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This hadith from al-Tabaraani in al-Kabeer:

It was narrated that Ma’qil ibn Yassaar said: the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “For one of you to be stabbed in the head with an iron needle is better for him than that he should touch a woman who is not permissible for him.”

Narrated by al-Tabaraani in al-Kabeer, 486. Shaykh al-Albaani said in Saheeh al-Jaami’, 5045, that this hadeeth is saheeh.

What does "touch" mean in this hadith?

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Let us see the opposite opinion. I feel like the first post, while persuasive it doesn't paint the whole picture. I unfortunately don't have answers so I'll have to search the Quran application and see what comes up:

(لَا يَمَسُّهُمْ فِيهَا نَصَبٌ وَمَا هُمْ مِنْهَا بِمُخْرَجِينَ)
[Surat Al-Hijr 48]
"No sense of fatigue shall touch them, nor shall they (ever) be asked to leave it."

Let us replace يَمَسُّهُمْ in the translation from touch to intercourse and see what it give us:

"No sense of fatigue shall intercourse them, nor shall they (ever) be asked to leave it"

I'm only trying to drive the point, there are other ayat, I will quote a few.

(فَانْقَلَبُوا بِنِعْمَةٍ مِنَ اللَّهِ وَفَضْلٍ لَمْ يَمْسَسْهُمْ سُوءٌ وَاتَّبَعُوا رِضْوَانَ اللَّهِ ۗ وَاللَّهُ ذُو فَضْلٍ عَظِيمٍ)
[Surat Aal-E-Imran 174]

So they returned with Grace and Bounty from Allah. No harm touched them; and they followed the good Pleasure of Allah. And Allah is the Owner of Great Bounty.

One last one for good measure.

(وَيُنَجِّي اللَّهُ الَّذِينَ اتَّقَوْا بِمَفَازَتِهِمْ لَا يَمَسُّهُمُ السُّوءُ وَلَا هُمْ يَحْزَنُونَ)
[Surat Az-Zumar 61]

And Allah will deliver those who are the Muttaqun (pious - see V. 2:2) to their places of success (Paradise). Evil shall touch them not, nor shall they grieve.

It widely known that the touching of the opposite gender is not allowed (non mahram) many scholars hold this opinion.

When Allah says in the Quran:

(وَلَا تَقْرَبُوا الزِّنَا ۖ إِنَّهُ كَانَ فَاحِشَةً وَسَاءَ سَبِيلًا)
[Surat Al-Isra' 32]

And come not near to the unlawful sexual intercourse. Verily, it is a Fahishah [i.e. anything that transgresses its limits (a great sin)], and an evil way (that leads one to Hell unless Allah forgives him).

Allah uses the term "near" rather than refrain, because with illegal sexual intercourse it starts with just a touch and it can escalate quickly, therefore not being near it completely would make it impossible for you to commit the act.

If touching woman was allowed, then people would go beyond the typically handshake and say "I'm not committing intercourse".

  • Thanks for the answer. It is nice to see the other point of view. I actually mentioned in mine answer that most say that this Hadith means touch in its literal sense. About la taqrab: "وَيَسْأَلُونَكَ عَنِ الْمَحِيضِ ۖ قُلْ هُوَ أَذًى فَاعْتَزِلُوا النِّسَاءَ فِي الْمَحِيضِ ۖ وَلَا تَقْرَبُوهُنَّ حَتَّىٰ يَطْهُرْنَ" Do not go near doesn't necessarily mean that as you describe it. As you see in this verse it does not mean a man can't go near his wife rather in this context it speaks about not going near by having intercourse. – Kilise May 23 '17 at 6:40
  • Also,. it seems you want to replace "يَمَسُّهُمْ" with intercourse in every single context. That is not what I am claiming. I only claim to replace it with the word that fits its context. As the word "mass" in arabic can mean different things: touch, affect, intercourse. The words you used in for instance al-hijr 48, the word "affect" is the best synonym of "لَا يَمَسُّهُمْ" – Kilise May 23 '17 at 7:58
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While Albani declared the hadith as Sahih, there are some who actually think it is daeef, as for instance quoted by Ibn Amin:

و هذا الحديث ضعيف. أخرجه الطبراني (20|211) من طريق شداد بن سعيد (فيه ضعف)

Link in arabic

Having that said, lets look at the meaning of the hadith.

There are different of opinions of what the word touch is meant to mean in this hadith. Many say it means touch, in its literal sense, while other say it means touch, as in intercourse (zina). I will try to show the evidences used to prove it to mean intercourse in this hadith and context.

The hadith in Arabic:

رواه الطبراني والبيهقي عن معقل بن يسار عن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم قال:
" لأن يطعن في رأس أحدكم بمخيط من حديد خير له من أن يمس امرأة لا تحل له "
وصححه الألباني

The problem occurs when we translate the hadith. There are two possibilites of how we could translate the word يمس in this context:

  1. Touch
  2. Intercourse

Even the first translation "touch" could be argued to mean "sexual harassment" or "intercourse", even in English. For instance, imagine looking at a court, a man is accused of rape. To his defense, he says to the prosecutor: "I swear I didn't touch her!".


Proof in Arabic that it might mean intercourse

Now someone might say, where did you get the word "intercourse" from and who said it is one translation of the word "مس"? The answer lies in the Holy Quran, in many different verses:

قَالَتْ أَنَّىٰ يَكُونُ لِي غُلَامٌ وَلَمْ يَمْسَسْنِي بَشَرٌ وَلَمْ أَكُ بَغِيًّا
She said, "How can I have a boy while no man has touched me and I have not been unchaste?"

Surat Maryam, verse 20


يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِذَا نَكَحْتُمُ الْمُؤْمِنَاتِ ثُمَّ طَلَّقْتُمُوهُنَّ مِن قَبْلِ أَن تَمَسُّوهُنَّ فَمَا لَكُمْ عَلَيْهِنَّ مِنْ عِدَّةٍ تَعْتَدُّونَهَا ۖ فَمَتِّعُوهُنَّ وَسَرِّحُوهُنَّ سَرَاحًا جَمِيلًا
O You who have believed, when you marry believing women and then divorce them before you have touched them, then there is not for you any waiting period to count concerning them. So provide for them and give them a gracious release.

Surat Al-Ahzab, verse 49

You will find the same words in 2:236 "لَمْ تَمَسُّوهُنَّ", and "2:237" قَبْلِ أَن تَمَسُّوهُنَّ".

In all these verses, in the given contexts, it is clear, that the literal word "touch" means intercourse.
Check Ibn Kathir (قبل الدخول بها), Tabari (قبل أن تـجامعوهنّ) and so on.

Choosing between touch and intercourse in the hadith

We now know that there are two possibilities to interpret the word "يمس" in that hadith. So which word will it be? The conclusion of the hadith will differ incredibly according to which of the words we will use when interpreting the hadith.

Let us look at the hadith. We will insert each possible word, then analyze the hadith and see which makes most sense:

For one of you to be stabbed in the head with an iron needle is better for him than that he should touch a woman who is not permissible for him.

or

For one of you to be stabbed in the head with an iron needle is better for him than that he should have intercourse with a woman who is not permissible for him.

In my view, the second translation is the right translation. Clearly it is an attempt to show with a parable, the seriousness of having illegal sexual activities (intercourse) and that it is worse than getting stabbed in the head with an iron needle. This sounds much more logical than just touching a womens hand (with no sexual intention at all).

Now, we also have this hadith from Sahih Al Bukhari:

Anas bin Malik said, "Any of the female slaves of Medina could take hold of the hand of Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) and take him wherever she wished."

and in this it mentioned that the prophet didn't let go off the hand of the (slave) woman until she let go herself:

“If a female slave among the people of Al-Madinah were to take the hand of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ), he would not take his hand away from hers until she had taken him wherever she wanted in Al-Madinah so that her needs may be met.”

Some might say that she was a slave or an old woman therefore the rule doesn't apply on her. Where is that mentioned in the hadith? The only reason they explain away this is to not contradict their explanation of the hadith.

There are many more ahadith one could use here to support what I am aruging about.

Conclusion

By everything given above, my conclusion (and even scholars hold this conclusion of course) is that the hadith is clearly speaking about intercourse, and not just touch in its most literal sense. If it was speaking to touch as in hold hands, shake hands, the Prophet would not let the slave woman hold his hand, due to the serious warning in the hadith. Therefore the hadith is speaking about intercourse, which the other verses in the Quran shows about the word in many places.

While this is my conclusion, one should not forget that most scholars follows the other opinion saying it literally means "touch".

References:
علي جمعة - حكم مصافحة المراة - Ali Gomaa
Also relevant: لماذا تُحَرّمون مصافحة النساء؟
Ibn Amin - Mosafaha (رسالة في المصافحة بين الرجل و المرأة)

  • Please note that the language of the quran when it comes to intimacy and relationships, us rather friendly, maybe vague and clean, So if touch is used instead of having sex that doesn't by default mean مس means being intimate it only shows a somewhat synonym which doesn't sound vulgaire but means the same. – Medi1Saif May 23 '17 at 10:28
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    @Medi1Saif I totally agree. One should consider the context, as i mentioned in my comment on the below answer. I am not claiming the word مس means sex by itself, but it is a word which one may use to mean sex, without mentioning it. What I show in my answer is that the possibility of interpreting مس as sex does exist. And by knowing that, it opens up interpretation for the mentioned Hadith. Basically I argue that the word مس in the Hadith rather is the "friendly word" which is understood to mean sex as you said. And as you surely know there are scholars who hold this view such as Ali Gooma. – Kilise May 23 '17 at 11:09
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    +1 Well presented argument, the Hadith tends to be quoted by scholars to support the prohibition of shaking hands with non-mahram women however it is interesting that the other Hadiths cited mention that the profit held hands with non-mahram women, I have never heard a scholar bring the Hadiths up when dealing with the topic of hand shaking! – Aboudi Jun 21 '17 at 23:40
  • I think one rule in Fiqh when it comes to contradicatory rulings is to follow the strongest evidence, therefore in the Hadths cited which ones are the most authentic? – Aboudi Jun 21 '17 at 23:41
  • <comments deleted> Comments are intended for seeking clarification and constructive criticism with the intent of improving the post, not for arguing controversial points or discussing site policy. – goldPseudo Jun 22 '17 at 6:54
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It is mentioned in the Abi Dawud 2941 "That Prophet Peace be upon him never touched any strange women's hand,

if there is any conflict let says both are correct conditions are If Prophet Peace be upon him ever touched hand of a lady it might be before the revelation or may be not but if Prophet Peace be upon him did touch the hand he got the permission because Prophet Peace be upon him said "I am like father to you. When any of you goes to privy, he should not face or turn his back towards the qiblah. He should not cleanse with his right hand. He (the Prophet, sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam) also commanded the Muslims to use three stones and forbade them to use dung or decayed bone. Sunan Abi Dawud 8 In-book reference : Book 1, Hadith 8 English translation : Book 1, Hadith 8

  • There are contradciting traditions. And there's no real consensus about the issue. – Sassir Dec 5 '17 at 10:15
  • How does this answer the question: "What does "touch" mean in this hadith?" – Kilise Dec 5 '17 at 12:55

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