Kitab Sulaym B. Qays al Hilali is understood to be “one of the first collections of Shia Hadith” and “has been verified by a few generations of Imams” according to the book itself.
We will look into the authenticity of this book by sharing the opinions of the scholars.
Sayed Al Khoei was one of the leading scholars of Najaf in his time who was acknowledged as a leading jurist and also scholar of hadith. He was also the teacher of many contemporary Shia scholars – the most notable of his students present nowadays would be Ayatollah Sayed Ali al-Sistani
He has written many works, one of them being Mu’jam Rijal al-Hadith (Encyclopedia of Hadith Narrators), which looks at different narrators and mentions much information on them including whether they are reliable or not.
Summary of Sayed al-Khoei’s view of Kitab Sulaym
In the above mentioned book (screenshot below) Ayatollah Khoei mentions regarding Kitab Sulaym B. Qays al Hilali that the chain of narrators that Sheikh Tusi uses to transmit the book Kitab Sulaym is weak. (Mu’jam Rijal al-Hadith, Vol 9, pg 237)
Al-Khoei also mentions that the narrator of Kitab Sulaym (Aban bin Abi Ayyash) is weak; hence it isn’t possible to rely on Kitab Sulaym b. Qays. (Mu’jam Rijal al-Hadith, Vol 9, pg 235)
Shaykh Mirza Jawad Tabrizi
He says in Al-Anwar Al-Ilahiya when asked about his opinion on Kitab Sulaym:
“Kitab Sulaym is a reliable book, however it hasn’t been established that the book we have now is the same as that book. And Allah knows best”
From this it is apparent that he casts doubt on whether the book we have nowadays is the same Kitab Sulaym. This could be a result of alteration of the manuscript over time.
Ibn Ghadha’iri is one of highly esteemed classical rijal scholars, he was a contemporary to Al Najashi who is deemed the most authoritative classical rijal scholar for shias.
Rijal of ibn al Ghadha’iri (available here in English) is arguably the best book of rijal for us Shias, being one of the oldest extant works of rijal, and most importantly, it actually seeks to provide jarh and ta’deel of narrators unlike the works of Tusi and Najashi which are primarily concerned with recording the books of the early shia authors and do not provide the same level of information on jarh and ta’deel as ibn al Ghadha’iri (perhaps, it is due to this reason, that the biggest marja of the time, Ayatullah Sistani, prefers rijal ibn al Ghadha’iri over the faharis of Tusi and Najashi).
Yes, the authenticity of his rijal book available now is disputed due to problems in the transmission, however it is beyond the scope of this post to analyse that; we merely mention the view found inside it here to provide as much classical/early information as possible and some scholars do accept this book
Ibn Ghadha’iri says about Aban, the primary narrator of this book:
( 1 ) – 1 – أبانُ بنُ أبي عيّاش، واسمُ أبي عيّاش: فَيْرُوز. تابعيٌّ، روى عن أنس بن مالك. وروى عن عليّ بن الحُسَيْن (ع). ضَعِيفٌ، لا يُلْتَفَتُ إليه. وَيَنسِبُ أصحابُنا وَضْعَ «كتاب سُلَيْم بن قَيْسٍ» إليه.
1 – Abān b. Abī ʿAyyāsh, Abī ʿAyyāsh’s name is Fayrūz. A tābiʿī, he narrated from Anas b. Mālik. And he narrated from ʿAlī b. al-Ḥusayn عليه السلام.Rijal Ibn Ghada’iri, pg 36
Weak, he is not to be turned to. Our companions ascribe to him the fabrication of the book of Sulaym b. Qays.
كتاب سُليم بن قيس الهلالي العامري الكوفي صاحب أمير المؤمنين عليّ (ع) المتوفى سنة 90 هجرية الذي قال الإمام الصادق (ع) عن كتابه: “إنّه سرّ من أسرار آل محمّد. فما مدى صحّة هذا الكتاب وماذا يقول العلماء عنه خاصة مع اختلاف طبعاته في الوقت الحاضر؟
أجاب: “في سنده إشكال”.
Q: Kitab Sulaym b. Qays al-Hilali al-‘Amri the Kufan companion of Ameer Al Mumineen (as) who passed away 90 AH, whom Imam As Sadiq (as) said about his book: “It is a secret from the secrets of Ale Muhammad”. How reliable is this book and what does the Allamah say about it, in specific on the difference in copies we have in current time?
A: There are objections to its chain
His son Sayed Muhammad Ridha Al Sistani has also pointed this weakness in his book Qabasat Min ‘Ilm Al Rijal, Volume 2, pg 201
Shaykh Asif Mohseni
وجديرٌ بالذّكر أنّ كتاب سُليم لم يصل بسندٍ معتبرٍ ولا أنّ نسخته وصلت بسندٍ معتبرٍ، نعم لبعض ما حكي عنه سند معتبر في مصادر أخرى
Also, the book of Sulaym does not reach us with a reliable chain and none of the copies reached us with a reliable chain, some people talk about there being a reliable chain in other sources [which is not true]Mashra’at Bihar Al Anwar, vol 2, pg 23
Shaykh Haidar Hobbollah
هذا المصدر ـ عنيت كتاب سليم بن قيس ـ لا قيمة تاريخية له
This source – named Kitab Sulaym b. Qays – is of no historical value
Shaykh Muhammad Baqir al-Behbudi
هذا الكتاب دائرٌ سائرٌ حتّى اليوم، وقد طُبع مراراً وفيه الأعاجيب والأكاذيب والترّهات
This book keeps going around even today, it has been reprinted repeatedly and it contains the unusual, lies and nonsenseMa’rifat Al Hadith, pg 359
Shaykh Murtdaha al-Haeri
He said in his book about Khums commenting on 2 narrations:
لكن فيهما ضعف:… وأما الثاني فلأنّ أبان بن أبي عياش مرميّ بالضعف وبجعل كتاب سُليم، والله العالم
There is weakness in them: … but in the second because Aban b. Abi Ayash has been accused of weakness and of creating Kitab Sulaym and Allah knows bestKitab Al Khums, pg 646
أبان بن أبي عياش بالياء المثناة تحت والشين المعجمة فيروزين (جخ غض) ضعيف، قيل: إنّه وضع كتاب سُليم بن قيس
Aban b. Abi Ayash […] weak, it is said that he fabricated the book of Sulaym b. QaysRijal Ibn Dawud, pg 225
He said about Aban b. Abi Ayash (the primary narrator of Kitab Sulaym b. Qays):
الأقوى عندي التوقّف فيما يرويه؛ لشهادة ابن الغضائري عليه بالضعف، وكذا قال شيخنا الطّوسي في كتاب الرجال قال: إنّه ضعيف
I stand by what the narrators of him have said; the testimony of Ibn Ghadha’iri on his weakness and also Shaykh Tusi in his rijal said: he is weakKhulasat Al Aqwal, pg 325-326
One of the biggest classical shia scholars, a contemporary to Shaykh al-Tusi. In his correction on the book of shia beliefs by Shaykh al-Saduq he says:
من حديث سليم الذي رجع فيه إلى الكتاب المضاف (6) إليه برواية أبان بن أبي عياش، فالمعنى فيه صحيح، غير أن هذا الكتاب غير موثوق به، ولا يجوز العمل على أكثره، وقد حصل فيه تخليط وتدليس، فينبغي للمتدين أن يجتنب العمل بكل ما فيه، ولا يعول على جملته والتقليد لرواته (1) وليفزع إلى العلماء فيما تضمنه من الأحاديث ليوقفوه (2) على الصحيح منها والفاسد، والله الموفق للصواب.
the book attributed to Sulaym, on the authority of Aban ibn Abi ‘Ayyash, the (general) meaning of it is sound, yet none the less, the book is unauthoritative and most of it cannot be accepted as binding precedent, since it has suffered corruption and adulteration; therefore the pious should abandon all that it contains, and not rely on the greater part of it, or imitate its narrations, but enquire of the learned divines (scholars), to distinguish for him the sound from the spurious. And Allah is He Who guides to the truth.Tasheeh al-I’tiqaadaat al Imamiyyah, pg 149
Sayed Hosein Modarressi
Sayed Hosein Modarressi is a mujtahid and graduate of the Qom hawza where he has studied for many years, he is also a professor at Princeton University and author of several academic works on shia islam
He presents a different argument than the other scholars who point to Aban or the fact that the manuscript has been altered over time, he says about Sulaym:
Sulaym b. Qays al-Hilalı, allegedly a Kufan disciple of ‘Alı who escaped from Kufa eastward when Hajjaj cracked down on the pro-‘Alıd elements in Kufa. He went into hiding in the town of Nawbandagan in Iran’s southern province of Fars where he later died while Hajjaj (d. 95) was still in power. It is, however, obvious that such a person never existed and that the name is only a pen name used for the sole purpose of launching an anti-Umayyad polemic in the troublesome later years of that dynasty.Tradition and Survival: A Bibliographical Survey of Early Shi’ite Literature (Volume 1)
Regarding the book it self, he writes:
This is the oldest surviving Shı‘ite book and one of the rare examples of works surviving from the Umayyad period. The original core of the work which is preserved to a great extent in the current version is definitely from the reign of Hisham b. ‘Abd al-Malik (r. 105–25), almost certainly from the final years of his reign when the long-established Umayyad hegemony was already under threat from troubles concerning his succession. There are repeated references in the work to the twelve unjust rulers who usurped the leadership of the Muslim community after the Prophet: the first two caliphs, ‘Uthman, Mu‘awiya, his son Yazıd, and “seven members from the offspring of al-Hakam b. Abı’l-‘A s, the first of them being Marwan” (Kitab Sulaym: 110, 174, 175, 205; see also 136, 170, 200). From among the Shı‘ite Imams, only the first five are mentioned by name, and it is said that the Imamate will continue in the descendants of Muhammad b. ‘Alı b. al-Husayn (al-Baqir) (ibid.: 206; see also 168). Likewise, it is stated that the “masters of Paradise” among the descendants of ‘Abd al-Muttalib were the Prophet, ‘Alı, his brother Ja‘far, their uncle Hamza, Hasan and Husayn, Fatima, and the Mahdı (ibid.: 217; see Kafi 1: 450, 8: 49–50 for other similar statements from the period; these statements obviously predate the formulation of the Imamite theory that considers the Imams to be more excellent than anyone other than the prophets, including Ja‘far and Hamza, a theory already present by early ‘Abbasid period). The hope was that one of the offspring of Fatima (Kitab Sulaym: 140), more specifically a descendant of Husayn (ibid.: 175), would overthrow the Umayyad government.
The Shı‘ites at the time were reckoned to be only seventy thousand. The book focuses only on Kufa, describing the situation of the Shı‘ites there in some detail (ibid.: 180–82), a clear indication that the book is from that city, and possibly also suggesting that Shı‘ism had not yet spread beyond that region in any noticeable way. The language of the book is eschatological, depicting some of the historical events of the first century of Islam as seen through a Shı‘ite perspective in the form of prophecies from the Prophet and ‘Alı. In common with books of this nature up to our time, the prophecies have been updated in two or three stages in later periods by the insertion of words or sentences here and there. There is thus a reference in two passages of the book to the black banners from the East that would bring the Umayyad caliphate to an end (ibid.: 157, 175). The reference is obviously an updating and does not necessarily point to a Hashimite Shı‘ite sympathy, as the book has a clear ‘Alıd, pro-Husaynid provenance. There is also a reference to twelve (sic) Imams from among the descendants of ‘Alı who would succeed him (ibid.: 217–18). The relevant passage is inserted in a paragraph that describes how God looked at the people of the earth and selected from among them the Prophet and ‘Alı as his chosen ones. (This follows the statement about the masters of Paradise noted above). The passage then continues by asserting that God then took a second glance (at the earth) and chose, after the Prophet and ‘Alı, twelve legatees of the descendants of the Prophetto be the elect of his community in each generation. The style itself identifies this last line as a later insertion, obviously added after the number of the Imams was finally determined early in the fourth century. This addition was of course a careless slip as the contributor had failed to note that it would raise the number of the Imams, when we include ‘Alı himself, to thirteen. Najashı:330 reports that a fourth century Shı‘ite author, in a book he wrote for a Zaydı patron and in order to please him, used this passage to argue that Zayd b. ‘Alı, the eponym of Zaydı Shı‘ism, was also an Imam, adding his name to the list of the Imamites’ twelve Imams. This was the only report on the number of the Imams in the version of theKitab Sulaym available to the historian Mas‘udı in the early fourth century (see his Tanbıh: 198–9).
However, soon after that when Nu‘manı wrote his Kitab al-ghayba around 340, there was at least one copy of the Kitab Sulaym with many further references inserted here and there on the final number of the Imams. The sentences were now more carefully drafted to avoid the problems caused by the former passage. These appear in the printed versions of the work too (Kitab Sulaym: 62, 109, 125, 136, 151, 166, 167, 168, 201, 207). These references made the book a major source for the Imamites’ argument that the Twelfth Imam lived in occultation (see Nu‘manı: 101–102). According to the introductory note at the beginning of the work, the book was entrusted by its original author to Aban b. Abı ‘Ayyash, a hadıth transmitter who was then very young. Aban in turn gave the work to another transmitter two months before his own death. The book is one written by commoners for commoners. It is a display of primitive, unsophisticated beliefs among the rank and file of the Shı‘ites of Kufa during the late Umayyad period with clear residues of the usual Kaysanı exaggerations on the virtues of the House of the Prophet. It also refers to the Umayyad positions on some of the matters discussed. Many such popular, unsophisticated Shı‘ite lines of interpretation and belief were later transformed and developed by the Shı‘ite rationalists of the fourth and fifth centuries. Later Shı‘ite scholars therefore had problems with the ideas expressed in the book as well as a number of factual errors in it (see Mufıd, Tashih: 149, stating that the book is unreliable and that corrupt material has been incorporated into it). However, the text being such an old and persistently popular book among the Shı‘ites, and its chain of transmission up to the first alleged transmitter, Aban b. Abı ‘Ayyash, being conventionally held to be strong, some Shı‘ite scholars of the early centuries and later times thought that Aban, who was generally known as an unreliable transmitter, may have been responsible for the corrupt material (see Ibn al-Ghada’irı 1: 36, 63, 118–19, also emphasizing that the book is undoubtedly a fake and that Aban is the one suspected of the forgery [also quoted in Ibn al-Mutahhar, Muhanna’iyya: 124]; Ibn Dawu d: 178, 414, repeating Ibn al-Ghada’irı’s remarks). A prominent recent Shı‘ite scholar, while confirming that the book is a fake, holds that this forgery “was done for a good purpose” and that its maker piled up all sorts of data, some well known, others incorrect, but in general aimed to serve a purpose. He also supports the idea that the book is late Umayyad, before the number of the “unjust” caliphs went beyond twelve, “as it prophesied that the right [to rule] would then be restored to those entitled to it. This, however, never came to pass as the number of the “usurpers” increased and the right did not return to those legitimately entitled to it” (Abu’l-Hasan al-Sha‘ranı 2: 373–4). It should thus be concluded that one or more of the early transmitters came across this book and related it bywijada (as against sama‘, that is, direct hearing of the material from the author). Meanwhile, someone also added the story about the genesis of the book. The text is, at any rate, older than two months before Aban b. Abı ‘Ayyash’s death, which was in 138. Owing to the fact that a number of insertions were made in the book, there are variations among its different manuscripts, as described by Agha Buzurg 2: 152–9. Fortunately, later accretions seem always to have been in the form of insertions and additions rather than replacements and alterations.56 The old core is therefore preserved in most of the manuscripts, even at the cost of obvious contradictions. Some of these variations are noted in the editions of the book: a number of Najaf editions; Beirut, 1407; Qum, 1415 (the one used here is Najaf: Haydariyya, n.d., 236 pp.).Tradition and Survival: A Bibliographical Survey of Early Shi’ite Literature (Volume 1)
For the ones saying that the content of this book can be found in other reliable works; then read and reference those works instead, since they provide a more accurate view on history and details.
As can be seen there are many arguments against the reliability of this book [or the version we have today atleast].
Is the book [we have today] completely reliable? No.
Does this mean the book has no value? No.
The issue arises is if this very Kitab Sulaym is the same Kitab that has been mentioned by Kashi, Tusi, etc? As we have seen there has been some things that the scholars of hadith have said about this book that is not found in todays edition whether in Arabic or in English. If the book has changed over time (which it has) this will put a big doubt on anyone who reads it because no one knows whether something has been changed, added or subtracted from this book. Now, even though if it has a narration that has said there were “13 Imams”, that would not deem the book to be “all wrong”. There are many “wrong narrations” that can be found in all of our books, that doesn’t make the entire book to be considered false.
There are fragments of the book that date back to the 90s-110s AH, making [parts of] it one of the oldest documents in Islamic history.
With that said: one could still read this book but it shouldn’t be taken as a factual account, but perhaps more of a political document presenting a very Shi’i historical narrative.
We wish to reiterate the words of Shaykh al-Mufeed:
the pious should not act upon everything that that is in it (at all), and not rely on what is written in it or imitate its narrations.