أنا مدينة العلم، وعلي بابها، فمن أراد المدينة فليأت الباب.
I am the city of knowledge and ‘Ali is the door. Whoever desires to enter the city should enter from the door.
The hadith is narrated by ibn ‘Abbas, Jabir, ‘Ali, Anas, and Abu Dharr radiya Llahu ‘anhum.
The Hadith of Ibn ‘Abbas
Al Hakim and others narrate from Abu al Salt ‘Abdul Salam ibn Sal — from Abu Muawiyah — from al ‘Amash — from Mujahid — from Ibn ‘Abbas who said that the Messenger of Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said (the hadith).
This hadith is munkar (unacceptable).
The hadith contains four ‘ilal (hidden defects that impair the validity of the hadith). Most ‘ulama’ have mentioned the first ‘illah. Al ‘Allamah al Mu’allimi discovered the second ‘illah, and I further expounded upon it. I added a third ‘illah. I also noticed al Mu’allimi mentioned the same ‘illah. Ibn Taymiyyah mentioned the fourth ‘illah.
The First ‘Illah
Abu al Salt ‘Abdul Salam ibn Salih al Harawi is matruk (suspected of forgery), who is muttaham bi al kadhib (suspected of lying). In the original work, I mentioned the quotations of the ‘ulama’ who regarded him as a weak narrator. They are the following twenty-seven scholars: al Nasa’i, Ahmed, ‘Abdullah ibn Ahmed, al Juzajani, al Naqqash, al Saji, al Hakim, al Daraqutni, Abu Nuaim, Abu Hatim al Razi, Abu Zur’ah, Abu Jafar Mutayyan al Hadrami, Ibn ‘Adi, Ibn Hibban, al ‘Uqayli, Muhammad ibn Tahir al Maqdisi, al Dhahabi, ibn ‘Abdul Hadi, ibn al Jawzi, ibn ‘Iraq, al Zayla’i, ibn al Mulaqqin, al Busiri, al Hafiz al ‘Ala’i, Ibn Hajar, Ibn Rajab, and Ibn Taymiyyah.
However, one may contend and say Ibn Ma’in regarded Abu al Salt as reliable. The answer to this contention is twofold: Firstly, Ibn Ma’in’s statements regarding Abu al Salt are equivocal. He, (on different occasions) says regarding him:
- reliable (thiqah)
- reliable (and) sincere (thiqah saduq)
- sincere (saduq)
- I do not know him to lie.
- According to us (the hadith critics), he is not from the liars.
– He is not from those who lie.
The hadith scholars generally use these last statements in reference to a narrator who commits errors and narrates unacceptable ahadith (yarwi al manakir). However, he does not intentionally lie.
Secondly, despite the fact that Ibn Ma’in regarded Abu al Salt as a reliable narrator, he rejects this hadith. In fact, he deems the hadith to be a lie. I have explained this in the original work.
Someone may also contend and say al Hakim (also) regarded Abu al Salt as a reliable narrator in his al Mustadrak. The answer to this claim is that al Hakim’s statements are also somewhat convoluted. He states, “He (i.e. Abu al Salt) narrates manakir (unacceptable) ahadith from Hammad ibn Zaid, Abu Muawiyah, ‘Abbad ibn al ‘Awwam and others.”
Al Hakim mentions him among several other narrators—before listing their names—about whom he says: “With the assistance of Allah and His taufiq (divine ability) I will elucidate the names of several majruhin (narrators deemed unreliable). Their unreliability manifested itself unto me through (my) knowledge (of them) and effort, and not by merely following and imitating any of the imams (of hadith). I believe it is not permissible to narrate the ahadith of these individuals except after having explained their status.”
This view is in accordance with the opinions of the other ‘ulama’, and therefore it must be relied upon. Moreover, al Hakim is known to be a mutasahil (lenient hadith critic) when accrediting narrators. Therefore, his view will be given no consideration. How can it possibly be considered when he has another (conflicting) opinion that agrees with the majority of scholars?
The Second ‘Illah
Al ‘Amash commits tadlis (obfuscates in transmitting) when transmitting from Mujahid. He only heard a small number of ahadith from him. Therefore, this hadith is da’if (weak) because al ‘Amash did not clearly enunciate that he heard this hadith from Mujahid, especially since he is narrating something which is in support of his bid’ah (innovation). It is perhaps because of this Abu Muawiyah refused to transmit this hadith from him afterwards.
The Third ‘Illah
The fact that Abu Muawiyah retracted and did not transmit this hadith from al ‘Amash is a clear proof that he committed an error.
Ibn Mihraz states, “I asked Yahya ibn Ma’in about Abu al Salt ‘Abdul Salam ibn Salih al Harawi. He said, ‘He is not from those who (intentionally) lie.’ It was said to Yahya, ‘The hadith ‘I am the city of knowledge and ‘Ali is its door’ that is transmitted from Abu Muawiyah from al ‘Amash — from Mujahid — from Ibn ‘Abbas?’ He replied, ‘This hadith is from Abu Muawiyah; ibn Numair informed me of it (and) said, ‘Abu Muawiyah initially narrated it but then desisted later on. Abu al Salt was a wealthy man who sought these types of ahadith. He used to honour the scholars and they would, in turn, narrate (these) ahadith for him.’”
Consequently, it is inconceivable that he abstained from transmitting the hadith knowing that it is authentic. He would only abstain from transmitting the hadith because of a specific reason that called him to do so; it is as if he was sure al ‘Amash committed an error in this narration. And Allah knows best.
The Fourth ‘Illah
The nakarah (abnormality) of the text; this ‘illah alone is enough to reject the hadith. This is the view of the imams of hadith, especially the earlier ones among them. Even if we assume the hadith has reliable narrators, the matn (text) is somewhat abnormal. Traditionally, the hadith is to be rejected and deemed a false narration. In this instance, the hadith scholars presume the narrator was confused and committed a mistake; the narrator transmitted the hadith thinking it to be from his ahadith. However, that is not the case. An ‘illah, according to them, is of two types: 1) an ‘illah in the text, and 2) an ‘illah in the chain of transmission. I have explained this in my work al ‘Illah wa Ajnasuha ‘inda al Muhaddithin. This is assuming there does not (already) exist problematic narrators. How then is this remotely possible, considering the fact that all versions of the hadith contain some problem or the other, as I have elucidated here? The hadith suffers from ‘illahs in both the chain of transmission and the text.
The hadith has an unacceptable matn (text) and it is not as some ‘ulama’ claim. Ibn Taymiyyah undertook the task of explaining this hadith. He writes:
As for the hadith, “I am the city of knowledge…” it is extremely weak and feeble. For this reason, it is counted among the fabrications and lies (attributed to the Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), even though Imam al Tirmidhi narrates it. This is why Ibn al Jawzi mentions it his al Mawdu’at and explains that it is fabricated in all of its different chains of transmission.
The lie (in this hadith) can be detected from the matn (text) itself; there is no need to look at its chain of transmission. (In the hadith), when Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam refers to himself as “the city of knowledge,” there is (as the rest of the hadith states) only one door for this “city”. It is not permissible for there to be only one person to communicate on his behalf; rather, the people of tawatur—those by whom certain knowledge can be acquired for an absent person—should do so. Solitary narrations do not provide certain knowledge unless supported by subsidiary supporting evidence (qara’in), which, in this case are completely absent, or so subtle that most people would not be able to recognize them. This approach would result in a situation whereby the Qur’an and elements of the Sunnah (when transmitted to a third-party) would be wanting in terms of certitude (due to the lack of recurrent/mass transmission); as opposed to (a situation) where there is actual recurrent/mass transmission, which would provide the required certitude.
This hadith was invented by an ignorant zindiq, who imagined it was some praiseworthy thing to do. The hadith is a tool of the Zanadiqah to disparage the knowledge of Din since it is to be transmitted by only one of the Sahabah.
Additionally, this hadith contradicts what is known by tawatur; knowledge (of the Din) from the Messenger salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam did not reach all the different Muslim lands via ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu alone. This is quite obvious for the people of Makkah, Madinah, Sham, and Basrah, since they only narrate a small amount from ‘Ali. Most of ‘Ali’s knowledge was found among the people of Kufah. Furthermore, they had already learnt the Qur’an and Sunnah before ‘Uthman became the khalifah, let alone the khilafah of ‘Ali. The most knowledgeable people of Madinah acquired the teachings of their Din during the khilafah of ‘Umar. Prior to that, they did not learn anything from ‘Ali, except for those who were with him in Yemen. But they also learned from Muaz ibn Jabal at that time. In fact, there was more regard for the social status of Muaz ibn Jabal and his position as a teacher among the Yemenis. This is why the people of Yemen narrate more from Muaz then from ‘Ali, Shurayh and others of the senior Tabi’in. Shurayh was the qadi (judge) in Kufah when ‘Ali first arrived. In his khilafah, ‘Ali found both Shurayh and ‘Ubaidah al Salmani holding juridical positions, yet both of them did not learn from ‘Ali.
The knowledge of Islam was already widespread in the various Muslim lands of Hijaz, Sham, Yemen, Iraq, Khurasan, Egypt, Maghrib before ‘Ali’s arrival in Kufah. And when ‘Ali arrived in Kufah, most of the knowledge he possessed was already imparted to people by other Sahabah. ‘Ali did not have the distinction of conveying any sort of knowledge except that others enjoyed a greater distinction than him Therefore, the widespread dissemination (of knowledge) which resulted from wilayah, occurred on account of Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, and ‘Uthman more than it did for ‘Ali. Ibn ‘Abbas, in particular, issued more fatawa (legal rulings) than ‘Ali, and Abu Hurairah narrated more ahadith than him, yet ‘Ali was more knowledgeable than them. Just as Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, and ‘Uthman were also more knowledgeable than Ibn ‘Abbas and Abu Hurairah. The Khulafa’ Rashidun undertook the responsibility to impart common knowledge, knowledge that people required more than some of the specific knowledge that was imparted by others.
There are reports transmitted by some ignorant people and liars that claim ‘Ali possessed certain knowledge that no other Sahabi had, however, all of them are false and baseless. It is authentically transmitted in the Sahih (i.e. al Bukhari) that ‘Ali was once asked, “Do you enjoy anything particular from the Messenger of Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam?” He said, “No, by Him Who split the grain and created life. (I enjoy nothing particular) except the insight Allah has bestowed upon His slave into His book (i.e. the Qur’an) and what is in this small notebook.” The notebook contained information about blood money (that a murderer must pay to the relatives of the victim), i.e. the ages of the camels that are required to be given as blood money. It (also) contained the amounts of money that are to be given for the releasing of captives, and (it also contained) the law that no Muslim should be killed (in qisas) for the killing of a kafir.” Another wording of the hadith reads, “Did the Messenger of Allah entrust you with something which he never entrusted others with?” He denied it.
There are other ahadith of this nature disproving the claim that Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam singled out ‘Ali with some sort of knowledge. The claim uttered by some ignorant people that ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu inherited the knowledge of “the first and the last” on account of drinking from the water that remained after Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam was bathed (at the time of his death) is one preposterous lie! To drink from the left-over water after washing a dead person is not even authorized in the Shari’ah. ‘Ali did not drink anything! If, for arguments sake, this act of his caused him to inherit this knowledge, then everyone present on that day should also have been included. None of the scholars narrate this.
Similarly, what has been mentioned about him possessing some form of hidden knowledge which distinguished him from Abu Bakr, Umar, and others, this comes from the heretical al Batiniyyah and their ilk; those who are even bigger kuffar. In fact, they possess a form of kufr that even the Jews and Christians do not possess. Such as those who claim divinity or Prophethood for ‘Ali; or that he was more knowledgeable than Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam; and that he was Nabi’s salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam teacher of the inward knowledge, and so on. These statements were uttered by the extreme kuffar and heretics. And Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala knows best.
Several weak narrators followed Abu al Salt al Harawi and ‘stole’ his hadith.
The Hadith of Jabir
This version is a shahid (witness) report that al Hakim claimed is authentic. He narrates it disjointed. The hadith contains the narrator Ahmed ibn ‘Abdullah ibn Yazid al Harrani. He is a liar and a dajjal.
There is another saqit (wholly unreliable) chain from Jabir.
The Hadith of ‘Ali
There are several different chains of transmission. Most of them are saqitah (wholly unreliable).
The Hadith of Anas
Ibn ‘Asakir narrates this hadith with a chain of transmission that contains majahil (unknown narrators).
The Hadith of Abu Dharr
Al Daylami narrates this hadith with a chain of transmission that is muzlim (murky) and contains several ‘ilal (hidden impairing defects).
In short, the hadith has been deemed weak by the following hadith scholars: Yahya ibn Sa’id al Qattan, Abu Hatim al Razi, Ahmed ibn Hanbal, Yahya ibn Ma’in, Abu Zur’ah al Razi, al Bukhari, al Tirmidhi, Abu Jafar Mutayyan al Hadrami, al ‘Uqayli, Ibn ‘Adi, Ibn Hibban, Ibn ‘Asakir, Muhammad ibn Tahir al Maqdisi (better known as ibn al Qaisarani), Abu al ‘Abbas Ibn ‘Uqdah, al Daraqutni, Ibn al Jawzi, Muhyi al Sunnah al Baghawi, al Nawawi, Ibn Daqiq al ‘Id, al Dhahabi, Siraj al Din al Qazwini, Ibn Taymiyyah, Ismail al ‘Ajluni, Muhammad al Amir al Kabir al Maliki, ‘Abdul Rahman ibn Yahya al Mu’allimi, and al Albani. The criticism of merely one the aforementioned is to be preferred over al ‘Ala’i and whoever follows him in grading the hadith as Hassan (fair). How then if all of the above agreed?
Regarding those who Ruled the Hadith to be Valid
All of the early scholars considered this hadith baseless; except for al Hakim, who is known to be lenient.
Al ‘Ala’i then came along and regarded it as Hassan (fair). Many latter-day scholars followed suit, including al Suyuti, al Zarkashi, Ibn Hajar al Makki, and al Sakhawi. Ibn Hajar states, “This hadith has many different chains of transmission in the Mustadrak of al Hakim; the least that can be said is that it has an asal (basis). Therefore, it is not appropriate to generalize and say it is a fabrication.”
Ibn Hajar’s words do not imply that the hadith is authentic; it simply means that is has some sort of basis and origin, even if it is weak. However, it is undesirable to rule the hadith a fabrication.
Most of these hadith scholars are lenient in their criticism of narrators, except for Ibn Hajar, al Sakhawi, and especially al Suyuti, Ibn Hajar al Makki, al ‘Ajluni and al Zarkashi. They usually only transmit the statements of earlier scholars, without any additional critical comments from their side; in most cases, they would simply gather and collect the narrations. If all of their statements were weighed against even one statement of al Bukhari, Abu Hatim, Ibn Ma’in, or Ahmed, they would not hold up. What then when masters and critics of hadith like Ibn ‘Adi, Ibn ‘Asakir, al Dhahabi and others who I have already mentioned held the same view? Only someone with little expertise in hadith criticism and the science of declaring a hadith to be authentic or inauthentic would rely on the statements of al ‘Ala’i and those who followed him. I have scrutinized the statements of al ‘Ala’i in the original work and explained his errors in detail.
Al ‘Ala’i relies on the transmissions of: 1) Abu Muawiyah and 2) Sharik.
As mentioned previously, the first chain (i.e. Abu Muawiyah’s) contains the matruk (suspected of forgery) narrator Abu al Salt. Ibn Ma’in’s statements regarding him are inconsequential since the majority of hadith masters disagree with him. The rule (in hadith criticism) is that a jarh (a statement discrediting a narrator) which is explained in detail is to be given preference over a ta’dil (a statement accrediting a narrator). How then if all the hadith masters discredit him? Furthermore, as mentioned previously, it has been authentically transmitted from Ibn Ma’in that he deemed this hadith to be false.
The second chain (i.e. Sharik’s version) depends upon the strength (or lack thereof) of Sharik himself and Muhammad ibn ‘Umar ibn al Rumi.
Al Rumi is considered da’if (weak).
- Abu Zur’ah says (regarding al Rumi), “He is a Sheikh with weakness.”
- Abu Dawood says, “He is da’if (weak).”
- Ibn Hibban mentions him, as is his habit, in his Kitab al Thiqat.
- Abu Hatim says, “He narrates a munkar (unacceptable) hadith from Sharik. Perhaps he meant this hadith.
There is a difference of opinion regarding Sharik. The preponderant opinion is that he is da’if (weak). Imam Muslim does not use him as evidence, as al ‘Ala’i claimed.
I have mentioned in the original work that he is a saduq (sincere). However, he commits errors, particularly when he became a qadi (judge). Hence, it is farfetched to rely on such narrations, especially since he is mentioned among the people of bid’ah (innovation). He is (also) suspected of tadlis (obfuscation in transmitting) and narrating with the form ‘an’an. And he is narrating something which supports his bid’ah. Is this not sufficient to render what he transmitted as incorrect?
Add to this what al Daraqutni stated after he recounted the difference of opinion regarding the hadith’s chain of transmission. He writes, “The hadith is mudtarib (unreslovably problematic) and invalid. Salamah did not hear hadith from al Sanabihi.”
‘Ali ibn al Madini says in his al ‘Ilal, “Salamah did not encounter any of the Sahabah except for Jundub and Abu Juhayfah. Al Walid ibn Harb reports from Salamah, ‘I heard (hadith) from Jundub. I did not hear from anyone except for him (directly) quoting Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam.’”
Regarding ‘al ‘Ala’i’s statement “Abu Muawiyah desisted from transmitting this hadith for it to be known that the hadith is gharib (strange), not because it is batil (false). Had that not been the case, he would not have related it in the first place, since he possessed a great memory and had excellent precision (in narrating hadith).”
(In refutation to the statement of al ‘Ala’i, the author says) Abu Muawiyah initially narrated the hadith, and then it became clear to him that it is batil (false). And so he desisted from narrating it because it was false, not because it was simply a gharib (strange) hadith. Furthermore, why would he desist from narrating it because it was gharib, as al ‘Ala’i claims? The practice of the hadith scholars has always been to narrate gharib and individual reports. An individual report is not intrinsically problematic, unless it contains something that affects its validity. In this case, it is possible; however, in both instances he desisted from narrating it because of something that impairs its authenticity. The weakness of al ‘Ala’i’s arguments has been exposed. Additionally, the hadith is da’if (weak). And Allah knows best.
How the Hadith Ought to be Understood—According to those who Regard it as Hassan (Fair)
Al Sakhawi writes:
All of this does not affect the consensus of the Ahlus Sunnah, from the Sahabah, the Tabi’un and those after them that the most virtuous Sahabi and person after Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam is Abu Bakr, then ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhuma. Ibn ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhuma said, “While the Messenger salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam was alive, we used to say ‘After Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, the most virtuous of the Ummah is Abu Bakr, then ‘Umar, then ‘Uthman.’ The Messenger salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam heard this and did not object.” In fact, it is reported from ‘Ali himself that he said, “The best person after the Messenger of Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam is Abu Bakr, then ‘Umar, then another man.” His son, Muhammad ibn al Hanafiyyah said to him, “O my father, and then you?” He used to say, “Your father is but a man from the Muslims.” May Allah be pleased with him and all the other Sahabah.
Al ‘Ala’i writes:
This hadith does not contain any unacceptable words which are inconceivable; rather, it is similar to Nabi’s salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam statements, “The most merciful of my Ummah is Abu Bakr. And the most knowledgeable regarding what is halal and haram is Muaz ibn Jabal.” This hadith has been graded as Hassan (fair) by al Tirmidhi and sahih (authentic) by others.
‘Ali al Qari writes:
The meaning of this hadith is that ‘Ali is one of the doors. However, the fact that he was specified is an indication of some form of respect. And, this is the case; ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu, in relation to some of the Sahabah was greater and more knowledgeable. The hadith, “My Sahabah are like the stars, whomsoever of them you follow, you will be rightly guided.” is a proof that the all the Sahabah enjoyed the same position as ‘Ali (i.e. being referred to as a ‘door’ for ‘the city of knowledge’). Like the stars enjoy different levels of light, so too the Sahabah in their guidance. The fact that the Tabi’in acquired the various sciences of the Shari’ah, such as qira’ah, tafsir, hadith and fiqh from all the other Sahabah besides ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu, this proves that knowledge is not restricted to only ‘his door’. Unless it has to do with an issue of qada’ (a juridical matter); since it has been narrated about him that “he is the best in judgment among you”. Just as it appears with respect to Ubay, ‘He is the most learned (regarding the Qur’an).’ With respect to Zaid ibn Thabit, he salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said, ‘He is the most knowledgeable regarding the laws of inheritance.’ With respect to Muaz ibn Jabal, he salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said, ‘He is the most knowledgeable regarding matters of halal and haram.’
Ahmed ibn al Siddiq al Ghumari dedicated an entire work to this hadith. In this book, he brings forth many aberrations and ill-informed facts. I have scrutinized them in the original work and explained his errors therein. The writing spans 51 pages.
 The word ‘ilal is the plural of ‘illah, which means a defect or a flaw. It refers to an impairing defect in the isnad of a hadith that only become evident when that isnad is compared with other chains of transmission for that hadith. [translator’s note]
 Al Hakim: al Madkhal ila al Sahih, 197.
 Ibid., 143.
 Ibn Mihraz: Tarikh Ibn Ma’in: Riwayat Ibn Mihraz, 1/79; al Khatib: Tarikh Baghdad, 11/50.
 The word tawatur (recurrence) is a mode of transmitting ahadith. Recurrence obtains when a hadith is narrated through so many channels and by so many people that collusion upon forgery is deemed inconceivable (because of the assumption that such a large number of transmitters cannot find ways to conspire amongst themselves); knowledge engendered by this type is considered certain. [translator’s note]
 The al Batiniyyah is the name of sect which was characterized by divining a hidden, secret meaning in the revealed texts. [translator’s note]
 Ibn Taymiyyah: Majmu’ al Fatawa, 4/410 and Minhaj al Sunnah al Nabawiyyah, 7/515-516.
 Equipping existing hadiths with one’s own chains of transmission or constructing entirely new chains of transmission was known as saraqat al hadith (appropriating hadiths). [translator’s note]
 Al Hakim: Mustadrak al Hakim, hadith no. 4639 and 4644.
 Ibn ‘Asakir: Tarikh Dimashq, 42/382; al Khatib al Baghdadi: Talkhis al Mutashabih, 1/162.
 Ibn ‘Asakir: Tarikh Dimashq, 45/321.
 Al Suyuti: al Laʾali al Masnu’ah, 1/305, al Durar al Muntathirah, 57, al Qut al Mughtadhi ‘ala Jami’ al Tirmidhi, 2/1007); al Zarkashi: al Tadhkirah fi al Ahadith al Mushtahirah, 164; ibn Hajar al Makki: Sharh al Hamziyyah, al Fatawa al Hadithiyyah, 192; al Sakhawi: al Maqasid al Hassanah, 189.
 Ibn Hajar al ‘Asqalani: Lisan al Mizan, 2/122.
 Al Daraqutni: al ‘Ilal, 3/247.
 Ibn Hajar: Tahdhib al Tahdhib, 4/157.
 Imam al Sakhawi: al Maqasid al Hassanah, hadith no. 171.
 Al Hafiz al ‘Alaʾi: al Naqd al Sahih li ma ‘Uturida min Ahadith al Masabih, 52.
 ‘Ali al Qari: Mirqat al Mafatih Sharh Mishkat al Masabih, 9/3940.