Since certain matters related to religion are only expounded in the hadith, one who ignores hadith cannot properly follow the religious teachings, said Shaykh Tahir Ridha Jaffer in an interview with Ijtihadnet.
Shaykh Tahir Ridha Jaffer is a graduate of the Hawza Seminary of Qum. He was qualified as an optometrist before deciding to pursue further Islamic Studies in the holy city of Qum where he has spent the last 15 years specializing in hadith studies. He completed his doctorate in 2018. He has also translated several works of hadith into English including Ghurar al-Hikam wa Durar al-Kalim (a collection of short quotations from Imam Ali (AS) that was compiled by Abu al-Fath al-Amidi, a scholar of the 5th/11th century) and Sunan al-Nabi (a book written by ‘Allama Tabatab’i on the traditions of the Prophet (PBUH)). Currently, He is engaged in research while simultaneously working on an English commentary of Nahj al-Balaghah. Ijtihadnet has interviewed him on hadith and hadith studies.
What is the place of hadith in Islam generally and how important is it?
Hadith is very important since it is considered one of the two primary sources for Muslims today, the other being the Glorious Qurʾān. The well-known tradition from the Noble Prophet (PBUH) clearly states that he would be leaving behind two ‘weighty things’ (thiqlayn) namely the Book of Allah and his pure Progeny, the Ahl al-Bayt (AS). Since the Prophet (PBUH) and his progeny are not directly accessible to us today, we depend on their hadith for guidance. Therefore, the importance of hadith for us is comparable to the importance of the Qurʾān itself. Furthermore, since certain matters related to religion are only expounded in the hadith, one who ignores hadith cannot properly follow the religious teachings.
What are the main differences between Shia and Sunni understanding of hadith?
The main difference pertains to the sources of hadith. While our Sunni brothers only accept traditions from the Prophet (PBUH) and his companions, the Shia consider traditions to be authoritative only from the Prophet and the infallibles from the Ahl al-Bayt (AS). Furthermore, there are differences in the yardstick of reliability where, for example, the Sunnis consider all the companions to be reliable whereas the Shias evaluate each companion individually to see if they were reliable or not. Due to this, it is common to find a tradition considered sound by the Sunnis but weak by the Shias and vice versa.
Did the Prophet (PBUH) and the Imams (AS) encourage their followers to write down hadith?
Yes, they did. Numerous traditions show how the Prophet (PBUH) and Imams (AS) encouraged the people to learn, memorize, write and convey to others their words and statements. For example, when a Bedouin by the name of Abu Shāt requested the Prophet (PBUH) for a written copy of his hadith, the Prophet (PBUH) instructed his companions saying, “Write it down for Abu Shāt.” By the time of Imam al-Sadiq (AS), writing of hadith was so common that at times, the Imam (AS) would himself provide writing materials such as pens, ink, and paper to his students. Of course, in the Sunni world, the situation was quite different. This is because for about one century the caliphs had forbidden the writing of hadith under the pretext that it might cause people to abandon the Qurʾān, or that hadith would get confused with the Qurʾān and other such excuses. It was only during the reign of the Umayyad caliph Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz (d.101 AH) that hadith started being recorded by Ahl al-Sunna. As such, many authentic hadiths were lost and many others were fabricated. This gave rise to the need for various sciences that could help sift through the hadith to separate the sound traditions from the weak ones.
There are different views on the first book of hadith ever to be written down. What is your take on this?
Historically, it is evident that the earliest work of hadith was the book of Imam Ali (AS) known as Kitabu Ali or al-Jāmiʿ. We are told that this was a work comprising the words of the Prophet (PBUH) that were dictated to Amir al-Mu’minin, Imam Ali (AS) and written down by him. Later, the book was passed on to the Imams of the Ahl al-Bayt (AS) and they would regularly refer to it. Other than this, the earliest work on record is Sulaym ibn Qays al-Hilali’s Asrar Aal Muhammad, which was composed during the period of the first Imam (AS) and has been praised by Imam al-Sadiq (AS). Though this title is extant, there has been a lot of debate about the authenticity of the currently available version of the text with some scholars rejecting it outright while others saying that it has been altered and is not the original work by Sulaym ibn Qays.
Concerning the “al-Kutub al-Arba’a” (the Four Books) i.e. al-Kafi by Shaykh Kulayni, al-Tahzib, and al-Istibsar by Shaykh Tusi and Man la Yahzuru-hu al-Faqih by Shaykh al-Saduq, why are these considered the main collections of hadith by the Shia?
Compilations of hadith by the companions of the Imams (AS) in the early centuries laid the groundwork for the canonical Shia collections known as al‐Kutub al‐Arbaʿa, or the Four Books. These were multi‐volume collections of hadith in which traditions were critically sifted and arranged by subject to allow convenient access to existing hadith on any subject. Unlike the six books of the Sunni canon – especially the two works of al-Bukhari and Muslim which are known as Sahih indicating the authenticity of all narrations included– the Shia do not consider the Four Books to be above criticism and Imami scholars have not hesitated to criticize many traditions included in the Four Books. The reason why these four books are considered the main collections of hadith among the Shia is because of their early provenance as well as the generally accepted idea that the Four Books are relatively more trustworthy than other hadith collections.
How do you evaluate the viewpoint of those who believe in the authenticity of all narrations in books such as al-Kafi?
We know that all hadiths are not equal in terms of authenticity and soundness. This has been true from the earliest period. There is a tradition from Imam Ali (AS) in which he classifies transmitters of hadith into four groups: first, the hypocrites who consciously attribute forged hadiths to the Prophet (PBUH); second, people who are confused or deficient in memory; third, people who transmit what has been abrogated while being unaware of the abrogation; and fourth, people free from all these deficiencies who transmitted hadith properly. As such, we note that not all the traditions that have been recorded in the sources are deemed authentic and each tradition needs to be evaluated individually to establish its soundness. When it comes to the primary sources such as al-Kafi, we note that there is a general consensus that not all the traditions found in it are authentic or sound. However, there have been certain groups, such as the Akhbaris, who consider all the traditions in the primary hadith collections to be authentic and their evidence for this claim is that the esteemed authors of these works explicitly mention that they have collected only sound narrations in their books. Nevertheless, when one reads these works it is quite clear that they contain some week traditions.
We hear of different schools of hadith like that of Qum or Baghdad. How were these schools formed?
The early schools of hadith were based in Kufa and Qum. Scholars from Qum would initially travel to Kufa to acquire the hadith of the Imams (AS) from the various scholars and companions that resided there, and over time, when scholarly circles began to diminish in Kufa, its heritage was transferred to Qum. Scholars who played a role in transferring this hadith heritage to Qum include personalities such as Muhammad ibn Khalid al-Barqi, Husayn ibn Saʿeed al-Ahwazi, Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn ʿIsa al-Ashʿari, Ibrahim ibn Hashim and others. For one and a half centuries, Qum was deemed the most important center for Shia religious scholarship, but then much of its hadith heritage gradually returned to Iraq, to the city of Baghdad, where the likes of Shaykh Mufid began gaining authority. Therefore, there was a kind of cyclical turn where the prominent hadith schools of Iraq were transferred to Qum for a time before returning to Iraq. Of course, Qum did and does to this day continue to be a strong center of religious learning and hadith scholarship.
Like Akhbaris, few people still reject the ‘Ilm al-Rijal altogether. What is your take on this?
‘Ilm al-Rijal is the study of the biographies of transmitters of hadith to establish their reliability as narrators. Generally, it is necessary to know who has transmitted a tradition to establish the soundness and veracity of that tradition. So for example, if a known liar transmits something, at the very least it would evoke a feeling of doubt. Similarly, if a person who is very careful to always speak the truth relays something, we would generally have no problem in accepting his words. Therefore, it is extremely important to know who the narrators of a tradition are. This was the whole reason why isnad was first instituted. Imam Ali (AS) is reported to have said, “Whenever you narrate a tradition, mention the one who has transmitted it to you. If you do this and the person is truthful, you will gain a reward, but if he has lied, you will not be held accountable.” So generally, ‘Ilm al-Rijal is important, without question. Those who have raised doubts in it, such as the Akhbaris, present some weak arguments such as it being tantamount to slander since we would be speaking ill of those whom we did not deem reliable. Of course, it must be noted that on the other end of the spectrum some consider ‘Ilm al-Rijal to be the only gauge for determining the validity of traditions – this view is also wrong. In reality, ‘Ilm al-Rijal is one of the means of evaluation which has to be used in conjunction with other tools such as comparing the text of the tradition with the teachings of the Qurʾān and so on.
Would you please shed some light on the role of Imam Khomeini and the Islamic Republic of Iran in preserving the hadith heritage, promoting hadith studies and establishing special centers for the study of hadith?
Before the Islamic Revolution of Iran in 1979, the government and official institutions did not support research activities in any religious field. After the Revolution, however, growth in the volume and variety of such activities has been unprecedented. Indeed, the volume of works produced in the past 41 years, and the growth of research activities in the field of hadith studies cannot be compared to any other historical period in Iran. Currently, different aspects of hadith studies are promoted including research, preservation of manuscripts, publications of magazines and journals as well as the production of computer software. Furthermore, there are regular conferences and workshops organized by institutions that specialize in hadith research such as Dar al-Hadith in the city of Qum. Furthermore, many universities in Iran now have a department of hadith studies and offer graduate and post-graduate degrees in this field. So all in all, the Islamic Revolution of Iran, led by Imam Khomeini, has without a doubt been a great boon for all religious sciences, both in the seminary and in the universities.
This interview was conducted by Sayyid Mostafa Daryabari and Dr. Morteza Karimi.