‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu said:
بعثني رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم وأبا مرثد الغنوي والزبير بن العوام وكلنا فارس قال انطلقوا حتى تأتوا روضة خاخ فإن بها امرأة من المشركين معها كتاب من حاطب بن أبي بلتعة إلى المشركين فأدركناها تسير على بعير لها حيث قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم فقلنا الكتاب فقالت ما معنا كتاب فأنخناها فالتمسنا فلم نر كتابا فقلنا ما كذب رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم لتخرجن الكتاب أو لنجردنك فلما رأت الجد أهوت إلى حجزتها وهي محتجزة بكساء فأخرجته فانطلقنا بها إلى رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم فقال عمر يا رسول الله قد خان الله ورسوله والمؤمنين فدعني فلأضرب عنقه فقال النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم ما حملك على ما صنعت قال حاطب والله ما بي أن لا أكون مؤمنا بالله ورسوله صلى الله عليه وسلم أردت أن يكون لي عند القوم يد يدفع الله بها عن أهلي ومالي وليس أحد من أصحابك إلا له هناك من عشيرته من يدفع الله به عن أهله وماله فقال النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم صدق ولا تقولوا له إلا خيرا فقال عمر إنه قد خان الله ورسوله والمؤمنين فدعني فلأضرب عنقه فقال أليس من أهل بدر فقال لعل الله اطلع إلى أهل بدر فقال اعملوا ما شئتم فقد وجبت لكم الجنة أو فقد غفرت لكم فدمعت عينا عمر وقال الله ورسوله أعلم
Allah’s Messenger salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam sent me, al Zubair ibn al ‘Awwam, and Abu Marthad al Ghanawi, and we were all on horseback.
He said, “Proceed till you reach Rawdah Khakh, where there is a woman from the pagans carrying a letter sent by Hatib ibn Abi Balta’ah to the pagans.”
So we reached her while she was proceeding on her camel at the same place as Allah’s Messenger salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam told us.
We said to her, “Where is the letter which is with you?”
She said, “I have no letter with me.”
So we made her camel kneel down and searched her mount (baggage, etc.) but could not find anything.
My two companions said, “We do not see any letter.”
I said, “I know that Allah’s Messenger salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam did not tell a lie. By Allah, if you do not bring out the letter, I will strip you of your clothes.”
When she noticed that I was serious, she put her hand into the knot of her waist sheet, for she was tied a sheet round herself, and brought out the letter. We then proceeded to Allah’s Messenger salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam with the letter.
‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhu said, “O Messenger of Allah, he has been disloyal to Allah, His Messenger, and the believers. Let me finish him off.”
The Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said to Hatib, “What made you do what you have done, O Hatib?”
Hatib replied, “I have done nothing except that I believe in Allah and His Apostle, and I have not changed or altered my religion. But I wanted to do the favour to the people (pagans of Makkah) through which Allah might protect my family and my property, as there is none among your Companions but has someone in Makkah through whom Allah protects his property against harm.”
The Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said, “Hatib has told you the truth, so do not say to him anything but good.”
‘Umar said, “Verily he has betrayed Allah, His Apostle, and the believers! Allow me to chop his neck off!”
The Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said, “O ‘Umar! What do you know; perhaps Allah looked upon the Badr warriors and said, ‘Do whatever you like, for I have ordained that you will be in Paradise.’”
On that ‘Umar wept and said, “Allah and His Apostle know best.”
This narration has been recorded in Sahih al Bukhari and Sahih Muslim.
Commentary and Lessons Learnt from this Narration:
1. There is great virtue and honour in favour of Hatib ibn Abi Balta’ah radiya Llahu ‘anhu in this narration:
a. He participated in Badr and was therefore forgiven by Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala.
b. Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam attested to his entry into Paradise.
c. Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam confirmed his statement.
d. Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala regarded his faith as strong and pure by addressing him as a believer in the following verse, as recorded in the books of hadith. Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala says:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِيْنَ آمَنُوْا لَا تَتَّخِذُوْا عَدُوِّيْ وَعَدُوَّكُمْ أَوْلِيَاءَ
O you who have believed, do not take My enemies and your enemies as allies.
2. The great virtue of those Sahabah radiya Llahu ‘anhum; ‘Ali and the others, who immediately fulfilled the command of Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam.
3. Whoever wishes to see the protection and love afforded to the Sahabah radiya Llahu ‘anhum by Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam should refer to this narration. Hatib radiya Llahu ‘anhu had done a potentially treacherous act which reflected that of the hypocrites. However, Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam did not kill him, nor put his life into the jaws of death by issuing a death order, and neither did Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam have his honour challenged. Rather, he had him brought forth and requested an explanation for his actions. When it became clear that he wasn’t acting in opposition to the Islamic state, he was forgiven. ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhu was further corrected in his stance to hurt him, and he was given glad tidings of Jannat as one who took part in Badr.
Now look at this in relation to those who revile the Sahabah radiya Llahu ‘anhum regarding acts they did by way of applying their minds, being authorities in the faith. They may have come to the correct conclusion or they may have been mistaken, however, being authorities they were allowed to do so! They would be rewarded even on their mistakes! Those that revile and despise the Sahabah radiya Llahu ‘anhum are treading the treacherous path of misguidance fuelled by their base desires. They interpolate the texts spewing out lies and deceit. Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala says regarding such persons:
لِيَحْمِلُوْا أَوْزَارَهُمْ كَامِلَةً يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ وَمِنْ أَوْزَارِ الَّذِيْنَ يُضِلُّوْنَهُم بِغَيْرِ عِلْمٍ أَلَا سَاءَ مَا يَزِرُوْنَ
That they may bear their own burdens in full on the Day of Resurrection and some of the burdens of those whom they misguide without knowledge. Unquestionably, evil is that which they bear.
4. This narration is a sign of the true prophethood of Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. He gave them information regarding the letter which was as he said. Pondering over this narration brings one to the conclusion that Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala takes care of and protects his pious slaves through means that would not even cross their minds. They gave up everything for Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala and so he looked after their affairs.
5. This narration holds great virtue for ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhu as well. His severe concern for Islam, holding himself in totality to the wishes of Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, and clean heart for the other Companions of Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam shines through.
6. The mazahib differ on the punishment given to a spy. The opinion held by Imam Abu Hanifah and Imam Shafi’i is that although the spy will be punished at the discretion of the judge, he will not be killed. Imam Ahmed has not given a ruling in this matter however, the ruling of his mazhab is the same as the that of Imam Abu Hanifah and Imam al Shafi’i.
Imam Malik has two views on the matter. One ruling recorded from him is that a spy will be killed. In another, he had ruled that it will be according to the decision taken by the judge, which is the view of the other three schools of thought.
Those that hold the opinion that a spy will be killed answer the legal ramifications of this narration by saying: He was saved due to his participation in Badr which guaranteed his forgiveness.
When all these rulings are taken into consideration the common factor is that it will be up to the judge to decide the fate of the spy. If he feels that he should be killed, then the spy will be axed. If the judge however, feels it better to keep him alive then some other punishment will be metered out. This has been alluded to by al Qurtubi and Ibn Taymiyyah. Ibn al Qayyim is of the same opinion as recorded in al Hadyi.
The way I see it is that perhaps there was another reason besides his participation in Badr that led to his life being saved. There is no clear directive of killing a spy that can be deduced from this narration. We see that Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam did not agree with ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhu. Was this solely due to his participation in Badr? Or could there have been another reason for it? This ruling is not like other punishments mandated by Islamic Law, which is through clear irrefutable texts.
To conclude, the Imam or judge will decide what punishment will be metered out to the spy. If they decide on killing him, it will remain in the scope of their discretion. And Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala knows best.
7. Spying on the Muslims and relaying the information gathered to the disbelievers is treachery and disloyalty to Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala and His Messenger salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. In some narrations after this incident came to light, Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala revealed the following:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِيْنَ آمَنُوْا لَا تَتَّخِذُوْا عَدُوِّيْ وَعَدُوَّكُمْ أَوْلِيَاءَ تُلْقُوْنَ إِلَيْهِم بِالْمَوَدَّةِ وَقَدْ كَفَرُوْا بِمَا جَاءَكُم مِّنَ الْحَقِّ يُخْرِجُوْنَ الرَّسُوْلَ وَإِيَّاكُمْ أَنْ تُؤْمِنُوْا بِاللَّهِ رَبِّكُمْ إِنْ كُنْتُمْ خَرَجْتُمْ جِهَادًا فِيْ سَبِيْلِي وَابْتِغَاءَ مَرْضَاتِيْ تُسِرُّوْنَ إِلَيْهِمْ بِالْمَوَدَّةِ وَأَنَا أَعْلَمُ بِمَا أَخْفَيْتُمْ وَمَا أَعْلَنتُمْ وَمَنْ يَفْعَلْهُ مِنْكُمْ فَقَدْ ضَلَّ سَوَاءَ السَّبِيْلِ
O you who have believed, do not take My enemies and your enemies as allies, extending to them affection while they have disbelieved in what came to you of the truth, having driven out the Prophet and yourselves [only] because you believe in Allah, your Lord. If you have come out for jihad in My cause and seeking means to My approval, [take them not as friends]. You confide to them affection, but I am most knowing of what you have concealed and what you have declared. And whoever does it among you has certainly strayed from the soundness of the way.
8. Subtlety matched with precision in seeking clarity forms part of the wisdom of the Imam.
9. When a precarious situation arises the Imam will at times project force and at others subtlety in ascertaining the truth of the matter. He will look at the situation from all angles, with an eye of justice before taking a stance. He will always keep in mind what will benefit the ummah and save it from harm in his decision, together with trying his utmost to prevent bloodshed and war.
10. At times the political well-being lies in keeping matters under wraps. At times allowing this information a free reign will cause more harm than benefit to the ummah.
11. Imam al Bukhari has included a chapter entitled ‘When one is forced to look at the hair of women or strip them, be it a believing woman or a disbelieving woman living in the Islamic state, when they have disobeyed Allah and His Messenger’.
12. This narration is principle in the law that an authority making a mistake subject to a reasonable explanation will not be taken to task.
13. The Imam will reconsider and forgive the mistakes of persons of value.
14. When one is caught doing a sin and makes an excuse or offers a reasonable explanation, his explanation will be heeded. Al Badr al Din al ‘Ayni has alluded to this in al ‘Umdah.
 Sahih al Bukhari, Hadith: 3762.
 Surah al Mumtahinah: 1.
 Surah al Nahl: 25.
 Surah al Mumtahinah: 1.Back to top