Sulaym bin Qays: The Thin Line Between a Fictitious Name & a Loyal Companion

Sulaym bin Qays al-Hilali or Abu Sadiq Sulaym bin Qays al-Amiri al-Hilali al-Kufi (allegedly born 2 years before Hijri – died in 70th, 76th or 90th Hijri) [سليم بن قيس الهلالي العامري] was supposedly a Kufan companion of Imam Ali and some of the later Imams (as). He has been a controversial figure in history and amongst scholars due to the contents of a book which is attributed to him. Furthermore, almost all information and descriptions about himself and his relationship with the Imams, are taken from his own book and there are no other early sources at our disposal which even remotely allude to any companion of the Imams by the name of Sulaym.

During the reign of Hajjaj bin Yusuf as governor as Kufa, he escaped and went towards the town of Nawbandjaan[1] where it is claimed he later died.

A lot of research work has been done on the book of Sulaym, and this has resulted in various different opinions – ranging from some completely rejecting the existence of a person named Sulaym, to those who not only believe in his existence, but deem the book to be completely reliable. In this article, I will go over some of the major opinions that exist regarding Sulaym and will argue for one of those views. Overall, there are perhaps 4 major views[2]:

1) Sulaym’s book is reliable & valid: Nu’mani considered this book to be an important and resourceful work which the Shi’i scholars have always referred to. No one after him made such a general claim, until Hurr al-Amili shared similar views. The latter was an Akhbari.

2) Partial reliability of the book: This view accepts the existence of Sulaym and accepts that there was a book written by him. However, they believe that 4th century onwards, the book was subject to alteration, which means that those reports which are solely found in this book need to be taken with a grain of salt. Shaykh Mufid was probably the staunchest supporter of this view. Others who share such a view are Allamah Shushtari and Dr. Muhammad Taqi Subhani.

3) Book is fabricated, though Sulaym existed: Ibn Ghadairi seems to have had this view, and others who share this view are scholars like Shaheed Thani and Allamah Sha’rani.

4) Book is fabricated, and Sulaym did not exist: Ibn Abi al-Hadid reports that some contemporary Shi’as of his time did not believe that a person by the name of Sulaym existed. In recent times, Dr. Muhammad Baqir Behbudi and Hossein Modarressi have shared similar views. Furthermore, Dr. Abdul Mahdi Jalali has written a lengthy article defending this view.

Arguments of Abdul Mahdi Jalali Regarding the Non-Existence of Sulaym bin Qays

Abdul Mahdi Jalali published a research paper[3] in the Iranian year 1382 arguing that the name Sulaym bin Qays was a pen-name and that the existence of such a person himself is a case of uncertainty. A refutation of the paper was later written by Ali Ilahi Khorasani[4] and arguments from both sides will be summarized in the forthcoming paragraphs.

The earliest Shi’i sources (from those that have reached us)[5] that report from him are Kitab al-Zuhd of Husain bin Sa’eed al-Kufi al-Ahwazi (d. 250 Hijri), Mukhtasar Ithbat al-Raj’ah of Fadhl bin Shadhan[6] (d. 260 Hijri) and Basair al-Darajaat of Muhammad bin Hasan al-Saffar (d. 290 Hijri). His narrations have also appeared in Tafsir al-Ayyashi of Ayyashi (d. 320 Hijri) and Tafseer al-Furat of Furat al-Kufi (alive in year 307 Hijri).

Jalali argues that the name of Sulaym bin Qays has only been given any attention to because of the one book that has been attributed to him. The manuscripts of this book number around 69. The date of birth of Sulaym which is given as 2 years before-hijri is a calculation done based on a narration that appears in his book suggesting that he was 40 years old during the Battle of Siffeen (38 Hijri) on the night of Hareer.

The only person who was allegedly aware of Sulaym bin Qays’ book was Aban bin Abi Ayyash (d. 138) who would have been really young at the time Sulaym entrusted him with this book. Jalali further claims that if all information at our disposal is from his own book and if we are to rely on his words to prove everything about him, we will encounter a circular argument.[7] That is to say, the claim that “Sulayman bin Qays existed” is dependent on the book that we have by the name of Kitab Sulaym bin Qays and its contents. In this claim, both the claimant and the claimed are Sulaym bin Qays. In order to get out of this circular argument, we must then try to look for other independent sources – albeit just one source – that indicate that there was such a person who existed in history. Jalali analyzes many different historical sources, general ones and those specific to certain events or a certain timeline. The general historical works that he looks into are:

1) Akhbar al-Dawlah al-Abbasiyah (أخبار الدولة العباسیة) – Author Unknown: There is a lengthy narration recorded in this book (page 45) with the following chain: Abdullah bin Zahir (or Dhahir) al-Kufi from Muhammad bin Abi Umayr from Umar bin Adhniyah from Aban bin Abi Ayyash from Sulaym bin Qays.[8] The event[9] that is narrated also has been roughly recorded in Sharh Nahj ul-Balagha of Ibn Abi al-Hadid. In any case, Jalali suggests that this does not meet the criteria of an external contextual proof that proves his existence (i.e. it is like any other narration that has been narrated on his authority during the later years).

2) Akhbar al-Tiwal[10] (اخبار الطوال), by Abu Hanifa Deenwari (d. 282/283 Hijri): The book which covers the history from the time of the children of Adam (as) till the caliphate of Muhammad Mutasim (d. 228 Hijri).

3) al-Istighatha fi Bid’i al-Thalatha (الإستغاثة في بدع الثلاثة) by Ali bin Ahmad bin Musa al-Kufi (d. 325 Hijri): The author who is from the lineage of Imam al-Jawwad, goes through all those things which he considers to be innovations after the demise of the Prophet (pbuh), but does not mention the name of Sulaym anywhere.

4) al-Imamah wa al-Siyasah (الإمامة و السیاسة) by Ibn Qutaybah Deenwari (d. 276 Hijri): This book has been attributed to Ibn Qutaybah, but there is debate over whether the book is actually his or not. Nevertheless, Jalali says that it is a book that mentions many companions of Imam Ali (as), but there is no mention of Sulaym in it.

5) al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah (البدایة و النهایة) of Ismael Ibn Kathir (d. 776 Hijri): From volume 7 to 9, he discusses the history of Islam and mentions names of many companions, tabi’een and narrators of ahadith, but there is no mention of Sulaym bin Qays.

Other books that Jalali looks into are: al-Bada’ wa al-Tareekh of Maqdisi, Tareekh of ibn al-Khaldun, Tareekh al-Islam of Dhahabi, Tareekh al-Umam wa al-Muluk of Tabari (famous as Tareekh al-Tabari), Tareekh al-Khulafa of Suyuti, Tareekh al-Khaleefa of Khaleefa bin Khayyat, Tareekh al-Madinah al-Munawwarah of Umar bin Shibh Numayri, Tareekh al-Ya’qubi of Ahmad bin Abi Yaqub, Diwan al-Islam of Ibn al-Ghazzi, al-Tabaqat al-Kubra of Ibn Sa’ad, al-Ibar fi Khabar min al-Ghabar of Dhahabi, al-Kamil fi al-Tareekh of Ibn Athir, Mirat al-Jinan wa Ibrah al-Yaqdhan fi Ma’rifah Hawadith al-Zaman of Yaf’ami, Maqatil al-Talibeen of Abu Faraj al-Isfahani, al-Wafiyaat of Ibn Qunfudh – and in none of them can one find the name of Sulaym bin Qays.

On page 198 and 199 of al-Tanbeeh wa al-Ashraf of Mas’udi (d. 346 Hijri), while discussing the different sects and their opinions on Imamah, Mas’udi says that the Qat’iiyah[11] believe in 12 Imams. He further says that the only reference for their view is a narration by Sulaym bin Qays al-Hilali in his book which Aban bin Abi Ayyash narrates. Jalali says that once again that this is not evidence that would confirm his existence, since it is just referring to a narration from his own book.

Muhammad bin Jareer bin Rustam al-Tabari (d. after 411 Hijri) on page 231 of his book al-Mustarshid of also only mentions the name of Sulaym once and that is in reference to a narration he reports from his book.

Jalali looks at the following historical works that are more narrow in their scope:

I’lam al-Wara bi I’lam al-Huda of Tabrasi (d. 584):[12] the author mentions the name of Sulaym bin Qays in one of the sections of his book where he discusses the proof of twelve-Imams. However, all that he narrates from him goes back to the same book.

al-Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq by Abd al-Haleem al-Jundi (alive at the time of Jalali’s research): the author brings the names of different Shi’i individuals who had written or compiled books and mentions Sulaym bin Qays. He does nothing however to prove that Sulaym was indeed a companion of Imam Ali (as) – while the burden of proof is on him.

Tarjumah al-Imam al-Hassan and Tarjumah al-Imam al-Husain of Ibn Asakir (d. 571 Hijri): despite mentioning and recording various narrations and reports regarding various different historical figures, he does not mention the name of Sulaym bin Qays.

al-Jamal of Sheikh Mufeed (d. 413 Hijri): this is a detailed work on the Battle of Jamal compiled by Sheikh al-Mufeed, and despite mentioning the names of many companions of Imam Ali (as), there is no mention of Sulaym bin Qays.

Jalali also looked through the book of Baqir Shareef al-Qarashi (d. 1433 Hijri/2012)[13] on Imam al-Husain yet not finding anything on Sulaym bin Qays.

al-Gharaat of Ibrahim bin Muhammad al-Thaqafi (d. 283) – a famous historical work covering the events that took place after the battle of Nahrawan – mentions a narration from a Sulaym in a mursal fashion (i.e. the chain is broken), and it is also not clear which Sulaym it is or if it is Saleem.[14] The narration is regarding the narrator coming to Imam Ali (as) and informing him about the killing of Muhammad bin Abi Bakr, and Imam Ali (as) informs him that the Prophet (pbuh) had told the truth when he referred to Muhammad bin Abi Bakr as alive and his sustenance provided for (hayyun yurzaq – حيّ يرزق).

Other books that Jalali looks into are al-Ghadeer of Abd al-Hussain Amini, Fadhl Aal al-Bayt of Muqrizi, Kashf al-Ghummah fi Ma’rifah al-Aaimmah of Irbali, Kashf al-Yaqeen fi Fadhael Amir al-Mu’mineen of Allamah Hilli, al-Kuna wa al-Ilqab of Sheikh Abbas Qummi, al-Muhbir of Muhammad bin Habib al-Baghdadi, Maqtal al-Hussain of Ibn Mikhnif, al-Manaqib of Muwaffaq bin Ahmad Khuwarzami, Manaqib al-Imam Amir al-Mumineen of Muhammad bin Sulayman al-Kufi, Nahj al-Iman of Ali bin Yusuf bin Jibr, Waq’at Siffeen of Nasr bin Muzahim and Yanabi’ al-Muwaddah of Qunduzi. In most of these books, Sulaym bin Qays has not been mentioned at all, or if he has been mentioned it is in the same manner like he has been mentioned in other places – that is, the source goes back to his own book itself.

Jalali then looks into the principle books of Shi’i Rijal and summarizes his research into them as follow:

  1. Ikhtiyar Ma’rifah al-Rijal of Sheikh Tusi (d. 460 Hijri): Sheikh mentions the name and narrations from Sulaym bin Qays three times, but does not bring any independent sources or evidence that signifies his existence.
  2. Rijal al-Tusi of Sheikh Tusi: Sheikh mentions Sulaym bin Qays a few times under different sections as a companion of Imams Ali, Hasan, Husain, Sajjad and Baqir (as). However, he does not bring any evidence to suggest that he was a companion, besides relying on the single book of Sulaym which had been passed on by only one person, namely Aban bin Ayyash.
  3. Rijal a-Najashi of Ahmad bin Ali Najashi (d. 450 Hijri): Najashi mentions the name of Sulaym twice in his work. He mentions that Sulaym has a book and he presents the chain of how the book was passed down to him.[15] The second time he mentions Sulaym is under the entry of Hibbatullah bin Ahmad bin Muhammad al-Katib, who would claim that there are thirteen Imams and would include Zaid bin Ali bin al-Hussain in them. In order to prove this, he would use the narration from Kitab Sulaym bin Qays that says there will be twelve Imams from the progeny of Imam Ali (as). Once again there is nothing in this book that can be used to indicate the existence of Sulaym bin Qays.
  4. al-Fihrist of Sheikh Tusi: Like the aforementioned works of Rijal, Sheikh Tusi simply mentions Sulaym’s name and that he had a book. He then mentions two paths through which he got the access to the book of Sulaym[16] and suffices with that.

Jalali further looks into other Shi’i books of narrations such as al-Istibsar and Tadheeb ul-Ahkam of Sheikh Tusi. al-Istibsar has no mention of him. There are some reports from him recorded in Tadheeb ul-Ahkam, al-Kafi of Kulayni and one report in Man la Yahdhuruhu al-Faqeeh of Sheikh Saduq.

He then looks into more generic Shi’i books, such as al-I’tiqadaat of Sheikh Saduq where Saduq mentions him twice while reporting a tradition, Bihar al-Anwar of Allamah Majlisi which records many traditions from him, al-Khisal of Sheikh Saduq which records a few traditions from him, Sharh of Nahj ul-Balagha by Ibn Abi al-Hadeed[17] who mentions him once, Uyun al-Akhbar of Sheikh Saduq where he is mentioned twice, al-Ghaybah of Nu’mani where he is mentioned a few times, Kamal al-Deen wa Tamam al-Ni’mah of Saduq where he is mentioned a number of times. In all these places, the mentions are merely narrations that are found in his book and there is no independent source that is mentioned which would discuss anything about Sulaym.

Jalali also summarizes the judgement of Ibn Abi al-Hadid with regards to Sulaym. Ibn Abi al-Hadid says that the book of Sulaym has no value and he claims that he was told by a contemporary Shi’i scholar that this name had no matching body in history, that such a person never existed and this book which is attributed to him is a fabrication and without any basis.

Another book that Jalali looks into is Kitab al-Mutawareen of Abd al-Ghani bin Saeed Azdi (d. 409 Hijri). The book is a unique one as it narrates the stories of those who went into hiding due to fear of being captured and killed by Hajjaj bin Yusuf. While it is alleged that Sulaym bin Qays was one of those individuals who escaped under the rule of Hajjaj, this book makes absolutely no mention of him.

Finally, Jalali summarizes the view of Ibn al-Ghadairi (d. 411) who considered the book of Sulaym bin Qays as a fabrication without a doubt and that there was no mention of him in any text or report (other than his own book). Due to brevity, Jalali then mentions the names of 20-odd books from the 3rd to 14th century which he looked into and omits the names of others which he claims to have looked into (more than a thousand books all together).

He ends his research paper with the following conclusions:

1) After looking at all the different types of books – whether they be books of history, hadith, rijal, tafseer, seerah, manaqib, tarajim etc. – which are the basis of proving and disproving things that have occurred in history, none of them provide any information about Sulaym bin Qays.

2) Even though some scholars have suggested that Sulaym was an active personality of this time-period and that he gathered information compiled in his book from many different people, there was not one independent source that was found by which his existence can be proven.

3) Both Shi’i and Sunni sources that make any mention of Sulaym or report from him, all rely on the book of Sulaym itself which has been transmitted by Aban bin Ayyash – which results in a circular argument when one wants to prove that he existed.

4) Sulaym is only identified by his own narrations, and his narrations are also only present in his own book, whose only transmitter is Aban bin Ayyash.

5) No source shows that Sulaym was part of any of the important events that took place in history, either before or after the caliphate of Imam Ali (as) – such as the battles of Jamal, Siffeen, Nahrawan, during the skirmishes that took place between Mua’wiyah and Imam Hasan (as), during the events of Karbala or anytime after that, or that he was even a friend or a companion of any of these Imams.

6) In any of the books where it is claimed that Sulaym was a companion of five of the Imams, the claim is devoid of any value, and of any independent source that can verify that – rather this claim has its roots directly or indirectly in the book of Sulaym bin Qays.

7) The name of Sulaym bin Qays has not been recorded amongst those who escaped under the tyrannical rule of Hajjaj bin Yusuf.

Ultimately, it is proven that there was no individual by the name of Sulaym bin Qays who existed in history, and this name was made up by either a person or a group of people and then attributed the book to him.

Refutation of Abdul Mahdi Jalali by Ali Ilahi Khorasani

Given that the book of Sulaym bin Qays is the oldest Shi’i works to have reached us, deeming it a fabrication would deprive it of any value, and the narrations within it could not act as potential binding legal proof upon the Shi’i. Thus, Ali Ilahi Khorasani considers it important to refute the claims of Abdul Mahdi Jalali and what will follow is a summary of his arguments.

Khorasani divides his refutation into two parts, firstly he attempts to re-look at the historical works that Jalali evaluated and secondly, he will investigate the arguments made from the books of Rijal.

He says that merely a name appearing in one work of history would not prove the existence of a person, rather what will get us to arrive at confidence is if the name appears in all the different primary works of history alongside the relevant contextual proof for it. The second method would be if in one historical work, a report has been recorded that mentions or speaks about this individual and signifies that he existed at a certain interval of time, and all the reporters in that chain of narration are reliable – for example the books of Tabari and Dhahabi tend to follow this style. In the second method, it is not necessary then, that there must therefore also exist a report about such an individual in another historical work – rather even if for example, there is a mention about such a person in a reliable book of Rijal, it will suffice.

This second method is based on common-sense (based on the seerah of the uqala) and it is reliable. This is because all the ones transmitting the reports are reliable and every narrator has mentioned who he has narrated what from – and it is also obvious that these reports were empirical (they were heard) and not guess-work. Based on Jalali’s research, it is correct that the first method does not apply on Sulaym bin Qays, however the second method is completely workable and the details of it will follow.

The question as to why the state of Sulaym’s life has not been mentioned or described in any historical work, would be a valid question only if these three premises are proven to be true:

1) All historical works that had ever been written have remained and reached us

2) All works of history were at our disposal and that we had gone through all of them

3) If Sulaym existed, the description and the state of his life had to have been written or mentioned in books of history

The axiomatic nature of the first and second premise is obvious. Khorasani mentions a few incidents where complete Shi’i libraries were burnt down and claims that many other books were destroyed or lost throughout history. With regards to the third premise, it must be understood that Sulaym was a narrator, and unlike some other companions, he did not have a special role to play such as being a commander of a certain flank or had any other senior positions. One should not compare all the companions with each other because many of them had different levels of importance, and there are many companions of Imam Ali (as) whose names have only been mentioned and we have no other information about them.

Furthermore, it is highly plausible that due to the contents of the book of Sulaym bin Qays – namely the exposing of what happened at Saqifah and the incident that occurred with Lady Fatima (sa) – the book could have been boycotted by the authors of these historical works.

Khorasani points out the book Waq’at Siffeen of Ibn Muzahim, which Jalali claims made no mention of Sulaym bin Qays, but then in the footnote Jalali addresses who Ibn Muzahim was. Khorasani states that Jalali has fallen trap to his own argument, because there is no mention or description of Ibn Muzahim and his state of affairs in any works of history, and that his name has only appeared in the works of Rijal. Khorasani then says that based on his own methodology, Jalali must arrive at the conclusion that Nasr bin Muzahim is a fabricated name because no historical work has ever described or mentioned anything about the state of his life. Subsequently, any author of any historical work who does not have a description about his life present in any other work of history, should fall into this same judgement.

In the second part of his refutation, Khorasani begins by describing the methodology that was applied in the different works of Rijal.

With regards to Ikhtiyar Ma’rifah al-Rijal, he says that the book is a compilation of narrations that pertain to different companions and narrators of the time. Thus, when Jalali says that there are 3 mentions of Sulaym, but there is no report about him what would signify his existence, the statement is false because the places where Sulaym’s name is mentioned are indeed reports themselves.

As for the Rijal book of Najasahi, Najashi mentions the name of Sulaym bin Qays as one of the earliest companions and the path through which he got the book of Sulaym. However, Jalali seems to imply that the long time-gap between Sulaym and Najashi is a cause of concern. Khorasani says that this is extremely weird, because Najashi mentions the complete path and names of all the transmitters through which the book came down to him. If Najashi had not mentioned such a path and then claimed that this book belongs to a person named Sulaym then his claim would have been questionable. The words of Jalali would imply that thousands of narrations and many books of history would lose their value. As for the claim that no mention and description of Sulaym has been provided in Najashi’s book, this is an unreal expectation from this book and other Rijal books as well. Furthermore, how is it possible that such a strong scholar like Najashi, could have mentioned and placed someone whose existence could possibly be considered a fabrication.

With regards to Sheikh Tusi’s Fihrist, to expect any historical detail about anyone is far-fetched, because no such details have been given regarding anyone. The book was not meant to be a work of the individuals historical details. Rather based on the methodology employed by Jalali, we would be forced to claim that hundreds of individuals were nobodies and that their names are mere fabrications.

Khorasani then mentions the Rijal book of Barqi, who was one of the companions of Imam al-Jawwad and lived at least 14 years after the martyrdom of Imam Hasan al-Askari. Barqi mentions Sulaym bin Qays as a companion of Imam Ali (as), Imam Hasan (as), Imam Husain (as) and Imam Baqir (as).

When it comes to the Rijal book known as al-Dhuafa of al-Ghadairi, Khorasani casts doubt over whether this book is even al-Ghadairi’s or not. He claims that the original book was either lost (as per a quote from Sheikh Tusi’s intro to his Fihrist), and even if that was not the case, we do not have the path through which the later scholars (Allamah Hilli and Ibn Taoos) got access to it. Then he says that al-Ghadairi was known to be very strict with his opinions and there are very few individuals in history who were spared of his strict grading.

Khorasani then quotes from Ayatullah Sayyid Khoei’s Mu’jam al-Rijal where Sayyid Khoei says that the book which has been attributed to al-Ghadairi has not been proven to be his. Rather even the existence of this book at the time of Najashi and Sheikh Tusi is doubtful. Then he quotes from the famous Allamah Buzurg Tehrani’s al-Dharee’ah who also arrives at a similar conclusion. Thus, to claim that Ibn al-Ghadairi had such a view regarding Sulaym bin Qays is of no value, since the book itself has not been proven to be of al-Ghadairi.

However, the statement that is found in the book regardless, regarding Sulaym being a fabricated name, then various scholars such as Allamah Majlisi I in his Rawdah al-Muttaqeen (vol 14, pg 371), Fadhel Tafreeshi in his Naqd al-Rijal (vol 2, pg 356/357), Sheikh Hurr al-Amili in his Wasael al-Shi’a (vol 30, pg 210), Allamah Majlisi in his Bihar al-Anwar (vol 22, pg 150), Waheed Behbahani in his Ta’leeq bar Minhaj al-Maqal (pg 171), Allamah Mamqani in his Tanqeeh al-Maqaal (vol 2, pg 52), Sayyid Muhsin Amin in his A’yan al-Shi’a (vol 5, pg 50; and vol 35, pg 293), Ayatullah Khoei in his Mu’jam al-Rijal (vol 8, pg 220) and Allamah Shushtari in his Qamus al-Rijal (vol 4, pg 452) – none of them have even remotely relied on the statement found in this book, deeming the name to be a fabrication.

Finally, Khorasani says that the statement found in al-Ghadairi’s book actually affirms the existence of a Sulaym because al-Ghadairi says that he has indeed found the mention of Sulaym in other places other than his book and where he is not being narrated from Aban bin Abi Ayyash. al-Ghadairi also says that he has found a reference to him in the Rijal book of Ibn Uqdah, namely Rijal Amir al-Mu’mineen.

Khorasani says that it is not possible that we accept that this book (al-Dhuafa) is indeed al-Ghadairi’s and possibly make the argument that the fact that its remnants have come down to us should be proof that it is al-Ghadairi’s, yet we are not allowed to apply the same methodology on Sulaym’s book.

Khorasani then mentions a list of Rijal books where Sulaym has been mentioned, from al-Fawaid al-Rijaliyah of Muhammad Ismael bin Hussain Mazandarani, Rijal work of Allamah Hilli, al-Wajeezah fi Ilm al-Rijal of Allamah Majlisi, Naqd al-Rijal of Sayyid Mustafa Tafreeshi, Muntaha al-Maqal fi Ahwal al-Rijal of Abu Ali Haeri, Tanqee al-Maqal of Mamqani, Mu’jam al-Rijal of Sayyid Khoei, Qamus al-Rijal of Allamah Shushtari and Mustadrakaat Ilm Rijal al-Hadith of Ali Namazi Shahrudi.

Furthermore, Khorasani quotes from the book of Ayatullah Muslim Dawari[18] titled Usul Ilm al-Rijal[19]. Dawari suggests that the fact that Najashi and Sheikh Tusi do not mention or discuss anything from the contents of this book implies that they did not consider it to be a fabrication. Furthermore, the claim that only one person has ever transmitted from Sulaym and that is Aban bin Abi Ayyash, is not true. What can be understood from the statements of Sheikh Tusi and Najashi is that the book had different paths of transmissions. It shows that Uthman bin Isa, Hammad bin Isa and Hammad bin Uthman transmit the book from Ibrahim bin Umar Yamani and who narrates from Aban. Other than that, Ibrahim also narrates from Sulaym himself. In al-Basair and al-Ikhtisas[20] there is a narration that has been narrated by Ali bin Ja’far al-Hadhrami from Sulaym bin Qays[21]. Dawri then mentions a few possible issues that someone could raise and resolves him. His final conclusion is that the path of transmission for the book is reliable.

Khorasani then turns towards the arguments Jalali makes with regards to the books of ahadith. He says that to have expectations for historical details in books like Tadheeb al-Ahkam or Man La Yahdhurhu al-Faqeeh is not correct as they were books which compiled jurisprudential narrations. Other books like al-Kafi and al-Khisal are a compilation of jurisprudential, theological or ethical narrations. Khorasani says that it is weird that Jalali even bothers to look for historical records regarding Sulaym in such books. With regards to the remark of Ibn Abi al-Hadid, he claims that considering that Ibn Abi al-Hadid was a Sunni it should be expected that he would consider Sulaym and his book to be weak and of no value.

In conclusion, Khorasani says that while Jalali readily accepts the statements of Ibn Abi al-Hadid – a Sunni, he abandons the remarks of many Shi’i scholars who claim that such a person did exist and that the book belongs to him. He says that the reason why Jalali does not question Ibn Abi al-Hadid’s remarks is because Jalali’s methodology was that he had already entered his research with the assumption that nothing about Sulaym exists. Therefore he does not put the words of those who happen to be in-line with his assumption, to the same strictness. Whereas the statements of those who make the opposite claim, Jalali seems to brush them over with ease and put them up against strict criteria.

Views of Other Shi’i Scholars

Sheikh Saduq relied on the contents of the book, and records a narration linked to Sulaym in his book Man La Yahdhurhu al-Faqeeh and so it can be understood that he possibly considered the book or at least the narrations that he quotes, to be reliable. Sheikh Mufeed (d. 418) in his Tasheeh al-I’tiqaad, when responding to a narration used by Sheikh al-Saduq from the book of Sulaym bin Qays, says:

و أما ما تعلق به أبو جعفر (رحمه الله) من حديث سليم الذي رجع فيه إلى الكتاب المضاف إليه برواية أبان بن أبي عياش، فالمعنى فيه صحيح غير أن هذا الكتاب غير موثوق به و قد حصل فيه تخليط و تدليس فينبغي للمتدين أن يجتنب العمل بكل ما فيه و لا يعول على جملته و التقليد لروايته و ليفزع إلى العلماء فيما تضمنه من الأحاديث ليوقفوه على الصحيح منها و الفاسد

As for the tradition which Abu Ja’far (ra) relies on, and which has been mentioned in the book attributed to Sulaym, on the authority of Aban ibn Abi Ayyash, the meaning of it is sound, yet none the less, the book is untrustworthy, since it has suffered corruption and adulteration; therefore the scrupulous should abandon all that it contains, and not rely on the greater part of it, or imitate its narrations, but enquire from the learned scholars, to distinguish for him the sound from the spurious.

Ayatullah Sayyid Khoei in his Mu’jam says that Sulaym bin Qays as a person himself is trustworthy, and  relies on the statements of al-Barqi, al-Nu’mani and Allamah Hilli. Furthermore he states that the book is one of the greatest books to have reached us – just like Nu’mani has said – and references Sheikh Hurr al-Amili’s remarks on the book being reliable, based on contextual proof.

Sayyid Khoei then says that there are two contextual reasons why doubt is casted on this book and subsequently considered a fabrication. Firstly, due to a narration where Muhammad bin Abi Bakr has a conversation with his father at the time of his death – despite being only three years old at the time, and due to a narration that indicates the existence of thirteen Imams – rather than twelve. Sayyid Khoei references a few points from others, such as al-Mirza’s Rijal al-Kabeer where he says that the manuscript at his disposal states that it was Abdullah bin Umar present at the time of Umar’s death, preaching to him and that the 13 Imams includes the Prophet (pbuh) as one of them.

Sayyid Khoei also further says that how is it possible to deem a complete book to be a fabrication if it happens to have one or a few narrations that may be incorrect. Most of the books happen to have narrations that are incorrect and this does not imply that the complete book was fabricated. He also answers the accusation that the contents of the book have only having been transmitted by Aban bin Ayyash. He deems this accusation false and says that there are others who transmitted from him such as Hammad bin Isa and Ibrahim bin Umar al-Sana’ee (or Yamani).

Ayatullah Sayyid Sistani claims that there is a problem with the book’s chain of narrators.[22] It will not be far-fetched if Sayyid Sistani leans towards the views of Ibn al-Ghadairi with regards to the book of Sulaym bin Qays given that he does not pay heed to the doubt casted upon the attribution of the book (al-Dhuafa) of al-Ghadairi to him, and moreso, he considers the strengthening and weakening of narrators by al-Ghadairi more reliable than Najashi, Sheikh Tusi and other scholars like them.[23]

Allamah Shushtari in his Qamus al-Rijal[24] says that the book itself is real, from which many early great scholars have narrated from and a few narrations that may not be correct do not imply that the complete book was a fabrication.

It seems that in al-Tahreer al-Taoosi (pg. 253) Ahmad bin Taoos (d. 673 Hijri) considers the path of transmission to the book unreliable.

Muhammad Baqir Behbudi (d. 2015 CE), in his Ma’rifah al-Hadith (pg. 359) deals with the book of Sulaym bin Qays in harsh words. He not only determines it weak and unreliable, but rather he says that the fabrications in it are obvious and blatant. Unlike some others who attribute the fabrication of the book to Aban himself, Behbudi says that it was possibly someone from the Ghullat who wanted to spread lies and promote his views and ascribed it to Aban bin Ayyash. He says that the words of Imam Ali (as) were not trustworthy enough for this wicked person, such that he had to make it sound like the same question was posed to Imam Hasan (as) and then after him to Imam Husain (as) and then to his son Ali ibn al-Husain (as). Then at a pilgrimage in Makkah, the same question is repeated for Imam Baqir (as). Behbudi claims that in history, this had been the style of those who were liars and fabricators, and wanted to cause heedlessness in naive/simpleminded Muhadditheen, like it is the case in the book of Ubaydallah bin Ali al-Halabi and al-Diyat of Abu Umar al-Mutatabbib.[25]

Ayatullah Hasanzadeh Amuli in his refutation of Muhaddith Noori’s Fasl al-Khitab titled Fasl al-Khitab fi ‘adm Tahreef Kitab Rabb al-Arbab (page 131)[26] brings the commentary-notes of his teacher Allamah Sha’rani who writes:

كتاب سليم بن قيس ساختگى است و حديثى كه فقط در آن باشد و در جاى ديگر نباشد جدّا ضعيف است

The book of Sulaym bin Qays is a fabrication and a narration that only exists in that book and not in another place is extremely weak.

Analysis & Conclusion

We will analyze the different issues raised regarding the existence of Sulaym bin Qays and try to arrive at a conclusion. We will not be discussing whether the book or its content are authentic or a fabrication, neither will we be discussing its transmitter Aban bin Ayyah or other narrators who had possibly transmitted from him, or the paths through which scholars like Sheikh Tusi received the book. Discussion on the different manuscripts available in later centuries and what had reached other scholars like Hurr al-Amili or Allamah Majlisi, will also be outside the scope of this analysis, as these are all better suited for an article on the book of Sulaym bin Qays itself.[27]

One of the most clear truths of history are the numerous fabrications and forgeries that had been made by individuals to either promote a certain ideology of their own, or to undermine their opponents. This can be seen happening throughout history across all religions, all political dynasties and as well as amongst different sects of different religions. The history of such forgeries can possibly be dated back to the time of Onomacritus (530 – 480 BCE), a well-known Greek who lived in Athens, responsible for inventing prophecies and attributing them to Mausaeus (a polymath). Pseudo-Denys (d. 5-6 CE) a Christian theologian, wrote what was possibly the longest-lasting forgeries of history titled Corpus Areopagiticum. He presented himself as Dionysius the Areopagite, who was a convert to Christianity through the efforts of St. Paul. The original name of the author is unknown, but because the author employed such a name, scholars now refer to the author as Pseudo-Dionysius. It was not until 500 years later that someone casted doubt on the book, and only a thousand years later when scholars came to an agreement that the work was a forgery. Initially the book was accepted readily due to its conformant with Christian theology. Many other examples of such cases can be cited from Christian and Jewish history.

In recent times, authors like Margret Seltzer, Daniel Lewis James, and James Frey were all exposed for writing fabricated autobiographies or memoirs, but not before some of the works became famous and best-sellers for some time. At times, political or societal necessity caused individuals to write with pen-names, such as the Bronte Sisters who would publish their writings under male-pseudonyms. Also refer to the forgery pertaining to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion as an example.

Likewise, after the demise of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), different political and theological movements arose and there is no doubt amongst any scholar of Islam that narrations were indeed fabricated by proponents of those movements.

Books that have reached us without any external contextual proof do nevertheless signify that someone compiled and wrote them. It signifies that someone who existed had put the book together, and more often than not, it will get attributed to the author whose name is generally found on the book itself. Anything else that would indicate or clarify that the author of the book existed are external contextual proofs that help us solidify our original assumption. These could be individuals who met or saw them, heard from them, and their name was then transmitted from one generation to another, and eventually even written out in works of history. All these are instances that help us increase the probability of our proposition to be true and certain. However, from the previous examples that have been cited, it is clear that one cannot always reach certainty with regards to the book’s author solely through the claim of the book itself – as one would be trapped in a circular argument.

Strong contextual proofs are generally needed when something of value is being proven or disproven. When a work is attributed to someone significant, and furthermore if the work itself is something significant, then the consistent lack of mention of such an author in relevant historical documents should be curiously taken into consideration when trying to attribute truth or falsehood to the proposition: “This author exists”.

Refer to the well-known forgery, Memoirs of Mr. Hempher – The British Spy to the Middle East (published in 1888), whose author is said to be a British spy by the name of Hempher. If it was not for the great claims that are made in his book, perhaps his existence may not have been questioned at all. However, it was his claims, his journeys and travels that incited research into him and absolutely no name matching such a British spy was found in any database. The forgery is now generally linked to Ayyub Sabri Pasha, an Ottoman writer, or perhaps to another Turkish Sunni who wished to undermine the growing-Wahabi movement at the time. Thus, such a scenario (i.e. lack of any mention) would act as contextual proof for us to cast doubt over the existence of such a person. This is because we are dealing with probabilities, and the probability of someone’s name not being mentioned in absolutely any other document, while being such an important figure or while having made large claims, decreases to the extent where one does not pay any heed to it.

External Contextual Proof for Sulaym

With all this in mind, we will now look at the external contextual evidence that could possibly show whether Sulaym existed or not.

Based off of his book, it is understood that Sulaym was a really close companion of Imam Ali (as). From the time of the reign of Uthman, he was alongside the Imam and then later on during the caliphate of the Imam (as) he was with him at various different locations at various different times, including at the battle of Siffeen.

Furthermore, he seems to have heard directly from Imam Ali (as) the details about many different things. This includes details about the Qur’an that the Imam compiled after the demise of the Prophet (pbuh), or being witness to many different sermons that the Imam gave that have been recorded in other books.

He also records narrations from his meetings with Salman al-Farsi, Miqdad, Abdullah bin Abbas, Ammar bin al-Yasir and other noble companions. He further claims to have met Abu Dharr in Zubdah after the latter was exiled by Uthman.

When we look at the description and image of Sulaym that gets portrayed from his book, it is true that nothing in it indicates him to be a leading commander of a certain flank in the army of Imam Ali (as), neither was he at the level of Salman, Miqdad or other companions. However, his presence was definitely there amongst them and the presence was consistent and regular. As a matter of fact, his presence is clearly more significant than many of the other companions of Imam Ali (as) whose names have been listed in history, but we have little to no biographical data on them. Furthermore, the book contains many historical details that can only be found in this book, at times even inconsistent with what other books of history have narrated. This almost makes Sulaym appear to be a prolific narrator who had access to tons of secret information and historical details, that no one else was ever able to get or narrate. With this in mind, and when one looks at the historical books that have trickled down to us which list out the names of the hundreds and thousands of companions of the Prophet (pbuh) and the Imams (as), it is extremely astonishing to see that the name of Sulaym has not been mentioned – relying on a source other than his own book – in absolutely any of those works.

Ali Ilahi Khorasani suggests that we do not have all the books that were ever written in history at our disposal, and so it is possible that his name may have been listed in one of the books that has not come down. This assumption would have had weight, if Sulaym had been a complete nobody. While it is true, that not all such books have come down, what is undeniable is that many of the major early works of history (generally written by the Sunnis) have indeed reached us. Very fine details of some of the events have even managed to trickle down to us, if not because of the books that originally had them, then at least due to their oral transmission from one person to another and then written down later.

The theory regarding the Sunni scholars boycotting Sulaym or his book is far-fetched, since all they had to do was mention his name, even in passing to indicate an acknowledgement for his existence or perhaps they could have criticized his book. In fact if a boycott was what was intended, then they would have listed his name and condemned him, like they have done for many other Shi’i narrators and individuals. There was no expectation from the Sunni scholars to narrate the contents of his book. This is all while ignoring the fact that early Sunni historians and scholars of hadith have relied on many Shi’i individuals in their historical or hadith works, when they found it to be necessary.

The assumption that his name could have been listed in some books of history which have not reached us, is therefore not strong at all. This is because if it was mentioned in other books that did not reach us, that still signifies that other historians who came later and compiled similar books had access to them for at least some period of time, and yet still did not end up mentioning the name of Sulaym anywhere. The scenario proves that his name was in fact not famous or well-known at all and that perhaps such a person did not enjoy such a close companionship of Ali (as) as it is implied in his book. Oral tradition amongst the early Muslims was very strong, and if Sulaym was one of the close companions of Ali (as) then his name would have at least been known amongst the early companions, and those who came after them and as well as the scholars, who would have eventually recorded it. What further adds to the agony is that there is absolutely no record of who is father or mother was, whether he had any wives, slaves or children (during an era where being celibate and without children was extremely rare).

In historical analysis that allow us to reach satisfaction, the same criteria and strictness cannot be applied to all individuals. The only reason why this point (i.e. the lack of any independent historical source mentioning him) is an important indicator of someone being non-existent in the case of Sulaym bin Qays, is due to the image of an active and close companion of the Imams (as) that is portrayed in his book alongside the narration of many historical and maybe even theological details that do not appear in almost any other book. If such were the case  that he was a close companion, and  that he would have had to be known fairly well for Hajjaj bin Yusuf to specifically target him, then it is extremely far-fetched to assume that all historical works that have reached us – who have more often than not, listed the names of many companions who neither had any books, nor were they narrators, nor had any high ranks – simply forgot to mention the name of Sulaym.

In conclusion, there is simply no hard external contextual proof in books that pertain to the early historical events and those that list out the names of the early companions and tabieen, for anyone by the name of Sulaym bin Qays al-Hilali. It is a pseudonym that has been attributed to a book which contains details that would have put the life of the author in danger, and it is therefore completely understandable for the author(s) to conceal their real identity. This is all the while the book has been subject to adulteration and fabrication according to some.

[1] A town that was located near Shiraz. The town has been mentioned in various early history and geography works – such as Sum’ani (vol 5, Pg 530); Ibn Khaldun (Vol 4, Pg 428); Baladhuri (Vol 2, Pg 477-478 – English Translation is Vol 2, pg 130)

[2] These are taken from a seminar that took place in Qom regarding Kitab Sulaym bin Qays

[3] پژوهشی درباره سلیم بن قیس هلالی

[4] نقدى بر مقاله پژوهشى درباره سُلَيم بن قيس هلالى


[6] Please note that the attribution of this book to Fadhl bin Shadhan has been contested; please see:

[7] This is an issue dealt with in Ilm al-Rijal. Ayatullah Asif Muhsini in his Buhuth fi Ilm al-Rijal (page 21-22) discusses this matter. He states that we cannot accept the testimony of someone about themselves, since it will result in a circular argument.

[8] عبد اللّٰه بن زاهر الكوفي عن محمد بن أبي عمير عن عمر بن أذينة عن أبان بن أبي عيّاش عن سليم بن قيس الهلالي

[9] English:

[10] The complete book has not been translated into English, however Jackson Bonner has translated the pre-Islamic passages from it into English

[11] This was an early term used to reference the group of Shi’a who believed in the martyrdom of Imam al-Kadhim and did not turn towards the sect of the Waqifiyyah who believed in the occultation of al-Kadhim (as)

[12] Partially translated as Beacons of Light in English

[13] Most of his biographical works have been translated into English

[14] The published edition researched and edited by Muhaddith Jalal ul-Deen has a footnote after Sulaym saying that this Sulaym could have been Saleem bin Aswad – father of al-Sha’sha al-Maharibi al-Kufi, or Saleem bin Balj al-Fazari or Sulaym bin Qays al-Hilali

[15] علي بن أحمد القمي قال: حدثنا محمد بن الحسن بن الوليد قال: حدثنا محمد بن أبي القاسم ماجيلويه عن محمد بن علي الصيرفي عن حماد بن عيسى و عثمان بن عيسى قال حماد بن عيسى: و حدثنا إبراهيم بن عمر اليماني عن سليم بن قيس بالكتاب‏

[16] أخبرنا ابن أبي جيد عن محمد بن الحسن بن الوليد عن محمد بن أبي القاسم الملقب بماجيلويه عن محمد بن علي الصيرفي عن حماد بن عيسى و عثمان بن عيسى عن أبان بن أبي عياش عن سليم بن قيس الهلالي و حماد بن عيسى عن إبراهيم بن عمر اليماني عن سليم بن قيس

[17] Please note that this research paper implies that Jalali considers Ibn Abi al-Hadeed to be a Shi’a and lists his book under the section of Shi’i books.

[18] One of the students of Ayatullah Khoei who is known for his strength in Ilm al-Rijal

[19] اصول علم الرجال بين النظرية والتطبيق، مسلم داورى، ص ۲۷۸ ـ ۲۸۰

[20] al-Ikhtisas, page 329; Basair al-Darajaat, page 372

[21] Although both the texts of these books mention the name Sulaym bin Qays al-Shami – which is a title that has not been attributed to him elsewhere. Allamah Shushtari suggests that al-Shami is an alteration from al-Hilali (see Qamus al-Rijal, vol. 5, pg 238)

[22] Question #170 [في سنده إشكال]


[24] Qamus al-Rijal, vol 5, page 227

[25] Ma’rifah al-Hadith, by Muhammad Baqir Behbudi, page 364


[27] There is no doubt that the book has numerous truths in it, and the content of many of the narrations in the book can be found in numerous other sources. However, at the same time, many of its contents are questionable.

2 thoughts on “Sulaym bin Qays: The Thin Line Between a Fictitious Name & a Loyal Companion”

  1. Salam, in the last paragraph of the article you hinted that it is likely that the true author could possibly be a real companion of Imams who forged the pseudonym Sulaym ibn Qays to conceal his identity so the book would not endanger his life due to the details mentioned therein. Is it possible that this anonymous author was truly a reliable companion of the Imam and the details he mentioned are truthful but simply the name is fabricated to avoid persecution? With that would it plausible to take the stances that:
    5) Sulaym’s book is reliable and valid though a character by the name of Sulaym Ibn Qays never existed but rather the name is merely a cover name for its true author
    6) Sulaym’s book is reliable with alterations within its original text. A character by the name of Sulaym never existed but rather it is a cover name for the true author of the book. Although the book is reliable it has been subject to alteration.

    These stances would explain the lack of mention of him in historical reports and how such a detailed book with corroborated parts arose

    Lastly, do the details mentioned within the book really necessitate that Sulaym was a ‘close companion’? Perhaps the details within the book could simply be explained by the fact that it is a lengthy first hand documentation, something we have very few of. Just the fact that he was contemporary may suffice as for Of course not everything within history could be documented especially within the first century AH and it is unlikely that ahadith would touch upon minor companions who didn’t play key active roles in events and it is also quite possible that when names were documented decades or even centuries later orally transmitted reports may have neglected to mention such a figure

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