On the authority of Abdullah ibn Masud (may Allah be pleased with him), who said: The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him), and he is the truthful and he believed, narrated to us:
Verily each one of you is brought together in his mother’s womb for forty days in the form of a drop of fluid (nutfah), then it is a clinging object for a similar period. Thereafter, it is a lump looking like it has been chewed for a similar period. The angel is then sent to him and he breathes into him the spirit. He is also commanded to issue four decrees: to record his sustenance, his life span, his deeds, and whether he will be unhappy (by entering Hell) or happy (by entering Paradise).
By Allah, other than Whom there is no deity, verily one of you performs the deeds of the people of Paradise until there is but an arm’s length between him and paradise, and that which has been recorded overtakes him, and so he acts with the actions of the people of the Hellfire and thus enters it; and verily one of you performs the actions of the people of the Hellfire, until there is but an arm’s length between him and Hellfire, and that which has been written overtakes him and so he acts with the actions of the people of Paradise and thus he enters it. [Bukhari and Muslim]
Al Qadhaah says, “The addition of the word nutfah is incorrect. It is not mentioned in any of the existing sources of the sunnah. However, it’s found in some of the books of the later writers, such as hadith number 4 of al-Nawawi’s 40 Hadith. It seems that is was mentioned to make the sentence clearer and then, afterwards people thought it was part of the hadith and included it as such.
While the original text makes it clear that fetus goes through all three stages in the first forty days, the added word gives a different meaning. According to the wrong narration, the stages take place in the first four months. It is clear in modern day science that such is not correct. This hadith also demonstrates one of the many scientific “miracles” that one finds in the hadith with authentic narrations.”
The Controversy over the Last Section of the Hadith
Some scholars say the words “By Allah” in the last section of the hadith is a statement of Abdullah ibn Masood (ra) and not a part of the original hadith. However, this last section is accepted and included because Abdullah ibn Masood (ra) may have derived the meaning from another hadith of our Prophet (saws). Additionally, Abdullah ibn Masood (ra) would not make such a statement from his own judgment as he must have learned this from the Prophet (saws) himself.
The Stages of Development
This hadith describes the beautiful stages of human development in the embryo, affirming what modern day science was only able to discover in recent times.
- The first stage is the nutfah, which literally translates as “a drop of fluid”. There are three connotations for this word:
- Refers to the drop of fluid from the semen.
- Refers to the female nutfah as is mentioned in Surah al-Insan, Verse 2.
- This third usage of nutfah is of interest here, where the male and female nutfah are intermixed in the womb of the mother. The scientists refer to this as the “Performational Stage”.
- The second stage is the alaqah. According to Albar, alaqah can be defined as something “that clings or attaches to something else”.
- The third stage is the mudhghah, which means a “chewed lump”.
“…the angel is then sent to him…”
Here, the Prophet (ﷺ) uses the word “the” angel and not “an” angel. This signifies that the role of taking care and looking after the fetus is that of a specific angel.
“…He is also commanded to issue four decrees: to record his sustenance, his life span, his deeds, and whether he will be unhappy (by entering Hell) or happy (by entering Paradise)…”
This section of the hadith touches upon one of the most powerful aspects of human life, that of Divine Decree or Qadr, which highlights Allah’s supreme knowledge about everything that will ever occur in the universe. Here, while in the fetal state itself,
- Your provisions and sustenance is recorded.
- How long you will live is decreed.
- Your deeds are recorded.
- And, whether you would be an inhabitant of Paradise or Hellfire is written down.
Some people however, fall into despair and misery while reading this hadith and assume that since everything is already recorded, there is no need for them to rectify their mistakes and correct themselves or strive to come closer to Allah and this deen. This understanding is incorrect.
If you are going with an attitude of, “If everything is already written down, why should I bother doing good deeds”, read on.
Allah Has Blessed You With:
Al–aql or Intellect:
This helps you distinguish between good and evil as is already mentioned and stated in the Quran and sunnah.
The Fitrah or Natural Disposition:
The innate ability that helps us to love the good and hate the evil.
The Iradah or Willingness:
Whether you want to do a good deed, an extra act of worship, ask for repentance or strive to learn more of this deen is in your hands, as Allah has given each one of us the free will, in order to see who amongst us will listen to His commandments.
Therefore, it is of utmost importance for you to understand that even though your Qadr has already been prewritten, Allah hasn’t left you alone here. He has blessed you with intellect, willingness to do things and natural disposition so you can be a better slave of Him.
The last section of the hadith shows how someone might do good deeds all their lives and right towards the end, fall into sin, causing them to enter Hellfire. Likewise, a person might be indulged in sin all his life; and right towards the end, might strive to do good deeds and will be allowed to enter Paradise.
The Gentle and Powerful Reminders of This Hadith:
We need to always be on guard, making sure we are constantly striving to do righteous deeds and stick to the straight path. Do not miss out on an opportunity to give some kind words of advice, or remove something harmful from the road, or give an amount in charity. Avoid talking harshly or rudely at people and put your best efforts in pleasing Him.
Each deed of yours is being recorded and you don’t want to be of those people who strived all their lives to do good and took one wrong step right at the end when the Angel of Death was near you. Always be mindful of the traps of Shaitan and his army by staying close to Allah, His book and His Messenger’s way of life: the sunnah.
We’ve always wondered how to reach a state of being in constant remembrance of Allah or developing taqwa, where the fear, hope and love of Allah is always there in our hearts. This hadith can help you achieve it. Nobody knows how our end in going to be or in what state the Angel of Death is going to take our souls away, therefore, this hadith should serve as a constant reminder of the brevity of life and how quickly we might be caught in doing something unlawful, speaking something unlawful or seeing something unlawful, therefore, this hadtih unconsciously helps us to be in a state of God consciousness at all times. By simply asking ourselves before performing any deed or uttering any word whether Allah would be pleased with this deed or word or action is a powerful and easy way to stay close to what pleases Him, and attain taqwa.
Seek His Help:
We are humans; therefore, sinning or doing something wrong is normal. However, this hadith should push you forward in asking Allah’s help in aiding you to do good until your last breath. Always remember to ask His help in doing things that pleases Him and also beg Him to take your soul away when you’re doing something that pleases Him, making you receive His Mercy. Your call of help is only one dua away and dua is a powerful act of worship.
Hope and Fear:
This hadith serves as powerful reminder for two kinds of people:
- Those who are on the right path must always be on guard and not assume or become complacent that their end is going to be in paradise. Fear of slipping away must always push them to do good, and come right back to Allah even if they committed a minor sin.
- Those who have strayed away need to reaffirm their hope and faith in Allah that He can bring anyone back to His deen. No sin is too big for Him to forgive, provided you cry out in repentance with a sincere heart and pledge to never go back to it again. This hadith is a reminder of Allah’s immense love and mercy to His slaves. Therefore, even if you’ve been a major sinner all your life, turn back to Allah right now and start making amendments in your life so you can please Him.