An Analysis of the Hadīth:
“Whoever Begins His Meals with Salt Will Be Saved From Seventy Diseases”
By Muntasir Zaman
In the Name of Allāh, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
[Summary: This Hadīth has been reported Marfū‘an – from the Messenger of Allāh (peace and blessings be upon him) – on the authority of four Sahābah: ‘Alī, Anas, Sa‘d ibn Mu‘ādh and ‘Ā’ishah (Allāh be pleased with them). However, all of these narrations have been heavily criticized, such that they cannot even collectively corroborate one another. Furthermore, it has been reported Mawqūfan – from a Sahābī- as a statement of ‘Alī (Allāh be pleased with him), but this report is also unreliable.
After analyzing the Ahādīth, we present the Fatwa of Muftī Rashīd Ahmad Ludhyānwī in this regard, who says that it is incorrect to regard this etiquette as a Sunnah.
Thereafter, we discuss the issue of authentication, and in what context a jurist’s citation of a Hadīth will be regarded as authentication of it. Finally, we discuss how the jurists cannot be blamed for mentioning this unreliable narration in their books, as the science of Hadīth was not their specialty.]
Several leading jurists, such as Burhān al-Dīn al-Bukhārī [d. 616 AH] from the early jurists and Ibn ‘Ābidīn [d. 1250 AH] from the later ones, have stated that the etiquette mentioned in the Hadīth in reference is a Sunnah. Ibn ‘Ābidīn even alludes to the Hadīth in his comment, “Not only is it a Sunnah, but it also contains the cure for seventy diseases.”
Before discussing whether it is correct to regard this etiquette as a Sunnah, let us first analyze the authenticity of the Ahādīth in this regard.
Analysis of the Hadīth
The Hadīth in reference is related by al-Hārith ibn Abī ‘Usāma [d. 282 AH] in his Musnad as follows:
‘Alī (Allah be pleased with him) mentions that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) told me, “Begin your meals with salt, and complete it with salt, as it is a cure for seventy diseases, the first of which are insanity, leprosy, vitiligo, toothache, sore throat and abdominal pain.
This is the first Marfū‘ narration from the Messenger of Allāh, which is reported by ‘Alī (Allah be pleased with him). Hadīth scholars have clearly mentioned that this report is unreliable, as its Sanad (chain of transmission) contains multiple weak transmitters. Consider the following statements:
‘Allāmah Shihāb al-Dīn al-Būsīrī [d. 839 AH] writes:
This is a chain of consecutive weak transmitters. Al-Sarī [ibn Khālid], ‘Abd al-Rahīm [ibn Wāqid] and Hammād [ibn ‘Amr] are all weak
‘Allāmah al-Hasan al-Saghānī [d. 650 AH] mentions:
Among these (i.e. fabrications) are the advices of ‘Alī…Hammād ibn ‘Amr al-Nasībī is the one who forged them”
Commenting on this statement, Shaykh ‘Abd al-Fattāh Abū Ghuddah [d. 1997 CE] writes:
From the advices of ‘Alī (Allah be pleased with him) which Hammād ibn ‘Amr al-Nasībī is accused of forging, and al-Suyūtī mentions in al-La’ālī al-Masnū‘a, is the Hadīth which some jurists and Sūfīs frequently quote before eating. The Hadīth is as follows: “O ‘Alī, begin your meals with salt, and complete it with salt, as it is a cure for seventy diseases, the first of which are insanity, leprosy, vitiligo, toothache, sore throat and abdominal pain.”
Abu ‘l-Faraj ibn al-Jawzī [d. 597 AH] writes:
This Hadīth is not authentic (i.e. it is a fabrication) from the Messenger of Allāh (peace and blessings be upon him). The one accused of forging it is either ‘Abd Allāh ibn Ahmad ibn ‘Āmir or his father (i.e. Ahmad ibn ‘Āmir), as they would narrate a collection (falsely) ascribed to the Ahl al-Bayt filled with fabrications
As we mentioned in a previous article, expressions such as “it is not authentic” when used in books of Mawdū‘āt (fabrications) and biographical entries of weak transmitters mean “it is a fabrication.” Coincidently, in explaining this principle, Shaykh ‘Abd al-Fattāh Abū Ghuddah presented this very statement of Ibn al-Jawzī.
The Second Marfū‘ narration is reported on the authority of Sa‘d ibn Mu‘ādh (Allāh be pleased with him). Furthermore, there is a Mawqūf narration attributed to ‘Alī (Allāh be pleased with him) in this regard.
After quoting the remarks of Ibn al-Jawzī mentioned above, Jalāl al-Dīn al-Suyūtī [d. 911 AH] writes:
Abū ‘Abd Allāh ibn Mandah mentions in ’Akhbār ’Asfahān “…from Sa‘d ibn Mu‘ādh (Allah be pleased with him) that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) said, ‘Enhance your food with salt, because, by the Being in whose hands lies my soul, it cures seventy-three types of calamities’ or he said ‘types of diseases.'”
Al-Bayhaqī mentions in Shu‘ab al-’Īmān, “…from Juwaybir from al-Ďahhāk from al-Nazzāl ibn Sabra from ‘Ali (Allah be pleased with him) who said “Whoever begins his meals with salt, Allāh will relieve him of seventy types of calamities.”
In this statement, ‘Allāmah al-Suyūtī is responding to Ibn al-Jawzī’s criticism by presenting the Marfū‘ narration of Sa‘d ibn Mu‘ādh and the Mawqūf narration of ‘Alī, in an attempt to prove that there are other narrations on the topic. It should be borne in mind that al-Suyūti still considers the Marfū’ report of ‘Alī (i.e. ‘Alī from the Messenger of Allah) a fabrication. He writes:
…“commence your meals with salt, and complete it with salt, as it is a cure for seventy diseases, the first of which are insanity, leprosy, vitiligo, toothache, sore throat and abdominal pain”…Al-Hārith ibn Abī ’Usāma narrates it, who said: ‘Abd al-Rahīm ibn Wāqid narrated to us, he said: Hammād ibn ‘Amrawayh narrated to us.
Al-Bayhaqī related the first part of this Hadīth and said, “This is a lengthy narration regarding virtues and etiquettes.” Thereafter he says, “It is a fabrication.”
However, Hadīth scholars have disagreed with al-Suyūtī regarding the authenticity of both the reports he cited in response to Ibn al-Jawzī. In this regard, ‘Allāmah Ibn ‘Arrāq al-Kināni [d. 963 AH] writes:
Ibn al-Jawzī was criticized [in his claim that the above report is a fabrication] based on al-Bayhaqī having narrated it in Shu‘ab al-’Imān from ‘Alī (Allāh be pleased with him) Mawqūfan (as his own statement): “Whoever begins his meals with salt, Allah will relieve him of seventy types of calamities.”
Moreover, Ibn Mandah narrates in ’Akhbār ’Asfahān from Sa‘d ibn Mu‘ādh (from the Messenger of Allāh), “Begin your meals with salt, because, by that Being in whose hands lies my soul, it cures seventy-three types of calamities” or he said “types of diseases.”
I (Ibn ‘Arrāq) say: This (i.e. the narration of Ibn Mandah) is transmitted by Ibrāhīm ibn Hayyān and therefore it is not suitable for corroboration. As for the report of ‘Alī (i.e. the narration of al-Bayhaqī), it is weak; in its chain is Juwaybir who is abandoned, and from him the narrator is ‘Īsā ibn al-’Ash‘ath who is unknown.
It is clear from the analysis of Ibn ‘Arrāq that each of the two reports presented as corroboration for the abovementioned report contains discredited narrators and therefore are unreliable themselves and cannot corroborate another narration.
It is important to note that Ibrāhīm ibn Hayyān, the impugned narrator in Ibn Mandah’s narration, is also known as Ibrāhīm ibn al-Barā’ and Ibrāhīm ibn Hibbān, because he would change his lineage. After raising similar objections as Ibn ‘Arrāq, Shaykh ‘Abd al-Rahmān al-Mu‘allimī [d. 1966 CE] writes:
I suspect that he (i.e. Ibrāhīm ibn Hayyān) is the same person who is also known as “Ibrāhīm ibn al-Barā’” and “Ibrāhīm ibn Hibbān”, as he would change his lineage. In any case, he is an open liar.
Regarding both the Mawqūf and Marfū‘ narrations of ‘Alī (Allah be pleased with him), Mawlānā Yūnus Sahāranpūrī writes:
The Hadīth on commencing one’s meals with salt has been transmitted from ‘Alī (Allah be pleased with him) both Marfū’an and Mawqūfan through several chains. However, not one chain is free from defects; some contain abandoned narrators, while others contain those accused of forgery.
The third Marfū‘ narration is reported on the authority of Anas (Allah be pleased with him).
‘Allāmah Abu ‘l-Qāsim al-Jurjānī [d. 427 AH] reports on the authority of Anas (Allāh be pleased with him) that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) said:
Begin (your meals) with salt, because it contains about seventy cures. Whoever begins his meals with salt, after which he recites, “In the name of Allāh. All praise is due to Allah. O Allah! Bless us in what You have provided us with, and grant us better than it” Allāh will save him from the punishment of the grave, and before the morsel reaches his stomach, Allāh will forgive him.
After narrating this Hadīth, he mentions:
This Hadīth is detestable, and the narrator ‘Alī ibn Yazdād al-Jurjānī is Muttaham (accused of lying).
The fourth Marfū‘ narration is reported on the authority of ‘Ā’ishah (Allah be pleased with her).
There is a lengthy narration on the authority of ‘Ā’ishah (Allāh be pleased with her) regarding the benefits of numerous fruits, including the benefits of eating salt before and after meals. Despite the peculiar contents of the Hadīth, al-Suyutī merely quotes it and remains silent regarding its authenticity. Thereafter, Ibn ‘Arrāq quotes the very narration and mentions only a minor criticism by stating that one of the narrators is unknown:
… Whoever eats salt before and after meals will be saved from three hundred and sixty types of diseases, the least of which is leprosy and vitiligo. Al-Qāsim al-Tuyūrī narrates it in al-Tuyūriyyāt on the authority of ‘Ā’ishah (Allah be pleased with her).
I (Ibn ‘Arrāq) say: He (al-Suyūtī) did not explain the defect in this narration. The Sanad contains Muhammad ibn Mūsā ibn Ibrāhīm who narrates from Hishām ibn ‘Urwa, and I do not know who he (i.e. Muhammad ibn Mūsā) is. It is mentioned in Lisān al-Mizān, “Muhammad ibn Mūsā ibn Ibrāhīm: he is an unknown Shaykh.” I am not certain if they are the same.
In this passage, Ibn ‘Arrāq only notes that Muhmmad ibn Musā is unknown, without mentioning any other criticism. However, he does not conclude that the narration is a fabrication merely because of this. Shaykh ‘Abd al-Fattāh Abū Ghuddah explains:
Ibn ‘Arrāq’s statement regarding this narrator was not to demonstrate that this narration is a forgery. His intention was to disclose the lie and the liar, as the Hadīth in reference has the stench of forgery emanating from all sides, such that there is no need to analyze its Sanad (chain of transmitters).
The Shar‘ī Ruling of this Practice
Muftī Rashīd Ahmad Ludhyānwi [d. 2002 CE] was asked:
What is the ruling of eating salt before and after meals? If it is not Sunnah or Mustahab, then why do reliable books, such as Shāmiyya (Radd al-Muhtār) and ’Ihyā’ al-‘Ulūm, mention it from the etiquettes of eating?
He responded as follows:
The views purported in widely circulated books regarding the commencement and completion of meals with salt is not substantiated by any authentic narration. All the narrations in this regard are forgeries. Therefore, to regard this etiquette as a Sunnah is an oversight.
Thereafter, he quotes several Hadīth scholars to prove that the narrations in this regard are all forgeries.
A Jurist’s Quotation of a Hadīth is not Sufficient for its Authentication
Thus far we have proven that the Ahādīth regarding the benefits of commencing and completing meals with salt are unreliable, and that this etiquette cannot be termed as a Sunnah.
However, some people claim that since multiple jurists have adduced this Hadīth as evidence for the etiquette being Sunnah, it is sufficient for its authentication, because “when a jurist adduces a Hadīth as evidence, it is regarded as authentication of it.” While the principle they cite is correct, their application of it is invalid, as a “jurist” in this context only refers to a Mujtahid.
‘Allāmah Ibn Nujaym [d. 970 AH] writes:
When a Mujtahid adduces a Hadīh as evidence, it is considered authentication of it, so there is no need to do anything after that. Imām Muhammad is either a Mujtahid or relates the evidences of al-Imām al-’A‘zam, so his use of the Hadīth is authentication of it.
‘Allāmah al-Kawtharī [d. 1951 CE] writes:
…and analyzing their chains was an easy task for them (i.e. the Mujtahids) due to their chronological proximity, particularly because when a Mujtahid adduces a Hadīth as evidence, it is authentication of it. The need for the six canonical books (al-Kutub al-Sitta) and to examine their chains is only for those after the Mujtahids.
Moreover, Mawlānā Ashraf ‘Alī Thanwī [d. 1943 AH] mentions that this etiquette is not even recorded from the Mujtahids of the Madhhab.  Therefore, there is no question of the authentication of the narrations regarding it on the basis of this principle.
In view of the above, it cannot be said that because many jurists adduce this Hadīth as proof it is sufficient for its authentication, because only when a Mujthid uses a Hadīth will it be regarded as authentication of it. Furthermore, we learn that this etiquette is only recorded from those after the early scholars of the Madhhab.
Quoting Unreliable Narrations does not Detract from the Reliability of Juristic Works
In conclusion, it should be borne in mind that by mentioning unreliable narrations, the jurists and their books will not be regarded as unreliable, as every art has its experts, so one cannot be blamed if he falters outside his expertise.
‘Allāmah ‘Abd al-Hayy al-Laknawī [d. 1304 AH] writes:
Although the books of fiqh are reliable in relation to peripheral rulings, and their authors are reliable and expert jurists, the narrations quoted therein cannot be relied upon completely and neither can it be definitely proven merely because it is mentioned therein. How many Ahādīth are recorded in reliable books, yet are fabrications and forgeries…
Yes, if the author of the book is a Hadīth scholar, then it is possible to rely on the narrations he cites therein. Likewise, if the author ascribes the narration to a Hadīth book, then it can be relied upon, provided that he is reliable in his referencing.
The secret in this is that Allāh has made for every context a relevant discourse (Likulli Maqām Maqāl) and for every field its experts, and He granted every group from His creation a virtue that is exclusive to them.
Accordingly, from the scholars of Hadīth are those who only have a share in narrating Hadīth and transmitting it without fully comprehending it and reaching its depths. Conversely, from the jurists are those who only have a share in juristic rulings without expertise in Hadith. Thus, it is necessary to treat each party according to their expertise and limit ourselves within their respective jurisdictions.
Thereafter he quotes Mullā ‘Alī al-Qārī [d. 1014 AH] concerning an issue relevant to our discussion:
If someone says, “The status and intelligence of those who quote such narrations is sufficient for its reliability.” We will reply, “Never. No Hadīth can be accepted unless it is accompanied by a Sanad even if a reliable authority quotes it…
If someone says, “These are reliable personalities who narrate these Ahādīth, so it is very unlikely that such personalities would narrate fabrications.” We will respond, “Just because they are reliable does not free them from falling into such errors. I am not saying that they deliberately quote it knowing that it is a fabrication. Rather, they were deceived by the statements of others, as they are not Hadīth scholars and neither have they ascribed it to the experts whereas consideration is due only to them (i.e. the experts).”
After mentioning these valuable remarks of ‘Allāmah al-Laknawī, Shaykh ‘Abd al-Fāttāh says:
If a student of knowledge were to travel one month’s journey in search of these remarks, it would be worth it, as this is the essence of truth and pure well-wishing. It is for that reason I have mentioned it despite it being lengthy.
It was for this very reason we digressed and mentioned it for the benefit of the readers.
And Allāh knows best.
 Burhān al-Dīn, al-Muhīt al-Burhānī, 54:8 [Idāra al-Qur’ān] Ibn ‘Abidīn, Rad al-Muhtār, 340:6 [Dār al-Fikr]
 Ibn ‘Abidīn, Rad al-Muhtār, 340:6 [Dār al-Fikr]
 Ibn Hajar, al-Matālib al-‘Âliyya, 705:10,[Dār al-‘Isma], al-Haythmī, Bughya al-Bāhith, 526:1 [Markaz Khidma al-Suunah]
 Al-Būsīrī, Ithāf al-Khiayra al-Mahara, 413:3 [Dār al-Watan]
 Al-Qārī, al-Masnū‘ fi Ma‘rifa al-Hadīth al-Mawdū’, 236[Maktab al-Matbū‘āt al-Islāmiyya]
 Abd al-Fattāh, footnotes on al-Masnū‘ fi Ma‘rifa al-Hadīth al-Mawdū’, 236 [Maktab al-Matbū‘āt al-Islāmiyya]
 Ibn al-Jawzī, al-Mawďū‘āt, 289:2 [al-Maktaba al-Salafiyya]
 ‘Abd al-Fattāh, prologue to al-Masnū‘ fi Ma‘rifa al-Hadīth al-Mawdū’, 37 [Maktab al-MAtbū‘āt al-Islāmiyya]
 Al-Suyūtī, al-La’ālī al-Masnū’a, 179:2 [Dār al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyya]
 Al-Suyūtī, al-La’ālī al-Masnū‘a, 312:2 [Dār al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyya]
 Ibn ‘Arrāq, Tanzīh al-Sharī‘a, 243:2 [Dār al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyya]
 Al-Mu’allimī, footnotes on al-Fawā’id al-Majmū‘a, 161 [Mu’assisa Abī ‘Ubayda]
 Yunus Saharanpūrī, al-Yawāqīt al-Ghāliya, 448:2 [Majlis Da‘wa al-Haqq]
 Abu ‘l-Qāsim al-Jurjānī, Tarīkh Jurjān, 310:1 [‘Alam al-Kutub]
 Ibn ‘Arrāq, Tanzīh al-Sharī‘a, 266:2 [Dār al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyya]
 Abd al-Fattāh, footnotes on al-Masnū‘ fi Ma‘rifa al-Hadīth al-Mawdū’, 74 [Maktab al-Matbū‘āt al-Islāmiyya]
 Ludhyānwī, Ahsanul Fatāwā, 91:9 [H.M Saeed]
 Ibn Nujaym, al-Bahr al-Rā’q, 299:5 [H.M Saeed]
 Al-Kawtharī, footnotes on Shurūt al-’A’imma al-Khamsa, 61 [al-Maktab al-‘Azhariyya lī al-Turāth]
 Thanwī, Imdād al-Fatāwā, 112:4 [Maktab Dārul ‘Ulūm Karāchī]
 Extracted from the Footnotes on al-Ajwiba al-Fāďīla, 30-34 [Dār al-Bashāir al-Islāmiyya]