Shi`i Narrator Criticism – A Critical Study of Ibn al Mutahhar al-Hilli and Abu l-Qasim al-Khu’i – COMPLETE (06-04-2022)
September 16, 2020
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

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The Difficulty, Significance and Objectives of this Study

This study comprises the science of hadith transmitter criticism (‘ilm al jarh wa al ta’dil) according to the Imami Shia. It is based on the works of two of their leading authorities, namely al Hassan ibn Yusuf ibn al Mutahhar al Asadi al Hilli’s Khulasat al Aqwal Fi Ma’rifat al Rijal and Abu al Qasim al Musawi al Khu’i’s Mujam Rijal al Hadith. Furthermore, a comparative analysis between their respective methodological approaches will also be included, as well as a discussion underscoring their respective areas of agreement and disagreement.

The reason for restricting this study to the above-mentioned works only is because their views signify the vast majority of issues concomitant to the science of al jarh wa al ta’dil as understood by the Imamiyyah. Additionally, I have restricted myself to both al Hilli and al Khu’i for the following reasons:

  1. According to several scholars of the Imami Shia, Ibn al Mutahhar al Hilli is regarded as the first person to categorize hadith into sahih (authentic), muwaththaq (trustable), hassan (fair), and da’if (weak). According to them, this is referred to taqsim al hadith, or hadith classification.

This study will be restricted to his work Khulasat al Aqwal because it clearly demonstrates al Hilli’s approach to the science, as well as an elucidation of the normative principles he sets himself out upon—even though he violates them on numerous occasions. Additionally, his work is among the first exclusively dedicated dictionaries of transmitter evaluation (kutub al rijal) after the phase of hadith classification in the seventh century.

  1. As for al Khu’i, he is considered one of the last to write a dictionary of transmitter evaluation in the present-day. His work consists of twenty-four volumes; and not only is he a leading authority of the Usuli school, but he is also one of the latter-day proponents of hadith classification.

Al Khu’i stands out because he boldly challenges the status quo of his predecessors—including al Hilli in several places. Furthermore, al Khu’i is seen as a prominent figure for many modern-day hadith scholars of the Imami tradition. His methodological approach has had a great impact within several academic circles of the Shia in the present-day. This fact can be evidenced by the statements of his students who have themselves critically edited several authoritative works of the Imami legal school.

(As mentioned previously), this study will (also) include a comparative analysis between their respective methodologies and a discussion underscoring the areas upon which they agree and disagree.


Significance of the Study

The research presented in this work comes at a time in which the unmitigated attacks against Islam’s leading figures have intensified, with the Companions of the Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam at the forefront. Through the media, dilettantes and self-proclaimed Muslims continue to needle doubts and raise suspicions about them. They incessantly launch attacks and cast aspersions against this generation; doing so in the name of academic inquiry, as characterized by the principles of al jarh wa al ta’dil. While attacks against the Companions radiya Llahu ‘anhum precipitate, many individuals, who according to classical scholars are considered heterodoxical and unreliable, are sold as trustworthy and upright. Such individuals appear (again) under the banner of academic inquiry, as characterized by the principles of al jarh wa al ta’dil.

Therefore, this study comes to investigate the reality of these principles and whether the Imamiyyah have objectively applied them to their transmitters of hadith. The critical and empirical analysis will come to show a rather immethodical approach in the Imamiyyah scholars’ criticism of reports and transmitters. At the same time, the astute methodical approach of the Ahlus Sunnah wa al Jama’ah—irrespective of whether they form part of the early or later generation of scholars—will reveal itself when comparatively analyzed with the statements of the Imami scholars, at the head being Ibn al Mutahhir al Hilli and Abu al Qasim al Khu’i. “Things are known by their opposites,” as the saying goes.


Core Areas of Research

The following areas will be covered in the study:

  • The extent to which al Hilli and al Khu’i adhere to their principles of al jarh wa al ta’dil; and the respective application thereof to the Companions of the Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and their reliable transmitters who transmit from the infallible Imams, according to the Imami Shia. Also, the extent of al Hilli and al Khu’i’s impartiality in the principles’ application to their transmitters.
  • The motives behind the origins of these principles and the reason as to why they are so many in number.
  • The effect that results from the different methodologies of al Hilli and al Khu’i on issues related to hadith transmitters.
  • A study of the reasons which lead to the findings upon which the scholar of transmitters’ (al ‘alim al rijali) bases his rulings; without simply focusing on the linguistics of the terms associated with al jarh wa al ta’dil. Rather, a study of the reason and principles which lead to either a transmitter being deemed reliable, or a rejection of his narration; without delving into the linguistic meanings of (words such as) thiqah and da’if.

For example, the transmitter (in question) happens to be an agent (wakil) of an infallible Imam. The question then arises, does the act of agency (wakalah) signify the agent’s reliability (as a hadith transmitter)?

Or, the fact that an infallible Imam supplicated for a particular individual. Does this supplication by the infallible Imam denote his reliability (as a hadith transmitter)?

  • Do these principles of al jarh wa al ta’dil which they formulated have any practical value, or are they merely applied theoretically with no real consequences therefrom?
  • The extent to which al Khu’i relies on his predecessors tawthiqat, or positive gradings (of transmitters), and the impact it has had on his overall methodological approach of al jarh wa al ta’dil.


Part of the objectives of this work is an overall critical analysis of the science of al jarh wa al ta’dil according to the Imamiyyah Shia. Also, to ask the question: do the Shia actually possess their own dedicated sciences to al jarh wa al ta’dil?

With the divine strength of Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala, this study will attempt to answer these—and several other—questions in view of these two authoritative figures.

The methodological framework in this study will be (as previously mentioned) entirely empirical and will comprise a comparative analysis between Ibn al Mutahhir al Hilli’s al Khulasah and al Khu’i’s Mujam Rijal al Hadith, as well as a critical analysis of their respective methodologies.


Previous Research

Vis-à-vis their many writings, scholars from both the early and later generations have continued providing responses to the people of bid’ah (innovation), in particular, the Imami Shia. However, these works—which I have chronologically divided into three periods—can effectively be described as follows:


1. The Early Period

The writings of the early generation of scholars are largely characterized in non-specifics. Scholars during this period did not write specific treatises concerning the Twelvers. However, this was not due to their negligence thereof. Rather, mention of the Shia (during this time) would merely be incidental, similar to how biographical works would mention when discussing certain transmitters. For example, when such a transmitter is described as a ‘liar’, or with the term ‘rafd’.

Similarly, when transmitters are described as having ascribed to the creed of the Imamiyyah and the belief of infallibility—which they incessantly dispute with the entire Ummah. Or, when they excommunicate the Sahabah radiya Llahu ‘anhum, curse the pious predecessors, believe in the interpolation (Tahrif) of the Qur’an, or even believe in the concepts of raj’ah[1] and bada[2].

One of the first people to categorically write on the Twelvers was al Hafiz Abu Nuaim al Asbahani (d. 430 A.H) in his work al Imamah wa al Radd ‘ala al Rafidah. The central theme of the book is precisely as its name suggests: Imamah and the differences related therein. Again, this period was not characterized with having produced much details. Perhaps this was on account of the sheer lack of works by the Shia themselves at that time. Or, because of the early generation’s indifferences with them, and the fact that they were undeserving of having their time wasted with the likes of such people. Not a single scholar from the early generation described in detail their principles of hadith for the simple reason that they were only developed (much) later on.


2. The Pre-modern Period

Writings following the early generation and prior to the latter-day period, such as in the time of Ibn Taymiyyah, al Dhahabi, and Ibn Hajar al ‘Asqalani. Here, the writings began detailing the issues of disagreement more than before. The early generation of scholars wrote in general terms. Thereafter, scholars came and gained benefit from whatever they stated, and at the same time, also began incorporating the writings of the Imami Shia scholars. For example, it reads under the biography of ‘Ali ibn Ibrahim Abu al Hassan al Muhammadi: “(He was a) staunch Rafidi. He has a Tafsir that contains calamitous information.”[3]

The likes of this prove the scholars were aware of their works after their dissemination. The scholars in this time did not mention any of the hadith sciences of the Imamiyyah for the simple fact that they were not (considered) of the people of hadith and isnad. Ibn Taymiyyah specifically alludes to this fact in his confutation of Ibn al Mutahhir al Hilli (as will be explained later in this study). He writes:

If one of them were asked to produce an authentic, sound report regarding ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu or someone else, they would be unable to do so. They do not possess the expertise of isnad nor the transmitters (of hadith) as the Ahlus Sunnah do.[4]


He also states:

With regards to the transmitters of (general) knowledge and narrators of hadiths and reports, they are unable to distinguish between the transmitter who is a known liar, or commits serious mistakes, or is unaware of what he transmits, and the transmitter who is precise, an expert, and upright, known to possess knowledge of prophetic reports.[5]


3. The Modern Period

Writings of the modern period that are characterized as having reaped (the benefits of) everything the earlier scholars sowed. They benefited greatly from their scholarly predecessors in relation to the numerous sects—among them the Imami Shia. However, they did not deviate much from the set course of their predecessors in the nature of the subject matter—the areas that are considered areas of disagreement between the Sunnis and Shia (as mentioned previously).

Most of the issues revolve around Imamah and what results therefrom, including the issue of Qur’anic interpolation, excommunication of the Sahabah, infallibility (of the Imams), and other such issues which are stated in the creedal works of the of Imamiyyah. I have personally come across approximately one hundred and fifty refutational works authored by the Ahlus Sunnah against the Imamiyyah.

Unfortunately, I have rarely found Sunni works dedicated to the hadith sciences according to the Imami Shia. Mention of this subject-matter is merely incidental, as will be explained in detail shortly. What is important to note is the fact that whatever has been written regarding the sciences of hadith has been in a very broad sense. The term ‘Sunnah’ is defined according to the Shia, and their works of hadith, popular dictionaries of transmitter evaluation, and famous transmitters who have been subject to criticism have been enlisted. However, I have not come across—to the best of my knowledge—someone who has discussed the principles of al jarh wa al ta’dil in such a detailed manner as these pages will soon explain.

Among the Ahlus Sunnah, the following scholars have written on the subject of hadith. At times, the author alludes to some of the principles of al jarh wa al ta’dil.


  1. Ma’a al Ithna ‘Ashariyyah fi al Usul wa al Furu’ (Dar al Fadilah, Riyadh; Dar al Thaqafah, Qatar – 2003), written by ‘Ali al Salus. This is a very beneficial work. The author provides an overview of the Imami Shia school in terms of both their roots and branches (usul and furu’), as well as a comparative analysis between the Sunnis and Shia in every chapter. The section of concern to us is related to the sciences of Hadith. In terms of the Imami Shia’s general definition of the hadith sciences, it is one of the most excellent works written. However, when it comes to the chapter of al jarh wa al ta’dil according to the Shia, he records their account of criticisms leveled at the (famous) Imams of the Muslims and their books written on the subject. This is done without any reference to the reasoning behind such criticisms and the principles upon which they formulated hadith transmitter criticism, or al jarh wa al ta’dil. At the end of the book the author cites a number of accusations leveled at the noble Companions radiya Llahu ‘anhum by al Khu’i. However, he does not refer to any of their principles related to al jarh wa al ta’dil.


  1. Mukhtasar al Tuhfah al Ithna ‘Ashariyyah (published by Hussain Hilmi Sa’id Istanbuli – 1979), by Mahmud Shukri al Alusi. This work is primarily centered on defining the Imami Shia, their denominations, and their creedal beliefs regarding Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala and the prophets. He also gets into several issues of disagreement between the Sunnis and Shia and provides an excellent refutation in favour of the Ahlus Sunnah. There are a number of reservations against the book; however, it does not discredit the academic value found therein. Despite its brevity, it contains a number of unique benefits. May Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala reward the (original) author and its abridger with the best of reward.

In chapter two, the author discusses the classification of reports according to the Shia, the credibility of their transmitters, and the tabaqat (classes) of their predecessors. He also briefly mentions the sciences of hadith according to them. To the best of my knowledge, he is the first to speak in detail about some of their principles of al jarh wa al ta’dil. He states:

They have authenticated the narrations of individuals who the infallible Imam supplicated against, with the statements such as, “May Allah disgrace him,” and, “May Allah kill him,” or, “May Allah curse him.” Or, he (i.e. the infallible Imam) judged a person’s beliefs to be false, or by dissociating himself from him.

They also authenticated the reports of the Mushabbihah, the Mujassimah, and (the reports) of those who permit the concept of bada’ in relation to Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala. This, even though such acts are akin to disbelief. Furthermore, the riwayah (transmission) of a disbeliever is unacceptable, let alone it being considered authentic. Their ‘adalah (uprightness) is of no value by them, even though they mention it in the definition of an authentic hadith. This is because the disbeliever, from inception, is not considered upright (‘adl).[6]

These finer points from the author highlight his cognizance of their dictionaries of transmitter evaluation (kutub al rijal) and their usages of these principles.


  1. Al Shia wa al Sunnah (Dar al Imam al Mujaddid (first edition) – 2005), written by Ihsan Ilahi Zahir. The author is one of the most knowledgeable people about the specifics of this school. He quotes extensively from both their primary and secondary sources, in all the languages they were written in. He was proficient in several languages, including Arabic, Urdu, Persian, and English, thereby making his books invaluable. However, in most of his works—including this one—he only addresses the contradictions in their transmitter criticism and their incompetence thereof in general terms, without mentioning any of the principles upon which they rely. Instead, he only cites examples of a few transmitters. This is contrary to his customary, more thorough approach in the other issues, all of which remain controversial among the two groups.


  1. Usul Mazhab al Shia (Dar al Rida Publications – 1998), written by Nasir al Qafari. This is the most well-known and widely available work to date. The amount of effort the author expended in scrutinizing the opinions—both in terms of their furu’ (branches) and usul (roots)—of the Shia is self-evident. However, when he addresses the sciences of hadith, he does so pursuant to the subject-matter of his work—the general framework (usul) of the Twelvers. Therefore, he speaks in non-specifics about their beliefs regarding the Sunnah, as well as their opinion of prophetic reports transmitted by Sunni transmitters, their seminal works, and their method of reconciliation in dealing with contradictory reports. He also mentions their approach to dealing with transmitters—the theme of this present work—in a general manner. However, he only discussed the excuse of Taqiyyah as proffered by the Shia scholars. This despite his encyclopedic knowledge, and the fact that Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala assisted him in both traversing unchartered territories (terra incognita) and quoting from (their) primary sources, he did not, however, explain the principles of al jarh wa al ta’dil according to them.

Another important discussion he deals with in this work, and his other work entitled Mas’alat al Taqrib bayn Ahlus Sunnah wa al Shia, is that of rapprochement between the Ahlus Sunnah and the Shia. Although the issue is important, he very much echoes sentiments similar to people of the past; and, in doing so, he abridges much of the discussion.


  1. Rijal al Shia fi al Mizan, written by ‘Abdur Rahman al Zar’i. This is an excellent work in the Though small in size, the author mentions the most reliable narrators according to the Imami Shia. He also explains their status as transmitters, in addition to their criticisms of the Ahlul Bayt and vice-versa. He also refutes the Shia scholar ‘Abdul Hussain Sharaf al Musawi in his work al Muraja’at (which is being circulated as gospel!); who lauds a number of transmitters of the Shia despite him knowing full well they have been subject to serious criticism.

The author of Ruwat al Akhbar heavily relies on this work; however, he does not discuss any issues of al jarh wa al ta’dil according to the Imamiyyah since it falls outside of the subject matter. The work is mostly an exposition of the transmitters who have been subjected to criticism, as I alluded to. He did a wonderful job—Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala grant him success!


  1. Ruwat al Akhbar ‘an al A’immah al Athar, written by Muhammad al Sadiq (first edition – 2006). This work is dedicated to the science of hadith according to the Imami The author offers an overview of several issues, including: the sciences of hadith, the classification of hadith and the status of both their transmitters and works—which transmit from the infallibles (according to them), its development, and their methodology pertaining to transmitters. However, he does not explain the principles of al jarh wa al ta’dil according to them in a detailed manner. It is important to note that the author, despite mentioning numerous beneficial points which have not been mentioned before, unduly quotes from his predecessors. For example, he quotes from Mukhtasar al Tuhfah al Ithna ‘Ashariyyah. At times, he references it, and other times, he does not. Similarly, he quotes a clip from ‘Uthman al Khamis entitled “Zawaj al Mut’ah (Temporary Marriage)” without referencing it. He does this with others as well without referencing the original sources. This is an objectionable act from the author.


  1. Akhbar al Shia wa Ahwal Ruwatiha, written by Muhammad Shukri al Alusi. The author relied heavily upon Mukhtasar al Tuhfah al Ithna ‘Ashariyyah. Why wouldn’t he? He summarized it. In this work, the author discusses the division of hadith according to the Imami Thereafter, he expounds on the sources of the Shari’ah, which are four, namely: 1. Kitab (i.e. the Qur’an), 2. Khabar (i.e. prophetic report(s)), 3. Ijma’ (consensus), and 4. ‘Aql (rational faculty).

Next, he addresses the tabaqat (classes) of Shia transmitters. According to him, the first class includes ‘Abdullah ibn Saba’; he is enlisted among the mustafidin (a high-ranking transmitter) in their school of thought. The second class includes several people of the hypocrites weak in faith. These include the killers of ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu. The followers of al Hassan radiya Llahu ‘anhu form part of the fourth class of transmitters. He continues mentioning these classes until he reaches the seventh: those who claim to have enjoyed the company of the Imams and received knowledge from them. This, even though the Imams declared them disbelievers and considered them liars. The author then explains their respective statuses. However, he does not deal with any of their issues related to al jarh wa al ta’dil.


Most of these studies are similar in nature and reference one another. Also, all of them are late developments since the early generation of scholars did not write on the subject. I have already explained the reason for this.

These works usually contain the riwayat (transmissions) wherein senior-ranking transmitters from the Imamiyyah are criticized, such as Zurarah, Jabir al Ju’fi, Abu Basir, and other senior transmitters. Furthermore, their opinions regarding the Sunnah are scrutinized along with their works on hadith and dictionaries of transmitter evaluation.

These are the works I have come across by the Ahlus Sunnah wa al Jama’ah regarding this subject.

I ask Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala to rectify any insufficiencies.


NEXT⇒ 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

[1] Raj’ah: The Shia belief that the Imams and others will be brought back to life and return to this world before the Day of Qiyamah. [Translator’s note]

[2] Bada’: The Shia doctrine that Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala only learns of things after they occur, thus forcing Him to change His Will, Allah forbid. [Translator’s note]

[3] Ibn Hajar al ‘Asqalani: Lisan al Mizan.

[4] Ibn Taymiyyah: Minhaj al Sunnah al Nabawiyyah, 3/505.

[5] Ibid, 1: 8.

[6] Mahmud Shukri al Alusi: Mukhtasar al Tuhfah al Ithna ‘Ashariyyah, pg. 48.