Is the story of Bahira the monk authentic?
Mohamad Mostafa Nassar
Is it permissible to quote the story of the Prophet ﷺ meeting Baḥirā, the Christian monk, on his journey to Syria with his uncle Abū Ṭālib? This appears in sīrah books but some have stated it is unauthentic.
بسم الله الرحمن الرحیم
It is permissible.
Ḥadīth experts and sīrah scholars have mixed views regarding this narration. Some scholars are of the view that the narration is not established. Scholars who are inclined to this include: Ḥāfiẓ Dhahabī (d. 748/1348) (Mīzān, 2:581; Tārīkh al-Islām, 1:502; Siyar, S1:57; Talkhīṣ al-Mustadrak, 4229), Mawlānā Shiblī Nuʿmānī (d. 1332/1914) (al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyyah, 1:180), Sayyid Sulaymān Nadwī (d. 1373/1953) (Takmilah, 3:762) and Mawlānā Abū al-Ḥasan ʿAlī Nadwī (d. 1420/1999) (al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyyah, p.164).
However, the majority of ḥadīth and sīrah experts regard the incident as established, although most state that the mention in most narrations of Abū Bakr (d. 13/634) (may Allah be pleased with him) sending Bilāl (d. 20/640-1) (may Allah be pleased with him) with the Prophet ﷺ is an error most probably from a transmitter,
as Bilal (may Allah be pleased with him) was not born or was extremely young at the time and Abū Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) was also young. Mawlānā Rashīd Aḥmad Gangohī (d. 1323/1905) suggests that perhaps Bilāl is a reference to another Bilāl (al-Kawkab al-Durrī, 4:384), however, this is unsubstantiated.
It is worth noting that the narration of Musnad al-Bazzār mentions “a man” instead of “Bilāl” (Zād al-Maʿād, 1:75; the published version of Musnad al-Bazzār, 3096 has a blank space here, the blank space can be understood from what is mentioned in Zād al-Maʿād).
Scholars who accept that the story is established include: Imam Ibn Isḥāq (d. 150/767-8) (Sīrah, p.73), Imam Ibn Saʿd (d. 230/845) (al-Ṭabaqāt al-Kubrā, 1:97,122), Imam Abū Nuʿaym (d. 430/1038) (Dalāʾil al-Nubuwwah, p.168),
Imam Bayhaqī (d. 458/1066) (Dalāʾil al-Nubuwwah, 2:24), Ḥāfiẓ Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr (d. 463/1071) (al-Istīʿāb, 1:34), Imam Nawawī (d. 676/1277) (Tahdhīb al-Asmāʾ, 1:24), Ḥāfiẓ Mizzī (d. 742/1341) (Tahdhīb al-Kamāl, 1:189), Ḥāfiẓ Ibn al-Qayyim (d. 751/1350) (Hidāyat al-Ḥayārā, 2:407; Zād al-Maʿād, 1:75), Ḥāfiẓ Ibn Kathīr (d. 774/1373) (al-Bidāyah wa al-Nihāyah, 2:229, 283),
Ḥāfiẓ Ibn Ḥajar (d. 852/1149) (al-Iṣābah, 1:475; Fatḥ al-Bārī, 8:716), Ḥāfiẓ Sakhāwī (d. 902/1497) (al-Maqāṣid al-Ḥasanah, p.122), Ḥāfiẓ Suyūṭī (d. 911/1505) (al-Khaṣāʾiṣ, 1:141), Shāh Walī Allah Muḥaddith Dehlawī (d. 1176/1762) (Qurrat al-ʿAynayn, p.106 as cited in al-Yawāqīt al-Gāliyah, 4:373), Mawlānā Rashīd Aḥmad Gangohī (d. 1323/1905) and many others.
Further, scholars who regard the narration as ṣaḥīḥ (sound) include: Imam Ḥākim (d. 405/1014) (al-Mustadrak, 4229), ʿAllāmah Jazarī (d. 833/1429) (Mirqāt al-Mafātīḥ, 9:3818) and Shaykh Nāsir al-Dīn al-Albānī (d. 1420/1999) (Mishkāt, 5918; Ṣaḥīḥ al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyyah, 1:29; Difāʿ ʿan al-Ḥadīth al-Nabawī, p.62). Scholars who regard the narration as ḥasan (agreeable) include: Imam Tirmidhī (d. 279/892) (Sunan, 3620) and Imam Bagawī (d. 516/1122) (Maṣābīḥ al-Sunnah, 4634).
This appears to be the preferred view. Ḥāfiẓ Ibn Ḥajar describes the chain of Sunan al-Tirmidhī as strong (Fatḥ al-Bārī, 8:716) and suggests in al-Iṣābah (1:475) that all its transmitters are thiqah (trustworthy). Shaykh al-Islām Ibn Taymiyah (d. 728/1328) also appears inclined that the story is established in principle (al-Jawāb al-Ṣaḥīḥ, 6:340)
although he suggests a particular detail in the story regarding the cloud providing shade is not definitively ṣaḥīḥ (sound), though he does not reject it either (this is the most authentic narration in relation to the cloud providing shade, see al-Bidāyah wa al-Nihāyah, 2:285; al-Maqāṣid al-Ḥasanah, p.123).
Our respected teacher Muḥaddith al-ʿAṣr Shaykh al-Ḥadīth Mawlānā Muḥammad Yūnus Jownpūrī (d. 1438/2017) is also inclined to the ḥadīth being established and has analysed it in detail. In addition to the aforementioned error of the mention of Abū Bakr and Bilāl (may Allah be pleased with them),
Shaykh suggests that the word فبايعوه (they pledged allegiance to him) as it appears in Sunan al-Tirmidhī (3620), Muṣannaf Ibn Abī Shaybah (36541), al-Mustadrak (4229) and Dalāʾil al-Nubuwwah (p.170) is an error. Instead, the correct word is تابعوه (they [the seven people] followed him [the monk]) as transmitted in Tārīkh Baghdad (10:252), Musnad al-Bazzār (3096) and Dalāʾil al-Nubuwwah, (2:24) of Imam Bayhaqī.
Ḥāfiẓ Dimyāṭī (d. 705/1306) has also alluded to this (al-Yawāqīt al-Gāliyah, 4:372).
Note: The narration in Sunan Tirmidhī and other ḥadīth collections do not mention the name Baḥīrā, they simply refer to a monk (al-Īṣābah, 1:475). However, the name is mentioned in the sīrah books.
Allah knows best