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Dua Kumayl – An academic perspective

This is a translation of an article which is a Q&A with Shaykh Hobbollah, original article here


Question:

As per the standards of scholars, as well as in your own opinion, what is the basis of Dua Kumayl’s authenticity? Is it authentic or not? 

Answer:

Dua Kumayl b. Ziyad al Nakh’i is among one of the most popular, beautiful and wonderful supplications; which is recited every Thursday night by millions of Muslims across the globe. Its content is amazing and many scholars have written exegesis/commentaries on it and translated it into different languages, as stated by researchers such as Agha Buzurg Tehrani [author of the most comprehensive bibliographical encyclopedia of Shi’ite books “Al Dhariah”] in his “Al Dhariah” (Vol 8 page 193 and Vol 13 page 258 – 259) and others. However, the vast majority of these exegeses/commentaries, if not all of them, appeared only in the last 4 centuries. Before that, there was no sign or trace of this dua in the realm of exegesis/commentaries, translations, annotations etc of scholars.

Shaik Abbas Al-Qummi [Author of Mafatih al-Jinan] said about the dua:

هُوَ من الدّعوات المعروفة. قالَ العلاّمة المجلسي (رض): إنّه أفضل الأدعية، وَهُوَ دعاء الخضر عليه السلام، وقد علّمه أمير المؤمنين عليه السلام كميلاً، وَهُوَ من خواص أصحابه، ويدعى به في ليلة النصف من شعبان، وليلة الجُمعة، ويجدي في كفاية شرّ الأعداء، وفي فتح باب الرزق، وفي غفران الذُّنوب. وقد رواه الشَّيخ والسَّيِّد كلاهما، وأنا أرويه عَن كتاب (مصباح المتهجِّد) وَهُوَ هذا الدُّعاء

It is one of the well-known supplications. Allamah al-Majlisi (ra) said: It is the best of supplications, and it is the supplication of al-Khidher (as), it was taught by Ameer al-Mumineen (as) to Kumayl, and he was of his close companions, and he supplicated with it on the night of nisf [half] of Sha’ban, and on the night of Jum’ah [Thursday night], it is useful in the adequacy of the evil of enemies, and in opening the door to rizq [sustenance], and in the forgiveness of sins. It was narrated by both the Sheikh [al-Tusi] and the Sayed [Ibn Tawus], and I narrated it from the book (Misbah al-Mutahjid), and it is this supplication [..]

Mafatih al-Jinan, pg 126

Sayyid Muhammad Husayn al-Jalali states that the most correct version of this supplication is the narration that is stated in Al-Misbah of al-Tusi (Fehrest al-Turath, Volume 1, pg 107)

Although this supplication is known as the supplication of Kumayl – which is one of the close companions of Imam Ali (as), and he was trusted and praised by some Sunni scholars as well. […] – but the supplication is not from Kumayl b. Ziyad al Nakh’i, but rather from Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as), in the narration, as we will present soon, it is named Dua al-Khidhr (as), and the Imam may have taken it from him.

As for attempting to establish its authenticity historically, this dua originates from 2 primary sources, and all other books [which contain Dua Kumayl] quote it from those 2.

And those 2 sources are:

The first source: “Misbah al-Mutahajid” by Shaikh Tusi (d. 460 AH), this is the oldest and most important source:

دعاءٌ آخر، وهو دعاء الخضر عليه السلام: روي أنّ كميل بن زياد النخعي رأى أمير المؤمنين عليه السلام ساجداً يدعو بهذا الدعاء في ليلة النصف من شعبان: اللهم إني أسألك برحمتك التي وسعت كلّ شيء، وبقوّتك التي قهرت بها كلّ شيء..

Another dua is Dual al-Khidher (as): It has been reported that Kumayl b. Ziyad al Nakh’i saw Imam Ali prostrating and reciting the following dua on 15 Sha’ban: Ya Allah! I beseech you by your mercy which covers everything, and by your power by which you subjugate everything […]

Misbah al-Mutahajid, pg 844-850

As we can see in this source, it is not known how Shaikh Tusi obtained this dua, while the time lapse between that of his era and that of Imam Ali and Kumayl b. Ziyad al Nakh’i is of around 4 centuries. There is no sanad [chain of narrators], no original earlier source and no mention of the method by which this dua was obtained. Shaikh Tusi also did not mention any ‘tareeq’ [list of shuyukh/teachers via whom he could obtain narrations of earlier people] to Kumayl, neither in his “Misbah” nor in Tahdhibain or in his Fihrist, neither in any other place in any of his books; which may allow for “ta’widh al sanad” [reconstruct the sanad, based on turuq mentioned elsewhere] to authenticate the hadith.

Shaikh Tusi probably obtained this dua from a source or sanad that was unreliable, even according to him, but he still recorded it in his book because the book “Misbahul Mutahajid”, it is a book about supplications, recommended acts [mustahabaat] etc [i.e. not a fiqh book about halal and haram] and Shaikh Tusi adopted the popular practice of “al-Tasamuh fi Addilat al-Sunan” [A popular fiqh principle of applying leniency in hadith authentication in issues related to mustahab acts, such as supplications etc.] so he reported the dua despite lack of reliability of its sanad or source near him. This is completely plausible in such [recommended/mustahab] issues, especially with the content of the dua being highly eloquent according to him.

Shaikh Tusi probably considered the dua reliable based on its content, like how some scholars these days have authenticated it based on its content.

The second source: The book “Iqbal al-A’mal” by Syed Ibn Tawus (664 AH), he reported:

ومن الدعوات في هذه الليلة ما رويناه بإسنادنا إلى جدّي أبي جعفر الطوسي رضي الله عنه قال: روي أنّ كميل بن زياد النخعي رأى أمير المؤمنين عليه السلام ساجداً يدعو بهذا الدعاء في ليلة النصف من شعبان. أقول: ووجدت في روايةٍ أخرى ما هذا لفظها: قال كميل بن زياد: كنت جالساً مع مولاي أمير المؤمنين عليه السلام في مسجد البصرة، ومعه جماعة من أصحابه، فقال بعضهم: ما معنى قول الله عزّ وجلّ: (فيها يفرق كلّ أمر حكيم)؟ قال عليه السلام: ليلة النصف من شعبان، والذي نفس عليّ بيده إنّه ما من عبدٍ إلا وجميع ما يجري عليه من خيرٍ وشرٍّ مقسومٌ له في ليلة النصف من شعبان إلى آخر السنة في مثل تلك الليلة المقبلة، وما من عبدٍ يحييها ويدعو بدعاء الخضر عليه السلام إلا أجيب له. فلمّا انصرف طرقته ليلاً، فقال عليه السلام: ما جاء بك يا كميل؟ قلت: يا أمير المؤمنين، دعاء الخضر، فقال: اجلس يا كميل، إذا حفظت هذا الدعاء فادعُ به كلّ ليلة جمعة أو في الشهر مرّة أو في السنة مرّة أو في عمرك مرّة تُكف وتُنصر وترزق ولن تعدم المغفرة، يا كميل، أوجب لك طول الصحبة لنا أن نجود لك بما سألت، ثم قال: اكتب: اللهم إني أسألك برحمتك التي وسعت كلّ شيء، وبقوّتك التي قهرت بها كلّ شيء، وخضع لها كلّ شيء، وذلّ لها كلّ شيء، وبجبروتك التي غلبت بها كلّ شيء، وبعزّتك التي لا يقوم لها شيء

Among the supplications for this night are what we have reported by our sanad to our grandfather Shaikh Tusi, who said: ‘It has been reported that Kumayl b. Ziyad al Nakh’i saw Imam Ali prostrating and reciting the following dua on 15 Sha’ban’. I say: I found in another narration the following wordings: ‘Kumayl b. Ziyad al Nakhii said: I was sitting with my master Imam Ali in the mosque of Basra, and with him was a group of his companions. Some of them asked him, what is the meaning of the verse “On that night is made distinct every precise matter” (44:4)? Imam replied: The night of 15 Sha’ban, I swear by the one who created me, there is none but every good and bad that is to happen to him that year until the next 15 Sha’ban night is ordained on the night of 15 Sha’ban. And there is none who supplicates via the dua of Khidher but that his supplication is granted. So when people left for the night (I did not leave), so Imam asked: What is wrong Kumayl? I replied: Please teach me Dua al Khider. Imam said: Sit down Kumayl, if you memorise this dua and supplicate by it every Thursday night, or once in a month, or once a year, or even once in your whole lifetime; it will suffice you and help you and bless you and you will not be without maghfirah. Kumayl, due to your long companionship with us, we are obliged to give you what you seek. Imam then continued: Write: Ya Allah! I beseech you by your mercy which covers everything, by your power which subjugates everything, which conquers and humbles everything, by your ruler-ship which conquers everything, by your honour which nothing can withstand […]

Iqbal al-A’mal, Volume 3, pg 331- 338

It is obvious here the Ibn Tawus is quoting the hadith which we saw reported from Shaikh Tusi in Misbah in the beginning, so there is nothing new there. But Ibn Tawus does mention that he also saw another narration in this regard and mentions it (as seen above) and then proceeds to the dua, but without mentioning where he saw this narration and neither does he mention any source or sanad or any other relevant information on this; despite that the time gap between him and the era of Imam Ali and Kumayl is that of 6 centuries.

An important point worthy of attention is, that both the sources mention the dua as the dua of Khidher. But it is not clear as to what is meant by that. Did Khidher meet Imam Ali who then taught it to him, or did Khidher use to supplicate with it from before and taught it to Ali (as) or Muhammad ﷺ and they narrated it for this ummah [although this is strange as] even though the dua contains the Quranic verse “Then is one who was a believer like one who was defiantly disobedient? They are not equal.” 32:18 [although the Qur’an had not been revealed in the time of Khidher]?

I do not wish to engage in the discussion regarding the various meanings that the name Khidher could convey as per cultural and Sufi thoughts, I will skip that discussion, and suggest referring to Professor Imad al Hilali’s book about Khidher “Al ‘Abd al ‘Alim al Khidher”.

Similarly, I do not wish to enter into a discussion about the issue in Ibn Tawus’s narration, where it says that the verse “On that night is made distinct every precise matter” (44:4) refers to the night of 15th Sha’ban and that this contradicts the Qur’anic verses which say that ‘laylatul Qadr’ occurs in Ramadan instead of Sha’ban (this is something on which there is disagreement and we shall not discuss it at the moment).

Furthermore, this narration conflicts with other narrations which state that the night mentioned in verse 44:4 is the Laylatul Qadr of Ramadan instead of Sha’ban. It is important to solve this issue, if we are to take this narration of Ibn Tawus. To add to that, Imam Ali gave this dua to Kumayl due to his companionship with him, what I do not understand is that are the Imams supposed to teach duas to only those who are very close to them instead of teaching it to all Muslims because after all the tabligh [propagation] of religion to the whole ummah is wajib on them. And is there anything in this dua which would call for taqiyya [due to which Imam taught this dua only to Kumayl]? The narration makes it seem as if there is something secretive in this dua such that the Imam taught it only to Kumayl due to his close companionship. I will leave this issue as a food for thought.

And there is another question which bears pondering upon, which I shall answer shortly, which is that Ibn Tawus’s narration mentions that Kumayl wrote down the dua upon Imam Ali’s order; which means he authored a booklet i.e. Dua Kumayl, but despite that we do not find any mention of it in the Bibliographical books. [The authors of such books such as] Shaikh Tusi, Shaikh Najashi, Ibn al Nadim nor others mentioned it among Shia books despite mentioning some of the Shia books authored in the 1st century AH. This to an extent confirms that they either had not seen this narration or had not considered it authoritative enough to consider Kumayl as the author of an “Asl” or “Musannaf”.

And there also no source which establishes for us a special status for Thursday night with regards to Dua Kumayl, except for the chainless narration of Ibn Tawus which suffers from the issues mentioned above. Therefore, in our view, the narration in Misbah of Tusi is relatively more reliable with respect to Ibn Tawus’s narration, and the narration in Misbah focuses on labeling this dua as one which is supplicated on the night of the 15th of Sha’ban instead of every Thursday night.

Based on all this, this dua cannot be considered authentic as per proper academic standard as the [original] source and sanad for it are unknown, and the books which mention it are very few; basically only 2.

Therefore, it is not possible to reconstruct its sanad or find an alternative earlier source for it, which makes attribution of this dua to the Prophet (pbuh) or his progeny very difficult. Except for by the method of those who authenticate narrations and supplications by comparing and checking the similarity of the tone and content with other ahadith of Imam Ali and the Imams (as), or by the eloquence of the content, so one who obtains trust and reassurance of this dua being narrated from Imam Ali (as) through these methods; as is the case with multiple scholars such as the late Ayatullah Sheikh Abdul Hadi al Fadli, then it is hujjah for him and upon him only.

Otherwise,  there is no reliability of this dua in terms of its attribution to the Prophet ﷺ or the Ahlulbayt (as).

And  I remind myself before grading the dua, in fact any dua, and its attribution to the infallibles (as) by the method of judging its content and its eloquence; that we also have a large collection of supplications from rest of the Muslim scholars [from other sects], in fact even from non-Muslims [such as Psalms of the Hebrew Bible, Hindu Vedas scriptures etc]. We find that some of those are so touching that they send chills in the body’s skin, melt the hearts, shake the consciences, swell up the eyes with tears and frighten the hearts. Therefore, taking this into consideration is necessary before we jump to conclusions based on emotions and what we have grown up with or been brought up on sanctifying, and issuing judgement based on preconceived notions instead of academic investigation.

As for the claim that the special treatment given to this dua by scholars proves its authenticity, then we have already explained that such treatment is not clearly found except since around the last 4 centuries only. As for any earlier than that, then it is rare to find any exegesis/commentary, annotations or mention of it which could be referred to. Yes, it is worth mentioning that some sentences of this dua, mostly from its beginning, have been reported in other narrations. Among them is a narration that has been mentioned by some sunni scholars in their hadith collections, for example by Ibn Abi Shayba in his Musannaf. But this does not prove the whole long dua being reported [in the other narrations], only a very small portion of it, if the authenticity of those other narrations could be established that is.

And I find it strange that some try to authenticate Dua Kumayl by Ibn Abi Shayba’s narration, which is dha’eef [weak] in the first place and secondly only contains a very small portion of Dua Kumayl. It is also well known that fabrication in ahadith is often done by insertion, that is, taking an authentic hadith and adding to it or removing a portion from the hadith and replacing it with something else hence making it look authentic [by doing fabrication within an authentic hadith] although this does not make the hadith authentic. Yes, if most parts of Dua Kumayl had been reported in other narrations from Imam Ali, then the dua could be authenticated through those narrations. But with great regret, this is not the case in this scenario.

But all of this does not mean we should abandon this dua:

The one who believes in The Principle of Leniency in Deducing Proofs for Recommended Acts (al-Tasamuh fi Addilat al-Sunan) may still consider this dua, and may consider it recommended to read it on Thursday night, or the night of the half of Sha`ban as well

And he who doesn’t acknowledge this principle [mentioned above] and does not authenticate this dua, as is correct, [to read this dua] while doing so with the goal that this supplication is not invoked to prove or deny something in religion, belief and sharia, and does not attribute it to the Imam (as), and he does not read it every Thursday night on the premise that it is specifically recommended [on that night] and likewise for the night of the 15th of Sha’ban.. so if he would supplicate using it, there is essentially no problem in it; as it is not required for supplications and ziyarat to be reliable by chain for someone to read them, someone may read ziyara or supplicate with what was mentioned even with a weak chain, and immerse oneself in what someone supplicates with or does ziyara with, as we have mentioned over and over again, the aim is that the one who who sees a problem in the matn [text] or madhmoon [understanding] that is inconsistent with the religion or the Qur’an in this or that supplication or in this or that ziyara is entitled to mention his objection and to leave this supplication, if it includes what contradicts religion from his ijtihadi viewpoint, others have no right to attack him on the pretext that he criticizes a prayer attributed to the Prophet and his Ahlulbayt; if the supplication was not proven according to the conditions and there is a problem in its content, it is his right to hold his view, and based on that, Dua Kumayl and any other supplication – as well as any ziyara – if it is not proven that it was issued by the Prophet and his household in an academic way, according to the methodology taken by a researcher, it is possible to supplicate with or do ziyara with it, without any problem, on the condition of not attributing it to the infallible or using it as an argument invoked in religious thought, and if someone used it as such [as proof/argument], and if it contains anything that contradicts religion in one way or another, you may hold your view, but the call is to leave this supplication or that ziyara or this passage from them, as this seems to me to be the proper methodological standard in dealing with the topic of supplications and ziyarat that are not confirmed by the hadith sciences nor historically, and we have repeated this matter repeatedly in the past.

Finally, when I study these issues, I hope that we will also move away from the biased sectarian mentality, as some may look at this issue in this way, and for any supplication or other ziyara, from a sectarian perspective, by saying that we should not lose such a great supplication, we must authenticate it at all costs, because it is a pride for the sect, many people have become shia because of it, and other things like this but I [Hobbollah] say: This is all true and acceptable; [but] this same transmission of the sect [of this dua] in its books is considered a pride, and I am not calling to leave this supplication absolutely, rather I encourage it and see it as from the noble supplications in the Muslim heritage, but this does not justify the enthusiasm to authenticate the supplication regardless of the cost, even if it is by sacrifice of the correct scientific methodology in dealing with the heritage and the establishing of history and hadith, and the distinction between things is very important, and this what I am saying is essential in dealing with many famous prayers and well-known ziyarat that suffer from major problems in establishing them historically and by hadith sciences, but the condition of the ziyarat is better than some of the supplications in this regard [being able to establish them historically]. Perhaps the opportunity may come for us to research a number of other famous supplications in this domain.

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