“On the authority of Abu Abdul Rahmaan Abdullah ibn Masood (may Allah be pleased with him) who said: The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) and he is the truthful, the believed, narrated to us: Verily, each of you is brought together in his mother’s abdomen for forty days in the form of a drop of fluid. Then it is a clinging object for a similar [period]. Thereafter, it is a lump looking like it has been chewed for a similar [period]. The angel is then sent to him and he breathes into him the spirit. He is also commanded to issue four decrees: to record his sustenance, his life span, his deeds and [whether he will be] unhappy [by entering Hell] or happy [by entering Paradise]. I swear by Allah, other than whom there is no God, certainly one of you will perform the deeds of the people of Paradise until there is between him and Paradise except an arm’s length, and then what has been recorded will overtake him and he shall perform the deeds of the people of Hell and enter it. And, certainly, one of you will definitely perform the acts of the people of Hell until there is not between him and Hell except an arm’s length and then what has been recorded for him will overtake him and he shall perform the deeds of the people of Paradise and enter it.” (Recorded in Bukhari and Muslim)
We now begin to look at the fourth hadith, recorded in the collection of Forty Hadith by Imam Al-Nawawi, and explained in further detail by Jamal al-Din M. Zarabozo in his work ‘Commentary on the Forty Hadith of Al-Nawawi’. What follows is a concise summary of this commentary.
The author begins by pointing out what appears to be a mistake made by Al-Nawawi in his original recording of the hadith in Arabic. Al-Nawawi wrote what translates as, “Surely, each of you is brought together in his mother’s abdomen for forty days in the form of a drop of fluid (nutfah).” The last word, ‘nutfah‘ is not recorded in this hadith in any of the sources of the sunnah. It seems, and Allah knows best, that it was included to make the sentence clearer. This has some serious implications that will be discussed in turn as we move through the hadith.
The Narrator: Abdullah ibn Masood
In an effort to help us familiarise ourselves with the companions of the Prophet (s) who narrated hadith, I will provide a little bit of a background about the narrator of this hadith Abu Abdul Rahman Abdullah ibn Masood (r). He was from a very poor family, and was the sixth person to embrace Islam. He (r) was the first person to publicly recite the Qur’an in Makkah and he participated in all the battles with the Prophet (s). He (r) narrated 848 hadith, but was best known for his knowledge of the Qur’an. Whenever he narrated hadith he would tremble and perspire out of fear of making any mistakes in the Prophet’s (s) words.
“The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) and he is the truthful , the believed, narrated to us:”
The one who is truthful in everything he says is known as Al-Saadiq, the truthful. This was a characteristic of the Prophet (s) that was well-known amongst his people before he received revelation. Al-Masdooq, the believed, means that he (s) was a person who was believed in what he (s) said and what he did. Ibn Masood (s) perhaps mentioned both of these characteristics of the Prophet (s) here, and Allah knows best, as a kind of emphasis and reminder. This hadith contained startling facts that were unheard of at that time, and contradicted the common belief about the development of the baby in the womb. From the time of Aristotle, it was thought that the baby was already fully formed at the earliest moment and simply grew larger in the womb. The idea of stages of the development of the fetus was not recorded until 1839. Indeed this hadith is one of the many scientific ‘miracles’ that one can find in the narrations of hadith.