Commentary on the Hadith of Shaytan and Eating with the Left Hand

أخبرنا مالك أخبرنا ابن شهاب عن أبي بكر  بن عبيد الله عن عبد الله بن عمر أن رسول الله صلى الله عليه و سلم قال : إذا أكل  أحدكم فليأكل بيمينه وليشرب  بيمينه فإن الشيطان  يأكل بشماله ويشرب بشماله

قال محمد : وبه نأخذ . لا ينبغي أن يأكل بشماله ولا يشرب بشماله إلا من علة

Translation:

Mālik informed us that Ibn Shihāb informed us from Abū Bakr ibn ʿUbayd Allāh from ʿAbdullāh ibn ʿUmar that the Messenger of Allah, upon him blessings and peace, said, “When any of you eat, then let him eat with his right hand and let him drink with his right hand, because shayṭān eats with his left hand and drinks with his left hand.”

Muḥammad said, “We adhere to this. One ought not to eat with one’s left hand or drink with one’s left hand unless there is good cause.”

Commentary:

The majority of the scholars believe that drinking or eating with one’s right hand is mustaḥabb and to eat or drink with the left hand is considered makrūh tanzīhī, except in the case of necessity or a valid excuse, in which case it is not disliked at all. A group of Mālikī and Ḥanbalī scholars however, held that to eat or drink with the left hand was ḥarām because the action of doing so has been attributed to Shayṭan or his like.

As for the expression that Shayṭān eats with his left hand, some scholars believe that it is not literal and that it means that Shayṭān entices such people to eat with their left hands. Ibn Ḥajar quotes Ṭībī as stating that the meaning of the ḥadīth is that shayṭān induces his human friends (awliyāʾ) to eat in such a manner so as to oppose the pious slaves of Allah. In other words, “do not eat with your left hand, otherwise you will be considered of the awliyāʾ of Shayṭān, for Shayṭān entices his friends to do so.” Ibn Ḥajar, however, disagreed with this interpretation and prefers to understand the ḥadīth literally, because logically there is no reason to deny the possibility that Shayṭān literally eats. In fact, prophetic narrations prove that he literally eats, thus the absence of need to resort to figurative interpretation. In this opinion, Ibn Ḥajar is supported by Al-Zarqānī and Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr.

Al-Qurṭubī, however, provides two possible interpretations and does not clearly express his preference of one or the other. The first is that the ḥadīth is literal and that Shayṭān can actually physically eat with a person. He then quotes the ḥadīth of Saḥīḥ Muslim that states that when someone fails to mention the name of Allah on food Shayṭān makes it ḥalāl for himself, which proves that he actually eats (although some interpret this ḥadith to mean that doesn’t actually eat but he finds pleasure in the absence of barakah in the food that results from failing to mention Allah’s name).

The second interpretation is that the ḥadīth simply means that by eating with the left hand one is imitating Shayṭān. This would imply that Shayṭan doesn’t literally partake of that particular meal but by eating like a Shayṭān, one is figuratively representing him.

The problem with a figurative interpretation is that it doesn’t account for the numerous narrations that apparently prove that Shayṭān and jinn eat, drink, sleep, and even marry. In fact, many scholars agree to this idea. In a long discussion about the jinn (the evil amongst them who are also called shayāṭīn), Ibn Ḥajar notes that there is a difference of opinion about whether the jinn eat, drink, and marry. Some argue against it while others disagree, although they are not agreed about the modality of their eating or drinking. Some think that it is some sort of respiratory action, through smell or inhalation, not chewing or swallowing.

Others argue that this understanding contradicts a narration in Abū Dāwūd that states that Umayyah ibn Makhshiyy said regarding a man who begins to eat and forgets to mention Allah’s name but then remembers and mentions His name at the end of the meal, that the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) said, “Shayṭān continues to eat with him, until he mentions Allah’s name upon which (Shayṭān) vomits what was in his stomach.” Additionally, Muslim narrates that once the jinn asked for provisions, upon which the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace said), “Any bone upon which Allah’s name has been mentioned and that falls in your hands will be more abundant than when it (had) meat.”

Lastly, some scholars differentiate between various types of jinn, mentioning that some are of a nature that eat, drink, and wed just like men, while others do not. Details can be found in books devoted to the topic, such as Badr al-Dīn al-Shalabī al-Dimashqī’s Ākām al-marjān fī aḥkām al-jānn, which is an unparalleled book on the subject of jinn.

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