“What Makes a Hadith Transmitter Reliable?” in Ghāyat al-maʾmūl of al-Kāẓimī (d. 1065/1655) Zubat ul-asul

“What Makes a Hadith Transmitter Reliable?” in Ghāyat al-maʾmūl of al-Kāẓimī (d. 1065/1655)

The article explores hadith transmitter reliability in the Uṣūlī-Akhbārī conflict. It examines conditions for assessing transmitters, including the debate on the necessity of being a Twelver Shīʿī. The impact of contradictory information on accepting or rejecting solitary reports is also discussed.

“What Makes a Hadith Transmitter Reliable?” in Ghāyat al-maʾmūl of al-Kāẓimī (d. 1065/1655)

Belal Abu-Alabbas (University of Exeter) and Raha Rafii (University of Exeter)

Ghāyat al-maʾmūl was a very popular commentary by al-Jawād al-Kāẓimī on al-Shaykh al-Bahāʾī’s Zubdat al-uṣūl, as evidenced by a large number of surviving manuscripts; the section that we translated and annotated discusses Khabar al-wāḥid and its validity as a legal proof. Khabar al-wāḥid is usually understood as a hadith report in which the chain of transmission is traced back via a single authority or transmitter; it is thus referred to as a “solitary report.” Although the acceptance of a solitary report as legal proof goes back as far as the 2nd or 8th century within juristic circles, there remained debates regarding the scope and limits of its application until about the 5th or 11th century (after which time it was generally accepted as legal evidence). However, debates regarding the validity and conditions of using solitary reports resurfaced when Twelver jurists of the traditionist Akhbārī school began to insist on complete reliance on hadith without resorting to a rigorous examination of the report’s validity. The Akhbārīs claimed that the mere inclusion of a report in a collection was sufficient evidence of its authority.

Al-Kāẓimī’s chapter on Khabar al-wāḥid and the conditions for determining the uprightness of transmitters highlights intensive discussions within the Twelver legal tradition over this issue. While al-Shaykh al-Bahāʾī’s base text briefly summarizes various legal opinions, al-Kāẓimī’s commentary goes into greater detail regarding what constitutes a reliable solitary report as well as a reliable transmitter. He appeals to various forms of reasoning, including neo-Aristotelian logic and Islamic philosophical concepts - though he does not explain which concepts he is applying. As a result, al-Kāẓimī’s approach made his jurisprudential writing extremely challenging to decipher.

According to al-Shaykh al-Bahāʾī in his Zubda, the conditions of an acceptable transmitter are that the transmitter must be adult, sane, upright, accurate, and a “believer.” The main debate here is over belief: the prominent Twelver jurist al-Shaykh al-Ṭūsī (d. 460/1067) did not consider belief – i.e., being a Twelver Shīʿī – to be a condition because, according to al-Ṭūsī, the condition of being upright was sufficient on its own. Al-Ṭūsī’s assertion was based on the acceptance by Twelver jurists of ḥadīth transmission by non-Twelver Shīʿīs. However, al-Shaykh al-Bahāʾī and al-Kāẓimī do not agree with al-Tūsī’s assessment, arguing that the term fāsiq – a term used in opposition to “believer” – means simply that the transmitter is a non-Twelver; when someone is called fāsiq it does not mean that he or she is untrustworthy. If fāsiq did mean “untrustworthy,” that would make all non-Twelver Shīʿī transmitters, who have long been accepted by the Twelver community, would be both “upright” and “untrustworthy,” and this is a contradiction. It would also mean that most of the Twelver community’s “trustworthy” transmitters were now doubtful. Like al-Shaykh al-Bahāʾī, al-Kāẓimī defines fāsiq as a descriptor for a non-Twelver: for him, it means someone who is “incorrect in his beliefs rather than immoral in his actions.” Yet the problem remains: if a non-Twelver transmitter has been deemed by Twelvers to be both fāsiq and trustworthy, there is an apparent contradiction. In reply, al-Kāẓimī asserts that this particular condition depends on the non-Twelver transmitter being considered trustworthy by his own scholarly community.

Al-Shaykh al-Bahāʾī’s text then delves into the conditions for accepting or rejecting the transmitters of solitary reports generally; this, in turn, has implications for accepting or rejecting particular solitary reports. The easiest case of a solitary report being accepted is when it is transmitted by a single, upright Twelver Shīʿī. For al-Shaykh al-Bahāʾī, such a solitary report is not “testimony,” as such; and the Quranic “Reliability Verse” (Sūra 49:6) is proof in relation to solitary reports in anything other than “testimony”. Al-Kāẓimī adds that not only are solitary reports exempted from the category of “testimony,” but that transmitters are also exempted from the parallel process of tazkiya, or vetting witnesses.

The challenge, however, lies in cases where contradictory information regarding a transmitter’s uprightness is available. If there are an equal number of positive and negative appraisals of a transmitter, al-Shaykh al-Bahāʾī grants the final verdict to the critics (providing the positive appraisals do not specifically address the criticism). In other cases, al-Shaykh al-Bahāʾī states that preference is given to the group that is more numerous, or in which, the reporters are known to be more scrupulous in their assessment. Al-Kāẓimī refines al-Bahāʾī’s approach by stating that two contradictory appraisals of a transmitter do not automatically cancel each other out; rather, one needs to work out if the assessment of the transmitter related to general knowledge (i.e. the general status of the transmitter), or specific knowledge (i.e., specific acts known to have been undertaken by the transmitter). If we do not have this information, then, al-Kāẓimī argues, we revert to al-Shaykh al-Bahāʾī’s position (i.e., preference is given to the more numerous or more scrupulous group). If the information is missing, one must abstain from giving judgment on the transmitter’s acceptability.

Solitary reports have undoubtedly been systematically used in legal matters, and jurists have long deliberated on their authority. Nevertheless, the context of al-Shaykh al-Bahāʾī and his student al-Kāẓimī required the authority and conditions of their application in religious or legal matters to be discussed. It is quite likely that a re-engagement with a 4th or 10th-century discussion on solitary reports became necessary in the context of the Uṣūlī-Akhbārī conflict.