Originally posted on Shiitic Studies.
Does He Have a Methodology?
Kulayni does not give us the Manhaj (methodology) he follows when selecting reports for inclusion in al-Kafi. The only thing we have to work with is a critical passage towards the end of the Khutba (preface) where he outlines three principles that should be followed in the face of contradiction between reports, for this was the greatest concern of the unnamed contemporary who prompted the authoring of the book.
A cross-search looking for key words found in this passage within our corpus reveals that all three are derived from a single report which Kulayni himself transmits in al-Kafi1. This is the report called the Maqbula (accepted report) of Umar b. Handhala2. The latter was a companion of al-Sadiq whose report was deemed extremely relevant by later scholars for resolving cases where variant positions are attributed to the Imams.
The fact that Kulayni’s Usul (principles) when dealing with Ta’arudh (contradictory reports) are wholly Naqli (textual-based) confirms our presentation of Kulayni as a traditionist (not someone who gives a free reign to the intellect in over-ruling reports). He declares as much when he begins said passage by saying3:
فاعلم يا أخي أرشدك الله أنه لا يسع أحدا تمييز شئ مما اختلف الرواية فيه عن العلماء عليهم السلام برأيه
Know then O brother, may Allah guide you, that it does not befit anyone to prefer any one thing (position over another) in that (matter) which the reports from the Scholars (the Imams) have opposed (each other) using his personal opinion.
إلا على ما أطلقه العالم بقوله عليه السلام: اعرضوها على كتاب الله فما وافق كتاب الله عز وجل فخذوه، وما خالف كتاب الله فردوه
Except (on the basis of) that which the Scholar (Imam) عليه السلام had stated in his words: “Compare it with the Book of Allah, so that which is consistent with the Book of Allah Mighty and Majestic then take it, and that which opposes the Book of Allah then repudiate it”4
و قوله عليه السلام: دعوا ما وافق القوم فإن الرشد في خلافهم
And his عليه السلام words: “Abandon that which is in agreement with the group (i.e. the Sunnis), for the truth is in opposing them”5
وقوله عليه السلام: خذوا بالمجمع عليه، فإن المجمع عليه لا ريب فيه
And his عليه السلام words: “Take that which is united upon, for there is no doubt in that which is united upon”6.
These three are principles to be followed when there is a contradiction between reports, but which reports are to be admitted in the first place? Or are we to assume that Kulayni accepted the credibility of all the material in circulation and was not aware of fabrications in the corpus?
Since we know that the Maqbula looms large in Kulayni’s thinking, so much so that he quotes verbatim and also paraphrases principles derived from it in his Khutba, it would be fitting to delve deeper into it, perhaps we will find a clue to solve the puzzle.
Analyzing the Maqbula
The Maqbula begins with Umar asking the Imam al-Sadiq whether it would be allowed for two Shia who have a dispute between them about a debt or inheritance (financial matter) to go to the Sultan (temporal rulers) and the Qudhat (judges) to obtain a ruling from them.
The Imam likens this to submitting to the authority of the Taghut (authorities apart from Allah), and whatever gain issues from the ruling to be illegitimate (even if one was in the right)7. Rather, they should seek out from among the Shia one who was ممن قد روى حديثنا ‘of those who has transmitted our (i.e. the Imams’) Hadith’, نظر في حلالنا وحرامنا ‘has looked into our (i.e. the Imam’s teachings on) Halal and Haram’ and عرف أحكامنا ‘has known our rulings’, and submit to his judgment, for the Imam officially appoints such a one as judge over them.
Umar asks what should be done if the contending parties agree between themselves to each appoint a candidate who meets the above criteria to look into the issue, and the two come to opposing judgments, basing their difference on divergent reports attributed to ‘you’ (i.e. the Imams).
The Imam declares that the ruling to be followed is the one pronounced by
أعدلهما وأفقههما وأصدقهما في الحديث وأورعهما
The A’dal (more morally upright of the two), the Afqah (more learned), the Asdaq (more truthful) in speech, and the Awra’ (more pious)8
Umar asks what is to be done when both candidates are equally matched in these areas.
قلت: فإنهما عدلان مرضيان عند أصحابنا لا يفضل واحد منهما على الآخر؟
I said: (What if) they (the two candidates) are both Adl (morally upright) and Mardhi (acceptable) in the estimation of our companions (fellow Shia)9 such that no one of them has precedence over the other?
The Imam replies10:
فقال: ينظر إلى ما كان من روايتهم عنا في ذلك الذي حكما به المجمع عليه من أصحابك فيؤخذ به من حكمنا ويترك الشاذ الذي ليس بمشهور عند أصحابك فإن المجمع عليه لا ريب فيه
It is looked for (that report) – out of their (respective) transmissions on our authority (i.e. reports attributed to us) about that (matter) on the basis of which they rule – (the one) which is ‘united upon’ by your companions (fellow Shia), and it is taken to be a part of our rulings, while the Shaadh (isolated report), (which is) the one that is not Mashhur (famous) with your companions, is abandoned. For there is no doubt in the ‘united upon’.
قلت: فإن كان الخبران عنكما مشهورين قد رواهما الثقات عنكم؟
What if both reports from you are Mashhur and narrated by the Thiqat from you.
What is going on in this conversation, as should have become clear, is a companion of the Imam upping the ante in an attempt to probe what is to be done when the Imam’s initially proposed solution cannot break the dead-lock.
The above quoted statement is key, because it is a restatement of said companion’s understanding of where we stand so far in the decision tree: What if both reports are transmitted by those matched in their trustworthiness (الثقات), on top of which, none of the reports are ‘united upon’, that is, both reports (and the positions they advocate) are equally famous and widely accepted (مشهورين) by a significant proportion?11
These are the two principles given by the Imam so far.
It is in answer to this that the Imam introduces an additional principle saying:
قال: ينظر فما وافق حكمه حكم الكتاب والسنة وخالف العامة فيؤخذ به ويترك ما خالف حكمه حكم الكتاب والسنة ووافق العامة
It is looked into, so that (report) whose ruling is consistent with the ruling of the Book and the Sunna and opposes the A’mma then it is taken, and that (report) whose ruling opposes the ruling of the Book and the Sunna and is in agreement with the A’mma is abandoned.
This principle is a joint one with two related variables – consistency with the Qur’an and the Sunna while at the same time deviation from the practice of the A’mma. Many have misunderstood this and treat each independently. Opposition with the A’mma only becomes a factor when a consistency test against Qur’an and the Sunna cannot break the dead-lock.
Umar is aware of this fact and neutralizes the first variable by asking what is to be done when both of the Faqihs (knowledgeable scholars referred to)12 buttress their position from the Qur’an and the Sunna, and one of the reports (and its purport) matches with the position of the A’mma while the other does not. In other words, none of the reports can be said to be opposing the Book and the Sunna, and the only distinction that can be drawn between them is how they stack up with the practice of the A’mma.
Only then does the Imam instruct him to favour:
ما خالف العامة ففيه الرشاد
That which opposes the A’mma – for in it is (found) the correct guidance (i.e. position).
Umar proceeds to the scenario when both positions match the practice of the A’mma. The Imam answers that one should abandon the one that ‘their’ rulers and judges are إليه أميل ‘more inclined towards (closer to)’.
Umar’s final question is what to do if one can’t choose between the reports in all these different aspects. Everything being the same, the Imams asks him to ‘return the matter’ until ‘you meet your Imam’
فإن الوقوف عند الشبهات خير من الاقتحام في الهلكات
for halting in the face of doubts is better than rushing headlong into manifold destruction
The Hidden Principle
If Kulayni mentions three of the principles found in the Maqbula in his Khutba:
(a) First, (عرض على كتاب الله (والسنة ‘comparing with the Book of Allah (and the Sunna)’ to look for ما وافق ‘that which is consistent‘ with these sources.
(b) Second, taking that which خالف العامة ‘opposes the A’mma’
(c) Looking for the مجمع عليه ‘united upon‘ or consensus position, alternatively, the مشهور ‘famous report’ that is widely accepted.
What is the principle he has left out?
The Imam’s initial response: Preferring the reports of those who were extremely pious (أورع) and truthful (أصدق) companions of the Imams, acceptable to all (مرضي), and were scholars in of themselves (أفقه), in preference to the contradictory reports of those who were not at the same level of reliability. What Umar succinctly puts as ما رواه الثقات ‘that which is transmitted by the Thiqat‘
This is essentially Ilm al-Rijal and that too inspired directly from the words of the Imam13. For it falls under the domain of this science to evaluate the narrators based on these criteria.
I believe that this was the preliminary principle in Kulayni’s selection of reports for his book. He cannot have overlooked it, rather, this principle goes unmentioned because it is assumed i.e. he already factors this in when selecting Hadith for inclusion.
After all, the Imam’s responses are sequential in nature, it is only when the reports of the narrators, who are equally matched in their reputation, contradict each other does he instruct us to apply other dead-lock breakers. Beginning by looking at the Shuhra (which position is more united upon) and isolating the Gharib (rare position), before proceeding to the two remaining principles14.
Did the Qudama care about Rijal?
We are handicapped by the fact that the Qudama as a whole did not author works setting out the theoretical underpinnings of their activity. What can be reconstructed from clues scattered in their works, however, is that there were already (pre-existing) conventions (checks and balances) that the Nuqqad (scholars of Hadith with critical abilities) had put in place to deal with the problem of fabrications in Hadith. Central to this effort was Rijal.15
This meant that there were certain things expected of a compiler in Kulayni’s time which either made a book or broke it.
First was the personal reputation of the compiler in terms of his honesty and accuracy in quoting from different sources (without mixing stuff up).
Najashi says about Kulayni:
وكان أوثق الناس في الحديث وأثبتهم
He was the most trusted of people in Hadith and the most accurate16
Second were a compiler’s practices as an author.
At the basic level, a compiler was required to give all his sources, recording the transmission back-history of each in complete manner.
This can be brought into relief by comparing al-Kafi to the case of another earlier attempt at a comprehensive compilation of Hadith, a Kafi before the Kafi if you will, two generations before Kulayni. I speak of the Nawadir al-Hikma, and its author Muhammad b. Ahmad b. Yahya b. Imran al-Ash’ari al-Qummi.
Nawadir al-Hikma achieved fame in Qum and had become a reference work for the masses seeming to contain everything they would ever need. Because of this it was popularly referred to as Dabbat Shabib after a seller of grain-seeds called Shabib who had a massive oil container (Dabba) in Qum with several compartments يعطي منها ما يطلب منه من دهن ‘from which he would give whatever is asked of him of any kind of oil’17.
Despite this, Muhammad b. Ahmad b. Yahya was criticized by the Nuqqad for يعتمد المراسيل ‘depending on the Marasil’, that is, giving weight to disconnected chains. Ibn al-Walid (d. 343), a junior contemporary of Kulayni even went through the whole work and culled out instances where Ash’ari has in the chain عن رجل ‘from a man’ or عن بعض أصحابنا ‘from one of our companions’ – without identifying him, or where he says casually وروي ‘it is narrated’ without giving a chain, or وجدت في كتاب ‘I found in a book’ – a book which he did not receive in the accepted manner (i.e. preferably Sim’a or Qira’a in each teacher/student pairing)18.
The fact that Kulayni’s practice is to give his sources (intermediaries) in almost all the statements attributed to the Imams in the book is the clearest evidence that he followed these conventions and was sensitive to avoid pitfalls. This meticulous recording of chains is not decorative or for the sake of blessing as is the case in the modern era. They indicate a desire to document the origins of each report19.
But what made a compilation stand out above the rest is the judicious selection of sources. In other words, it was not expected for a compiler to treat all that which is out there identically but to sift through them. Ash’ari was criticized for لا يبالي عمن أخذ ‘not caring from whom he takes’. For the Nuqqad had begun identifying those whom a narrator should seek out, and red-flagging those who should be abandoned.
No one could avoid the weak totally, but it was noted when someone did not have any filters at all (as above) or narrated from them disproportionately, at which point they would go to the measure of saying about someone يروي عن الضعفاء ‘he narrates from the weak’. Ibn al-Walid excised the reports of about 23 sources from the book20 The fact that this is not said about Kulayni means that he did not reach a level where it had become concerning.
The clearest argument in favour of Kulayni abiding by these conventions is the positive reception of the book (i.e. how favourably it was accepted). Thus he is described by Tusi as:
Expert in the field of Akhbar (reports)21
A term he only uses for Kulayni and which would not have been forthcoming if Kulayni had exhibited shoddy scholarship.
How He Did It
As has been argued above, Kulayni’s selection would revolve mainly around the guiding principle of Rijal to select the Sahih.
In the first instance, he would have shared in the collective knowledge concerning the identity of a number of highly reputed Thiqa, widely-acknowledged as the elite companions of the Imams (Ashab al-Ijma plus others), as well as the books they authored which are to be sought after.
On the other side of the coin, he would have shared in the collective knowledge concerning the identity of a number of castigated Ghulat and liars whom the Imams had cursed e.g. Abu al-Khattab etc, as well as the fabricated material they were circulating which was to be avoided.
In addition to this, he would have internalized specialized knowledge current in Hadith circles. Details from his teachers based on their experience of interacting with different narrators and comparing different transmissions of the same book.
This would have led him to have a pyramid view of the material in front of him (in terms of decreasing strength).
He began with those reports that are found in the famous primary sources (Usul), authored by highly reputed companions of the Imams (esp. the Sadiqayn), which had been accepted by the Ta’ifa, and on which belief and practice of the sect were historically based (they were the references). There was an element of trusting the judgment of these highly competent companions (who were scholars in their own right) when they chose to include a report from someone (whom we do not necessarily know).
Because of the importance of these Usul, they were usually transmitted by the most distinguished narrator (pillars) in every generation, one from the other, and these best Turuq form the core of al-Kafi22. Indeed, because of the wide-spread transmission of these sources, the status of some narrators23 in individual chains could become irrelevant, because the sources themselves had become textually stable (contents could not be changed), and were guaranteed as going back to their authors (early companions).
Kulayni’s biggest tool when dealing with the sources that are not at the same calibre as the above is to look for corroboration between their reports and those of the primary sources. Once a basic meaning has been established to be true then the Qudama saw all the Riwayat (variant transmissions) which have the same meaning to be Sahih (equally valid) regardless of the conditions of individual chains.
Many times we find Kulayni beginning the Bab (chapter) with the strongest report he has for a matter (i.e. from the primary sources), and then includes other weaker reports that he has in support of the central report24. He sees in this multiple attestation and mutual re-enforcement an indication that all the narrators were being accurate in these instances25. Looking for corroboration was also useful for him in demonstrating the Shuhra of a certain position in opposition to the Gharib position (in cases of conflicting reports).
Kulayni would have excised the material from the earlier works by authors of lesser repute which present a contradictory picture to that which is found in the primary works.
When there is no position to be found in the primary sources, then he can cast the net wider and tap into secondary (lesser known) material. Multiplicity of chains in these secondary sources could engender confidence. Of course if a solitary report is bringing something exceptional, the reputation of the transmitters became key26. Otherwise there is evidence that he could accept the report of the narrator about whom nothing negative is known (even if his Wathaqa has not been established) provided there is no disqualifying flaw (e.g. a stronger report contradicting it).
These standards were loosened for reports whose subject matter are non-essential, non-controversial and self-evident such as the Mustahabbat, Duas, Ta’rikh (historical issues), Akhlaqi (moral and ethical) precepts, and common-sense wisdom and advice, where chain-based analysis is somewhat superfluous27.
The Three Principles Revisited
Now we can return to Kulayni’s three principles, but keeping in mind that they only come into play between reports that are equally matched in terms of Rijal. It is not clear whether Kulayni complies with the sequencing that I have argued is key to the Maqbula. He does not give them in the same order as the Imam does, but perhaps this can be explained away by him depending on recall when writing the Khutba.
First is going with the report that is more consistent with the Qur’an. Kulayni does not pair the Qur’an with the Sunna (i.e. the established one) as the Imam does in the Maqbula. The logic behind this is that the true words of the Imams are supposed to match to a high degree with the Qur’an, both being aspects from the same divine stream. But the Qur’an is silent one way or another about a lot of rulings28.
Second is going against the report that is in conformity with the Sunnis. The logic behind this was to reveal the statements uttered by the Imams under Taqiyya because of the repressive atmosphere against them. There were times where the Imams answered in accordance to the position of the authorities (majority), to safeguard detection as being divergent, and expose themselves and their Shia to danger. The true position is opposite of that said in Taqiyya. The issue is that ‘Amma themselves are divided over many issues such that one can’t say what opposing them would entail in specific cases29.
Third is that which is backed up by the majority of the companions. This was the first dead-lock breaker given by the Imam (after looking at Rijal). The logic was that the Imams would have made it so that the majority of their intimate companions (with whom there was no Taqiyya) had united upon the true position. The problem is that it is difficult to identify what the Mashhur position of the companions was in specific cases.
No wonder that we have a revealing statement by Kulayni that he does not find these principles to be decisive enough to resolve the state of affairs in most cases30:
ونحن لا نعرف من جميع ذلك إلا أقله
But we do not know of all that (i.e. that comes under this) except a minority (i.e. these principles are not efficacious in most cases).
The fall-back position (when dealing with reports of matching strength) is to ‘return the true knowledge of all that to the Scholar (Imam)’, in other words, make Tawaqquf (suspend judgment). Hold up our hands and admit our failure to understand the true position, which only the Imam knows.
We then take advantage of the leeway we have been given of making Takhyir, that is, whatever report one chooses to act upon (in cases of dead-lock), as long as it is attributed to them, then it suffices us (Allah will accept from us), by virtue of our sincerity in following the only legitimate authorities.
He encapsulates this notion by saying:
ولا نجد شيئا أحوط ولا أوسع من رد علم ذلك كله إلى العالم عليه السلام وقبول ما وسع من الأمر فيه بقوله عليه السلام: بأيما أخذتم من باب التسليم وسعكم
(Thus) we do not find anything more precautious and wide-reaching (i.e. a principle that covers most cases) than returning the true knowledge of all that to the Scholar (Imam) عليه السلام, and accepting the broadness there is in the matter – (as found) in his words عليه السلام: “Whichever you take if done in submission (to us) covers you”31.
To be continued …
- Al-Kafi: Vol. 1, Pgs. 67-68, Hadith No. 10.
- So-called because it is accepted even if its chain is not technically Sahih. While the rest of the narrators in the chain are Thiqa, Umar the primary narrator himself is unmentioned in the books of Rijal. Of course, as has been made clear in part I, this fact in of itself would not necessarily make his report non-Sahih in the estimation of the Qudama.
- Al-Kafi: Vol. 1, Pg. 8.
- This paralell’s the Imam’s wording in the Maqbula ينظر فما وافق حكمه حكم الكتاب والسنة ‘It is looked into – so the one (i.e. report) whose ruling is consistent with the ruling of the Book and the Sunna (is taken)’.
- This exhibits a word-to-word correspondence with the Imam’s wording in the Maqbula ما خالف العامة ففيه الرشاد ‘That which opposes the Amma (is taken) – for in it is (found) the correct guidance (i.e. position).
- This also exhibits a word-to-word correspondence with the Imam’s wording in the Maqbula فإن المجمع عليه لا ريب فيه ‘for there is no doubt in that which is united upon’.
- While the context of the Maqbula has to do with opposing verdicts of judges (in a court setting), it was considered to have great ramifications for cases of contradictory reports in so far as the Imami judges were not ruling based on Ra’y (personal opinion) or Qiyas (analogical reasoning) but textual reports attributed to the Imams (which could contradict).
- There is, implicit in the Imam’s reply, the requirement that the single candidate referred to at first possess these qualities of Adala, Fiqh, Sidq and Wara’, and it is only when there are two rival candidates (who give opposing judgments) that the relative strengths of each (who already meet a base-line of this) are compared.
One can also argue that the fact that the Imam does not speak of the Wathaqa of this single candidate explicitly explains the concept of Asalat al-Sihha as practiced by the Qudama i.e. they would accept the report attributed to the Imam from one whom they did not know anything bad (despite his Wathaqa not being established), provided there was no disqualifying flaw (i.e. a stronger contradictory report).
It is better after all to follow what has been attributed to the Imams (and take our chances that it could be a lie) if it is the only report on an issue, then rely on personal opinion on the matter. Of course, in practical terms, these factors quickly become critical and were indispensable, because of the prevalence of contradictory reports in our corpus.
- While I take أصحابك ‘your companions’ to denote fellow Shia, it implies foremost the assembly of the learned among them, whose judgment is followed by the masses.
- It is at this stage that the Imam shifts from the personal qualities of candidate (and transmitter of reports from the Imam) to the nature of the report itself. This is important because what was required of the Shia was to submit to the authority of the Imam as per the words of a narrator they could trust, not to directly engage in criticism of the Matn of the report for intellectual reasons (which would be akin to making your intellect the Imam).
- The Imam draws a distinction between مجمع عليه and the شاذ defining the latter as ليس بمشهور عند اصحابك ‘that which is not famous among your companions’. Consequently I feel justified in defining مجمع عليه as that which most (not all of the companions) are ‘united upon’, in other words, the majority.
I consider this to be the greatest Qarina we have lost, the Mashhur position among the early Ashab, that which was the basis of the practice in a majority of Shia communities sanctioned by most of the Shia Fuqaha. Of course some of this is reflected in the number of reports in support of a position, but numerical superiority as we have it could be obscuring a more complex situation.
- It is worthy of note that this is how Umar comes to refer to the two candidates.
- This is a sufficient answer to those who claim that evaluating the Rijal has no basis in the Madhhab. Do we also need the Imam to tell us to prefer the report of the reliable one over the unknown or the suspect?! When this is common sense.
- Comparison within each principle also extends over a spectrum. We begin by looking for the one transmitted by one who is more reliable even if others meet a modicum of reliability; then the report that is more famous and widely accepted relative to the other; finally, the one that is more consistent with the Book (and the Sunna) relative to the other while at the same time more opposite to the non-Shia
- I date the beginnings of a greater more formalized Rijali consciousness two or three generations before Kulayni (i.e. Tabaqa 7, the companions of al-Jawad and al-Hadi). You can trace opinions on the evaluation of narrators to figures such as Fadhl b. Shadhan (d. 260), Ahmad b. Muhammad b. Isa, Ali b. al-Hasan b. Ali b. Fadhal, Muhammad b. Isa al-Ubaydi, and Abdallah b. Muhammad b. Khalid al-Tayalisi.
- Rijal Najashi: Pg. 377, Entry No. 1026.
- Rijal Najashi: Pg. 349, Entry No. 939.
- Rijal Najashi: Pg. 348, Entry No. 939.
- It is strange that many modernists see this fact staring them right in the face but still think that Rijal was not important to the Qudama.
- Rijal Najashi: Pg. 348, Entry No. 939. See also the parallel entry in Tusi’s Fihrist: Pg. 222, Entry No. 622.
- Fihrist: Pg. 210, Entry No. 602.
- For example: Kulayni prioritizes the Kitab al-Jami (a first generation comprehensive compilation) of Ubaydallah b. Ali al-Halabi, which was said to have been shown to al-Sadiq who approved of it. That is why you will find quotations from this work scattered across different chapters throughout al-Kafi. A non-exhaustive search reveals no less than 300 instances of this same core Tariq (showing that this is a chain to a book and not a case of oral transmission): Ali b. Ibrahim > Ibrahim b. Hashim > Ibn Abi Umayr (one of the best of Tabaqa 6) -> Hammad b. Uthman (one of the best of Tabaqa 5) -> al-Halabi.
Another example is the Kitab al-Salat al-Kabir of Hariz b. Abdallah al-Sijistani (a large first generation compilation devoted to the ritual prayer). Kulayni prioritizes this primary source in all the different chapters dealing with Salat in al-Kafi. A non-exhaustive search reveals no less than 100 instances of this chain: Ali b. Ibrahim > Ibrahim b. Hashim > Hammad b. Isa (one of the best of Tabaqa 5) -> Hariz b. Abdallah -> The latter’s sources (mostly the best of Tabaqa 4 such as Zurara, Muhammad b. Muslim and Fudhayl b. Yasar).
- This is particularly the case in the Shia tradition which was mostly written in nature, and many times narrators that Kulayni was using were just Mashayikh al-Ijaza, whose role was confined to passively passing down a book, and were therefore not officially graded Thiqa or otherwise, because of the irrelevance of doing so.
For example: Hundreds of reports are deemed weak in al-Kafi because of the presence of Sahl b. Ziyad al-Adami in the chain, but it is clear that in a lot of cases Kulayni is not relying on him as an independent narrator, rather, using him as a Shaykh al-Ijaza (passive transmitter) to textually stable works of earlier authors, the famous books of al-Hasan b. Mahbub for example, for which he has an alternative chain in any case (i.e. Muhammad b. Yahya > Ahmad b. Muhammad).
- ‘Support’ does not necessarily mean a word by word equivalence, but a common theme running through the reports, with one report taking the premise of the other for granted and fleshing it out further, giving exceptional cases, or conditionalizing it.
- There were narrators who, in the words of Ibn al-Ghadhairi يجوز أن يخرج شاهداً ‘it is permissible to take from them as a witness (i.e. in corroborating a report)’. Their reports in of themselves were not enough to independently establish a position. The Qudama used to take from them what corroborates something else and leave out ما كان فيها من غلو أو تخليط ‘what is in them (i.e. their works) of Ghulu and Takhlit’. Anything which the narrator in question ينفرد به ولا يعرف من غير طريقه ‘is alone in it (i.e. narrates it exclusively), (a content which) is not known from other than his way’ was abandoned. We know that the collected works of Muhammad b. Sinan, Muhammad b. Ali Abi Samina and Muhammad b. al-Hasan b. Jumhur were filtered in this way. Kulayni could have been using such figures in the same way (just for the sake of corroboration) in the hundreds of reports that he includes from these weak narrators in his book.
- Kulayni abandons completely (does not include any reports at all except arguably in one instance) from al-Hasan b. Ali b. Abi Uthman (Sajjada), a lying Khattabi, whose depravity knows no bounds. He preferred Abu al-Khattab to the prophet(!) and was from the Alya’iyya who divinized Ali and considered Muhammad to be his messenger. Hasan, may Allah curse him, had a big book that al-Barqi (accused of transmitting from the Dhuafa) passes down. It was also transmitted by one of Kulayni’s authorities i.e. Ahmad b. Idris. So Kulayni clearly had access to it but filters it all.
- Consider how Kulayni makes use of Ishaq b. Muhammad al-Basri, a pillar of Ghulu, and the head of a subsect of theirs (I have spoken about him at length here: https://www.academia.edu/39041417/The_Mileu_of_Ghulu_The_Mukhammisa_and_Ishaq_b._Muhammad_al-Basri_the_%CA%BFAly%C4%81%CA%BEi).
It is clear that the latter was a very prolific transmitter, and some works attributed to him survives in the Nusayri-Alawi tradition. Kulayni uses him in only 10 instances throughout a book containing 16,000 reports (0.0625%). Half of these are about the Nass (designation) of various Imams. A matter Kulayni would have considered established. The remaining are as non-controversial as can be.
I cite one example:
علي بن محمد ومحمد بن أبي عبدالله، عن إسحاق بن محمد، عن حمزة بن محمد قال: كتبت إلى أبي محمد (ع): لم فرض الله الصوم؟ فورد الجواب ليجد الغني مضض الجوع فيحن على الفقير
Ali b. Muhammad and Muhammad b. Abi Abdillah – Ishaq b. Muhammad – Hamza b. Muhammad who said: I wrote to Abi Muhammad: Why did Allah obligate Sawm? The response came through: ‘So that the rich can feel the pangs of hunger and show compassion to the poor’.
This is what we mean when we say Tasahhul (loosening of standards).
- I would argue that this principle can be very useful in the hands of a competent Faqih because the Imam asks us to measure the degree of consistency with the Qur’an and the Sunna, a test that does not necessarily have a binary answer. That is to say, they both might seem consistent but we are looking for that is ‘more consistent’. The one who has a wholistic grasp of the Qur’an and the Sunna and its underlying vision can make such a decision.
- This principle can also be very useful in the hands of a competent Faqih who has studied the Usul underlying their Fiqh because even if both reports match the practice of the A’mma we are looking for the report whose purport is more inclined to their way than the other.
- Al-Kafi: Vol. 1, Pg. 9.
- Derived from the report below (See al-Kafi: Vol. 1, Pg. 66, No. 7):
علي بن إبراهيم، عن أبيه، عن عثمان بن عيسى، والحسن بن محبوب جميعا عن سماعة، عن أبي عبدالله عليه السلام قال: سألته عن رجل اختلف عليه رجلان من أهل دينه في أمر كلاهما يرويه: أحدهما يأمر بأخذه والآخر ينهاه عنه، كيف يصنع؟ فقال: يرجئه حتى يلقي من يخبره، فهو في سعة حتي يلقاه، وفي رواية اخرى بأيهما أخذت من باب التسليم وسعك
He (i.e. Sama’a) said: I asked him (i.e. al-Sadiq) about a man who is answered oppositely by two of his co-religionists (Shi’as) in regards to a matter – both transmitting it (their answers – on your authority), one of them obligates it while the other forbids it – what should he do? He said: He (the man) withholds (doing anything) until he accesses one who will inform him (of the true position), and he is respited until such a time as he meets him. And in another transmission (the Imam said): Whichever of them you act by – suffices you – if done in subservience (with the intention of obeying).
It is almost as if the position in the Law is what they make it out to be, regardless of any external and independent reality. As long as one follows them (with justification) then he is saved because of who they are. After all, we know that they sometimes used to purposely introduce Ikhtilaf.