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This question concerns this hadith:

Salama b. Akwa' reported on the authority of his father that a person ate in the presence of Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) with his left hand, whereupon he said: Eat with your right hand. He said: I cannot do that, whereupon he (the Holy Prophet) said: May you not be able to do that. It was vanity that prevented him from doing it, and he could not raise it (the right hand) up to his mouth. -- Sahih Muslim 2021 (sunnah.com) and Riyad as-Salihin (sunnah.com and sunnah.com)

I'm puzzled by this hadith. It seems like the Prophet could have stopped the man eating with his left hand (instead of his right) thereby forcing him to eat with his right hand, i.e., the desired hand to eat with. However, the Prophet seems to have forced the man to eat with his left hand.

Question: Why did the Prophet stop a man from eating with his right hand (instead of his left)?

I found some commentary online here (number 159), but it doesn't explain why he was prevented from using his right hand instead of his left. It was also mentioned here: What is the grade and source of this narration about eating with the right hand?

  • It is a warning to those who reject the Prophet's commands out of pride. The person mentioned here was not listening to the Prophet because of his pride so now he can't do anything to be able raise his right hand which means he can't do good acts such as eating with your right hand.It is similar as to when Iblees refused to bow down to Adam out of pride and thus cannot do anything to save him from Hell. I based my comment on this theheartopener.wordpress.com/books/sins/… – Armaan Apr 2 '17 at 21:18
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    The Prophet was asking the man to eat with his right hand, and not to eat with his left hand. I am not sure where it is mentioned that the man was prevented from using his right hand. – III-AK-III Apr 2 '17 at 22:33
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    I didn't really understand the question. The Prophet PBUH didn't stop that person from eating with his right hand... HE asked him to use his right hand but that man refused to do so. whereupon he said: Eat with your right hand... – Ahmad Afif Khan Apr 3 '17 at 1:58
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    She is trying to understand this: "May you not be able to do that. It was vanity that prevented him from doing it, and he could not raise it (the right hand) up to his mouth"... – Kilise Apr 3 '17 at 14:14
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    @Medi1Saif: I'm not sure how I can make it clearer (feel free to dive in an edit, because I don't understand why this is confusing). The Prophet wanted the man to do X (where X = eat with his right hand), then the Prophet made X impossible. Why didn't he make "not X" impossible instead? – Rebecca J. Stones Apr 3 '17 at 15:40
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The Prophet (ﷺ) did not stop the man from eating with his right hand; he merely prayed that he would not be able to use his right hand to eat (note that the "right hand" is a deduction made by some scholars, not an explicit part of the hadith, and that other scholars believe that the Prophet was referring to his left hand). In this case, Allah answered the Prophet's prayers on the spot. It may not have been that prompt, and the Prophet did not know when his prayers would be answered.

We know that on other occasions, Allah answered his messangers' prayers after varying periods of time. Allah answered Nooh's prayers on his tribe and all other disbelievers potentially after a few centuries (Qur'an 71:26-28), Mussa's prayer on the Pharaoh and his supporters after four decades (Qur'an 10:88), and the Prophet's (ﷺ) prayers on some of the disbelievers of Quraish after a few years (Sahih Muslim 32/134).

There are several situations in the Seerah of the Prophet (ﷺ) where he prayed for people in situations where any other person would have sought revenge (e.g., the story of the day of 'Aqaba in Sahih Al-Bukhari 59/42), or would have at best kept quiet (e.g., in the story of the tribe of Daus in Sahih Al-Bukhari 56/150). There are other situations where the Prophet supplicated for the punishment of the disbelievers (e.g., the story of camel intestines by Quraish in Sahih Al-Bukhari 4/107, or the story of the the day of Al-Khandaq in Sahih Al-Bukhari 64/155). The Prophet (ﷺ) did not elaborate in any of these situations on what prompted his decision, but we know from Qur'an 53:4 that all matters related to religion were based on revelation.

We can conclude from the above examples that the reaction of the Prophet (ﷺ) to similar situations was contextual (varied by person, time, place, etc.), rather than conceptual.

In this particular story, the Prophet (ﷺ) told us that what stopped Busr (the man in the hadith you quoted) from eating with his right hand was kibr (arrogance). The Prophet (ﷺ) also informed us that no one with an atom's worth of kibr enters paradise:

حَدَّثَنَا مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ الْمُثَنَّى، وَمُحَمَّدُ بْنُ بَشَّارٍ، وَإِبْرَاهِيمُ بْنُ دِينَارٍ، جَمِيعًا عَنْ يَحْيَى بْنِ حَمَّادٍ، - قَالَ ابْنُ الْمُثَنَّى حَدَّثَنِي يَحْيَى بْنُ حَمَّادٍ، - أَخْبَرَنَا شُعْبَةُ، عَنْ أَبَانَ بْنِ تَغْلِبَ، عَنْ فُضَيْلٍ الْفُقَيْمِيِّ، عَنْ إِبْرَاهِيمَ النَّخَعِيِّ، عَنْ عَلْقَمَةَ، عَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ مَسْعُودٍ، عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ ‏"‏ لاَ يَدْخُلُ الْجَنَّةَ مَنْ كَانَ فِي قَلْبِهِ مِثْقَالُ ذَرَّةٍ مِنْ كِبْرٍ ‏"‏ ‏.‏ قَالَ رَجُلٌ إِنَّ الرَّجُلَ يُحِبُّ أَنْ يَكُونَ ثَوْبُهُ حَسَنًا وَنَعْلُهُ حَسَنَةً ‏.‏ قَالَ ‏"‏ إِنَّ اللَّهَ جَمِيلٌ يُحِبُّ الْجَمَالَ الْكِبْرُ بَطَرُ الْحَقِّ وَغَمْطُ النَّاسِ ‏"‏

It Is narrated on the authority of Abdullah b. Mas'ud that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ), observed: He who has in his heart the weight of a mustard seed of pride shall not enter Paradise. A person (amongst his hearers) said: Verily a person loves that his dress should be fine, and his shoes should be fine. He (the Holy Prophet) remarked: Verily, Allah is Graceful and He loves Grace. Pride is disdaining the truth (out of self-conceit) and contempt for the people.

Sahih Muslim 1/171

The Prophet (ﷺ) further elaborated that kibr (which there is no real equivalent word for in English, hence the different translations you see as arrogance, vanity, pride, etc.) is disdaining the truth or believing one is better than others.

The Prophet (ﷺ) has warned us not to pass judgment on others based on what we think they believed in (see Sahih Muslim 1/122). One can still pass judgment based on actions or words, but not on one's perceptions of what the person may potentially believe in their heart.

We may conclude, but not with certainty, that for the Prophet (ﷺ) to openly declare that this act was based on kibr that the Prophet (ﷺ) did so based on a revelation.

This is more or less what Al-Qadi 'Ayyad concluded in his In Ikmal Al-mu'lim bi Fawa-id Muslim, Vol. 6, p. 487, 1998 (my own translation, so treat with care):

وقوله (ﷺ) للذى أكل عنده بشماله

فقال: "كل بيمينك" فقال: لا أستطيع، فقال: "لا استطعت"، قال: "ما منعه إلا الكبر" فما أكل بها بعد

فيه إجابة دعاء النبى (ﷺ) وتعجيل معاقبة من خالف أمره فى الدنيا، وهذا يدل على أن الرجل كان منافقاً - والله أعلم لقوله: "ما منعه إلا الكبر " أى لن يتواضع بنفسه مخالفة هواها، وطاعة النبى (ﷺ) فيما أمر به؛ ولهذا استحباب النبى (ﷺ) الدعاء عليه، ولو علم أن قوله: "لا أستطيع" صحيحاً لما دعا عليه. وقد أجاز العلماء لمن به عذر بيمينه أكله بشماله وشربه به؛

... and the Prophet's (ﷺ) saying to the one who ate with his left hand:

Eat with your right hand. He said: I cannot do that, whereupon he (the Holy Prophet) said: May you not be able to do that. It was vanity that prevented him from doing it, and he could not raise it (the right hand) up to his mouth.

This shows that the Prophet's (ﷺ) prayers was answered, and the punishment to this who disobeyed him was quick in this world, which proves that this man was a hypocrite - and Allah knows best - because he said "nothing stopped him except arrogance", that is he would not have humbled himself, fight his fancy, and obey the orders of the Prophet (ﷺ). This is why the Prophet (ﷺ) prayed on him, and if he (ﷺ) knew that when he said "I cannot do that" was true, he would not have prayed on him. The scholars have permitted whoever is excused to eat with the left hand, rather than the right, and to drink with the left, too.

There are other scholars who have reached similar conclusions to Al-Qadi 'Ayyad, e.g., Mohammad Amin ibn 'Abdullah (in his book Al-Kawkab Al-Wahhaj). There are several other scholars who disagreed with Al-Qadi 'Ayyad's conclusion of declaring Busr as a munafiq based on a single incident. All agreed, however, that it is permitted to supplicate as the Prophet (ﷺ) did to deter people from directly disobeying an order from Allah or His messenger (ﷺ).

  • To my mind, this answer just shifts the question from "why did he pray he could not eat with his right hand instead of his left" to "why did he pray for punishment for this (supposed) arrogance instead of making him humble". – G. Bach Apr 11 '17 at 11:51

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