Sunday, 11 October 2015

Explanatory Comments on the Hadith of the Fly in Water

Firstly here are the Hadith under discussion:

Narrated Abu Huraira: "Allah's Apostle said, "If a fly falls in the vessel of any of you, let him dip all of it (into the vessel) and then throw it away, for in one of its wings there is a disease and in the other there is healing (antidote for it) i e. the treatment for that disease."  (Translation of Sahih Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 71, Number 673)"

Narrated Abu Huraira: "The Prophet said "If a house fly falls in the drink of anyone of you, he should dip it (in the drink), for one of its wings has a disease and the other has the cure for the disease."  (Translation of Sahih Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 54, Number 537)"

Some critics talk about a hygiene issue here. However, we must remember the immediate audience Prophet Muhammad p is addressing - people living in arid conditions where water is not plentiful. Nobody in those arid conditions discards their drinking water upon noticing a fly falling in it thus the Non-Muslim and the Muslim on the face of it are actually doing the same thing - discarding the fly and drinking the water.

The only difference here is, the Non-Muslim takes the fly out without submerging it while the Muslim submerges it before removing it. Thus the argument that this is not hygienic goes out of the window as both parties do the same thing - they drink the water. Sure, here in the West the majority of us just discard the water and pop over to the tap and get some more water. In arid environments one cannot afford such a luxury, the water has to be used.

Having said that, there has been some preliminary research which shows water in which a fly was fully submerged is safer (contains less disease causing bacteria) than the water in which it was the fly was not fully submerged (partially submerged). See here.

There's also some research which has found the fly contains antibiotic agents on its exterior. The surface of flies is the last place you would expect to find antibiotics, yet that is exactly where a team of Australian researchers is concentrating their efforts. Read more here

The interesting point for critics and Muslims to ponder upon is how did the Prophet know the fly carried a cure on its exterior? Sure, one can guess there is a disease on the fly through observing the places the fly visits but how can one guess it carries a cure (antibiotics)? Food for thought.

Here's a video on the Hadith of the Fly

If the video does not play please see here

A comment I received on this:

In addition to the above possible explanation, I wanted to make a quick comment:

A Muhadith (the one who collects and gauges the reliability of a Hadith) is not a Faqeeh (the one who makes fatwas, and develops rulings based on scripture). Muslims who do not qualify to do so, should not take their Fiqh directly from a Hadith. Consult a Faqeeh instead. Just because a Hadith is authentic, doesn't mean it necessarily should be followed by Muslims. Even the four great Imams of Fiqh ignore some authentic Hadiths when they developed their schools of thought (Hanafia, Hanbalia, Shafi'ia, Malikia).

With the above in mind, it's possible that the Hadith of the fly is one such Hadith, even if no scientific evidence to back it up existed. i.e. a Hadith that may have been authentic, but that should not be followed by Muslims because of other possible contexts (the Prophet ﷺ only making the ruling in reference to a single incident during his time for example, and not to all cases where a fly falls into a drinking vessel, amongst other possible contexts).

That said, it's interesting that you
have found some research regarding this, and I'll definitely look into it. Jazzakallahkhair.

There's another view on the subject which I came across. I don't necessarily agree with this view but I will reproduce it here. These comments are by Abdullah Rahim:

The hadith has been narrated from three companions, Abu Hurayra, Anas ibn Malik and Abu Sa’id al-Khidri (ra-hum).

In answering another question about the advantages of a particular type of date I wrote: 

The Prophet (pbuh) was a human being and as any human being had views about the affairs of the world based on his personal knowledge and experience. We are bind to follow those directives of the Prophet (pbuh) that are about or relate to our religion. As for those sayings of the Prophet (pbuh) that are entirely limited to the affairs of this world he himself has advised us to the effect that we should not treat them as divinely approved sayings.

It is narrated that when the farmers listened to the advice of the Prophet (pbuh) about not artificially fertilizing the palm trees, the trees did not produce any dates the year after. When they brought this to the attention of the Prophet (pbuh) he said: "You know better about the affairs of your world". When Al-Nawawi comments on this, he puts it under the following title: باب وجوب امتثال ما قاله شرعا دون ما ذكره صلى الله عليه وسلم من معايش الدنيا على سيبل الرأي
"The chapter on obligation of following what he (pbuh) says related to Shar' (religion) and not what he (pbuh) says about the affairs of the world as a personal opinion."
I categorise the Hadith that you mentioned as one that is about the worldly affairs too and therefore do not invest on it as divinely guided information. The prophet (pbuh) was simply advising people about a hygiene issue, not as a prophet but as an elder of the community, based on his own experience and the information that was available to him at his time and at the place of his residence.

Anyone who would criticise the prophet (pbuh) on the basis of this hadith needs to be reminded that we do not consider our prophet (pbuh) or any prophets (pbut) to be divine (godly) beings. The prophets of God were human beings who were supported by the Almighty in delivering the message of Islam to their nations. They were immune in delivering this divine message and anything related to it, but not in other matters.

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