On the Hadiths of Sahih al Bukhari
There are five versions of the Hadith of the Laborers in Sahih al Bukhari, each one possibly addressing different aspects of the parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard (which I do not talk about yet). The first version is hadith 468 in the Volume 3 of Book 36. The narrator begins by stating that the Prophet Mohammad (pbu) is the one who is narrating the hadith, and he is speaking to the Muslim community about themselves and the people of the two scriptures (or the Christians and the Jews). The narrator states that a man has employed laborers, but there is no mention of a vineyard. Furthermore, the employer directly states that the first workers will work from morning until ‘midday for one Qirat’- a Qirat is the equivalent of one silver coin. The narrator specifies exactly how much the first wave of workers will get paid and the time period in which they will be working. Here, the man poses a question, and the Jews are the first to respond, accept, and carry out the work. The man then asks who will work for him ‘from midday to the ‘Asr (or late day) prayer for one Qirat’. This time, the Christians respond and fulfill the task. The employer asks one final time who will work for him, but this time, he asks who will work for him ‘from ‘Asr to sunset for two Qirats’. This is double the wage that was offered earlier in the day. Now, the Muslims ‘have accepted’ the offer, but there is no mention of the work completing or being fulfilled. It is also important to note that in the tense of ‘having accepted’ the work, this means that the Muslims presently accepted the work, or more recently did they. The narrator continues explain that the Jews and Christians got angry and questioned why they should work for a longer time and receive less than the Muslims. Allah (God) responds to employees by asking them if any part of their right was with held. When they respond ‘No’, Allah continues to state that the ‘payment’ is his blessing that he ‘bestows upon whomever he wishes’. The narrator does not mention whom the people of the two scriptures question in the first place.
The next version of the hadith is number 469, and it is found in the same volume and book as the previous version with slight variations. In hadith 469, it is established that Allah’s Apostle is the narrator of the hadith. In Islam, an apostle could refer to a prophet of God- so it is not truly known whether the narrator is Mohammad (pbu) or Jesus, since they are both apostles and prophets of God. It can be deduced that the narrator is Mohammad (pbu) because this narrator is also speaking directly to muslims. This is in contrary to hadith 468, which directly establishes that the narrator is the Prophet Mohammad who is speaking to the Muslims (can’t be Jesus, wasn’t around at the time). Both in hadith 468 and 469, a man employs laborers for one Qirat each, and the Jews carry out the work first, Christians second, and Muslims last for two Qirats. However, unlike hadith 468, the employer does not ask the question three times; he only asks the question one time, and the workers subsequently accept and fulfill the tasks. Like hadith 468, the Muslims are the last to accept the task, but the narrator states that the Muslims ‘are working from ‘Asr prayer up to sunset’. This implies that the Muslims are still working on fulfilling the task; the task is currently underway, and the Muslims will get paid when they complete it. Like in hadith 468, the Jews and Christians get angry because they are paid less, but in 469, they do not ask why this occurs like in 468, they make a statement that they “work more and are paid less”. Following this, it is asserted that the employer is Allah, and Allah responds to the angry workers. This implies that the man who employed the workers is actually God as well. In hadith 468, it is never stated that God is the employer, only that God replies to the angry workers. In hadith 469, God asks if he has usurped the right of the workers; this connotation differs from hadith 468 in which God asks if he withheld part of their right. Usurped typically means to take something illegally or by force whereas withhold means not to give out in full. In both hadiths, the workers reply in the negative to Allah, and Allah states that he bestows his blessing upon whomever he wishes.
A later version, which closely resembles hadiths 468 and 469, is hadith number 665 in Volume 4, Book 56. In this version, like in hadith 469, the narrator is established as Allah’s apostle and used interchangeably with the term ‘prophet’. In this version, like the two previous, the prophet is speaking directly to Muslims about their period and the ‘periods of previous nations’, most likely referring to the Christian and Jewish nations. The narrator here directly states and establishes a comparison between Muslim workers and Christian and Jewish workers with respect to a man who employs the three groups. The hadith proceeds in the same manner as hadiths 468 and 469; the Muslims are the final group to “accept the offer”, but they have not completed the work yet.
Hadith number 471 is also found in the same volume and book as the previous three, but with substantial variations. In hadith 471, the narrator (Mohammad pbu) speaks in 3rd person to tell the example of the Muslims, Jews, and Christians and how it relates to a man who employed laborers. In this version, it is not specified which people of the scripture work in which order. Like in hadiths 468, 469, and 665, it can be assumed that the three groups working are the Christians, Jews, and Muslims. Instead, the narrator states that the first group worked for him, but at mid-day, they decided they did not need the money of the employer. The man tells them to finish the work and “take their full wages”, but they did not complete the work. The man then hires a second group of workers and tells them to complete the task, and they will receive the wages of the first batch- they will get the wages that the first group would have gotten had they fulfilled the task. Once again, at ‘Asr prayer, this group told the employer they would like their work to be ‘annulled’ or cancelled, and they refused to complete the task even though the man told them they had ‘only a little of the day remains’. Finally, the man employs one final group of workers to work until the end of the day. Like in both previous hadiths, the final group of workers is promised double the amount of pay as the former. In hadiths 468, 469, and 665 it is never stated that the last group of workers completes the task, only that they have accepted it and will get a receive a double reward. The narrator of hadith 471, however, states that the final group accepted the task, completed it, and were paid the wages of both former groups (a double pay). Here, the previous two groups do not get angry or complain about the last group’s greater wage like in the previous three parables because, in this version, they were not accepting of the man’s work or payment anyway. Unlike the narrator both previous hadiths, the narrator of hadith 471 explains the allegorical meaning behind the example that was just given. Now, it is verified that the last workers were Muslim, and their willing acceptance of the task and payment from the man is analogous to the acceptance of the ‘light’ or guidance of God.
A subsequent version of this hadith is Number 533, which is found in the early Volume 1, Book 10 of Sahih al Bukhari and more closely resembles version 471 than 468 and 469. In hadith 533, like 471, the prophet Mohammad (pbu) is established as the narrator, and he speaks in 3rd person to tell the example of the Muslims, Jews, and Christians and how it relates to a man who employed laborers. Once more, it is not explicitly stated which people of the scripture represent which group of workers. However, in contrast to hadith 471, the first two groups of workers do not state that they would like their work annulled. Instead, the first group states that they do not need the employer’s money, and the second group states that their work is for the man (possibly meaning it was an act of generosity that they do not require payment for). Like hadith 471, the man employs one last group of workers that completes the task and receives the wages of the last two groups. However, in this version, there is no indication as to whether or not the last group was Muslim.
In 4 out of 5 hadiths, the man asks a question: who will work for him for this set amount of one Qirat? If the man represents God, then God here is not forcing anyone to work for him, the Christians, Jews, and Muslims accept the work, or guidance of God, willingly. Both the Christians and Jews accepted the task of Allah and completed it; in other words, their time has passed, and it is time for another group of people to accept the Guidance. Now, the Muslims are working with the guidance and light. If a Qirat represents the blessing of Allah, then why do Muslims receive two Qirats- metaphorically speaking, double the blessings of the previous groups? This is possibly answered through hadith 471, in which the narrator emphasizes the fact that the Muslims completed the work, or God’s task, until the end of the day (or end of time) without giving up or denying the man’s (God’s) payment (blessing). For this, they are rewarded with the ultimate blessings to complete the religion of the three scriptures. This differs, however, in hadiths 468 and 469 because the employer specifies that the first two groups of workers will only receive one Qirat. The Jewish and Christian workers accept and complete the tasks without refusal knowing the payment they would be given. In hadith 471, the narrator does not specify how much the workers ever receive.
In the hadiths in which the classification of the people working is given, the order of the workers is always the Jewish first, the Christians second, and the Muslims last. In Islamic ideology, this specific order could represent the order in which the scriptures were brought upon man. God sent Abraham to the Children of Israel (Judaism), Jesus to the Children of Israel once more (Christianity), and finally, Mohammad (pbu) to the surrenderers to God, or Muslims.
In version 471, the first and second group of workers states that they want the man (Allah) to annul their work, and they claim they do not need his money. Most likely, this desire of annulment of work represents the first two groups in their same desire to dissociate from the later God of Islam. Allegorically, it is possible that the previous groups, if they represent Jews and Christians, do not actually state that they “want their work annulled”, but instead their actions through historical time reflect their wish for dissociation for the Islamic God. The employer then pleads with the workers to continue work, but they refuse. It is important to note that the connection between the employer and God is never made in hadith 471, possibly because the Islamic God would never plead with human beings for their acceptance. The readers know that the final group to accept the Guidance of God in this Hadith was the Muslims.