by Abu Al-‘Abbas Al-Shami
Abu Al-Mufaddal, Muhammad b. ‘Abdillah Al-Shaybani (d. 387), was an infamous Shi’ite forger from the city of Baghdad who was criticized and condemned by Sunni and Shi’ite scholarship alike. Though this transmitter’s reliability and trustworthiness are disparaged in both traditions, Shi’ite scholarship seems to have bypassed that criticism, since it has relied on him in the transmission of key biographical data, most importantly: the books of earlier transmitters.
What They Said About Him
As stated earlier, both Sunni and Shi’ite scholarship alike have condemned the liar known as Abu Al-Mufaddal.
Ibn Hajar compiled most of the criticism Abu Al-Mufaddal had received in Sunni sources under his biographical entry in Lisan Al-Mizan 7/253:
Al-Daraqutni accused him of fabrication, and Al-Khatib Al-Baghdadi described him saying: “They initially transcribed hadiths from him selected by Al-Daraqutni; however, his deceit eventually became apparent to them, so they ripped his hadith apart. He used to fabricate hadiths for the Rafidah.”
Hamzah b. Muhammad said: “He used to fabricate hadiths, and I had transcribed hadith from him.” Al-Azhari said: “He used to memorize hadiths,” and then said: “He was a lying Dajjal; I never saw an ‘asl for him.” Al-‘Atiqi said: “He was of great distortion (takhlit).” Abu Dharr Al-Harawi said: “He sat to the Rafidah and transmitted to them hadiths where he mentioned the blunders of the Sahabah, and they [the critics] used to accuse him of distortion and fabrication.” (Ibn Hajar 253)
Ibn ‘Araq described him saying: “A Dajjal who fabricated hadiths.” (Ibn ‘Araq 1/107)
Al-Khoei compiled the criticism Abu Al-Mufaddal had received in Shi’ite sources under his biographical entry in Mo’jam Rijal Al-Hadith 17/260:
Al-Najashi described him saying: “He was, at first, a reliable transmitter; however, he later mixed up. I saw that most of our companions criticized and censured him.” Al-Najashi then proceeded to list his books, and then he said: “I have seen this sheikh, and I heard a lot from him; however, I eventually stopped transmitting directly from him unless there was an intermediary between me and him.”
Al-Tusi described him saying: “He was a prolific transmitter, and of good memory; however, a group of our companions had weakened him.”
Ibn Al-Ghada’iri said: “He was a forger who transmitted many disapproved reports (manakir). I have seen his books, and they contain isnads without the texts, and texts without the isnads. I see that anything he exclusively transmits must be abandoned.” (Al-Khoei 17:260)
As evident, the extreme criticism Abu Al-Mufaddal received in both Sunni and Shi’ite sources clearly is demonstrative of the fact that he cannot be relied upon when transmitting anything of historical or religious significance. Shi’ite scholarship, however, seems to have bypassed this criticism by actually relying upon this man’s transmission on many instances. 19th century Shi’ite scholar of hadith, Al-Nuri Al-Tabrasi, makes note of this reality, and describes Abu Al-Mufaddal saying:
“He was from the great shuyukh of ijazah, even though they weakened him. I have observed that their practice is contrary to [their criticism of him]” (Al-Shahrudi 7/188)
I initially made note of this phenomenon as I went through Mo’jam Rijal Al-Hadith, where I noticed that Al-Tusi’s chains of transmission regularly converged back to Abu Al-Mufaddal. Al-Tusi’s dependence on Abu Al-Mufaddal is mostly limited to the transmission of the books and works of earlier transmitters.
This is a common practice that can be observed in Al-Tusi and Al-Najashi’s works on rijal. They will often list the transmitter’s name, mention any praise/criticism he has received, and then list their chains of transmission to any of his book(s).
The reader may ask: “What are the implications of this phenomenon?”
The reality of the matter is that this issue may be of many grave implications. We now know that Al-Tusi depended on unreliably transmitted content ascribed to the transmitters of hadith while he assessed their reliability. Since Al-Tusi did not meet most of the transmitters listed in his books, Shi’ite polemicists argue that Al-Tusi must have relied upon later textual indicators to evaluate the reliability of earlier transmitters. However, if these later indicators are based on faulty and unreliable transmission of biographical data that cannot be authentically ascribed to the transmitters being evaluated, then Al-Tusi’s conclusions are simply unreliable.
How can we trust his verdicts on many transmitters when they are based on unreliably transmitted texts solely transmitted through liars, forgers, weak and anonymous transmitters?
(Note: There is a great possibility that Al-Tusi and Al-Najashi’s evaluation of transmitters is absolutely arbitrary and not based on any objective standard, as previously pointed out. However, in this article, we entertain the claim made by Shi’ite polemicists when desperately attempting to defend Al-Tusi and Al-Najashi’s works.)
How Many Times is the forger, Abu Al-Mufaddal, cited?
After a detailed analysis, we found that Abu Al-Mufaddal is cited in the chains of transmission of Al-Tusi over 296 times as he listed his isnads to the books of the transmitters he assessed.
Here are the instances where he is cited in their isnads as listed in Mo’jam Rijal Al-Hadith:
1/134, 1/180, 1/189, 1/226, 1/269, 2/134, 2/136, 2/157, 3/89, 4/56, 4/84, 4/102, 4/107, 4/108, 4/136, 4/145, 4/165, 5/11, 5/48, 5/84, 5/95, 5/155, 5/155, 5/159, 5/164, 5/205, 5/212, 5/213, 5/220, 5/225, 5/250, 5/306, 5/318, 5/360, 5/363, 6/25, 6/40, 6/41, 6/62, 6/64, 6/157, 6/187, 6/193, 6/206, 6/238, 6/293, 7/30, 7/74, 7/83, 7/97, 7/118, 7/123, 7/141, 7/146, 7/148, 7/170, 7/173, 7/280, 7/317, 8/12, 8/30, 8/62, 8/108, 8/124, 8/130, 8/133, 8/134, 8/178, 8/192, 8/192, 8/224, 8/279, 8/284, 8/289, 8/289, 8/312, 9/44, 9/57, 9/65, 9/73, 9/100, 9/111, 9/118, 9/134, 9/138, 9/163, 9/249, 9/277, 9/282, 9/331, 9/381, 10/23, 10/49, 10/60, 10/69, 10/70, 10/75, 10/93, 10/95, 10/105, 10/158, 10/179, 10/205, 10/234, 10/258, 10/260, 10/269, 10/285, 10/327, 10/339, 10/351, 10/371, 11/25, 11/41, 11/54, 11/60, 11/76, 11/115, 11/115, 11/132, 11/187, 11/209, 11/239, 11/273, 11/304, 11/393, 11/395, 11/400, 12/27, 12/35, 12/36, 12/44, 12/54, 12/111, 12/173, 12/192, 12/194, 12/234, 12/247, 12/296, 12/323, 12/342, 12/352, 12/377, 13/64, 13/69, 13/100, 13/118, 13/139, 13/230, 14/13, 14/23, 14/25, 14/35, 14/79, 14/84, 14/95, 14/101, 14/108, 14/117, 14/128, 14/146, 14/154, 14/162, 14/162, 14/184, 14/196, 14/206, 14/209, 14/292, 14/301, 14/329, 14/338, 14/351, 15/24, 15/47, 15/67, 15/77, 15/137, 15/177, 15/189, 15/189, 15/190, 15/203, 15/206, 15/245, 15/254, 15/283, 16/22, 16/56, 16/116, 16/135, 16/137, 16/144, 16/145, 16/238, 17/11, 17/41, 17/47, 17/59, 17/67, 17/74, 17/81, 17/92, 17/126, 17/138, 17/209, 17/211, 17/223, 17/266, 17/277, 17/302, 17/303, 17/319, 18/43, 18/54, 18/55, 18/59, 18/74, 18/83, 18/131, 18/150, 18/169, 18/179, 18/181, 18/191, 18/233, 18/242, 18/244, 18/292, 18/308, 18/312, 18/330, 18/345, 19/32, 19/37, 19/42, 19/122, 19/139, 19/184, 19/190, 19/225, 19/227, 19/240, 19/246, 19/281, 19/361, 19/379, 19/380, 19/384, 20/18, 20/23, 20/25, 20/49, 20/53, 20/131, 20/146, 20/218, 20/228, 20/247, 20/268, 20/348, 20/355, 21/10, 21/21, 21/23, 21/27, 21/74, 21/100, 21/108, 21/118, 21/128, 21/150, 21/151, 21/166, 21/174, 21/208, 21/243, 22/25, 22/78, 22/193, 22/194, 22/213, 22/214, 22/231, 22/232, 22/258, 22/261, 22/273, 22/282, 23/35, 23/40, 23/53, 23/81, 23/96, 23/100
Let us evaluate the situation at hand: we have Abu Al-Mufaddal, a notorious forger from 4th century Baghdad who was condemned in both the Sunni and Shi’ite traditions, supposedly transmitting hundreds upon hundreds of books ascribed to earlier Shi’ite sources. Major Shi’ite rijali sources then bypass all the criticism and regularly rely upon Abu Al-Mufaddal’s transmission as they transmitted key biographical data exclusively through him.
Let us take a look at an example under the biographical entry of Al-Hasan b. ‘Ali b. Al-No’man in Mo’jam Rijal Al-Hadith:
“Al-Hasan b. ‘Ali Al-No’man, the mawla of Bani Hashem. His father is ‘Ali b. Al-No’man Al-A’lam. He was a reliable thabt. He has a book called Nawadir Al-Hadith, that is Sahih and of great benefit. Ibn Nuh transmitted it to me, from Al-Bazufari, from Ahmed b. Idris, from Al-Saffar, from him [Al-Hasan].”
“Al-Hasan b. ‘Ali Al-No’man, the mawla of Bani Hashem.He has a book called Nawadir Al-Hadith, that is of great benefit. A group of my companions have transmitted it to me from Abu Al-Mufaddal, from Ibn Buttah, from Ahmed b. Abi ‘Abdillah and Al-Saffar both from him.”
Al-Khoei then comments saying: “The sheikh’s [Al-Tusi’s] isnad to him is weak, due to Abu Al-Mufaddal and Ibn Buttah.” (Al-Khoei 6:61-62)
Note: Al-Khoei refrains from commenting on Al-Najashi’s isnad to Al-Hasan’s book, even though it is weak due to Al-Bazufari, Ahmed b. Ja’far.
Thus, in this example, we observe Al-Tusi making a value judgement on Al-Hasan’s book, even though his copy of that book is transmitted to him through the forger, Abu Al-Mufaddal, and the unknown transmitter, Ibn Buttah. How can Al-Tusi come to such a conclusion regarding the book ascribed to Al-Hasan b. ‘Ali when his copy was transmitted to him through a forger AND an anonymous transmitter?!
Al-Najashi makes a similar value judgement on the book even though his copy, too, is unreliably transmitted to him through the anonymous transmitter, Ahmed b. Ja’far Al-Bazufari.
Now we know that the only form of tangible textual evidence pertaining to this transmitter Al-Tusi and Al-Najashi may have possessed is a text that is transmitted to them from unreliable sources. They have not listed any other potential textual indicators they may have evaluated to assess the reliability of the transmitter.
This phenomenon opens to the door to many questions, most importantly:
Since Al-Tusi and Al-Najashi relied upon untrustworthy and unreliable sources to document the biographical data of many transmitters, how can we assume that their assessments and verdicts pertaining to the reliability of transmitters are accurate and representative of reality?
Why is a liar, like Abu Al-Mufaddal, such an extremely prolific transmitter and source of information in Shi’ite rijali sources?
Note: Abu Al-Mufaddal was the sole narrator of other works in Fihrist Al-Tusi, including the works of Al-Hasan bin Musa Al-Kashshab, Al-Hasan bin Ali Al-Washsha’, Ali bin Hadeed, Ali bin Hasaan Al-Wasiti, Abdul-Rahman bin Abi Al-Najran, Al-Ayyashi, Abu Ali bin Hammam, and Yunus bin Ya’qoub.
If the Shi’ite polemicist attempts to have his cake and eat it by undermining the value and role of Al-Tusi and Al-Najashi’s transmission of the books of earlier transmitters, then he opens the door to another greater problem, which is the question of whether Al-Tusi and Al-Najashi actually relied upon tangible textual indicators when evaluating the reliability of earlier transmitters or whether their verdicts are totally arbitrary and not based on an objective textual analysis of the transmitter’s transmission.
Another noteworthy point is that Shi’ite polemicists regularly boast about how their tradition is based on (extinct) written collections from the earliest of Shi’ite transmitters. However, we have seen here that many of these claims are inaccurate, unverified and often incorrect since they are frequently made by transmitters who were weak, unknown or suspected of forgery.
Shi’ite scholarship’s reliance upon the forger, Abu Al-Mufaddal, in rijali biographical sources is merely an example of a much more significant problem. Many similarly weak and unknown transmitters are regularly cited in Shi’ite rijali sources as transmitters of the books and works of earlier transmitters. This spans transmitters such as: Musa b. Ja’far Al-Ha’iri, Ahmed b. Ja’far Al-Bazufari, Ibn Buttah Al-Qommi, Ahmed b. Muhammad b. Yahya Al-‘Attar and many others.
This phenomenon should be enough of a reason for the honest Muslim to cast doubts on the reliability and authority of Shi’ite rijali sources. It is unfortunate to see an entire religion based on such faulty and historically defective sources; however, guidance, at the end of the day, is in the hands of Allah.
And Allah is the best of witnesses.
Al-Khoei, Abu Al-Qasem. Mo’jam Rijal Al-Hadith. 5th ed., Markaz Nashr Al-Thaqafah Al-Islamiyyah, 1992.
Al-Shahrudi, Ali. Mustadrakat ‘Ilm Rijal Al-Hadith. 1st ed., vol. 7 8, Qom Al-Matba’ah, 1412.
Ibn ‘Araq, ‘Ali. Tanzih Al-Shari’ah Al-Marfu’ah ‘an Al-Akhbar Al-Shani’ah Al-Mawdu’ah. Edited by Abdulwahhab Abdullatif, 1st ed., vol. 1 2, Dar Al-Kutub Al-Ilmiyyah, 1979.
Ibn Hajar, Ahmed. Lisan Al-Mizan. Edited by Abdulfattah Abu Ghoddah, 1st ed., vol. 7 10, Dar Al-Bashair Al-Islamiyyah, 2002.