Chapter 3: The Lack Of A Reliable Narrative

Apart from the fact that Kitab al-Raj‘ah contains far too much material to summarise here, it is quite difficult to organise the hadith into a coherent narrative (although both Sachedina (1981) and Turner (2000) have made valiant attempts to do so) since many of the hadith contradict. In particular, the reliable hadith tend to be short and lack sequence clues indicating any sort of a time frame.

The Narrative Hadith

Seven hadith stand out as ‘narrative hadith’ – that is, they describe the logical progression of more than one future event. They are also significantly longer than the other hadith. While it may be tempting to refer to these hadith for some sort of narrative sequence, all of them are ‘unreliable’ or ‘very unreliable’ and, therefore, contribute an unfair share of unreliable material into the narrative, especially where they contradict the shorter but more frequently repeated ‘reliable’ hadith.

Three of the seven narrative hadith are related from Sahl ibn Ziyad1, whom Najjashi calls ‘weak’ and ‘extremist’ and whom Ibn al-Ghadha’iri calls ‘corrupt of faith.2’ His presence in these chains of narration is particularly relevant as he is the final narrator to be listed. Apart from these hadith, he also narrated other lengthy narrative-style hadith outside of Kitab al-Raj‘ah, thus indicating that he might have had an eye (or ear) for story-like hadith (or, perhaps, was simply verbose)3. Since the raj‘ah hadith that he relates contain fantastic predictions not supported by the other hadith4, it is possible that he might have applied his own dramatic flair to the content he was narrating.

However, he does not appear to be the primary source of falsification, as he generally narrates from some very unreliable narrators whose names appear more associated with the ideas that he narrates. For instance, he relates a fantastical battle hadith from ‘Abdullah ibn al-Qasim al-Hadhrami, who relates fantastical hadith elsewhere5. While Sahl ibn Ziyad may (or may not) have embellished certain content, he probably did not originate it.

The Hadith of Mufaddal

One hadith does offer more ‘sequence clues’, and that is the long hadith related by Mufaddal (of which Majlesi mercifully includes only 39 pages) which ‘Allamah Majlesi places right before Kitab al-Raj‘ah. As with the other narrative hadith – which pale in comparison – it may be tempting to refer to this hadith to put the raj‘ah prophecies in order. However, any reliance on this hadith should be avoided – primarily because there is little evidence that Mufaddal actually narrated it himself6. It reads much more like a catechism than a hadith, with Mufaddal asking the right questions in the right order to construct an essay composed of a patchwork of material related in reliable and unreliable hadith. Not only is this the only raj‘ah hadith that ‘Allamah Majlesi does not provide a source for, saying only that he took it from ‘some of the collections of our companions’, the chain of narrators includes an agreed-upon extremist (‘Umar ibn Furat) and an agreed-upon ‘liar of corrupt faith’ (Al-Husayn ibn Hamdan al-Khaseebi) whom both ‘Allamah Hilli and Ibn al-Ghadha’iri specifically advise people not to refer to.7 All this is aside from the fact that some scholars consider Mufaddal himself to be controversial and to have held extremist views (Turner, 2006).

Unlike most hadith in Kitab al-Raj‘ah, however, the Hadith of Mufaddal displays glaringly extremist (ghulat) material. First, it asserts the idea – which Turner (2006) calls ‘quasi-Christological’ – that the Prophet will bear all the sins of the Shi‘a8. While Shi‘a hadith do support the idea of intercession, this idea does sound strikingly Christian. Since many extremist beliefs were fostered through religious syncretism, this idea most likely entered in from outside Islam.

Second, while the subsequent hadith only allude to vengeance against the enemies of the Ahl al-Bayt, this hadith alone describes a violent and gruesome punishment for the resurrected first two caliphs9. Not only are they exhumed, hung from a tree, resurrected, and burnt, but they are tried for all the sins of mankind, beginning with the murder of Abel – in contrast to the Qur’anic verse which says that no person will be responsible for the sins of another (53:58), as well as common sense. This marked vindictiveness is another hallmark of the extremist sects, which formed in a time of deep repression of all of the Shi‘a.

Therefore, the Hadith of Mufaddal can be useful as a theological document explicating the beliefs of extremist Shi‘a sects. It can also be useful as an anthropological document reflecting the Shi‘a outlook of the time. Portions of it may even be partially or wholly authentic. However, it cannot be relied upon at all while attempting to trace the actual teachings of the Imams.

Common Themes

Therefore, given the lack of a narrative framework, the raj‘ah hadith will be analysed by theme, rather than as a complete narrative. The following themes recur most prominently throughout the hadith and frequently overlap:

• The return of Imam al-Husayn

• The return of Amir al-Mu’mineen

• The return of the Prophet Muhammad

• The return of all the Imams

• The return of non-prophetic individuals

• Places and times

• Purposes of the raj‘ah

These topics will be addressed in order. Appendix A includes a chart indicating the frequency of these topics as well as the reliability of the hadith discussing them.

  • 1. His narrative hadith are #52, #102, #103.
  • 2. To reduce the need for citations, all biographical information has been summarised in Appendix C.
  • 3. See, for example, Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 44, p. 142 and vol. 45, p. 80.
  • 4. His hadith are quoted in the next chapter.
  • 5. ‘Abdullah ibn al-Qasim al-Hadhrami narrates both Hadith #103, which describes the return of the companions of Imam al-Husayn (quoted subsequently in the section on the return of Imam al-Husayn) and Hadith #12, which describes a great battle between the Prophet and the Satan (quoted subsequently in the section on the return of the Prophet). However, Sahl ibn Ziyad only relates the first one.
  • 6. Turner also maintains that Mufaddal did not relate the other long hadith ascribed to him, such as the Tradition of the Myrobean Fruit (Turner, 2006).
  • 7. All biographical information pertaining to the narrators has been listed in Appendix C.
  • 8. In Bihar al-Anwar, the commentator includes a note that this was an extremist (ghulat) belief (Majlesi, 2005, vol. 53, p. 23).
  • 9. Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 53, p. 12-14.