Asking about Known Things then Redefining them Differently

Article translated to : العربية

asking about known things then redefining them differently

the prophet (peace be upon him) used the question technique to teach the companions and muslims in general about islam. he asked them questions they already know the answers for whether to confirm their information, if they give him the right answer, or amend what they have in mind if they give the wrong answer.

as for the questions that they know the answer for but the prophet (pbuh) answered them in a different way than what they have in mind, they are many such as:

on the authority of abu huraira (ra)1 it is narrated that the messenger of allah (pbuh) asked: "do you know who the bankrupt is?" they said: "the one without money or goods is bankrupt." so the prophet said: "the bankrupt is the person from my nation who comes on the day of resurrection with prayer, fasting, and charity, but comes also insulting, slandering, consuming wealth, shedding blood, and beating others. they (victims) will each be given from his good deeds; if his good deeds run out before the score is settled, their bad deeds will be cast upon him then he will be thrown into the fire." [sahih muslim]

in the hadith, the prophet (peace be upon him) redefined the bankrupt to them. when they were asked about the meaning of the word, they answered with the regular expected answer but the prophet (pbuh) clarified to them that that real bankrupt is not the one who does not have money or goods, he is the one that will end with no record of good deeds on the day of judgment even though he did good things during his lifetime, yet he abused, insulted, slandered, consumed the wealth of others, shed their blood and beat them. by this, the prophet (pbuh) gave a new perspective to the definition of a bankrupt according to islam.

narrated abdullah ibn mas'oud that the messenger of allah (peace be upon him) said, "who do you reckon to be the childless among you?" they said, "they are those who do not have any children." no," he said, "the childless are those who have not sent any of their children ahead (i.e. none of their children have died)." he then said, "who do you reckon to be the one who most often throws people down (in a fight)?" they replied, "the one whom men do not throw down." he said, "no this is not him, he is the person who controls himself when he is angry." [sahih muslim]

looking at the previously mentioned hadiths, we can see that the answers were well-known to them, or rather they thought they know the answers to the questions, but the prophet (pbuh) wanted to strengthen and establish the real meanings of the words and expressions according to islam and this is why he used this exciting method by engaging them and letting them interact through asking questions, listening to their answers and then amending them.

there is another kind of questions that the prophet (peace be upon him) asked:

when the listener does not know the answer, then the question is to attract him to know the answer such as the hadith narrated by imam al-bukhari from zayd ibn khalid al-juhani who said, "the messenger of allah (peace be upon him) led us in the subh prayer at hudaybiyyah2 after it had rained on us during the night. when he finished, he faced the people and said, 'do you know what your lord has said?' they replied, 'allah and his messenger know best.' he said, 'this morning my slaves have become divided up into believers and unbelievers. those who said, "we had rain by the favor and mercy of allah," believe in me and reject the stars. those who said that it was because of a certain star, disbelieve in me and believe in the stars." through reading the haidht, it is quite clear that the prophet (peace be upon him) asked them about something they don’t know to encourage them to seek the answer, which what actually had happened.

excitement by using things unrelated to sight and vision

usinglines and drawingslike when the prophet (peace be upon him) drew lines and explained to them the meaning of them, or when he sketched drawings then asked the companions about them while he knew they did not know what he depicted with lines. he (pbuh) did so to attract their attention to what will be said, some might also say they are to outline and explain, but the first aim of drawings was to engage them in what will be said later. an example is the hadith related by imam al-bukhari from abdullah ibn mas'oud (ra) who said: ((the prophet (peace be upon him) drew a square and then drew a line in the middle of it and let it extend outside the square and then drew several small lines attached to that central line, and said, "this is the human being, and this, (the square) is his lease of life, encircles him from all sides (or has encircled him), and this (line), which is outside (the square), is his hope, and these small lines are the calamities and troubles (which may befall him), and if one misses him, another will snap (i.e. overtake) him, and if the other misses him, a third will snap (i.e. overtake) him.))

also, narrated abdullah ibn mas'oud:allah’s apostle (peace be upon him) drew a line for them one day and then said “this is allah’s path”, then he drew several lines (branching off) to the right and to the left and said, “these are the paths (of misguidance) on each of which is a devil inviting people to follow it.” and then he recited (the verse)“verily this is my path, leading straight, so follow it. and do not follow the (other) paths for they will scatter you about from (allah’s) path.”[al-'an'aam: 153] [authenticated by ahmad shaakir in al-musnad vol.6 no. 4142]

an example of drawings is what imam ahmed narrated from abdullah ibn abbas: the messenger of allah (pbuh) drew four lines in the ground and asked, “do you know what this is?” the companions replied, “allah and his messenger know best.” the messenger of allah (pbuh) said, “from the women of paradise four are superior to others: khadijah the daughter of khuwaylid, fatimah the daughter of muhammad, asiyah the daughter of mazahim (the wife of pharaoh) and maryam the daughter of imran (ra).”

the same applies to the hadith narrated by imam al-bukhari from anas ibn malik (ra): the prophet (peace be upon him) drew lines and said: “this is hope and this is his lifespan, at a certain time the nearest line will reach him.”in the narration by al-bayhaqi: the prophet (pbuh) drew lines and aside line, then he (pbuh) said: “do you know what this is? this is like the son of adam and the hopeful and this line is hope. while he is hoping, death overcomes him.”

there are other methods that the prophet (peace be upon him) used in addition to making lines and drawings to attract the attention such as implanting a stick then commenting: narrated by imam ahmed from abi said al-khidri that the prophet (peace be upon him) thrust a small stick that was in his hand and then he thrust another then a third away from them, then he (pbuh) said: "this is the human, this is his lifetime and this his hope. he seeks hope but his lifetime stands between them."

the previous examples reflect clearly that the prophet (peace be upon him) used lines and other tools from nature to attract the attention of listeners and to approximate and visualize the idea or lesson behind the methods used.

these educational methods proved that they are fruitful and effective because the companions narrated the details of these methods,how the prophet (pbuh) talked about them and what he said after drawing them?

finally, all the above mentioned methods and styles which were used by the prophet muhammad (peace be upon them) to attract and encourage muslims to learn were taken from modern and old books and references. they clearly show that islam preceded others in that regard; it also shows the prophet’s concern (pbuh) to employ many approaches to teach the companions and muslims in general. he was careful to attract their attention and encourage them to take part in what was said. this study also represents a rich material in many fields such as the study of humanities and educational, psychological and sociological studies. also, the writer wrote an article in referring to the sunnah3 in upbringing and education, which is further intensified by this detailed study.


(1) ra: radya allah anhu/anha [may allah be pleased with him/her]

(2) the treaty of hudaybiyyah is the treaty that took place between the state of medina and the quraishi tribe of makkah in march 628ce (corresponding to dhu al-qi'dah, 6 ah).

(3) the sunnah is the ways, teachings and activities of prophet muhammad (peace be upon him). muslims should emulate the sunnah of the prophet to be good muslims.

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