What does ‘muhaymin’ mean?


In discussing whether or not the Qur’an affirms the textual reliability of the previous scriptures, Muslims often appeal to ‘muhaymin’ in Q 5:48, claiming that the Qur’an as a ‘muhaymin’ is acting as a ‘quality control’, correcting the errors of those scriptures.

But is this what ‘muhaymin’ means? Have a read below and share your thoughts, either on the original post or here on BT 🙂

https://steelmanapologetics.com/al-muhaymin-the-textual…/



Categories: Islam

37 replies

  1. Hi Richard

    Muhaymin is one of God’s 99 names meaning “watching over,” in control of.” The use of the quadrilateral verb huymana is meant to emphasize that the Qur’an is “in control of” and the determinant judge in deciding what’s genuine and what’s not in earlier scriptures.

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    • Many thanks Paul – much of your statement is what I challenge in the article. Have you any thoughts on the things I mention, e.g. the different potential meanings of the word, different possible roots and backgrounds, and especially the contextual meaning of the word? I’m not sure from your comment why you conclude ‘The use of the quadrilateral verb huymana is meant to emphasize that the Qur’an is ‘in control of’ and the determinant judge in deciding what’s genuine…’? Why does it mean this as opposed to ‘guarding’ ‘watching over’ in the different sense that I propose fits better into the context?

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      • You should consult the hadith for clarification of Quranic text. In Islamic jurisprudence and in exegesis the hadith is given weight only second to the Quran but is consulted for clarification and giving details to a certain commandment ie the number of prayers and the mode of execution.

        These are examples from Bukhari.

        1. Volume 9, Book 92, Number 460:
        Narrated Abu Huraira:
        The people of the Book used to read the Torah in Hebrew and then explain it in Arabic to the Muslims.
        Allah’s Apostle said (to the Muslims). “Do not believe the people of the Book, nor disbelieve them, but say, ‘We believe in Allah and whatever is revealed to us, and whatever is revealed to you.’ ”

        2. Volume 9, Book 92, Number 461 :
        Narrated Ubaidullah:
        Ibn ‘Abbas said, “Why do you ask the people of the scripture about anything while your Book (Quran) which has been revealed to Allah’s Apostle is newer and the latest? You read it pure, undistorted and unchanged, and Allah has told you that the people of the scripture (Jews and Christians) changed their scripture and distorted it, and wrote the scripture with their own hands and said, ‘It is from Allah,’ to sell it for a little gain. Does not the knowledge which has come to you prevent you from asking them about anything? No, by Allah, we have never seen any man from them asking you regarding what has been revealed to you!”

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      • The chain of this hadis is also not very convincing.

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      • Hi Bashar,

        This is an interesting comment – could you elaborate?

        Hi Paul,

        I agree with Ryan below that the first hadith doesn’t require textual corruption – oral corruption/concealing, very prominent Qur’anic themes, fit just as well.

        I might do a post on the second one. I’m not certain even there if he’s talking about textual corruption as opposed to oral corruption – I think the latter might still fit. It’s interesting that it doesn’t say the Qur’an is pure and the former scriptures not, but it talks about how the communities have handled them – ‘YOU [i.e. the Muslims] READ IT… [whereas] the People of the Scripture [have done x, y and z].’

        But even if it does teach textual corruption, is it not possible that Ibn Abbas, who doesn’t claim to be passing on a saying of Muhammad, is putting his own spin on what he thinks the Qur’an is teaching? The language in the middle of the hadith is effectively a summary of Qur’anic statements put together (changed it, distorted it, wrote with their own hands – what these words actually mean in Qur’anic context is debatable). Ibn Abbas then puts his additional comment on this – ‘You read [the Qur’an] pure, undistorted and unchanged’, thus implying the textual corruption of the previous scriptures by comparison.

        Additionally, unless I’m mistaken it is often thought that Hadiths are transitted according to the meaning and not the exact wording. Given how slight changes in wording can express either oral or textual corruption, is it not conceivable that this second hadith was originally ambiguous or about oral corruption, but that over time people the language unintentionally changed slightly (in the natural retelling), and people, without even thinking, phrased it slightly differently such that it suggests textual rather than oral corruption?

        All in all, because of how I read many passages of the Qur’an, it seems to be asking a lot to overturn that because of one hadith. But perhaps you also read those passages differently (though often when discussing them we just come back to this hadith anyway).

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      • Sorry Paul ignore my second comment below, I’m responding to the wrong hadith (it should be to the one brought up by Kmak below)

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      • Actually I stand by that comment! It turns out that the same Musa -> Ibrahim is in the chain of the hadith you and I are discussing, as well as the one that Kmak brought up below.

        In fairness, there are at least 4 narrations along the lines of this hadith, and 3 out of 4 of them not dependant on Ibrahim. But there is some variation in the content and the wording. Perhaps we should listen to the overall theme (the Ahl al-Kitab can’t be trusted with their scripture) rather than specific words which might imply textual corruption.

        Three of the lengthier passages come via al-Zuhri/Ibn Shihab – a shorter version via Ikrima – https://sunnah.com/bukhari:7522

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      • Also another comment – even if the hadith does prove that the Qur’an teaches textual corruption of the former scriptures, this doesn’t necessarily mean that muhaymin in Q 5:48 means this. And my reading of muhaymin in context is that it’s about guarding the previous scriptures in ensuring their rules are followed – the Jews in the passage are rebellious precisely because they have a rule in their scriptures but don’t want to enforce it. This is different from not enacting a law because it was lost generations ago. What would your contextual reading of muhaymin be here Paul?

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      • Searching at sunnah.com for مهيمن only gives you it as one of the names of Allah and as a person’s name عبد المهيمن. I don’t know if sunnah.com is a source to be trusted. Nothing in the authoritative hadith collections that clarifies what it means. Either way.

        Paul’s explanation is the pious one. Not strictly a linguistic one.

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      • Hi Bashar,

        I appreciate your comment and generally agree with it. But you mentioned some concern you had about the isnad of one of the hadith Paul shared – could you share this reflection on the isnad?

        Best wishes,

        Richard

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      • If you check the Isnad of the hadith Paul cites you’ll note a number of issues. It’s Ibn Abbas- Ubaidullah- Ibrahim – Musa bin Ismail. Ubaidillah isn’t identified further. It cannot be the Caliph Umar’a son cus he died before Zuhri was born. So who is this anonymous Ubaidullah? Another problem is that if Zuhri passed it on to Ibraham (bin said bin Ibrahim? Again not explicitly identified) he was 13 when Zuhri died. Zuhri was isolated due to illness in the later part of his life. So let’s say he could have been 10-12 years old when he heard it. That’s very young and we know that Ibn Abbas probably misremembered things due to his young age when the prophet died. Too many problems with this isnad. You need to check with the other isnads to see if they are better than this one.

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      • Hi Bashar,

        Thank you for the comment, yes that’s an interesting point about Zuhri’s age.

        Here is another chain of transmission of virtually the same hadith – http://muslimscholars.info/timeline2.php?arabic=0&head=Sahih%20Bukhari%20Book:%2052,%20Hadith:%202685:%20%3Cfont%20color=brown%3EYahya%20bin%20Yahya%20bin%20Bukayr%3C/font%3E%E2%80%94%E2%80%94%C2%BB%3Cfont%20color=purple%3Eal-Laith%20bin%20Sa%27d%3C/font%3E%E2%80%94%E2%80%94%C2%BB%3Cfont%20color=purple%3EYonus%20bin%20Yazid%20bin%20Abi%20al-Nijad%3C/font%3E%E2%80%94%E2%80%94%C2%BB%3Cfont%20color=blue%3Eal-Zuhri%3C/font%3E%E2%80%94%E2%80%94%C2%BB%3Cfont%20color=blue%3E%27Ubaydullah%20bin%20%27Abdullah%20bin%20%27Utba%3C/font%3E%E2%80%94%E2%80%94%C2%BB%3Cfont%20color=darkgreen%3Eibn%20Abbas%3C/font%3E&size=160&cyear=120&id=30399&intWidth=50&type=7&cal=AH&cond=id%20in%20(30399,20023,20475,11013,11004,17,)

        This one seems to avoid the problem of relying on the witness of a very young person. Ibn Sa’d entry on Yunus is interesting. Bashar perhaps you could help me with the Arabic?

        يونس بن يزيد الأيلي وكان حلو الحديث كثيره وليس بحجة وربما جاء بالشيء المنكر
        (Hopefully the Arabic comes through okay, it sometimes gets ruined when you post it online)
        Yūnus ibn Yazīd al-ʾyly wa-kāna ḥlw al-ḥadīth kathīrhu wa-laysa bi-ḥujjah was-rubbamā jāʾa bi-l-shayyʾi al-munkar

        Yunus ibn Yazid al-Ayli. And he was sweet/pleasant in a lot of hadith/conversation (a ‘sweet talker’?), and there is no proof/argument, and perhaps he came with something unacceptable (munkar).

        Interesting article on al-Zuhri’s reliability – http://quransmessage.com/forum/index.php?topic=898.0

        And here – http://monthly-renaissance.com/issue/content.aspx?id=574

        Al-Zuhri is also in this third similar narration – https://sunnah.com/bukhari:7523

        There is a shorter narration that bypasses al-Zuhri – https://sunnah.com/bukhari:7522

        I personally wonder if the broad gist of the Hadith is authentic, going back to Ibn Abbas, but that Al-Zuhri has lengthened it by mixing in some of his own interpretive comments. The articles I shared note that he was accused of doing this.

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      • This chain looks more good. Yunus is still a problem. In the hadith he is only identified as Yunus and no more. Who is this anonymous Yunus? If he is Yunus bin Yazid (d. 776 year of birth unknown) who got it from Zuhri (d. 741) then we have the issue we can’t be sure when Zuhri stopped passing on hadith and at what age Yunus might have heard it, was he very young for example like in the previous example? Who knows. I don’t know if the issue of giving only one name like Yunus, Ubaidullah, Musa, Ibrahim etc. is with Sunnah.com or if this is a problem in the manuscripts of Bukhari.

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    • The isnad of the short hadith is much bad. Ayoub is completely unknown and Hathem bin Wardan doesn’t fit in the right time.

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      • You do make an interesting point about whether the brief names on Sunnah.com (unless perhaps they are abbreviating?) can reliably be identified with specific individuals as is suggested on the website I posted. Perhaps one day I will look into this more. sunnah.com sometimes just gives a name like Ayoub, but sometimes it is more specific (e.g. Ali ibn X) – which makes me suspect they are not abbreviating. They do abbreviate in the English translation, leaving out most of the chain of narration – but I’m not sure why they feel the need to abbreviate in the Arabic.

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  2. This is the understanding of Ibn Taymiyyah

    We understand that the dominance of the Qur’an over the older books of scripture has many faces. So it witnessed their truthfulness, testified to the lies where they were distorted and it is a ruler by approving what God has approved and cancelling what he cancelled, so it is a witness to the historical narrations and a judge to what are the orders of Allah.

    According to Sheikh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah.

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  3. This is devastating.

    that every counter example falls to
    ” depend(s) solely or… heavily, on the debatable interpretation of a word whose root, of debatable origin, is used only twice in the entire Qur’an.”

    is evidence of this

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  4. 1. Volume 9, Book 92, Number 460:
    Narrated Abu Huraira:
    The people of the Book used to read the Torah in Hebrew and then explain it in Arabic to the Muslims.
    Allah’s Apostle said (to the Muslims). “Do not believe the people of the Book, nor disbelieve them, but say, ‘We believe in Allah and whatever is revealed to us, and whatever is revealed to you.’ ”

    This is not Muhammed is saying the Torah is corrupt.

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  5. A friend sent me these comments:

    Many points but i will try to be quick the first thing that comes to mind when I read muhaymen is ‘quality control’, but that needs not conflict with ‘guardian’ when understood as guarding the scripture in its original unadulterated form. Despite for instance the Torah ‘in the hands’ being corrupted this does not entail that the original Torah given to Moses is. And the Quran is guardian of the latter and not the former. This is especially the case when the Quran preserves Aqeeda I.e. creed of old scripture from which must conform with Quran. Aqeeda does not change but law can and has changed and this known as ‘Naskh’. So the Quran acts as quality control broadly and acts as guardian of the original uncorrupted scripture when preserving Aqeeda and some relevant news ‘akhbar’. Although other verses in the Quran already says that some Ulama of the people of the book already do change their scripture, we need not to rely on such verses to say that scripture is corrupted from an Islamic perspective. Quran is all ‘Haqq’ and whatever goes against it is ‘batel’ if there’s a creed or news that contradict what is clearly in Quran then it is corrupted. And when the Quran asks the people of the book to apply their book it means to apply what they know is the original unadulterated book when it comes to belief in Allah and his prophet and some do know it despite themselves changing it. And it can mean apply the legal ruling that you claim to subscribe to… so one is creed and the other legal ruling and both are consistent.

    Although there many other things that can be said but I hope this helps.

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  6. It seems obvious that from a close reading it the earliest Muslims clearly did not believe that the text of Holy Scriptures was unreliable- Allah would preserve his word and you have the Gospel in your hands. The debate was over if Christians and Jews changed words from their context.

    As time went on this was obviously untenable and so later sources argue for a change in word and general textual corruption.

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  7. This was compiled 232 years AH. It’s not an early source.

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