I. Admitting Our Argument
II. Asking for Detailed Proofs
Thul-Qi’da 9, 1329 A.H.
1) Your letter has been quite clear, very well arranged, praiseworthy. It is eloquent, powerful in determination, and strong in argument. It spares no attempt to prove that it is not compulsory to follow the majority’s sects in the principles and branches of religion, saving no effort to confirm that the doors of ijtihad must remain open.
Your letter, therefore, is strong in both matters, correct in proving each one of them, and we do not deny your careful research in their respect, your clarification of their obscurities, although we really were not acquainted with them, and our view in their regard is identical to yours.
2) We had asked you about your reason for not accepting the sects followed by the Muslim majority, and your answer was that because of “judicial proofs,” whereas you were expected to explain that in detail.
Could you please yield now to explaining them with positive proofs from the Book (Qur’an) or the Sunnah which, as you mentioned, divert the believer from following his own inclinations?
Thank you, and peace be with you.
I. References to Proofs Mandating Following the ‘Itra
II. The Commander of the Faithful ‘alayh al Salam Invites to Ahlul Bayt’s Sect
III. Relevant Statement of Imam Zainul ‘Abidin
Thul-Qi’da 12, 1329 A.H.
You, thanks to Allah, can be convinced by a mere hint, without the need for an explanation, and you are above doubting the very fact that the purified offspring (‘itra) are superior to all others. Their case is quite clear: they have surpassed those with qualifications and have distinguished themselves from seemingly equal peers. They have carried from the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him and his progeny, the knowledge of the prophets, and from him have they digested secular and religious jurisdictions.
1) The Prophet, hence, has made them equal only to the Glorious Book and set them models of conduct for those endowed with reason, and the ark of safety when hypocrisy with its tumultuous waves overwhelms the security of the nation, safeguarding it against dissension if the tempests of division rage, the Gate of Salvation: whoever enters it is forgiven, and the strong Rope of Allah which is unbreakable.
2) The Commander of the Faithful is quoted in sermon 86 in Nahjul Balagha as saying:
“‘Where are you heading (Qur’an, 81:26),’and ‘where are you straying (Qur’an, 6:95, 10:34, 35:3, 40:62),’ since the flags are poised up high, the Signs are clear, and the lighthouse is erected? So, where are you straying? Nay! How can you be blindfolded while you have among you the household (‘itra) of your Prophet?
They are the reins of righteousness, the religion’s flags, and the tongues of truth; therefore, accord them as you accord the Qur’an and approach them as thirsty camels approach the water. O people! Take this 1 from the last of the Prophets, Allah’s peace be upon him and his progeny: ‘whoever among us passes away, he is not really dead, and whoever disintegrates (after dying) from among us does not really disintegrate; therefore, do not say what you do not know, for there is the greatest truth in what you deny.
Accept the argument of one against whom you have no argument and it is: ‘Have I not dealt with you according to the Greatest Weight2 (Qur’an)? Have I not left among you the Lesser Weight (Ahlul Bayt) and laid firm among you the flags of faith?’”
He, peace be upon him, said, in sermon 96 of Nahjul Balagha, “Behold the Household of your Prophet; emulate their example and follow in their footsteps, for they shall never take you out of guidance, nor shall they ever bring you back into destruction; halt when they halt, and rise when they rise, and do not go ahead of them lest you should stray, nor should you lag behind them lest you should perish.”
He, peace be upon him, has mentioned them once, as stated in sermon 237 of Nahjul-Balaghah, saying: “They are the life of knowledge and the death of ignorance; their forbearance informs you of their knowledge, and their outward appearance informs you of their conscience. Their silence indicates the wisdom of their speech. They neither differ from truth, nor do they differ among themselves about it. They are the pillars of Islam and the gateways to salvation. Through them, justice was achieved and wrongdoing was removed, and its tongue was uprooted. They comprehended the creed with care and concern, not like hearing and reporting, for the ‘reporters’ of knowledge are many indeed, but those who safeguard it are few.”
He, peace be upon him, as stated in sermon 153 in Nahjul-Balaghah, has also said, “His offspring (‘itra) is the best, and his family is the best. His tree is the best of trees: it was planted in the sacred place (Haram), and it grew like a vine; it has long branches and its fruit is not unattainable.”
He, peace be upon him, is quoted in sermon 153 of Nahjul-Balaghah saying: “We are the banner, the companions, the trustees and the gates. Houses are not supposed to be approached except through their gates: whoever approaches them otherwise is called a thief,” until he said, describing the purified offspring (‘itra), “They are the vital portions of the Qur’an, and they are the treasures of the Merciful. They tell the truth when they speak, or when they remain silent; none can speak ahead of them. Therefore, let the forerunner speak the truth to his people, maintaining his reason.”
He has said in sermon 146 of Nahjul-Balaghah: “You should know that you will never know guidance unless you know who abandons it, nor will you abide by the Book (Qur’an) unless you know who contradicts it, and you will never uphold it unless you know who has discarded it; so, seek that from those who possess it, for they are the life of knowledge and the death of ignorance. They are the ones whose judgment informs you of their knowledge, their silence of their power of speech, their outer appearance of their inner selves; they neither violate the religion, nor do they differ among themselves about it, while it is among them a truthful witness and a silent speaker.”
There are many similarly impressive statements of his, peace be upon him, in this regard. Consider this one which is excerpted from sermon 4 in Nahjul-Balaghah: “Through us you received guidance in the darkness, ascending the zenith of nobility, and through us you reached the light and dissipated the gloomy night. May the ears that do not listen to the summoned be deafened.”3
He is quoted in sermon 104 of Nahjul-Balaghah saying: “O people! Secure your light from the flame of the lamps of a preacher who follows what he preaches, and drink from a spring cleansed from impurity.”
He has also said the following in sermon 108: “We are the tree of Prophethood, the place of the Message, the ones to whom the angels make a pilgrimage, the treasures of knowledge, the springs of wisdom. Our supporter and lover awaits the mercy, while our enemy or antagonist us awaits the wrath.”4
Among what he has said in this regard is sermon 143 of Nahjul-Balaghah wherein he says: “Where are those who claimed to be deeply versed in knowledge other than our own selves?5 It is a lie and a transgression against us, for Allah has raised us high while putting them down; He bestowed upon us while depriving them, and He permitted us to enter (in the fortress of knowledge) while turning them out. Through us, guidance is achieved and blindness is removed. Surely the Imams from Quraysh have been planted in Hashim’s loins. Imamate can never fit anyone else, nor can government either.”
Then he stated: “But they preferred a speedy gain to a later one, forsaking a pure well to drink from an impure one,” up to the end of his statement. He has also said at the conclusion of khutba (sermon) 189 of Nahjul-Balaghah: “Whoever among you dies on his bed knowing the rights of his Lord and knowing the rights of His Messenger and his family (Ahlul Bayt) dies as a martyr, and his reward will be incumbent upon Allah, and he deserves the reward of what good deeds he has intended to do: his own intention will make up for his use of his sword (in jihad).”
Also, he, peace be upon him, has said: “We are the virtuous; our descendants are the descendants of Prophets; our party is the party of Allah, the Sublime, the Glorified, while the transgressing party is the devil’s; whoever equates us with our enemy is certainly not of us.”6
Imam al Mujtaba Abu Muhammad al Hassan, the patient, master of the youths of Paradise ‘alayh al Salam, has said the following in one of his sermons: “Fear Allah regarding us, for we are your rulers.”7
3) Whenever Imam Abu Muhammad, ‘Ali son of al Hussain Zainul ‘Abidin, master of those who prostrate in prayer, used to recite this verse of the Almighty: “O ye who believe! Fear Allah and be with the Truthful,” he would make a lengthy invocation to Allah containing his plea to be included among “the Truthful” to attain the high ranks. He would then count the calamities and innovations of the group that split from the Imams of Faith and the Tree of Prophethood. Then he would say: “Some people went as far as underestimating us, making excuses for the Qur’anic verses which seem to them to be alike, giving their own interpretation thereof, and casting doubts about the transmitted narrations in our honour,” until he would say: “With whom shall people in this nation seek refuge, since the pillars of this creed have been forgotten and the nation has divided upon itself with dissension, each party accusing the other of kufr, while Allah says: ‘Do not be like those who became divided and disagreed (with each other) even after receiving the Clear Evidences (Qur’an, 3:104)?’
Who can be trusted to convey the Divine proofs and interpret the Judgment other than the peers of the Qur’an and the descendants of the Imams of Guidance, the lamps amidst the darkness, those whom Allah made as His Arguments against His servants? He has never left His creation alone without a Proof. Do you know them or find them except from the branches of the Blessed Tree, the remnant of the Elite from whom Allah has removed all impurity, purifying them with a perfect purification, clearing them from sinning and decreeing their love in His Book?”
That was his own speech, peace be upon him, verbatim.8 Look into it and into our quotations from the speech of the Commander of the Faithful; you will find them both representing the Shi’a School of Muslim Thought in this regard very clearly. Consider this much of their speech as a specimen for all such speeches of the Imams from Ahlul Bayt. They all are unanimous in this respect, and our sahih books quoting them are mutawatir (consecutively reported), and peace be with you.
‘Abdul Hussain Sharaf al Din’s meagre offering does nothing to whet the appetite of a novice student of the Islamic disciplines, never mind satiate the cravings of the inquiring mind of a scholar who is Sheikh al Azhar. The previous discussion in this series has sufficiently proven the alleged exchange between ‘Abdul Hussain Sharaf al Din and Sheikh Salim al Bishri is nothing more than fiction. To labour this point would be counterproductive, though it is perhaps worth pointing out another angle at this moment.
Why would ‘Abdul Hussain’s portrayal of Sheikh Salim al Bishri paint such a dismal picture of him? ‘Abdul Hussain’s self-aggrandizement and verbose flattery appear to be cunning strategies which serve the purpose of creating an impression of academic rigour in the mind of the unsuspecting reader.
The problem with post-humous correspondence is that it inevitably opens itself up to internal inconsistencies. There is no dispute in the fact that Ijtihad is of no consequence in the face of unequivocal text. This is because Ijtihad of this nature is as good as exercising Ijtihad in the presence of the Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam without referring the matter to him. The appointment of Imams in the Shia tradition is considered a divine duty. The status of an Imam, if not superior to that of the Prophets, is certainly not inferior to it based on Shia sources. This leads us to the question; what role does Ijtihad play in the presence of the Imams? Surely, a scholar of the calibre of Sheikh Salim al Bishri would have recognised the inconsistency in arguing for the continuity of Ijtihad whilst proving the necessity of following a single Imam whose obedience is divinely mandated.
The sweeping claim that the individual members of the Prophet’s salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam blessed family are superior to all requires qualification as well as substantiation. If it is understood in terms of excellence of lineage there is no issue with that. However, if it is meant in the sense of excellence in faith and excellence in righteousness, it requires evidence.
Those who lived with the Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, witnessed the revelation of the Qur’an, stood beside him in battle, and accompanied him during his travels describe a situation in stark contrast to what ‘Abdul Hussain would lead us to believe.
‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhu said:
عن ابن عمر رضى الله عنهما قال كنا في زمن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم لا نعدل بأبي بكر أحدا ثم عمر ثم عثمان ثم نترك أصحاب النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم لا نفاضل بينهم
During the Prophet’s salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam time we would not compare anyone with Abu Bakr. ‘Umar came next and then ‘Uthman. We then would leave the rest of the Companions of the Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam without treating any as superior to another.
‘Abdullah bin Shaqiq relates:
عن عبد الله بن شقيق قال قلت لعائشة أى أصحاب رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم كان أحب إلى رسول الله قالت أبو بكر قلت ثم من قالت عمر قلت ثم من قالت ثم أبو عبيدة بن الجراح قلت ثم من قال فسكتت
قال أبو عيسى هذا حديث حسن صحيح
I asked ‘Aisha radiya Llahu ‘anha, “Which of the Companions of the Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam were the most beloved to him?”
She said, “Abu Bakr.”
I said, “Then who?”
She said, “Then ‘Umar.”
I said, “Then who?”
She said, “Then Abu ‘Ubaidah ibn al Jarrah.”
I said, “Then who?”
He said, “Then she was silent.”
Anas ibn Malik radiya Llahu ‘anhu reported:
عن أنس أن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم رأى صبيانا ونساء مقبلين من عرس فقام نبي الله صلى الله عليه وسلم ممثلا فقال اللهم أنتم من أحب الناس إلى اللهم أنتم من أحب الناس إلى يعني الأنصار
The Messenger of Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam saw children and women from the Ansar returning from a wedding feast. The Messenger of Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam stood up motionless (as a mark of respect) and said, “By Allah! You are amongst the most beloved people to me.” referring to the Ansar and repeating it twice.
As a matter of fact ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib radiya Llahu ‘anhu was heard repeatedly praising some of the Prophet’s salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam Companions on the mimbar in Kufah:
لا أوتى برجل يفضلني على أبي بكر وعمر إلا جلدته حد المفتري
Let not a man be brought before me who considers me superior to Abu Bakr and ‘Umar lest I prescribe for him the punishment of those who make false accusations!
The evidence to this end is abundant, and these will be presented throughout the critical analysis of al Muraja’at. Suffice to say that the underlying premise of ‘Abdul Hussain’s correspondence in this letter is inherently flawed.
It was the responsibility of ‘Abdul Hussain to prove that the statements of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu and the rest of the Ahlul Bayt are in fact authoritative and share a common authority. His entire correspondence overlooks any evidence from the common sources of law and heads directly for statements from ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib radiya Llahu ‘anhu and some of his son’s, which allegedly prove their unfettered leadership after the Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam.
It is futile to argue their binding authority from their own statements. The alleged request in the letter from Sheikh Salim al Bishri seeks ‘juristic proofs’ neither of which have been furnished by ‘Abdul Hussain.
Nahj al Balaghah is an anthology of sermons and sayings that have been ascribed to ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib radiya Llahu ‘anhu. These have been complied in the 4th century by either al Sharif al Radi (d. 406 A.H) or his brother al Sharif al Murtada (d. 436 A.H).
In addition to the dispute regarding its author, the historic reliability of what it contains is called into question due the gap of close to 400 years from the time of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu until the book was compiled.
The trend in hadith literature is to support a statement attributed to the Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam or his Companions by presenting the chain of transmission for the individual report. The function of the chain is to examine the manner in which the information was passed down. If it becomes apparent that a person of weak memory or lacking in religious integrity participated in the transmission of this information it would not be relied upon. Similarly if there is any interruption in the chain of transmission it would be called into question.
The primary problem with Nahj al Balaghah is that it suffers the complete lack of any chain by which the information—in this case the sermons and sayings of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu—was transmitted. Thus it cannot be objectively assessed in terms of its historic reliability.
It suffers from a series of further problems in that the style of language, and rhyming prose is inconsistent with the type of language which was in vogue during ‘Ali’s radiya Llahu ‘anhu time. It reflects a later style of Arabic, albeit fluent and eloquent. The literary value of the book is certainly acknowledged; just not its reliable attribution to ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib radiya Llahu ‘anhu.
In his encyclopaedic work on biographies, Siyar A’lam al Nubala’, al Dhahabi has this to say under the biography of al Sharif al Murtada:
He is the compiler of Nahj al Balaghah that contains words that have been attributed to Imam ‘Ali (may Allah be pleased with him). It contains no chains. Some of it is false and within it is some truth. However, it contains fabrications that the Imam would never speak of, Allah forbid. Some have considered it the compilation of his brother, al Sharif al Radi.
The details of the sermons found in Nahj al Balaghah are found in stark contrast to what has been reliably reported from ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib radiya Llahu ‘anhu. The extent of this contrast casts further doubt on the reliability of this text.
Undoubtedly some of what it contains could possibly be attributed to ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu, however it would have to be further corroborated by sources which have more rigorous standards of reliability. One of the clearest indicators of tampering is the fact that succinct quotations appearing in earlier literary works are found in Nahj al Balaghah with significant addition.
The Sunni scholarly community would never rely on Nahj al Balaghah nor would it count as ‘juristic proof’ by any stretch of the imagination. On the contrary the scholars of the Ahlus Sunnah would hold the Shia to account for information it contains, not because Sunnis accept it but because it is accepted by the Shia.
After establishing that Nahj al Balaghah is unreliable there remains very little to respond to the ‘juristic proofs’ presented by ‘Abdul Hussain since it has yet to be proven that the statements of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu count as proof. Even if they did, the quotations from Nahj al Balaghah cannot be objectively ascribed to him in any way which discounts the entire argument offered by this letter in al Muraja’at.
The editor of al Muraja’at was perceptive to the glaring error in arguing for the absolute authority of Ahlul Bayt based on citations from Shia sources alone. He diligently sort to provide references from Sunni sources with the aim of diluting any objection to ‘Abdul Hussain’s Shia references. If these remarks are found in Sunni texts, what are the grounds for objection?
Al Sawa’iq al Muhriqah is an academic work in refutation of Shia doctrine. It was penned by the famous tenth-century Shafi’i Faqih of Makkah, Ahmed ibn ‘Ali ibn Hajar al Haytami. In the opening passages of his book he describes how he was prevailed upon to compile a book in which he proves the validity of the Khilafah of Abu Bakr and ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhuma. He later added many other discussions to the book.
Ibn Hajar al Haytami’s expertise in Hadith criticism could not match his level of proficiency in Fiqh, more specifically the minutiae of the Shafi’i school. In the century that followed the passing of his namesake, Ibn Hajar al ‘Asqalani, there was a noticeable decline in critical hadith study. As such, Ibn Hajar al Haytami’s grading of ahadith was hardly taken as authoritative.
If one considers the comments above, the narrations appearing in al Sawa’iq al Muhriqah span the entire spectrum of grades, from the most rigorously authenticated narrations to fabrications. This does not imply that Ibn Hajar al Haytami filled his book with all sorts not giving consideration to their reliability. In fact he relies on acceptable narrations primarily in developing his argument. In order to add to what he has already included he brings narrations which have been graded as weak. However, in so doing he at times has included narrations which he duly clarified as being weak; but upon further investigation turned out to be either severely weak on account of the narrator being accused of forgery, or even found to be a fabrication. We ought to add that he also cites the evidence relied on by his opposition—the Shia—for the purpose of refuting them.
Bearing these facts in mind let us turn our attention to the references in al Sawa’iq al Muhriqah by the editor of al Muraja’at. Under footnote no.4 he says:
Ibn ‘Abbas has said: “We are members of the Prophet’s Household whose homes are the visiting places of the angels, the Ahlul Bayt of the Messenger of Allah, and members of the household of mercy and knowledge.h” He is quoted saying so by a group of most reliable Sunni traditionists and as stated at the conclusion of his chapter on the characteristics of Ahlul Bayt ‘alayh al Salam, on page 142 of Ibn Hajar’s Al Sawa’iq al Muhriqa.
‘Abdul Hussain has cited Nahj al Balaghah quoting these words from ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib radiya Llahu ‘anhu. The reference provided by the editor cites al Sawa’iq al Muhriqah, quoting Ibn ‘Abbas radiya Llahu ‘anhu. Is it true that both of them said this? If so, then according to ‘Abdul Hussain’s reasoning the Abbasid Khalifahs ought to be accepted by the Shia as legitimate rulers. If this quotation is proven to be true, the logical conclusion is that the family of al ‘Abbas radiya Llahu ‘anhu is also part of the Ahlul Bayt whose obedience is a divine injunction. No Shia accepts this though!
That aside, let us see what Ibn Hajar actually wrote. He says:
It appears by way of Ibn ‘Abbas, through a weak chain of transmission, that he said, “We the Ahlul Bayt…”
So this narration is actually declared weak by Ibn Hajar al Haytami but the editor of al Muraja’at ignored this. Instead he lied to his audience ascribing the authentication of this narration to ‘a group of the most reliable traditionists’, citing Ibn Hajar!
Under footnote 6 he tries to be honest as he accuses Ibn Hajar al Haytami of being grossly unfair. He was cautious not to mention expressly that Ibn Hajar declared the chain of narration for this quotation from ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu unreliable.
The narration in question under footnote 7 also refers us to al Sawa’iq. Let us first see how ‘Abdul Hussain cites the narration before commenting.
Imam al Mujtaba Abu Muhammad al Hassan, the patient, master of the youths of Paradise ‘alayh al Salam, has said the following in one of his sermons: “Fear Allah regarding us, for we are your rulers.”
The narration in al Sawa’iq  quotes al Bazzar. However that was said in response to an attempt to assassinate him by a person from ‘Iraq. The attack was unsuccessful. He then ascended the mimbar and addressed the people of ‘Iraq informing them to fear Allah.
We find that this was a sermon delivered specifically to the people of ‘Iraq as they had pledged their allegiance to Hassan radiya Llahu ‘anhu after his father’s murder. ‘Abdul Hussain has truncated the narration and given it a spin that this was a sermon to the entire Ummah. We understand from its context that Hassan radiya Llahu ‘anhu was not claiming absolute authority for Ahlul Bayt, but reminding the people of ‘Iraq to fear Allah in respect to those whom they had pledged their allegiance to. How else could one account for his reconciliation with Muawiyah radiya Llahu ‘anhu.
Finally, footnote 8 cites al Sawa’iq , who in turn cites al Tha’labi in his Tafsir. It is well-known that al Tha’labi makes no distinction of what he narrates in his Tafsir. Upon referring to his Tafsir, al Kashf wa al Bayan, the chain is quoted by way of Aban ibn Taghlib, a well-known Shia narrator who will feature in later discussions.
 Sahih al Bukhari, Kitab Fada’il Ashab al Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, hadith (3697).
 Al Tirmidhi, Kitab al Manaqib, hadith (4018).
 Sahih al Bukhari, Kitab Manaqib al Ansar, hadith (3785); Sahih Muslim, Kitab Fada’il al Sahabah, hadith (2508).
 Al Kashshi (257); al Sunnah by ‘Abdullah ibn Ahmed (1312).
 Siyar A’lam al Nubala vol.17 pg.589.
 Not to be confused with Ahmed ibn ‘Ali ibn Hajar al ‘Asqalani [d. 852 A.H].
 Al Sawa’iq al Muhriqah pg. 640.
 Al Sawa’iq al Muhriqah pg. 640.
 Al Sawa’iq al Muhriqah pg. 406.
 Al Sawa’iq al Muhriqah pg. 435.
 Tafsir al Tha’labi vol.3 pg.163.