Shi’ite apologists often claim that the Twelver faith is a manifestation of the true teachings of the Prophet’s household. After appealing to a series of unverified premises and weak reports, polemicists will often invite non-Shias to join the Twelver faith based on the claim that the religion of Islam should solely be sought through Ahlulbait, the Prophet’s household. A careful observer, however, would recognize that this appeal ultimately stems from a false dichotomy. The distinction between Ahlulbait and non-Ahlulbait figures, with regards to the transmission of religious teachings, is quite arbitrary.
One of the best phenomena that demonstrate this reality is the fact that individuals and imams from Ahlulbait openly transmitted hadiths from the Sahabah. Contrary to what Twelver polemicists may claim, the imams of Ahlulbait did not solely transmit hadith from “infallible” sources. Rather, plenty of evidence exists to demonstrate that various imams did, in fact, transmit reports from the Sahabah and other individuals who disseminated Prophetic traditions. In this article, we shall present a few examples of this phenomenon:
This is an interesting mass-transmitted (mutawatir) report from Ja’far Al-Sadeq found in various sources. In this report, ‘Ubaydullah b. Abi Rafi’, Ali’s scribe, observed Abu Hurayrah leading Jumu’ah prayer. In the first rak’ah, Abu Hurayrah recited Surah Al-Jumu’ah, and in the second rak’ah , he recited Surah Al-Munafiqun. ‘Ubaydullah then told Abu Hurayrah: “You’ve recited a recitation which ‘Ali recited among us in Kufah.” In most redactions, Abu Hurayrah is then quoted saying: “I heard my love, Abu Al-Qasem ﷺ, recite them both.”
Figure 1. Chains of transmission for Ja’far’s report from Abu Hurayrah on Friday prayer
This report is mutawatir (mass-transmitted) from Ja’far Al-Sadeq. Regardless of whether the Shi’ite polemicist decides to accept it or not, it is, at the end of the day, authentic to Ja’far. ٍSome of the transmitters from Ja’far, such as Yahya b. Sa’id, are actually reliable transmitters according to Shi’ite hadith standards (Al-Jawahiri 663) . Nevertheless, the report is vastly corroborated from Ja’far, and it is authentic either way.
Several questions come to play in this regard, most importantly: if Ja’far believed that Abu Hurayrah ascribed lies to the Prophet, how could he ascribe traditions to the Prophet through Abu Hurayrah?
Or perhaps Ja’far didn’t actually believe Abu Hurayrah was a liar, contrary to Twelver theology?
Sources: Musannaf ‘Abdurrazzaq #5231, Muwatta’ Ibn Wahb #226, Musannaf Ibn Abi Shaybah #36471, ٍSunan Ibn Majah #1118, Jami’ Al-Tirmidhi #519, Sunan Abi Dawud #1124, Musnad Ahmed #9950, Sahih Ibn Khuzaymah #1843, Al-Sunan Al-Kubra by Al-Nasa’i #9640, Al-Umm by Al-Shafi’i 1/235.
This is another interesting mass-transmitted (mutawatir) report from Ja’far Al-Sadiq. In this report, Al-Baqir quotes ‘Umar b. Al-Khattab stating that he was not sure of how he should deal with the Zoroastrians under his jurisdiction: should they be treated as Pagans or as Ahlulkitab? ‘Abdurrahman b. ‘Awf then informed ‘Umar that he heard the Messenger of Allah ﷺ say: “Treat them with the Sunnah of Ahlulkitab.”
Figure 2. Chains of Transmission for Ja’far’s report from ‘Umar on the Majus
Again, we find another mutawatir report from Al-Sadiq, where he transmitted the actions and testimonies of the Sahabah. If Ja’far believed that ‘Abdurrahman b. ‘Awf, one of the ten companions promised paradise, was a liar and a hypocrite, how could he ascribe traditions to the Prophet through him? Why doesn’t he just transmit it through his forefathers back to the Prophet? Such an isnad would still be deemed authentic according to Sunni and Shi’ite standards.
Sources: Muwatta’ Malik 1/278, Musannaf ‘Abdurrazzaq #10025, Musannaf Ibn Abi Shaybah #32650 & #32651 & #10765, Musnad Abi Ya’la #862, Mo’jam Ibn Al-A’rabi #2128, Al-Amwal by Al-Qasem b. Sallam #78, Al-Amwal by Ibn Zanjoyah #122, Al-Musnad by Al-Shashi #258, Musnad ‘Abdurrahman b. ‘Awf by Ahmed b. Muhammad #33, Al-Thani min Hadith Abu Al-‘Abbas Al-Asam #73
These reports are just a few examples of instances where the the imams of Ahlulbait transmitted hadiths through fallible sources, the companions of the Prophet. If Ja’far Al-Sadiq and Al-Baqir both held the position that Abu Hurayrah, ‘Abdurrahman and other companions of the Prophet were liars who ultimately aimed to distort Islam, as claimed by the Shi’ite polemicists, then it would be preposterous for them to continue disseminating hadiths through these sources. Why would Ja’far reproduce an isnad transmitted through Abu Hurayrah when he could otherwise transmit the same report through ‘Ali b. Abi Taleb?
When faced with these reports, Shi’ite polemicists first attempt to deflect the entire argument by denying the authenticity of these hadiths due to the fact that they come from Sunni sources. These desperate appeals, however, are fruitless, since these reports are mutawatir from Ja’far. They are definitively authentic to him, and they cannot be simply dismissed in an ad hoc manner on the basis of their sources’ alleged theological leanings.
When Shi’ite polemicists recognize that their attempts to dismiss these reports are futile, they then appeal to the most blunderous and preposterous of all cop-outs: Taqiyyah. Instead of actually addressing the historical argument(s) presented, they appeal to a brittle theological doctrine in a desperate attempt to appropriate the texts. They will thus claim that Ja’far only reproduced these reports in the aforementioned manner out of fear for his life. This appeal, however, is pathetic and astonishing at the same time. What would have happened if Ja’far transmitted the reports through ‘Ali b. Abi Taleb?
The obvious answer to that question is: “nothing.” First, second and third century Sunni hadith collections are replete with reports ascribed to ‘Ali b. Abi Taleb and other members of his family. Sunni and non-Sunni transmitters of hadith openly transmitted reports from ‘Ali and other members of the Prophets family in that era. Hundreds of reports in the Sunni tradition are, in fact, transmitted through Al-Sadeq and Al-Baqir from ‘Ali b. Abi Taleb. To suggest that Ja’far Al-Sadiq feared ascribing a few reports to ‘Ali and thus ascribed them to alleged forgers is more of an insult to Ja’far Al-Sadiq.
This phenomenon similarly serves as an argument that dispels the Twelver claim that Sunnis refrained from transmitting hadith through Ahlulbait. In such examples, Sunni hadith collections can be observed documenting traditions from the Prophet’s household along with other reliable sources.
Contrary to what is claimed by Shi’ite polemicists, the imams of Ahlulbait did not exclusively transmit hadith from infallible sources. Rather, we see that Ja’far Al-Sadeq, Al-Baqir and others transmitted hadiths from various companions of the Prophet ﷺ. Some of these companions are even reviled in the Twelver tradition, yet we find the earlier historical sources authentically quoting the imams transmitting hadiths through them. Indeed this phenomenon is worthy of further analysis, as it casts doubt on the entire Shi’ite narrative pertaining to the imams and the Sahabah. Only in later (Shi’ite) sources are the imams presented reviling companions of the Prophet, such as Abu Hurayrah, ‘Abdurrahman b. ‘Awf and ‘Umar etc.
This phenomenon gives rise to various questions:
- Why did Ja’far Al-Sadiq and Muhammad Al-Baqir ascribe traditions to the Prophet ﷺ through alleged liars and forgers, according to the Twelver tradition?
- Why did they not transmit these reports from ‘Ali b. Abi Taleb, as they did with hundreds of other reports in the Sunni tradition?
- Is it acceptable for the imams to publicly ascribe lies to the Prophet out of fear?
- If the answer to the previous question is “yes”, then what is the point of their infallibility if they still end up ascribing falsehood to the Prophet and God?
Nevertheless, we do not expect much asides from a few theological cop-outs that are usually presented by our Shi’ite counterparts in response to these questions. Dismissing the argument by appealing to ad hoc explanations that attempt to appropriate the texts is not sufficient nor is it an intellectually honest endeavor. Rather, we hope that to see progress in the quality of the discourse, which manifests in mature and intellectually honest responses.
And Allah is the best of witnesses.
Al-Jawahiri, Muhammad. Al-Mufid Min Mo’jam Rijal Al-Hadith. 2nd ed., vol. 1 1, Al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1424.