How is the Hadith about black seed oil understood?



Islamic Text

There is a difference of opinion about the black seed Hadith, some took it literally and others interpreted it.

عَائِشَةَ، حَدَّثَتْنِي: أَنَّهَا سَمِعَتِ النَّبِيَّ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ يَقُولُ: «إِنَّ هَذِهِ الحَبَّةَ السَّوْدَاءَ شِفَاءٌ مِنْ كُلِّ دَاءٍ، إِلَّا مِنَ السَّامِ» قُلْتُ: وَمَا السَّامُ؟ قَالَ: المَوْتُ

(Sayidah) Aishah  narrated that the Prophet said, ‘Indeed this black seed is a cure for every illness, except for al-Saam.’ I (Aishah) said, ‘What is al-Saam?’ He said, ‘Death.’ (Sahih al-Bukhari, 5687).

The scholars differ over the interpretation of this Hadith. Some have said that it is not to be taken literally, in that it covers all illnesses, rather it is interpreted to mean certain types of illness.

وَاخْتَلَفَ الْعُلَمَاءُ فِي ذَلِكَ فَقَالَ أَكْثَرُهُمْ هَذَا مِنْ الْعَامِّ الْمَخْصُوصِ (طرح التثريب في شرح التقريب)

The scholars have differed regarding it (the Hadith), most of them said it is from the narrations that  use general wording but intend something more specific. (Imam al-Iraqi, Tarh al-Tathreeb).

قَالَ الْخَطَّابِيُّ هَذَا مِنْ عُمُومِ اللَّفْظِ الَّذِي يُرَادُ بِهِ الْخُصُوصُ إذْ لَيْسَ يَجْتَمِعُ فِي طَبْعِ شَيْءٍ مِنْ النَّبَاتِ وَالشَّجَرِ جَمِيعُ الْقُوَى الَّتِي تُقَابِلُ الطَّبَائِعَ كُلَّهَا فِي مُعَالَجَةِ الْأَدْوَاءِ عَلَى اخْتِلَافِهَا وَتَبَايُنِ طَبَائِعِهَا، وَإِنَّمَا أَرَادَ بِهِ شِفَاءً مِنْ كُلِّ دَاءٍ يَحْدُثُ مِنْ الرُّطُوبَةِ أَوْ الْبَلْغَمِ (أعلام الحديث)

This Hadith uses general wording but intends something more specific. As no plant or tree encompasses all capabilities to combat every feature required in the cure of ailments, due to the difference in their nature. Rather what is intended is a cure from every illness that relates to moisture or mucus. (Imam Abu Sulayman al-Khattabi, A’laam al-Hadeeth).

وَقَالَ الْقَاضِي عِيَاضٌ وَالنَّوَوِيُّ هُوَ مَحْمُولٌ عَلَى الْعِلَلِ الْبَارِدَةِ (طرح التثريب في شرح التقريب)

(Imam) Qadi Iyaad and (Imam) al-Nawawi both said, the Hadith is to be understood to refer to illness that relate to cold. (Imam al-Iraqi, Tarh al-Tathreeb).

So we see above that some of the great Imams in our religious tradition have interpreted the Hadith rather than taking it literally. It is important to know that such a move away from the literal meaning is only permitted when there is evidence to do so. The primary evidence for these scholars is the fact that the Prophet ﷺ instructed people to consume other things for medical difficulties e.g. honey and advised certain practices e.g. cupping.

And Allah (Most High) knows best.

– Answered by Shaykh Noorud-deen (03.03.2021)

See also:

Is the Hadith black seed cure for every illness Sahih?

Honey for Stomach Issues 

See also (video):