Introductory Chapter – Historical Development of Literature on the Sciences of Narrator Evaluation According to the Imami Shia – 1.0 Reviewing the claim that attributes the science of hadith narrator criticism to the Ahlul Bayt radiya Llahu ‘anhu

September 23, 2020
2.0 A historical overview and appraisal of the biographical works authored by the Shia
September 23, 2020

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Introductory Chapter

Historical Development of Literature on the Sciences of Narrator Evaluation According to the Imami Shia


  • Reviewing the claim that attributes the science of hadith narrator criticism to the Ahlul Bayt radiya Llahu ‘anhu
  • A historical overview and appraisal of the biographical works authored by the Shia
  • The lack of sciences by the Shia Imamiyyah in the field of ‘ilm al rijal
  • Historical overview of the Imamiyyah’s literature on Mustalah al Hadith
  • The absence of writing in the sciences of Mustalah al Hadith except in later times
  • Biographies of al Hilli and al Khu’i and an exposition of their methodologies in their respective works


1.0 Reviewing the claim that attributes the science of hadith narrator criticism to the Ahlul Bayt

Before exploring the details provided in this work, it is important to understand the origins of al Jarh wa al Ta’dil (hadith narrator criticism) as stated by the Twelver Shia. It is not possible to understand the findings of both Ibn al Mutahhar al Hilli and Abu al Qasim al Khu’i except by knowing the intellectual foundations which they relied upon, as well as the legacy they inherited from their predecessors and how they navigated through it.

Many scholars of the Shia have devoted a lot of their efforts in trying to prove that they were, in fact, the first to write about ‘ulum al rijal (sciences of narrator evaluation) al Jarh wa al Ta’dil. In doing so, it bolsters the image of the Imami school and establishes their antecedence therein. They substantiate this claim by attributing the science of al Jarh wa al Ta’dil to the Ahlul Bayt with the following proof:


The first proof

Dr. ‘Abdul Hadi al Fadli and Hussain al Sadr[1]—both Twelver Shia—attempted to link the origins of this science to ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib radiya Llahu ‘anhu. Al Fadli states:


كانت وثيقة الإمام أمير المؤمنين (ع) … والتي تضمنت تقسيم الرواة إلى أربعة أقسام، البذرة الأولى لنشأة مادة أسماء الرجال، والفكرة الأولى التي انطلق منها التفكير في جمع أسماء الرواة، وتبيان هوياتهم، وتقييم أحوالهم.

The wathiqah (document) of Amir al Mu’minin al Imam ‘alayh al Salam … It included the classification of narrators into four categories, laying the first stone for the (eventual) development of narrator evaluation as a subject-matter. And the intellectual foundations through which the concept of collecting the names of narrators, their different identities, and appraising their conditions originated.[2]


Al Fadli was unable to (successfully) attribute this science to ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib radiya Llahu ‘anhu by ascribing its origins to him. Similarly, he was also unable to prove that ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib radiya Llahu ‘anhu was, in fact, responsible for categorizing hadith narrators into the following four categories:


  • The hypocrite narrator; the liar (al rawi al munafiq; al kadhdhab)
  • The narrator who commits mistakes (al rawi al wahim)
  • The narrator who is inaccurate (al rawi ghayr al dabit)
  • The reliable narrator (al rawi al thiqah)


The narration which al Fadli relied upon is included in al Kulayni’s (d. 329 AH) work al Kafi:


عن علي بن إبراهيم بن هاشم، عن أبيه ، عن حماد بن عيسى، عن إبراهيم بن عمر اليماني، عن أبان بن أبي عياش، عن سليم بن قيس الهلالي، قال: قلت لأمير المؤمنين عليه السلام: إني سمعت من سلمان والمقداد وأبي ذر شيئا من تفسير القرآن وأحاديث عن نبي الله صلى الله عليه وآله غير ما في أيدي الناس، ثم سمعت منك تصديق ما سمعت منهم ورأيت في أيدي الناس أشياء كثيرة من تفسير القرآن ومن الأحاديث عن نبي الله صلى الله عليه وآله أنتم تخالفونهم فيها، وتزعمون أن ذلك كله باطل، أفترى الناس يكذبون على رسول الله صلى الله عليه وآله متعمدين  ويفسرون القرآن بآرائهم؟ قال: فأقبل علي فقال: قد سألت فافهم الجواب…

On the authority of ‘Ali ibn Ibrahim ibn Hashim — from his father — from Hammad ibn ‘Isa — from Ibrahim ibn ‘Umar al Yamani — from Aban ibn Abi ‘Ayyash — from Sulaim ibn Qais al Hilali, who said:

“I said to Amir al Mu’minin: ‘Indeed, I heard from Salman, al Miqdad, and Abu Dharr a certain amount of tafsir of the Qur’an and ahadith from the Prophet of Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam different to what the people have in their hands. Then I heard (from you) confirmation of what I heard from them. (And) I saw many things from the tafsir of the Qur’an and from the ahadith of the Prophet of Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam in the peoples’ hands and you are opposing them. You claim it is all false. Do you consider the people as having intentionally lied against the Messenger of Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, and interpreting the Qur’an with their own opinions?’

‘Ali approached and said, ‘You have asked. Now understand the answer…’”[3]


Objections to the first proof

The isnad (chain of narration) which al Fadli and al Sadr relied upon is saqitah (wholly unreliable), even according to the hadith principles of the Shia. Al Majlisi (d. 1111 AH) says regarding this hadith:

ضعيف على المشهور معتبر عندي.”

Weak according to the most widespread (opinion); duly considered, according to me.[4]


Therefore, the hadith is famously known to be da’if (weak).

As for al Majlisi’s statement, “duly considered, according to me,” the response is: How can it be ‘duly considered’ according to al Majlisi when the isnad contains Aban ibn Abi ‘Ayyash? Al Majlisi symbolizes him (in his work) with (the letter) ‘dad,’ suggesting he is a weak narrator.[5] This is a clear contradiction. There is no other version by which this one can be bolstered.


The Shia scholar Hussain al Sa’idi judged the hadith da’if and he referred to the view of al Majlisi regarding Aban ibn Abi ‘Ayyash when he said:


“ضعفه المجلسي في رجاله وحكم على رواياته بالضعف عند دراسته لأسانيد الكافي وتهذيب الأحكام.”

Al Majlisi judged him to be weak in his work Rijal al Majlisi. He also judged his narrations as weak in his review of al Kafi’s asanid (pl. of isnad) and Tahdhib al Ahkam.”[6]


The statements criticizing Aban from the scholars of the Shia are many, including:

  • Ibn al Ghada’iri says, “Weak. No consideration of him.” [7]
  • Al Tusi says, “Tabi’i. Weak.”[8]
  • Al Hilli says, “Tabi’i. Very weak.”[9]
  • Al Bahbudi says something similar.[10]


The isnad (also) contains Sulaim ibn Qais al Hilali. He is muttaham (accused of lying) according to many scholars of the Shia. Al Mazindarani (d. 1081 AH) says he is “Majhul al Hal (unknown condition).”[11]


The Shia scholar Hashim Ma’roof al Hassani’s statement criticizing one of the narrations is sufficient proof (against him). Al Hassani states:


ويكفي هذه الرواية عيبا أنها من مرويات سليم بن قيس وهو من المشبوهين والمتهمين بالكذب

The fact that this riwayah (narration) is among Sulaim ibn Qais’s is enough to render it problematic. He is of the doubtful narrators and of those who have been accused of lying.[12]


How then is it possible to use a narration which is inapt as evidence to establish the origin of the sciences of al Jarh wa al Ta’dil—the science which explains to us the authenticity and weakness of narrations? In fact, al Bahbudi judged this actual narration da’if when he excluded it from his work Sahih al Kafi![13]

Based on the above, it becomes clear that the link between the origins of this science with ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib radiya Llahu ‘anhu is incorrect, as the narrations of the Imamiyyah assert. As explained earlier, they have been proven false.


The second proof

Al Fadli, and similarly, al Kajuri al Shirazi (d. 1293 A.H) attempted it differently when they attributed this science to Imam Muhammad al Baqir radiya Llahu ‘anhu. They based this on a narration that is considered, according to al Fadli’s description, “the introduction into the evolution of this subject.”[14] Using this as textual proof for what he believed, al Fadli says:


مقبولة عمر بن حنظلة، فقد جاء فيها ما يرتبط بموضوعنا: قلت [أي: قول عمر بن حنظلة وهو يسأل الأمام المعصوم] فإن كان كل رجل اختار رجلا من أصحابنا فرضيا أن يكونا الناظرين في حقهما، واختلفا فيما حكما وكلاهما اختلفا في حديثكم؟ قال: الحكم ما حكم به أعدلهما وأفقههما وأصدقهما في الحديث وأورعهما ولا يلتفت إلى ما يحكم به الآخر، قال: قلت: فإنهما عدلان مرضيان عند أصحابنا لا يفضل واحد منهما على الآخر؟

The maqbulah[15] of ‘Umar ibn Hanzalah. It contains (information) related to our subject-matter: (In asking Jafar al Sadiq, ‘Umar ibn Hanzalah says) If both (Shia) parties (in their dispute) selected one person (each) from our associates (i.e. the Shia) to assume arbitrating in respect to each individual’s best interests, and they both (eventually) differ in their judgement and in (understanding) your hadith? Jafar al Sadiq replied: “The judgement will be in favour of the one who is more just, possesses more understanding and truthfulness in relation to hadith, and more Allah-conscious. The other individual’s opinion will not be considered.”

I said: “(And what if) They are equally just, and enjoy the same level of approval from our companions (i.e. the Shia) such that one cannot be proven better than the other? …”[16]


Objections to the second proof

Firstly, in terms of the isnad, it is da’if and inauthentic. It appears as follows:


قال الكليني (329هـ): محمد بن يحيى، عن محمد بن الحسين، عن محمد بن عيسى عن صفوان بن يحيى عن داود بن الحصين، عن عمر بن حنظلة قال…

Al Kulayni (d. 329 A.H) states — Muhammad ibn Yahya – from Muhammad ibn al Hussain – from Muhammad ibn ‘Isa – from Safwan ibn Yahya – from Dawood ibn al Hussain – from ‘Umar ibn Hanzalah who said…


The isnad includes the narrator ‘Umar ibn Hanzalah. Al Khu’i cites six reasons why people regard him as a thiqah (reliable) and he disproves all of them.[17] The abridged version of al Khu’i’s work regards him as “majhul (unknown).”[18] In fact, al Khu’i himself considered this specific narration da’if when he said:


إن الرواية ضعيفة السند بعمر بن حنظلة، إذ لم يرد في حقه توثيق ولا مدح وإن سميت روايته هذه بالمقبولة، وكأنها مما تلقته الأصحاب بالقبول، وإن لم يثبت هذا أيضا.

The isnad of this riwayah is da’if because of ‘Umar ibn Hanzalah; there is not mention of tawthiq (attestation of reliability) in his right nor praise, even though this riwayah of his is named the ‘maqbulah (accepted).’ It is as if it forms part of those issues that have been acknowledged by the companions (i.e. the Shia) as acceptable (tallaqathu al ashab bi al qabul), even though it is unproven.[19]


The author of Majma’ al Fa’idah, al Ardabili (d. 993 A.H), judged that ‘Umar ibn Hanzalah is majhul.[20] Similarly, al Bahbudi considered it da’if when he excluded it from his work Sahih al Kafi. In fact, this very ‘Umar has no tawthiq of him (mentioned) in the primary sources of narrator evaluation (al usul al rijaliyyah).

Secondly, in terms of the narration’s actual meaning, it has to do with a legal and judicial ordinance (al qada’ wa al hukm); it has no correlation to the narration of hadith. The actual wording is as follows:


عن عمر بن حنظلة قال: سألت أبا عبد الله عليه السلام عن رجلين من أصحابنا بينهما منازعة في دين أو ميراث فتحاكما إلى السلطان وإلى القضاة أيحل ذلك؟

On the authority of ‘Umar ibn Hanzalah: “I asked Abu ‘Abdullah ‘alayh al Salam whether it was permissible for two of our companions who had a debt or inheritance-related dispute to seek a verdict from the ruler or judges.”


Al Wahid al Bahbahani (d. 1206 A.H) said:

وأما رواية عمر بن حنظلة فواردة في القاضي دون الراوي، إلا أن يلتزم أن كل راو قاض، وحاكم شرع

Regarding the narration of ‘Umar ibn Hanzalah, it is concerning a judge, not a narrator. Unless it means that every narrator is a judge and an Islamic ruler.[21]


Therefore, the proof they rely upon to claim the historical roots connecting them to the sciences of al Jarh wa al Ta’dil is wholly unreliable, both in terms of the isnad and meaning.


The third proof

Al Fadli[22] and al Kajuri[23] also use as a proof what is referred to as the “Marfu’ah of Zurarah.” He says:


سألت الباقر (عليه السلام) فقلت: “جُعلت فداك يأتي عنكم الخبران أو الحديثان المتعارضان فبأيهما آخذ؟” فقال: “يا زرارة خذ بما اشتهر بين أصحابك، ودع الشاذ النادر.” فقلت: “يا سيدي إنهما معا مشهوران مرويان مأثوران عنكم؟” فقال (عليه السلام): “خذ بقول أعدلهما عندك وأوثقهما في نفسك.”

I (i.e. Zurarah) asked al Baqir ‘alayh al Salam: “May I be ransomed for your sake! If two conflicting reports or hadiths come regarding you (i.e. the Imams), which one should I use?”

He said, “O Zurarah, take the one that is (more) well-known amongst your associates. And discard the rare (and) anomalous one.”

I said, “O my master, (what if) they are equally narrated (and) well-known from you (i.e. the Imams)?”

He said: “Take the statement of the one you think is more just and trustworthy.”[24]


Objections to the third proof

When returning to the source that mentions the narration, the work ‘Awali al La’ali by al Ahsa’i, I found it saying:


وروى العلامة قدست نفسه مرفوعا إلى زرارة بن أعين قال: سألت الباقر (عليه السلام)

Al ‘Allamah (may his being be sanctified) narrated marfu’an[25] from Zurarah ibn A’yan who said, ‘I asked al Baqir…’”


It is mentioned like this without an isnad![26]

After going through great pains searching for the isnad of this report, I did not find anything reliable, not to mention the fact that it does not even have an isnad to begin with! So how then can it be used to infer the foundations of a science that is meant to understand and distinguish between authentic and faulty (reports)?

The most that can be said of this narration—assuming it is authentic—is that it falls within the parameters of taking precaution and being self-conscious (when accepting reports). This is self-evident from the Imam’s statement, “Take the statement of the one you think is more just and trustworthy.” Similarly, it falls within the parameters of conflicting authentic reports and how to deal with them because, according to many scholars of the Shia, the da’if hadith does not take into account narrations that are shadh (anomalous) and nadir (rare).[27]

It is important to note the Shia that substantiate this view with these textual proofs—which are proven inauthentic—are from their leading hadith scholars, individuals who work in the field of understanding how to recognize and distinguish between sahih and da’if. They are research specialists and people of isnad and narrator biographies (tarajim). What, then, to say of their remaining scholars?


NEXT⇒ 2.0 A historical overview and appraisal of the biographical works authored by the Shia

[1] Hussain al Sadr: Nihayat al Dirayah, p. 15.

[2] ‘Abdul Hadi al Fadli: Usul ‘Ilm al Rijal, p. 27; Hussain al Sa’idi: Kitab al Du’afa’ min Rijal al Hadith, 1/42.

[3] Muhammad ibn Yaqub al Kulayni: al Kafi, 1/62 (hadith no. 1 under the chapter ‘Ikhtilaf al Hadith’).

[4] Mulla Baqir al Majlisi: Mir’at al ‘Uqul, 1/210.

[5] Mulla Baqir a-Majlisi: Rijal al Majlisi, p. 141.

[6] Hussain al Sa’idi: al Du’afa’ min Rijal al Hadith, 1/136.

[7] Ahmed ibn al Hussain al Ghada’iri: Du’afa’ Ibn al Ghada’iri, p. 36 (biography no. 1).

[8] ‘Ali ibn al Hassan al Tusi: Rijal al Tusi, p. 126.

[9] Ibn al Mutahhar al Hilli: Khulasat al Aqwal, p. 325, # 1280 (section two on weak narrators); al Tiffarishi: Naqd al Rijal, 1/39; Abu al Qasim al Khu’i: Mujam Rijal al Hadith, 1/120. Aban is suspected of having forged the work of Sulaim ibn Qais. Refer to above sources.

[10] Muhammad al Bahbudi: Ma’rifat al Hadith wa Tarikh Nashrihi wa Tadwinihi wa Thaqafatihi ‘inda al Shia al Imamiyyah, p. 159.

[11] Muhammad Salih al Mazindarani: Sharh Usul al Kafi (Bab Isti’mal al ‘Ilm), 2/139 (under hadith no. 1). He contradicts himself. See p. 307 of the previous reference.

[12] Hashim Ma’roof al Hassani: al Mawdu’at fi al Athar wa al Akhbar, p. 184 (in the marginalia).

[13] Muhammad Baqir al Bahbudi: Sahih al Kafi (i.e. the hadiths which he excluded because they contain narrators who are abandoned (matruk), or the matn (text) is not free from any wahm (mistake), idtirab (irreconcilable problem), or takhlit (confusion), p. 1 (from the introduction, and under the chapter ‘Ikhtilaf al Hadith’ wherein he makes no mention of this hadith in his Sahih (collection), 1/10).

[14] Al Fadli: Usul ‘Ilm al Rijal, p. 30.

[15] Maqbulah (lit. ‘accepted’) is a term referring to a riwayah that has been consistently accepted by the scholars of the Imamiyyah. Abu al Huda al Kalbasi has an entire chapter dedicated to the meaning of this term, as mentioned in Sama’ al Maqal.’

[16] Al Kulayni: al Kafi (Bab Ikhtilaf al Hadith), 1/67-68.

[17] Al Khu’i: Mujam Rijal al Hadith, 14/31.

[18] Muhammad al Jawahiri: al Mufid min Mujam Rijal al Hadith, p. 425. This work is an abridgement of al Khu’i’s rulings on narrators.

[19] Al Khu’i: Kitab al Ijtihad wa al Taqlid (under the commentary), p. 143.

[20] Ahmed al Ardabili: Majma’ al Fa’idah, 12:10 (under the commentary). The text reads: “And because of ‘Umar ibn Hanzalah being unknown (bijahli ‘Umar ibn Hanzalah) in the dictionaries of narrator evaluation (kutub al rijal). This author is different to the al Ardabili who authored Jami’ al Ruwat.

[21] Al Wahid al Bahbahani: al Fawa’id al Hairiyyah, p. 219.

[22] Al Fadli: Usul ‘Ilm al Rijal, p. 30.

[23] Al Kajuri: al Fawa’id al Rijaliyyah, p. 46.

[24] Ibn Abi Jumhur al Ahsa’i: ‘Awali al La’ali, 4/133.

[25] The term ‘marfu’an (lit. ‘raised)’ here refers to a hadith that is directly attributed to one of the imams, i.e. it is ‘raised’ up to him. [Translator’s note]

[26] Ibn Abi Jumhur al Ahsa’i: ‘Awali al La’ali, 4/133.

[27] The latter-day scholars of the Shia (predominantly the Usulis) infer from the early generation of scholars that they were, in fact, the forerunners to the science of authenticating and disparaging ahadith. They achieve this by arguing that the early generation of scholars, at times, ruled several ahadith to be shadh and nadir. However, I say this is a form of tadlis (obfuscation). The term shadh, according to many scholars of the Shia, does not imply the hadith in question is weak. Rather, as al Hussain al ‘Amili says, the term shadh refers to a hadith which “contradicts the majority, even if its narrator is a thiqah.” He also says: “Shadh, according to us (the Shia) can also refer to a hadith whose contents is not acted upon by the scholars, even though its isnad is authentic and (a report) other than it does not oppose it.” See: al Hussain al ‘Amili: Wusul al Akhyar ila Usul al Akhbar (printed under Majmu’ah Rasa’il fi al Hadith wa al Dirayah), 1/410; ‘Abdullah al Mamaqani: Miqbas al Hidayah, 1/252, He says: “The shadh and nadir are synonymous terms. Shadh is more frequently used; whereas nadir, although it exists, it is rarely used.”; al Shahid al Thani: al Bidayah fi ‘Ilm al Dirayah, p. 31. In defining an authentic hadith, he states: “It is a contiguous chain up to the infallible (imam) that is narrated by an upright imami (i.e. believes in Imamah), from someone similar on all levels (of the chain), even if it is befallen by shudhudh (anomalies).