Abu 'Abd al-Rahman 'Abdullah bin Mas'ud, radiyallahu 'anhu, reported: The Messenger of Allah, sallallahu 'alayhi wasallam, the most truthful, the most trusted, told us:
"Verily the creation of any one of you takes place when he is assembled in his mother's womb; for forty days he is as a drop of fluid, then it becomes a clot for a similar period. Thereafter, it is a lump looking like it has been chewed for a similar period. Then an angel is sent to him, who breathes the ruh (spirit) into him. This Angel is commanded to write Four decrees: that he writes down his provision (rizq), his life span, his deeds, and whether he will be among the wretched or the blessed.
I swear by Allah - there is no God but He - one of you may perform the deeds of the people of Paradise till there is naught but an arm's length between him and it, when that which has been written will outstrip him so that he performs the deeds of the people of the Hell Fire; one of you may perform the deeds of the people of the Hell Fire, till there is naught but an arm's length between him and it, when that which has been written will overtake him so that he performs the deeds of the people of Paradise and enters therein."
[Al-Bukhari & Muslim]
This hadith was not only recorded by Al-Bukhari and Muslim but by other Scholars as well. Apart from 'Abdullah bin Mas'ud, this hadith was also narrated by many other companions (Sahabahs).
This narration by 'Abdullah bin Mas'ud was recorded with different versions where some words/terms conflicted with each other, resulting in different versions having different meanings regarding Creation. The conflicts are as follows:
The addition of the word "nutfah" (the drop of a fluid)
This word is not mentioned in Bukhari neither Muslim's narration. However it was added to other narrations including the one chosen by al-Imam al-Nawawi to provide a better interpretation or explanation but instead it gave two conflicting views of the creation of mankind in terms of stages of the fetus:
The three stages of the fetus consist of forty days each, equaling to a total of 120 days for the stages to complete. It is only after this 120 days that the ruh (spirit) is breathed into the fetus, as well as the recording of the fetus' provision life span, deeds and destiny. This view, the inclusion of the word "nuftah", is the view held by the majority of the Scholars.
One problem with this view is that the stages of the fetus as interpreted in this hadith contradict the facts proven by science today.
Another problem concerns the Fatwa on abortion. Scholars say that abortion is allowed (provided there is a very good reason - e.g. the woman's life is in danger) only before the ruh is breathed into the fetus, i.e. before 120 days - as opposed to 40 days if the second view is to be taken (see below).
The word "nutfah" does not belong to the text of the hadith. This changes the meaning of the hadith which interprets the three stages of the fetus as taking place in the first forty days. This view correlates with scientific facts. And this means that the ruh is breathed into the fetus after forty days, and not 120 days. Consequently the Fatwa on abortion states that abortion is allowed only before forty days.
The authenticity of the last section of the Hadith
Some Scholars say that the last section of the hadith (i.e. "By Allahâ¦
is not part of the text of the Prophet, sallallahu 'alayhi wasallam, but the words of 'Abdullah bin Mas'ud. But since the issue in this hadith is related to matters which we cannot perceive with our limited human perception, this last section is accepted and included here because 'Abdullah bin Mas'ud may have derived the meaning from another hadith of the Prophet, sallallahu 'alayhi wasallam, to explain this hadith better.
There are other hadiths collected by Al-Bukhari and Muslim, which touch on the same issue. But there are some differences between the texts of those hadiths and this one. Those hadiths narrate the Prophet, sallallahu 'alayhi wasallam, as saying: One of you will perform the acts of the people of the Paradise (Ahlul Jannah) as it appears in the eyes of the people.
This is like the Munafiqin or hypocrites - they do the acts of the Mua'minin. They appear, in our eyes, to be doing the acts of the Ahlul Jannah but Allah knows best. Their end will be a disaster - by being Munafiqin they are actually denying the message of God in their deep hearts as Allah mentioned in the Qur'an and their end will be in the Hellfire since they do not submit to Allah in their hearts. This explanation of the other hadiths is important in the understanding of this hadith.
The Scholars say when we do a research on a concept or an issue mentioned in hadiths, we shouldn't depend on only one hadith - we need to search for other similar hadiths, which deal with the same issue/matter. We must remember that some narrators will narrate a hadith by its meaning, and not exactly as it was said by the Prophet, sallallahu 'alayhi wasallam. This is because being human, some of them may forget some of the exact words/terms used by the Prophet, sallallahu 'alayhi wasallam - but they still understand the actual meaning of what was said.
Then we need to compare the different texts of hadiths on the same issue with each other in order to have a more complete interpretation and better understanding of the issue/matter at hand.
Some people, on hearing this hadith as it is and without further explanation, might feel despair, fearing that they fall into the bad group of people mentioned. This will lead to determination (jabriah) - they may think that no matter what they do, if their end has already been written, then why should they bother to do good deeds. This is the wrong attitude to have as it is based on a wrong perception. Allah is Just. We should trust Allah. If we are good to Allah and trust Him, He will be good to us. We should be optimistic and not pessimistic. We follow Allah's commands and make the effort to be good Muslims and we should not despair.
During one of the battles, a companion (Sahabi) said to the Prophet, sallallahu 'alayhi wasallam, that he was following him, sallallahu 'alayhi wasallam, to fight in the hope that an arrow will be shot through his (the Sahabi's) neck, coming in from the front and going out the back. The Prophet, sallallahu 'alayhi wasallam, said, "If you are honest with Allah, Allah will be honest with you." The Sahabi died exactly as he hoped to.
The Prophet's, sallallahu 'alayhi wasallam, words here are generic and can be used for all situations. If we are honest with Allah, Allah will not leave us - He will help us - He will guide us, etc. The closer we are to Allah, the more He will help us and guide us. Thus, the last section of this hadith is an exception and applies only to few people such as the Munafiqin.
But this, on the other hand, does not mean that we live in hope alone. The Scholars say that we must combine hope with fear - when we worship Allah, we should have hope as well as fear of Him. Fearing Allah is a positive thing. The more we fear Allah, the closer we get to Him. The more we fear Allah, the more calm and at peace we will be. This is unlike the natural 'fear' where if we fear something, e.g. a fire or a dangerous animal, we will try to get away from it.