not give me preference over Musa, Yunus and Ibrahim or any other Prophet for that matter? The author presents five different interpretations of the ulema for these ahadith. The first is that the prohibition occurred before he knew that he was the Master of the Children of Adam, second, that it was out of humility, the third is that making disparity would lead to lessening or detracting the stature of one of them, forth, is that the prohibition to making disparity is in respect to prophethood and the delivery of the message and the last one is that the "I" refers to the speaker himself. These discussions are engrossing and insightful.
There are many other interesting sections where you will learn a lot, for example the refutation of those that say the Night Journey was a dream, (p.99) protection of all the Prophets from defects before prophethood, (p.289) regarding the perceived oversight/forgetfulness of the Prophet (ṣallā Allāhu ʿalayhi wasallam) and how it does not detract from his stature as he said, "I do not forget, but am made to forget in order to make a sunna" (p.320) and "regarding his familiarity with the Unseen", (p.186) including his saying, "'Uthman will be killed while reciting the Qur'an. Perhaps Allāh will have him wearing a shirt. They will want to remove it and his blood will fall on the words of Allāh, "Allāh is enough for you against them" (2:137)" (p.188). The information in this book is overwhelming. It isn't one to read in a day, as captivating and absorbing as it is. I personally advise to read it in bite sizes to really appreciate the content and to reflect over the radiance of the Prophet Muhammad (ṣallā Allāhu ʿalayhi wasallam).
This book truly is a jewel and a marvel to read with the succinct translation and ease of reference with the detailed contents page. The translator has included a glossary of Arabic words and a glossary of the hadith collections referred to in the text and most usefully a glossary of the people mentioned in the text, all of which are invaluable resources. I purchased this book back in 2005 and till today I find myself going back to it and each time it is as though I am reading it for the first time. It is a tremendous book which overflows with magnificence. You can't comprehend the splendour of this work until you actually read it. I admire this book so much that I purchased an Urdu translation for my parents. It is a hallmark of the author, Qāḍī `Iyad and a gift to all English speaking Muslims from Aisha Bewley. I highly recommend you obtain a copy of it. You will not regret it.