By Sayyid Mohammad Kazem Tabatabai1
Hadith studies or the study of Hadith literature is one of the essential requirements for an Islamic scholar, which has historically been formally present in religious seminaries. Nowadays, these studies are mostly pursued individually. In this article, after explaining the criteria for selecting appropriate texts, a practical and systematic approach to the study of Hadith texts is presented. This plan consists of seven main sections (seven valleys) and forty selected texts (forty stations) for study, taking about a thousand hours to complete. In other words, only twenty-five hours are required to study each selected book or Hadith. Those interested in Hadith studies can follow a four-year plan by studying these texts, becoming Hadith scholars.
If someone wants to become a competent scholar in religious matters and speak as a proclaimer of the Sharia to the people, they must be familiar with Hadith texts, in addition to the Quran. In other words, people expect scholars who have pursued education in religious seminaries to provide them with religious knowledge and meet their religious needs. It is self-evident that someone who has not benefited from Hadith sources and is not familiar with them will not be able to handle this important task. Therefore, it is necessary for preachers, writers, and researchers in the field of religion to become acquainted with Hadith texts. How can one acquire this familiarity and make use of the rich Hadith texts? What should be the process of studying Hadith sources? How can one access the collection of Hadith knowledge? Do we need a specific plan, or can we start reading any book we desire?
Some individuals, considering that the book al-Kafi is the most important Hadith book, begin their Hadith studies from the first volume of this book. Others start with Nahj al-Balagha. Since they do not know that the initial sections of both books are the most challenging parts, they face difficulties in the early days of their studies and often give up. Some others read any Hadith book they find, without any systematic plan, and because there is no logical order in their study program, they make little progress.
This is where the need for proper planning is felt so that enthusiasts can become familiar with Hadith texts based on it, and the collection of Islamic teachings can be transferred to them. This planning must be in a way that encompasses all educational dimensions and leaves a desired effect on the audience’s minds. First, it should be seen what a good and effective study plan should have:
The first feature of a study program is attractiveness and enjoyment. As mentioned earlier, some people start with the first sermon of Nahj al-Balagha or find other difficult Hadiths, which lacks the necessary appeal for individuals at this stage. In al-Kafi, one of the first narrations is as follows:
“When Allah created the intellect, He said to it, ‘Come forward,’ and it came forward. Then He said to it, ‘Go back,’ and it went back. Then He said, ‘By My glory and majesty, I have not created a creature better than you, and I command you, and I forbid you, and I reward you, and I punish you.'”
This narration is one of the most challenging narrations. We do not know what the creation of intellect, commanding it, and accepting it mean and what they imply. For the first stage, if someone wants to pass through these topics hastily, they will not learn anything, and if they want to delve deeply into them, they still do not have the necessary information and will face weariness. Even if someone wants to read Nahj al-Balagha, the first condition is to start with its wisdom, and it does not seem appropriate to start with the first sermon or sermon one hundred and eighty-six. It can be boldly stated that from the time of Imam Ali (a) to the present, few people have fully understood the meaning of these two sermons. There is no reason to read the first sermon or sermon one hundred and eighty-six when there are many simpler wisdoms that are more appealing.
The second condition is to maintain continuity in Hadith studies. Sometimes, enthusiasts plan to study each summer but usually do not continue the program for more than a week or two. Lack of continuity has various reasons, one of which is fatigue or discouragement, and another reason is that the studied material is not discussed.
3. Use of Teaching Methods
One of the reasons for the failure of study programs is that the study path is not clear; enthusiasts do not know where to start and where their studies should lead. In addition to maintaining continuity and being attractive, one must also follow a learning method. This means that the study should start with easy and short Hadiths and progress to more difficult and complex ones. This logical teaching method should be considered by those who want to delve into Hadith studies and gain a deep understanding of Hadith teachings.
4. Comprehensiveness and Universality
In a study program, the possibility of comprehensive and universal familiarity with various subjects should be achieved. Sometimes, it is observed that some individuals have read many Hadiths on ethical topics but are unfamiliar with theological subjects. For example, students, as they become familiar with jurisprudential Hadiths in the field of jurisprudence, usually study jurisprudential Hadiths and are acquainted with them, but they lack sufficient knowledge of theological Hadiths. Even those who read theological Hadiths tend to lean towards discussions of Imamate and guardianship, while they pay less attention to the discussions of monotheism – which is the foundation of religious knowledge. It seems that a method for Hadith studies should be proposed that leads to comprehensive and universal familiarity with all doctrinal topics.
5. Inclusion of Hadiths from All Imams
Another feature of a complete study program is that it includes Hadiths from all the infallible Imams (peace be upon them). If a group of students is asked right now to narrate five or ten Hadiths from Imam Jawad or Imam Hadi or Imam Hasan Askari (a), unfortunately, it will be observed that many of them do not have any Hadiths from these Imams in their minds, while they have plenty of Hadiths from Imam Ali (a) or Imam Sadiq (a). It is true that the volume of Hadiths from Imam Ali, Imam Baqir, and Imam Sadiq is greater than that of other infallibles, but it seems that our Hadith studies should be in a way that we become familiar with the Hadiths of all the infallible Imams.
6. Familiarity with Hadith Sources
The last feature of a systematic Hadith study program is to acquaint students with credible and diverse Hadith sources based on their role and influence. There are more than two hundred Hadith sources that serve as the framework for Hadiths. There are another two hundred sources that have Hadiths within them. In total, we have access to four hundred Hadith sources, but how much are we familiar with these vast and magnificent sources? We highly value books like al-Kafi because it is the most important Hadith book for Shi’a Muslims. We also pay attention to Nahj al-Balagha because it contains social, ethical, political, and unique theological Hadiths – which distinguishes it from jurisprudential books. But why are we not familiar with books like Nuzhat al-Nazir or Nawadir al-Akhbar? These are our Hadith books, and they contain numerous Hadiths, yet students are usually less familiar with these sources. Therefore, our planning should be in a way that we recognize different Hadith sources considering their role and influence.
Considering these mentioned features, a systematic Hadith study program titled “Seven Valleys, Forty Stations” has been designed, and the details of this program will follow.
Seven Valleys, Forty Stations
In the systematic Hadith study program, seven valleys (stages) and forty stations (books) have been considered. In this program, each stage is a prerequisite for the next stage, and the average study time for Hadiths in each station is approximately twenty-five hours. In other words, to fully execute this Hadith study, at least one thousand hours need to be dedicated: forty stations, and each station consists of twenty-five hours.
Of course, if individuals can discuss the studied Hadiths from each stage daily in pairs or groups of three, they can better retain the materials in their minds. Besides gaining a proper understanding of the read Hadiths, these discussions also allow for the exchange of important points that have come to the participants’ minds.
If 250 days per year are spent on this systematic Hadith study program, the program will conclude after four years. After this period, informed individuals in Hadith knowledge will be trained to meet the needs and questions of society. It should be noted that this Hadith study program is designed for individuals with no prior knowledge of Hadith. However, those who have had a Hadith study program in the past can progress through the initial stages more quickly and complete the simpler stages more rapidly. It’s also possible that some individuals may not be able to dedicate a thousand hours to this Hadith study program. They can shorten the stages; for example, they can allocate fewer hours for reading the recommended books, but it’s essential to maintain continuity in all stages; that is, all these stages should be pursued sequentially.
It should be emphasized that this plan is a general program. Although it covers all the cognitive topics discussed in the field of Hadith, such as interpretation, beliefs, politics, society, history, biography, economics, and jurisprudence, if someone wants to specialize in these cognitive fields, it is necessary, after completing this stage, to choose a specific field and expand their studies in that area.
The First Valley: Simple Texts, Simple Comprehension
In this valley, the study focuses on reading simple texts. The goal in this stage is to gain a simple and not deep understanding of Hadiths. The reason for this simplicity is the appeal and influence of the text on someone who wants to connect with Hadith texts. The program in this stage only involves reading Hadiths, and the reader should not attempt to memorize them.
The First Station: al-Durrah al-Bahirah
The book introduced in the first Station is the honorable book al-Durrat al-Bahirah. This book is attributed to the al-Shahid al-Awwal, who is one of the greatest Shi’a scholars. It is an abridged version of the book Nuzhat al-Nazir, which was written in the fourth or fifth century. This book has special characteristics:
- It is an old book, and its Hadiths have been verified as authentic by two eminent Shi’a scholars.
- Many of its Hadiths are short (ninety percent of its Hadiths are half a line long).
- It has a simple text, and al-Shahid al-Awwal avoided difficult Hadith narrations.
- This book contains narrations from all the infallibles.
In this station, the text of the narrations should be reviewed quickly, and it is not necessary to pay attention to all the teachings in them. The book’s simple and suitable translation has been provided by Shaykh Abdolhadi Masoudi. Planning should be such that all the narrations in the book are seen within twenty-five hours. If the reading of the book does not conclude in the specified time, then the narrations of Imam Ali (a) should be skipped after two hours, and attention should be given to the narrations of Imam Hasan (a) and other Imams (a). In other words, the entire book and the narrations of all the Imams in the book al-Durrat al-Bahirah should be attended to. This book is so engaging that it does not require special recommendation, and reading it progresses very quickly.
The Second Station: Tuhaf al-Uqul
The second book in this stage is Tuhaf al-Uqul written by Ibn Shu’bah al-Harrani. This book contains numerous beautiful narrations. The sections of this book are arranged in order of Isnaad (chain of narrators), starting with the narrations of the Prophet Muhammad (p) and then those of Imam Ali (a), Imam Hasan (a), and so on, up to Imam Askari (a). In each section, first, long narrations are presented, followed by short wisdoms. In this stage, long texts are not studied; instead, the recommended narrations are the later Imams’ wisdoms, meaning those from Imam Kazim to Imam Askari (Imams whose narrations are usually less read). Based on the predicted hours, only simple narrations should be read. In other words, if a narration from the wisdoms of Imam Reza (a) is found challenging and requires contemplation, it should be skipped.
The Third Station: Mizan al-Hikmah
From the book Mizan al-Hikmah by Shaykh Mohammadi Reyshahri, an excerpt titled Muntakhab Mizan al-Hikmah translated by Shaykh Hamidreza Sheikhi has been published. The text of some of its ethical sections is simple. In this station, simple Hadiths from this book are studied. Unlike the previous two books, which were exclusive to Shi’a narrations, this book also contains selected Sunni narrations that have been chosen from the Shi’a perspective. Books from the Sunni sources are not included in this study period, as utilizing Sunni sources requires a specific approach, and becoming familiar with them should be done according to a special plan.
The Fourth Station: Sifat al-Shi’a
In the fourth station, one should read the Sifat al-Shi’a by Sheikh Saduq. Sifat al-Shi’a is a simple and suitable book that encompasses very important topics. This work consists of 71 narrations and serves as a life guide for the Shi’a. From these narrations, the qualities and characteristics of being a Shi’a are strategically and practically outlined, revealing the responsibilities of being a Shi’a.
The Second Valley: Moderate Text, Moderate Comprehension
The Second Valley means moving to a higher stage. The text of the narrations in this stage is not as simple as the first stage; the comprehension and understanding of the learners should go higher. After completing the first stage and dedicating a minimum of one hundred hours to the study of Hadith, students, in general, have become Hadith readers and have acquired basic Hadith reading skills. In this valley, reading is no longer simple, and a more precise approach is needed. Concerning the Hadiths, more attention should be paid. However, this stage does not require extensive work, and comprehension should be at a moderate level, gradually reaching a deeper understanding in later stages.
The Fifth Station: Nahj al-Balagha (Wisdoms)
The first section of the Second Valley deals with the wisdoms of Nahj al-Balagha, focusing on linguistic analysis and comparison of the vocabulary used in translations. Nahj al-Balagha consists of three parts: sermons, letters, and wisdoms. The reading and study plan in this scheme will be the opposite of the arrangement by the late Sayyid Razi, starting with the wisdoms section. The texts of the wisdoms vary; some texts are one line or less, some are three words, and in some places, there are two-word wisdoms. Short texts less than one line should be selected.
Because the text of Nahj al-Balagha is literary and very exquisite, a great deal of care must be taken in studying the text, and reliance on a single translation should be avoided. Usually, when a translation is read, it is assumed that the meaning has been understood by the translator. However, if two translations are placed side by side, the differences in translations become evident, and it becomes clear that each translator has paid attention to nuances that the other has not. If this continues, we come to the conclusion that for understanding textual meanings, especially in Nahj al-Balagha, more attention is required. It is also clear that there is no complete and precise translation of Nahj al-Balagha. The “Alawi Encyclopedia” software provides researchers with the opportunity to select a text and easily compare its translations. Here, it can be seen that a word like qimah, when translated, has been rendered using three equivalent words in translations: “price,” “value,” and “worth.” Initially, “price,” “value,” and “worth” may seem very close and synonymous, but are they really the same? Is qimah in Persian the same as in Arabic?
Or is there a difference? Which one of these three words can better convey the meaning of Amir al-Mu’minin (a): “قیمت” (qimat), “ارزش” (arzesh), or “بها” (baha)? The main challenge in translation is the phrase “ما یحسن” (ma yuhsin). If the translations are compared, it can be observed that “ما یحسن” (ma yuhsin) has been translated in at least three different ways, and each translation differs from the others. If “قیمت” (qimat), “ارزش” (arzesh), and “بها” (baha) are considered synonymous, what is the meaning and concept of “ما یحسن” (ma yuhsin)? Does it mean he regards it as good, understands it well, or has skill in it? When these three meanings are compared, there is a need for further examination of the vocabulary.
Based on the above, the desired text in the Fifth Station is the wisdoms of the book Nahj al-Balagha. If one can dedicate twenty-five hours of study, in total, fifty to sixty texts can be reviewed, with a focus on ten texts.
The Sixth Station: al-Khisal
The text of interest in the Second Valley’s second station consists of three or four narrations from the book al-Khisal by Sheikh Saduq. These narrations are not lengthy, but they are not as short as the previous ones. These narrations are two or three lines long. Al-Khisal has multiple translations. These translations need to be read and critiqued. It must be seen if the translators have been able to accurately render the intended meaning of Imam (a) in Persian. In this station, attention should be increased. However, translators should not be overly strict, but through comparison, they can discover significant errors. A significant aspect of this study is identifying flaws. In translation, vocabulary, understanding, intention, and reconciling narrations, this should be taken into consideration. We do not want to say that all criticisms are correct or not, but we want to emphasize that perspectives should be critical, not accepting. In the previous stage, the perspective was accepting; that is, a text was read with its narrations along with its translation, and this amount was sufficient. However, in this stage, the perspective is not merely accepting; it is critical, and the reader is looking for serious critiques of the translation.
The Seventh Station: Rawdat al-Wa’izin
In the Seventh Station, the book Rawdat al-Wa’izin by Fattal al-Nishaburi should be studied. Rawdat al-Wa’izin is an interesting and good book; however, it does not have a solid chain of narrators and is not among our famous books. The author has organized chapters in this book thematically and has provided relevant Quranic verses followed by several narrations in each chapter. These narrations are usually simple and were written for a general audience in the sixth century. Therefore, fewer complex and difficult narrations are found in this book. One interesting aspect is the author’s attempt to establish a connection between Quranic themes and the thematic content of narrations.
The Eighth Station: al-Mahasin
The Eighth Station is the book al-Mahasin by Ahmad bin Muhammad bin Khalid Barqi (approximately 274 or 281 AH). This book was authored in the Hadith school of Qom at the beginning of the Lesser Occultation or a little earlier. It should be noted that Barqi was present during the period of the infallible Imams and is counted among the most important authors of the classical period. Although you may not find doctrinal content in the book al-Mahasin, from a general perspective, getting acquainted with Barqi, his book, and the heritage of Qom’s hadith is appropriate. The narrations in the al-Mahasin are not very challenging and do not pose a challenge to the reader.
The Ninth Station: Mishkat al-Anwar
The book of interest in the Ninth Station is Mishkat al-Anwar, authored by Tabarsi. This work is a general and diverse text. Mr. Mehdi Houshmand has edited and translated “Mishkat al-Anwar.” The narrations in this book are ethical in nature. Generally, the Tabarsi family is known for their well-composed works, from the author of Majma’ al-Bayan to the author of Mishkat al-Anwar. Mishkat al-Anwar is suitable for a general audience or those in the early stages of their studies; it is a suitable book.
The Third Valley: Intermediate Text, Semi-Deep Understanding
In the Third Valley, the text is intermediate, but the level of understanding and comprehension of narrations should be slightly higher, reaching a semi-deep understanding.
The Tenth Station: Tanbih al-Khawatir
The first book in the Tenth Station is Tanbih al-Khawatir. This text is not as simple as previous books and demands greater attention. This book includes unique texts and singular narrations—texts that cannot be found elsewhere. The Islamic Research Foundation of Astan Quds Razavi has translated and published Tanbih al-Khawatir under the title “Majmu’ah Varam: Ethics and Morality in Islam.”
The Eleventh Station: Nahj al-Balagha (Letters)
In the Eleventh Station, we reach the letters of Nahj al-Balagha. In the first stage, the wisdoms are studied, and in the second stage, the letters. The letters can be categorized into two types: the first type includes letters like those of Amir al-Mu’minin (a) to Muawiya, which contain literary and exquisite content. Such letters are not suitable for this stage because literary and semantic refinements are not the focus here. The second type includes letters that lack such literary elements. Therefore, three beautiful letters from the second category have been considered for this Station: one of them is letter 69, written by Amir al-Mu’minin (a) to Harith Hamdani. Its text is concise, resembling the wisdoms presented in the form of a letter; many of the wisdoms have been compiled by His Eminence in this letter. Another letter is letter 31, written by Amir al-Mu’minin (a) to Imam Hasan (a). We can say that letter 31 is an elaboration and expansion of letter 69, meaning that letter 69 is a summary of letter 31. Many of the topics briefly mentioned in letter 69 are elaborated in two or three lines in letter 31; each statement has its unique beauty. Initially, letter 69, as a short and concise text, can be studied.
It is short, easy to understand, and memorable. After reading it, proceed to Letter 31, and finally, Letter 53, which is the Covenant of Malik al-Ashtar. It is the political constitution of Amir al-Mu’minin (a) that outlines the relationship between the government and the people and their duties toward each other, significantly influencing the understanding of the social system. However, this letter differs from the previous two and has a different atmosphere.
In this station, one should focus on examining the vocabulary and translations. For vocabulary examination, refer to Nahj al-Balaghah’s glossary books, such as Mafatih Nahj al-Balaghah by Sayyid Ali Akbar Qurashi or Nahj al-Balaghah by Subhi Saleh, which provides simple Arabic explanations of words. The translations are the same as before.
Several commentaries are introduced in this stage: firstly, Ibn Abi al-Hadid’s commentary, especially in historical matters; secondly, Ibn Maytham’s commentary, especially in rational matters; thirdly, the commentary by the late Mirza Habibollah Kho’i, for an understanding of literary characteristics or general overviews; fourthly, the message of Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi, a new commentary in which he has attempted to explain Nahj al-Balaghah’s content for the general public. Among these, Ibn Maytham’s commentary is the best, but it is challenging to read. Still, it is necessary to become familiar with it. Anyone who reads Nahj al-Balaghah will never be without Ibn Maytham’s commentary. Therefore, Ibn Maytham’s commentary should be the criterion and axis of your work.
The software Ganjineh-e-Ravayat-e-Noor has provided translations for many books. The new version of the Ahl al-Bayt Library software also includes some translations. If someone has the opportunity, in this station, they should read Letter 45 and 47, which are among the most beautiful letters. Letter 47 is the testament of Amir al-Mu’minin (a), and Letter 45 is a letter to Uthman ibn Hani.
The Twelfth Station: Al-Kafi (Volume Two)
The Twelfth Station covers volume two of the eight-volume al-Kafi, specifically the section on faith and disbelief. It explains the virtues and vices of ethics and clarifies the moral ethics of faith. Al-Kaf is the most important Shi’i hadith book. If someone wants to become a hadith scholar or an expert in Islamic sciences, they must read al-Kafi from beginning to end, word by word, even its jurisprudential chapters.
Al-Kafi was written during the period of Minor Occultation, and reading it acquaints you with the hadith heritage of Shi’a in the field of hadith during the Minor Occultation. This heritage is now available to us, and we must value it.
However, some topics are challenging, such as the discussion of clay and you should move past that chapter and start with the narrations in the following chapters, which are diverse, beautiful, and contain moral virtues and vices. Each chapter you choose in this station should be read along with its chain of narrators. The books introduced so far did not have chains of narrators, but the narrations in this book have chains of narrators. You should read the chains of narrators.
Additionally, consider the commentary by the late Mulla Saleh Mazandarani and the annotations by Mr. Ali Akbar Ghaffari in this stage. In the eight-volume edition of Al-Kafi, the annotations by Aqa Ghaffari are very well-presented, and in reality, they are an abridgment of Mira’at al-‘Uqul by Allama Majlisi (d. 1110 AH). Allama Majlisi is the greatest hadith scholar in our history.
It is advisable to use the translations of Aqa Komrai and Aqa Mustafavi in this stage, although they are relatively good but not comprehensive. Enthusiasts at this stage reach a point where they only use translations as a jumping-off point, enhancing their ability to understand the narrations. At this stage, what matters most is Mulla Saleh Mazandarani’s commentary, which has been corrected and published by Allama Sha’rani, providing further explanations or critiques of his views when necessary.”
Sometimes, the words of Mulla Saleh Mazandarani are used to clarify the narrations, while at other times, he is criticized. In this case, we witness a scientific challenge between two scholars, namely the late Mulla Saleh Mazandarani and the late Allama Mirza Abulhasan Sha’rani. We compare them as external judges. These criticisms are fascinating for us. Each of them makes claims and sometimes critiques each other’s claims. These rebuttals and arguments strengthen us. The late Sha’rani has around 1500 annotations on the book, Sharh-e Mulla Saleh Mazandarani.
The Thirteenth Station: Man La Yahdhuruhu al-Faqih
The Thirteenth Station covers the book Man La Yahdhuruhu al-Faqih, which is counted among the Four Books. Allama Mulla Muhammad Taqi Majlisi, known as the First Majlisi, wrote a commentary on it called Rawdat al-Muttaqin. There is also a Persian commentary called Lawa’mih Sahibqarani. Both the Persian and Arabic commentaries are very interesting. In this commentary, we see how intriguing Majlisi’s understanding of hadith is. However, some parts of the second volume are jurisprudential chapters, but within the jurisprudential narrations, there are abundant non-jurisprudential teachings that the Majlisi I has extracted. At this stage, based on your external jurisprudential studies, you can select parts of the jurisprudential chapters; for example, if someone is studying the jurisprudence of Hajj, they can read the Hajj narrations from Man La Yahdhuruhu al-Faqih and then refer to the explanations by the Majlisi I to continue their hadith studies along with jurisprudential foundations.
The Fourteenth Station: Sahifah Sajjadiyah
The Fourteenth Station covers the book Sahifah Sajjadiyah along with the commentary by the late Sayyid Ali Khan Madani. Sahifah Sajjadiyah is seemingly a book of supplications but, in reality, it is a book of monotheistic and gnostic teachings. The monotheistic and gnostic discussions in Sahifah Sajjadiyah are extensive. Sayyid Ali Khan Madani, who is a very precise and astute individual, has managed to extract these points.
The Fifteenth Station: Forty Hadith
The Fifteenth Station covers the book Forty Hadith by Imam Khumayni. This book leads us to a new valley. He selects a topic, forms a family of hadith narrations on that topic, explains the vocabulary using the family of hadith narrations, and provides commentary on it. If there are any difficulties.
Also, if there is any disagreement, it generally mentions that disagreement; in other words, it is a book of hadith jurisprudence. Within twenty-five hours, you can read a maximum of about ten hadiths from it.
The Sixteenth Station: Kamal al-Din
The Sixteenth Station covers the book Kamal al-Din by Sheikh Saduq. The book Kamal al-Din has several advantages:
- It is a book on Imamate.
- It is a book on Mahdism.
- Sheikh Saduq demonstrates his competence as a theologian in this book. The book Kamal al-Din has been edited and published by the late Ali Akbar Ghaffari.
The Seventeenth Station: Kashf al-Mahjah
The Seventeenth Station covers the book Kashf al-Mahjah by Sayyid Ibn Tawus (589-664 AH). Sayyid Ibn Tawus is a legend of supplication and devotion among Shi’i scholars. He wrote this book for his son and included many educational topics in it. The complete name of the book is Kashf al-Mahjah li Thamarat al-Mahjah. One of the tasks in this station is comparative work; for example, Sayyid Ibn Tawus has quoted a letter from Imam Ali (a) to Imam Hasan (a) in this book, which is a paternal advice to his son. You should compare this letter in the book Kashf al-Mahjah with Letter 31 of Nahj al-Balagha and identify the differences, such as the text of the letter in this book being longer. Examine the omitted sections carefully to find out if they were not eloquent or had another reason for not being included in Nahj al-Balagha.
The Fourth Valley: Exact Text, Semi-Deep Understanding
In the fourth valley, the text is exact, but the understanding of the content is still semi-deep.
The Eighteenth Station: Nahj al-Balagha (Sermons)
In this station, you should study the sermons of Nahj al-Balagha, but you need to exclude the sermons related to Tawhid (monotheism). Sermons such as Sermon of Hammam, Sermon of Qasi’ah, and Sermon Shaqshaqiyyah are among the sermons that should be read in this station. Also, you should not distance yourself from explanations and translations; instead, you need to study the sermons along with explanations and translations.
The Nineteenth Station: Bihar al-Anwar
The Nineteenth Station covers Bihar al-Anwar, an extensive work by Allama Muhammad Baqir Majlisi (1037-1110 AH). Until this stage, Bihar al-Anwar, which is the largest collection of hadiths among Shia books, has not been addressed. In this station, portions of this extensive compilation of hadiths are studied. However, the initial volumes of Bihar al-Anwar can be somewhat challenging. Therefore, volumes five through ten of the book are read along with the statements of Allama Majlisi. In other words, in this station, not only the narrations are read; rather, attention is paid to the author’s statements. Of course, enthusiasts can refer to the initial volumes after reading volumes five through ten and study the narrations along with the statements of Allama Majlisi and the marginal notes of Allama Tabatabai, but at this stage, they should not focus on the few marginal notes of the late Allama Tabatabai. Also, it is not necessary to read all the volumes from five to ten; instead, in this station, only one of the sections should be studied for up to twenty-five hours.
The Twentieth Station: Al-Arba’un Hadithan
The Twentieth Station covers the book al-Arba’un Hadithan by Sheikh Bahai (953-1030 AH). It can be said that Sheikh Bahai is one of the most discerning scholars in the selection and interpretation of hadiths among Shia scholars. Therefore, both the hadiths in al-Arba’un Hadithan are beautiful, and Sheikh Bahai’s statements are eloquent. This prominent scholar has raised jurisprudential points in the field of hadith, and his book has been used by hadith scholars until now.
The Twenty-First Station: Nawadir al-Akhbar
The Twenty-First Station covers the book Nawadir al-Akhbar written by Mulla Mohsen Fayd Kashani. He is one of the very discerning hadith scholars and has collected interesting narrations not found in the Four Books and Al-Wafi.
The Twenty-Second Station: Al-Irshad
The Twenty-Second Station covers al-Irshad, written by Sheikh Mufid. Al-Irshad consists of two volumes. In this station, the first volume of the book, which contains numerous sermons of Imam Ali (a), is studied. However, even in this stage, the target is not the monotheistic sermons but rather the historical, ethical, and moral sermons of the book.
The Twenty-Third Station: Al-Amali (Selected)
The Twenty-Third Station covers a selection of narrations from the book al-Amali by Sheikh Mufid. This book is essentially the transcripts of the hadith gatherings of the late Sheikh Mufid. However, some parts of its text can be challenging.
The Twenty-Fourth Station: Al-Kafi (Jurisprudential Sections)
The Twenty-Fourth Station covers the jurisprudential sections of al-Kafi. Al-Kafi is different from other jurisprudential books in terms of its jurisprudential content. Many epistemological topics have been addressed in their jurisprudential narrations. At this stage, you can also choose specific sections of the jurisprudential chapters of al-Kafi according to your external jurisprudence lessons.
The Twenty-Fifth Station: Tahdhib al-Ahkam
The Twenty-Fifth Station covers Tahdhib al-Ahkam, authored by Sheikh Tusi. At this stage, you can also select specific sections of Tahdhib al-Ahkam that are relevant to your external jurisprudence lessons.
It is also necessary to compare the two books, al-Kafi and Tahdhib al-Ahkam. Sheikh Tusi has included all the texts of “Al-Kafi,” quoted the opposing texts, and then presented the consensus between these two groups of narrations.
The Twenty-Sixth Station: Basair al-Darajat
The Twenty-Sixth Station covers the book Basair al-Darajat by Saffar. Basair al-Darajat is a book written to introduce the Imams (a) and their knowledge. The narrations from this book are studied in this station and should later be compared with the Kitab al-Hujjah from al-Kafi, which will be studied in the subsequent stations. Basair al-Darajat has several good translations that can be used.
Fifth Valley: Accurate Text, Deep Understanding
In the Fifth Valley, besides reading the text carefully and paying attention to its intricacies, a deep understanding should also be achieved.
The Twenty-Seventh Station: Nahj al-Balagha (Monotheistic Sermons)
In the Twenty-Seventh Station, the monotheistic sermons of Nahj al-Balagha, along with their explanations, especially the explanations by Ibn Maytham and Bahjat al-Subaghah by Allama Shushtari, are studied. These two books have given importance to monotheistic discussions.
The Twenty-Eighth Station: Al-Kafi (Volume One)
In the Twenty-Eighth Station, three books, Aql (Intellect), Tawhid (Monotheism), and Hujjah (Proof) from the first volume of al-Kafi, should be studied. Since the content in this station should be precise, and the topics in Kitab al-Ilm (Book of Knowledge) are simpler, they are not included in this stage. Kitab al-Tawhid is quite challenging, and Kitab al-Hujjah is intermediate. In this station, the study should focus on the first volume.
The Twenty-Ninth Station: Al-Balad al-Amin and Iqbal al-A’mal
In the program for the Twenty-Ninth Station, two books by Sayyid Ibn Tawus (589-666 AD) are included: Al-Balad al-Amin and Iqbal al-A’mal. If one wishes to understand Shia mysticism, the highest level of it is manifested in the supplications of the Imams. Sayyid Ibn Tawus has presented the most beautiful of these texts in these two books, especially in “Iqbal al-A’mal.” In this Station, the supplications from the book “Iqbal al-A’mal,” especially the supplications of Sha’ban, should be studied.
The Thirtieth Station: Bihar al-Anwar (Book of Intellect and Book of Monotheism)
In the Thirtieth Station, Kitab al-Aql (Book of Intellect) and Kitab al-Tawhid (Book of Monotheism) from Bihar al-Anwar should be studied. This includes the initial volumes of the book along with the explanations by Allama Majlisi and the critique by the late Allama Tabatabai. If one wishes to continue this journey, they should also read critiques of these critiques, for example, the articles by Sayyid Mohammad Khamenei and Sayyid Jalal Ashtiyani. A researcher should know that, except for the infallibles, one should not unquestioningly submit to anyone’s viewpoint. Allama Majlisi, who is the greatest Shia hadith scholar, has his viewpoint, but Allama Tabatabai has criticized it. Others have also criticized Allama Tabatabai’s viewpoint. This critical approach is very appropriate and is one of the academic assets. During the time when Allama Tabatabai was writing his annotations, some people protested and considered his annotations as insults to Allama Majlisi, preventing their publication. Now, Allama Tabatabai’s annotations, which number close to two hundred, are academic assets. If these annotations had continued to be written, what a valuable asset we would have!
The Thirty-First Station: Tuhaf al-Uqul (Monotheistic Texts)
In the Thirty-First Station, the book Tuhaf al-Uqul should be studied. In this Station, one must delve into monotheistic texts, especially monotheistic narrations of Imam Ali (a), such as Khutbat al-Wasilah. Additionally, a treatise on predestination and free will from Imam Hadi (a) and a narration from Imam Kazim (a) about reason should be studied. These three texts must be seen. Interesting points are noticeable in the treatise on predestination and free will, as well as in the narration about reason; the Imams (a), who are themselves the proof, have presented Quranic arguments.
The Thirty-Second Station: Al-Tawhid (Monotheism)
In the Thirty-Second Station, the book al-Tawhid by Sheikh Saduq, especially some specific chapters like predestination and free will, should be studied. In this station, this book should be compared with Kitab al-Jabr wa al-Ikhtiyar from al-Kafi. When these two are compared, interesting results are obtained, and the reader can understand the viewpoints of these two scholars. Al-Kafi was in Sheikh Saduq’s possession, and Sheikh Saduq’s sources were also available to Kulayni. Additionally, Sheikh Saduq narrates many of these narrations from his father.
He himself has mentioned that he was a contemporary of Kulayni, but each of these two scholars has chosen a group of narrations and not narrated others. For instance, some hadiths have been narrated by Kulayni but not by Sheikh Saduq. Similarly, Sheikh Saduq has narrated some hadiths from his teacher Kulayni, but Kulayni himself did not narrate them. If these narrations are compared, the type of thinking and insight of these two great scholars becomes apparent.
The Sixth Valley: Difficult Texts, Detailed Examination
In the Sixth Valley, we encounter difficult texts. In the previous valleys, the text was precise, but in this valley, we face challenging texts that require a discussion of conflicting hadiths.
The Thirty-Third Station: Al-Istibsar
The Thirty-Third Station is dedicated to the book al-Istibsar. Al-Istibsar deals exclusively with conflicting narrations. If a narration does not have a conflicting narration, it does not belong in this book.
The Thirty-Fourth Station: Al-Kafi (Volume Eight)
The Thirty-Fourth Station focuses on the eighth volume of al-Kafi. In this station, both the issue of challenging hadiths and the critique of hadith are relevant. When reading the hadiths in this book, one should not ignore the annotations of Mulla Saleh Mazandarani and Allama Sha’rani.
The Thirty-Fifth Station: Masabih al-Anwar
The Thirty-Fifth Station is dedicated to Masabih al-Anwar written by Sayyid Abdullah Shubbar. In this book, Sayyid Abdullah Shubbar has compiled challenging narrations, making it an interesting read. At times, it is seen that Sayyid Abdullah Shubbar has presented several theories for a single narration, many of which he has taken from Allama Majlisi. However, he may have added some explanations of his own. The reader will become familiar with the issue of challenging hadiths in this Station. In this Station, one can, for example, follow up on the hadiths related to taint (Tinat) or predestination and free will in the book Masabih al-Anwar.
The Thirty-Sixth Station: Jami’ al-Asrar
The Thirty-Sixth Station is dedicated to the book Jami’ al-Asrar, authored by Sayyid Haidar Amuli. This book specializes in the challenging hadiths of a mystical nature. Some narrations, which are considered mystical, are not found in the formal Shia hadith collections. These narrations entered the sphere of Shia hadith during the era of Sayyid Haidar Amuli, and some of them found their way into books like the works of Mulla Fayd Kashani or Ahsa’i. The first book to pay attention to this subject was Jami’ al-Asrar, written in the 7th century hijri. These narrations are usually among the challenging hadiths. Therefore, someone who has not passed the previous stages should not enter this valley.
The Seventh Valley: Chain of Narrators
The Seventh Valley is the Valley of Documentation. In the first, second, and third valleys, usually, narrations that were read did not have their chains of transmitters documented; however, in the subsequent stages, documented narrations are considered. In this stage, one should take into consideration the chains of transmitters carefully.
The Thirty-Seventh Station: Al-Kafi (Repetitive Chains)
In the Thirty-Seventh Station, frequently narrated chains of the book al-Kafi are included. It seems that if someone has access to al-Kafi – which has been corrected and published by the Dar al-Hadith Institute – by studying its documents and annotations, they can become well-versed in narrators to a considerable extent.
The Thirty-Eighth Station: Tahdhib al-Ahkam (Mashyakh)
In the Thirty-Eighth Station, one should study the Mashyakha of Sheikh Tusi. Mashyakha is in the last volume of Tahdhib al-Ahkam, and it includes the documents and chains of transmission (turuq) of Sheikh Tusi to previous hadith books. Reading Mashyakha is similar to studying frequently narrated documents in al-Kafi. In this station, there is no discussion of narrators, and we only seek to become familiar with individuals and their characteristics. Usually, different publications of Tahdhib al-Ahkam have provided a general explanation, but the best way to understand them is to use the book Mu’jam al-Rijal by Ayatollah Khoei.
The Thirty-Ninth and Fortieth Stations: Fihrist Najashi and Fihrist Tusi
In the last Station, two books, namely Fihrist Najashi and Fihrist Tusi, are studied. The book Fihrist differs from Mashyakha. In these two Fihrist books, hadith researchers become familiar with both the collections of hadith sources and the ways of accessing them. Any student who intends to engage in hadith studies must inevitably read the names of books, their explanations, and the ways of accessing them from the beginning to the end of Fihrist Najashi and Fihrist Tusi.
The structured hadith study program, presented as “Seven Valleys, Forty Stations,” is a course designed for a general introduction to hadith. If someone goes through these stages, it is recommended to read the entire al-Kafi (especially the Dar al-Hadith edition) to become, God willing, a proficient hadith scholar. I hope that God grants all of us the ability to navigate through these stages with ease.
Sayyid Ali studied in the seminary of Qom from 2012 to 2021, while also concurrently obtaining a M.A in Islamic Studies from the Islamic College of London in 2018. In the seminary he engaged in the study of legal theory, jurisprudence and philosophy, eventually attending the advanced kharij of Usul and Fiqh in 2018. He is currently completing his Masters of Education at the University of Toronto and is the head of a private faith-based school in Toronto, as well as an instructor at the Mizan Institute and Mufid Seminary.
- Source: Hadith Studies Journal, Volume 3, Issue 4, Spring and Summer 1391, Pages 5-30