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Chapter 2: The Sources And Narrators

The Hadith Sources

A disproportionate number of hadith on the raj‘ah (72 out of 192) originate from a relatively obscure, although not maligned book called Muntakhab al-Basa’ir by Shaykh Hasan ibn Sulayman, a student of Al-Shaheed al-Thani1. Tafsir ‘Ali ibn Ibrahim is the second most plentiful source, supplying thirty-two hadith, only twelve of which have chains of narration. Muntakhab al-Basa’ir and Tafsir ‘Ali ibn Ibrahim are the only sources with ‘very strong’ raj‘ah hadith.

The remaining hadith are scattered among a plethora of other sources, many of which offer only one or two hadith. Only a handful of hadith come from the collections considered most authentic; namely, Al-Kafi, Man La Yahdhuruhu al-Faqih, Tahdheeb al-Ahkam, and Al-Istibsar as well as Kitab al-Ghaybah by Al-Nu‘mani, and Kitab al-Ghaybah by Al-Tusi. However, despite their renowned sources, many of these hadith have particularly weak chains of narration; in fact, one of the hadith from Al-Kafi has, arguably, the worst chain of narration in all of Kitab al-Raj‘ah2. Many of these hadith also offer little content, and several are simply quotations of ziyarat.

As for why the most renowned hadith scholars chose only to include these truncated, problematic hadith in lieu of others, there are a couple possibilities. The lesser possibility is that they did not have access to the other hadith; this seems unlikely given the variety of other sources that they appear in. The greater possibility is that they themselves considered these hadith unreliable. Identifying which material they might have had access to but chose not to include would provide another clue as to which hadith can be reliably traced to the Imams; however, it will not be the subject of this analysis3.

In general, no one source dominates hadith on any particular topic; rather, the number of hadith per topic is roughly proportional to the number of hadith from that source. (Exceptions have been noted) For instance, Muntakhab al-Basa’ir supplies 37% of the hadith in Kitab al-Raj‘ah and 38% of the hadith on the return of Imam al-Husayn. Therefore, most topics cannot be traced a single compiler.

A chart of the hadith from different sources and their relative reliability can be found in Appendix B.

Common Narrators: Reliable Hadith

However, the sources and narrators of the reasonably verifiable hadith (that is to say, ‘average’ and better) are a different matter, as they are dominated almost exclusively by hadith from Sa’d through Ibn Abi al-Khattab and Ibn ‘Isa4. The remaining hadith come mostly from Ibn Abi ‘Umayr.

A breakdown of the paths of narration of the hadith per category is as follows:

Very strong hadith

Muntakhab al-Basa’ir:

• 5 hadith from Sa’d through Ibn Abi Al-Khattab and Ibn ‘Isa together (or, in one case, the two sons of Ibn ‘Isa)

• 2 hadith from Sa’d through Ibn Abi al-Khattab (without Ibn ‘Isa)

• 1 hadith from Sa’d through Ibn ‘Isa (without Ibn Abi al-Khattab)

Tafsir ‘Ali ibn Ibrahim:

• 4 hadith from the father of ‘Ali ibn Ibrahim, 3 of which are related through Ibn Abi ‘Umayr

Strong hadith

Muntakhab al-Basa’ir:

• 4 hadith from Sa’d through Ibn ‘Isa

• 2 hadith from Sa’d through Ibn Abi Al-Khattab

• 3 hadith through other chains of narration

Amali al-Saduq:

• 1 hadith transmitted from Ibn ‘Isa

Kamil al-Ziyarah:

• 1 hadith related through Ibn Abi ‘Umayr

Al-Kafi, Kitab al-Ghaybah by Shaykh Tusi, and Majalis al-Mufeed each also contribute 1 hadith with unrelated chains of narration5.

Average hadith

Muntakhab al-Basa’ir:

• 3 hadith from Sa’d through Ibn Abi al-Khattab

• 2 hadith from Sa‘d through Ibn ‘Isa

• 5 hadith reproduced from a book called Kitab Ta'weel Ma Nuzzila min al-Qur'an fi al-Nabi wa Alihi (S)

• 2 hadith with other chains of narration

5 hadith, 4 of which are quotations of ziyarat, are also included from other books. Since Al-Basa’ir, the source book of Muntakhab al-Basa’ir, is attributed to Sa’d ibn ‘Abdullah ibn Abi Khalaf, it is natural that he would relate so many hadith in it6. However, while none of these individuals is known to be unreliable, and in fact Ibn Abi ‘Umayr is considered to be extremely reliable (Al-Fadli, 2002), the fact that most of the material comes from these two paths does give some pause for thought. The authenticity of hadith on the raj‘ah is, in essence, dependent on the reliability and good judgment of these four individuals. Had Sa’d not transmitted this material or had ‘Allamah Majlesi not had Muntakhab al-Basa’ir, modern Shi‘a beliefs regarding the raj‘ah might have been very different.

Common Narrators: Unreliable Hadith

Over thirty narrators were identified as unreliable. However, as can be seen in the chart in Appendix C, no one of them narrated any significant number of hadith, and most only narrated one hadith. Nonetheless, some specific ideas can still be traced to specific personages, as will be seen in the next chapter. Additionally, as a whole, unreliable narrators dominated hadith on certain topics, such as vengeance.

Just as Sa’d played a strong role in narrating ‘strong’ hadith, he also played a strong role in narrating unreliable hadith, as he related about half of the ‘very unreliable’ hadith and a quarter of the ‘unreliable’ hadith. Since – as will be seen – the content of many ‘unreliable’ hadith differs sharply from the more reliable hadith, it is not clear whether he passed them on because he agreed with their content or had other reasons to believe they were authentic. However, the remaining unreliable hadith come through different narrators and from a variety of different sources.

  • 1. Biographical information taken from Mukhtasar al-Basa’ir (Al-Hilli, 2005 [15th century AD]).
  • 2. This hadith, Hadith #103, has been quoted in the next chapter.
  • 3. I am indebted to M. Samiei for a long discussion on this point.
  • 4. Sa’d ibn ‘Abdullah ibn Abi Khalaf, Husayn ibn Abi al-Khattab al-Zayyat, and Ahmad ibn ‘Isa al-Ash‘ari al-Qummi.
  • 5. Although the hadith in Amali al-Saduq and Al-Kafi share Al-Saffar as a narrator, he does not narrate any other raj’ah hadith.
  • 6. The author of Mukhtasar al-Basa’ir says that, according to Al-Iffindi, Sa’d transcribed the material in Muntakhab al-Basa’ir but not necessarily the material in Al-Basa’ir. In any case, he is still associated with Muntakhab al-Basa’ir (Al-Hilli, 2005 [15th century AD]).