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Summary of question
What is the tale of the Gharānīq
question
In the tradition of the Gharānīq, it has been mentioned that the Prophet (s) was deceived by Satan and he mentioned the idols of the pre Islamic era. If this story doesn’t possess any historical accuracy, then where has it come from?
Concise answer

The tradition of the Gharānīq is a fabrication created by the enemies of Islam in order to weaken the position of the Quran and the Prophet (s). Towards these ends, the following story has been created: The Prophet was busy reciting Surah Al-Najm when he reached the verse that said: أَ فَرَءَيْتُمُ اللَّاتَ وَ الْعُزَّى‏ وَ مَنَوةَ الثَّالِثَةَ الْأُخْرَى, (Have you considered Lāt and ‘Uzzā? And Manāt, the third one?). When he reached this part Satan caused him to recite the following words: ‘تلك الغرانيق العلى، و ان شفاعتهن لترتجى’, which mean: These are beautiful and lofty birds and there is hope of intercession from them. At this point, the Prophet prostrated and everyone else did the same. Then the Angel Gabriel descended and told the Prophet that he had not brought down those two verses and that they were the insinuations of Satan.

There is a large body of evidence that shows this tradition as having been a fabrication and all of the Islamic researchers, both from the Shia and the Sunni, have considered this tradition as being such.

Detailed Answer

In some books of the Ahl al-Sunnah, there are strange traditions which narrate the following story: The Prophet was busy reciting the Surah of Al-Najm when he reached the verse that said: أَ فَرَءَيْتُمُ اللَّاتَ وَ الْعُزَّى‏ وَ مَنَوةَ الثَّالِثَةَ الْأُخْرَى, (Have you considered Lat and ‘Uzza? And Manat, the third one?)[1]. When he reached this part Satan caused him to recite the following words: ‘تلك الغرانيق العلى، و ان شفاعتهن لترتجى’, which means: These are beautiful and lofty birds and there is hope of intercession from them.[2]

At this time, the polytheists became overjoyed and said: Up until now, Muhammad had never spoken of our gods in a positive fashion. At this point, the Prophet prostrated and they also did the same. Then the Angel Gabriel descended and told the Prophet that he had not brought down those two verses and that they were the insinuations of Satan. It was at this time that the verses of: (وَ ما أَرْسَلْنا مِنْ قَبْلِكَ مِنْ رَسُولٍ وَ لا نَبِيٍّ ...) were revealed![3]

Although some people who were inimical to Islam attempted to play on this story and even added certain embellishments to it, history has solidly shown that this was a fabricated tradition. Furthermore, it is apparent that this tradition was created in order to weaken the position of the Quran as the word of God, and the position of the Prophet (s) as His messenger. There are several proofs showing the fabricated status of this tradition and we will mention these below:

1- According to researchers, the narrators of this tradition are weak and unreliable. It’s attribution to Ibn ʿAbbās is also a matter of uncertainty. According to Muḥammad Ibn Isḥāq, this tradition is the fabrication of the Zanadiqah (atheists) and he has also written a book on this subject.[4]

2- Numerous traditions have been narrated in various books on the revelation of Surah Najm and how the Prophet (s) and the rest of the Muslims prostrated upon reciting it. However, not one of these traditions mentions the story of the Gharānīq and this shows that the other part of the tradition was added during a later time.[5]

3- The beginning verses of Surah Najm explicitly counter any such claims by saying: ‘By the star when it sets: Your companion has neither gone astray, nor gone amiss. Nor does he speak out of [his own] desire: it is just a revelation that is revealed [to him],’[6] This verse very clearly destroys the fabricated addition of the Gharānīq.

4- All the verses which follow the aforementioned verse contain only words against the idols: ‘That, then, will be an unfair division! These are but names which you have coined—you and your fathers—for which Allah has not sent down any authority. They follow nothing but conjectures and the desires of the [lower] soul, while there has already come to them the guidance from their Lord.’[7]

In light of such severe censure against idolatry, how is it possible that words of praise could have been mentioned just a few verses beforehand? In addition, God has mentioned in the Quran that he has protected his book from all distortion and alteration: ‘Indeed We have sent down the Reminder, and indeed We will preserve it.’[8]

5- The Prophet’s (s) opposition against idolatry was one of a very severe and uncompromising nature; it continued from the beginning of his life until the very end. Even under the strain of the severest hardship, the Prophet (s) was never willing to compromise with the issue of idolatry and he showed this attitude through his actions. With such a precedent, how can anyone believe that he would have mentioned such words?

6- Even those who aren’t of the Muslim faith consider the Prophet (s) as an aware and intellectual individual; through the force of his ideas and character, he was able to transform the world, both during his lifetime, as well as after his passing. Would such an individual speak words supporting idolatry and idol worship? No rational individual can accept such a thing from such a pivotal historical figure.

It is clear that the supposed tradition of the Gharānīq is a fabrication created by the enemies of Islam and spread by people without sufficient knowledge; it was designed to weaken the position of the Quran and the Prophet (s). Virtually all of the Islamic researchers have rejected the validity of this tradition and they have considered it the work of forgers.[9]

Some commentators have postulated some possibilities for this tradition but these would only be considered valid if the tradition itself was valid. What they have mentioned is that the Prophet (s) would at times pause in between verses in order that the people could absorb what had just been recited. In between one of these pauses, after the verse of أَ فَرَأَيْتُمُ اللَّاتَ وَ الْعُزَّى وَ مَناةَ الثَّالِثَةَ الْأُخْرى had been recited, one of the polytheists recited these words as a way of mocking the Prophet (s) and confusing the people. In spite of this, the following verse answered them in full and condemned the practice of idolatry.[10]

Some individuals desired to show the Prophet (s) as being compromising towards idolatry in order to attract and absorb the polytheists into the Muslim faith, but this is also incorrect as history has shown. In history, we see many examples where the polytheists attempted to persuade the Prophet (s) to be lenient towards their practices and they were even willing to pay very large amounts of money and make the Prophet (s) their tribal ruler, but the Prophet (s) refused all of these offers and never wavered in his position against idolatry.[11]

 


[1] Surah Najm, Verses 19 and 20.

[2] Gharaniq is the plural form of Ghurnuq which is a white or black sea bird; this term also has other meanings (Ghamus al-Lughah).

[3] Under the verse at hand, in the Tafsir of Al-Mizan, this tradition has been narrated by a group of memorizers of the Quran affiliated with the Sunni school, Ibn Hajar being one of them.

[4] Tafsir Kabir, Fakhr Razi, vol. 23, p. 50.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Surah Najm, Verse 1, 2, 3, and 4. (وَ ما يَنْطِقُ عَنِ الْهَوى‏ إِنْ هُوَ إِلَّا وَحْيٌ يُوحى‏.)

[7] Surah Najm, Verse 23. (إِنْ هِيَ إِلَّا أَسْماءٌ سَمَّيْتُمُوها أَنْتُمْ وَ آباؤُكُمْ ما أَنْزَلَ اللَّهُ بِها مِنْ سُلْطانٍ إِنْ يَتَّبِعُونَ إِلَّا الظَّنَّ وَ ما تَهْوَى الْأَنْفُسُ وَ لَقَدْ جاءَهُمْ مِنْ رَبِّهِمُ الْهُدى‏.)

[8] Surah Hijr, Verse 9: (إِنَّا نَحْنُ نَزَّلْنَا الذِّكْرَ وَ إِنَّا لَهُ لَحافِظُونَ)

[9] Majma’ al-Bayan, Tafsir Fakhr Razi, Qurtubi, Fi Dhilal, Tafsir Safi, Ruh al-Ma’ani and Al-Mizan and other tafsir books under the verses being discussed.

[10] Tafsir Qurtubi, vol. 7, p. 4474. Tabarsi has also mentioned it as a possibility in Majma’ al-Bayan.

[11] Quoted from Tafsir Nemouneh, vol. 14, pp. 142-145.

 

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