Abu Hurayra's
Two Vessels of Knowledge

by Sh. G. F. Haddad


“I was told of a Hadith where Abu Huraira (radhia-Allahu ʿanhu) said that he was taught two kinds of knowledge. One was the shariah and the other if he was to tell them they would chop off his head.
Has anyone heard of this hadith and its authenticity.”

No wording of this hadith mentions the Shariʿa. As for the meaning, it is related to knowledge of the Fitan or political dissensions connected with Yazid ibn Muʿawiya.

Abu Hurayra left out certain hadiths untold out of fear for his life if he were to reveal all that the Prophet - Allāh bless and greet him and his Family - had told him about forthcoming events (of which the Prophet predicted literally thousands), particularly in connection with the Banū Umayya.

Consequently Abu Hurayra decried [i.e. publicly denounced] the governor of Madīna Marwān ibn al-H.akam; warned of a terrible disaster about to befall the Arabs; and prayed for death before the year 60, the year Yazīd ibn Muʿāwiya came to power:1

1. Abū Hurayra said: "Woe to the Arabs for a disaster that is fast approaching! The rule of young boys: if you obey them they shall enter you into the Fire, and if you disobey them they shall strike your necks with the sword."2

2. Another version also from him states: "Woe to the Arabs for a disaster that is fast approaching at the turn of the year 60! The public trust will become spoils of war, almsgiving will be considered a fine, people will only bear witness for their friends, and lusts will govern."3

3. ʿUmayr ibn Hāni' al-ʿAnasī narrated that Abū Hurayra used to walk in the marketplaces and say: "Hold on to the two temples of Muʿāwiya [i.e. his head]! O Allāh, do not let me reach the year 60!"4

4. "Seek refuge in Allāh from the turn of the year 60 and from the rule of young boys" (imārat al-s.ibyān). And he said: "The world will not pass before it first belongs to a mean fool son of a mean fool (lukaʿ ibn lukaʿ)."5 Some versions have "and the rule of fools" (imārat al-sufahā').6

5. The above reports show Abū Hurayra's familiarity with the report of Abū Saʿīd: "I heard the Messenger of Allāh - Allāh bless and greet him and his Family - say: 'There will be, after sixty years, { a later generation who have ruined worship and have followed lusts. But they will meet deception } (19:59). Then there will be a later generation who recite Qur'ān but it will not reach beyond their throats. Three types will be reciting the Qur'ān [at that time]: the Believer, the hypocrite, and the open rebel."7 Confirming the above is the famous saying of ʿAlī at S.iffīn: "People! Do not loathe Muʿāwiya's leadership. If you were to lose him, you would see heads parting with their necks like colocynths (kal-h.anz.al)!"8 Al-Bayhaqī said: "ʿAlī and Abū Hurayra spoke such things only because they heard them from the Messenger of Allāh - Allāh bless and greet him."9

6. Ibn ʿAjlān narrated that Abū Hurayra used to say: "Verily, I am reporting narrations today which, if I had said a word of them in the time of ʿUmar, my head would have rolled."10

7. "If I told you everything I knew, people would charge me with violating the law and they would say: Abū Hurayra is mad!" Another narration states: "You would have pelted me with dung."11

8. ʿAbd Allāh ibn ʿAmr ibn al-ʿAs. stood weeping before the Kaʿba which had been destroyed and burnt by the army of H.usayn ibn Numayr al-Sakūnī12 in the year 63 and said: "People! By Allāh, if Abū Hurayra had informed you that you would be fighting the grandson of your Prophet - Allāh bless and greet him and his Family - and burn the House of your Lord, you would have said there is no worse liar than Abū Hurayra! And now you know, therefore, expect Divine revenge."13

9. Abū Hurayra said: "I preserved from the Messenger of Allāh - Allāh bless and greet him and his Family - two large vessels of knowledge. I disseminated the first one among the people. Were I to disseminate the second, my gullet would be cut."14 Another version states: "I preserved three vessels, of which I disseminated two." Ibn H.ajar said the gist of this is that Abū Hurayra disseminated more than what he kept secret. Thus the first vessel in the h.adīth of al-Bukhārī is larger than the second.

10. Abū Hurayra also said, "I heard the Messenger of Allāh - Allāh bless and greet him and his Family - say: 'The destruction of my Community will take place at the hands of boys (ghilma) from the Quraysh.' I can name them if you wish. They are the Banū Fulān and the Banū Fulān."15 Another sound version has "boylings" (ughaylima).

11. Abū Hurayra also narrated that the Prophet - Allāh bless and greet him and his Family - said: "Those who will destroy the people are this particular clan (hādhā al-h.ayyu) of the Quraysh." They said, "What do you order us to do, Messenger of Allāh?" He replied: "If only the people stayed away from them (law anna al-nāsa iʿtazalūhum)!"16 This is precisely what Abū Dharr did. Ibn ʿUmar similarly said: "I heard the Messenger of Allāh - Allāh bless and greet him and his Family - say: 'This particular clan (h.ayy) of the Quraysh shall remain safe until they turn away from their Religion into apostates.' A man stood up saying: 'Messenger of Allāh! Will I be in Paradise or in Hellfire?' The Prophet - Allāh bless and greet him and his Family - answered, 'In Paradise.' Another stood asking the same, whereupon the Prophet - Allāh bless and greet him and his Family - answered, 'In Hellfire.' Then [he said], 'Say nothing to me as long as I say nothing to you. Were it not for fear that you would stop burying one another (lawlā an lā tadāfanū) I could certainly tell you about a great number of those who will be in the Fire and you would know who they are. If I am ordered to do it I shall certainly do it!'"17 (This is to silence the hypocrites of our time whose inner belief is that the Prophet, upon him peace, knew nothing or little of the ghayb!)

12. H.umayd ibn Mālik ibn Khuthaym was sitting with Abū Hurayra in his land of al-ʿAqīq when a group of the people of Madīna came to him. They dismounted and came to him. H.umayd said: "Abū Hurayra said [to me]: 'Go to my mother and say to her, Your son sends his salām and asks you to send us a little food.' I went and she gave me three loaves of bread and some olive oil and salt. I carried it to them. When I put it in front of them Abū Hurayra said: 'Allāhu akbar. Praise be to Allāh Who has sated us with bread after the time when our only food was the two black ones: water and dates!' The people did not leave anything except they ate it. When they went away, he said: 'Son of my brother, be kind to your sheep, wipe their mucus from them, improve their pastures, and pray in their vicinity, for they are from the animals of Paradise. By the One in Whose hand is my soul, there will soon come a time upon people when the flock of sheep will be dearer to its owner than the sons of Marwān!'"18


1Under the rule of Yazīd ibn Muʿāwiya three scandals took place: al-H.usayn ibn ʿAlī was killed; Madīna was ransacked for three days during which the Companions were massacred, after which no survivor of the battle of Badr was left on earth; and a thousand unmarried women gave birth to fatherless children; finally, the Kaʿba was destroyed and burnt, at which time Yazīd died.

2Narrated by Ibn Abī Shayba.

3Narrated from Abū Hurayra by Maʿmar ibn Rāshid in his Jāmiʿ

(Mus.annaf 11:373), al-H.ākim (1990 ed. 4:530), and Nuʿaym ibn H.ammād in al-Fitan (2:703 #1981). Al-T.abarānī narrates something similar in al-Awsat. (2:106) with a weak chain cf. al-Haythamī (4:199).

4Narrated from ʿUmayr ibn Hāni' al-ʿAnasī by Ibn ʿAsākir in Mukhtas.ar Tārīkh Dimashq (29:206) and by Ibn Saʿd (4:340-341) as well as al-Bayhaqī in the Dalā'il, al-Dhahabī in the Siyar, Ibn H.ajar in al-Is.āba (7:443), and Ibn Kathīr in al-Bidāya (6:228-229). "Hold on to the two temples of his head" i.e. love him while you still can, as his epigones will not be so lovable.

5Narrated from Abū S.ālih. the mu'adhdhin, from Abū Hurayra by Ah.mad and Ibn Abī Shayba (7:461 #37235) with the number 70 cf. al-Haythamī (7:220) but cited by al-Suyūt.ī in Ziyādat al-Jāmiʿ al-S.aghīr (#2040) and the Kanz (#30854) with the number 60. Also - second sentence only - from Abū Hurayra, Hāniʿ ibn Nyār, and H.udhayfa ibn al-Yamān by al-Tirmidhī (h.asan) and Ah.mad with sound chains cf. Fath. (1:129-131).

6Cf. Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr, al-Tamhīd (2:303) and al-Shawkānī, Nayl al-Awt.ār (9:167).

7Narrated from Abū Saʿīd by Ah.mad, al-Bukhārī in Khalq Afʿāl al-ʿIbād (p. 117), al-T.abarānī in al-Awsat. (9:131), Ibn H.ibbān (3:32 #755), and al-H.ākim (1990 ed. 2:406 s.ah.īh. and 4:590 isnād s.ah.īh.), all "with a good strong chain meeting the Sunan criteria": Ibn Kathīr, Bidāya (6:228) cf. al-Haythamī (6:231).

8Narrated from al-Shaʿbī from al-H.ārith al-Aʿwar by Ibn Abī Shayba (7:548 #37854).

9Cited by Ibn Kathīr in al-Bidāya (6:228).

10Narrated by Ibn ʿAsākir in Mukhtas.ar Tārīkh Dimashq (29:192) and cited by al-Dhahabī.

11Narrated by Ibn Saʿd (4:57, 2:119).

12Yazīd ibn Muʿāwiya's general.

13Narrated from ʿUbayd Allāh ibn Saʿīd by Ibn ʿAsākir in Tārīkh Dimashq (13:206) and cited by al-Dhahabī in the chapter on ʿAbd Allāh ibn ʿAmr in the Siyar (4:266).

14Narrated by al-Bukhārī.

15Narrated by al-Bukhārī and Ah.mad.

16Narrated by al-Bukhārī, Muslim, and Ah.mad.

17Narrated from Ibn ʿUmar by Abū Yaʿlā (10:66 #5702) and, as part of a longer narration, by Ibn Abī H.ātim in his ʿIlal (2:256 #2262).

18Narrated by Mālik in his Muwat.t.a'.


Blessings and peace on the Prophet, his Family, and all his Companions.

Hajj Gibril


Wa ʿalaykum as-Salam:

“Here's the hadith from Bukhari:

Sahih Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 3, Number 121:
Narrated Abu Huraira:
I have memorized two kinds of knowledge from Allah's Apostle. I have propagated one of them to you and if I propagated the second, then my throat would be cut (i.e. killed).”

As I showed - I hope - the correct meaning is "two vessels" (wiʿa'ayn), not "two kinds." The hadith is about upheavals that were to take place on and after the year 60. It is not about spiritual or religious knowledge.

As for the report in the introduction to Imam al-Ghazzali's Minhaj al-ʿAbideen quoting Sayyidina ʿAli as saying "I have been given some knowledge which, if I shared it with the people, they would declare me a kafir and kill me and consider such a heinous thing to be great," it is apparently inauthentic since it attributes to the Companions the hatred of knowledge and its rejection. If authentic, perhaps it means the people of Iraq, and the knowledge in question is their betrayal of al- Husayn radyAllahu ʿanh, but Allah knows best.

Regarding the question:

I have heard it said that the 'vessel of knowledge' that Sayyidina Abu Hurayra (May Allah be pleased with him) was given by the Messenger of Allāh - Allāh bless and greet him and his Family - which he didn't disseminate out of fear of having his throat cut was "esoteric" spiritual knowledge of deen, whose zahiri meaning if stated would have led to people with less understanding wishing to cut his throat - as with some of the "controversial" statements of the awliya which taken at outward face value appear to be deviant or even kufr. Is this an interpretation of this hadith that has ever been accepted by the ulema or the mutassawufeen ?

This interpretation is defended by some of the latter, however, in truth, it is far from Abu Hurayra's own elaborations on his own words, as I hope I have made clear by citing him at length. Further, Mulla ʿAli al-Qari pointed out - in his epistle against Wahdat al-Wujud - that Abu Hurayra is not known as a spiritual master among the Sahaba, unlike, for example Sayyidina ʿAli, Allah be well-pleased with both of them. And Allah knows best.

Hajj Gibril

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latest update: 2012-08-09


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