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Principle of Leniency in Deducing Proofs for Recommended Acts (al-Tasamuh fi Addilat al-Sunan)

The principle of leniency in deducing proofs for recommended acts is one that is widely known among scholars. The significance of this principle, is that that a researcher does not insist on the fulfilment of those stringent conditions – which are necessary in establishing obligatory acts & duties, when attempting to ascertain recommended acts. For example, one of these stringent conditions is that the narrators in a chain must be absolutely reliable and trustworthy.

But arguably, based on this principle [al-Tasamuh fi Addilat al-Sunan] this condition is not mandatory in ascertaining recommended acts. Scholars supporting this principle say it is sufficient, even if a recommended act is transmitted by means of an inferior chain – in terms of the reliability and trustworthiness of the narrators who appear in it.

An example of an act that is deemed recommended nowadays by Shia would be reciting Dua Tawasul, this is not based on having certainty that this dua was uttered by an infallible, but rather based on this principle of leniency.

This principle is addressed and discussed by both Sunni and Shi’ite scholars. The Sunni scholars refer to it as ‘an act based on a weak tradition, (which is nevertheless encouraged) because of the merits of virtuous acts’- al-‘amal bi al-khabar al-dha’if fi fadha’il al-a’mal. The following scholars have alluded to this principle in their respective works:

  1. Al-Shahid al-Awwal in his work, Al-Dhikra.
  2. Ibn Fahd al-Hilli (d 841 AH) in his work, ‘Uddat al-Da’i.
  3. Al-Shahid al-Thani (d 966 AH) in his work, Al-Diraya.
  4. Baha al-Din al-‘Amili (d 1030 AH) in his work, Al-Arba’ina.
  5. Shaykh al-Ansari (d 1282 AH) in a special treatise devoted to discussing this principle.

Shaykh al-Kulayni transmits the following authentic report from Ibn Abi ‘Umayr who in turn reports from Hisham bin Salim who heard from Abu ‘Abdullah al-Sadiq عليه السلام that:

Whomsoever hears something about the Thawab to be got by doing a certain act and goes on to do it, then it (the Thawab mentioned) will be for him, even if it (the report conveying the Thawab) was not as had reached him (i.e. was not accurate).

Al-Kafi, Volume 2, pg 87

Scholars have elaborated at length on this and other traditions similar to it, as well as discussing whether or not such reports accord the act a position of being meritorious and recommended. 

Adopted from the Discussion by Shaykh Asif al-Moḥsini

The two narrations in this chapter and those of a similar purport are called the narrations of “Man Balagh”.

What exactly it is that the narrations of “Man Balagh” imply has raised debate among the scholars [refer to the books of Usul al-Fiqh like al-Rasail, Kifaya and others for a detailed review].

Some scholars have used them to give Hujiyya to the weak and unknown Hadith, and have justified acting by them in matters regarding the Sunan (non-Wajib) i.e. in identifying the Mustahab (recommended) acts. This is what is called al-Tasamuh fi Addilat al-Sunan i.e. lowering standards for proofs of the non-Wajib.

Other scholars claim that Istihbab cannot be established on such a basis, to them these narrations of “Man Balagh” do not provide Hujiyya for that, they merely indicate that Thawab will accrue for the one who performs the act conveyed to him – either out of hope or as a precaution – not that the act itself should be considered Mustahab.

Critical questions that arise for those who believe in al-Tasamuh:

Do these narrations of “Man Balagh” encompass only unknown reports or also weak ones?

Do these narrations have in mind someone who is totally ignorant of the veracity or falsity of what has been conveyed to him or do they extend to cases where someone is aware of the possibility of it being a lie?

Do these narrations establish only the Mustahab rulings or do they extend to the Makruh?

Will this still hold assuming one has suspicion that “what has reached him” is probably a lie?

Is this limited only to cases where a specific Thawab has been explicitly delineated or is it general to all cases of commands and prohibitions?

Is it wider in also including the narrations of the non-Imami [like the Sunni prophetic Hadith] or is it only exclusive to the reports narrated by the Imamis?

All these questions demand answers, but this is not the place to go into detail, however, one thing that needs to be pointed out here is that these narrations refer to good deeds and Thawab, they should not be extended to the Fadhail genre [merits of actions], as has been done by some of the Amma (ref. as an example to al-Sawaiq al-Muhriqa of Ibn Hajar, where they justify using spurious reports to establish the relative superiority of an action e.g. reading a certain Surah, arguing that this is a genre which does not require as much rigour as the Halal and the Haram).

In conclusion, my position is that we should stick to what we can be certain of from these narrations, that is, they rule that Thawab will accrue, and not go so far as to allow Tasamuh in the proofs of the Sunan.

In another book Shaykh al-Moḥsini is even more harsh against the Principle saying:

قال الشهيد الثاني في درايته: وجوز الاكثر العمل بالخبر الضعيف في نحو القصص والمواعظ وفضائل الأعمال – لا في نحو صفات الله المتعال وأحكام الحلال والحرام – وهو من حيث لا يبلغ الضعف حد الوضع والاختلاق، لما اشتهر بين العلماء المحققين من التسامح بأدلة السنن – لما ورد عن النبي (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) من طريق الخاصة والعامة أنه قال: من بلغه عن الله تعالى …

al-Shahid II said in his Diraya: the majority have allowed acting upon the weak report in matters of historical accounts, exhortations of piety and the merits of actions – not in critical matters such as the attributes of Allah the Exalted or the rulings of the Halal and the Haram – but this should be in a way that the weakness does not reach the extent of being considered a forgery or fabrication. This is what is famous among the scholars as al-Tasamuh bi Adillat al-Sunan [principle of charity] – because of what has come from the prophet – both from the paths of Amma and the Khassa – that he said: “whomsoever it reaches from Allah the Exalted …”

ويقول ابن حجر من اهل السنة في كتابه تطحير الجنان واللسان الذي الفه للدفع عن سيده معوية بن ابي سفيان حشره الله معه: الذي أطبق عليه أئمتنا الفقهاء والأصوليون والحفاظ أن الحديث الضعيف حجة في المناقب كما أنه بإجماع من يعتد به حجة في فضائل الأعمال … لكن شرطه علي الاصح ان لا يشتد ضعفه

And Ibn Hajar of the Ahl al-Sunnah says in his book “Tathir al-Jinan wa al-Lisan” which he authored in defense of his master Muawiya b. Abi Suyfan – may Allah resurrect him with him: What our Aimma and Fuqaha and Usuli scholars and Hufadh have all agreed upon is that the weak Hadith is a Hujjah [has probative force] in matters of Manaqib [establishing the merits of companions], just as it is – by Ijma’ of those who count – a Hujjah in the Fadhail al-A’mal (merits of actions) … but its condition – upon introspection – is that its weakness should not be excessive.

اقول: امثال هذه الكلمات هي التي روجت سوق الاخبار الكاذبة والاحاديث الجعلية والتصوف فذلوا واذلو، واين هذا من قوله تعالي: {ان جعاءكم فاسق بنبا فتبينوا …}، وقوله تعالي: {لا تقف ما ليس لك به علم …}، ولعل مراد الشهيد من الاكثار هم الذين ذكرهم ابن حجر فليسوا منا

I say: these are the kinds of statements that gave currency to the market of false reports and fabricated narrations and to Tasawwuf (Sufis), so they became misguided and misguided others due to them, and how far removed are they from His words the Exalted: {If a corrupt sinner comes to you with an account then investigate it …} and His words the Exalted: {Do not follow that of which you have no knowledge …}, and perhaps what al-Shahid means when he says “a majority” are the same ones that Ibn Hajar is alluding to, and if so then they are not from us (Shi’is).

وعلى كل لا يجوز العمل بالضعاف مطلقا، حتى في المستحبات والمواعذ، فذلا عن القصص، ولا يجوز اسناد مضامينها الي الشارع بوجه، فما شاع من التسامح بادلة السنن غير مدلل، واخبار (من بلغ) لا تثبت حجية الاخبار الضعيفة، بل ترشد الي ترتب الثواب علي العمل الماتي به بعنوان الاحتيات ورجاء الثواب

All in all, it is not allowed to act based on weak narrations in absolute terms, even in the Mustahhabat and for exhortations of piety, what to say about using it for reconstructing historical accounts. It is also not permitted to attribute such reports’ purports to the Law-giver in any way, for what has become common as al-Tasamuh bi Adillat al-Sunan is not backed up by evidence, and the narrations of “Man Balagh” do not establish the Hujiyya of the weak reports, rather all they do is illuminate the fact that Thawab accrues upon the one who acts on it under the heading of precaution or hoping for reward.

Sources used:
Muʿjam al-Aḥādīth al-Muʿtabara by Ayatollah Shaykh Asif Mohseni (translated by Ammaar Muslim)
Historical and Jurisprudential Issues Pertinent to the Ziyaratu Ashura by Ayatollah Shaykh Ja’far Subhani

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