By Molana Muhammad Taha Karaan rahimahu Llah
The Ahlus Sunnah and Shia both share in taking the Qur’an as a source of religious legislation (tashri’), and despite the opinion of the Qur’an being tampered with being common among the Shia, they are nonetheless ordered to rely upon the Qur’an currently in our midst, until the Hidden Imam appears.
Likewise, just as both groups deem the Qur’an a source of religious legislation, they both rely upon the Sunnah, except that the Shia concept of Sunnah differs with that of the Ahlus Sunnah. We can disregard the finer distinction between the concepts of Sunnah according to each group, and for practical reasons, conclude that the Sunnah according to the Ahlus Sunnah is that which the hadith books of the Ahlus Sunnah comprise. At the forefront of these books are the Six Books—the two Sahihs and the four Sunan collections—and the Musnad and Mujam collections. On the other hand, the Sunnah according to the Shia is that which their Hadith sources comprise, the most important of them being the Four Books (Al Kutub Al Arba’ah): Al Kafi of al Kulayni; Man La Yahduruhu al Faqih of Al Saduq ibn Babuwayh; Tahdhib al Ahkam; and al Istibsar, both by Abu Jafar al Tusi.
Whatever the case, both groups claim they are exclusively upon the truth which was revealed to Muhammad salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, and that other groups besides them have erred from this truth, because they took the Sunnah from the wrong people and trusted unreliable sources which were distorted at the hands of fabricators. It was, hence, vital to carefully consider what each group considers a reliable source of religious legislation.
As the Qur’an is a common denominator for both groups, albeit at a superficial level, the only option was to look at the Sunnah and see which is the real Sunnah of Muhammad salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam: the Sunnah of the Ahlus Sunnah or that of the Imamiyyah Shia (Twelvers)? With this purpose in mind, we shall shed some light upon the Sunnah tradition according to the Shia.
And with Allah lies all success.
The core belief of the Imamiyyah is Imamah, the belief that Allah—the Most High—appointed twelve Imams after Muhammad salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam whose duty was to take charge of the heritage of the Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, and to protect and convey it; the Imam is the sole conveyor from the Messenger salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. And to ensure his conveying was sound from lapses or mistakes, Allah—the Most High—granted them inerrancy (‘Ismah), making them infallible (Ma’sum) Imams, conveying one after the other in a manner that is divinely-protected by Allah from every human deficiency.
This succession continued through twelve Imams, each Imam having students who recorded the Sunnah which they took from them. And why should they not record it, seeing that they are the inerrant Imams and custodians of the heritage of their grandfather, the Chosen One salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam? How can they not write on their authority, when they are the treasurers of the knowledge of Muhammad salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam; specifically appointed by Allah—the Most High—to convey on behalf of the Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam; with them are the Tawrah, Injil, and the Qur’an written by Amir al Mu’minin; their and their forefathers’ status is greater than that of the Prophets of Great Resolve (Ulu al ‘Azm); and every atom in the universe humbles itself before their power? For this reason, every Imam was the sole infallible authority, with respect to the Sunnah, in his lifetime, whereas others were merely narrators who were either right or who had erred.
Hence, whatever books the students of a particular Imam compiled during his lifetime, when a new Imam would take the former Imam’s place after his demise and become the new sole authority of the Sunnah, it left no need for what his father’s students had compiled.
Based on this, one would expect after a golden chain of infallible Imams, each with his own students who recorded the Sunnah from him, that the Sunnah of the followers of these Imams would all trace back through this chain: the Twelfth Imam, from his father, from his father, from his father, until it reaches ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib radiya Llahu ‘anhu from Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam.
A Shia poet has actually boasted about this:
If you wish to choose a school for yourself,
Which shall deliver you from the flames of the Fire on the Day of Gathering,
Leave the opinions of Shafi’i, Malik, Ibn Hanbal, and what Ka’b al Ahbar has related,
Take from people whose statements and narrations are: Our grandfather narrated from Jibril from the Creator.
Furthermore, the basis for the claim that the Sunnah in its entirety should be narrated through this golden chain is that Allah’s care towards the Shari’ah being soundly conveyed meant that He did not suffice upon average narrators to preserve the Shari’ah from being lost and to transmit it to future generations. Rather, Allah chose for this Ummah divinely-guided guides and infallible Imams. All of this was to ensure no mistake or lapse could seep into this great heritage. Thus, Allah was not going to let the Ummah depend on the narrations of human transmitters who were prone to human error and forgetfulness, as long as He had appointed for them those regarding whom none of the above was ever imaginable. This is the philosophy of infallibility (‘Ismah) which the Shia claim for their Imams.
After explaining the concept, we move towards the ground reality and turn to the Shia books of hadith, to examine the extent of conformance to this concept. At this point, we are left utterly surprised to realise we cannot find a single narration which has been related through this golden infallible chain.
Let us take a few chapters from Usul al Kafi as an example:
Chapter on the Incumbence of Obeying the Imams. There are seventeen hadiths in this chapter:
Although this is just one chapter, we chose it randomly upon opening the book, not through selection or browsing its pages. What the reader notices in the narrations of this chapter, namely that most of the chains converge at Imam al Sadiq and Imam al Baqir through the chains of their students and not the Imams from their progeny, is a phenomenon which is reflected throughout the book, and in fact, all four of their books.
If you find this issue surprising, what is more surprising is that there is not a single narration from the Twelfth Imam in al Kafi, despite al Kulayni being a contemporary of all four of his emissaries (safirs). Why does al Kulayni rely on secondary narrators when he is able to take the Sunnah from his contemporaries from Imam al Mahdi, who had only been given infallibility so he can convey “from his grandfather from Jibril from the Creator”?
And if this left you astonished, here is something which will surprise you even more: ‘Uthman ibn Sa’id al ‘Amri was the first emissary who benefitted from being in contact with the Hidden Imam; hence, he was by virtue of this contact, the best narrator from the Hidden Imam from his forefathers. Despite this, we do not find a single narration of his from the Twelfth Imam in the Four Books. In fact, not even from the eleventh Imam, whom he was known to have served. In Jami’ al Ruwat , al Ardabili mentions five of his chains in al Tahdhib and al Kafi, but none of them reach Hassan al ‘Askari [the eleventh Imam] or the Hidden Imam.
Below are these five chains:
This will definitely raise many questions in the reader’s mind. Did al ‘Amri not have any occupation besides amassing wealth and producing letters? Did al Kulayni, his contemporary in Baghdad, not find in these letters anything worthy of inclusion in his book? Was there nothing more to those letters besides cursing the accursed individuals who competed with al ‘Amri and his son to be emissaries of the Hidden Imam, and praising those emissaries who were entrusted with collecting the Khums and the share of the Imam?
Let us leave the father and move to the son, Muhammad ibn ‘Uthman, the second emissary who remained at this post for close to half a century. Al Ardabili tells us that Sheikh al Tusi has mentioned in al Fihrist that Muhammad [ibn ‘Uthman] ibn Sa’id did not narrate from any of the Imams, and this was by writing the symbol لم with his name. Fifty years, yet not a single narration from the Imam he claims to meet.
As for the single narration al Ardabili narrated from the third emissary, Abu al Qasim Hussain ibn Rawh al Nawbakhti, in al Tahdhib, it is by way of Abu al Qasim—from Muhammad ibn Ziyad—from Abu al Hashim al Jafari—from Imam al Jawwad.
The fourth emissary, Abu al Hassan al Samarri, is the most destitute among them in narration: no narration from him in the books of hadith nor any mention of him in the earlier biographical collections. According to Jami’ al Ruwat, his first listing as a narrator appears as late as Ibn Mutahhar’s eighth century list, al Khulasah.
It is established from what has passed that the infallible chain has not played—for the Shia—the role for which Allah had made it infallible. So we ask: if the authors of the Four Books did not rely upon this chain in acquiring the Sunnah, what did they rely upon? And if they did not take hadith directly from the Imams of the Ahlul Bayt, whom did they take it from? The answer to this has been briefly alluded to in some of what we mentioned previously, but now we shall answer in detail.
The sources from which these authors acquired the Sunnah are the books which the students of the Imams, in particular Imams al Baqir and al Sadiq, compiled. These books are known by the Shia as the Four Hundred Sources (al Usul al Arba’umi’ah). Sheikh al Saduq and Sheikh al Ta’ifah Abu Jafar al Tusi have, in a very lucid and satisfactory manner, explained to us that they rely upon these sources, as they do not quote any hadith in their books with their own complete chains of transmission, but rather the chain starts by mentioning the author of the particular relied-upon amongst the Four Hundred Sources. They have mentioned at the end of al Faqih [i.e., Man La Yahduruhu al Faqih], al Tahdhib, and al Istibsar the sheikhs through whom their chains trace back to the authors of the Four Hundred Sources, albeit some discrepancy in these chains of their teachers too. In short, their reliance upon these sources is true beyond any doubt.
As for al Kulayni, his methodology in narrating hadith is different to that of his two colleagues; he narrates the full chain from himself to the Imam. If this casts a doubt on al Kulayni’s reliance upon these sources, al Taqi al Majlisi has affirmed that al Kulayni is no different to Ibn Babawayh and al Tusi with respect to relying upon the Four Hundred Sources.
He says in his commentary of al Faqih, entitled Rawdat al Muttaqin.
It is apparent that the two Sheikhs transmitted everything in the two books from the Four Hundred Sources, upon which the True Sect relies, as stated by al Saduq. The same is understood from the words of Thiqat al Islam [al Kulayni].
To emphasise further, we relate what one of the eminent Shia scholars said in this regard. Al Shahid al Thani Zayn al Din al ‘Amili says in his book, al Dirayah:
The earlier scholars compiled the hadiths which had reached them from our Imams—may Allah’s peace be upon them—into four hundred books they named the Sources (al Usul) and upon which they relied, such as the Asl of Jamil ibn Darraj, the Asl of Zurarah, and so forth. Some of our elders embarked on compiling and sequencing them into specific books, to make them more accessible to the reader. The best of them are the Four Books which are relied upon in this era. They are al Kafi of Muhammad ibn Yaqub al Kulayni (d. 329 A.H), in which he gathered different types of hadith; Man La Yahduruhu al Faqih of Abu Jafar Muhammad ibn ‘Ali ibn Babawayh al Qummi (d. 381 A.H), in which he gathered the hadiths of rulings from the Sources; and al Tahdhib and al Istibsar of Sheikh Abu Jafar Muhammad ibn al Hassan al Tusi (d. 460 A.H) in which he also gathered just hadiths of rulings.
Hence, the reliance of the authors of the Four Books on the Four Hundred Sources and their taking therefrom is an undisputed matter.
Let us now move to defining the period in which the Four Hundred Sources were compiled. Here too, Shia scholars have saved us the difficulty of investigating the matter.
Al Mamaqani states in Miqbas al Hidayah fi ‘Ilm al Dirayah:
It is commonly stated by the scholars, rather in their books too, that the Four Hundred Sources were compiled in the era of our master al Sadiq ‘alayh al Salam according to some, or in the era of both (i.e. al Baqir and al Sadiq) according to another, or in the era of al Sadiq and al Kazim ‘alayhima al Salam as mentioned by al Tusi in I’lam al Wara, where he says: “Four thousand people among the renowned people of knowledge narrated from al Sadiq ‘alayh al Salam. Four hundred famous books were compiled from his answers to questions, known as al Usul, and which were narrated by his students and the students of his son, Musa ‘alayh al Salam.”
One who has read the beginning of this article must note the connection between what al Mamaqani has mentioned here, on the authority of al Tabarsi, and the chapter of al Kafi which we presented as an example.
It is clearly established from what has already passed that with respect to the Sunnah, the Shia rely on their books, the most important of them being the Four Books, just as it is established that these books trace their origins back to the Four Hundred Sources, and that these four hundred compilations appeared in the era of Imam al Sadiq, his father al Baqir, and his son al Kazim.
From this point we move to another very critical phenomenon, which is the issue of inconsistency in Shia hadith. However, before going to the depths of this discussion, we would like to digress by postulating another issue, namely that these sources should enjoy a high level of credibility and authenticity. This is because it is supposed that their authors compiled them in light of what they took from the Imams, and at times they would also present these books to them. For this reason, reliance upon these books was widespread amongst the early Shia scholars.
The first Majlisi [the father of Baqir al Majlisi] says in his Sharh al Faqih:
Undoubtedly, the reliance of our early scholars was on the books narrated by the reliable companions of the Imams… They recorded what they heard from them in their books, and these books were authentic according to the scholars.
This is what also prompted the authors of the Four Books to place uncritical reliance upon the Four Hundred Sources.
Ibn Babawayh said in the introduction to al Faqih:
I wrote this book by removing the chains, so that its paths of transmission are not too many… Everything contained in it has been extracted from renowned books which are relied upon and which are referred back to.
Thus, he had every right to say in the preface to his book that he will only include in the book that which he agrees with, affirms as authentic, and considers a proof (hujjah) between him and his Lord.
Likewise, al Tusi paid great attention to giving preference to and reconciling between differing hadiths. However, you will rarely see him preferring one hadith over the other due to one being weak.
It is also clear from al Kulayni’s preface that he trusts what he has narrated in his book. He addresses the person who requested him to compile the book as follows:
And you said you would like to have a book which suffices, gathering therein from all branches of religious knowledge that which the student can suffice upon, and to which a seeker of guidance can refer, and from which he may take who seeks knowledge of the religion and wishes to act upon authentic narrations of the truthful ‘alayh al Salam and practiced sunan… And Allah made easy, and to Him belongs praise and favour, compiling what you asked. I hope it is as you anticipated.
Moreover, when the Four Hundred Sources were trusted, it is only logical that we should find therein the knowledge of the family of Muhammad salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, pure and impeccable, and harmonious without any crookedness or discrepancy, as “had it been from other than Allah, they would have found much discrepancy therein”. It was also expected that the Four Books, due to their content being taken from the Four Hundred Sources, will reflect the same harmony and consistency.
However, what the reader of these books will encounter is something starkly different. What you will find when looking into them is discrepancy in its most ugly form. If you think I have fallen into this extreme mode of expression due to becoming a victim of bias, listen with me to what al Tusi said in the beginning of his book, al Tahdhib, immediately after praising Allah and sending blessings on the Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam:
One of my friends amongst those whose right upon me is binding—may Allah support him—discussed with me the hadiths of our people—may Allah support them and have mercy on the predecessors among them—and the difference, incongruity, contradiction, and disparity which has occurred in them, to the extent that rarely will there be a narration except that in opposition to it, there is that which contradicts it, and no hadith is safe from being opposed by that which negates it. Our opponents have made this one of the biggest attacks on our school and have used this as a route to nullify our creed. They said, “Your sheikhs, from the predecessors and the successors, have always criticised their opponents for the differences they follow, and they vilify them over disunity in subsidiary matters, mentioning that it is impermissible for a person of wisdom to adopt this as a religion, and for a person of knowledge to allow this to be practiced. However, we have found you to differ even more than your opponents and to conflict with each other more than your adversaries. The existence of this difference on your part, despite your believing this to be falsehood, is a proof of the invalidity of the source.” This reached the extent that doubts crept into a group of them who are not strong in knowledge nor do they have insight into the modes of contemplation and meanings of words. Many of them retracted from the truth when the reason behind this [i.e. this difference] was unclear to them and they were unable to solve the doubt therein. I heard my Sheikh, Abu ‘Abdullah [al Mufid]—may Allah support him—mention that Abu al Hussain al Haruni al ‘Alawi used to believe the truth and follow the belief of Imamah. However, he retracted from it when the matter of differences in hadith became confusing for him. He left the school and practiced something else, when the different meanings therein were not clear to him.
It was this phenomenon of gross and ubiquitous discrepancy that spurred Sheikh al Tusi to compile al Tahdhib. Once his book al Tahdhib became renowned, some asked him to separately compile the hadiths in which there was discrepancy. Hence, he wrote his second book al Istibsar, whose full name al Istibsar fi ma ukhtulifa min al Akhbar (Contemplating the narrations in which there is discrepancy) discloses its real essence. Specifying two books amongst four books of hadith, due to inconsistency in the texts, is the clearest proof of the true extent of this discrepancy. However, we cannot stop here out of astonishment, but rather pose another bitter question: what could the cause of this unsightly discrepancy be, which was condemned by this group among the Imamiyyah, whose disavowing of Imamiyyah Shi’ism and its beliefs was lamented by al Tusi? This is where the heart of the matter lies.
As a preface to uncovering this secret, I would like readers to imagine the following scene: a man is sat with us, and surrounding him are a group of people who are speaking in his name, except that they are all essentially lying and fabricating against him what he did not say. Each one of them is speaking independently of the other, without them conspiring amongst themselves to achieve a uniform statement. Even if this unification occurs at times, it is non-existent for the majority of the time. So I ask you in the name of Allah: is it not natural that there will be discrepancy and inconsistency between what these liars all say in the name of this one person?
Take into consideration how many liars had gathered around the Imams of the Ahlul Bayt, to the extent that Imam al Sadiq said, “Not a single one of us (Imams of the Ahlul Bayt) is safe from liars.” Consider the extent to which these narrators were affiliated to extremist sects, regarding whom Imam al Sadiq said, “Amongst them are those who lie, to the extent that even Satan is in need of their lies.” Also consider the fact that a number of the authors of the Four Hundred Sources were of heterodox belief.
Al Mamaqani states:
Al Mawla al Wahid related from his maternal uncle, al Majlisi (the second), and also his grandfather al Majlisi (the first) that being an author of one of the Sources is amongst the causes of excellence, but he himself scrutinised this, considering that many of the authors of the Sources had adopted incorrect beliefs, albeit their books are reliable, as clearly stated at the beginning of al Fihrist.
Thereafter, al Mamaqani presents ‘Ali ibn Abi Hamzah al Bata’ini as an example, who wrote many books and a complete commentary of the Qur’an, except that Ibn Faddal said about him, “A liar, accused [of lying], accursed… I do not consider it lawful to relate even one hadith from him.”
If you consider all of this, it will become totally clear to you, Allah willing, that this huge heritage which the Shia boastfully attribute towards the Imams from the family of Muhammad salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam is nothing but a caricature of what Allah said: So woe to those who write the ‘scripture’ with their own hands, then say, “This is from Allah,” in order to exchange it for a small price. Woe to them for what their hands have written and woe to them for what they earn.
And if you want proof for this, look for it in the principle which Allah Most High informed us of when He said, “If it had been from [any] other than Allah, they would have found within it much contradiction.”
And if you want to find out the identity of those who are accused of this great lie, look at what al Mamaqani said:
It is commonly stated by the scholars, rather in their books too, that the Four Hundred Sources were compiled in the era of our master al Sadiq ‘alayh al Salam according to some, or in the era of both Sadiqs ‘alayhima al Salam (i.e., al Baqir and al Sadiq) according to another, or in the era of al Sadiq and al Kazim ‘alayhima al Salam.
Having read this, you will now hopefully realise:
When you see al Kulayni turn away from narrating the hadith of the Ahlul Bayt through the chain of Imam al Mahdi—from Imam al ‘Askari—from Imam al Hadi—from Imam al Jawwad—from Imam al Rida—from Imam al Kazim—from Imam al Sadiq; but you see he is very happy to acquire the Sunnah from ‘Ali ibn Ibrahim al Qummi—from Ahmed ibn Muhammad al Barqi—from ‘Ali ibn al Hakam—from ‘Ali ibn Abi Hamzah al Bata’ini—from Abu Basir—from al Sadiq; then know the secret behind this and do not be from the absentminded!
We ask Allah to protect our religion for us.
All praise belongs to Allah in the beginning and the end. May Allah bless and send peace on our leader Muhammad, his family and his companions.
 In light of the many Shia narrations which state the Qur’an was tampered with and is currently not in its original form.
 Also known as the Ithna ‘Ashariyyah, or Twelvers.
 i.e. the previous Imam.
 Usul al Kafi, vol. 1 pg. 108.
 It was believed that the Hidden Imam had emissaries who met him and relayed messages on his behalf to the people, after he went into hiding.
 It is appropriate to mention that I came across this point when I heard a Shia say that al Bukhari deviated from the Ahlul Bayt, as he had abandoned narrating from Imam Hassan al ‘Askari, despite being his contemporary. I researched the matter and said to him, “If this proves that al Bukhari was a Nasibi [an opponent of the Ahlul Bayt], al Kulayni is the greatest Nasibi.” It then became clear to me that this objection stems from ‘Abdul Hussain in al Muraja’at. (Molana Taha Karaan rahimahu Llah).
 Jami’ al Ruwat, vol. 1 pg. 533.
 Letters claimed to be from the Hidden Imam and sent to the Shia via al ‘Amri.
 A substantial tax collected on behalf of the Imam
 Jami’ al Ruwat, vol. 2, pg. 148. لم was a symbol to denote there are no narrations from him.
 Jami’ al Ruwat, vol. 1 pg. 240.
 Al Tahdhib, vol. 6 pg. 93.
 Jami’ al Ruwat, vol. 1 pg. 598.
 Rawdat al Muttaqin, vol. 1 pg. 28.
 Al Dirayah, pg. 7.
 Miqbas al Hidayah, vol. 3 pg. 20.
 Rawdat al Muttaqin, vol. 1 pg. 130.
 Al Faqih, vol. 1 pg. 12.
 Al Kafi, vol. 1 pg. 49.
 Al Tahdhib, vol. 1 pg. 2.
 Miqbas al Hidayah, vol. 2 pg. 403.
 Miqbas al Hidayah, vol. 3 pg. 33.
 Jami’ al Ruwat, vol. 1 pg. 547.
 Surah al Baqarah: 79.
 Surah al Nisa’: 82.
 Rawdat al Muttaqin, vol. 1 pg. 130.