As we know, a few years after the formation of theoretical and scientific foundations of Shi‘a thought, Imam Sādiq (a) expounded the doctrines of Twelvers in a well-reasoned and demonstrated way on different subjects of theology, the Qur’ānic exegesis, jurisprudence, hadith, history, and ethics in an appropriate schedule through courses, discussions, and responses to the questions.
Thereafter, public attention shifted more toward the Household of the Prophet (s) and the Abbasid oppressive rulers were very afraid of this and sought to halt the promotion of these ideas and movements. Operating a constant strict policy to prevent devotion to the Imams from spreading, they kept the Imams (a) under control causing these severe and treacherous actions to increase to an extent that they finally ended in the occultation of the Imam Mahdi (aj).
The Shi‘a sought to revive and promote the Imams’ (a) hadiths during the Age of Occultation. In that strained political atmosphere, they wrote some books in which they described the characteristics of the Twelver Shi‘a system of thought and practice.
Shaykh Kulayni1 was among the key individuals in reviving Twelver Shi‘a principles. In the heavy atmosphere of ‘Abbasid despotism, Shaykh Kulayni seriously engaged himself in gathering traditions and hadiths on different theoretical and practical issues. The book of his compilations, called Al-Kāfī, became the source of a great movement. Being inspired by this rich source of Shi‘a knowledge, Shi‘ites made efforts to resist against injustice and form some just governments at appropriate times.
Due to this great work, Ibn Athīr (Muhammad Jazarī), the brother of the author of Al-kāmil fi al-Tārīkh, counted him as the reviver (mujaddid) of the Twelver Shi‘a in the early fourth century after considering the eighth Imam (a) as the reviver of the second century.2
In his book Tabsīrah, Ibn Hajar ‘Asqalāni wrote:
Abu Ja‘far Muhammad ibn Ya‘qūb Kulaynī is among the major Shi‘a scholars during the time of Muqtadir and his name is attributed to the region "Kulayn", a village in Iraq.3
The Shi‘a began their effective and long-lasting political-scientific role with Al-Kāfī and it was followed up in the school of Sheikh Sadūq whose broad activities and valuable works helped some scholars such as Shaykh Mufīd, Sayyid Murtadhā, and Sayyid Radhiyy in taking big steps in promoting Shi‘a beliefs.
Around the time of Imam Mahdi’s birth (aj), Kulayni was born in Kulayn village4 in Fashāfuya, a suburb of Rey during the caliphate of the ‘Abbasid Mu‘tamid. His educational status and teachings are among the unknown aspects of his life. His masters were scholars from Qum, Rey, Kūfa, and Baghdad; but where and how he learned from them and how he passed elementary education are not clear.
Kulayni was the leader and religious authority of the Shi‘ites in Rey. He resided in Baghdad and began to circulate hadiths there. During the time of the ‘Abbasid Muqtadir, Kulayni was the head of the Twelver jurists in secret.
He was alive at the time of the Special Agents. As written in his introduction of Al-Kāfī, he wrote the book due to the request of one of the great Shi‘a authorities whose name is unknown. He was a pious jurist scholar who was known for his authenticity in narrating hadiths.
From all statements of Kashshī in Rijāl and Muhaddith Neyshāburī in Monyat al-Murtād and Mullā Khalīl Qazvīnī in his Farsi commentary on Al-Kāfī, it is inferred that Kulaynī compiled Al-Kāfī in Baghdad.5 According to Najāshi, Kulaynī spent twenty years compiling this great collection.6
This book was taught and used as a source of religious principles for several centuries and many commentaries and annotations were written on it such as Mir‘āt al-‘Uqūl by ‘Allāmah Majlisī and Wāfi as a commentary on Al-Kāfī by Faydh Kāshānī.
Kulayni was the first Twelver narrator of hadith who gathered and classified hadiths, as well as offered an explanation for them. Until his time, the Four Hundred Books of Principles (Usul Arbi‘ahmi’ah) of the companions of the Imams were common sources.
Kulayni narrated from Sa‘d ibn ‘Abdullah Ash‘arī, Hamīd ibn Ziyād Neynawā’ī, ‘Abdullah ibn Ja‘far Humayrī, ‘Ali ibn Ja‘far Humayrī, ‘Ali ibn Ibrāhīm Qummī who wrote the well-known commentary of the Qur‘an, and ‘Allān Kulaynī, his maternal uncle who was a scholar of his time.7
Throughout Islamic history, each one of the eminent Shi‘a scholars benefited from this excellent book and commented on its greatness and importance. The following are some of the comments.
I Sheikh Mufid says:
Al-Kāfi is the greatest Shi‘a religious book and the most beneficial of them.8
II In addition to giving permission of narration to Ibn Khāzin, Muhammad ibn Makki, the First Martyr (shahid-e awwal), says:
Al-Kāfi is a book of hadith prior to which the Twelvers had not written a similar one.
III Muhaqqiq Karaki, Ali ibn ‘Abd al-‘Āli in the letter of permission to Qādhi afiyy al-Dīn ‘Īsā says:
Al-Kāfi is a great book of hadith, similar to which nothing has ever been written. This book includes topics such as religious laws, hadiths, and religious secrets which would not be found in any other books.9
IV Mulla Muhsin Faydh Kāshānī says:
Al-Kāfi is the most honourable, authentic, complete, and inclusive of all books which consists of the principles and is void of superfluous matters or faults.
V Allamah Mohammad Baqir Majlisī says:
Al-Kāfi is the best organized and the most comprehensive book about principles and it is the best writings of Shī‘ites.
VI Ayatollah Wahīd Bihbahānī says:
Kulayni travelled to different places and spent twenty years in order to compile Al-Kāfi. He was a devoted collector of Imams' works.10
Among the advantages of Al-Kāfi is that it was compiled during the time of the Specifically Appointed Deputies (al-Nuwwāb al-Arbi‘ah) of Imam Mahdi (a). For example, Sayyid ibn āwūs makes the remark that Kulayni's works were compiled in the time of the Specifically Appointed Deputies of Imam Mahdi (a).11
Kulayni narrated hadith from great scholars such as: Abu ‘Ali, Ahmad ibn Idrīs ibn Ahmad Ash‘ari Qummī (d. 306 A.H.), Ahmad ibn ‘Abdullah ibn Ummayah Abu al-‘Abbās, Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Sa‘īd Hamdāni known as Ibn ‘Uqdah (d. 333 A.H.), Abu ‘Abdillah Ahmad ibn ‘Āsim Kūfī, Abu Ja‘far Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn ‘Īsā Ash‘ari Qummī.
Ahmad ibn Mihrān, Ishāq ibn Ya‘qūb, al-Hasan ibn Khafīf, al-Hasan ibn al-Fadhl ibn Yazīd Yamāni, al-Husayn ibn al-Hasan Husayni Aswad, al-Husayn ibn al-Hasan Hāshimi Hasani ‘Alawi, al-Husayn ibn ‘Ali ‘Alawi, Abu ‘Abdillah al-Husayn ibn Muhammad ibn ‘Imrān ibn Abi Bakr Ash‘ari Qummī known as Ibn ‘Āmir, Hamid ibn Ziyād from Neynawā (d. 310 A.H.).
Abu Sulaymān Dāwūd ibn Kuwwirat Qummī, Abu al-Qāsim Sa‘d ibn ‘Abdillah ibn Abi Khalaf Ash‘ari Qummī (d. 300 A.H.), Abu Dāwūd Sulaymān Sufyān, Abu Sa‘īd Sahl ibn Ziyād Ādamī Rāzi, Abu al-‘Abbās ‘Abdullah ibn Ja‘far Himyari Qumī, Abu al-Hasan ‘Ali ibn Ibrāhīm Qummī, the author of the well-known commentary of the Qur’an, ‘Ali ibn al-Husayn Sa‘d Ābādi, Abu al-Hasan ‘Ali ibn ‘Abdullah Khadījī Asghar.
Abu al-Hasan ‘Ali ibn Muhammad Rāzī Kulayni known as ‘Allān, ‘Ali ibn Muhammad ibn Abi al-Qāsim Bandār, Abu al-Hasan ‘Ali ibn Muhammad ibn Abi al-Qāsim Barqī, ‘Ali ibn Mūsā ibn Ja‘far Kamizāni, Abu Muhammad al-Qāsim ibn al-‘Alā’, Abu al-Hasan Muhammad ibn Ismā‘īl Neyshābūrī, Abu al-‘Abbās, Muhammad ibn Ja‘far Razzāz.
Abu al-Hasan Muhammad ibn Abi ‘Abdillah, Ja‘far ibn Muhammad ibn ‘Awn Asadī Kūfī (residing) in Rey, Abu Ja‘far Muhammad ibn al-Hasan ibn Farrūkh, Saffār A‘raj Qummī the author of Basā’ir al-Darajāt (290 AH), Muhammad ibn al-Hasan Tā’ī, Abu Ja‘far Muhammad ibn ‘Abdillah ibn Ja‘far Himyarī Qummī, Muhammad ibn ‘Aqīl Kulaynī, Abu al-Hasan Muhammad ibn ‘Ali ibn Mu‘ammar Kūfī the author of Al-Sabīhī, Abu Ja‘far Muhammad ibn Yahyā ‘Attār, and Ash‘arī Qummī.12
Many individuals have narrated from Kulaynī. Among them are Abu ‘Abdillah Ahmad ibn Ibrāhīm known as Ibn Abi Rāfi‘ Seymuī, Abu al-Hasan Ahmad ibn Ahmad Kātib Kūfi, Abu Ghālib Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Sulaymān Zarārī (d. 368 A.H.), Abu al-Qāsim Ja‘far ibn Muhammad ibn Ja‘far ibn Mūsā ibn Qulawayh (d. 368 A.H.).
Abu al-Hasan ‘Abd al-Karīm ibn ‘Abdullah Bazzāz Tenīsī, ‘Ali ibn Ahmad ibn Mūsā Daqqāq, Abu ‘Abdillah Muhammad ibn Ibrāhīm ibn Ja‘far Kātib Nu‘mānī known as Ibn Zaynab who was a special friend of Kulaynī and copied the book Al-Kāfī, Abu ‘Abdullah Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn ‘Abdullah ibn Quzā‘ah Safwānī who resided in Baghdad and was also one of Kulaynī's close friends and copied the book Al-Kāfī and had permission from Kulaynī to narrate his hadiths.
Abu ‘Īsā Muhammad ibn Sanān Sīnā’ī Zāhirī Zahrāi residing in Rey, Abu al-Fadhl, Muhammad ibn ‘Abdillah ibn al-Muttalib Sheybānī, Muhammad ibn ‘Ali Mājīlūwayh, Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn ‘Itām Kulaynī, Abu Muhammad Hārūn ibn Mūsā ibn Ahmad, and Sheybāni Tal‘ukbarā (d. 385 A.H.).13
In that time, the ‘Abbasid government tried hard to find out about the birth of Imam Mahdi (a) in order to ensure the elimination of the Imamate institution by killing him (a). A point worthy of research in Kulayni’s life is to see how he managed to promote Shi‘ite activities in Baghdad, which was the centre of the ‘Abbasid caliphate, and how he propagated the Twelver belief and established an influential Shi‘ite seminary.
Furthermore, he published Al-Kāfī while he was under the control of the ruling government knowing too well that an important part of Al-Kāfī described the attributes of divine authorities and illegitimate rulers during a time when there were anti-‘Abbasid uprisings and rebellions in the name of Shi‘a, for example, the Carmathians (Qarāmitah) who were breaking out in the Muslim world.
It seems that due to the pressure of the Caliphs, Shi‘a belief was promoted in Iraq secretly and Al-Kāfī used to be handed on from one individual to another in the Shi‘a seminary as esoteric teachings for a long time.
This continued until the pressure on the Shi‘a was lessened through establishment of the Buyid dynasty through religious activities of Shaykh Sadūq and the political-religious cooperation and assistance of Sāhib ibn ‘Abbād and ‘Adhud al-Dawlah Deylamī.
During the time of Muqtadir Billāh, Kulayni led the Twelver jurists; however, considering the political situation of Kulayni's time, we discover that he did not profess to be a Twelver in Baghdad, but acted as an Islamic scholar and disguised his Shi‘a identity. In his book, Rīyādh al-‘Ulamā’, Afandi says:
He is a leading and authoritative Sheikh among the lay people and the elite and he is the religious authority of both Shi‘ites and Sunnites.
It can be inferred from this statement that the Sheikh was referred to as a trustworthy one by all people in Baghdad. If he had professed to be a Shi‘ite, it would be unlikely for him to be trusted by the laymen, since at that time, many lay people considered Shi‘a as a separatist sect and it was seriously criticized and pursued by the Sunni government.
Majlisi and Bahrānī have narrated that Kulayni’s grave in Baghdad has been a visiting place for both Shi‘ites and Sunnites; however, Sunnis do not confirm of his leadership of the Twelvers and the overt promotion of the Shi‘a Islam.
To understand the greatness of Kulayni’s political and religious services in compiling political philosophy of the Shi‘a and to see the contrast between the ideas in Al-Kāfī and the unjust treatment of illegitimate rulers of Kulayni’s time, it is worthwhile to review parts of some chapters from Al-Kāfī.
If the true and original doctrines of Shi‘a Islam were not compiled in a book like Al-Kāfī by considerable efforts of Kulayni the evolutionary course of Shi‘a history could never have been developed in the time of the Būyid dynasty, the Mongolian Ilkhanate, the movement of the Sarbadars, the Safavid Empire, the Constitutional Revolution in Iran, and most important of all, the Islamic revolution of Iran by Imam Khomeini, who was a true follower of Kulayni.
Political activities are not limited to armed encounters; political activity also applies when an idealistic person removes the veils of vain imaginations from the thoughts of society and explains political facts to expose a corrupt system and calls for establishing a legitimate government. In this regard, in the capital of the ‘Abbasid oppressive government, Kulayni began compiling the hadiths of Imams (a) on subjects such as theology, ethics, history, and politics, etc. and made them accessible for those who sought the truth.
Against the illegitimate Abbasid caliphate, Kulayni narrated many hadiths in "Kitāb al-Hujjah" from Al-Kāfī on the rights and authroity of the infallible Imams (a), the necessity of their existence and their appointment by God. Some of these examples are mentioned in the following hadiths:
Muhammad ibn Muslim says:
I heard that Imam Bāqir (a) stated: ‘For the one who seeks to be closer to God by an act of devotion for which he makes effort, if he has no Imam appointed by God, his efforts are not accepted…’
The hadith continues up to where Imam (a) likens such a person to a sheep that is far away from its flock in the evening and passes all night and day wandering among other flocks and there it is ignored. It runs astray, is afraid, and will be caught by a stalking wolf. The Imam (a) concluded from this exemplar by stating:
I swear by God, O’ Muhammad (ibn Muslim)! Everyone from this Ummah (nation) who awakes [in the morning] and does not have an Imam appointed by God such that his Imamate is clear and he is just, awakes while he is astray and misled…
O’ Muhammad (ibn Muslim)! Beware that oppressing leaders and their followers are far away from the religion of God. They are misled and misleading and whatever they do is like ashes that the wind has blown on a stormy day and they are unable to benefit from the deeds they have done. That is the manifest error.14
Abi Sabbāh Kan‘ānī quotes Imam Sadiq (a) as saying:
We are the people to whom God has obligated obedience…We are those firmly rooted in knowledge and we are those who are envied and God states about us:
“Or do they envy the people for what Allah has given them out of his grace?” (4:54).15
Husayn ibn abi al-‘Alā says: We asked Imam Sadiq (a) whether obedience to them [successors of the prophet (s)] is an obligation or not. Imam (a) replied:
They are those about whom God the Exalted states:
“Obey Allah and obey the Apostle and those vested with authority among you” (4:59).
God Almighty and Glorious also states:
“Your guardian is only Allah, His Apostle, and the faithful who maintain the prayer and give the zakat while bowing down” (5:55).16
In another section, Kulayni narrates a hadith from Ismā‘il ibn Jābir, who says:
I said to Imam Baqir (a): ‘Would I present to you the religion by which I practice religious acts?’ He said: ‘Present what you know.’ I said: ‘I testify that there is no one worthy of worship except God. He is the One and has no partner and I testify that Muhammad is His servant and His messenger and I acknowledge what he has brought from God and testify that Ali (a) is Imam to whom obedience is obligated by God.
Then Hasan (a) is Imam and God has obligated obedience to him and then Husayn (a) is Imam and God has obligated obedience to him…’ until the issue of Imamate reached him; then I said: ‘…and you yourself. May God bless you.’ Imam stated: ‘This is the religion of God and His angels.’17
In the chapter pertaining to the imamate of the Imams (a), Kulayni narrates:
Abdullah ibn Sanān asked Imam Sadiq (a) to interpret the word of God – Great be His Glory – that: ‘Allah has promised those of you who have faith and do righteous deeds that He will surely make them successors in the earth, just as He made those who were before them successors’ (24:55). Imam (a) said: ‘They are the Imams.’18
Elsewhere, he narrates a hadith from Burayd ‘Ijlī who narrated from the fifth Imam (a) as a commentary on God's word:
“We have certainly given the progeny of Abraham the Book and wisdom, and We have given them a great sovereignty” (4:54)
that Imam (a) stated: God appointed from among them the Messengers, the Prophets and the Imams. How do they acknowledge this truth about the family of Ibrahim but deny this about the Family of Muhammad (s)? Burayd says: “I asked: What is the great dominion granted to them?” He stated: “It is the privilege that God has appointed Imams from among them. One who obeys them has obeyed God and one who disobeys them has disobeyed God. This is the great dominion.”19
In the Chapter on “Al-Īmān wa al-Kufr” (Faith and Disbelief), Kulayni included a section titled: “The pillars of Islam” in which Zurārah narrates from Imam Baqir (a):
Islam is founded on five issues: prayer, alms, hajj, fasting, and Imamate. Zurārah says: I asked: ‘Which comes before the others?’ The Imam (a) answered: “Imamate is prior because it is the key to all of them and the Imam leads to them.”
After mentioning the importance of each of these obligations, the Imam (a) finally said:
…but if someone prays all night, fasts all day, gives all his properties as alms, and goes to hajj many times in his life, yet he does not know the Imam appointed by God to follow him and to ask him for guidance on all his activities, he would not be rewarded by God –the Almighty and Glorious – and he would not be among the faithful.20
In the sixth hadith of the same section, ‘Īsā ibn al-Sarā ibn al-Yasa‘ says that he asked Imam Sadiq (a) about the pillars of Islam, and Imam replied:
They consist of a testimony to God's Oneness, belief in the prophetic mission of Muhammad (s), acknowledging what he has brought from God, admission of alms that is due to God in one's property, and admission of the authority of the Household of Muhammad (s) that God has issued.
The narrator asked about the condition of authority. Referring to the verse:
‘Obey Allah and obey the Apostle and those vested with authority among you’ (4:59),
the Imam (a) replied: One who dies and does not know the Imam of his time has died in a state similar to those who died in the [pre-Islamic Age of] Ignorance.
Mentioning the rightfulness and the authority of the Prophet (s), Imam Ali (a) and the succeeding Imams (a) up to Imam Muhammad Baqir (a), Imam Sadiq (a) expressed his sorrow and blamed those who submitted to the authority of people like Mu‘āwiyah and Yazīd instead of those exemplars of divine truth and finally spoke about his own time and stated:
The earth would not be without an Imam...you need to know your Imam (a) before your soul reaches your throat (pointing to his neck) and you should be able to leave this world in such a way that you would be able to say: Certainly, I followed the right religion.21
In different chapters of the section “Al-Hujjah” (Proof; Authority), Kulayni has introduced the position and the religious-political rights of the Imams (a) by narrating related hadiths. In the following sections, Kulayni mentioned the Imams' spiritual position and the dominion of their authorities through topics such as society's need of the Imam (a), God's ultimatum on the existence of an Imam for the people, impossibility of remaining on the earth without an Imam, the four rational bases of the existence of an Imam on the earth, the position of the Imams’ leadership, Imams as rulers appointed by God and the keepers of His treasury, the Imams as representatives of God on the earth, and what God and his messenger obligated about the assistance people must give to the Imams.
Now it becomes clear that Kulayni took great risk by compiling Al-Kafi’s whose political and religious content could be taken as a serious threat by the oppressive rulers who were already alarmed by the Shi’ites’ continuous struggle against oppression and injustice.
In any case, both Ali ibn Bābiwayh (see Part I) and Kulayni played a crucial role during minor occultation of Imam Mahdi (aj) along with the four Specifically Appointed Deputies of Imam (a) and they both passed away at the end of the minor occultation in 329 A.H. as did the last S.A. Deputy i.e. Abu’l-Hasan Ali Ibn Mohammad Seymuri, whose demise marked the end of minor occultation and beginning of major occultation of the Twelfth Imam (a).
Kitāb al-Salāt, Kitāb al-Siyām, Kitāb al-Zakāt wa al-Sadaqah, Kitāb al-Nikāh wa al-‘Aqīqa, Kitāb al-Shahādāt, Kitāb al-Hajj, Kitāb al-Talāq, Kitāb al-‘Itq, Kitāb al-Hudūd, Kitāb al-Dīyyāt, Kitāb al-Aymān wa al-Nudhūr wa al-Kaffārāt, Kitāb al-Ma‘īshah, Kitāb al-Sayd wa al-Dhabā‘ih, Kitāb al-Janā’iz, Kitāb al-‘Ishrah, Kitāb al-Du‘ā, Kitāb al-Jihād, Kitāb Fadhl al-Qur‘an,
Kitāb al-At‘imah wa al-Ashribah, Kitāb al-Zayy wa al-Tajammul, Kitāb al-Dawājin wa al-Rawājin, Kitāb al-Watāyā, Kitāb al-Farā‘idh, Kitāb al-Rawdhah. He also authored some books other than Al-Kāfī, such as Kitāb al-Radd ‘Alā al-Qarāmitah, Kitāb Rasā’il al-A’immah (a), Kitāb Ta‘bīr al-Ru’yā, Kitāb al-Rijāl, Kitāb Mā Qīl fi al-A’immah (a) Min al-Shi‘r. He passed away in Baghdad in 329 AH and was buried in Bāb al-Kūfa. (Najāshī, Al-Rijāl, p. 377)