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Al-Rabbat’s Defense of Abū Hurayrah: Eloquent yet Unconvincing

In his rather long-winded presentation on the reliability of Abū Hurayrah, Abdullah Al-Rabbat tries to prove that he was a great companion and an unimpugnable source of Prophetic traditions who can undoubtedly be relied upon. The presentation (which can be seen here) lasts just under four hours, and addresses some of the primary concerns about the character of Abū Hurayrah and the arguments leveled by those who question his credibility. Some of the points put forward by Al-Rabbat are worthy of reflection, while others are clearly wrong, and a few are outright ridiculous.

In answering the main question of how Abū Hurayrah became so close to the Prophet (ṣ) as to have access to him and narrate from him more than most of the other companions, Al-Rabbat states (around 30 minutes in) that he maintained closer contact with the Prophet because he was in al-Suffah and would often accompany the Prophet, by his own attestation, in order to satiate his stomach. The question is hardly answered in this way as we know that there were many companions in al-Suffah even before him (he arrived there in 7 AH), so why is he special? Furthermore, Al-Rabbat’s other arguments like Abū Hurayrah’s residing in Madinah after the Prophet is equally unconvincing because many companions did that, yet none relate the number of traditions that he did.

Al-Rabbat’s assertions about certain ‘personal traits’ of Abū Hurayrah, like attention to detail, seems quite spurious. When one is so worried about his next meal, how is he expected to care about other details around him? Furthermore, a narrator’s own attestations regarding his credibility do not constitute reliable evidence, and we do not have anyone else from the companions who praised him for his attention to detail. In fact, people during his own time were saying that he is relating too many aḥādīth, that is why he tried to defend himself with various justifications. Other traits Al-Rabbat mentions like his sense of responsibility are also only based on Abū Hurayrah’s own claims.

On the tradition in al-Bukhāri’s Ṣaḥīḥ where, upon being questioned about a statement, Abū Hurayrah admits that “This is from Abū Hurayrah’s sack [and not from the Prophet (ṣ)],” Al-Rabbat humorously tries to twist this by claiming it to actually be a testament to his reliability. However, he fails to see how it was only when the people questioned him that he admitted to having added his own commentary to a Prophetic tradition, so it is no way a testament to his trustworthiness. One can only wonder how many other such traditions may have been related by Abū Hurayrah and passed as being from the Prophet?!

While it is laudable that Abdullah Al-Rabbat was willing to acknowledge that there are some problematic narrations in the Ṣaḥīḥayn, and that 18 of those are from Abū Hurayrah, one cannot help but express dismay at his method of counting the traditions of this notorious narrator. Even if we take his conclusions at face value, it is astounding that 143 traditions, by his count, have exclusively been related by Abū Hurayrah, while some of the more prominent companions have only a handful of traditions to their name. One hour and 29 minutes into the presentation, Al-Rabbat mentions the likelihood of Abū Hurayrah relating things from other companions without mentioning their names, and letting the listeners believe that he heard it directly from the Prophet (ṣ). While he brushes this off as a common occurrence, it clearly reeks of unreliability and dishonesty.

Al-Rabbat also downplays Abū Hurayrah’s link with the notorious fabricator Kaʿb al-Aḥbār using strawman arguments such as the mutual influence the two had on each other. He glosses over the very real possibility of Abū Hurayrah’s turning towards Muʿāwiyah towards the end of his life (as implied in some reports) and evinces some narrations attributed to him in praise of the Hāshimites. One obviously fabricated report he quotes is from Saʿīd ibn Marjāna from ʿAlī ibn al-Ḥusayn (a) (2:44) where the latter hears something from Abū Hurayrah and then relates it to Imam Zayn al-ʿĀbidīn, who then proceeds to act upon it. Al-Rabbat completely overlooks that Abū Hurayrah died in 48 AH when ʿAlī ibn al-Ḥusayn (a) was ten years old, so how could he have owned such expensive slaves which he purportedly freed at that time?

In the end, the four hours less eleven minutes spent hoping some solid new research might reveal a novel approach towards the otherwise problematic narrator that is Abū Hurayrah proves more of a disappointment than anything else. While the time taken to carry out research and prepare the presentation is appreciated, the obvious biases that lead to contorted conclusions and misrepresentations undermines the value of the presentation.

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Common Sense and Ḥadīth – A Look at Modarressi’s Text and Interpretation

The latest addition to Hossein Modarressi’s oeuvre, which was much anticipated, unfortunately failed to impress. It was nothing close to his Crisis and Consolidation which was undoubtedly paradigm shifting in its effect. With half of the book comprised of ‘examples’ – traditions from Imam Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq (a) on various, mostly jural, topics – this work on the legacy of the sixth Imam of the Ahl al-Bayt (a) is in no way groundbreaking. That is not to say that there is nothing to be gained from the monograph. There are indeed many tidbits of interesting information peppered around the text, some of which must surely have required a good amount of time to unearth and decipher. The author’s original translation of numerous traditions also constitutes a mine for translators of classical texts, though like all other translations it does have its imperfections.

After highlighting the fact that ḥadīth fabrication had been rampant among the late Umayyads and early Abbasids, Modarressi notes that the phenomenon of fabrication was also present among the Shīʿahs, who, like their Sunnī counterparts, at times ascribed lies to Imam al-Ṣādiq (a) due to the popularity of his name (pp. 9-10). This then leads us to what is perhaps the most disappointing thing about the work, namely the author’s ‘methodology’, if one could call it that, in evaluating the aḥādīth and identifying the authentic traditions from those that are “spurious”. By his own admission, no attention is paid to the chains of transmission as they could easily have been forged (p. 12, footnote). Hence, centuries worth of biographical studies on the narrators of ḥadīth by Muslim scholars have been singularly dismissed by the author as worthless.

Instead, Modarressi has opted to adopt ‘common sense’ as the litmus test for authenticity of traditions. He appeals to the ‘style’ of the Imams in the language and conventions they employ as a distinguishing factor (p. 10), though he does nothing to clarify how one can actually go about recognizing the speaker from his speech, especially when it was spoken so long ago and, in many cases, paraphrased by its transmitters. Indeed, if this was a viable method on its own, Muslim scholars would have employed it much earlier. Apart from the most obvious cases of fabrication, it is very difficult (not easy – as Moderressi claims. See p. 10 footnote. 20), to arrive at an undeniable conclusion about the validity of the ascriptions of statements to the Imams. That which ‘can reasonably be deemed reliable’ due to its correspondence with ‘common sense’ and any internal and external corroborating evidence (p. 11) is an open-ended gauge susceptible to subjectivity – the kind of subjectivity that is anathema in academic research.

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Quoting a Narration on the Authority of an Apostate

In his recent book on the Fatimid-era Muslim convert to Christianity Bulūs ibn Rajāʾ, David Bertaina mentions that one of the strategies employed by this monk in his anti-Islamic rhetoric was to cite ḥadīth reports that Muslim factions would use in order to critique each other. In so doing, he aimed to demonstrate the lack of unity among Muslims and thereby question the validity of the very teachings of Islam. One such tradition that Bulūs ibn Rajāʾ quotes pertains to how Muʿāwiyah ibn Abī Sufyān wore a cross around his neck and asked to be placed facing east on his deathbed, thereby dying a Christian. Subsequently Bertaina remarks with some amazement that a “modern Muslim Shīʿī editor” cites the report “on the authority of Ibn Rajāʾ in his book of ḥadīth reports!” 1

The work he is referring to is Al-Arbaʿūn Ḥadīthan fī Ithbāt Imāmat Amīr al-Muʾminīn (a) by al-Baḥrānī and its editor is Sayyid Mahdī Rajāʾī (1996). However, when one refers to the book itself, it becomes clear that the impression given by Bertaina is misleading. Rajāʾī only comments in a footnote that he has read in Kitāb al-Wāḍiḥ by “the apostate [who left Islam and became a] Christian,” referring to Ibn Rajāʾ, that there are successively transmitted (mutawātir) reports to the effect that Muʿāwiyah died a Christian with a cross around his neck. 2 Hence, not only does Rajāʾī know that Ibn Rajāʾ was an apostate, he also only quotes what he read in his work as additional evidence to support the claim that Muʿāwiyah died a non-Muslim. Of course, there are a number of other sources that also state this, so it is not the case that no other evidence for the claim exists. Indeed, if the reports regarding this are mutawātir, as Ibn Rajāʾ claimed, then there would be no question of having to scrutinize the narrators. Hence, the question of the validity of quoting the report from an apostate becomes moot. And even if the statement by Ibn Rajāʾ is false, it still merits mentioning how a Christian convert claimed that Muʿāwiyah was, like himself, an apostate who left Islam for Christianity. So, by mentioning this in his footnotes, Sayyid Rajāʾī demonstrated his knowledge on the subject, and it is in no way out of place or astonishing.


  1. David Bertaina, Bulūs ibn Rajāʾ – The Fatimid Egyptian Convert Who Shaped Christian Views of Islam (BRILL, 2022), 57-8
  2. Al-Shaykh Sulaymān al-Baḥrānī, Al-Arbaʿūn Ḥadīthan fī Ithbāt Imāmat Amīr al-Muʾminīn (Maṭbaʿat Amīr, Qum, 1417 A.H.), p. 89
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Argument from Silence in Ḥadīth ‘Dating’

Augumenta e silentio, or arguments from silence, have been used by some Orientalist scholars to prove that certain aḥādīth were later fabrications, since earlier sources are silent about those traditions and have not mentioned them. They thus seek to estimate the date when a ḥadīth came into being by searching for the earliest [written] source that mentions it, arguing that if the ḥadīth had indeed been from the Prophet or Companion, it would have been known and hence in circulation from their own time, or at least in the immediate decades that followed. Therefore, if a ḥadīth compiler does not mention a tradition in his collection, it indicates that he was either unaware of that tradition or that it never existed during his time. Now if the ḥadīth in question was one of great importance, it is highly unlikely that a ḥadīth expert would be ignorant about it; so the only remaining explanation is that it never existed and was fabricated at a later date.

Interestingly, the basic idea being propounded here is not new to Muslim scholarship. It is quite similar to the principle: law kāna la bāna (had it existed, it would have been known) and is even subject to the same conditions. Essentially, three basic requirements have to be met before the principle can take effect: (1) The matter addressed is so important that there is no way any expert scholar would be unaware about it; (2) Despite its importance, the expert scholar (or any person who ought to know it) does not evince it as proof when discussing something directly pertaining to it; (3) There is no reasonable explanation for his lack of reference to it, such as dissimulation (taqiyya), etc. If all these conditions are met, according to the principle of law kāna la bāna, the matter or tradition did not exist at the time of that particular scholar and was a later fabrication.

The principle of law kāna la bāna, also referred to variously as: law kāna la ẓahara (had it existed, it would have been manifest), law kāna lashtahara (had it existed, it would have been popularly known), and law kāna la waṣala (had it existed, it would have reached us) by different scholars, has generally been accepted as long as it meets the required conditions. However, in practice it is very difficult to ascertain the fulfillment of all the requirements in order to employ this principle as evidence. This is due to a number of factors, such as the many lost works of ḥadīth that have not reached us, which makes it impossible to know whether or not the compiler mentioned a given tradition in his other, now lost, compilations. Hence, though theoretically the principle is sound, in practical terms it does not hold much value today.

This is not to say that there are no traditions that can be questioned using this principle. For example, ʿAllāmah Amīnī mentions in his seminal work al-Ghadīr (5:354) that the purported statement attributed to the Noble Prophet (ṣ) in which he reportedly addressed Abū Bakr and ʿUmar saying “No one will take precedence over you two after me” is an obvious later fabrication because if the Prophet had indeed said this, it would have been known to the people and even the first two caliphs would have used this statement as evidence of their right to caliphate, which they never did, and neither did any of the companions. Hence, it becomes clear that using the principle of law kāna la bāna, this was a later fabrication. That being said, however, such examples are very few and cannot be compared to the application of e silentio arguments by Orientalists for a large number of traditions, which is obviously motivated by their biases against ḥadīth.

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The Meaning of al-Anzaʿ al-Baṭīn

A number of Sunnī and Shīʿah sources quote the Prophet (ṣ) calling Imam ʿAlī (a) ‘al-Anzaʿ al-Baṭīn’, which literally means: the bald and stout one. For instance, al-Kanjī al-Shāfiʿī (though there are some who consider him to be a Shīʿah) states: “ʿAlī ibn Abī Ṭālib used to be called al-Anzaʿ al-Baṭīn. This is because he remained free from polytheism (anzaʿ min al-shirk) and never ascribed any partner to Allah even for a single moment in his life…” And the title ‘al-baṭīn’ actually meant that he was full of knowledge or had profound and deep knowledge (al-baṭīn min al-ʿilm). This is because Imam ʿAlī was known for his great knowledge and deep understanding which was unique and unmatched. That is why he was recognized as the most learned among the companions, having gained his immense knowledge from his numerous private sessions with the Noble Prophet (ṣ).

In one tradition, the Prophet (ṣ) is reported to have explained the meaning of these two terms as he told ʿAlī (a), “…Glad tidings to you, for indeed you are al-Anzaʿ al-Baṭīn – (i.e.) he who has been kept away from polytheism (manzūʿ min al-shirk) and is full of knowledge (baṭīn min al-ʿilm).” [Biḥār al-Anwār 40:78]. 1 If one neglects to go through all the traditions, he or she may come up with a wrong understanding of these two terms and think that they refer to the literal meaning and describe the outward appearance of Amīr al-Muʾminīn as a balding, stout man. Given the envy and enmity that many had for him, it is not unlikely that terms such as these, if they were truly spoken by the Noble Prophet (ṣ), would be misused to make fun of the Imam. Hence, it is important that we understand such terms correctly.


  1. It is possible, though, that this explanation was a later addition, and the tradition itself also lacks a sound chain of narrators and is thus considered weak.
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The True Scholar


وإذا ما ازددت علما       زادني علما بجهلي

And whenever I grow in knowledge,
I only grow in knowledge of my own ignorance.

(Muḥammad ibn Idrīs al-Shāfiʿī)

One of the most important gauges for true erudition is humility. Unlike what is claimed by some western-academia-trained scholars, knowledge is not an end unto itself. Rather, it is a means to an end. The end that it leads to (if acted upon) is perfection, salvation and success in the everlasting life of the Hereafter. It is easy to distinguish a true scholar (ʿālim) from one who has just memorized facts and figures, or the opinions of sages and philosophers, using this method. A true ʿālim will always be humble. This is because the more he learns and knows, the greater will be his appreciation of his own ignorance. This is what the beautiful quote above conveys.

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Who was al-Kulayni?

Very little is known about the author of what is arguably the most influential ḥadīth collection in the Shiʿa world, Muḥammad ibn Yaʿqūb al-Kulaynī. Unlike some of his contemporaries and compilers of other well-known works of ḥadīth, details about al-Kulaynī’s life are sketchy at best. He is said to have hailed from the village of Kulayn in Rayy. However, some scholars such as al-Samʿānī (d. 562 AH) apparently confused this with another village known as Kilīn and as such referred to him as al-Kulīnī. 1 His father was one of the known scholars of Rayy but since al-Kulaynī never narrated anything from him, it would be reasonable to surmise that he must have died while the latter was very young. However, al-Kulaynī did benefit from the tutelage of his maternal uncle.

In Baghdad, al-Kulaynī lived in the south-western quarter of Darb al-Silsilah and hence is also at times referred by the title ‘al-Silsilī’ in some sources. He passed away in Baghdad in either 329 AH (according to al-Najāshī and al-Ṭūsī in his Rijāl) or in 328 AH (according to al-Ṭūsī in his Fihrist and ʿAlī ibn Ṭāwūs in Kashf al-Maḥajjah). The former date is generally accepted over the latter. He apparently died in the month of Shaʿbān and this is of special interest since the final representative of the 12th Imām (a) in the minor occultation, al-Samurī, also died in exactly the same month and year. Al-Kulaynī’s grave is also a point of disagreement and in some older sources it is said that he was buried in the Bāb al-Kūfah cemetery. This is what Ibn ʿAbdūn, the erstwhile Imāmī scholar (d. 423) says when he recounts visiting al-Kulaynī’s grave only a few decades after his demise and seeing a tombstone on which was carved the name of al-Kulaynī and his father. However, it is reported that the site of his grave was later forgotten or lost (possibly due to flooding). 2 However, there is a tomb in Baghdad that is said to belong to al-Kulaynī and is visited by many Shiʿas today, but it is located in a different area of the city, an area that was predominantly Sunnī in the past.


  1. al-Samʿānī, Kitāb al-Ansāb, First Edition (Beirut) 1981, vol. 10, p.463
  2. See: Rijāl al-Najāshī, (Qum), 1406 AH, p. 378
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