Some Remarks on the Authenticity of Supplications in Shi’a Hadith Literature

By Dr. Hassan Ansari

Questions and doubts occasionally arise regarding the authenticity of certain supplication or ziyarat texts in the Shi’a hadith literature. However, two crucial aspects are often overlooked in such discussions:

1) Most supplication and ziyarat texts are, in fact, combined and merged versions of supplications and ziyarat taken from older and earlier Hadith texts where they were attributed to the Imams (a). Later, these texts were presented in more detailed and complex forms by being combined with each other in newer works. This practice was common in the world of hadith genre. It is possible someone may end up thinking that the final text is indeed the complete real text of a supplication or ziyarat, while the narrations containing brief excerpts are just part of the original complete text. Incomplete or abbreviated narrations were common in hadith texts. However, sometimes one must look at the scenario from the opposite perspective. At times several original and authentic texts were combined into a single text in later manuscripts due to the similarity of their subjects and various literary, religious, and preaching reasons. In any case, merely combining several supplications or ziyarat texts and editing them into a new, longer text should not be a reason to discredit them.

2) Many supplications and ziyarat texts are not directly attributed to the Imams in books of supplication and ziyarat, such as in the works of Ibn Mashhadī or Ibn Ṭāwūs, and even in al-Miṣbāḥ of Shaykh Ṭūsī and others, rather they are attributed to Shia scholars and, in many cases, to “al-Nāḥīya al-Muqaddasa,” a title referring to the deputies of the hidden Imam (a) during the Minor Occultation period. These texts were compiled based on previously narrated texts from the Imams and by utilizing the same words and meanings in their newer forms. Doubting the validity of these texts is baseless because it is not claimed that these texts are directly the sayings of the Imams (a). In fact, these texts were compiled based on the spiritual and religious needs of the new Shia community, using similar words, phrases and meanings of earlier texts.

Hadith scholars took into account the nature of supplication texts and their function in the environment of believers and their changing spiritual and emotional needs as long as new texts did not contain unprecedented meanings in religious traditions. Therefore, they did not find any problem in narrating these texts.