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Hadith al-Tayr al-Mashwi

Ḥadīth al-Ṭayr al-Mashwīy (Arabic: حدیث الطَیر المَشْوِیّ) is a hadith regarding the virtues of Imam Ali (a). According to this hadith, Prophet Muhammad (s) wanted to eat a meal of a roasted bird (al-tayr al-mashwi). He asked God to send His most loved and virtuous creature to him to share the meal with him. After some come-and-goes, Imam Ali (a) was the person who eventually ate the meal with the Prophet (s). The hadith is cited in Shiite and Sunni sources. So many people have narrated the hadith such that 90 people narrated the hadith from Anas b. Malik.


The Story

The word "al-tayr" (Arabic: الطَّیر) means bird and the word "al-mashwi" (Arabic: المَشویّ) means roasted or grilled. Here is the story: one day the Prophet (s) was offered a roasted chicken. He raised his hands to the sky and said: "O God! Send me your most loved creature to eat the meal with me!"

'A'isha and Hafsa who heard the Prophet (s) saying these words told their fathers, Abu Bakr b. Abi Quhafa and 'Umar b. al-Khattab, about the story. They went to the Prophet (s) one at a time in order to share the Prophet's (s) meal in the hope of counting as God’s most loved creature, but the Prophet (s) did not admit them to his house.

Anas b. Malik said that I preferred the person who would share the meal with the Prophet (s) to be Sa'd b. 'Ubada from my own tribe, but I saw that 'Ali b. Abi Talib (a) was coming. I did not let him in for three times. Finally, the Prophet (s) ordered me to let him in. Imam 'Ali (a) entered the house and shared the meal with the Prophet (s).

Text of the Hadith

Here is the text of the hadith:

The Prophet (s) had a chicken. He said: "O God! Send me your most loved creature to eat this chicken with me." Abu Bakr went to the Prophet (s), but he did not let him in. Then ‘Umar went to him, but the Prophet (s) did not let him in either. But when 'Ali (a) went to him, he let him in.

Implying Imam 'Ali's (a) Priority

  • Al-Shaykh al-Mufid argues for the implication of this hadith for the wilaya of Imam 'Ali (a) as follows: God’s love is grounded in truths, rather than whims and desires. Therefore, the most beloved person by God is the most virtuous person too. What is more, the most virtuous person for God is definitely prior and more preferable with respect to imamate and wilaya, since it is unreasonable to prefer a less virtuous person to a more virtuous one with respect to prophethood and the general khilafa (succession) of God.
  • In his book, al-Fusul al-mukhtara, al-Sayyid al-Murtada argues that the most loved person by God is rewarded by God more than any other creature, and a person who is regarded by God more than all others has more virtuous actions and worships than those of others. Therefore, Imam 'Ali (a) is superior to all creatures except the Prophet Muhammad (s).
  • Al-'Allama al-Majlisi argues that the hadith implies Imam 'Ali's (a) superiority with respect to imamate as follows: a person can be loved by God only if he or she practices many worships and gains may virtuous attributes, since God is free from passions and moods, and He can love or hate others only if there are true grounds, and not out of mere passions. Therefore, God’s love of someone is a result of that person’s obedience of the Prophet (s), and if 'Ali (a) is the most loved creature by God, then he has obeyed the Prophet (s) more than any other creature, and so he is superior to all other creatures. It is not intelligible to prefer someone as a successor of the Prophet (s) over God’s most virtuous creature after the Prophet (s).
  • According to Hafiz Ganji Shafi'i, this hadith implies that 'Ali (a) was God’s most loved creature, since the Prophet's (s) pray to God was responded by his presence, and God does not reject his Prophet's (s) pray regarding his most loved creature.

In Sunni Sources

Not only Shiite scholars take Hadith al-Tayr al-Mashwiy to be mutawatir and certainly true, but also some prominent Sunni scholars of hadith have confirmed its reliability and accuracy. They have cited the hadith from some Sahaba with approximately the same content.

According to Ibn Kathir, 90 people have narrated the hadith from Anas b. Malik. Since he could not object to the chain of the narration of the hadith, he only said in response to it: "in one word, my heart finds something wrong with this hadith, even though it has many chains of narrations. God knows better!"

In reply to Ibn Kathir, 'Allama Amini wrote that his heart was sealed by God, since it does not make sense to deny this hadith in spite of so much evidence.

Moreover, some prominent Shiite and Sunni scholars wrote books and essays regarding the words and chains of narrations of this hadith. Here are some of these scholars:

  • Hakim al-Neyshaburi al-Shafi'i (d. 403 or 405/1012 or 1014), the prominent exegete of the Holy Qur'an, scholar of hadith and historian, according to al-Mustadrak 'ala l-sahihayn, Tarikh Baghdad, and Tabaqat al-Shafi'iyya written by Subki.
  • Hafiz Abu Tahir Hamdan, a student of Hakim Neyshaburi, according to the introduction of Fath al-mulk al-'ula.
  • Dhahabi, according to the introduction of Fath al-mulk al-'ula.
  • Abu Bakr Mardawayh Isfahani (d. 410/1019), the prominent scholar of hadith, exegete of the Holy Qur'an, and historian, according to 'Abaqat.
  • Hafiz Abu Na'im al-Isfahani (d. 430/1038), al-'Allama al-Majlisi's grandfather, and a prominent historian and scholar of hadith, according to 'Abaqat.
  • And more comprehensive and important of all, the fourth book of the second "manhaj" (path) of 'Abaqat al-anwar written by Mir Hamid Husayn Lakhnavi (d. 1306/1888). The book is exclusively concerned with this hadith, citing its chains of narrations from Sunni sources along with reviews of the narrators.