The following is a response to Ahlul Bayt Digital Islamic Library Project’s article “The Kitab Al-Ma’arif of Ibn Qutaibah and the Account of Imam ‘Ali’s Imprecation for Anas b. Malik.” The article can be found here.
In brief, we quote the synopsis provided by the author of the article:
Towards the end of Ibn Qutaybah’s Kitab al-Ma’arif, there is a section on “al-Baras” where he lists notable people who contracted leprosy or leukoderma during their lifetime. The first entry is for Anas b. Malik, the Companion of the Prophet (s), and the author notes an incident showing that the reason for this disease was a curse by Imam ‘Ali (a).
According to the published Egyptian edition, there is a sentence at the end of the anecdote where Ibn Qutaybah casts doubt on the authenticity of the incident. This sentence cannot be found in a 700 year old manuscript of the book held in the British Library!
The author of the article is attempting to suggest that tampering has occurred in the Egyptian edition of the printed version of the book. However, upon returning to the source, we find that the cause of the confusion does not come from a Sunni scholar, but from an Orientalist by the name of F. Westenfield, who was the editor of the Egyptian edition.
Dr. Tharwat Ukasha, the editor of the Dar Al-Ma’arif edition mentions that Westenfield’s edition had many mistakes because he relied on only three copies. Dr. Ukasha relied on seven. The manuscripts that Westenfield relied on were from Leiden from Vienna, which are both from a single source. Dr. Ukasha relied on these sources as well.
Dr. Ukasha, then includes the words that F. Westenfield mentioned about the weakness of the narration, and adds in the footnotes. However, he adds that in three of the manuscripts the name Abu Al-Hasan was included instead of Abu Mohammad. Dr. Ukasha shrugs this off as an accident, since the context and other manuscripts include the name Abu Mohammad.
In other words, assuming the manuscripts provided by the author has incorrectly left out the commentary of Ibn Qutaibah. We hold this opinion because the majority of the manuscripts include the addition.
The author asks, while playing the devil’s advocate, then answers:
But without a full chain of narration (isnad) how can you trust such a report?
The Kitab al-Ma’arif is not a book that quotes full chains of narrations for its contents. The fact that Ibn Qutaybah, a person who was famous for his disillusionment towards Imam ‘Ali (a), would quote the anecdote implies that he must have felt there was truth in it.
First of all, we reject any accusation of enmity towards Ali without evidence. Secondly, the complete absence of chains of narrations in the book is not an excuse to authenticate narrations. Thirdly, Ibn Qutaiba never suggested that everything in his book is authentic. Finally, even if we assume that he said that everything in his book was authentic, such a statement would not be sufficient for us to blindly trust all his opinions. If Al-Zuhri, Malik, Ahmad, Al-Bukhari, Ibn Khuzaimah, Ibn Taymiyyah, and other giants were not given such a special treatment, then why should Ibn Qutaiba receive it?!
Note: Al-Bukhari’s narrations were accepted due to long rigorous study by scholars of hadith, and not accepted by blind faith in his words and opinions.