Below is a translated transcript of advice given be Āyatullah Mufīdī Yazdī to seminary students in one of his classes. He is a scholar from Yazd who studied in Qom under scholars like Āyatullah Behjat and Āyatullah Ḥasanzādeh Āmulī. He currently gives lessons on various subjects in the city of Qom and is known for his strength and unique views in the Qurānic sciences.
Āyatullah Behjat had informed us a number of times that he had seen some teachers in Najaf, who would have known and remembered a tradition the moment you would quote them. They would have read and remembered all the traditions.
Once he mentioned in Samarrah, a group of Shi’as from Baghdad were overexcited at someone who was expected to give a lecture. I also got interested and decided to attend his talk. He was a thin middle-aged Sayyid and I had not seen anyone like him before or after. From the moment he recited his Bismillah there was not a sentence in which he would not quote a tradition. When there were difficult words in a tradition, he would even clarify those through other traditions.
The son-in-law of Āqā Quchāni, Shaykh Muḥammad Taqī Harawī once said: I once recited a hadith off the pulpit in Yazd. Āqā Modarres Yazdī was sitting near the pulpit and asked me to give him a reference for the tradition so that he could look at what was written before and after it. I went and searched all over for it but could not locate it. I was feeling embarrassed that if he were to ask again, what would I say? I went to Āqā Wazīrī who had a large library, but still did not find it. He told me that the answer to your quest is with Shaykh ‘Abbās Qumī, the author of Safīnah al-Biḥār. I went to Qom to Shaykh ‘Abbās Qumī’s house and he brought out Biḥār al-Anwār for me and said this is the tradition you are looking for.
Shaykh ‘Abbās Qumī’s son would write down so many traditions that his fingers would develop a callus. He would ask me to collect them and willed for me to bury them with him. He once said: my father once had severe pain in his eyes to the extent that he began weeping. I did not want to go to class so I could be with him, but he asked me to go, though I returned back as quickly as possible. When I arrived home I saw that my father was fine, so I asked him what happened? He said, when you left, the pain in my eyes got worse. I thought to my self that my eyes have such a deep affinity with the traditions of the infallibles, so I went straight to the bookshelf and opened up al-Kāfī and placed it in front of my eyes. The pain went away very quickly.
Āyatullah Behjat would say many times that I consider referring to biographical books of scholars on the same level as books of ethics. I (Āyatullah Mufīdī Yazdī) always believed that referring to the biographies of scholars is better than referring to works of ethics, because ethical works speak in general terms, while the lives of scholars are those moral rules exemplified.
It has been reported from Shaykh ‘Abbās Qumī that he had gone through the work al-Ghadīr 12 (or 18) times. Those who would attend classes at Fayziyyah would say that every time they would see Shaykh ‘Abbās Qumī, you would find him reading something.
Ways of Developing Affinity
As for the how an affinity can be developed with traditions, there are at least three ways.
Going Through a Ḥadīth Book in Order
When you are reading traditions and have some criticism or question regarding it, do not get stuck on it. Be like a child who is not able to speak yet and begins to understand the communication of their parents over time. The traditions are like this as well. Do not tell yourself that until and unless I understand a tradition, I will not move forward. This is one of the plots of Satan to damage your motivation and to break your consistency. Do not make your work difficult such that you will want to discard reading completely eventually.
Spend a short amount of time on it, so that it remains consistent. A little act with consistency is better than a lot of work with no consistency. Anywhere between five to sixty minutes should be enough in one day.
Consider it prohibited upon yourself to not have a paper and pen while reading traditions. If you read for 10 minutes, you should have half a page of paper filled up about what you have read. Writing down is important because humans are forgetful and things are erased from their memories. Sometimes you have a discussion about a matter and think it was an excellent discussion, but when you find the same discussion you had written down you realize that the written discussion was much better and stronger.
If you write down notes about the traditions you are reading and just review them every now and then, after skimming through your notes ten or so times, all information will remain with you. Another advantage of writing is if you do not understand something, you can jot it down and over time whenever you figure out the answer you can go back to it. At times, you go to some Zayd or ‘Amr to understand what a given tradition means, but over time as you develop an affinity with them, their meanings will become clear like the sun. In other words, you can understand the traditions through the very tradition itself.
Read the complete tradition, including the chain of narrators. Do not suffice reading just the content. However, do not worry about critiquing and analyzing the narrators and do not get hung up on that. The result of this is that you will become familiar with many of the names that are repeated over and over again.
The books you should start off within this method should be primary sources, for example, the four-primary books of ḥadīth (al-Kāfi, al-Faqīh, al-Tahdhib, al-Istibṣār). Books like Biḥār al-Anwār, al-Wāfī, Wasāil al-Shī’a etc. are all secondary sources.
Thematical Reading of Ḥadīth
Perhaps there was a topic you were really interested in two years ago, but not anymore, or you think that a certain topic will be important for you in the near future. Do not worry about such topics. Ask yourself what topic is important and relevant for you at this point in time, so that when you go after traditions on the topic, you enjoy reading them and benefit from them.
Determine your topic, then use a software or indexes that organize narrations thematically citing different books, and read through them. In this case, a specific book and order are not necessary. Spend about 10 minutes a day on this and over the long run, it will have a lot of blessings for you. This method is also something you can do alongside the first method if you wish.
Use this method, but make sure you do not abandon your discussions on them. If you are able to find a discussion partner then all the better, but if not, then do not worry and continue reading it on your own. Do not use the lack of discussion as an excuse to do other things. Be like [24:37] men whom neither commerce nor sale distracts from the remembrance of Allah.
At the same time, do not abandon your studies for reading ḥadīth. You will be busy with your studies, but it is still possible to take out 10 minutes for this task. If you are tired, then just read two lines, but the important thing is to remain consistent.
This method should not have any negative effects, because we are not asking you to philosophize over the traditions. Just read the traditions and move on – the idea is to develop a familiarity and affinity with them.
Reading Original Uṣūl Works
Another method is to start reading traditions from the original Uṣūl works. These are works that form the basis for later works. They were works that scholars or companions had written down themselves after hearing them directly from the Imāms (a) or other narrators and the authors had not taken traditions from previously written books. They say there were around 400 of these works, though I believe there were close to six-thousand.
For me, this is the best method because besides reading the traditions, you get familiar with the earliest books of traditions and their history. You can read these in chronological order of their compilation. The books on Noor Software are also in chronological order – works of Shaykh al-Ṣadūq, Shaykh al-Kulaynī, Shaykh al-Mufīd, Shaykh al-Ṭūsī etc. are all later works and are not considered Uṣūl works.
For a list of Uṣūl works, refer to Kitāb al-Dharī’ah of ‘Allamah Buzurg Tehrānī, under the word Aṣl. Likewise, you can refer to chapter one and two of volume one of Biḥār al-Anwār. ‘Allāmah Majlisī had gathered a number of students and used their help to collect and record as many Uṣūl works as possible before they got lost. ‘Allamah Majlisī lists out all the Uṣūl works he has recorded in his Biḥār and the total comes out to be around 370. In one of the chapters he names all the works and in the second chapter he goes through their reliability.
One of the most important Uṣūl works is al-Maḥāsin of al-Barqī, which is available today in three volumes. It consists of 10 sections, which in reality were close to 100 smaller books. Other Uṣūl works include Baṣāir al-Darajāt of al-Ṣaffār, Tawḥīd al-Mufaḍḍal, Risālah al-Ihlīlajah, Miṣbāḥ al-Sharī’ah, Tafsīr al-‘Askarī, Kāmil al-Ziyarāt, two books of Ḥusayn b. Sa’īd Ahwāzī al-Zuhd and al-Mu’min, the 16-Usul works, Masāil ‘Alī b. Ja’far, al-Nawādir of Ash’arī, Tafsīr al-Furāt, Tafsīr al-‘Ayyāshī, Tafsīr al-Qumī, Kitāb Sulaym b. Qays, Kitāb Salmān (said to be the second ḥadīth book written amongst the Muslims, the first of them being a book of Imām ‘Alī), Saḥīfa al-Riḍā, Ṭibb al-Riḍā, Risālah al-Dhahabīyyah, al-Ghārāt, Balāghāt al-Nisā, Dalā’il al-Imāmah and so on…