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Tadwīn al-Ḥadīth: Introduction and Preliminary Discussions

The following is a lightly-edited selection from baḥth al-khārij (advanced jurisprudence) lectures of Sayyid Aḥmad Madadī, a respected jurist and student of Sayyid Abū l-Qāsim al-Khūʾī and SayyidʿAlī al-Sīstānī. He resides and teaches in the holy city of Qom.

This series of lectures deals with the history of the writing and circulation of hadith (tadwīn al-ḥadīth) in the Muslim world, as a precursor to his main discussion on taʿāruḍ al-adillah (dealing with the resolution of conflicting religious evidence). Sayyid Madadī did not intend this section of the lessons to be a detailed historical lecture. Rather, he intended to convey his own conclusions on tadwīn al-ḥadīth, and to prepare his students to understand his chosen method(s) for resolving taʿāruḍ al-adillah. As such, they can serve as a good starting place for further research into the history of Shiʿi hadith studies and as a survey of the discussions therein.

Introduction: TheʿUlamāʾ and their Transmitted Legacy

Shia and Sunniʿulamāʾ approach the sources of Islamic teachings in different ways, albeit with some overlap. Hadith discussions and research in the Sunni world, even from the very earliest of stages in their intellectual development, have revolved around a baḥth rijālī (narrator analysis). For example, Abū Ḥanīfah would accept mursal reports, while al-Shāfiʿī would not. It is even said that theʿulamāʾ used to act upon mursal reports until the time of al-Shāfiʿī, who rejected these reports as non-authoritative.[1]

This is in contrast to the qudamāʾ (earlier scholars) of the Imami Shiʿa, who in their hadith-analysis originally focused on books and sources, engaging in what can be called baḥth fihristī (catalogue analysis). This does not mean they were not engaged in other forms of research. The Shia are indeed distinguished in having engaged both in baḥth fihristī, baḥth rijālī, and baḥth riwāʾī. However, the primary concern of the Shiʿi jurists and scholars of hadith was not the individual narrators. There is a clear distinction here between analyzing a text with regard to the individual narrators in the isnād (chain of narrators), as opposed to analyzing it through its written source and origin.

There are two tiers of discussions with regard to our riwāyāt. The first pertains to fahāris (catalogs of authors, singl. fihrist), where we examine the books of the companions and jurists and the ṭuruq (chains of authorities, singl. ṭarīqah) of their respective works. The second regards the narrations in our hadith compilations, such as al-Kutub al-Arbaʿah. For example, often Shaykh al-Kulaynī will present us with the following chain of narrators:

ʿAlī b. Ibrāhīm, from his father, from al-Nawfalī, from al-Sakūnī

With the repetition of this chain and with reference to the fihrist-texts, it becomes clear that the original source of this narration is the book of al-Sakūnī, a companion of Imam Ṣādiq (ʿa).[2]

The Akhbārīʿulamāʾ–mostly for polemical purposes–were among the most adamant in distinguishing between the meaning of the term “ṣaḥīḥ” (sound) per the ancient scholars (qudamāʾ) and its meaning according to the later scholars (mutaʾakhkhirīn).[3] Among the Shiʿa, the main agent of this switch from a baḥth fihristī to a complete and total baḥth rijālī isʿAllāmah Ḥillī.

For example, Shaykh al-Ṭūsī (r) mentions a narration fromʿAlī b. Jaʿfar, the youngest son of al-Ṣādiq (ʿa) famous for his collection of masāʾil from his brother Imam al-Kāẓim (ʿa), about how to purify a vessel a pig has drunk from:

Shaykh Mufīd reported to us from Abū al-Qāsim Jaʿfar b. Muḥammad, from Muḥammad b. Yaʿqūb, from Muḥammad b. Yaḥyā, from al-ʿAmrakī b.ʿAlī, fromʿAlī b. Jaʿfar, from his brother, Mūsā b. Jaʿfar (ʿa). He (ʿAlī b. Jaʿfar) said: I asked him (al-Kāẓim) about a pig that has drunk from a vessel. What is done with it? He said, “It is washed seven times.”[4]

Both al-Kulaynī and al-Ḥimyarī–the author of Qurb al-Isnād–before him possessed the Masāʾil ofʿAlī b. Jaʿfar. Later, a different manuscript also reached al-Majlisī. However, this narration does not appear in any of these texts or manuscripts. In addition to this, Shaykh al-Ṭūsī himself does not produce a fatwa corresponding to this narration in any of his legal texts, nor does anyone after him give a fatwa according to it. The first jurist to rule based on this narration is Muḥaqqiq al-Ḥillī, who lived about two centuries after al-Ṭūsī, and his fatwa is only based on recommendation (istiḥbāb). The first to rule that it is obligatory to do so isʿAllāmah al-Ḥillī, because he understood this report to be sound per its chain of transmi