Islam & the Gecko: There are Enough Things Wrong with Religion That You Should Avoid Making Things Up

I realize today that everyone is an expert on Islam. Today I came across something on Twitter which utterly surprised me: Muslims are instructed to kill gecko lizards because one tried to intensify the fire in which the people of the Messenger Ibrahim (Abraham) (عليه السلام) tried to burn him!

I Googled “Gecko Muslim” and was surprised to find material. How did my parents fail to convey to me this vital teaching of my religion? I’ve sat through 40 years of Friday sermons and not once have I been urged to perform this meritorious deed!

The website muhaddith.org allows text searching of Muslim religious texts. Unfortunately, there is no way to permalink the result, so I’m planning on posting the relevant passage here. I’m not sure how the Arabic text’s format will appear in your browser, so at the end I’m adding my comments related to the passages I’ve highlighted in red.

صحيح مسلم بشرح النووي، الإصدار 2.01 – للإمام محي الدين بن شرف النووي.
الجزء الرابع عشر >> كتاب قتل الحيَّات ونحوها >> -92- استحباب قتل الوزع


-92- استحباب قتل الوزع
1- حَدَّثَنَا أَبُو بَكْرِ بْنُ أَبي شَيْبَةَ، وَعَمْروٌ النَّاقِدُ، وَإسْحَقُ بْنُ إِبْرَاهِيمَ، وَابْنُ أَبِي عُمَرَ، قَالَ إسْحَق: أَخْبَرنَا، وَقَالَ الآخَرُونَ: حَدَّثَنَا سُفْيَانُ بْنُ عُيَيْنَةَ، عَنْ عَبْدِ الْحَمِيدِ بْنُ جُبَيْرِ بْنُ شَيْبَةَ، عَنْ سَعِيدِ بْنِ الْمُيَسَّبِ، عَنْ أُمِّ شَرَيْكٍ:
أَنَّ النَّبِيَّ -صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ- أَمَرَهَا بِقَتْلِ الأَوْزَاغِ.
وَفِي حَدِيْثِ ابْنِ أَبِي شَيْبَةَ: أَمَرَ.
2- وَحَدَّثَنِي أَبُو الطَّاهِرِ، أَخْبَرَنَا ابْنُ وَهْبٍ، أَخْبَرَنِي ابْنُ جُرُيْجٍ، ح، وَحَدَّثَنِي مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ أَحْمَدُ بْنُ أَبِي خَلَفٍ، حَدَّثَنَا رَوْحٌ، حَدَّثَنَا ابْنُ جُرَيْجٍ، ح، وَحَدَّثَنَا عَبْدُ بْنُ حُمَيْدٍ، أَخْبَرَنَا مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ بَكْرٍ، أَخْبَرَنَا ابْنُ جُرَيْجٍ، أَخْبَرَنِي عَبْدُ الحَمِيْدِ بْنُ جُبَيْرِ بْنِ شَيْبَةَ، أَنَّ سَعِيْدَ بْنَ المُسَيِّبِ أَخْبَرَهُ:
—————————————–
قولها: (أَنَّ النَّبِيَّ -صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ- أَمَرَهَا بِقَتْلِ الأَوْزَاغِ).
وفي رواية: (أَمَرَ بِقَتْلِ الْوَرَغِ، وَسَمَّاهُ فُوَيْسِقَاً).
وفي رواية: (مَنْ قَتَلَ وَزَغَةً فِي أَوَّلِ ضَرْبَةٍ فَلَهُ كَذَا وَكَذَا حَسَنةً، وَمَنْ قَتَلَهَا فِي الضَّرْبَةِ الثَّانِيَةِ فَلَهُ كَذَا وَكَذَا حَسَنَةً، لِدُونِ الأُولَى، وَإنْ قَتَلَهَا فِي الضَّرْبَةِ الثَّالِثَةِ فَلَهُ كَذَا وَكَذَا حَسَنَةً، لِدُونِ الثَّانِيَة).
وفي رواية: (مَنْ قَتَلَ وَزَغَاً فِي أَوَّلِ ضَرْبَة كُتِبَتْ لَهُ مائِةُ حَسَنَةٍ، وَفِي الثَّانِيَةِ دُونِ ذَلِكَ، وَفِي الثَّالِثَةِ دُونَ ذَلِكَ).
وفي رواية: (فِي أَوَّلِ ضَرْبَةٍ سَبْعِينَ حَسنَةً).
قال أهل اللُّغة: الوزغ، وسام أبرص جنس، فسام أبرص هو كباره، واتَّفقوا على أنَّ الوزغ من الحشرات المؤذيات، وجمعه: أوزاغ ووزغان.
وأمر النَّبيُّ -صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ- بقتله، وحثَّ عليه، ورغَّب فيه لكونه من المؤذيات، وأمَّا سبب تكثير الثَّواب في قتله بأوَّل ضربة ثمَّ ما يليها فالمقصود به الحثُّ على المبادرة بقتله، والاعتناء به، وتحريض قاتله على أن يقتله بأوَّل ضربة، فإنَّه إذا أراد أن يضربه ضربات ربَّما

[text removed for brevity, mostly discussing the quantification of reward mentioned in the text, which Muslim scholars found very odd]

وأمَّا تسميته: فويسقاً فنظيره الفواسق الخمس الَّتي تقتل في الحلِّ والحرم.
وأصل الفسق: الخروج، وهذه المذكورات خرجت عن خلق معظم الحشرات ونحوها بزيادة الضَّرر والأذى.

Both of the highlighted passages emphasize the reason for recommending killing the animal is because of its harm to humans as a household pest. The second highlighted passage mentions that it is one of the animals which are permissible to kill in the sacred precincts of Makka during the pilgrimage season.

Because this animal doesn’t bother me in Augusta, Georgia, United States, I feel no religious obligation to kill it or any other animal resembling it. But I do sometimes kill cockroaches and ants in the house. Maybe I shouldn’t.

I also don’t know enough biology to know if the animal the early Muslims considered a pest exists today or how widespread its habitat is. It may not be the cute Geico Gecko. I searched on Twitter for the word al-wazagh (الوزغ). That led me to a beautiful picture of an animal the author claimed was al-wazagh. Here’s a video showing the animal’s reaction to light.

Regarding the Messenger Ibrahim (Abraham), the story in the Quran is that his people tried to burn him.
Quran Explorer – [Sura : 21, Verse : 51 – 70]

A hadith in the Sunan ibn Majah relates the story that the gecko, alone among the creatures of the earth, did not try to put out the fire and instead blew into it to increase its intensity.

سنن ابن ماجه. الإصدار 1,13 – للإمام ابن ماجه
الجزء الثاني >> 28- كتاب الصيد >> (12) باب قتل الوزغ


3231- حدّثنا أَبُو بَكْرِ بْنُ أَبِي شَيْبَةَ. حدّثنا يُونُسُ بْنُ مُحَمَّدٍ عَنْ جَرِيرِ بْنِ حَازِمٍ، عَنْ نَافِعٍ، عَنْ سَائِبَةَ، مَوْلاَةِ الْفَاكِهِ بْنِ الْمُغِيَرةِ؛ أَنَّهَا دَخَلَتْ عَلَى عَائِشَةَ فَرَأَتْ فِي بَيْتِهَا رُمْحاً مَوْضُوعاً. فَقَالْتْ: يَا أُمَّ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ! مَا تَصْنَعِينَ بِهذَا؟ قَالَتْ: نَقْتُلُ بِهِ هذِهِ الأَوْزَاغَ. فَإِنَّ نَبِيَّ اللهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم أَخْبَرَنَا أَنَّ إِبْرَاهِيمَ، لَمَّا أُلْقِيَ فِي النَّارِ لَمْ تَكُنْ فِي الأَرْضِ دَابَّةٌ إِلاَّ أَطْفَأَتِ النَّارَ. غَيْرَ الْوَزَغِ. فَإِنَّهَا كَانَتْ تَنْفُخُ عَلَيْهِ. فَأَمَرَ رَسُولُ اللهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم بِقَتْلِهِ.
في الزوائد: إسناد حديث عائشة صحيح، ورجاله ثقات.

Do people who criticize Muslims believe that Muslims don’t realize that religious texts contain fables and allegories which are not suitable bases for ethical judgment?

Would not critics of Islam and religion in general be on more stable intellectual grounds discussing gender roles or the contradiction of Divine justice and severe punishment?

Updated January 25, 2015: In my twitter search, I found many people mentioning killing gecko lizards as “reviving a sunnah.” It’s sad to see people trivializing the example of the Messenger Muhammad ﷺ in this manner. One Egyptian media figure, Umar Abd al-Kafi, took some heat for criticizing people talking about killing gecko lizards. I don’t know any of the people involved, so I don’t want to claim that I support Umar Abd al-Kafi in general. His point that people need to use common sense is exactly what I’m saying here.

I asked a relative of mine from Egypt. She said the animal is called burs (البرص), and it can cause skin rashes. She had never heard that it was religiously meritorious to kill it.

So, until Muslims start organizing gecko lizard hunting parties, I’d ask critics of Muslims to lay off this issue. And to those Muslims who see a gecko lizard somewhere, please don’t think killing it is meritorious unless it’s in a position where it may hurt someone.

Finally, regarding the hadith that the one who can kill it with the first blow receives greater reward, perhaps the reward is commiserate commensurate with the person’s hunting skills. Those geckos are pretty fast!

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18 thoughts on “Islam & the Gecko: There are Enough Things Wrong with Religion That You Should Avoid Making Things Up

  1. So funny that you claim to know Islam and you don’t know this, may be out there they edited it out as they do with many ridiculous Islamic terms to suit the modern-day and keep up with science. What I said is a sahih hadith, geckos are killed everywhere in Islamic lands, though humans are also killed unjustly by Islamic sharia. If you don’t know, read deeper, ask, don’t just think you know.

      • He is right on the hadith. I wonder as to why you call him as a hypocrite. Any sane person would find Islam’s laws to be ridiculous.

        Why do you(or god) have a problem if an adult woman has consensual sex with someone?

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  4. Unfortunately, reptiles have been unjustly demonized, particularly in the Mediterranean and in the Middle East. The gecko is no different, and as a lizard small, able to climb walls, nocturnal, having large eyes and a true voice, it gathered much more superstition than other lizards. It happens to have the size of a large insect, group of animals traditionally associated with disgust and contamination, and it happens to be a reptile, group of animals traditionally associated with poison, so it has gathered superstitions from both groups of animals. In fact a gecko has no poison of any kind, and also cannot cause any skin problem. It is said in some parts of the world that the gecko can bring leprosy and other serious skin diseases to humans, but it is utterly false. The most likely scientific explanation is that, due to its ability to detach its tail if threatened, or to detach parts of skin in some species, and due to its pail color, people wrongly thought it had leprosy. The belief can easily be proven wrong by the parts of the world which have no such superstitions or even treat the gecko as a symbol of good luck, and no one gets any skin disease because of them. In my country (Greece) for example, although there is the belief that geckos are evil, the most prevalent belief is that they are good animals, or even good luck bearers. I have caught plenty of geckos without problems.
    Negative beliefs about the gecko are pre-islamic, and can be found even in Ancient Egypt. Most probably islam incorporated these beliefs in its belief system, in order to agree with the traditions of the people.
    But those unscientific beliefs should not dictate our modern life and behaivior. Reptiles especially have been portrayed as evil through time, and the semitic Middle East is a stronghold of such beliefs. Neither the snake is evil, and will bite only in self defence. But people treat them like Devil himself. Why? If you make your property inhospitable for snakes by removing narrow hiding places and food for rodents, it will not come. Likewise, if you don’t like geckos, you can close openings to the house and eliminate food for insects, and it will not come. Don’t kill them, because you don’t like them or because an old sage told it with no scientific proof whatsoever.
    And regarding your remarks on why this tradition should not be used to attack islam, I must disagree. Even if it is not a core part of the religion, it nevertheless has been written in Islamic texts and has followers. Furthermore, hating and killing a whole group of animals (reptiles) for centuries, and believing that it is good for perceived human benefits, is not a light matter I think.
    I don’t subscribe to a religion that vilifies the small and humble gecko, or the left hand of the human body, the foot or other body parts considered shameful or evil.
    Ps. Although most people agree that geckos are the animal meant in the text, according to some it is in fact the salamander. The salamander has traditionally been associated with fire, so it fits more plausibly in the story of Abraham. The gecko though had a bad reputation even before islam, and that finally decided what the evil animal would be.

    • Why not? Geckos are too many species, and from my understanding, only the house gecko is hated. I know muslims that keep leopard geckos as pets for example. But even then, the leopard gecko is believed to be poisonous in its home country, Pakistan and it is unjustly killed. In fact it is a very gentle animal that hasn’t even the strength and speed to escape from humans. But generally, you must not think if it is ok to keep a pet gecko according to whatever. If a religion or belief system starts to interfere too much in every matter of your life, then it is nonsensical tyranny.

  5. It is true that sometimes the teaching of Islam is taught with ‘ridiculous’ fables.
    But the point is we (muslim) have to see the logical / scientific reason behind the fables or simple instructions from Allah. It is one of the Islamic teaching that we have to seek knowledge. There are many example for that but lets just talk about the gecko.

    First. you are correct that we shouldn’t hunt it mindlessly but only kill it if it potentially bringing harm.
    There are many types of gecko but what I know is some can bring e coli with them or other dangerous bacteria.
    When they roam around in your house, who knows what it has touched.
    So it is better to kill it when it is seen inside your house because it will potentially bringing harm to your body no matter how indirectly.

    Second. Kill it on first strike.
    It is not for measuring hunting skills but it is a form of mercy for the gecko.
    If you kill it in one clean hit then hopefully it will die without feeling too much pain.
    However, if you need several hit to kill it then you will most likely torturing the gecko before it finally gone to the other side.
    That is why people who kill it on first strike get ‘bigger plus points’ than the one who needs more.

    lastly it is sunnah which means if you don’t want to do it then there is no penalty whatsoever. That is why many muslim don’t know this ‘bonus point by killing a gecko’ thing.
    Parents and school teachers usually taught only the mandatory ones while sunnah is self taught (for people who wants deeper knowledge of their religion).

    Sorry for the long post hope this clear things up a bit.

    • I don’t agree with much with it. Yes, geckos, as well as most other animals can bring bacteria in their feces and potentially contaminate food, but so could other animals. You disregard the fact of why geckos are attracted to houses in the first place. They eat insects, such as the ones that spoil food. Islam however has no such bad relationships with other animals like cats, which is too plausible they would have first gone out, eat a contaminated rodent and immediately returned to the house. Not to mention the practice of living with the large farm animals in poorer regions even today. Furthermore, the diseases traditionally ascribed to geckos in islamic countries are not gastrointestinal. They are skin problems, that mimic the gecko’s appearance. That is the now disproven doctrin of signatures, that an organism having the appearance of an illness or cure is responsible for that. But whatever the reason, all these prohibitions mostly do not apply to modern contexts. Back then, the houses might be poorly constructed, hot and food storage techniques were primitive. It is very likely insects had rutine axess to food, the food spoiled easily in the hot conditions, and then geckos came to eat the insects. Then if the food went moldy and one got sick, they couldn’t think to blame the bad storage conditions, just the gecko which happened to be a reptile and had resemblance with other poisonous species. Some other times it was probable also that a gecko defecated in a food and brought bacteria or one died and rotted in the food, then some important person got sick, then the conclusion was geckos are bad.
      Even if most muslims don’t know the explicit teaching about the geckos, the fact is geckos are persecuted throughout islamic countries. The exception might be Indonesia and other Southeast Asian regions, were islam is mixed with other, gecko-friendly traditional beliefs.
      And of course not only house geckos are killed. In Pakistan for example, the leopard gecko is also persecuted for being supposedly poisonous. The leopard gecko is another type of gecko, much larger and not living in homes. It can be found in rock formations or poorly maintained fencing walls. It is gentle and it is kept as a pet in the Western World. Yet in Pakistan they hate it. A researcher studying their behaivior in the wild clearly said, reptiles and amphibians are abhorred in Indo-Pakistani culture. Also the same researcher was not believed by the locals for the geckos being harmless, who believed that he had a magic spell to protect himself. Further more, I had read a study about Bedoween traditions about reptiles in the Egyptian desert. These people, even if not living in stable houses were geckos could come, avoided the geckos and considered them very poisonous. Probably that belief was adopted from their sedentary neighbours.
      Hope this irrational fears will be erased in the future. If the fact that that teaching is less and less known is true, then we are in the right way. I have read discussions in Pakistani forums were plenty of people either like or tolerate geckos. But we have a lot of way in front of us. Don’t forget about the negative stance of muslims towards dogs. That was ostensibly for health reasons as well, but it is not applicable today.

      • Islam’s hate towards Dogs is faith driven,not health driven.

        Why is it incumbent to kill black dogs? Is it proven by peer published research that black dogs are substantially more dirty than other living beings? When an angel refuses to enter the house of a Muslim if a dog or a portrait is kept,do you seriously think that the angel doesn’t enter because the dog is unhygienic? Even if it’s unhygienic,how does it affect the angel? Doesn’t an angel posess super natural powers which help them get rid of things?

  6. Lay off the issue?! I hope David Wood makes a Fun Islamic Facts video about! The point is to undermine the authority of the prophet of this harmful religion.

  7. I don’t care what anyone thinks. It sunnah of my beloved prophet. Am practicing no improvise. I think the Reader should try and know what a sunnah means.

    • Why practice if something doesn’t make sense? Blind practice?

      If I tell you tomorrow that I am a prophet and I don’t like Tigers and tigers should be killef,are you going to listen to me? Are you so gullible my friend that you consider anyone who says anything to be true?

      Muhammad said that he is the prophet and you believed him despite the nonsensical rules he laid down.That’s gullibility.

  8. Geckos are silent non harming reptiles. They won’t do you any harm. How many times have you seen a lizard harming someone? It’s insane that the Prophet of Islam calls for Geckos to be killed (along with Black Dogs to be killed which are one of the most elegant creatures) and Dogs to be preferably killed and definitely hated. If you find out specific problems with all animals,why not kill all animals in a Holocaust? Lions kill people,fireflies disturb you at night,Flies contaminate food,Snakes kill people,Bulls injure people by their horns and porcupines can injure you by releasing their spikes.

    There is something certainly wrong in Islam

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