There is an incident of a companion of the Prophet (ﷺ) killing someone who was forgiven by the Prophet (ﷺ). Before we look at the incident and the details surrounding it, we need to look at a few important matters.
1. The Qur’an was revealed over a period of 23 years and hence, we learn that the laws were revealed periodically. Some newer ones overruled the previous ones while some were used as a base to develop details later by the companions and then the scholars.
2. The companions knew the Prophet (ﷺ) better than anyone else and they used the prophetic teachings as a base to build upon them. This in no way means that the teachings were incomplete or lacked clarity because the companions did not introduce innovations but built upon the teachings. This is true of scholars as well. Take, for example, the distance required to consider one a traveler and for them to avail religious concessions offered to travelers. The Prophet (ﷺ) had a spot from where he would assume the role of a traveler. Some people took it as a general distance while scholars calculated the actual distance and codified it into law so that people do not rely on feelings and self-judgment later on. The law gets developed further with time, but the base never changes.
3. Vigilantism for any reason is forbidden in Islam no matter what reason or excuse the killer might have. The Prophet (ﷺ) was the head of the state and the government and hence, his decisions come under organized form of governance, which was further solidified under the caliphs, specially the second caliph. The entire process took some time which is understandable. The law of the Prophet (ﷺ) did not change but came into practice with newer scenarios after him.
4. Pre-Islamic Arabia was a ruthless place with little regard for law and order; inter-tribal wars were common and rampant while tribes even fought within themselves. Kidnappings, robberies, and other forms of violence were also the norm. It was this difficult scenario in which the Prophet (ﷺ) came and reformed the people.
5. The Prophet (ﷺ) was very gentle and very forgiving throughout his life. From the Makkan era to Madina and then back to Makkah, there are several incidents of forgiveness including for major crimes. In fact, the Prophet (ﷺ) forgave the entire city of Makkah when he established rule there and if he had punished them for their past, it would not be condemned or criticized by any person. Hence, if the Prophet (ﷺ) did not punish a companion for killing someone, there has to be a very good reason behind it.
The above points are important for the context and must not be ignored. Now let us look at the Hadith in question:
حَدَّثَنَا ابْنُ عَبَّاسٍ، أَنَّ أَعْمَى، كَانَتْ لَهُ أُمُّ وَلَدٍ تَشْتُمُ النَّبِيَّ صلى الله عليه وسلم وَتَقَعُ فِيهِ فَيَنْهَاهَا فَلاَ تَنْتَهِي وَيَزْجُرُهَا فَلاَ تَنْزَجِرُ – قَالَ – فَلَمَّا كَانَتْ ذَاتَ لَيْلَةٍ جَعَلَتْ تَقَعُ فِي النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم وَتَشْتِمُهُ فَأَخَذَ الْمِغْوَلَ فَوَضَعَهُ فِي بَطْنِهَا وَاتَّكَأَ عَلَيْهَا فَقَتَلَهَا فَوَقَعَ بَيْنَ رِجْلَيْهَا طِفْلٌ فَلَطَخَتْ مَا هُنَاكَ بِالدَّمِ فَلَمَّا أَصْبَحَ ذُكِرَ ذَلِكَ لِرَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم فَجَمَعَ النَّاسَ فَقَالَ ” أَنْشُدُ اللَّهَ رَجُلاً فَعَلَ مَا فَعَلَ لِي عَلَيْهِ حَقٌّ إِلاَّ قَامَ ” . فَقَامَ الأَعْمَى يَتَخَطَّى النَّاسَ وَهُوَ يَتَزَلْزَلُ حَتَّى قَعَدَ بَيْنَ يَدَىِ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم فَقَالَ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ أَنَا صَاحِبُهَا كَانَتْ تَشْتِمُكَ وَتَقَعُ فِيكَ فَأَنْهَاهَا فَلاَ تَنْتَهِي وَأَزْجُرُهَا فَلاَ تَنْزَجِرُ وَلِي مِنْهَا ابْنَانِ مِثْلُ اللُّؤْلُؤَتَيْنِ وَكَانَتْ بِي رَفِيقَةً فَلَمَّا كَانَتِ الْبَارِحَةَ جَعَلَتْ تَشْتِمُكَ وَتَقَعُ فِيكَ فَأَخَذْتُ الْمِغْوَلَ فَوَضَعْتُهُ فِي بَطْنِهَا وَاتَّكَأْتُ عَلَيْهَا حَتَّى قَتَلْتُهَا . فَقَالَ النَّبِيُّ صلى الله عليه وسلم ” أَلاَ اشْهَدُوا أَنَّ دَمَهَا هَدَرٌ ”
Narrated Abdullah Ibn Abbas: A blind man had a concubine from whom he had children who used to abuse the Prophet (ﷺ) and disparage him. He forbade her but she did not stop. He rebuked her but she did not give up her habit. One night she began to slander the Prophet (ﷺ) and abuse him. So he took a dagger, placed it on her belly, pressed it, and killed her. A child who came between her legs was smeared with the blood that was there. When the morning came, the Prophet (ﷺ) was informed about it. He assembled the people and said: I adjure by Allah the man who has done this action and I adjure him by my right to him that he should stand up. Jumping over the necks of the people and trembling the man stood up. He sat before the Prophet (ﷺ) and said: Messenger of Allah! I am her master; she used to abuse you and disparage you. I forbade her, but she did not stop, and I rebuked her, but she did not abandon her habit. I have two sons like pearls from her, and she was my companion. Last night she began to abuse and disparage you. So, I took a dagger, put it on her belly and pressed it till I killed her. Thereupon the Prophet (ﷺ) said: Oh, be witness, no retaliation is payable for her blood. [Sunan Abi Dawud 4361; also found in Sunan an-Nasa’i 4070]
Imam Abu Da’ood has included a narration immediately after this one where Abu Bakr (رضي الله عنه) got angry at someone and Abu Barzah (رضي الله عنه) asked permission to kill him but Abu Bakr (رضي الله عنه) replied: No, I swear by Allah, this is not allowed for any man after Muhammad (ﷺ). As learned earlier, the companions knew the Prophet (ﷺ) better than anyone else and this is one example of that.
An important lesson from these narrations is that taking the law into one’s own hands was forbidden even during the Prophet (ﷺ)’s life; however, he made an exception for this case because there was no formal police force and court system then. The companions of the Prophet (ﷺ) developed them later. In the times of the companions, we find several instances where vigilantism was unacceptable and especially more so that the systems had settled and running properly like a functional state. One such example is that of the son of Umar b. al-Khattab (رضي الله عنه) who killed his father’s assassins himself and the law did not excuse him for that.
One may still ask as to why the Prophet (ﷺ) still allowed taking the law in one’s hands in the case of the blind companion. One reason is already stated earlier: there was no formal police force and court system. Another reason is that the act of the companion on its own was not wrong morally or legally.
The woman used to revile the Prophet (ﷺ) and the companion used to bear it for some time until it reached a point that she would have crossed some lines and he acted to finish her off. Her actions were not just insulting but high treason as well. It does not matter whether the treasonous person is a man or a woman; the crime is tremendous, and the punishment should be accordingly as well.
There is an incident reported about a woman named Asma bint Marwan, but the reports’ reliability ranges from very weak to fabricated and is narrated from Ibn Sa’d and Ibn Ishaq. However, there are very interesting parallels of her incident with that of the woman in this narration under discussion. Some key parts of her story are as follows:
Asma used to revile Islam, offend the Prophet (ﷺ) and instigate the (people) against him. She composed verses. Umayr Ibn Adi came to her in the night and entered her house. Her children were sleeping around her. There was one whom she was suckling. He searched her with his hand because he was blind and separated the child from her. He thrust his sword in her chest… [Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir of Ibn Sa’d]
Some key points from this are as follows:
1. In these very weak reports, Umayr, the blind companion is not related to her and enters the house, whereas in Abu Dawud and Nasa’i, the blind companion (Umayr) is already in the house and has children from her.
2. The one who takes her life is a blind man this is agreed by the weak sources and the authentic sources.
3. The woman mentioned is said to have reviled the Prophet (ﷺ) – this is agreed by the weak sources and authentic ones – whereas Ibn Sa’d has an extra information in his words that she also used to instigate the people against the Prophet (ﷺ).
Hadith reports are often concise and to the point and do not indulge in extra complications as opposed to others, and keep the account crisp, to-the-point, and user-friendly. There are several examples for this. This user-friendliness of one era can cause confusion and misuse in another. The Hadith books perhaps recorded the incident in a concise manner and left out the surrounding aspects as it sufficed for the time. However, now people get new doubts and so one must understand the style of Hadith reports.
Another aspect of Hadith reports that one needs to understand is that they are at times compiled in scattered pieces. An incident with 10 points may be reported by one source with four points and another with five and other with one. Compiling them together will give the full picture. In our lives, we do similar as well. If you ask five people to describe a football match, they will share bits and pieces they found most fascinating with one starting from overtime and another one with some key goals and yet another person from another angle all-together. Therefore, the scholars who have spent more than 30-40 years studying Islam need to be given their due importance and respect.
The woman killed by the blind companion (Sunan Abi Dawud 4361, Sunan an-Nasa’i 4070) may be different from the story of Asma bint Marwan and it is equally likely that the severely weak narrations actually do speak of the incident found in Abu Da’ood and Nasa’i as there are some striking parallels in both stories. It may be that the actual incident got confused later in time for which the Hadith scholars dismissed them but there may be traces of truth in them. Even if the case of Asma is different from the Hadiths, it is clear that she had crossed the limits with her behaviour.
Madina was a new state, and it was constantly attacked by outsiders for a decade and the attacks were not small hit and run incidents nor even small-scale wars, but the Madinans had to resist a potential genocide for a decade from both outside and within. Under these circumstances, voices that call for attacks on the head of the state are not just hate speech but are calls for murder and genocide, and silencing and punishing such voices is the wisest thing to do.
Indeed, Allah knows best.
References and footnotes:
 Umm al-Walad is incorrectly translated as ‘slave-mother’ or ‘pregnant slave’ in online translations and hence is better translated as ‘concubine from whom he had children’ in the narration.
 Treason is still considered a crime worth capital punishment even in several Western countries.
 It should be noted that carrying out penalties does not mean that the one carrying them out is happy and takes joy in them. The way the woman was killed was not ideal but the incident happened this way and one has to look ahead; one cannot rewind the time and redo things differently.