The hadith of the Prophet being bewitched by a Jewish man Labid bin al-A’sam has been narrated in a sound manner with various chains of transmission from four of the companions of the Prophet. There is no harm in accepting the hadith from a theological viewpoint because we believe that illness can occur to the prophets due to them being human beings and this is another type of physical illness.
Here is the text of the some of the narrations from Sahih al-Bukhari:
A man called Labid bin al-A’sam from the tribe of Bani Zurayq worked magic on Allah’s Messenger until Allah’s Messenger started imagining that he had done a thing that he had not really done. One day or one night he was with us, he invoked Allah and invoked for a long period, and then said, “Oh A’isha! Do you know that Allah has instructed me concerning the matter I have asked him? Two men came to me and one of them sat near my head and the other near my feet. One of them said to his companion, “What is the disease of this man?” The other replied, “He is under the effect of magic.’ The first one asked, ‘Who has worked the magic on him?’ The other replied, “Labid bin Al-A’sam.’ The first one asked, ‘What material did he use?’ The other replied, ‘A comb and the hairs stuck to it and the skin of pollen of a male date palm.’ The first one asked, ‘Where is that?’ The other replied, ‘(That is) in the well of Dharwan;’ ” So Allah’s Messenger along with some of his companions went there and came back saying, “Oh A’isha, the colour of its water is like the infusion of Henna leaves. The tops of the date-palm trees near it are like the heads of the devils.” I asked. “Oh Allah’s Messenger? Why did you not show it (to the people)?” He said, “Since Allah cured me, I disliked to let evil spread among the people.” Then he ordered that the well be filled up with earth.
Magic was worked on Allah’s Messenger so that he used to think that he had sexual relations with his wives while he actually had not (Sufyan said: That is the hardest kind of magic as it has such an effect). Then one day he said, “Oh A’isha do you know that Allah has instructed me concerning the matter I asked Him? Two men came to me and one of them sat near my head and the other sat near my feet. The one near my head asked the other. What is wrong with this man?’ The other replied, “He is under the effect of magic.’ The first one asked, ‘Who has worked the magic on him?’ The other replied, “Labid bin Al-A’sam, a man from Bani Zurayq who was an ally of the Jews and was a hypocrite.’ The first one asked, What material did he use?’ The other replied, ‘A comb and the hair stuck to it.’ The first one asked, ‘Where (is that)?’ The other replied. ‘In a skin of pollen of a male date palm tree kept under a stone in the well of Dharwan’ ” So the Prophet went to that well and took out those things and said “That was the well which was shown to me (in a dream) Its water looked like the infusion of Henna leaves and its date-palm trees looked like the heads of devils.” The Prophet added, “Then that thing was taken out’ I said (to the Prophet ) ” Why did you not show it (to the people)?” He said, “Allah has cured me; I dislike to let evil spread among my people.”
Al-Bukhari (3268) (5763) (5766) (6391), Muslim (2189), Ahmad (24345), Al-Nasa’i (al-Kubra 7615), Ibn Majah (3545), Al-Bayhaqi (16271), Ibn Hibban (6583), Ibn Abi Shaybah (23985), and Abu Ya’la (4882). All of these chains, which include some of the greatest scholars in hadith, go back to Hisham bin Urwah who took it from his father Urwah bin al-Zubayr who took it from his aunt A’ishah.
Al-Bayhaqi also narrates it from Amrah from A’ishah in his Dala’il (3018)
Another sound chain is from al-A’mash from Yazid bin Hayyan from Zayd bin Arqam. Ithaf al-Khiyarah al-Maharah (Chapter on sorcery 3965), al-Tabarani (Mu’jam al-Kabir 5016), Ibn Abi Shaybah (23518), al-Tahawi (Sharh Mushkil al-Athar (5935), Al-Nasa’i (3543), and Ahmad (18467).
Another sound chain is from al-A’mash from Thumamah bin ‘Uqbah from Zayd bin Arqam. Al-Tabarani (Mu’jam al-Kabir 5011, 5012), al-Hakim (360/4)
Another chain has been mentioned by al-Ayni that Ibn Sa’d narrates from Ikrimah the freed slave of Ibn Abbas (Umdah al-Qari Chapter on Sorcery 31/400).
Other books also narrate it from Anas bin Malik with weak chains.
Ibn S’ad also narrates a chain from Umar the freed slave of Ghufrah bint Rabah (sister of Bilal, may Allah be pleased with him). (Al-Tabaqat al-Kubra, Chapter on who mentioned the Prophet being bewitched 1/150).
Now let’s look reasons for rejection of the hadith: Either we say a massive mistake was made or we say the chains were forged by one of the narrators. Both are extremely far-fetched, as you will see.
Let’s examine the narrators in brief using al-Nawawi’s “Tahdhib al-Asma,” Ibn Hajar’s “Taqrib,” and al-Dhahabi’s “Mizan al-I’tidal” to see if any of these are possible. As for the first chain:
Hisham bin Urwah: The famous tabi’i, one of the seven jurists. He met Abdullah bin Umar (who wiped over his head and prayed for him), Jabir, Sahl bin Sa’d, Anas bin Malik and he took hadith from his uncle Abdullah bin al-Zubayr, his father Urwah, and a huge number of the Imams of the tabi’in… The ulama have agreed upon his trustworthiness, his majesticness in knowledge, and his leadership. Muhammad bin Sa’d said: “He was trustworthy (thiqah), firm in knowledge (thabt), a proof (hujjah), and a big narrator of hadith.
Urwah bin al-Zubayr bin al-Awwam the majestic Tabi’i: The jurist of Madinah, one of the seven jurists of Madinah. He took hadith from his father, his brother Abdullah, his mother Asma bint Abi Bakr, and his aunt A’ishah… and a huge number of the companions and tabi’in… Ibn Shihab said: “Urwah was a ocean of knowledge that never muddied.” His son Hisham said: “I swear by Allah that I haven’t even taken 0.0005% of his hadiths!” Ibn ‘Uyaynah said: “He was one the most knowledgeable of people with the hadith of A’ishah.” Ibn Sa’d said: “The scholars are agreed upon his majesticness in knowledge, his high rank and deep knowledge.”
As for the second chain:
Sulayman bin Mihran al-A’mash: One of the trustworthy Imams from the tabi’in, a strong memoriser of hadith (hafiz), knowledgeable of the various recitations of the Quran, extremely cautious in religion. Nobody criticised him except for “concealment (tadlis)” although the teachers that he narrated a lot from is considered as a connected chain. (All of the major books of hadith including al-Bukhari and Muslim have narrated from him and the norm is with him is that there is no “concealment” unless known otherwise).
Yazid bin Hayyan al-Taymi: Al-Kufi, trustworthy. (Al-Dhahabi in “al-Kashif” says he took from Zayd bin Arqam and is trustworthy).
Thumamah bin ‘Uqbah al-Muhallimi: Al-Kufi, trustworthy. (Al-Dhahabi in “al-Kashif” says he took from Zayd bin Arqam and is trustworthy).
As for A’ishah and Zayd, they are the companions of the Prophet and everybody else mentioned is also trustworthy.
In addition to this, it is well known that the Prophet used to seek protection from magic and sorcery right up until his last breath. A’ishah narrates that the Prophet would blow on himself during his deathbed illness after reading al-Falaq and al-Nas. Al-Bukhari (5735).
A final point is that what occurred to the Prophet was for a short number of days, just like any other physical illness. It may have been that many of the companions were unaware of the sorcery and assumed it was an ordinary illness, or that those who were aware did not narrate it out of etiquette with the Prophet .
I will mention what the ulama of Ahl al-Sunnah said regarding this hadith in a following post insha’Allah. Many of them have commented on the hadith and included it in their books, accepting it with no quarrels.