The Secret of the Salat Ibrahimiyya

Note: an abridged and more polished version of this article can be found here. However, this long version contains referencing, more complete quotations, and more detailed discussions of the evidence. In particular, this article contains discussions of the varying narrations of the Salat Ibrahimiyya from a hadith science point of view, explaining why the wording chosen by Imam Bukhari and Muslim differs from the wording most Muslims are taught today, and why I believe Imams Bukhari and Muslim are more correct on this matter.


Sending Ṣalawāt upon the Messenger of Allāh ﷺ is something we do every day in our daily ritual prayers. As Muslims we also strive to do them as part of our daily litanies to sustain us and nourish our souls, as well as before and after our supplications. We also do it whenever we hear or utter the blessed name of the Messenger of Allāh ﷺ, or when our souls are stirred by the thought of his beauty and perfection, or stirred by remembering all the immense love, care and compassion he had in his heart for us. Allāh (most great) addressed the believers saying:

إِنَّ اللَّهَ وَمَلَائِكَتَهُ يُصَلُّونَ عَلَى النَّبِيِّ يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا صَلُّوا عَلَيْهِ وَسَلِّمُوا تَسْلِيمًا

Allāh and His Angels send ṣalawāt upon the Prophet- so, you who believe, send ṣalawāt upon him and give him greetings of peace in abundance (33:56)

To fulfil this obligation to send ṣalawāt upon him, whether in prayer or when we hear his name, it is enough to say: Allāhumma ṣalli ʿalā Muḥammad. However, when the Companions asked the Prophet ﷺ how to invoke ṣalawāt upon him, he ﷺ went silent for a while, and then gave them a longer formula known as the Ṣalāt Ibrāhīmiyya. But what is the secret of that silence, and what is the secret of this particular formula? We use it every day, but do we understand what it means? Do we know what immense blessings and mercy it contains for us, the ummah of the Best of Creation ﷺ? In order to find out, we first need to establish the meaning of ṣalāt, and the most authentic narration of this formula given to us by the Prophet Muḥammad, and only then can we discover why the Messenger of Allāh ﷺ chose this formula in particular!

The Meaning of Ṣalawāt

As for the meaning of the ṣalāt, I have discussed it in a previous article. It suffices us here to say that it is a type of mercy from Allāh, and in particular it means an increase in light which leads to an increase in knowledge and guidance. Allāh (most great) does not only send ṣalawāt upon the Messenger but also upon the believers:

It is He who does ṣalawāt upon you, as do His angels, in order to lead you out of the depths of darkness into the light… (33:43)

As one scholar quoted in the previous article said: “Therefore the ṣalāt of Allāh upon us is to bring us out into the light, and the ṣalāt of Allāh upon the [Messenger of Allāh] ﷺ is light upon light!”

By the end of this investigation a whole new amazing meaning of ṣalawāt will emerge, that branches out from the meaning we have now.

The Ṣalāt Ibrāhīmiyya

In verse 33:56 of the Qurʾān, Allāh (most great) commanded us to both invoke ṣalawāt upon the Prophet ﷺ, and to send him greetings of peace in abundance. The Companions asked the Prophet ﷺ and said, “As for the greeting of peace upon you (salām), we know how to do that, but how do we invoke the ṣalāt upon you?” The Prophet ﷺ replied,

Say: ‘O Allāh send ṣalawāt upon Muḥammad and upon Muḥammad’s folk as You have sent ṣalawāt upon Ibrāhīm’s folk; You are worthy of all praise and glory. O Allāh bless Muḥammad and Muḥammad’s folk as You have blessed Ibrāhīm’s folk, You are worthy of all praise and glory.’

اللَّهُمَّ صَلِّ عَلَى مُحَمَّدٍ وَعَلَى آلِ مُحَمَّدٍ كَمَا صَلَّيْتَ عَلَى آلِ إِبْرَاهِيمَ إِنَّكَ حَمِيدٌ مَجِيدٌ اللَّهُمَّ بَارِكْ عَلَى مُحَمَّدٍ وَعَلَى آلِ مُحَمَّدٍ كَمَا بَارَكْتَ عَلَى آلِ إِبْرَاهِيمَ إِنَّكَ حَمِيدٌ مَجِيدٌ

The narration containing this exact wording is narrated by both Bukhārī and Muslim, and is Imām Bukhārī’s choice as the best narration on the subject of ṣalawāt, whereas Imām Muslim considered it the second best, preferring another narration over it. Imām Muslim’s top pick is a different ḥadīth (meaning it comes from a different Companion), but is essentially the same, with the minor difference that the praise of Allāh “You are worthy of all praise and glory” is not repeated twice, only once at the end, and that the phrase “…as You have blessed Ibrāhīm’s folk” becomes “…as You have blessed Ibrāhīm’s folk in all the worlds.” This narration also contains an extra detail about the story behind the ḥadīth. It informs us of the name of the Companion (Bashīr) who asked the Prophet this question about how to invoke ṣalawāt upon him, and informs us that upon hearing the question, “the Messenger of Allāh ﷺ went quiet (for so long) that we wished he never asked him that question.” Then he ﷺ broke his silence and gave his answer. Here is the wording of Ibrāhīmiyya in this narration (which is also the one in the Muwaṭṭaʾ of Imām Mālik) for those who wish to use it as well:

‘O Allāh send ṣalawāt upon Muḥammad and upon Muḥammad’s folk as You have sent ṣalawāt upon Ibrāhīm’s folk, and bless Muḥammad and Muḥammad’s folk as You have blessed Ibrāhīm’s folk in all the worlds. You are worthy of all praise and glory.’

اللَّهُمَّ صَلِّ عَلَى مُحَمَّدٍ وَعَلَى آلِ مُحَمَّدٍ كَمَا صَلَّيْتَ عَلَى آلِ إِبْرَاهِيمَ وَبَارِكْ عَلَى مُحَمَّدٍ وَعَلَى آلِ مُحَمَّدٍ كَمَا بَارَكْتَ عَلَى آلِ إِبْرَاهِيمَ فِى الْعَالَمِينَ إِنَّكَ حَمِيدٌ مَجِيدٌ

There are two things to notice about these narrations:
First, the Prophet ﷺ asked us to invoke Allāh’s ṣalawāt not just upon him but upon his folk (āl). So the first question we will have is: what is meant by this word?

Second, contrary to the more popular version used in most (if not all) fiqh textbooks, these narrations do not say: “upon Ibrāhīm and Ibrāhīm’s folk” but only “Ibrāhīm’s folk” without Ibrāhīm being mentioned on his own. This is the most authentic wording and the one that Imām Bukhārī and Imām Muslim believed should be used when invoking ṣalawāt, not the version that includes the addition of the name of Ibrāhīm (as). We will base the rest of the discussion on this narration, even though it still works with the addition. I will leave the discussion on the different versions to the very end for those who are interested in the analysis of the variations in the narrations and how to understand Imām Bukhārī and Imām Muslim’s choices.

So why do these aḥādīth not mention Ibrāhīm on his own as in the formula most commonly used by Muslims, and who are the folk of Muḥammad and the folk of Ibrāhīm? Let us find out, following the insight of some of the great imams of Islam.

The Folk of our Master Muḥammad

I have chosen to translate the word (āl) as folk because it captures the different possible meanings that it could hold in Arabic: it could mean one’s relatives, or it could mean one’s people in general, those who are close to a person. These are two different interpretations of the word āl, and until I establish which one I believe to be more correct, I wanted to use the more general term “folk” that could accept both meanings. The difference goes back to different theories on the linguistic origin of the word āl. The early authority on Arabic, Sībawayh held that āl is originally ahl (family), but that by a two-step transformation a new word came out of it which holds the same meaning: āl. His peer and contemporary al-Kisāʾī held that it comes from the word āla / yaʾūlu which means to return to. Those who are ascribed to someone or linked to him (they are his people, his followers, those close to him, etc), are known as his āl. This position is supported by the fact that the word āl, unlike ahl, is only used when referring to the people of connection to someone important. For example, the Arabs do not say ‘āl of the carpenter’ or baker, but they might say the ‘āl of the king’ or judge; this shows that they are not the same.

The great early Imām Sufyān al-Thawrī was asked who the “folk of Muḥammad” mentioned in the ṣalawāt formula were. He said, “People (i.e. the scholars) have differed about who they are. Some say that Muḥammad’s folk are the People of His Household (ahl al-bayt), and some say they are those who obey him.” (1)

This second meaning is the one chosen by Imām Mālik. A well known ḥadīth master called ʿUbaydullāh ibn ʿAmr related that ʿAbd al-Malik ibn Ṣāliḥ al-Hāshimī, who was the ruler of the city of Medina during the life of Imām Mālik, tested him by asking: “Who are the āl of Muḥammad?” The ḥadīth scholar replied, “those who follow his way (ahl al-ittibāʿ lah).” The ruler said: “You have spoken the truth. That is what Mālik ibn Anas said to me.” The early Mālikī ḥadīth scholar al-Jawhārī (d. 381) narrated this at the introduction of his work Musnad al-Muwaṭṭaʾ, to show the honour of learning and following the ḥadīth. He would have been delighted if the poetic lines of the Grammarian and Sufi author before him Abū ʿĀmir al-Nasawī (d. 322) had reached them, in which he said:

يا سادة عندهم للمصطفى نسب … رفقاً بمن عنده للمصطفى حسب
أهل الحديث هم آل الرسول وإن … لم يصحبوا نفسه أنفاسه صحبوا

Oh Sayyids who have descent (nasab) from the Chosen one
show gentleness to those who have a great honour (ḥasab) in his sight
It is the scholars of ḥadīth who are the Messenger’s folk (āl al-Rasūl)
for though they did not accompany his person (nafsahu) they accompany his breaths (anfāsahu, i.e. his utterances) (2)

The lexicographer al-Rāghib al-Isfahānī, author of the famous dictionary of Qurʾānic terms (al-Mufradāt fī gharīb al-Qur’ān) as well as a Qurʾān commentary also chose this view and ascribed it to Imām Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq. He related that people came to Imām al-Ṣādiq, who was the great scholar representing the descendants of the Prophet Muḥammad ﷺ in his age, and complained to him saying, “The people claim that all the Muslims are the āl of the Prophet ﷺ.” He replied, “they lie and speak the truth at the same time.” They said, “What does that mean?” He said, “They lie if they say that the entire ummah are his āl. However they are truthful in that those of them who fulfil the requirements of the Prophet’s Shari’ah are his āl.”

Al-Rāghib himself chose this explanation. He said that the word āl is used for all those who have a special connection to a person, whether that is through being a relative or through being a close supporter of a person, as used by the Qurʾān when it said: {Let the āl of Pharaoh enter into the worst of punishment} (Q40:46). Here the verse is not speaking about his family but his close advisors, generals, supporters, etc. Al-Rāghib continued to say: “It has been said that the āl of the Prophet ﷺ are his family relations, and it has been said that it those with a special connection to him through knowledge. This is because the people of this religion are of two groups: the first group are specialised in perfecting knowledge and acting upon it carefully. These are the ones who are called the āl of the Prophet and his ummah. The other group do have a connection of knowledge to the Prophet but only by way of imitation. The term ‘ummah of the Prophet ﷺ’ also applies to them, but not the term ‘the āl of the Prophet ﷺ.’ Therefore everyone who is of his āl is also of his ummah, but not everyone who is of his ummah is of his āl.’ Al-Rāghib therefore held that the word āl is used to refer to all those who have a special relation to a person, and that relatives are also part of the āl, only because they too have a type of special relationship, not because the word āl means ahl. (3)

This opinion is also that of al-Qādi Ḥusayn, who was known as the ‘Great Scholar of the Ummah and the Shaykh of the Shāfiʿīs in Khurasan.’ He stated that the āl of the Prophet ﷺ are the people of taqwā.(4) This is similar to the position of the Sufi and ḥadīth scholar al-Ḥakīm al-Tirmidhī who stated that the āl of the Prophet are those who succeed the Prophet in following in his way, and they are the people of sincerity and piety who are known as the ṣiddiqūn.(5) Likewise the great imam al-Ṭībī, one of the greatest authorities in language as well as jurisprudence, wrote in his commentary on the ḥadīth collection Mishkāt al-maṣābīh: “I say: perhaps the āl should be understood in its general sense to refer to the pious and righteous people of the Ummah, and that the People of the Household therefore become part of that general meaning, by being of those most deserving to be among this category.”

A position like that of Imām al-Ṭībī was taken by Shaykh Muḥyiddīn Ibn ʿArabī. He said:

Know that in the language of the Arabs, the āl of a people are those who are his special people, those who are close to him. Do not imagine, therefore, that the āl of Muḥammad ﷺ are the People of His Household only, for this term is not used by the Arabs that way. Allāh (most high) said: {Let the āl of Pharaoh enter the worst of punishment} meaning those people who are close to him. The word āl is only attached to a person in this way when that person is of great importance either in the world or in the afterlife….The āl of the Prophets, those who are close to them, are the righteous believers, the scholars and knowers of Allāh. If it happens that one of the Ahl al-Bayt has reached that rank of knowledge and ijtihād, such as al-Ḥasan and al-Ḥusayn, Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq, and others amongst the Ahl al-Bayt, then they combine between being of the ahl and of the āl.

Ibn ʿArabī found support for his position in a statement that the Prophet ﷺ said in a dream vision to a jurist whom he had met in the Masjid al-Aqsā in Jerusalem. This scholar, Kamāl al-Dīn ʿUthmān al-Abharī al-Shāfiʿī, related to Ibn ʿArabī that he saw the Messenger of Allāh ﷺ say to him in a dream,“Every prophet has supporters and an āl. The believer is my supporter and my āl.” The Prophet ﷺ repeated the last part again and again.

Ibn ʿArabī furthermore delved into the usage of the Arabs to extract more out of this meaning. He pointed out that the Arabs also used the word āl to describe the large image created by a mirage. Therefore the āl is something that appears grand and bigger than it really is because of a mirage. He said, “The āl of Muḥammad, therefore, are those who become great through Muḥammad. For Muḥammad is like a mirage which makes great what is in it.” In other words, if you are a follower of Muḥammad, you are magnified in worth and importance as a member of his Ummah and a follower of his way, so you become great through Muḥammad. That is when you become of his āl.(6) This understanding goes perfectly with the fact that the Arabs only used the word āl for those who are close to people of importance, as those who are close to important people will themselves acquire importance due to that relationship.

A similar but more expansive opinion is that the ‘āl’ of the Prophet ﷺ refers to all those who follow him in the general sense of being part of his ummah. Qāḍī ʿIyāḍ said in his commentary on Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim: ‘The best position on the meaning of the āl is that they are all of his followers.” Imām al-Nawawī, in his own commentary on Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, supported Qāḍī ʿIyāḍ’s position. This position was understood to refer to all Muslims. This is also the position of the great linguist and jurist Abū Manṣūr al-Azharī al-Shāfiʿī, and is a position attributed to several Shāfiʿī scholars. It is also the position of the Arabic lexicographer al-Fayrūzābādī (d. 817 A.H. / 1415 C.E.), the author of the great al-Qāmūs al-muḥīṭ, one of the most important and widely used classical Arabic dictionaries. In his book about ṣalawāt he explained the āl to mean those who follow the Prophet Muḥammad in his religion. This is also the position also of the great scholar and knower of Allāh, Shaykh Ahmad ibn Idris, who was asked, “Does the one invoking ṣalawāt upon the Prophet ﷺ need to add “and upon his Companions?” He replied, “There is no need, for they are already among his āl, for his āl are the believers amongst his ummah.”(7)

It is worth noting here that not a single narration amongst the tens of narrations about ṣalawāt mentions the ‘Companions,’ and this itself supports the position that the word āl is wider than just family. Therefore those who hold that the āl refers to the family in particular can add the Companions if they wished as has become common practice in the ummah, while those who hold that the āl already includes the Companions has no need to mention them. This position is supported by a statement attributed to the great Companion our master Jābir ibn ʿAbdullāh. Imām al-Bayhaqī narrated that Jābir said: “The āl of Muḥammad are his ummah.”

These last two meanings can both be right at the same time, in that the āl of Muḥammad are those who are part of his ummah, who follow him and believe in him, and that those amongst them who have a special connection to the Prophet in being the inheritors of his knowledge, actions, and light, are more deserving of being called his āl. And those amongst the latter group who are also his descendants are even more deserving to be called his āl for having two types of close connection and relation to him ﷺ.

The Secret of the Ṣalāt Ibrāhīmiyya Formula

Now that we have looked at the meaning of the āl of Muḥammad ﷺ, we turn to the meaning of the Ṣalāt al-Ibrāhīmiyya. Most commentators on the Ṣalāt al-Ibrāhīmiyya were troubled by the mention of the Prophet Ibrāhīm (as). Why would the Prophet Muḥammad ﷺ ask Allāh to send ṣalawāt upon him as he did upon the Prophet Ibrāhīm (as) even though the former is greater than the latter? However, this problem only arose because most commentators were basing themselves on the more popularly used version, the one found in most book of fiqh and some ḥadīth collections, in which the narration says: “as You have done ṣalawāt upon Ibrāhīm and Ibrāhīm’s folk… as You have blessed Ibrāhīm and Ibrāhīm’s folk…” If we turn to the most authentic narrations chosen by Imams Bukhārī and Muslim, this problem does not even arise, and the true intended meaning of the formula emerges. Even despite this addition, however, many great scholars still discovered the true meaning of the formula.

We begin with the great imam of language, ḥadīth, and fiqh, al-Ḥusayn al-Ṭībī, in his commentary on the very popular ḥadīth collection Mishkāt al-maṣābīh. Imām al-Ṭībī realised that in the Ṣalāt Ibrāhīmiyya, when the Prophet ﷺ said “as You have sent ṣalawāt… as You have blessed,” he must have been referring to something already known from before, and that could only be one thing, the saying of Allāh (most great):

رَحْمَتُ اللهِ وَبَرَكَاتُهُ عَلَيْكُمْ أَهْلَ الْبَيْتِ إِنَّهُ حَمِيدٌ مَّجِيدٌ
The mercy of Allāh and His blessings be upon you, people of this house! He is worthy of all praise and glory (11:73)

Imām al-Ṭībī realised that the Messenger of Allāh ﷺ’s formula was closely linked to, and inspired by, this verse of the Qurʾān.The Prophet of Allāh ﷺ ended his duʿāʾ with the same ending as this Qurʾānic verse, as if asking Allāh by the same attributes linked to the descent of mercy and blessings upon the household of Ibrāhīm (peace be upon him), to also send ṣalawāt and blessings upon Muḥammad and his folk. We see here a clear parallel: the attributes of Allāh (awj) match, the baraka is mentioned in both the verse and ḥadīth, and those with connection to each prophet are mentioned (ahl in the Qurʾān, which is household, and āl in the ḥadīth). Al-Ṭībī concluded that the mercy mentioned in the verse is what the Prophet wanted in his ṣalawāt for his ummah. Yes, his ummah, not himself.

Al-Ṭībī understood that the whole intention of the Ṣalāt Ibrāhīmiyya was for the sake of the ummah, not for himself ﷺ. The Prophet ﷺ saw the mercy and blessings Allāh gave to the people of the Household of Ibrāhīm (as), and wanted these blessings for his ummah. Therefore the entire reason he fashioned this formula is for the sake of his ummah, and he mentioned himself in the beginning as a way of leading to the mention of his ummah and asking for them the mercy and blessings given to the Ahl Bayt of Prophet Ibrāhīm. What are those blessings? He quoted al-Zamakhsharī’s narration that this mercy and blessings refers to the prophecy granted to some of the sons and descendants of Ibrāhīm, and concluded that the Prophet Muḥammad ﷺ was asking Allāh to honour the pious and pure people of his ummah in a way similar to how He honoured the Prophets from amongst the Children of Israel.(8) Shaykh Muḥyiddīn Ibn ʿArabī gave the same explanation, which will be explained in more detail below.

If one were to protest and say: but the Ṣalāt Ibrāhīmiyya uses the phrase the ‘āl’ of Ibrāhīm while in the verse it says ‘ahl al-bayt’, one could easily respond that this was for the sake of symmetry, as is often the way of the Arabs. The Prophet ﷺ wanted to keep a symmetry in his du’a by using the same term rather than two different terms, but may have intended two things by each usage. By the ‘āl’ of Ibrahim he intended the Ahl al-Bayt referred to in the verse, and by the ‘āl’ of Muḥammad he may have intended his entire ummah. The fact that the verse only mentions the Ahl al-Bayt of Ibrāhīm (as) only supports the narrations preferred by Bukhārī and Muslim which mention the āl of Ibrāhīm but not the Prophet himself.

The great Shāfiʿī scholar al-ʿImrānī (d. 558), author of the famous Shāfiʿī work al-Bayān, narrated something similar from Imām al-Shāfiʿī. He wrote that someone said to Imām Shāfiʿī that Ibrāhīm was greater than Muḥammad ﷺ because in the Ṣalāt Ibrāhīmiyya the Prophet ﷺ asks for ṣalawāt upon him like those upon Ibrāhīm. Imām al-Shāfiʿī replied:

No. The Prophet’s saying “O Allāh send ṣalawāt upon Muḥammad” is complete speech. Then he started anew by saying, “And likewise (send ṣalawāt ) upon Muḥammad’s folk as You did ṣalawāt upon Ibrāhīm and Ibrāhīm’s folk. Therefore the intended meaning is “O Allāh send ṣalawāt upon Muḥammad. O Allāh send ṣalawāt upon Muḥammad’s folk as You did ṣalawāt upon Ibrāhīm and Ibrāhīm’s folk.” (9)

It is worth noting here that there are lines of poetry falsely and very widely and popularly ascribed to Imam al-Shāfiʿī in which he equates the āl with the ahl al-bayt and says, “O Ahl al-Bayt of Rasūl Allah, Your love has been prescribed in the Qur’ān / It speaks enough of your great worth that the prayer is not accepted for those who do not say ṣalāt upon you in it.” However, these lines of poetry were actually said by a later scholar called Muḥammad ibn Yūsuf al-Shāfiʿī not the great Imām Muḥammad ibn Idrīs al-Shāfiʿī, as clearly ascribed to him by Imām al-Fayrūzābādī and quoted by Imām al-Sakhāwī.(10) The mix up happened because of the similarity of the names, and people came to believe they were the lines of Imām Shāfiʿī and these lines can now be found in the books of poetry ascribed to him. Furthermore these lines, claiming that in the prayer after the tashahhud it is not enough to do ṣalāt only upon the Messenger of Allāh ﷺ, but that his āl must also be included, clearly contradict the writings of Imām al-Shāfiʿī himself , who clearly stipulates in his Kitāb al-Umm that the Ibrāhīmiyya formula is not obligatory inside the prayer and that the most basic formula of doing ṣalāt upon the Prophet ﷺ suffices for the prayer to be valid, but that it is preferable to do the Ibrāhīmiyya, and this is the position of the Shāfiʿī school.

Ibn al-Qayyim criticised this explanation, saying that this way of understanding the structure of the Ṣalāt Ibrāhīmiyya is not eloquent and could not have been understood this way by al-Shāfiʿī. However, Ibn Ḥajar defended this understanding attributed to Imām Shāfiʿī and denied that it makes the phrase lack eloquence. Imām Sakhāwī followed his teacher Ibn Ḥajar in defending this understanding and pointed out that the great ‘Sultan of the Scholars’ ʿIzz al-Dīn Ibn ʿAbd al-Salām made the same point when he said that it was only the ṣalāt upon the Prophet’s folk which was being compared to the ṣalāt upon Ibrāhīm’s folk. Perhaps Ibn ʿAbd al-Salām had the narration of Bukhārī and Muslim in mind, because it only mentions the folk and not Ibrāhīm as well. If we look only at this most authentic narration the resulting meaning is:

“O Allāh send ṣalawāt upon Muḥammad, and send ṣalawāt upon Muḥammad’s folk as You did ṣalawāt upon Ibrāhīm’s folk.”

The position of Ibn ʿArabī referred to above was explained in detail by al-Fayrūzābādī in his famous work on the topic of ṣalawāt. This was in turn summarised by Ibn Ḥajar to mean the following: the purpose of the Ṣalāt Ibrāhīmiyya is to ask Allāh (most great), just as He did ṣalawāt upon the folk of Ibrāhīm by making some of them Prophets, to make amongst the Prophet Muḥammad’s followers those who reach the absolute highest point reachable in this religion and who attain some of the attributes of the Prophets. Ibn Ḥajar then said: “This is a good explanation, if we accept his claim that this is what is meant by the term ‘ṣalāt.’”

Here I remind you that the Ṣalāt has been explained as increase in light, and therefore in knowledge and guidance. In my previous article dedicated to the meaning of the word ‘ṣalāt’, I quoted al-Ḥakīm al-Tirmidhī who stated that the meaning of ṣalāt is for Allāh to give the believers a light in their hearts. When this light shines in the heart of the believer through the ṣalāt of Allāh, the believer will attain both outward and inward taqwā, and will possess the faculty known as furqān: a light with which one is able to distinguish between truth and falsehood as mentioned in verse 8:29. Therefore this explanation of ṣalāt goes perfectly with al-Fayrūzābādī’s interpretation of the Ṣalāt Ibrāhīmiyya, in turn based on Ibn ʿArabī’s explanation.

After quoting his master Ibn Ḥajar, al-Sakhāwī continues to say in his book on ṣalawāt al-Qawl al-badīʿ that al-Fayrūzābādī spoke at length about the meaning of this formula. In summary it means:

O Allāh, make from the ummah of Muḥammad scholars and pious people who reach the highest ranks possible, as You have made from amongst Ibrāhīm’s folk Prophets and Messengers who reached the highest ranks. O Allāh, as You have given revelation to those Prophets and Messengers from Ibrāhīm’s folk, make from the Ummah of Muḥammad those who are inspired (muḥaddathūn).

Inspiration and true dreams are a portion of prophecy that may be attained by the members of this Ummah as stated in the most authentic aḥādīth of the Prophet.

The great ḥadīth master al-Sakhāwī concluded by saying that in this explanation of al-Fayrūzābādī there is a great and majestic point of benefit.

Here we conclude with one more point of benefit from Shaykh Muḥyiddīn:

Allāh did not command us to invoke ṣalawāt upon Muḥammad’s folk in the Qurʾān, only upon our master Muḥammad ﷺ himself. However, the Messenger of Allāh ﷺ wanted for his ummah those blessings Allāh gave the Prophets from the House of Ibrāhīm. The Prophet ﷺ could not have taught us this formula of ṣalawāt upon him except through revelation from Allāh, and through what he was shown from Allāh.

What do these statements from Shaykh Muḥyiddīn help us understand? It helps us understand the period of silence that overtook the Prophet ﷺ:

When the verse telling us to invoke ṣalawāt and send greetings of peace upon the Prophet ﷺ was revealed, the Prophet ﷺ did not explain to us what to do. It would have sufficed to say “O Allāh send ṣalawāt upon Muḥammad.” However, after he was asked about it by his Companions, the Prophet ﷺ went silent until his Companions felt bad and wished that they never asked that question. But it seems that during this silence, the Prophet ﷺ thought of the verse about the mercy and blessings of Allāh upon the House of Ibrāhīm, and he sought permission from his Lord – most generous is He – to include his Ummah in the standard formula of ṣalawāt, so that they receive a portion of what he ﷺ receives. He ﷺ sought permission from his most generous Lord to give his Ummah the like of which He gave to the Prophets from House of Ibrāhīm, at least what could be given to non-prophets, which is the highest ranks, as well as inspiration instead of revelation; an increase in the light of the heart that would give a person the ability to distinguish between truth and falsehood, and the ability to for the heart to see with the light of Allāh. The Prophet ﷺ remained silent as he awaited a response from Allāh (most great), and he waited to be shown a formula of ṣalawāt that would answer his du’a. The generous Lord answered, and gave the Beloved what he asked for, and the Prophet ﷺ was shown the Ṣalāt Ibrāhīmiyya as a gift to his followers.

What a compassionate and loving Prophet, and what a generous Lord!
And that is the secret of the Ṣalāt Ibrāhīmiyya. And Allāh most great knows best.
O Allāh send ṣalawāt and blessings upon Your Beloved in abundance!

How to Deal with the Different Variations of the Hadiths of Ṣalawāt

Imām Muslim, in his section on ṣalawāt upon the Prophet, narrates several aḥādīth about this, and not a single one of them contains the name of Ibrāhīm on his own. The same is true with the two aḥādīth in the Muwaṭṭaʾ of Imām Mālik, which include Muslim’s preferred ḥadīth. This is how Muslim, Nasāʾī and Tirmidhī narrated that ḥadīth from Mālik via three of his most trusted narrators (Yaḥyā ibn Yaḥyā al-Naysābūrī, Ibn al-Qāsim, and Maʿn, respectively). As for the popular narration of the Muwaṭṭaʾ via Yaḥyā ibn Yaḥyā al-Laythī, it has ‘Ibrāhīm’ alone in the first phrase, and ‘āl Ibrāhīm’ alone in the second phrase, which is a strange inconsistency, and this Yaḥyā ibn Yaḥyā is known for his numerous mistakes in his narrations from Mālik.

As for imam Bukhārī, he does have one narration that includes “Ibrāhīm and Ibrāhīm’s folk” but he included it in the section of aḥādīth in praise of the Prophet Ibrāhīm (as). As for the section dedicated to the meaning of verse 33:56, and the fiqh section on how to fulfil the obligation of 33:56 by doing the Ṣalāt Ibrāhīmiyya inside one’s ritual prayer, he does not choose any narrations mentioning Ibrāhīm on his own. Imām Bukhārī’s book was not just a book of narrations of ḥadīth, but just as much a book of fiqh, and we know his preferred narration on each topic by where he placed it in his book, and he did not mind repeating the same ḥadīth more than one place, wherever it was needed. Therefore when we see that in his section on how to do the ṣalawāt, he does not include the narration that mentioned Ibrāhīm on his own, we understand that he viewed the most authentic wording, and the one that ought to be used when one invokes ṣalawāt upon the Prophet ﷺ, is the one that does not include the name of the Prophet Ibrāhīm (as).

This authenticity of this addition is doubtful because we have one ḥadīth about the ṣalawāt formula from the Companion Abū Masʿūd al-Anṣārī, the one preferred by Imām Muslim, and it does not mention Ibrāhīm on his own. We have a completely different ḥadīth by the Companion Abū Ḥumayd al-Sāʿidī, narrated by Bukhārī and Muslim (however not their top choice), and it also has no mention of Ibrāhīm on his own. Then we have a ḥadīth by the Companion Kaʿb ibn ʿUjra, and that one is Bukhārī’s top choice and Muslim’s second best. Unlike Muslim, Bukhārī narrates this ḥadīth of Kaʿb three times, with three different chains back to Ibn Abi Layla who heard it from Kaʿb. It is only in one of these narrations of the same ḥadīth that we have the addition of Ibrāhīm’s name on his own, which makes it very likely that it is an addition made by a narrator down the chain. When it came to his section on tafsīr of verse 33:56 and his section on how to perform ṣalawāt, Imām Bukhārī chose the two normative versions, and only when it came to his section on the virtues of the Prophet Ibrāhīm (as) did he use the third narration which contained an addition. That means that Imām Bukhārī felt comfortable enough to narrate this ḥadīth as praise of the Prophet Ibrāhīm, but was not confident enough of the authenticity of this added word to base tafsīr or fiqh and practice upon it. As for Muslim, he dropped this variation altogether.

However, later scholars did not pay as much attention to these intricacies of how Imams Bukhārī and Muslim designed their books and what they intended by including or excluding any given narration from one section or another. They fell into the mentality of “more is better,” and always looked for the narration that includes the most detail, or even combined the details scattered in all the different versions to come up with a hybrid “ultra-ḥadīth.” It was also a mentality of “more is safer.” That is, in order to know we are fulfilling the command of ṣalawāt in the best way, it is safer to use the ḥadīth that has more wording, just in case the extra wording is important This, however, is not how the ḥadīth masters of old used to think. More was not always better, and variations or additions could be due to human error, or might not represent the normative or preferred wording that should be acted upon. Imams Bukhārī and Muslim gave us the shorter formula as the one to use, not the longer one. Among those who criticized this tendency amongst later scholars was Imam Ibn al-Qayyim, who stated that this resulted in a wording that was never used by the Messenger of Allāh ﷺ and that it is better to choose one of the authentically established narrations. Ibn al-Qayyim also noted that the phrase mentioning both Ibrāhīm (as) and his Folk is not found in the authentic narrations. (11)

Sometimes more is less, for if the exact words of the Messenger of Allāh ﷺ represented perfection, any addition to this perfection is nothing but subtraction: it takes away from the perfection. As we have seen, this is just the case with this ḥadīth. Similarly, it is the shorter version that is more in harmony with the verse of the Qurʾān about the People of the Prophet’s Household, because it does not mention the Prophet on his own. If we add the name of Prophet Ibrāhīm (as) based on a single narration that differs from the most established and most authentic versions, we might miss the meaning and secret of the entire formula. We might cease to understand why the Prophet ﷺ chose this exact formula to begin with! This is what lead to so many different debates about why the Prophet ﷺ would compare himself to Ibrāhīm (as) despite being greater than he is, and different attempts to solve this problem.


(1) ʿAbd al-Razzāq, Muṣannaf.
(2) Abū Mūsā al-Madīnī, al-Laṭāʾif min daqāʾiq al-maʿārif (Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyya, 1999), p. 44..
(3) Al-Raghib al-Asfahani, al-Mufradāt fī gharīb al-Qurʾān, Damascus: Dār al-Qalam al-Shāmiyya, pp. 98.
(4) Al-Sakhāwī, al-Qawl al-badīʿ, p. 89.
(5) Al-Ḥakīm al-Tirmidhī, Khatm al-awliyāʾ (published as Sīrat al-awliyāʾ in Thalāthat muṣannafāt li-l Ḥakīm al-Tirmidhī), p. 44; see also his Nawādir al-uṣūl pp. 1:261-5; 2:97; 3:63.
(6) Ibn ʿArabī, al-Futūḥāt al-makkiyya 1:545-6.
(7) Aḥmad ibn Idrīs, al-ʿIqd al-nafīs, p. 55.
(8) Al-Ḥusayn al-Ṭībī, al-Kāshif ʿan ḥaqāʾiq al-sunan (aka Sharḥ al-Ṭībī ʿalā Mishkāt al-maṣābīḥ), Karachi edition, v. 2 p. 179.
(9) Al-ʿImrānī, al-Bayān fī madhhab al-Imām al-Shāfiʿī 2:240; Al-Sakhāwī mentioned in al-Qawl al-badīʿ that al-Ghazālī also attributed this to Imām al-Shāfiʿī.
(10) Al-Sakhāwī, al-Qawl al-badīʿ, p. 91.

(11) Ibn al-Qayyim, Jilā’ al-afhām, pp. 292-301.

Addendum on the evidence for those who hold the opinion that the word āl in the Ibrahimiyya refers to the family or relatives of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ.

Some scholars like Ibn al-Qayyim argued that, despite all the evidence against it,  the word “āl” must mean family because of a narration in which the Messenger of Allah ﷺ used that word to refer to his family. This comes from a narration by Imām Bukhārī where his grandson al-Hasan was about to eat dates that were meant for charity, and the Messenger of Allah ﷺ  said to him, “Did you not know that the āl of Muḥammad ﷺ do not eat from what is given as sadaqa?” However to rely on this narration alone is problematic because in the stronger narration by Imām Bukhārī, the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “Did you not know that we do not eat from what is given as sadaqa?” (The wording in this hadith, beside coming from a stronger chain, is also more realistic).  Therefore to say that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ used the exrpession ” the āl of Muḥammad” to refer to himself and his relatives cannot be established based on this hadith alone. Furthermore, even if it were established that some of the Companions – or even the Messenger of Allah ﷺ – himself, sometimes used the word āl to refer to someone’s family or relatives, that in itself cannot be proof that this is what was meant by the word āl in a different context, the context of the Ibrahimiyya. This is because if we accept that the word āl can, but does not always, refer to someone’s relatives, from the point of view that a person’s relatives are one type of āl, that is, people of special connection to a person, then the intended meaning of the word can change depending on the context. In some places it could be used to refer to one’s supporters and followers, and in another context it could refer to one’s relatives or the members of one’s household.

Written December 2017

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: