A Concise Explanation of Intricate and Complex (sa’ab wa mustasa’ab) Narrations and Religious Secrecy (kitman)

Annotated by:- Muhammad Jaffer & Sayyid Burair Abbas

Question: What is your interpretation for obscurity in some of the narrations of the Ahl al-Bayt, such as the narrations that talk about the secrets of the family of Muḥammad and the prohibition of disclosing them, or that their narrations are intricate and complex which shows the existence of some hidden beliefs of the Imāms, peace be upon them, and the characteristics of their companions, which were revealed by deviants among them such as Abū al-Khattāb and some groups of Ghulāt?1

Answer: In my book (The Jurisprudence of Enjoining Good and Forbidding Evil), I offered in detail for what I called the “principle of religious expression” and the “principle of religious secrecy”, and I mentioned dozens of verses and narrations on the subject of secrecy and expressions, and came out with the following results regarding the narrations of secrecy and concealment – away from the texts of Taqiyyah (dissimulation):

A) Most of these narrations2 are weak, but in some of them there are weak individuals, and in some of them there are people accused of Ghulūw (exaggeration) and affiliated with the Baṭīniyyah (esoteric group), and this weakens the trustworthiness of a number of these narrations.3

When we said that the currents with esoteric and exaggerated tendencies – in addition to the liars – suit them to promote such narrations until they say: The secrets that we tell you were not revealed by the Ahl al-Bāyt except to a few people and we are among them, so you have no right to deny us.

B) A good group of these Riwāyāt (narrations) came in the context of the repressive political situation that was practiced against the Shi’ites. It appears from the content of these narrations and their indicators that this situation exists to protect the imams and their companions from oppression and raids, so the secrets are nothing but the same as their Imāms and their requisites.

C) There is another set of narrations that forbid publishing due to a secondary ruling, which means that the other party will not be harmed by delivering knowledge of it or the knowledge will be misused and exploited in a way that leads to the production of the opposite of what is required. Otherwise, the rule is to spread knowledge and not to conceal it, and perhaps this is what is meant by people who are worthy of these sciences and those people who are not, as stated in some narrations.

Indeed, the one who is competent, these sciences do not have any negative impact nor harm the truth when he knows it.

From here, we combine these narrations in their entirety with the narrations of the prohibition of secrecy along with the Qur’ānic texts that the origin, principle and rule is to spread the religion and not to hide anything from it, regardless of the justifications, unless a compelling secondary title and a lofty legitimate aim such as fear for the believers and the great Islamic and faith interests arise. Just as the published concepts leave fatal negative effects on those who are disseminated in their midst.

There is another set of Riwāyāt (narrations) that forbid publishing with a secondary title, which means that the other party will not be harmed by delivering knowledge on it or be misused and exploited in a way that leads to the production of the opposite of what is required. Otherwise, the rule is to spread knowledge and not to conceal it, and perhaps this is what is meant by people who are worthy of these sciences and those people who are not, as stated in some narrations.

Indeed, the one who is competent on whom these sciences does not eave any negative impact nor harm the truth when he knows it.

Here, the tenet will not fall for the sake of the existence of two exceptions. Rather, it is confirmed and the two exceptions are evidence of the need to use rational methods in spreading religious discourse to serve these principles.4

In this context, it is necessary to understand some of the generalizations contained in the texts that permit or command secrecy otherwise they are in opposition to the verses and other narrations and the culture of the prophets.

Otherwise, is this tenet of speaking to people about what they recognize and hiding from them what they reject-as is narrated in some traditions-a primary religious principle? This all the while it goes against the missions of the Prophets as taught to us in the Quran, as they often propagated that which their own people rejected—nonetheless, it is their example that the Quran summons us to emulate! If we don’t understand this dichotomy (recognition/rejection) within a framework of rational methods designed to spread realities that preserve the faith community, then how can we explain this Quranic narrative as it pertains to the apostles and prophets? Should the people’s stance towards truth really be the criterion for disseminating it or not?

This is with regard to the tenet of secrecy of the facts of religion and texts that talk about secrecy observed by the Imāms or calling them to conceal some ideas, and the details can be reviewed in my previous book referred to.

As for the narrations mentioned that their Hadīth is intricate and complex, there is a difference in the value of these Aḥādīth as some of the contemporary scholars of Rijāl – namely Shaykh Aṣif Muḥsinī5 did not correct any of these narrations with a chain of transmission, while it is well-known that some of these narrations are correct, not to mention their large number. And deciding on it requires a broad study – which is out of scope of this response – and sometimes in order to analyze the proof of their issuances, and to deconstruct the content of these texts and the possibilities of their other implications.


  1. The original article in Arabic can be found here:- https://hobbollah.com/questions/
  2. Such narrations can be found in primary sources like Al-Kāfī, Basa’ir Al-Darajāt etc.

    al-Kāfī:- http://shiaonlinelibrary.com/

    Eng Tr. :- https://thaqalayn.net/chapter/1/4/102

    Baṣāʾir ad-Darajāt:- https://ar.lib.eshia.ir/86650/1/26/%D8%B5%D8%B9%D8%A8

    ibid. https://ar.lib.eshia.ir/86650/1/24/%D8%B5%D8%B9%D8%A8

  3. As per Allamah Majlisi’s grading of the narrations in al-Kāfī from his Miraat Al-‘Uqūl Fi Sharh Akhbār Aal Al-Rasūl are as follows:

    Narration 1: Weak according to majority but reliable to Allamah Majlisi

    Narration 2: Weak

    Narration 3: Weak

    Narration 4: Disconnected

    Narration 5: Weak according to majority

    Source: https://ar.lib.eshia.ir/71429/4/312

  4. An example of Matn criticism of such narrations is given below. We take the 1st narration from the chapter “The Hadīth of Ahl ul-Bayt (a) are intricate and complex”

    محمد بن يحيى، عن محمد بن الحسين، عن محمد بن سنان، عن عمار بن مروان عن جابر قال قال أبو جعفر عليه السلام: قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وآله إن حديث آل محمد صعب مستصعب لا يؤمن به إلا ملك مقرب أو نبي مرسل أو عبد امتحن الله قلبه للايمان، فما ورد عليكم من حديث آل محمد صلى الله عليه وآله فلانت له قلوبكم وعرفتموه فاقبلوه، وما اشمأزت منه قلوبكم وأنكرتموه فردوه إلى الله وإلى الرسول وإلى العالم من آل محمد وإنما الهالك أن يحدث أحدكم بشئ منه لا يحتمله، فيقول: والله ما كان هذا والله ما كان هذا، والانكار هو الكفر

    On the authority of Muḥammad bin Yaḥya from Muḥammad bin Al-Ḥusayn from Muḥammad ibn Sinan from ‘Ammar ibn Marwan from Jabir who has said the following. “Abu Ja‘far (a.s.) has said that the Messenger of Allah has said, ‘The Hadith (statements) of Ahl al-Bayt (members of the family of Prophet Muhammad) is difficult and it becomes difficult. No one believes in it except the angels that are close to Allah or the Prophets who are Messengers also, a servant of Allah whose He has tested for faith. Whatever would come to you of the Hadith (statements) of Ahl al-Bayt of Muhammad (members of the family of Prophet Muhammad), if your heart would feel relief and you recognized them accept them. Whatever that would cause antipathy in your hearts and you could not recognize leave them to Allah, to the Messenger of Allah and the scholar from Ahl al-Bayt of Muhammad. The ones to perish are those who do not accept Hadith of Ahl al-Bayt (members of the family of Prophet Muhammad). Whenever one is narrated to them they say, “By Allah, this was not and that was not.” Denial is disbelief.”


    The following points are noteworthy regarding its applicability:

    1. It is circular reasoning/tautology. A Hadīth telling us to not reject any Hadīth even though Ahādith are Sudūr al-Zanni. So the only way for someone to accept it without any suspicion is when they heard directly from the Imām.

    2. It tries to do iqtibās (adaptation) of the verse of al-istinbāt but does tahrīf of its import.

    In the verse وإذا جاءهم أمر من الأمن أو الخوف أذاعوا به,   the word أذاعوا is replaced by أنكروا,  a big  misappropriation.

    3. It employs ambiguous language (use of al-Inkār). In the first instance, inkār mean ‘disagreeable’ but in the other instance, inkār mean ‘rejection’. However, it’s highly inconceivable that the Imām would be this ambiguous with his word usage.

    4. It does hasr (restricts) of comprehending the narrations of the Ahl ul-Bayt to three groups, none of which would have any need for guidance anyway. This makes the narration clearly Batini in its origin and meaning.

    5. It makes the criterion of accepting a hadith the inclination of the listeners’ heart (emotional) rather than rational. Under such rationale, the disbelievers would be excused:

    وَإِذَا ذُكِرَ ٱللَّهُ وَحْدَهُ ٱشْمَأَزَّتْ قُلُوبُ ٱلَّذِينَ لَا يُؤْمِنُونَ بِٱلْءَاخِرَةِۖ وَإِذَا ذُكِرَ ٱلَّذِينَ مِن دُونِهِۦٓ إِذَا هُمْ يَسْتَبْشِرُونَ

    And when Allah is mentioned alone, the hearts of those who do not believe in the Hereafter shrink with aversion, but when those [worshipped] other than Him are mentioned, immediately they rejoice.

    Thus, if finding something in congruence with your heart is the basis of your religious acceptance, you might as well be following your hawā. If this is the case, then someone who can’t understand the hadith becomes weak in faith. Our religion/Islam would become like Christianity in contemporary time.

    6. As per the narration, we don’t have an ‘ālim of Aal Muḥammad to refer to today, so basically it falls on the scholars to investigate. If a muhaddith has reasonable evidence to doubt the authenticity of a narration based on evidentiary tools available in ‘Ulūm Al-Hadīth, then it should not be relied upon. Else, it makes the Ahādith completely ta’abbudi (prescriptive) in nature.

  5. Shaykh Aṣif Muḥsinī in his Mashra’ah Biḥār Al-Anwār says all forms of this narration are weak. He also raises another textual contention that this Hadīth does tawhīn/insult of Prophets who are not mursal and angels who are not muqarrab, implying they have some type of naqs in their Imān. However, he also said that the content may have been issued by an Imām given the large numbers of Asānīd (chains of transmission) although the manuscript of Baṣā’ir is not proven to reach us with a reliable path.