Examining the charge that the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. desired to commit suicide
by Ibn Anwar, BHsc (Hons)
Among the many nefarious attacks that are thrown at the prophet Muhammad s.a.w. none has received so scarce and miniscule a treatment as the serious charge that the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. intended to kill himself by jumping off a cliff. This is one of the favourite charges levelled against Islam by Arab Christian polemicists. Is there any truth to it? Let us begin by reading the tradition(hadith) in question:
Waraqa said, “This is the same Namus (i.e., Gabriel, the Angel who keeps the secrets) whom Allah had sent to Moses. I wish I were young and could live up to the time when your people would turn you out.” Allah’s Apostle asked, “Will they turn me out?” Waraqa replied in the affirmative and said: “Never did a man come with something similar to what you have brought but was treated with hostility. If I should remain alive till the day when you will be turned out then I would support you strongly.” But after a few days Waraqa died and the Divine Inspiration was also paused for a while and the Prophet (peace be upon him) became so sad as we have heard(come to know) that he intended several times to throw himself from the tops of high mountains and every time he went up the top of a mountain in order to throw himself down, Gabriel would appear before him and say, “O Muhammad! You are indeed Allah’s Apostle in truth” whereupon his heart would become quiet and he would calm down and would return home. And whenever the period of the coming of the inspiration used to become long, he would do as before, but when he used to reach the top of a mountain, Gabriel would appear before him and say to him what he had said before. (Ibn ‘Abbas said regarding the meaning of: ‘He it is that Cleaves the daybreak (from the darkness)’ (6.96) that Al-Asbah. means the light of the sun during the day and the light of the moon at night). (Sahih Bukhari, Volume 9, Book 87, hadith 111)
The above hadith indicates that the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. attempted to commit suicide several times whenever there was a pause in the revelation (fatra al-wahy). This story is extremely suspect on many levels despite the fact that it is included in Bukhari’s Jami’ al-Sahih. Dr. Mohar Ali has a good treatment on the matter and he shows that the text and chain of transmission both show that the story is actually inauthentic:
“This story of extreme frustration on the Prophet’s part on account of the pause in the coming of wahy and, in consequence, of his alleged suicide attempts, is not at all worthy of credence. As Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani points out, the story is only an addition and surmise on Al-Zuhri’s part and no statement of the Prophet himself, nor of A’ishah (r.a.) nor even of ‘Urwah ibn al-Zubayr (Fath al-Bari, XII, 376. Ibn Hajar’s words are:من بلاغات الزهري وليس موصولا) . This addition has been so mixed up with the text that it appears to be part of the original narration. That it is Al-Zuhri’s addition is very clear from his qualifying clause, “as we have come to know”, with which he introduces this section. Had it been the Prophet’s or A’ishah’s (r.a.) statement, there would have been no need to add this expression, for the chain of narrators had already been given at the beginning of the narration.
The second technical defect in the story has been pointed out by Muhammad Nasir al-Din al-Albani. He states that it is a shadh (strange or odd) report in that it has come down only once through a chain of narrators subsequent to Al-Zuhri among whom there is Ma’mar, and that in all other forms in which the matter is reported, even though Ma’mar is mentioned as one of the narrators, this addition does not occur. Nor is this addition found anywhere else with an uninterrupted chain of narrators worthy to be cited as evidence.
Apart from these technical considerations, the Prophet’s character and personality do not admit of such a conduct on his part. The story is all the more unworthy of credence because it speaks not of one such alleged suicide attempt but several such attempts; as if the assurance given by Jibril for the second time (i.e. after the first appearance at the cave of Hira’) would not have satisfied the prophet! The story might have originated, as one scholar points out, in someone’s seeing the prophet frequenting the hills, as he naturally did during the pause in the coming of wahy, and then supposing on the basis of that sight that the Prophet was about to throw himself down from the top of the hill! And once such a surmise was circulated it easily found its place in subsequent reports with further mixing up of the facts and circumstances (See Musnad, II, 232-233; Abu Nu’aym, Dala’il, 68-69; Al-Bayhaqi, Dala’il, I., 393-395.)”