Is it not possible for prophets to have made personal mistakes? If prophets make personal mistakes called zallah, what are they?

Details of the Question

Secondly, how appropriate is it to criticize prophets related to their personal views outside religion? If we accept that they can make personal mistakes, is it right in terms of logic and justice not to be allowed to criticize them? For, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) told a farmer not to graft trees but then gave up his view upon the request of the farmer.

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

Firstly, when prophets are in a position to choose between two things and if they choose the good one instead of the better one, it can be regarded as a zallah for them. However, this mistake is not a mistake like ours. For, what he chooses is good. It can be said – we can definitely not say – that when a prophet is in a position to make a preference like that, he should have chosen the better one; nobody can call this preference a sin.    

Let us try to clarify the issue with an example: Think of a person who wants read the whole Quran (to do a khatm) However, in how many days should he finish this khatm? There are two alternatives in front of him: The first one: To read the whole Quran by meditating in ten days by thinking about the meaning and going deep in the Quran. The second one: To read the whole Quran in seven days because it means we are more eager toward the speech of our Lord. Then, he decides to read the whole Quran in ten days and starts.   

Suppose that the consent of God Almighty was for seven days. However, he decided to read it in ten days. The consent of God Almighty is the better one. However, what he did is at least the good one. Therefore, there is no sin regarding the issue; how can one say to him, “You have made a mistake; you have committed a sin.” The only thing that can be said about him is that he was busy with something good though the better one was available. As for attributing sins to him, it is definitely not right. 

The state of the deeds done by prophets based on their ijtihad and preference is like that. Then, how can it be permissible to attribute sins to them?

Secondly, each prophet is a mujtahid of mujtahids. They make ijtihad and express their views related to the issues – whether they are related to decrees, their personal lives and social life – about which they do not receive any messages from God Almighty.  Some of their ijtihads could be exactly what is demanded by Allah while others might not be exactly so. However, all of their ijtihads are within the framework of what Allah wants. If their ijtihads are not exactly in compliance with divine purpose, they are regarded to have made a minor mistake. For, what they need to do is to act %100 in compliance with divine purpose. However, their mistakes in ijtihad are never regarded as sins and do not violate their innocence; therefore, they cannot be questioned for them. 

Thirdly, we use the word slip for them. Slip does not mean to fall and to remain on the ground. Those who are always in sajdah do not fall on to the ground. There might be a slight stumbling in a slip but it does not mean to fall on to the ground; therefore, something like that cannot be called a sin.  

How can we conform the Prophet’s saying "Only truth comes out from this mouth" to his saying, "I am a human being" related to the result after his advice about grafting date palms?   

Two hadiths being opposite to each other is mentioned in the question. The first hadith is as follows: "Nothing but truth comes out from this mouth." The Prophet pointed at his blessed mouth and said, "Write! By Allah in whose hand my soul is, nothing but truth comes out from this mouth."

This hadith is narrated in many sound hadith books including Bukhari and Muslim. The narrator of this hadith is Abdullah Ibn Amr Ibn As. He wrote down every word the Prophet (pbuh) uttered and did not miss any. Abu Hurayra stated the following about his narrating more hadiths than him: "I did not write hadiths down but Abdullah Ibn Amr did. Therefore, he might have recorded more hadiths than me."

The first hadith expresses this fact. Abdullah bin Amr said, "They said to me, ‘You write down everything the Prophet utters but he is a human being. There may be some moments when he is very tolerant and when he is angry. He might say some things that he does not want to say – God forbid – but you write down everything without making any discrimination.’" Abdullah said, “Thereupon, I stopped writing. When I met the Prophet, I said to him, "O Messenger of Allah! They say so and so." He said, "Write! By Allah in whose hand my soul is, nothing but truth comes out from this mouth."

The other hadith is as follows: When the Prophet came to Madinah, he saw that the people of Madinah were grafting date trees. He said, "I do not think this grafting will change the result." That is, he did not say, "Grafting is definitely of no use." He said it would not have any effect on the result. Then, they gave up grafting. They could not get good products the next year. Who knows? Predestination. Perhaps there would be no fruits that year. Then, he said, "You know your worldly affairs well." It is not right to understand it as "You know better than me."

Probably, the Prophet (pbuh) meant this: "You are grafting them but nothing except what Allah wishes will happen." The next year, there were no fruits. Olive trees yield a lot of olives one year and very few olives the next year. It was probably the year when the trees yielded almost no fruits. He looked at the farmers and saw that they could not understand the wisdom behind his words. He said, "You know your worldly affairs well." That is, he pointed out that it was too early for them to understand an issue that they would learn by experience. 

The second issue is that in the Era of Jahiliyya, people attributed the real effect to causes. For instance, we see in Bukhari that they said, "Naw’ (a star) gave us rain." That is, they believed that when a certain star appeared, clouds would form and that star would give them rain.

The Prophet (pbuh) stated the following regarding the issue:

"Those who said rain came down because a star appeared or fell became unbelievers. Those who said Allah sent rain became believers."

Yes, a congregation believing that rain comes from Allah like other things is a congregation of believers. The other group attributes rain to causes as they do with other things. Thus, they deny Allah and become unbelievers. It was very common to attribute things to causes in that era. It aimed to eliminate this belief and to state that He is one both in deity and in lordship.

Yes, Allah is one as a being; He does not need assistants in His activities. It is Allah who gives rain whether the star appears or not. However, He usually sends rain together with a cause or appearance of a star so that people will get ready for the rain. He might not send rain even in that case. Yes, He can do whatever He wishes. The Prophet wanted to make people believe in this fact, that is, the fact that causes and means did not have real effects and that everything depended on Allah, who creates causes; therefore, he demolished everything that people attributed to things and causes and made them see Allah, who has endless power.    

Another incident:

Once, a Bedouin entered into the presence of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) and said,

"O Messenger of Allah! My camel got scabies because it was tied next to the camels that had scabies."

He said:

"That camel caught it from the one that had scabies. What about the one that had scabies? From whom did it catch scabies?" (Bukhari, Istisqa 27; Muslim, Iman 125; Abu Dawud, Tibb 22)

He does not deny that the illness is infectious. Otherwise, he would not have warned people as follows:

"If you hear of an outbreak of plague in a land, do not enter it; but if the plague breaks out in a place while you are in it, do not leave that place." (Bukhari, Tibb 30; Muslim, Salam 98-100)

In fact, the Prophet (pbuh) fought against the mentality of Jahiliyya. He did not ignore causes. According to him, causes have a wisdom behind. He even indicated that viruses and microbes could cause illnesses. However, causes did not mean everything. It was an obligation and duty to act in accordance with causes and it was oneness to believe that the result was in the hand of Allah.  In order to show this subtle point, the Prophet (pbuh) said, "That camel caught it from the one that had scabies. What about the one that had scabies? From whom did it catch scabies?" Thus, he settled the issue on the ground of transfer and chain by proving that transfer and chain were wrong. That is, the camel got it from another camel and that one from another one. Well, from whom did the first camel get it? Consequently, he made them say, "Allah". In that case, things that happened based on causes afterwards happened based on the order and will of Allah first. It is Allah who created everything. Thus, the Prophet (pbuh) gave a severe blow to polytheism related to the oneness of lordship, warned the spirits against polytheism and attracted our attention to a very important issue.

There was a belief about grafting in the Era of Jahiliyya: when you grafted the date palm, it would yield tenfold; when you did not graft it, you would get none. There was a secret polytheism in it. It looked as if grafting was the only cause for the dates. The Prophet eliminated this wrong understanding and told them that causes were only veils of Allah’s majesty. He told the Companions about it within the boundaries of their logic. First, he gave them a lesson. When they stood before him with a certain understanding, he said to them, "You know your worldly affairs well." Is there a serious compliment here or a warning because they could not realize the fact in the sense that he wanted? It is worth thinking. 

The third issue: Every word that the Prophet (pbuh) utters is like educating the whole life. If he had intervened in every point of their lives directly with the purpose of decreeing, for instance, if he had said, ‘make the water flow like this, drink water like this, do such and such a thing like that, when you cut a tree, cut it from the bottom part, when you strike the iron, strike like this, put it in the oven like that, etc.’, they and we would have regarded those orders as obligatory and would do them like that up to Doomsday. It was possible for him to receive tenfold or a hundred fold from one grain of wheat with the information given to him by Allah. It was possible for a citrus fruit as big as a fist to become as big as a melon or water melon as a result of experience and grafting. Thus, he gave them the confidence to increase their knowledge, practice and experience.  

The fourth issue is very important. God Almighty gave human beings the right to intervene in natural shari’ah. Since man is the vicegerent of Allah on earth, he will have some interventions in the things that Allah created based on some conditions. This is the purpose of the will given to man and a result of man being the vicegerent of the Creator.

However, even regarding this issue, they would have followed the rule imposed by the Prophet (pbuh) and say, “He said, ‘do not graft’ and we did not graft, and he said ‘graft’ and we grafted. Thus, the sources of human interest and knowledge would have lain fallow; their accumulation of experience would have been wasted; and the person who was sent with the duty of teaching what is natural would have opposed what is natural. However, when the Prophet (pbuh) said something, he said it in a way that would be valid up to Doomsday. The laws he imposed are valid up to Doomsday. Therefore, he had to say definite things that would not cause misunderstanding so that everybody would refer to him with confidence. Therefore, true words had to come out of that mouth all the time. True words came out of that mouth all the time. Nothing but truth came out from that mouth.

The fifth issue: The Prophet (pbuh) was a human being too; he knew what human freedom meant very well; if man is not free, he is not a human being. An enslaved person cannot be called a human being; a person in a dungeon cannot be called a human being. Yes man is a human being with his will. Will is a very important issue. Will is such an important issue that it makes the place where it falls pregnant with a big tree just like a seed that falls into the ground. The Prophet did not chain their wills. First, he tried them; then, he said, "It is appropriate for you to act like that for the result and fruit of your will and even for the fruits in the future."

He told them about that fact by saying, "You know your worldly affairs well." What he told them was nothing but the truth.

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