Dhu al-Kifl: A Prophet or a Saint?
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“And (remember) Isma’il and Idris and Dhul-Kifl. Each one of them was of those who observed patience. And We admitted them to Our mercy. Surely, they were of the righteous.” (Qur’an, 21:85-86)
Was Sayyiduna Dhu al-Kifl a Prophet or a Saint
Three persons are mentioned in the above two verses. Out of these three, there is no doubt about the prophethood of Sayyiduna Isma’il `alayhi al-salam and Sayyiduna Idris `alayhi al-salam as they are mentioned in the Qur’an as such several times. Ibn Kathir is of the opinion that the mention of the name of Sayyiduna Dhul-Kifl along with the other two prophets in the above verse shows that he too was a prophet. However, some other versions do not include him in the category of prophets. They say that he was a saint or a pious person.
Dhu al-Kifl’s Strange Story
Imam of Tafsir Ibn Jarir, may Allah have mercy upon him, has reported on the authority of Mujahid, may Allah have mercy upon him, that [when] Sayyiduna Yas`a `alayhi al-salam (who is referred to as a prophet in the Holy Qur’an) became old and weak, he thought of appointing some one who could perform the duties of a prophet on his behalf during his life time. He assembled all his companions for this purpose and told them of his desire to appoint someone who would act as his deputy but who must fulfill three conditions, namely that he should fast all the year round, should spend the nights in prayers, and does not ever lose his temper. A relatively unknown person who was held in contempt by the people, stood up and offered himself for the job. Sayyiduna Yas`a `alayhi al-salam asked him whether he fasted all year round, spent his nights in prayers, and never lost his temper. The man replied in the affirmative and confirmed that he fulfilled all three conditions. Perhaps Sayyiduna Yas`a `alayhi al-salam did not believe his claim and rejected him.
After a few days Sayyiduna Yas`a `alayhi al-salam reconvened the meeting and repeated his conditions and asked his companions if any of them met the requirements. Everyone remained seated but the same man stood up again and claimed that he fulfilled the three conditions. Then Yas`a `alayhi al-salam appointed him his deputy. When Satan realized that Sayyiduna Dhul-Kifl had been selected as a deputy to Yas`a `alayhi al-salam, he asked all his aides to go to Sayyiduna Dhul-Kifl and inveigle him into doing something which would result in his removal from the post of deputy. All his aides excused themselves and said that he was beyond their power to harm. The Satan (Iblis) then said, “Alright, leave him to me. I will take care of him.”
Sayyiduna Dhul-Kifl, true to his claim, used to fast during the day and pray the whole night and had a little nap in the afternoon. Satan went to him just when he was about to take his afternoon nap and knocked at the door. He got up and inquired who was there. The Satan replied, “I am an old tortured man.”
So he opened the door and let him in. The Satan came in and started a yarn about the cruelty and injustice which he suffered at the hands of his community and relatives. He stretched the story so long that no time was left for Sayyiduna Dhul-Kifl to take his usual nap. So he told the old man (Satan) that he should come to him at the time when he came out, and he would cause justice to be done to him.
Later on Sayyiduna Dhul-Kifl sat in his court and waited for the old man but he did not turn up. Next morning he again waited for the old man in his court but again he did not come. Then in the afternoon, when he was about to have his nap, the old man came and started beating at the door. He inquired who he was, and the Satan replied again – “an old tortured man,” so he opened the door and asked him, “Didn’t I tell you to come to my court yesterday, but you failed to appear, nor did you come this morning?”
To this the Satan answered, “Sir, my enemies are very wicked people; when they learnt that you were sitting in your court and would force them to give back to me what was my due, they agreed to settle the matter out of court. But as soon as you left your court, they went back on their promise.”
Sayyidna Dhul-Kifl asked him again to come to his court when he was there. All this conversation continued for such a long time that he could not have his usual nap on that day also. He then went to the court and waited for the old man, who again did not turn up. The next day again he waited for him until late in the noon but to no avail. When he returned home on that day, he was very sleepy because of lack of sleep for the last two days. Therefore, he asked the family members not to allow anyone to knock at the door. The old man came again and wanted to knock at the door but the family members stopped him, so he entered the house through a ventilator, and started knocking at the door of his room. Sayyiduna Dhul-Kifl got up again and saw that the old man had come inside the house while the door was still closed. So he asked him as to how he had entered the house.
Then suddenly he became aware that the man standing before him was Satan and asked him, “Are you the God’s enemy: Iblis?”
He admitted that he was Satan and remarked, “You have thwarted all my plans and frustrated all my efforts to entice you in my design. My intention was to make you angry somehow, so that one of your claims before Yas`a could be proved false.”
It was because of this episode that he was given the title Dhul-Kifl, which means a person who is true to his covenant and performs his duties faithfully, and this title was fully deserved by him. (Ibn Kathir)
Al-Kifl or Dhu al-Kifl?
Another narrative is quoted in Musnad of Ahmad but has the name of the person Al-Kifl instead of Dhul-Kifl. That is why Ibn Kathir has observed after quoting this narrative that he was a different person and not Dhul-Kifl, who is mentioned in this verse.
The narrative is as follows:
Sayyiduna ‘Abdullah Ibn ‘Umar radiyallahu `anhu has reported that he had heard a Hadith from the Holy Prophet sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam not once, but more than seven times that there was a man by the name Kifl among the Bani Isra’il who did not abstain from any type of sin. Once a woman came to him and he persuaded her to have sexual intercourse with him on payment of sixty guineas. When he got down to start the intercourse, the woman started crying and trembling. So he inquired from her as to what the matter was because he had not used any kind of force on her. The woman replied that the cause of her distress was that she had never in all her life committed adultery and that it was only her adverse circumstances which had forced her to agree to the act. Hearing this the man got up and told her to go away and keep the money he had given her. He also promised her that he would never again indulge in any sin. Then it so happened that he died the same night and in the morning it was seen that there was a hidden writing on his door that Kifl had been pardoned by Allah: غفرالله للكفل.
Ibn Kathir observed, after quoting this from Musnad of Ahmad, that none of the six authentic books on Hadith has reported this tradition and its authority is weak. Even if the tradition is true, it mentioned the name as Kifl and not Dhul-Kifl, which means he was some other person. (Allah knows best)
The sum and substance of this story is that Dhul-Kifl was the deputy of Prophet Yas`a `alayhi al-salam and it is possible that because of his virtuous deeds his name has been mentioned along with prophets. It is also possible that initially he was the deputy of Sayyidna Yas`a `alayhi al-salam and later on he was elevated to the status of a prophet by Allah Ta’ala.
Extracted from Ma’ariful Qur’an
Note: This article was edited for spelling, grammar, and style.