Response to: The Sahih of al-Tirmidhi and the hadith, “I am the city of knowledge and `Ali is its gate”

The following is a response to Al-islam.org’s article “The Sahih of al-Tirmidhi and the hadith, “I am the city of knowledge and `Ali is its gate”. The article, unlike most articles on al-islam.org, criticizes a very specific narration and book, in an attempt to raise doubts about the credibility of Ahlul Sunnah and their books of hadith.

The author of the article states in the synopsis:

“The well-known and reliable hadith of the Prophet – “I am the city of knowledge and `Ali is its gate” is not present in the current editions of the Sahih (alternatively called Jami’ or Sunan) of Al-Tirmidhi (d. 279). This book is one of the Sihah Sittah or Six Authentic hadith books for the Ahl al-Sunnah. This case study will investigate the allegation that this hadith was included by al-Tirmidhi and used to be in his Sahih till it mysteriously disappeared at some stage in history.”

The author uses a simple tactic in order to prove this point. He quotes late sources that quote Al-Tirmithi’s quoting of this hadith:

The author quotes Ibn Al-Atheer (d. 606 AH), Mohammad bin Talha (d. 652), Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 652), Al-Suyuti (d. 911), Al-Samhudi (d. 911), Ibn Ruzbahan (d. 924), Al-Salihi Al-Shami (d. 942), Ibn Hajar Al-Haytami (d. 974), Abbas Al-Jurjani (d. 988), Al-Yamani (d. 990), Ali Qari (d. 1014), Abd Al-Haqq Al-Dihlawi (d. 1052), Ibrahim bin Hasan Al-Kurdi (d. 1101), Al-Zurqani (d. 1122), Al-Sabban (d. 1206), and Ahmad bin Abdul Qadir Al-Ujayli (d. 13th century).

The author suggests that the narration existed in its original form until the thirteenth century. It was only in the last two centuries that Sunnis removed this narration from Sunan Al-Tirmithi in an attempt to get rid of the merits of Ali.

However, this is very far from the case. There is no evidence of foul play and we will present our evidences for all the readers to make their fair judgment.

In brief, the answer of this allegation is that the hadith “I am the city of knowledge and Ali is its gate” is actually found in Al-Tirmithi but with a slightly different wording. Instead of the word “city of knowledge” the words “house of wisdom” were used. The scholars would refer to the wording of Al-Tirmithi with the more popular wording instead, out of habit. We present our evidences below:

1- The Existence of the “House of Wisdom” Hadith in All Current Versions of Al-Tirmithi’s Sunan

This is sufficient to destroy any claims of foul play, since it is not possible for someone to remove a hadith but forget to remove another hadith with the exact same meaning.

Moreover, according to Al-Dihlawi (d. 1052) and Ali Qari (d. 1014), the “city of knowledge” hadith exists in the Chapter of Merits of Ali. It is impossible that only one wording would be removed when both narrations have the same meaning.

2- Al-Tirmithi Graded the “City of Knowledge” Hadith as: Munkar (Rejected)

The scan provided by the author from Al-Suyuti’s Al-Durar Al-Muntatharah clearly shows that Al-Tirmithi rejected the hadith. This is the same ruling he gave to the “House of Wisdom” hadith. Why would anyone remove a hadith if Al-Tirmithi himself rejected it? It makes no sense to leave one and keep the other, thus, again, confirming our claim that Al-Suyuti was referring to “House of Wisdom”.

3- Even Modern Day Scholars Refer to “City of Knowledge” as “House of Wisdom”

Al-Albani in his Al-Silsila Al-Dha’eefa 6/527 mentions under the narration of “City of Knowledge” that “this hadith is narrated by Al-Tirmithi”. Al-Albani though, did not find an alternative narration within Sunan Al-Tirmithi. This is clear because he edited a version of Sunan Al-Tirmithi that he split into Saheeh and Dha’eef, and the “City of Knowledge” version does not exist. In its place, in Dha’eef Sunan Al-Tirmithi #3723, he weakens the “House of Wisdom” hadith.

This is irrefutable proof that even modern day scholars refer to the “House of Wisdom” wording as another variation of the “City of Knowledge” hadith.

4- The Earliest Sources Make No Mention of “City of Knowledge” in Sunan Al-Tirmithi

Sh. Esam Musa Hadi, in his edition of Sunan Al-Tirmithi, lists several manuscripts that he relied upon in his edition. The main manuscript he used was written in the year 547 AH and it can be found today in the Library of Paris. He also makes use of three other sixth century manuscripts, as well as eighth century manuscripts from Dar Al-Kutub Al-Misriyah. See his introduction p. 12-14. The hadith of “House of Wisdom” can be found in p. 1098. The “City of Knowledge” is nowhere to be found.

This is another piece of evidence that there was no late tampering, since the earliest copies of Sunan Al-Tirmithi do not contain the wording “City of Knowledge”.

5- Early Index Books Only Provide One Version

– Ibn Al-Atheer (d. 606), in Jami’ Al-Usool #6501, attributes the “City of Knowledge” report to Al-Tirmithi. He makes no mention of the “House of Wisdom” report.

– Al-Mizzi (d. 742), in his massive Tuhfat Al-Ashraf, only quotes the “House of Wisdom” hadith #10209 in his attribution to Al-Tirmithi. He makes no mention of the “City of Knowledge” report.

– Al-Muttaqi Al-Hindi (d. 975), in his Kanz Al-Ummal #32889, only quotes the “House of Wisdom” hadith #10209 in his attribution to Al-Tirmithi. He makes no mention of the “City of Knowledge” report.

If any of these scholars have found both versions, then they would have definitely mentioned both. Instead, they only chose the exact wording, or the popular wording.

COUNTER-EVIDENCE BY AUTHOR

The author argues:

“Firstly, the traditionalists (muhaddithun) are well-known for their precision when dealing with ahadith with similar but unidentical texts (mutun). Indeed, the classical scholars considered even identical traditions with different chains of narration to be unique. Secondly, there is clear evidence that both the ‘city of knowledge’ and ‘house of wisdom’ versions were existent in al-Tirmidhi’s work.”

As we have shown, the precise wording is ignored if there is a popular wording for the same narration. More importantly, the vast majority of the quotes provided by the author were from after the ninth century, six-hundred years after the golden age of hadith and the traditionalists.

As for the “clear evidence that both” variations are attributed to Al-Tirmithi, the author provides three quotes. The first, from Ibn Hajar Al-Haytami’s Sawa’iq Al-Muhriqa reads:

Al-Bazzar and Al-Tabarani in his Al-Awsat have quoted on the authority of Jabir b. Abdullah, and Al-Tabarani, Al-Hakim, and Al-Uqayli in his Al-Du’afa, and Ibn Adi on the authority of Ibn Umar, and Al-Tirmidhi and Al-Hakim on the authority of Ali: The Messenger of God, peace and blessings upon him, said: “I am the city of knowledge and Ali is its gate.” And in a narration: “So who desires knowledge should come through the gate”. In another [narration] from Al-Tirmidhi on the authority of Ali, “I am the house of wisdom and Ali is its gate.”

The author then quotes the exact same words from Al-Sabban Al-Misri and Al-Yamani.

In response, we declare that the original error is from Ibn Hajar Al-Haytami in his Sawa’iq and that his mistake was copied by the two other authors, for the above paragraph is the exact same in all three books. Surely, one mistake by a single author is not enough to cast the accusation of mass conspiracy upon a whole sect.

…and praise be to Allah the Most Gracious Most Merciful.

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