The Lice of the Prophet

Muhammad’s Lice

Thanks to Staring at the View/RoP

Reporting that a historical figure, such as George Washington or Martin Luther or Charlemagne, suffered from head lice would probably not get the reporter curses and death threats. That is not the case when the figure is the Prophet Muhammad and the reporter is Zakaria Boutros.

Muslims believe that Muhammad is the most virtuous person who has ever lived. His benefits include not only his wisdom and character, but also extend to his rinse water, exocrine glands, and even his excretory system. Numerous authentic Hadiths describe his followers almost fighting to gain access to and smear over themselves the water he used to wash himself (Vol 1, Book 4, Numbers 187, 188). Young Muslims are regularly taught that the prophet’s sweat was more fragrant than musk and his perspiration shone like pearls. A detailedonline article was written about the blessed urine of the Beloved Messenger after Syrian scholar Shaykh Muhammad al-Yaqoubi was criticized for saying at an international Islamic conference in London that he wished he could be the pure and medicinal urine that passed out of Muhammad’s body.

In a recent Dialogue of Truth episode on al-Hayat TV, Abuna (Father) Boutros mentioned that Muhammad had lice. The initial reaction of Muslims was the same as it always is when something unfavorable is said about their Prophet: anger and denial (This is Phase One; here I discuss Phases 1-3). They accused Zakaria of lying and presenting false information without any evidence. Whether by design or accident (if by design, it was brilliant!) Zakaria dedicated his following week’s program to respond to these critics by presenting the following historical evidence from Islamic sources that the Prophet did indeed have an itchy head (although these sources have existed for well over 1200 years, not all of them are easily available in languages other than Arabic which is one reason many historical facts about Muhammad are unknown to non-Arabic reading Muslims. English links will be provided below if available online).

1. The Sunan of Abu Dawud al-Sajistani (Book 19, Number 3074) as well as the Jamia al-Asul of Ibn Kathir and the Sunan al-Kubra of Imam al-Bayhaqi relate that a woman named Zainab was picking lice from the head of the Prophet (it is unclear from the texts if this is thedaughter-of-law and cousin of Muhammad whom he married after she divorced his son Zayd, or another woman with the same name).

2. Abu al-Qasim al-Tabarani in his Al-Mujam al-Kabeer relays an account by Umm Salama that she was picking lice from the head of the prophet when a woman named Zainab came to see her. Umm Salama stopped picking the lice as he lifted her head to talk to Zainab, but Muhammad angrily told her not to stop; she could talk to Zainab and pick his lice at the same time.

3. Ibn Jawzi in Kashf al-Mushkil writes that the Prophet liked to take his afternoon nap in the house of Anas Ibn Malik’s aunt, and she would pick the lice off his head.
4. Abu Umar Ibn Abdel Barr in his book Tamhid writes that Umm Haram relayed that the Prophet used to come to her house and fall asleep in her lap while she picked his lice.

5. Jalal al-Din al Sayuti in al-Durr al-Mansur writes that Akramah said that a woman named Khawlah came to the Prophet to complain about her husband while another woman was picking the lice from Muhammad’s head. As Khawlah began speaking Muhammad lifted his head distractedly towards the sky, causing the woman to exclaim, “Khawlah, can’t you stop talking? Don’t you see what you are doing to the Prophet?”

After noting that it seemed as if everywhere the Prophet went he needed women to pick the lice from his hair, including but not limited to the five women listed above, Abuna Zakaria paused dramatically as he often does, to look directly into the camera and ask, “I would like the Ulama (Muslim scholars) of al-Azhar University to explain to us why the head of the Prophet was so filled with lice that everywhere he went he needed women to remove them. Your Quran describes Christians as najiseen (filthy), but whose head was covered with lice?”

When the co-host asked if the Arabic texts also gave the reasons for lice, Zakaria continued with the following sources:

In his Book of Animals, al Jahiz (go here for more on this fascinating Arab zoologist, grandson of an African slave) said that Abu-Qathifa asked his friends if they knew were lice came from. When they replied they did not, he told them that lice gathered when they passed gas and did not clean themselves. Later in the same book, al-Jahiz wrote that lice multipled from unclean perspiration, dirty clothing, and unwashed hair. In his Book of Medicine, Physician al-Razi wrote that lice increased when people rarely took baths. Shaykh al-Nasafi noted in his book Tilbat al-Talabah that “filth brings lice”. Ibn Samoun wrote in Amali that lice grow in places that are not clean. Again characteristically, Zakaria asked, “Did the Prophet have so many lice because he was unclean? I don’t want anyone to accuse me – I’m just asking the question.”

The co-host next asked what Arabic sources said about someone who had lice. Zakaria quoted Abu Husayn Zakaria in The Encyclopedia of Language as saying, “Lice indicates vulgarity and oppression. The person with lice is vulgar and an oppressor.”

As Zakaria continued with more Islamic sources that discussed lice resulting from poor hygiene and personal uncleanliness, I found myself thinking the same thing you might be thinking right now, “Isn’t this pushing the envelope a little too far? What’s the point on going on about Muhammad and his lice? Who cares anyhow?”

Then I realized I was thinking from the perspective of a non-Muslim living in the West. How would I think if I were an ordinary Christian Copt living in Egypt? What would it feel like to be a Coptic girl walking the streets of Cairo, her uncovered hair flowing over her shoulders, hearing men call her a whore as they stare with contempt at the cross she wears around her neck? What would it be like to be a young Christian boy walking to church on Christmas Eve with the neighborhood ruffains chasing and teasing him, calling him a kafir and an idolater? What is it like for a Christian teenager in a Muslim country to know that America elected its first African American President, but he could never be president of his country because he is a non-Muslim? What is it like for a Christian pediatrician working in the clinic of a Coptic neighborhood, knowing he will never fulfill his dream of being Head of Pediatrics at a major hospital or university just because he is not a Muslim? What is it like for Christians to realize they cannot even repair their churches without government permission while mosques are built all around them and they are forced to listen to Quranic verses describing them from loudspeakers as being filthy and untrustworthy?

If I lived in their shoes, a minority in a cultural majority that feels itself spiritually and morally superior to them in every way, I might understand a little better the emotions that drive Zakaria Boutros as he risks his life to talk about the lice of Muhammad.

3 thoughts on “The Lice of the Prophet”

  1. The lies about the prophet of islam abound everywhere you look. It is all lies and deception. They paint him in the most angelic way. Why didn’t someone or histographers created an image of him as as the purest of human being? All these lies about him being the purest of all human beings are part of the extended oral history from which the arabs are well known to fabricate in their poetry and recantations. The Hadiths themselves, the historically authenticated sources of the behavior of the madman prophete himself in addition to the good things he did, also tell stories all his strangest behaviors and ideas that he held. The lice one is good story. How could muslims deny it? It is in the Hadiths. They should have deleted the one they do not like long time ago. Instead muslims tell everyone to get in touch with Islam by reading the Koran and the Hadiths then at the last minute one should not ask questions about these stories. why did you tell me to read them in the first palce? That ‘s utter contradiction. How about the prohete ordering murders of his opponents? Mostly poets and poetesses and other occupations.

    The ones that I like the most in a funny way are the ones that have to do with personal hygiene which are always associated with some forms of superstition. The idea that one has to clean this nostrils every morning because the devil resides there during the night is a good one. The one about which foot should be set first when entering the place of defacation (I do not like to call it a bathroom, because the place muslims wash and take a leek or dump are seperate. Beware if you set your right foot first. The big devil will be there waiting for you. Some muslims prisoners were killed by some salafist prisoners in an Iraqi prison because they set right foot first. Whow now that’s superstition or simply following the dictates of the madman prophete.

    I think muslims should clean up the Hadiths if they want a rational human being to accept them as spiritually worthy of reading and debating. But to somehow say they are not true because they paint the prophete as an ordinary person sometimes smelly sweaty lice ridden person is beyond any comprehension. Muslims need to decide what is authentic and not authentic in the Hadiths. That’s will settle the matter. Then I propose we move to the Koran and clean it up a bit. There is a lot of rubbish there that no one can accept as universally spiritual. That’s probably asking too much if not death sentence by stoning.

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