We learn from hadiths that black camels and black dogs are of the devil. Can you explain it?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

Such expressions represent a tradition that existed in the Arab society of that day. Today, the word “devil” is used for cunning, harmful, deceitful, insidious people or living beings. We think we are familiar with expressions such as “he is a little devil”.

In our opinion, “black dog” or “black camel” was like the symbolic name of cunning, deceitful and harmful animals in the custom of that day. Our Prophet (pbuh) showed that he was not away from the people by using those symbolic expressions, that he spoke like one of them and that he shared their feelings. Otherwise, there is no doubt that those animals are not really devils.

We see that people have used metaphorical expressions throughout history. Not only literary figures, but also philosophers and scholars have used the art of simile and benefited from it.

One of the most beautiful expressions explaining the issue in Turkish is the saying there is no mistake in similes (please excuse the expression). If you want to explain an issue with similes and metaphors, you do not care whether the example you give is wrong; you care the message it will give because the society you live in will understand it better and you will express your purpose better.

For example, you can say, “eggs in moonlight” about an expression that has nothing to do with the issue. Listeners concentrate only on the message it gives, regardless of the meaning of it.

It is definitely quite natural for the Prophet (pbuh) as a person who grew up in that society to use the expressions and similes they use.

It was the custom of the Arabs to call everything that was excessive and stubborn devil; they also likened things that were ugly in shape and appearance to devils. They likened beautiful things to angels.

Thus, the thing by which bad and evil things were most symbolized was the devil, and the thing to which good and nice things were likened was an angel. We can give the following hadith as an example of the use of the devil as a symbol:

The Prophet (pbuh) likened the state of a person whose hair care was not good to the devil; thus, he expressed that it was not good to be in such a state.

For example, a man with messy hair and beard entered into the presence of the Prophet; the Prophet (pbuh) gestured at the hair of the man, ordering him to take care of his hair. The man left, straightened his hair and beard, and returned. The Prophet (pbuh) said, “Is this state better than one of you coming here with messy hair like the devil?” (Muwatta, Sha’r, 7)

As seen in the hadith, with such analogies that everyone was familiar with, the Prophet stated that it was not good to have messy hair, by likening it to the devil.

Another example is related to a saying of Aisha (r.a.) our mother: She said, “Sometimes a month passed. Then another month and another month passed but nothing was cooked in the house of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh). (Her nephew Urwa narrates:) O aunt! What did you live on? She said, “We lived on these two black things: dates and water.”

As it is seen, water is mentioned as black along with dates in the narration. Aisha (r.a.) called water black. It is obvious that the water is not black. However, it was the culture of that time that metaphorically called water black. If that metaphor is a mistake, it is the mistake of the widespread acceptance of that time, not of Aisha (r.a.).

If the issue is not understood well, some similes, parables and proverbs in hadiths can be considered wrong and hadiths can be criticized. However, if there is a mistake in them, their source is the customs, traditions and understandings; they are not the mistakes of hadiths.

Questions on Islam

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