This is a translation of a Q&A posed to Shaykh Hobbollah, original Arabic here
A large number of supplications attributed to the Imams (as) have been mentioned in al-Iqbāl and Mafātīḥ al-Jinān and other books, are all these supplications established and reliable? And is the specific recitation timing of these supplications established such as Dua Kumayl on Thursday night, or al-ʿAhd and al-Nudba etc. We also find that the level of speech varies in these supplications, so is it expected of the ordinary person who is afflicted with sins, to detach from all other than God, as is stated in Munājāt al-Sha’bāniya.
I ask your eminence for guidance in how to deal with supplications, and an answer to my questions.
Firstly, many – perhaps even most – of the supplications that are found in the sources of ḥadīth and supplications – except for al-Ṣaḥīfa al-Sajjādīyya, which has discussion about its chain of transmission – are weak in terms of their chain based on rijali research and historical documentation; Due to the numerous problems plagued by some books that constitute sources of supplications, the most important of these problems is that these books did not include the chain of transmission or the sources that they have taken these supplications from and they don’t mention them anywhere, as is also the case in for example the book Miṣbāḥ al-Mutahajjid by Shaykh al-Ṭūsī (d. 460 AH), and based on this a person may supplicate with these supplications, not with the intention that it was narrated [from them], and not with the intention of attributing it to the Prophet or his Ahlulbayt, but the method for dealing with these supplications would be as follows:
Every supplication that doesn’t contain any problem in its content or in its meaning, one may supplicate and interact with it, and the acting upon it is without attributing it to the Ahlulbayt (as), and there is no need to abandon it or to call for abandoning it merely because of its lack of having an authentic chain as long as its meaning is sound, but it cannot be depended on in intellectual and religious argumentation as a source of reference in jurisprudence, doctrine or otherwise.
But if there is a problem in its content or its meaning – from the researchers point of view – in a specific supplication, after lack of its establishment by chain or historical research, then it is his right to direct criticism and express reservations about the thought that such supplication promotes, this is our general stance, but if you want to determine the historical value of a particular supplication, you must specify the supplication to us in order for us to answer.
Secondly, it does not seem to me that there is any harm in calling a person to complete detachment from all other than God Almighty, even if such person is drowned in sins; Because this is one of the high aspirations that a human seeks, but the approach to dealing with supplications at this level is to choose supplications that are appropriate to your situation and which you find yourself more interacting with, for the one who turns to supplications and recommended acts, he is as the one who is invited to a feast in which there are varieties of food, where he can’t pick all of them but is able to choose from them what suits or matches him.
And according to my judgement the opportunity here is for spiritual interaction, it does not matter how much you read with your tongue, but what matters is how much you read with your heart and emotions. And if there is a supplication that does not apply to the supplicant, for example if the person is infertile and he is supplicating with something that mentions something related to ones children, then one may skip this passage, as long as it did not appear in the authentic texts as a way of worshipping in this regard.
Imām Khomeinī (d. 1989 AD) comments on the type of reliability that is associated with al-Ṣaḥīfa al-Sajjādīyya:
حتى في الصحيفة المباركة السجادية فإن سندها ضعيف، وعلو مضمونها وفصاحتها وبلاغتها وإن توجب نحو وثوق على صدورها لكن لا توجبه في جميع فقراتها واحدة بعد واحدة حتى تكون حجة يستدل بها في الفقه وتلقى أصحابنا إياها بالقبول كتلقيهم نهج البلاغة به لو ثبت في الفقه أيضا إنما هو على نحو الاجمال وهو غير ثابت في جميع الفقرات
[…] Even the blessed al-Ṣaḥīfa al-Sajjādiyya, for its isnād is weak. Though its exalted content, eloquence and rhetoric necessitate somewhat confidence in its authenticity, they do not necessitate confidence in all of its passages, one-by-one such that it would be a ḥujja cited as evidence in fiqh. Our companions’ acceptance of it is akin to their acceptance of Nahj al-Balāgha: if it translates to [acceptance] in fiqh as well, then that would be general and not established for all of its passages.Al-Makāsib al-Muḥarrama, vol 1, pg 320
ʿAllāma Ṭabāṭabāʾī (d. 1981 AD) in his answer to a question regarding the reliability of Nahj al-Balāgha:
One day in the ‘60s Corbin asked ʿAllāma Ṭabāṭabāʾī the following question: ‘As a leading authority on Shi‘ite philosophy and religious thought, what argument would you provide to prove that the Nahj al-balāgha was by the first Imam, ʿAlī?’This account was given by Seyyed Hossein Nasr in his ‘Reply to Zailan Moris’, in The Philosophy of Seyyed Hossein Nasr, The Library of Living Philosophers, vol.28, ed. L.E. Hahn, R.E. Auxier, L.W. Stone Jnr. (Carbondale, IL, 2001), p. 635.
The venerable master of Islamic philosophy answered, ‘For us the person who wrote the Nahj al-balāgha is ʿAlī, even if he lived a century ago.’
By this statement the ʿAllāma showcases the importance of the content reflecting the teachings of the Ahlulbayt (as) rather than an absolute confirmation of the historicity of all the passages within the book.