Editor: This post was written by someone else on an online Shia forum, I have decided to share this since it raises a lot of important issues that I also recognise
Those who have been on shiachat for a number of years will remember the rise of a few or so shiachat users who developed an interest in the reliability of hadiths attributed to the Prophet (s) and the Imams in our own Imami hadith literature. By way of their frequent posting on the topic or friendships/links, gradually more users began to speak on the topic – regardless of whether they were in support of this almost-sudden movement of individuals relatively young (i.e. less than 40 years of age) and living in the West in favour of scrutiny of Imami hadiths, or whether they in opposition to it (no matter what they claimed).
A few or so years after that, I came across a small number users on facebook, mostly of Arab-descent it seemed, who began to speak on the subject – mostly to rule things as authentic or to harshly condemn anyone who disagreed with their opinions (who somehow always seemed to be those who favoured a stricter approach to the subject or who objected to things that they liked). This was despite this new group being far more ignorant than some members of both sides on shiachat.
Whatever the details and the true nature of it all was – these are just very brief recollections and perhaps I did not see history that others saw, the presence of these voices did not seem to be particularly many or something that affected that really affected the wider community. Authenticity was not, and is still not, something discussed by youth in real life here in Great Britain. So, it is then somewhat perplexing to be seeing Shia speakers beginning to speak on these topics. (Perhaps I need to catch up with what is going on behind the scenes.)
For example, in the late month of Muharram this year, one speaker, Amin Rastani, delivered a lecture defending the authenticity of Ziyarat `Ashura’ which was, with all due respect to the speaker, quite poor. The context to his lecture, according to his few words on that, was that people are speaking on things that “even marja`s haven’t come to a conclusion to”. “Even a shaykh who knows he has not research in certain fields, should not speak in that field”, he says, despite going on to speak about that field. He doesn’t really say much though about the background of his talk; what motivated him to talk about this? That is, have that many people in real life really been appealing to Fadhlullah (he seems to have been alluding to him in his lecture) weakening Ziyarat `Ashura to reject or cast doubts on it that he had to speak about this in the month of Muharram on the pulpit?
Another recent lecture, this time by Mahdi al-Modarresi, was brought to my attention.
Again, it comes off as an attack on the use of rijal or on the questioning of the authenticity of hadith. Modarresi seems to put it in the context of those who “have a problem with the rules and regulations and injunctions and prohibitions of this faith“, which is strange, because that is not a motivation that can really be noted for characters in the aforementioned history. Rather, the motivations or accusations revolve around ghuluw versus taqsir, desire for authenticity versus desire for acceptance, and wanting to demonstrate the falsity of something versus wanting to demonstrate the truth of something; not, a desire to accommodate liberalism and to reject the fiqhi rulings known to us.
Unfortunately, Modarresi himself, commits the same fallacy as the previously-mentioned speaker: he warns people not to speak about a topic, because of their lack of knowledge/expertise in it, and then proceeds to make a number of mistakes and problematic claims about it. A quick example is that he says:
Do you know the stories of like Ibn Abi `Umayr whose traditions scholars today accept with “closed eyes”. They accept all of the mursalaat [sic.] of Ibn Abi `Umayr – a mursal is a hadith that doesn’t even have a chain of narrators. A mursal is where Ibn Abi `Umayr says, qaala `Ali ibn Abi Talib, qaala Ja`far ibn Muhammad al-Sadiq, qaala Muhammad al-Baqir. That’s it! No chain, no rijaal, no series of transmitters so that we can go and scrutinise. And, yet, scholars today accept the traditions of Ibn Abi `Umayr, no questions asked. Why? Because these are people who were giants of this field. These were people who were accepted as being 100% authentic. They never say a word that was not uttered by the Imam that didn’t originate from the sacred mouth of the Infallible. Not once.
I actually wrote about the biography of Ibn Abi `Umayr recently and shared it with some people. In any case, Modarresi expresses the word, “mursalaat”, as the plural form of “mursal”, while the plural word actually used by the scholars of hadith science is maraaseel. Now, maybe someone will object and say that Modarresi just made a mistake, or try to demonstrate that it might be a technically-acceptable plural in the Arabic language. But, they are missing the point. Such a mistake demonstrates that he is unlikely to be familiar with this science, because he can err on such a common word. Furthermore, it is quite false that “scholars today” accept Ibn Abi `Umayr’s narrations without scrutiny. Actually, this is a topic that is debated amongst the writers on this science, a number of prominent names treat his narrations as they would any other narrator’s. So, he really isn’t that familiar with what he is even citing as an example.
More importantly, however, he says:
A lot of people ask about the authenticity of hadiths. “Who says this hadith is authentic?” Who says it’s authentic? How much do you know about the authenticity of hadith? Do you even know how the word hadith is spelt in Arabic? I mean, no disrespect, brothers and sisters, but, let’s stick to what we know, let’s stick to our fields of expertise. If you’re an expert in hadith, then bring it up, bring it on, and let’s talk about this. If you’re not an expert, then what are we even doing wasting our time talking about the authenticity of hadith? Do you know how the hadiths were collected? Do you know the history of Shi`a hadith, and the way they were preserved and protected and transmitted to us in this day and age? Do you know what the companions of the Imams had to go through for these hadiths to be preserved and protected?
Why is it such a problem for the current establishment to be questioned about the authenticity of the material that they orate as stories, cite as evidence, and use otherwise? It is because it seems that authenticity was rarely, if ever, challenged before, at least in the West, until these more recent years. The only time turbanheads and speakers tend to bring up the science of scrutinising the reliability of hadiths was in polemics with Sunnis (despite rarely, if ever, not being well-versed with Sunni hadith science), and with, for example, the Ansar Ahmad al-Hasan cult, whose foundation involves hadiths like the hadith of the will – an extremely unreliable narration. Of course, what happens with the average Shia when this topic is brought up, they either show some passing curiosity; or, they begin to make many assumptions about the maraji` and/or speaker(s) vis-a-vis research or knowledge of hadith research; or, they reject it as hypocritical because it was never used except when convenient. (With this last one, I have a particular example in mind which I want to mention. I was told by someone that a shaykh of a mosque in Sweden joined the aforementioned cult, and then when a representative of one of the marja’s brought up rijal to challenge the shaykh, the people attacked this, because they had never heard it being used before). Anyway, the turbanheads and speakers are generally not used to being challenged, and probably haven’t done much research on this topic. Now, to be fair, English lectures in the West are themselves relatively new, probably becoming mainstream in the first decade of the 21st century, so perhaps this is just a natural development.
However, why should it be such a problem for someone to want to know whether a hadith being used is actually considered reliable or not? For example, when we hear hadiths that mention the Imam teleporting individuals across lands, or other such hadiths, this really does test the belief of some of the people in our communities. Afterall, we have been raised in the West or lived here long enough that we have, first, become sceptical in general, and, second, tend to dismiss the fantastical, just as we would pay almost no regard at all to someone who claimed to be receiving revelations from the divine or be the foretold, promised Mahdi. Indeed, we would consider them crazy, if not liars. (This, as opposed to, for example, a group of Isma’ilis – different in creed to those today – who lived in Bahrain and were awaiting their Mahdi, and then had havoc wreaked amongst them by accepting someone who claimed to be the Mahdi, as per what I remember reading from Daftary). That is not to say that the Imams cannot necessarily teleport an individual by some miracle; miracles are, afterall, by their definition, supposed to be the conventionally impossible. But, when someone’s faith can be hurt by something that isn’t even credible in the first place, is it not good to make sure that such a hadith is reliable in the first place (before then, of course, considering the appropriateness of the setting and audience in which it is to be told)? Or, is it really such a bad thing to want to know that the person who is teaching us our Din or claiming that the Din’s position is such-and-such is doing so on the basis of reliable material, instead of spurious material?
Moreover, Modarresi’s own argument – as per how he phrased it – is fallacious, anyway. People do not have to be experts in the science of hadith to be merely inquiring about the hadith’s authenticity, just as a patient – to use the popular analogy of medicine – does not need to be a doctor to ask, or even challenge, his or her doctor about the diagnosis or the prescribed treatment. In-fact, one can be sure that everyone would agree that this is the patient’s right. Is it not the people’s right to not be told that which is spurious? I am not saying here that only that which is strictly determined to be sahih should be shared with the masses, but, rather that it is a heavy responsibility upon the speaker, and a right of the listener, to be told that which has some level of credibility, and not that which is quite spurious. But, because turbanheads and speakers, at least in the West, have traditionally paid little attention to this matter, or, because enough of them have used spurious hadiths enough times, or, because most of them have used hadiths without really knowing anything solid about their reliability, etc. then, one might say that it is a right upon the listeners to challenge the speakers regarding the reliability of the hadiths which they used, unless, or until, that speaker either takes his hadiths from a highly-filtered source, such as one of the sahih collections, or has his or her selections accredited by someone for them, or, is actually able to make a level of judgement to verify a selection of a hadith from a generally-reliable source, or is able to deeply or fully scrutinise the reliability of a hadith.
One last point which will be mentioned is regarding his words here:
Over 95% of hadith are 100% authentic. There might be one or two here and there [that are not], and that’s where the scholarship comes in. Most of these ahadith, by the way, are not transmitted from one person to another. A transmission is what? A transmission is for you to hear me say, qaala as-Sadiq on the pulpit, and for you to then go and tell your brother or your friend that so-and-so said such on the minbar. This is what transmission is called. Most of the ahadith in al-Kafi are not transmissions. What are they? In Arabic, we call them mashaykha. Mashaykha is when you come and you study under a scholar of hadith and that scholar then gives you permission to transmit the hadiths that he has given you. Then you give the hadiths that you have memorised or learnt to another student of yours. It’s not one person telling another, and that person telling a third. It’s about one teacher giving his student, and the student then teaching what he has learnt to his student. And in doing so, these ahadith are authenticated, protected, preserved, every letter in the hadith is accounted for. Let’s have some submission, brothers and sisters. If it doesn’t make sense, if it contradicts the intellect, if you see a hadith that says God sits on the back of a donkey and descends to Earth every Thursday night to inspect His kingdom – alhamdulilah, we don’t have that hadith. Other schools of thought believe this. If you ever saw that hadith in one of our books, you are more than welcome to take the hadith and to throw it away. Why? Because this is contradictory to the intellect. My intellect, my rational judgement tells me that God is too lofty, too sublime, too great to be confined to time and space, let alone sit on the back of a donkey. My intellect tells me this can’t possibly be right. But my intellect doesn’t tell me that salat al-fajr can’t possibly be two rak`aat. It simply fails to grasp the notion. There’s a difference. And if your intellect fails to grasp the notion, that’s where you show submission and taslim. And that’s the case with most ahadith. Maybe we’ll leave the rest of the discussion for another night.
There is quite a lot to be said here, but I will restrict myself to this:
If almost all of our ahadith – and he seems to be implying our ahadith literature as an absolute whole here, which would then include the bulk of, say, Bihar al-Anwar – are authentic, and there is that level of “protection” for the hadiths, and, indeed, if…
these are people who were giants of this field. These were people who were accepted as being 100% authentic. They never say a word that was not uttered by the Imam that didn’t originate from the sacred mouth of the Infallible. Not once.
…then, how is that narrations which contain anthropomorphism or predestination were transmitted by the companions of the Imams? For example, it easily be pointed out that the same Ibn Abi `Umayr – whose narrations are apparently to be blindly accepted – narrated one of the “Four Hundred Usul” – which is one of the few which survive, I might add – in which God is said to descend at noon atop a camel on the day of `Arafa, and then ascends. Now, Modarresi went onto say:
If it doesn’t make sense, if it contradicts the intellect, if you see a hadith that says God sits on the back of a donkey and descends to Earth every Thursday night to inspect His kingdom – alhamdulilah, we don’t have that hadith. Other schools of thought believe this. If you ever saw that hadith in one of our books, you are more than welcome to take the hadith and to throw it away. Why? Because this is contradictory to the intellect. My intellect, my rational judgement tells me that God is too lofty, too sublime, too great to be confined to time and space, let alone sit on the back of a donkey.
But, he cannot have it both ways. Either (a) this hadith was given the stamp of authenticity by the Imam by being in the Usul, and/or because it was taught/transmitted (let us not play semantics here) by Ibn Abi `Umayr; or, (b) this hadith is not authentic, even though it is found in one of the Usul, which indicates that not all of them, and not everything in them, is reliable.
On another note, I would not be surprised if Modarresi’s words are used by some individuals to justify their rejection or dislike of the science of hadith itself.
Anyway, this is not to belittle Modarresi, may God reward him for his efforts greatly. But, I do find it interesting enough to comment upon that speakers are beginning to take notice of hadith criticism amongst the people. Then again, one wonders whom he is actually referring to when he says things like, “Do you even know how the word hadith is spelt in Arabic?” Or, perhaps he just is not familiar with the group(s) of people whom he is speaking about. Regardless, my general comments still stand.
Finally, Modarresi expresses the same fear that others have expressed in regard to questioning religious beliefs or positions. He says:
Well-meaning, devout, committed, religious, young men and women like most of you here tonight, are now afraid to even open a book of hadith, because they have that preconceived notion that, oh, most ahadith are not authentic.
I have said this before (in real life) and I will say it again. We live in the West. Yes, most youth – whom I believe are worse than our father’s generation in multiple ways – live in a state of cognitive dissonance: when it comes to school, university, the work place, talks and behaviour with friends, they are sceptical, critical, and questioning. They have to be, for that is what is required of them to do well in their education! But, when it comes to religion, they accept what nearly any Shia with a turban, or even just some Shia lecturing, will say, without hearing any real, relevant, or credible evidence given. (Ironically, when someone actually brings the words of the Imams and the scholars on a matter, and challenges populist ideas, they are told that “the maraji`” have studied for such-and-such number of decades – something which is not said about the speakers, many of who either attempt to post-justify their lecturing with very little hawza time, or who lecture after insufficient hawza time or lecture on topics or matters that they weren’t really taught). This cannot last forever. Nor can people be Muslims forever on the basis of inheriting their parents’ culture, which had incorporated aspects of the religion, which then ends up being mostly reduced to being about haram and halal ( – inconsistently and in accordance with imported culture and/or parents’ whims). It may take a few generations, but it isn’t hard to see a large section of the Muslim population in Britain becoming non-religious or even formally becoming non-Muslims, as is already beginning to happen.
If we refuse to question things on the basis of fear that we will lose the youth, then we will lose them anyway. It really has to be asked, does no-one see that just because someone is in a religious society at university or in a religious organisation in the community, it does not mean that they are religious, or that their main motivation in that group is religion? Heck, very recently, I even saw one of the leaders of one organisation attacking the promotion of Tashayyu’, because we should be promoting charitable causes instead – as though the two are mutually exclusive, or as though there ought to be no interest in bringing people to this Cause that people sacrificed their lives, their livelihood, and their safety for! People already lack the foundations for their religion, which is why when they see anyone remotely appealing, such as al-Habib, they follow him – not because of his knowledge, but because he is ‘isn’t scared of opposing the idols of those Bakris and of being proud of being Shia’ (to use the reasoning of many of them who have joined him).
Why should we be afraid to question? Do we not have any faith in our religion, that it cannot stand up to scrutiny? Or, is that we are actually afraid that our populist version of Shi’ism might not be so true, and that we actually need to evalute what we have placed at the core of our own individual religious faith, having built our individual religious faith upon it? When Imami Shi`a Islam is questioned, it stands up to scrutiny. When the Imami ahadith as a general whole are scrutinised, it stands up to scrutiny. What questioning will do is strengthen the faith of the questioner, increase them in their knowledge, and bring them closer to the truth. That is not to say that people should be questioning everything for the sake of it, or do so without any foundations, methods, or guidance; but, it is time that we woke up and realised that we are not living in the Pakistan or Iraq from decades ago.
Al-Kafi: Muhammad b. Yahya from Ahmad b. Muhammad b. `Isa from `Ali b. al-Hakam from Isma`il b. `Abd al-Khaliq. He said: I heard Aba `Abdillah say to Abi Ja`far al-Ahwal whilst I was listening: Have you been to Basra?
He said: Yes.
He said: How did you find the promptness of the people to this Cause (i.e. Tashayyu’) and their entry into it?
He said: By Allah, they are indeed few. They have certainly done it (i.e. joined the Cause), but that was indeed few.
So he said: It is (incumbent) upon you (to make use) of the youth, for they are the quickest to every good (thing)!
Then he said: What do the people of Basra say regarding this ayah, “Say: I do not ask you of for a reward for it – except for love of the kin” (42:23)?
I said: May I be made your ransom, they say that they (i.e. in the ayah) are the kin of the Messenger of Allah (s).
He said: They have lied! Rather, it was revealed exclusively regarding us, regarding the Ahl al-Bayt, regarding `Ali, Fatima, al-Hasan, al-Husayn – the companions of the cloak (a).
And it is said that al-Himyari reported it similarly in Qurb al-Isnad from Muhammad b. Khalid al-Tayalisi from Isma`il b. `Abd al-Khaliq.
ولا تقف ما ليس لك به علم إن السمع والبصر والفؤاد كل أولئك كان عنه مسئولا