The first section (The Book of Intellect and Knowledge) of volume 1 of Ayatullah Muhammad Asif Muhsini’s 8-volume work Mu’jam al-Ahadith al-Mu’tabara has now been completed and can be downloaded.
The work is being translated by brother Ammaar Muslim. For further information about the work, author and translator, refer to the book and its Preface. Additional information regarding the work is being shared below which was originally written by br. Ammar here.
For quite some time now, the need for having a comprehensive compilation of reliable narrations in the English language has been recognized by many. Such a reference work would allow non-Arabic speakers to gain access to authentic material instead of relying on spurious material. Furthermore, some of the non-Shia have always disparaged the Shia about the perceived weaknesses in the body of the Hadith that they possess. Polemics have almost ingrained the notion that Shias do not have a sufficient number of reliable narrations in the popular consciousness. Nothing could be further from the truth. This being the case, this project seeks to translate the encyclopedic work Mu’jam al-Ahadith al-Mu’tabara by the contemporary scholar Ayatullah Muhammad Asif Muhsini in a bid to fill this gap and respond to the challenge.
Al-Muhsini had always wanted to collect the narrations that are Mu’tabar (reliable) as far as their chains are concerned. The aim being to assist the jurist in his derivation process, the researcher in conducting studies, the popular lecturer in preparing speeches, but even ordinary layman who are interested in knowledge.
Al-Muhsini maintains that the only other book in his view to comes close to this vision was the one by the Shaykh Hasan b. Ali al-Shahid al-Thani (d. 1011 AH), but his work “Muntaqa al-Jam’an” is specific only for narrations concerning jurisprudence being taken only from the Four great works. It also suffers from certain defects such as only including narrations that are Sahih or Hasan whilst ignoring the Muwathaq and being only partially complete with the present version ending at the book of Hajj.
Al-Muhsini undertook the project despite his busy schedule which included constant travelling whilst coordinating the Jihad and other political activities within the Islamic movement of Afghanistan against the invasion by the Marxist forces of the Kremlin government.
The First Attempt
The first attempt at completing the book took Al-Muhsini four years (7 Rabi I 1407AH – 20 Jamadi II 1412AH) and the end result was a six volume work which contained 11,658 narrations considered reliable. Preparatory work commenced viz. editing the draft and type-casting it. This took an additional three and a half-years.
However, before the book could be published, Al-Muhsini encountered two main issues that greatly troubled him and halted any progress because it meant having to make significant changes. These are:
Firstly, there was a lack of information about the transmission history of a considerable number of primary Hadith works. The manuscripts of such works did not reach scholars like al-Majlisi and Hurr who incorporated them in their encyclopedic compilations via an acceptable method. Rather the authors of Bihar al-Anwar, Wasail al-Shia and al-Wafi happened upon them from the market and various libraries. We are still in the dark about how exactly they were passed down over the hundreds of years in the intervening period between when they were authored and the Safavid era in which they were discovered.
Al-Muhsini says “It is as though this problem despite its intractable nature has not drawn the attention of other scholars, for I have not found it expounded upon in a book, or heard it being talked about in any scholarly gathering”.
The second problem is what became apparent to him when he was preparing a commentary of the Mashyakha of the Tahdhibayn for the third edition of his famous Rijali primer Buhuth Fi Ilm al-Rijal.
If one were to take the negative implications that these two problems raise and apply them to their fullest logical conclusion, the outcome would be that about 2000 narration – give or take – would fall outside the boundary of the reliable and consequently become consigned to the non-Mu’tabar category.
A natural outcome of these setbacks was a delay in publishing whilst al-Muhsini was reconsidering his options, and as we will see later, this earlier draft was spiked and never saw the light of day. The draft was deposited by its author in the library of the Hawza of Khatam al-Nabiyyin in Kabul.
The Second Attempt
The second attempt began in the year 1431AH. While al-Muhsini was preparing the fifth edition of his book Buhuth Fi Ilm al-Rijal for publication, a solution came to him which solved most of the issues raised by the second problem, which was to do with the chains of Shaykh al-Tusi to the authors of Usul and Kutub that he uses in his Tahdhibayn. As a result, a significant number of narrations which were hitherto considered unreliable could be re-evaluated and re-introduced into the category of narrations that are reliable as far as their chains are concerned. This re-sparked al-Muhsini’s interest and marked the beginning of a renewed effort to continue where he had left off so as to complete the project. This in spite of the fact that the first problem remained unsolved. Al-Muhsini concludes by hoping that he is able to see the work out to its completion and disseminate it widely despite what he feels to be the nearing of his end and prays to God to grant him succor.
1. The Hujiyyah (probative force) of a Khabar Wahid (solitary report) is predicated upon several conditions:
(a) Reliability of the chain, such that its narrators be truthful people. Or there be an internal or external (to the Hadith itself) Qarina (indicator) that leads to Itmi’nan (personal confidence) with regards to the Hadith’s authenticity. And such indicators are few and far between in our times, furthermore, the concept is wholly subjective as what leads to confidence for one does not do for the other.
(b) Should not contradict the intellect and basic common sense.
(c) Should not contradict the Qur’an.
(d) Should not contradict the established Sunnah (Normative model of the prophet).
(e) Should not be contradicted with contrarian narrations, and some have added the condition that it should not contradict the famous opinion, but the latter is unacceptable to al-Muhsini both in general principle and in this specific instance.
Al-Muhsini makes it clear that he will not include a Hadith with weak chain except very rarely when it serves a purpose. He will be sure to also include a disclaimer about its weakness whenever he does so. The main aim after all is to include the narrations reliable by their chains, those that are termed Sahih, Hasan, Muwathaq and Qawi. And if a Matn is conflicting with the Qur’an or the intellect he promises to point this out and discuss it, and if it is contrary to a verified Sunnah or has other contradictory narrations to contend against, then detailed elaboration and resolution is left to the study of Fiqh, although he might allude to this at times.2. Al-Muhsini notes that the book cannot possibly be comprehensive, in the sense that all the narrations with Mu’tabar chains should be found in it, rather a researcher might find quite a number of narrations which he has overlooked. He gives the following excuses for such lapses:
(a) Not enough time for a busy lone scholar to accomplish the task.
(b) To err comes as second-nature to the human.
(c) The error might be down to the inability to correctly identify some narrators with names that are shared.
On the other hand, al-Muhsini does claim that: the overwhelming majority of Mu’tabar narrations are found in the book.
Al-Muhsini makes it clear that he does not claim that every narration that does not have a Mu’tabar chain is a fabricated narration, for it may happen that an unknown narrator was in fact truthful, similarly, a liar does not always lie, so the chain not being Mu’tabar and the narration being false are not necessarily the same thing.
Al-Muhsini admits that it is quite probable that a lot of narrations with weak chains do actually go back to the Aimma and originate from them, he goes so far as to say that we have certain knowledge of a general kind that all the weak narrations cannot all be false, despite this, he makes it clear that he will not include weak narrations in the book because they do not have Hujiyyah (which is a logical construct not necessarily interested with historical “reality” but rather absolving the believer of blame on rational grounds) except in some rare instances.
Furthermore, al-Muhsini states that he does not claim that every narration that is Mu’tabar in its chain actually originates from the Ma’sum in reality, for a generally truthful person might lie sometimes without being caught, and the trustworthy might betray, and all narrators however careful can make mistakes borne out of lapses in memory. Despite all this, the report of the Thiqa is a Hujjah (sufficient proof) in the Law, it is not allowed to turn away from it without having a superior proof. What al-Muhsini feels comfortable to say is this: all that is in the book (apart from the exception noted above i.e. including some weak in chain narrations together with a disclaimer) is reliable in its chain, it is permissible to attribute them to the Aimma, while it is not allowed to attribute weak in chain narrations to them such that someone says “al-Sadiq said such and such …” as is common and currently being done by the speakers and lecturers – “Has Allah permitted you? or is it upon Allah that you are foisting a lie” (10:59), so what is permitted (to attribute to them) apart from that which is Mutawatir and certain is that whose chain is Mu’tabar nothing more. And this alone is enough to make this work beneficial.
3. Al-Muhsini clarifies that he will not include narrations that are weak-in-chain in the book, even if such narrations are coupled with ‘indicators’ that lead to personal confidence about them originating from the Aimma. He will not include them because doing so would require undue effort (it is a painstaking task to collect and evaluate diverse indicators for each narration). He does acknowledge however that this would be a beneficial endeavour since a number of these weak-in-chain narrations which are not considered to have Hujiyyah would then become Mu’tabar as a result. Consequently, he holds out the hope that someone in the future will undertake it so that the aim of the book is completed.
Among such indicators would be the plurality of chains for the same narration despite each of the chains being weak in and of itself. This plurality can lead to personal confidence in regards the historicity of the narration. Despite his decision to avoid the non-chain route, he has depended on this indicator to judge a narration as being reliable in a few instances. An example of this is the words of the messenger: “seeking knowledge is compulsory on every Muslim”. This narration does not have a single Mu’tabar chain, but because of the sum totality of the chains that bring it down and in various different sources it convinced him of its reliability. Al-Muhsini notes a strange coincidence in this wherein an annotator of one of the Sihah Sitta also claims that there is no Sahih chain for this narration in their books but contends that the number of chains which reach thirty is sufficient for having reliance on it.
Another example of an indicator is to find the narrations that prove the merit of the commander of the faithful and the holy descendants of the prophet in the books of the Ahl al-Sunnah. This is significant because there was no motive for them to fabricate these, seeing as they would have had more of an impetus to support the merit of all the companions as a whole. Thus, if such a narration is found in multiple places in their corpus one can be confident that the narration is a historically reality and did in fact originate from the prophet.
4. The principles upon which al-Muhsini judges the reliability of narrations are those expounded on in his book Buhuth Fi Ilm al-Rijal published in the city of Qum. Whoever wishes to know more about this needs to refer to it, specifically the fifth and seemingly last edition.
Here a reader might ask the question: The judgment of al-Muhsini in regards a narration has no value to someone else apart from him (especially those who can formulate their own opinions and make Ijtihad). This is because the principles involved in strengthening or weakening narrators as found in Ilm al-Rijal are subjective and not definitive and people have differed over them. If this be the case, what was the use of al-Muhsini in expending effort in authoring this book?
In fact, as al-Muhsini makes clear, he is someone who has stringent views which he applies rigorously i.e. very strict criteria for accepting narrations. It is therefore thought that what he considers to be reliable and includes in the book would be unobjectionable to most other scholars, except in some rare instances where a scholar might have a dissenting view. On the other hand, what al-Muhsini leaves out from the book is not weakened unanimously, rather it might happen that a majority of the scholars consider it reliable because of the prevalent lax standards. However, since it is preferable in such matters to rule on the side of caution, the utility of the book becomes clear since it provides a common core of narrations that are irreproachable.