The Gabriel Hadith (teacher notes)

This Hadith is written from the point of view of Umar, a friend of Muhammad who became the second Caliph after Abu Bak’r. This event takes place at the edge of a desert oasis near Medina.
  • Set the scene – edge of the desert, hot, dusty

One day when we were with God’s messenger, a man with very white clothing and very black hair came up to us. No sign of his journey was visible on him, and none of us recognized him.

  • Umar refers to Muhammad by a title rather than this name.
  • a traveller would be expected to appear, tired, thirsty, dusty, but not this one. What does this tell us?

Sitting down before the Prophet, he rested his knees against his knees and placed his palms on his thighs, said, “Tell me, Muhammad, about Islam.”

  • No stranger would come so close, he knows Muhammad’s name (doesn’t use title) – suggests they know each other?
  • In this context, the word Islam means ‘practice’, that is the things that Muslims do

The Messenger of God replied, ‘Submission means that you should bear witness that there is no god but God and that Muhammad is God’s messenger. It also means that you should perform the ritual prayer, pay the charity tax, fast during Ramadan, and make the pilgrimage to the Ka’aba if you are able to go there.”

  • These become known as the ‘Five Pillars’ of practice

The man said, “You have spoken the truth.”

We were surprised when he said “You have said the truth.”

  • Umar’s surprise again suggests that this is no ignorant stranger – this man knows the answers to the questions he is asking
  • might Umar and his friends have been offended? The man seems to be testing the Prophet rather than showing respect and deference. However, Muhammad seems at ease, so Umar is perhaps mollified

The man then said “Now tell me about Iman; tell me about faith.”

  • Iman is the Arabic word for faith, that is the beliefs held by Muslims (take care to avoid mixing this with imam – a mosque leader

The Messenger of God replied, “Faith means that you have faith in God, His angels, His books, His messengers, and the Last Day, and that you have faith in divine destiny, both its good and its evil.”

  • Notice the singularity of God and plurality of the others

Again, the man said, “You have spoken the truth.”

He then said, “Now tell me about Ihsan, doing what is good and perfect.”

The Messenger of God replied, “Doing what is good and perfect means that you should worship God as if you see Him. Even if you do not see Him, He sees you.”

  • ihsan refers to the living out of the faith (iman), that is living a good and perfect life
  • link the key way of living to iman, and in particular the first belief, the belief in one God
  • this worship is not just about prayers at the mosque, God is watching you so it is an all the time worship, it is a whole way of living

Then the man said, “Tell me about the Hour”

The Messenger of God replied, “On this issue, I know nothing more than you do.”

The man said, “Then tell me about its marks.”

The Messenger of God said, “The slave girl will give birth to her mistress, and you will see the barefoot, the naked, the poor, and the shepherds competing with each other in making tall buildings.”

  • The point about these two signs is that they show the world ‘turned on its head’ as the end approaches, though it might be best to avoid too much depth here

Then the man went away. After I had waited for a long time, the Prophet said to me, “Do you know who the questioner was, ‘Umar?”

I replied, “God and His messenger know best.”

The Prophet said, “He was Gabriel. He came to teach you your religion.”

  • After the man leaves, there would undoubtedly have been questions from Umar, but he respectfully waits for the Prophet to speak, who then reveals who the man was, thus explaining why the encounter was with a familiar figure – link to the initial revelation to Muhammad on Mt Hira
  • Gabriel came to teach the three aspects of the religion; Islam (practice), iman (faith) and ihsan (living a good life)
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