Alternative sources for this sermon
(see Bibliography for details of these texts)
Someone  asked Amir al-mu'minin about concocted traditions and contradictory sayings of the Prophet current among the people, whereupon he said:Certainly what is current among the people is both right and wrong, true and false, repealing and repealed, general and particular, definite and indefinite, exact and surmised. Even during the Prophet's days false sayings had been attributed to him, so much so that he had to say during his sermon that, "Whoever attributes falsehoods to me makes his abode in Hell." Those who relate traditions are of four categories,  no more.
First: The lying hypocrites
The hypocrite is a person who makes a show of faith and adopts the appearance of a Muslim; he does not hesitate in sinning nor does he keep aloof from vice; he wilfully attributes false things against the Messenger of Allah - may Allah bless him and his descendants. If people knew that he was a hypocrite and a liar, they would not accept anything from him and would not confirm what he says.
Rather they say that he is the companion of the Prophet, has met him, heard (his sayings) from him and acquired (knowledge) from him. They therefore accept what he says. Allah too had warned you well about the hypocrites and described them fully to you. They have continued after the Holy Prophet. They gained positions with the leaders of misguidance and callers towards Hell through falsehoods and slanderings. So, they put them in high posts and made them officers over the heads of the people, and amassed wealth through them. People are always with the rulers and after this world, except those to whom Allah affords protection. This is the first of the four categories.
Second: Those who are mistaken
Then there is the individual who heard (a saying) from the Holy Prophet but did not memorise it as it was, but surmised it. He does not lie wilfully. Now, he carries the saying with him and relates it, acts upon it and claims that: "I heard it from the Messenger of Allah." If the Muslims come to know that he has committed a mistake in it, they will not accept it from him, and if he himself knows that he is on the wrong he will give it up.
Third: Those who are ignorant
The third man is he who heard the Prophet ordering to do a thing and later the Prophet refrained the people from doing it, but this man did not know it, or he heard the Prophet refraining people from a thing and later he allowed it, but this man did not know it. In this way he retained in his mind what had been repealed, and did not retain the repealing tradition. If he knew that it had been repealed he would reject it, or if the Muslims knew, when they heard it from him, that it had been repealed they would reject it.
Fourth: Those who memorise truthfully
The last, namely the fourth man, is he who does not speak a lie against Allah or against His Prophet. He hates falsehood out of fear for Allah and respect for the Messenger of Allah, and does not commit mistakes, but retains (in his mind) exactly what he heard (from the Prophet), and he relates it as he heard it without adding anything or omitting anything. He heard the repealing tradition, he retained it and acted upon it, and he heard the repealed tradition and rejected it. He also understands the particular and the general, and he knows the definite and indefinite, and gives everything its due position.
The sayings of the Prophet used to be of two types. One was particular and the other common. Sometimes a man would hear him but he would not know what Allah, the Glorified, meant by it or what the Messenger of Allah meant by it. In this way the listener carries it and memorises it without knowing its meaning and its real intention, or what was its reason. Among the companions of the Messenger of Allah all were not in the habit of putting him questions and ask him the meanings, indeed they always wished that some Bedouin or stranger might come and ask him (peace be upon him) so that they would also listen. Whenever any such thing came before me, I asked him about its meaning and preserved it. These are the reasons and grounds of differences among the people in their traditions.
Footnotes by translator:
.This was Sulaym ibn Qays al-Hilali who was one of the relaters of traditions through Amir al-mu'minin.
.In this sermon Amir al-mu'minin has divided the traditionists into four categories.
The first category is that of a man concocts a tradition and attributes it to the Prophet. Traditions were in fact falsified and attributed to him, and this process continued, with the result that numerous novel traditions came into being. This is a fact which cannot be denied but if anyone does deny it his basis would be not knowledge or sagacity by oratory or argumentative necessity. Thus, once, `Alamu'l-huda (Ensign of Guidance) as-Sayyid al-Murtada had a chance of meeting the Sunni `ulama' (scholars) in confrontation and on this occasion as-Sayyid al-Murtada proved by historical facts that the traditions related about the merits of the great companions are concocted and counterfeit. On this, the (Sunni) `ulama' argued that it was impossible that someone should dare speak a lie against the Prophet and prepare a tradition himself and attribute it to him. as-Sayyid al-Murtada said there is a tradition of the Prophet that:
A lot of false things will be attributed to me after my death and whoever speaks a lie against me would be preparing his abode in Hell. (al-Bukhari, vol.1, p.38; vol.2, p.102; vol.4, p.207; vol.8, p.54; Muslim, vol.8, p.229; Abu Dawud, vol.3, pp.319-320; at-Tirmidhi, vol.4, p.524; vol.5, pp.35-36, 40, 199, 634; Ibn Majah, vol.1, pp.13-15)
If you regard this tradition as true then you should agree that false things have been attributed to the Prophet, but if you regard it false, this would prove our point. However, these were people whose hearts were full of hypocrisy and who used to prepare traditions of their own accord in order to create mischief and dispersion in religion and to misguide Muslims of weak convictions. They remained mixed with them as they used to do during the lifetime of the Prophet; and just as they remained busy in activities of mischief and destruction in those days, in the same way, even after the Prophet, they were not unmindful of deforming the teachings of Islam and metamorphosing its features. Rather, in the days of the Prophet they were always afraid lest he unveiled them and put them to shame, but after the Prophet their hypocritical activities increased and they attributed false things to the Prophet without demur for their own personal ends, and those who heard them believed in them because of their status as companions of the Prophet, thinking that whatever they said was correct and whatever they gave out was true. Afterwards also, the belief that all the companions are correct put a stopper on their tongues, as a result of which they were taken to be above criticism, questioning, discussion and censure. Besides, their conspicuous performance had made them prominent in the eyes of the government, and also because of this it needed courage and daring to speak against them. This is proved by Amir al-mu'minin's words:
These people gained positions with the leaders of misguidance and callers towards Hell, through falsehood and slanderings. So, they put them in high posts and made them officers over the heads of the people.
Along with the destruction of Islam, the hypocrites also aimed at amassing wealth, and they were doing so freely by claiming to be Muslims, because of which they did not want to remove the veil of Islam (from their faces) and to come out openly, but they wanted to continue their Satanic activities under the garb of Islam and engaged themselves in its basic destruction and spreading of division and dispersal by concocting traditions. In this connection, Ibn Abi'l-Hadid has written:
When they were left free they too left many things. When people observed silence about them they also observed silence about Islam, but they continued their underground activities such as the fabrication of falsehoods to which Amir al-mu'minin has alluded, because a lot of untrue matters had been mixed with the traditions by the group of people of wrong beliefs, while some of them also aimed at extolling some particular party with whom they had other worldly aims as well.
On the expiry of this period, when Mu`awiyah took over the leadership of religion and occupied the throne of temporal authority, he opened an official department for the fabrication of false traditions, and ordered his officers to fabricate and popularise traditions in disparagement of the Ahlu'l-bayt (the Household of the Holy Prophet) and in extolment of `Uthman and the Umayyads, and announced rewards and grants of land for this work. Consequently, a lot of traditions about self-made distinctions gained entry in the books of traditions. Thus, Abu'l-Hasan al-Mada'ini has
written in his book Kitab al-ahdath and Ibn Abi'l-Hadid has quoted it, namely:
Mu`awiyah wrote to his officers that they should take special care of those who were adherents of `Uthman, his well-wishers and lovers and to award high positions, precedence and honour to those who related traditions about his merits and distinctions, and to convey to him whatever is so related by any person, along with his name, the name of his father and the name of his tribe. They did accordingly and heaped up traditions about the merits and distinctions of `Uthman because Mu`awiyah used to award them rewards, clothes, grants and lands.
When the fabricated traditions about the merits of `Uthman had been spread throughout the realm, with the idea that the position of the earlier Caliphs should not remain low, Mu`awiyah wrote to his officers:
As soon as you receive this order of mine you should call upon the people to prepare traditions about the distinctions of the companions and other caliphs also, and take care that if any Muslim relates any tradition about Abu Turab (`Ali) you should prepare a similar tradition about the companions to contradict it because this gives me great pleasure and cools my eyes, and it weakens the position of Abu Turab and his partymen. and is more severe to them than the merits and distinctions of `Uthman.
When his letters were read to the people, a large number of such traditions were related extolling the companions that are all fabricated with no truth at all. (Sharh Nahj al-balaghah, vol. 11, pp. 43-47)
In this connection Abu `Abdillah Ibrahim ibn Muhammad ibn `Arafah known as Niftawayh (244/858-323/935) who was one of the prominent scholars and traditionists has written, and Ibn Abi'l-Hadid has quoted him, that:
Most of the false traditions about the merits of the companions were fabricated during the days of Mu`awiyah in order to gain position in his audience because his view was that in this way he could disgrace Banu Hashim and render them low. (ibid.)
After that, fabrication of traditions became a habit, the world seekers made it a means of securing position with kings and nobles and to amass wealth. For example, Ghiyath ibn Ibrahim an-Nakha`i (2nd cent. A.H.) fabricated a tradition about the flight of pigeons, in order to please al-Mahdi ibn al-Mansur (the `Abbasid Caliph) and to secure position near him. (Tarikh Baghdad, vol.12, pp.323-327; Mizan al-i`tidal, vol.3) pp.337-338; Lisan al-mizan, vol.4, p.422). Abu Sa`id al-Mada'ini and others made it a means of livelihood. The limit was reached when the al-Karramiyyah and some of the al-Mutasawwifah gave the ruling that the fabrication of traditions for the prevention of sin or for persuasion towards obedience was lawful. Consequently, in connection with persuading and dissuading, traditions were fabricated quite freely, and this was not regarded against the religious law or morality. Rather, this work was generally done by those who bore the appearance of asceticism or fear of Allah and who passed their nights in praying and days in filling their registers with false traditions. An idea about the number of these fabricated traditions can be had from the fact that out of six hundred thousand traditions al-Bukhari selected only two thousand seven hundred and sixty-one traditions, (Tarikh Baghdad, vol.2, p.8; al-Irshad as-sari, vol.1, p.28; Sifatu's-safwah, vol.4, p.143). Muslim thought fit for selection only four thousand out of three hundred thousand (Tarikh Baghdad, vol.13, p.101; al-Muntazam, vol.5, p.32; Tabaqat al-huffaz, vol.2, pp.151,157; Wafayat al-a`yan, vol.5, p.194). Abu Dawud took four thousand and eight hundred out of five hundred thousand (Tarikh Baghdad, vol.9, p.57; Tabaqat al-huffaz, vol.2, p.154; al-Muntazam, vol.5, p.97; Wafayat al-a`yan, vol.2, p.404), and Ahmad ibn Hanbal took thirty thousand out of nearly on million traditions (Tarikh Baghdad, vol.4, p.419-420; Tabaqat al-huffaz, vol.2, p.17; Wafayat al-a`yan, vol.1, p.64; Tahdhib at-tahdhib, vol.1, p. 74). But when this selection is studied some traditions which come across can, in no circumstances, be attributed to the Prophet. The result is that a group of considerable number has cropped up among Muslims who, in view of these (so-called) authoritative collections and true traditions, completely reject the evidentiary value of the traditions, (For further reference see al-Ghadir, vol.5, pp. 208-378).
The second category of relaters of traditions are those who, without appreciating the occasion or context, related whatever they could recollect, right or wrong. Thus, in al-Bukhari (vol.2, pp.100-102; vol.5, p.98); Muslim (vol.3, pp. 41-45); at-Tirmidhi (vol.3, pp. 327-329); an-Nasa'i (vol.4, p.18); Ibn Majah (vol.1, pp.508-509); Malik ibn Anas (al-Muwatta' vol.1, p.234); ash-Shafi`i (Ikhtilaf'l-hadith, on the side lines of "al-Umm", vol.7, p.266); Abu Dawud (vol.3, p.194); Ahmad ibn Hanbal (vol.1, pp.41,42) and al-Bayhaqi (vol.4, pp.72-74) in the chapter entitled 'weeping over the dead' it is stated that when Caliph `Umar was wounded Suhayb came weeping to him, then `Umar said:
O' Suhayb, you weep over me, while the Prophet had said that the dead person is punished if his people weep over him.
When after the death of Caliph `Umar this was mentioned to `A'ishah, she said: "May Allah have mercy on `Umar. The Messenger of Allah did not say that weeping of relations causes punishment on the dead. but he said that the punishment of an unbeliever increases if his people weep over him." After this `A'ishah said that according to the Holy Qur'an no person has to bear the burden of another, so how could the burden of those who weep be put on the dead. After this the following verse was quoted by `A'ishah:
. . . And no bearer of burden shall bear the burden of another; . . . (Qur'an, 6:164; 17:15; 35:18; 39:7; 53:38).
The wife of the Holy Prophet `A'ishah relates that once the Prophet passed by a Jewish woman over whom her people were weeping. The Prophet then remarked, "Her people are weeping over her but she is undergoing punishment in the grave."
The third category of the relaters of traditions is of those who heard some repealed traditions from the Prophet but could not get any chance to hear the repealing traditions which he could relate to others. An example of a repealing tradition is the saying of the Prophet which also contains a reference to the repealed tradition, namely: "I had disallowed you to visit graves, but now you can visit them." (Muslim, vol.3, p.65; at-Tirmidhi, vol.3, p.370; Abu Dawud, vol.3, pp. 218, 332; an-Nasa'i, vol.4, p. 89; Ibn Majah, vol.1, pp. 500-501; Malik ibn Anas, vol.2, p. 485; Ahmad ibn Hanbal, vol.1, pp.145, 452; vol.3, pp.38, 63, 66, 237, 350; vol.5, pp. 350, 355, 356, 357, 359, 361; al-Hakim, al-Mustadrak, vol.1, pp. 374-376; and al-Bayhaqi, vol.4, pp. 76-77). Herein the permission to visit graves has repealed the previous restriction on it. Now, those who heard only the repealed tradition continued acting according to it.
The fourth category of relaters of traditions is of those who were fully aware of the principles of justice, possessed intelligence and sagacity, knew the occasion when a tradition was first uttered (by the Prophet) and were also acquainted with the repealing and the repealed traditions, the particular and the general, and the timely and the absolute. They avoided falsehood and fabrication. Whatever they heard remained preserved in their memory, and they conveyed it with exactness to others. It is they whose traditions are the precious possession of Islam, free from fraud and counterfeit and worthy of being trusted and acted upon. That collection of traditions which has been conveyed through trustworthy bosoms like that of Amir al-mu'minin and has remained free from cutting, curtailing, alteration or change particularly present Islam in its true form. The position of Amir al-mu'minin in Islamic knowledge has been most certainly proved through the following traditions narrated from the Holy Prophet such as:
Amir al-mu'minin, Jabir ibn `Abdullah, Ibn `Abbas and `Abdullah ibn `Umar have narrated from the Holy Prophet that he said:
I am the city of knowledge and `Ali is its door. He who wants to acquire (my) knowledge should come through its door. (al-Mustadrak, vol.3, pp. 126-127; al-Isti`ab, vol.3, p.1102; Usd al-ghabah, vol.4, p.22; Tarikh Baghdad, vol.2, p.377; vol.4, p.348; vol.7, p.172; vol.11, pp. 48-50; Tadhkirah al-huffaz; vol.4, p.28; Majma` az-zawa'id, vol.9, p.114; Tahdhib at-tahdhib, vol.6, p.320; vol.7, p.337; Lisan al-mizan, vol.2, pp.122-123; Tarikh al-khulafa', p.170; Kanz al-`ummal, vol.6, pp.152,156,401; `Umdah al-qari, vol.7, p.631; Sharh al-mawahib al-ladunniyyah, vol.3, p.143).
Amir al-mu'minin and Ibn `Abbas have also narrated from the Holy Prophet that:
I am the store-house of wisdom and `Ali is its door. He who wants to acquire wisdom should come through its door. (Hilyah al-awliya', vol.1, p.64; Masabih as-sunnah, vol.2, p.275; Tarikh Baghdad, vol.11, p.204; Kanz al-`ummal, vol.6, p.401; ar-Riyad an-nadirah, vol.2, p.193).
If only people could take the Prophet's blessings through these sources of knowledge. But it is a tragic chapter of history that although traditions are accepted through the Kharijites and enemies of the Prophet's family, whenever the series of relaters includes the name of any individual from among the Prophet's family there is hesitation in accepting the tradition.