Some ignorant Muslims suggest that Hazrat Abu Talib (a.s.) is in hell-fire (we seek refuge in Allah!). They maintain that he never accepted Islam till the last moment and died the death of the disbeliever (we seek refuge in Allah!). For this, Allah has punished him by making him stand in hell up to his ankles, which has the effect of boiling his brain (we seek refuge in Allah!).
Some moderate members of the Ahle Tasannun, however, maintain a stand closer to the Shiite view that Abu Talib (a.s.) died a believer and that traditions like the aforementioned one were forged by the Bani Umayyah (may Allah curse them) out of hatred for the Bani Hashim.
Traditions maligning Abu Talib (a.s.) are the direct consequence of the innumerable virtues of the Bani Hashim, particularly Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.a.) and Ali b. Abi Talib (a.s.). Those who were deprived of these virtues like the three caliphs and the Bani Umayyah found themselves in a tricky situation. While they had usurped the mantle of caliphate, they did not have the merits necessary for the position. So they went about forging traditions to malign the Bani Hashim, the result of which is evident in the fabricated reports on Abu Talib (a.s.).
The tradition of Zahzaah (raging fire)
Let us consider the tradition of Zahzaah (raging fire) which is the most widely quoted tradition by these so-called Muslims to malign Abu Talib (a.s.).
Muslim and Bukhari record on the authority of Abdullah Ibn Haaris who narrates from Abdullah Ibn Abbas through the chain of Sufyaan al-Thauri and Abdul Malik Ibn Umair: Abdullah asked the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.) that Abu Talib (a.s.) undertook your protection upon himself and was angry for your sake (against the infidels of Quraysh), did you fulfil any of his needs?
He (s.a.w.a.) replied: He is in hell-fire till his feet. Were it not for me he would be in its lowest level!
In another tradition it is said that I asked him: Abu Talib (a.s.) protected and helped you, did he benefit due to it?
He (s.a.w.a.) replied: I found him drowned completely in the hell and being tossed. I took him out to the place where the fire reached his ankles.
In the tradition of Lays Ibn Ilhaad, Abdullah Ibn Hanab, it is narrated from Abu Saeed al-Khudri that the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) said that perhaps his intercession will benefit Abu Talib (a.s.) on the day of judgement whereas now he is in hell till his ankles which is boiling his brain.
Review of the narrators
Allamah Ameeni (r.a.) has discussed such traditions in great detail in his fantastic book Al-Ghadeer.
We review the chain of narrators of the tradition on Abu Talib (a.s.) as reported by Muslim and Bukhari.
We refer Allamah Amini’s (r.a.) views on the two narrators:
• Sufyan Thauri is considered unreliable and was hostile to the Ahle Bait (a.s.) – a fact accepted by all Muslims. So it is natural to expect such traditions from him maligning the Bani Hashim.
• Abdul Malik Ibn Umair lost his memory as he grew older which is proved by the opinion of Abu Haatim. Ibn Mueen and Ibn Kharraas also had the same opinion. Regarding Abdul Malik, Ahmad b. Hanbal says that he narrated useless traditions. Abu Haatim says that his traditions cannot be used as proof. Abu Zara says he had a bad memory.
(Meezan al-Etedaal, vol. 1 p. 396, vol. 2 p. 169 no 3,322; Al-Jarh wa al-Ta’deel, vol. 5 p. 361 No 1,700; Al Tareekh, vol. 2 p. 273; Al-Jarh wa al-Ta’deel, vol. 5 p. 395 No 1,833; Meezan al-Etedaal, vol. 2 p. 128, vol. 2 p. 633 no 8128)
Review of the text
On reviewing the text of the traditions, we see many inconsistencies. For example, these traditions talk of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) interceding for Abu Talib (a.s.) despite the fact that he was according to them a disbeliever (we seek refuge in Allah!). But that is not possible as we will see. Intercession is accepted only for Muslims and not disbelievers.
In many reports, the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) has based the possibility of his intercession for Abu Talib (a.s.) subject to his recitation of kalimah (of Shahaadat) during his last moments. He (s.a.w.a.) said: O uncle, testify to the oneness of Allah so that I can intercede for you on the Day of Judgment.
Also he (s.a.w.a.) has necessitated testifying of oneness (Tauheed) for intercession and there are many traditions to this effect. For example, Umar b. Abudullah says that I was asked to put forward my need and I reserved it for the Day of Judgment. You will receive intercession only if you testify regarding oneness of Allah.
(Al-Mustadrak alaa al-Sahihain vol. 2 p. 232, vol. 2 p. 366 tradition 3,291, Talkhees-o-Mustadrak with same reference; Tareekh-o-Abil Fida vol. 1 p. 120; Al Mawaahib al-Ladunniyyah, vol. 1 p. 71, 262, Kashful Ghumma by Sha’raani vol. 2 p. 144, Kanz al-Ummaal, vol. 7 p. 128, vol. 14, p. 38 tradition 37,874, Sharh-o-Mawaahib of Zarqaani vol. 1 p. 291, Al-Targheeb wa al-Tarheeb, vol. 4 p. 150-158, vol. 4 p. 432-437 traditions 91,93,94,96, 98, Musnad-o-Ahmad, vol. 2 p. 444 tradition 7,028; Al-Mo’jam al-Kabeer, vol. 18 p. 59 tradition 108, Al-Ehsaan fi Taqreeb ibn Hebbaan, vol. 14 p. 376 tradition 6,463)
Moreover several verses of Holy Quran point out that the disbelievers will not receive the slightest of the intercession nor will their chastisement be reduced.
(Surah Nahl (16): Verse 85, Surah Baqarah (2): Verse 162, Surah Muddasir (74): Verse 48)
Therefore the Muslims who consider Abu Talib (a.s.) as a disbeliever are in a fix. If he was a disbeliever as they claim, there can be no intercession for him. If he did indeed receive intercession, then he cannot be a disbeliever. According to Quranic verses and Sunnah both disbelief and intercession cannot be combined. If we accept that Abu Talib (a.s.) was given intercession by the Prophet (s.a.w.a.), then he was obviously a Muslim. This view coincides with that of many scholars of the Ahle Tasannun who acknowledge his faith which was concealed to protect the Prophet (s.a.w.a.).
Even if we accept that Abu Talib (a.s.) was a disbeliever then the tradition of Zahzaah goes against several traditions and verses of the Holy Quran related to Abu Talib (a.s.). Such reports, as per the tradition of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.), should be thrown against the wall.
(Sunan-e-Daarqutni, vol. 2, p. 208-209, Al-Mojam al-Kabeer of al-Tabaraani, vol. 2 p. 97 tradition 1,429, Majma al-Zawaaid, vol. 1 p. 170, Kanz al-Ummaal, vol. 1 p. 179-196 tradition 907,994)