Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Satan In The Upper Nose:

Examining One Muslim’s Obvious Embarrassment
With The Teachings Of His Prophet

Sam Shamoun

One will not find any greater evidence that Muhammad was not a true prophet and that Islam is not the religion of the true God than that which we find recorded in the hadith literature.

The hadith collections contain some rather embarrassing scientific mistakes and gross historical blunders, as well as some of the most bizarre and absurd tales ever recorded. The hadiths make it rather hard for any rational person to believe that Muhammad was truly a messenger who was receiving revelations from an all-knowing, omnipotent being.

To say that the hadiths are a major source of humiliation for Muslims would be a wild understatement.

One such bizarre teaching is Muhammad’s assertion that Satan literally stays in a person’s upper nose at night and needs to be flushed out by snorting water in and out of one’s nose three times!

Abu Huraira reported: The Apostle of Allah said. When any one of you awakes up from sleep and performs ablution, he must clean his nose three times, for the devil spends the night in the interior of his nose. (Sahih Muslim, Book 002, Number 0462)


Narrated Abu Huraira:
The Prophet said, “If anyone of you rouses from sleep and performs the ablution, he should wash his nose by putting water in it and then blowing it out thrice, because Satan has stayed in the upper part of his nose all the night.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 54, Number 516)

The footnote to this particular hadith states:

(1) (H. 3295) We should believe that Satan actually stays in the upper part of one’s nose, though we cannot perceive how, for this is related to the unseen world of which we know nothing except what Allah tells us through his Messenger. (Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan, The Translation of the Meanings of Sahih Al-Bukhari [Darussalam Publishers & Distributors, July 1997], Volume 4. Ahadith 2738 to 3648, 59 – The Book Of The Beginning Of Creation, (11) CHAPTER. The Characteristics of Iblis (Satan) and his soldiers. p. 312; bold and italic emphasis ours)

This absurd instruction proved to be too humiliating for even one of Islam’s leading propagandists. In his debate with Dr. Robert Morey, which took place on November 9, 1996, Dr. Jamal Badawi was forced to address this rather embarrassing narration after Morey mentioned it in his opening statements. Here is what Badawi said: 

"Now Dr. Morey, again in his customary thing who doesn't understand the subtleties of the Arabic language, just pick things from translations of people. When the prophet says satan… yes there is a hadith that says satan sleeps at night in the upper nose. He doesn't understand, he doesn't understand that the word satan, or female, male and female satans as narrated in other hadiths, is a reference to something harmful. Just like when we say also it is a wind from the hellfire – something harmful. Because anything is harmful is actually negative, and that’s the closest thing really is shaitan. It’s not to say literally… the fact that the translator of hadith understood it, that’s his problem. That’s not the text of the hadith, so we have to be open and more analytical when we look at these things.

“In fact, Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani in the 14th century, who commented on Bukhari and explained Bukhari, he said one of that’s [sic] explanations he said, ‘yes,’ because its something hurtful that need to be clean. And, in fact, you ask any physician that, when you wake up and make ablution for the prayer and sneeze the water, you’re not really driving the physical satan, but it means that you’re removing something that could hurt you, and it’s quite helpful.” (Is the Quran the word of God?)

What makes Badawi’s reply rather ironic is that the translator’s statements are based on the actual, literal reading of the hadith! The text explicitly mentions Satan, not something harmful. To argue that the hadith doesn’t say what the translator claims simply because Badawi wants to reinterpret the word Satan metaphorically so as to mean something harmful is a clear indication of Badawi’s desperation and embarrassment over this hadith.

Moreover, isn’t it true that harmful things enter the nose also during the day, not just at night? In fact, even more so, since we are much more exposed to sand, dust, smoke, etc. while we are awake and move around, than when we sleep, and are protected by a tent or even a house. Why, then, do these hadiths specify night time if the word Satan refers to something harmful? Isn’t it obvious from the reference to nighttime that Muhammad meant that Satan himself actually stayed in one’s nose? And what could be more harmful than having Satan live inside your nose?

Besides, if Muhammad was referring to things such as crusty nose secretions then he could have said blow out the nose until the secretion is gone – after all, we are able to feel whether it is there or not. Sometimes one blow is enough, sometimes four or five may be necessary to clear your nose; particularly when you have a cold and your nose is stuffed. However, Muhammad didn’t say do it until the nose is cleared, but he gives a “magical instruction” to do it “three times.” This formula makes sense since Muhammad wasn’t speaking about something one can feel, but about the unseen world, i.e. about Satan himself. He is not giving the common sense instruction to blow your nose if something is in it (why would you need a prophet for that?), but is giving “religious instruction” to protect the believers from Satan. That is the whole point of these narrations.

Finally and more importantly, Badawi’s claim that Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, the 14th century commentator on Sahih al-Bukhari, said that the word Satan meant something harmful is simply wrong. Ibn Hajar was of the view that Satan himself literally stayed in one’s nose.

Here is what this commentator wrote concerning this issue:

Hadith # 3121

Ibrahim bin Hamza said, Ibn Abi Hazim told me, narrated from Yazeed, narrated from Muhammad bin Ibrahim, narrated from Isa bin Talha, narrated from Abi Huraira:

The Prophet said, "If anyone of you rouses from sleep and performs the ablution, he should wash his nose by putting water in it and then blowing it out thrice, because Satan has stayed in the upper part of his nose all the night."

Commentary on the Hadith – Fath Al Bari fi Sharh Sahih Al-Bukhari:

“… it appears from this hadith that this situation happens to each person while they are asleep, but it is possible that it applies only to anyone who was not careful to protect him/herself from Satan by reciting scriptures... such as the verse of the throne (ayat al-kursi)… and it is possible this means that Satan is unable to get to the (person’s) heart, therefore he stays in the nose to make his way into the heart once the person wakes up. By blowing water out of the nose the person prevents Satan from entering, therefore, the hadith is intended for each person who wakes up.” (Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani)

Ibn Hajar’s statements make it abundantly clear that he too believed that Satan himself lodged in one’s nose and therefore needed to be flushed out by snorting water in and out of one’s nose. This means that Badawi was not being entirely honest or forthright with his audience.

The following narrative provides additional corroboration that Muhammad truly believed that Satan himself actually stays in the upper part of a person’s nose.

Narrated 'Ali bin Al-Husain (from Safiya, the Prophet's wife):
The wives of the Prophet were with him in the mosque (while he was in Itikaf) and then they departed and the Prophet said to Safiya bint Huyai, "Don't hurry up, for I shall accompany you," (and her dwelling was in the house of Usama). The Prophet went out and in the meantime two Ansari men met him and they looked at the Prophet and passed by. The Prophet said to them, "Come here. She is (my wife) Safiya bint Huyai." They replied, "Subhan Allah, (How dare we think of evil) O Allah's Apostle! (we never expect anything bad from you)." The Prophet replied, "Satan circulates in the human being as blood circulates in the body, and I was afraid lest Satan might insert an evil thought in your minds." (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 33, Number 254)

Since Muhammad thought that Satan circulates in a person’s body it should therefore come as no surprise that he would also believe that Satan literally stays in a person’s nose during the night. Muhammad may have felt that Satan travels within a person’s body throughout the day, but then lodges in the person’s nose during the night in order to get some rest for the next day where he would start circulating in the body again.

In light of this rather silly and absurd teaching of Muhammad, we would like Badawi (or any other Muslim for that matter) to answer the following questions.

Does Satan stay in the right nostril or the left one?

How can Satan be in so many noses without being omnipresent?

If he is omnipresent then wouldn’t this mean that he is divine?

If he is actually divine then wouldn’t this imply that he shares in Allah’s divine attributes?

And if he isn’t divine then wouldn’t this suggest that Muhammad is guilty of committing shirk for ascribing to Satan, a finite creature, one of Allah’s divine qualities?

Finally, how can water, which is a material substance, flush out a being that is not made out of the same material stuff from which the earth is made? Does this even make sense?

On the other hand, Muhammad may have actually thought that Satan was made from the same, or at least similar, substance of the earth since he erroneously believed that the Devil actually farts and urinates in people’s ears!

Narrated Abu Huraira:
Allah's Apostle said, “When the Adhan is pronounced Satan takes to his heels and passes wind with noise during his flight in order not to hear the Adhan. When the Adhan is completed he comes back and again takes to his heels when the Iqama is pronounced and after its completion he returns again till he whispers into the heart of the person (to divert his attention from his prayer) and makes him remember things which he does not recall to his mind before the prayer and that causes him to forget how much he has prayed.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 11, Number 582)

Narrated 'Abdullah:
A person was mentioned before the Prophet and he was told that he had kept on sleeping till morning and had not got up for the prayer. The Prophet said, "Satan urinated in his ears." (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 2, Book 21, Number 245)

Muhammad even thought that Satan, whom he erroneously believed was a jinn (cf. Q. 18:50), eats physical food such as what may be found on bones and in animal dung!

Narrated Abu Huraira:
That once he was in the company of the Prophet carrying a water pot for his ablution and for cleaning his private parts. While he was following him carrying it (i.e. the pot), the Prophet said, "Who is this?" He said, "I am Abu Huraira." The Prophet said, "Bring me stones in order to clean my private parts, and do not bring any bones or animal dung." Abu Huraira went on narrating: So I brought some stones, carrying them in the corner of my robe till I put them by his side and went away. When he finished, I walked with him and asked, "What about the bone and the animal dung?" He said, "They are of the food of Jinns. The delegate of Jinns of (the city of) Nasibin came to me--and how nice those Jinns were--and asked me for the remains of the human food. I invoked Allah for them that they would never pass by a bone or animal dung but find food on them." (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 5, Book 58, Number 200)

On a sidenote, wasn’t it so kind of Muhammad to pray on behalf of the jinns, that Allah would make sure that those bones would always have some meat on them? This does leave us wondering as to what kind of food did Muhammad think the jinn would actually find ON animal dung? After all, the hadith doesn’t say that they eat the dung itself, or the bones themselves, but that they eat the food ON them.

Since Muhammad thought that Satan could eat food, pass wind, and urinate in people’s ears, he may have believed that Satan was actually a corporeal being similar to us. This may explain why he felt that water could be used to flush him out of people’s noses!

In conclusion, it is obvious that Badawi was rather embarrassed by his prophet’s teaching that Satan literally stays in the upper part of a person’s nose during the night. Yet instead of doing the honest thing and admitting that this is a bizarre saying, Badawi chose to misinform his audience by coming up with an explanation that he thought would make sense to the non-Muslims who were listening.

However, if one is forced to lie about one’s religious teachings in order to make them more palatable to non-believers then are such beliefs even worth following? If Badawi is forced to lie and misinterpret his traditions to dupe people into becoming Muslims, since he knows that no sensible person would ever believe such silly and embarrassing teachings, then why is he still a Muslim? Why doesn’t he do the honest thing and abandon Islam?

More importantly, why are the Muslims who are reading this article, and seeing the kind of nonsense that their prophet taught, still following such a man?