Did Abu Talib die as an unbeliever or did he hide his belief by acting as if he was not a believer?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

It is stated that verse 113 of the chapter of at-Tawba was revealed about Abu Talib’s belief. According to what is stated in the narrations of many hadith scholars, primarily Imam Bukhari, and in tafsir books, the incident occurred as follows:   

Musayyab bin Hazn narrates: When Abu Talib was about to die, the Messenger of Allah came to him. He and found Abu Jahl bin Hisham and Abdullah b. Abi Umayya next to his uncle. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said to Abu Talib, “O uncle! Say, ‘La ilaha illallah’. I will witness for you with that word and intercede. Say that blessed word.”

Abu Jahl and Abdullah b. Abi Umayya dissuaded Abu Talib by saying, “O Abu Talib! Are you going to abandon the nation of Abdulmuttalib?”

The Messenger of Allah constantly offered him to say kalima at-tawhid. Abu Jahl and Abdullah b. Abi Umayya repeated the same statement. Finally, Abu Talib said,

“I follow the nation of Abdulmuttalib.” He avoided saying La ilaha illallah.  

The Messenger of Allah said, “O uncle! By Allah, know that I will persistently beg pardon and mercy for you until I am forbidden to do so.”

Thereupon, God Almighty sent down the following verse:

“It is not fitting, for the Prophet and those who believe, that they should pray for forgiveness for Pagans, even though they be of kin, after it is clear to them that they are companions of the Fire.”(1)

Besides, according to what is stated in tafsir books, primarily Qurtubi, and sound hadith books, verse 56 of the chapter of al-Qasas was also revealed about Abu Talib’s belief. The verse in question is as follows:  

“It is true thou wilt not be able to guide every one, whom thou lovest; but Allah guides those whom He will and He knows best those who receive guidance.”(2)

Let us have a look at some hadiths reported in Sahihu Muslim to clarify the issue:

Abbas, the Prophet’s uncle, asked,

“O Messenger of Allah! Abu Talib really protected you and helped you. Did his efforts become useful for him?”

The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) answered as follows:

“Yes. I found him in the deep waves of Hell and placed him in a shallow place.”(3)

Abu Said al-Khudri narrates another hadith regarding the issue: The issue of Abu Talib was mentioned in the presence of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh). He stated the following about his paternal uncle:  

“It is hoped that my intercession will benefit him on the Day of Judgment and he will be put in a shallow place in Hell. Fire will reach his heels and his brain will boil because of it.”(4)

“The one to be tormented the least among the people of Hell is Abu Talib. He will put on two pairs of shoes; his brain will boil because of them.”(5)

Tafsir and hadith scholars as well as fiqh and kalam scholars have different explanations regarding the issue; the scholars other than Ahl as-Sunnah have different explanations too.

Mentioning the hadith in sound hadith books stating that the Prophet (pbuh) offered Abu Talib to say kalima at-tawhid but that he did not say it at the time of his death as evidence, most of Ahl as-Sunnah scholars state that Abu Talib died without believing. Abu Hanifa mentions the same hadith and says, “Abu Talib, who was the paternal uncle of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) and father of Hz. Ali, died as an unbeliever.” (6)

It is stated in the hadith we reported from Muslim above that the Prophet (pbuh) placed Abu Talib in a shallow place in Hell. Hadith scholars said, “The Prophet (pbuh) did it on the night of Miraj (ascension) while visiting Hell or he will do it on the Day of Judgment.”

Some scholars who say that Abu Talib died as an unbeliever show a hadith that Ibn Ishaq reported from Ibn Abbas as evidence. According to that hadith, when Abu Talib was on his deathbed, the Prophet offered him to say kalima at-tawhid many times but Abu Talib said, “I do not say it because I do not want Qurayshis say, ‘Abu Talib was afraid of death; therefore, he said kalima at-tawhid’.” However, when Hz. Abbas saw that Abu Talib’s lips moved, he put his ears close to his mouth; then, he turned to the Messenger of Allah and said, “O my brother’s son! My brother said what you wanted him to say.” However, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said, “I have not heard them.”

Nevertheless, hadith scholars refute this narration since its chain of narrators is weak and it is contrary to sound narrations.

Shiite scholars, who accept this hadith and the hadiths mentioning the help and protection the Prophet (pbuh) received from Abu Talib throughout his life and that are reported only from Ahl al-Bayt sound, say that Hz. Ali’s father Abu Talib died as a believer.(7)

Badiuzzaman Said Nursi answers the question “What is the most authentic narration concerning the faith of the Prophet’s uncle, Abu Talib?” as follows: “The Shi‘a agree that he believed, while most of the Sunnis do not agree.” Then, he makes the following explanation considering the narrations about Abu Talib’s belief and his state in the hereafter:

But what occurs to my heart is this: Abu Talib loved most earnestly, not the Most Noble Messenger’s (Upon whom be blessings and peace) messengership, but his person and his self. That most earnest personal love and tenderness surely will not go for nothing. Yes, Abu Talib loved Almighty God’s Noble Beloved sincerely and protected and supported him; it was because of feelings like shame and tribal solidarity that he did not believe in him in acceptable fashion, not out of denial and obduracy. If due to this he goes to Hell, God Almighty may create a sort of particular Paradise for him, in reward for his good actions. As He sometimes creates the spring during winter, and for people in prison by means of sleep transforms the prison into a palace, so too He may turn a particular Hell into a sort of particular Paradise.”(8)

As for the issue of Abu Talib’s resurrection after death, the Prophet’s telling him to believe and his believing, there are various narrations about it. For instance, Qurtubi states the following in Tafsiru Ibn Kathir:

“It is not ratioanally and religiously impossible for the resurrection of the Prophet’s mother and father, and the Prophet’s offering them to believe. Moreover, I heard something like this: Allah resurrected Abu Talib, the Prophet’s uncle, and he believed.”(9)

However, we should state that it would be an incomplete evaluation of the issue to mention two narrations and to think that Abu Talib believed after being resurrected by overlooking the sound sources some of which we have mentioned above.  


1. at-Tawba, 113; for the hadith, see Bukhari, Manaqibul Ansar: 40; Tafsiru Sura 9; Nashat, Janaiz: 2; Musnad, 5:438; Tafsiru Ibn Kathir,2:393; Tafsiru Qurtubi, 8:272.
2. For the interpretation of the verse, see Bukhari, Tafsiru Sura 28; Tafsiru Qurtubi,13:299.
3. Muslim, Iman: 358.
4. Muslim, Iman: 360.
5. Muslim, Iman: 363.
6. al-Fiqhul-Akbar, p. 108
7. Alusi, Ruhul-Maani, 11:33.
8. Mektubat, p. 362.
9. Tafsiru Ibn Kathir, 2:374.

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