Owais Al-Qarni (r) was a Muslim who lived during the life of Prophet Muhammad (s) and died fighting alongside Imam Ali (a) in the battle of Siffin. It is believed that that he accepted the religion of Islam during the life of the Prophet (s), despite never having the opportunity to meet him (s), due to the fact that he lived in Yemen, far away from Madinah. He is highly respected for this and for being a loyal companion of Imam Ali (a) during the last few years of his life.
Many promoters of extreme self-flagellation narrate that when Uwais (r) heard the news that the Prophet (s) had lost some teeth in the battle of Uhud; he picked up a rock and broke all his teeth out of love for the Prophet (s). He was in Yemen when this occurred whilst Uhud is near the city of Madinah. An example from blood shedding promotional material.
They narrate this incident from two books written by Sunni authors. The first is ‘Seerat al-Halabiyya’ by Imam al-Halabi. The book was written about a thousand years after the event is supposed to have occurred. The second is ‘Tadhkirat al-Awliya’ by the Sufi poet Farid al-Deen Attar (d.616-627H). We do not know of any Shia books at all that report this event. It is interesting to note that promoters of blood shedding cite the two Sunni sources in an attempt to convince Shias of their claim.
In regards to this incident we contend that: 1, It is almost certainly not authentic. 2, The two sources that it has been quoted from have been misrepresented. 3, Even if we imagined the event to be authentic, it cannot be used as a justification for extreme self-flagellation. The following is a list of reasons to justify these assertions:
1, The Prophet (s) probably never broke any teeth.
Some Shia sources narrate that the Prophet’s (s) teeth never broke. The following is a narration from Imam al-Baqir (a) with a reliable chain of narrators:
So we said to him (Imam al-Baqir (a)), it has been narrated to us that he (the Prophet (s)) broke his upper interior teeth? So he (Imam al Baqir (a)) said: “No, by Allah, Allah always protected him, rather it was a wound on his face.”
Shaykh al-Sadooq, Ma`ani al-Akhbar, Baab Nawaadir al-Ma`ani, page. 406, hadith no. 80
The following has been narrated by the renowned Shaykh Fadhl ibn Hassan al-Tabarsi:
Aban ibn `Uthman said: “This was told to me on his authority by as-Sabbah ibn Suyyabah. I asked him, “Were his upper interior teeth broken, as these people claim?’ He replied: `No, by Allah, Allah always protected him from all disfigurement. It was rather that he was wounded in the face.’ I asked: `What about the cave on Mount Uhud to which they claim that the Apostle of Allah fled?’ He answered: `By Allah, he did not move from his spot.’”
What has been said in those narrations seems quite probable since the history books have generally not attributed the Prophet (s) with missing teeth. The people of his time also did not identify him (s) in that way. The narration says that Allah protected him (s) from all disfigurement and this seems quite reasonable because it would help him with his duty of propagating the message of Islam. Missing teeth would likely affect the recitation of the Qur’an and this was one of his primary roles.
2, The opinion of Shia scholars on the authenticity of this incident.
The following question was sent to the offices of some of the well known Shia scholars:
In our community a lot of people quote the incident of Owais al-Qarni breaking his teeth after he heard that the prophet had broken one tooth.
Is this event authentic?
The response of the office of Ayatullah Sadiq Shirazi:
As per history the incident is not authentic.
In that email (click on the link) the representative of Ayatullah Sadiq Shirazi (who is one of a small minority of contemporary maraja who actively support blood flagellation) hints that the story of Rabab (r) the wife of Imam Hussain (s) is evidence for some of these blood rituals. We must point out that there are differing accounts of what she (r) did. Some accounts say that she (r) stayed in Karbala at the grave of Imam Hussain (a) and did not return to Madinah (contradicting what he has written). We also do not think that the account given by the official can be described as an act of empathy or sympathy (for the Imam (a)) without any other supporting evidence. It would most likely have been an act of grief and mourning rather than an act of empathy. Nevertheless the act that he attributes to her is not comparable to the blood flagellation rituals.
The response of the office of Ayatullah Makarem Shirazi to the above mentioned question:
It has been said that, when he heard that the Prophet (PBUH) had broken a tooth, his tooth began to hurt, or his tooth broke by itself, not voluntarily.
3, The lack of Shia sources and the scarcity of the narration.
Not only is this event not quoted from Shia sources, it is also not found in the earlier and more famous historical works of the Sunnis. It is not found in the Seerah of Ibn Ishaq, the History of al-Tabari or the Tabaqat of Ibn Sa’d and other books.
4, The narrative in Tadhkirat al-Awliyah contradicts many established beliefs.
Farid al-Deen Attar reports the incident by stating that the Prophet (s) said to Imam Ali (a) and Umar ibn Khattab that they will someday meet Uwais (r) and they must convey his (s) greetings. During the rule of Umar, Imam Ali (a) went with Umar to a remote part of Iraq and found Uwais (r) living there. It is in this meeting that Uwais (r) told them that he had broken all of his teeth. An English translation of this narrative can be found here.
Some of the peculiarities of this narrative:
a, It contradicts other more reliable narrations (e.g. in Kitab al-Irshad) which state that Imam Ali (a) first met Uwais (r) on his way to the battle of Jamal. Whilst the narrative by Attar says that Imam Ali (a) first met him (r) during the reign of Umar ibn al-Khattab.
b, Imam Ali (a) travels with Umar and treats him with a surprising amount of reverence.
c, Uwais (r) asks Umar to describe the appearance of Prophet (s) and Umar fails to do so. Imam Ali (a) does not intervene in the conversation and does no attempt to describe the Prophet (s).
d, Uwais (r) challenges Umar with the words: “if you were firm in the friendship then why you have not broken your teeth when the prophet’s teeth were broken in the battle of mount of Ohud in Madina and this is the rule of friendship”. It is unlikely that a pious person like Uwais (r) would challenge him in that way considering that Imam Ali (a) also did not break his teeth and Uwais (r) is considered to be a follower of the Imam (a).
5, The narrative in Seerat al-Halabiyyah differs from what has been quoted.
Some promoters of blood shedding say that in volume II, page 295 of the book, the incident of Uwais (r) breaking his teeth has been narrated with the Prophet (s) responding with the following words: “Indeed Owais is our devoted friend”.
We have not been able to find this narrative (of him voluntarily breaking his teeth) in the book. Instead we found it reporting that Uwais (r) was physically present at the battle of Uhud and the following words have been quoted from him: “I swear by God that at Uhud the Holy Prophet’s (s) teeth will not be broken until my teeth are broken, the Holy Prophet’s (s) face will not receive an injury until my face receives an injury, …..”, (Volume IV, page 227).
This account contradicts what has normally been quoted by the propagandists since they assert that Uwais (r) was in Yemen when the battle was taking place. Although we also think that he was in Yemen, we must point out that Seerah al-Halabiyyah contradicts with the account that they present.
6, Other narrations do not identify Uwais (r) as being toothless.
Many historical accounts of Uwais al-Qarni (r) do not state that he was toothless. If he indeed was toothless then he would have become famous for it and it would have been mentioned by people who had encountered him.
7, The act of breaking ones teeth in this manner is haraam according to all renowned Muslim scholars.
It is unlikely that Prophet Muhammad (s) commended Uwais (r) for breaking his teeth since it is an accepted fact that such severe acts of self-harm are prohibited in Islam.
8, The fact that none of the other companions of the Prophet (s) nor the Ahlulbayt (a) performed this act after knowing that the Prophet (s) had broken his teeth. If it was a correct action to perform then many of them would also have done it.
9, The act seems unreal.
The act of breaking every single tooth in one’s mouth seems very unrealistic. The amount of pain that Uwais (r) would have had to endure means that he is very unlikely to have been able to complete the breaking of every individual tooth.
10, Uwais (r) was isolated and thus was not in a position to be corrected.
Even if we image that the event is true then we must remember that Uwais (r) was isolated and had never met the Prophet (s), and thus it is likely that he did not know the correct way to respond in this case and he should not be criticized. This would have likely been the reason why he was not criticized by the Prophet (s).
If blood flagellators think that breaking of the teeth was the correct action to perform, then we must ask them why don’t they do it now out of sympathy for the Prophet (s)?