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Epilepsy or Jinn Possession? Hadith of Umm Zufar

Updated: Dec 12, 2020

'Ata ibn Abi Rabah said: Ibn Abbas asked me: Shall I show you a woman of Paradise? I replied: Yes.

He answered: That dark-skinned woman (Umm Zufar). She came to Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) and said: I am suffering from falling sickness [or seizures] and I find myself undressed, so pray to Allah for me.

The Prophet (ﷺ) responded: If you wish, be patient and paradise is yours. Or, if you wish, I shall supplicate Allah that He may cure you.

She said: I am prepared to be patient [but the unbearable suffering is] that I become naked, so ask Allah that I do not become naked, so he supplicated for her.

'Ata said that he had seen Umm Zufar, the tall black woman, at the curtain of the Kabah [clinging onto it].

Recorded in Al-Bukhari & Muslim.

It has also been reported that she would cling onto the stairs of the Kabah. Other reports state that she said: I fear that the khabith (filthy shaitan) would undress me. So the Prophet (ﷺ) prayed for her, and whenever she would be apprehensive about the khabith approaching her, she would retreat to the curtains of the Kabah and cling onto them.

It has also been transmitted that the majanin (possessed and mentally ill) would be brought to the Prophet (ﷺ) and he would strike the chests of one of them and they would be cured. And Umm Zufar was brought to the Prophet and he struck her chest, but she was not cured.

Ibn Hajar commented: The reports demonstrate that Umm Zufar suffered from seizures caused by the jinn.

Were Umm Zufar’s seizures caused by jinn-possession or biologically induced?

This report its words, context and various other full versions affirm that her seizures were due to a filthy shaitan possessing her:

  1. The word صَرْعٌ (seizure) was primarily used by Arabs for devil-possession. It later adopted a second meaning: epilepsy. The Prophet (ﷺ) did not enquire about the cause of the صَرْعٌ nor did she elaborate. This demonstrates that it was not a medical condition but the commonly held meaning of devil-possession, that is why she did not elaborate nor did he (ﷺ) ask her to elaborate. They both adopted the common meaning and understanding of صَرْعٌ.

  2. If it was a medical condition then at the very least the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) would have alluded to something physical/material for her to take as a remedy and a means of cure, because "Allah sends down no illness except He sends down with it a cure."

  3. Even if the medical cure was not available in the Prophet’s time, that does not negate his prophecy in prescribing the cure, if it was indeed a medical condition. For him to leave it to patience and dua shows that its cure is more related to belief in Allah and spirituality (i.e. spiritual means) than physical research and treatment.

  4. She explicitly says that she would become uncovered during these seizures. Tailored clothing does not come off easily, even more so during a seizure. It would only come off if she takes them off herself, and that would only happen when there is another being inside her who is undressing her. She makes it very clear that she does not want to be uncovered, so it is unconceivable that she was uncovering herself whilst having a seizure!

  5. Other complete narrations of this incident explicitly mention that her صَرْعٌ (seizure) was due to a shaitan possessing her.

  6. If it was a medical condition then why would she come out in the open and be around the Kabah when she was about to have a seizure. Shouldn't she simply remain at home, and have patience as she and the Prophet (ﷺ) decided? Her needing to be screened by the Kabah or beneath the Kabah cloth (Al-Bukhari) or being at the footsteps of the Kabah (Al-Bukhari; Adab al-Mufrad), shows that she was taking refuge with Allah and His sanctified house from this devil and what it was doing to her.

  7. This is a classic example of Possession of Lust by the devil (al-Jinn al-Ashiq).

  8. The remedy and fruit which the Prophet (ﷺ) prescribed to her is exactly the remedy and fruit for anyone suffering from devil-possession, and that is if all the spiritual treatments do not cure a devil-possession, then persist with YOUR duas and patience, for the one who is suffering this will have Jannah!

  9. Is it not more appropriate to give a guarantee of Jannah or at least the hope of it to the one who is suffering from a devil-possession and everything that it comes with (doubts sowing disbelief, feelings of mockery, intimidation etc.) than to someone suffering from a medical condition?

  10. Some spiritual illnesses [may decrease but] may not be fully cured, similar to some medical conditions, but which one of the two sufferers will be more suited to manifest the glad tiding of Jannah in this hadith?

  11. Glad tidings when dying due to some medical illnesses are explicitly mentioned by the Prophet (ﷺ). However, there is no explicit hadith mentioning the glad tiding of the one who suffers or dies due to spiritual illnesses, including devil-possession. So wouldn’t this hadith then be more suitable of the Prophet’s comprehensive way of living and guidance if it was meant for spiritual illness?

  12. The early and past scholars deemed that this was a devil possession. The narrators and collectors of the portion containing إِنِّي أَخَافُ الخَبِيثَ / يُوتى بِالمَجَانِينِ (I fear that a khabith/the majanin would be brought) obviously believed that it was a spiritual illness, otherwise why would they narrate it and why did they not negate it with other facts or evidences?

  13. Later scholars also believed that this could refer to spiritual illness like Ibn Al-Qayyim in Al-Tibb Al-Nabawi, and Ibn Hajar in Fath Al-Bari gives precedence to this view.

  14. Even Imam Al-Bukhari inclines to this view as he titles the chapter as: بَابُ فَضْلِ مَنْ يُصْرَعُ مِن الرِّيحِ (Chapter: Virtue of one who is overcome by seizure from the wind). It is well-known that the early scholars used to mean by الرِّيحُ (lit. wind) a jinn/shaitan.

  15. As I far as I am aware, there was no early scholar who explained this hadith with credible evidences to refer to a medical condition only and that it had nothing whatsoever to do with a spiritual/jinn caused seizure.

Points of Benefit

  1. Assistance and help can be sought from experts when one is unable to treat or cure himself.

  2. Dua may be requested from those that you believe will have their duas most likely answered.

  3. The essence of spiritual treatments and cure are found in tawhid of Allah, tawakkul in Him, making dua, having patience with His decree (whilst taking all the spiritual and best outer means) and seeking His reward. The Prophets who went through spiritual illnesses and the door to their cure opened through dua! Consider Ayyub (ﷺ) and Muhammad (ﷺ) for example.

  4. Those suffering from spiritual illnesses ought to fight them by adopting all legitimate means and not giving in to the evil, or giving up.

  5. Requesting dua and taking legitimate treatments do not negate tawakkul in Allah, nor the full reward. The reward lies in being content with the decree (qadar) of Allah and its fruitful wisdom (not with the illness in and of itself) whilst and after one has exhausted all efforts for the cure.

  6. Continuously and relentlessly trying to remove the harm, through legislated means, is an essential part of believing that YOUR Allah wants YOU to fight and overcome it through believing in Him and His legislated ways. Eventually when you do achieve the cure or the decreasing of the illness, you begin to witness Allah rather than simply believing in Him! And ultimately that is the purpose of our creation and trials to witness Him in our everyday matters by taking the utmost legitimate means in all our daily affairs!

  7. One MUST seek assistance and help when one is unable to fulfil one’s obligations, be it to oneself, or towards others, or towards Allah. And those who can help MUST assist; it is an obligation both ways! So here she sought dua (help) because an obligation wasn’t being fulfilled from her side (covering of her 'awrah especially in front of men). And the Prophet (ﷺ) made the dua because he knew with certainty that if he makes dua for that, it will be answered, and thereby he assisted her. So if one knows with certainty, or assumes it to be most likely, due to their expertise that they can assist, then it becomes obligatory on them to do so.

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