A Journey in the Company of the Prophetic Relics
By Hani Dawah, Deputy Advisor to the Grand Mufti of Egypt
At the gate of the chamber which contains the honorable prophetic relics in Imam al-Hussain Mosque in Cairo, my heart beats accelerated pounding out of happiness as behind this door, the relics of the beloved chosen Prophet [peace and blessings be upon him] are found. In a short time, I will be blessed by seeing his sword, parts of his shirt and his stick by which he pointed to the idols and they were destructed. Furthermore, I will see his [kohl] stick, [kohl] container and four hairs from his blessed head [peace and blessings be upon him].
I stepped into the room, filled with veneration; a strange feeling mixes happiness with eagerness…my senses are blessed with the blessings of the beloved Prophet…My eyes are searching around the room longing for the blessing of seeing His honorable relics.
Some people may suspect attributing these honorable relics to the Prophet [peace and blessings be upon him] and wonder; how these relics could remain until our present time? And how did they reach Egypt and other countries in different directions?
There is no wonder that the relics remained undamaged for centuries as they will continue until the Day of Judgment. This is because the Prophet [peace and blessings be upon him] was not an ordinary person whose relics may perish. The companions [may God be pleased with them] comprehended this matter as they were so eager to dearly keep the relics of Prophet Muhammad [peace and blessings be upon him] and safely confine it with them. Moreover, they used to transmit these relics by inheritance throughout history and here lies the secret of the eternality of the material existence of the Prophet’s relics until the present time.
The Journey of the Prophetic Relics
God has blessed Egypt with a unique collection of antiquities. Historians agree unanimously that these relics belong to Banu Ibrahim in Yanbu’ which they inherited from their fathers and grandfathers through successive generations going back until the time of the Messenger of God [peace and blessings be upon him].
These relics remained in the possession of Banu Ibrahim and their successors until they were purchased by the Egyptian minister Tajj al-Din Ibn Hana. This happened during the 7th century of Hijra during the reign of Sultan al-Zahir Baybars. He founded a hospice for these relics on the shore of the Nile and appointed a sheikh for guarding and preserving such priceless relics.
With the passage of time, this hospice started to crack and it was feared for the Prophetic relics to be stolen or damaged. Therefore, in the early decades of the 10th century of Hijra, Sultan Qunswa al-Ghuri built a great dome towards the direction of his school particularly for preserving these relics, currently found in al-Ghuria Street. They kept preserved there for three consecutive centuries after that they were moved to al-Sayeda Zainab Mosque [may God be pleased with her]. After that, the relics were transported to the Khazna of possessions in Qal’ah [citadel] and after a short period they were moved to Awqaf Divan [the Ministry of Endowments] then to Abdeen Palace. Khedive Tawfiq gave his orders to keep these relics in green silk crafted from gilded silver. In 1888, they were moved to Imam al-Hussain Mosque in a great procession led by scholars and ministers. And in 1893 during the reign of Khedive Abbas Helmi, the current room was built specially for keeping these relics which lies behind the Eastern wall of the mosque and the Southern wall of its dome.
The hairs of victory
I looked at them…four hairs of the Prophet [peace and blessings be upon him] blesses the room. The color of the beloved hairs of the Prophet is reddish brown and the length of each of them equals 7 cm. They are fixed with wax in a metallic cylinder guarded in a glassy box with a dome and silver crescent.
When I saw the blessed hairs, I recalled our master Khalid Ibn al-Walid [the sword of God] when he lost his head cap in the battle of Yarmuk, he ordered his soldiers to search for it without being able to find it. When they eventually found the head cap, they were astonished because it was old and destroyed but Khalid told them that there is a secret with the head cap. The Messenger of God [peace and blessings be upon him] once performed Umra and shaved his head, people hastened to take his hair. Khalid Ibn al-Walid took some hairs from the forehead of our beloved Prophet and put them in this head cap and he never fought in battle wearing this head cap except he was victorious.
There are other hairs of the Prophet [peace and blessings be upon him] kept in the mosque but they are not exhibited. Another hair was added to the other four hairs which was kept by Ahmad Talaat Basha, the head of the diwan of Khedive Sa’id and his son Tawfiq. It is said that this hair was granted to him from the Sultan in one of his journeys to Constantinople. It is one of the Prophet’s white hairs which reach his earlobe and its length was 8 cm. Another three hairs were added as they were kept at the Klinshy hospice in Taht al-Rab’, their length varies from 8 to 10 cm and their color was reddish brown as if they were originally white and dyed with henaa after that.
In 1921, Malaka the nursemaid of prince Kamal al-Din Ibn al-Sultan Hussain, brought a flask to al-Hussain mosque and said that it contains hairs from the Prophet’s beard. They were 5 hairs, 4 of them were reddish brown and a single white hair, their length ranges between 3 to 5 cm.
The Naqshabandi hospice sent another hair to be kept with the relics of the Messenger of God [peace and blessings be upon him] in al-Hussain mosque. Now, there are 15 hairs among the prophetic relics in al-Hussain mosque in which only 4 of them are exhibited to the public.
They Cast no Shadow
It may occur to some of us that these honorable hairs do not belong to the Prophet [peace and blessings be upon him]. Through a simple examination we can confirm its attribution to the Prophet which I have tried myself. All what we have to do is to expose this hair to light and if it casts shadow, this means definitely that the hair does not belong to our beloved Prophet [peace and blessings be upon him]. Otherwise, if it was exposed to light and casts no shadow, this means that hair belongs to the Prophet [peace and blessings be upon him]. Because, as stated in al-Shama’il Wa al-Khasa’is al-Muhammadia and mentioned by many scholars that Ibn Abbas stated that our master the Prophet [peace and blessings be upon him] casts no shadow either in sunlight or moonlight. This is one of the characteristics of the Prophet [peace and blessings be upon him] that his shadow never appeared on the earth and that he was light. This is witnessed when the Prophet said: “And made me light” as included in Sahih Muslim.
In the reign of al-Sultan Abdul-Hamid when the claims of possessing the prophetic hair increased, the Sultan met with a group of scholars including sheikh As’ad al-Shuqairi –the father of Ahmad al-Shuqairi- and asked them about the validity of attributing these hairs to the Prophet [peace and blessings be upon him]. Sheikh al-Shuqairi suggested doing this examination for the hair of the Prophet [peace and blessings be upon him] which proved that his hair casts no shadow. The hair which is exposed to light and casts no shadow, belongs to the Prophet but the one which casts shadow is made and fabricated by its owners. Based on this, the examination was performed and the owners of the hairs which belong to the Prophet [peace and blessings be upon him] received certificates of authenticity from al-Sultan Abd-ul-Hamid.
Qamis [shirt] of the Prophet [peace and blessings be upon him]
Inside the room, I saw three pieces from the shirt of the Prophet [peace and blessings be upon him] which touched the prophetic body and filled with his scented sweat. The three pieces are placed in a glassy box overtopped with a dome and crescent made of silver. It is a white shirt woven on simple loons and has no colorful decorations. The first piece is made from flax and unsewn which proves that it is made from the finest flax; it is probably one of the twenty garments gifted to the Prophet [peace and blessings be upon him] from al-Muqawqis.
The other two pieces are made from cotton and they may be from Suhulia garments in attribution to a place in Yemen (Suhul). Dr. Su’ad Maher, professor of Islamic history and the dean of the Faculty of Archeology, Cairo University, stressed that she has examined what is mentioned in historical references describing the garments of the Prophet [peace and blessings be upon him] its shape, material and place of manufacture. She had further analyzed the material and the strings in a chemical laboratory of the Egyptian Antiquities Authority and their attribution to the Prophet was confirmed.
The Mikhala [Kohl container] of our beloved Prophet [peace and blessings be upon him]
The kohl container of the Messenger of God [peace and blessings be upon him] and his kohl stick which touched his eyelids are also included in the room. Our beloved Prophet used to apply kohl thrice to each eye before retiring to bed. He did not apply kohl for adornment because he did not need that but as a matter of treatment for preserving the eyes. The Prophet’s eyes were big as if cosmetic with Kohl naturally, with dark pupil and surrounded with reddish white.
The kohl container looks like a spoon made from yellow copper and its knob is made from silver which was probably added to the container afterwards. Its length equals 3.5 cm and the knob equals 11.5 cm and the kohl stick which is called al-Mail made from iron equals 11 cm and its knob equals 2.5 cm.
Dr. Su’ad Maher believes that both the kohl container and the kohl stick are made from iron or red copper and they truly belong to the Prophet [peace and blessings be upon him].
The Unification Stick
During the conquest of Mecca, the Prophet [peace and blessings be upon him] was wearing a black turban. He stood by the gate of Ka’ba and praised God the Almighty and said: “O people of Quraish, what do you think I am going to do to you? They replied: “You will treat us as a kind nephew and a generous brother would. The Prophet said: “you are free to go” and they were pardoned. He pointed to the 36o idols on the ka’ba with his stick and recited the Qur`anic verse: “And say, “Truth has come, and falsehood has departed. Indeed is falsehood, [by nature], ever bound to depart.” [17: 81]. Every time he pointed to one of the idols, it falls over onto its face.
This was the unification stick which is found in the room of the prophetic relics in al-Hussain mosque. This stick was called al-Baydaa [white] which the Prophet [peace and blessings be upon him] took as war booties from Bani Qainuqa and it is made from Shawhatt which is a type of cedar. However, the stick is covered with good silver and its length equals 18.4 cm.
The remaining part of the stick which length equals 4 cm looks extremely old and it was covered with a layer of Jumalakafor preserving it against destruction or decay, because most of it was ruined. Dr. Su’ad Maher believes that this stick is al-Baydaa specifically its descriptions match with those mentioned by historians.
The ‘Adab (strong) Sword
The ‘Adab is one of the swords owned by the Prophet [peace and blessings be upon him]. Once you hold its wooden grip which touched his blessed palm, you feel the meaning of chivalry and bravery which characterized the Prophet [peace and blessings be upon him].
The sword has a wooden sheath covered with thin leather and the writings on the edge of the sword are written with gold water. The most probably these writings go back to the 9th or 10th Hijri century when al-Sultan al-Ghuri renewed the sheath and the cover of the Mushaf is attributed to our master Uthman. This was at the time when the relics of the Messenger of God were moved from Athar al-Nabi citadel to his dome in al-Ghuria district in Islamic Cairo.
The wooden grip of the sword is fixed at the end of the head with three nails as there is a piece of iron found at the end which is called al-Waqya.
The scientific report supervised by Dr. Su’ad Maher mentions that the sword contains cracks because of sharpening it. After microscopic examination on the edge of the sword, an Arabic text was found engraved in the sword. Moreover, after examining the writing style, it was discovered that it belongs to al-Nabti writing style which is the origin of the Arabic writing and was used in many writings of the Messenger of God [peace and blessings be upon him].
The Mushafs [copies of the Qur`an] of the Companions
The last contents of the room are two mushafs, the first of them belongs to the commander of the faithful Ali ibn Abu Talib [may God be pleased with him]. The other one is attributed to our master Uthman ibn ‘Affan [may God be pleased with him]. However, Dr. Su’ad Maher suspects their attribution to both Imam Ali and our master Uthman. She said: the first mushaf is written with a black like ink with Kufi writing and red and black dots for the non-Arabic language. This confirms that these mushafs were not written before the reign of the Umayyad caliph al-Walid Ibn Abd al-Malik when Nasr Ibn ‘Assem wrote dots on the top of letters.
Furthermore, this mushaf was unknown except after the 8th Hijri century when Ibn Batouta visited Egypt and based on this, this mushaf is unattributed to our master Ali [may God be pleased with him].
After examining the writing style, ink and paper of the mushaf attributed to our master Uthman Ibn ‘Affan, Dr. Su’ad says: “I deny the attribution of this mushaf to ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan [may God be pleased with him] and I emphasize that it belongs to the period between the end of the first century and the early period of the second Hijri century.
Perhaps, this mushaf is the one which the ruler of Egypt Abd al-Aziz Ibn Marawan [died in 86Hijri] ordered to be written and which is known in the name of his granddaughter Asmaa and therefore it is considered the oldest written mushaf in Egypt.
The room holding the Propheticﷺ relics was added to Sayyidina Husayn mosque in 1893 CE. Previously, the relics were held at various sites around Cairo.
Complete collection of Propheticﷺ Relics
Top left: Shirt of Prophet Muhammadﷺ
Top right: Two kohl applicators of Prophet Muhammadﷺ
Center: Sword (named al-‘Adab) of Prophet Muhammadﷺ
Bottom left: Handle of Prophet Muhammad’sﷺ rod. This is part of the rod mentioned in the following Hadith: Narrated by Abdullah bin Masud: Allah’s Apostle entered Mecca (in the year of the Conquest) and there were three-hundred and sixty idols around the Ka’ba. He then started poking them with a rod in his hand and saying: ‘Truth has come and falsehood vanished. Truly falsehood is ever bound to vanish.’ (Holy Qur’an 17:81) ‘Truth has come and falsehood cannot create anything.’ (Holy Qur’an 34:49) – Sahih Bukhari, Volume 006, Book 060, Hadith Number 244.
Bottom center: Sayyidina ‘Uthman’s Qur’an
Bottom right: Hairs of Prophet Muhammadﷺ