Ilm-al-rijal means “Knowledge of Men” and is also referred to as the “Science of Narration”. This science is a founding pillar of Ijtihad and thus the system of Taqleed. This science is used to grade and filter hadith by evaluating the biographies of the narrators instead of by examining the content (text). This science was invented by the Ahlul Sunnah. Ahmad ibn Hanbal (founder of the Hanbali Sunni School) was among the early specialists in this subject who also wrote the book Kitab al-`Ilal wa Ma‘rifat al-Rijal: “The Book of Narrations Containing Hidden Flaws and of Knowledge of the Men (of Hadeeth)”.
On examining our hadith literature, we find no support for this approach/science. On the other hand it is surprising that there are numerous hadith that oppose it. These hadith are never mentioned to the public. In fact, ilm-al-rijal can become a convenient tool to reject the very hadith which speak against it. If this subject is proven to be false, the system of Ijtihad (and thus Taqlid of fallibles) also collapses. This subject is taught in the islamic seminaries (hawza) and a working knowledge is expected from the students especially those who aspire to become mujtahids.
Foundations of ilm-al-rijal
Ilm-al-rijal has been founded on the following verse from the Holy Quran:
O you who have faith! If a fasiq (evil-doer, profligate person) should bring you some news, verify it, lest you should visit [harm] on some people out of ignorance, and then become regretful for what you have done. [Surah Hujurat, 49:6]
See the below references for example which state the foundation of ilm-al-rijal:
A careful reading reveals that the verse is actually opposed to the concept of ilm-al-rijal. The verse asks us to investigate the report even when the narrator is known to be a evil-person (fasiq). It is not asking us to evaluate the profile of the reporter. In other words, don’t simply reject a report even it is from an evil person. In addition, there is no tafsir of the above verse from the Masumeen (as) linking it to the promotion of ilm-al-rijal.
Common arguments supporting ilm-al-rijal
One common argument supporting ilm-al-rijal is as follows:
The goal of ilm-al-rijal is not about proving hadith as false. It is about determining the degree of hujjiyya of a hadith with respect to the narrators in its sanad, i.e. the likelihood of its being issued from the Imam (as) through that particular chain of transmission, which is then added to other evidence to help determine, not whether the hadith is a fabrication, false or deniable or not, but how certain we are that it is from the Imam (as). This is especially important where there is conflict of evidence or when determining whether or not one ought to act upon evidence below a certain threshold.
Religion is based on certainty not on doubt. Ilm-al-rijal creates doubt in hadith. Doubt destroys religion.
Hadith against ilm-al-rijal
Below are hadith that oppose the very foundations of ilm-al-rijal:
Abu Abdullah (asws) said: Do not belie the Hadeeth, whether it comes to you by (way of) the Murjiites, or the Qadiriyya, or the Harouriya, if it is referred to us (asws), for you do not know perhaps therein is something from the Truth, otherwise you would end up belying Allah (azwj) on top of His (azwj) Throne. [Source: Al Mahaasin V1 Bk 5 H 175]
I heard Abu Jafar say: By Allah, that companion of mine is beloved to me, who narrates and ponders over our Hadith, and the evil one is the one who hears the Hadith which has been associated with us (asws) and has been reported form us (asws), so his mind does not accept it and his heart is constricted by what is contained in it, and he fights against it and denies it to make it his religion, and he does not know that it could be the hadith which is coming from us (asws) and to us (asws) is it’s link, so by that he has exited out of our wilayah (guardianship) [Source: Basair ul Darajat Chapter 22]
And from Ali Bin Ibrahim, from his father, and from Ahmad Bin Muhammad Ibn Khalid, from Al Nawfaly, from Al Sakuni, from Abu Abdullah asws , said: ‘The Commander of the Faithful asws said; ‘When you narrate Hadeeth, then mention its chain (of narrators). If it was the truth then it is to you (its reward), and if it was false it is to them (its punishment)’. [Source: Wasaail us Shia – h23259]
Muhammad ibn Isma’il from al-Fadl ibn Shadhan fromibn abu ‘Umayr from Hisham ibn al-Hakam and others from abu ‘Abd Allah, recipient of divine supreme covenant, who has said the following: “The Holy Prophet saww once addressed the people in Mina (a place in Makka) saying, ‘O people, whatever comes to you in the form of my Hadith, if it agrees with the Holy Book of Allah, it is genuine, but whatever comes to you that does not agree with the book of Allah you must know that I have not said it.'” [Source: Al Kafi – H 203, Ch. 22, h5
From Ahmad son of Muhammad son of Eissa from Al-Hussein son of Sa’eed and Muhammad son of Khaled Al-Burqi from Abdullah son of Jundub from Sufyani son of Al-Simd he said I said to Abi Abdullah pbuh may I be your ransom a man comes to us with lies, he mentioned a hadeeth and we consider him disgusting. Abi Abdullah pbuh says, “Did he say to you that night is day and day is night?” He said no. He said, “If he said to you this do not say he is a liar or else you are calling me a liar.” [Source: Mukhtasar Basa’er Al-Darajat Hassan son of Suleiman Al-Hilli p.76 and in another print p.234 Bihar Al-Anwar v.2 p.211]
Al Safar narrated from Muhammad son of Al Hussein from Muhammad son of Ismael from Hamza son of Bazee from Ali AlSinany from Abi Al Hassan (as) that he (as) wrote to him in a letter “Do not say to what has been mentioned by us Baatil(false/void) even if you know that it is the opposite, you do not know why we have said it and on what face and description.” [Source: Basaer AlDarajat Muhammad son of AlHassan AlSafar p.558/AlKafi v.8 p.25/Bihar Al Anwar v.2 p.209]
Cyclical problem of ilm-al-rijal
There is an inherent flaw with the concept of ilm-al-rijal. It creates cyclical questions that can’t be resolved. It requires opinions of people regarding other people. For example, an opinion of a Mr. A regarding another Mr. B. But how do we know if Mr. A is reliable? We would need an opinion on Mr. A from another Mr. C. And so on. At the end it leaves us in complete doubt about the original narrator.
Opinions regarding other people
Everyone is entitled to have an opinion about people. Everyone’s opinion is personal and subjective. It is based on the nature of their interaction. It is based on the time of their contact. A person can change during his life from being truthful to dishonest. From being a disbeliever to become a believer. Opinions can change too. How can anyone (besides Allah) know with any guarantee whether a certain narration by a narrator who lived in the past was truthful or not?
In the books of rijal, one finds many contradictions regarding narrators. One expert of rijal for example will say that a certain narrator is reliable, faithful and had a good memory. But another expert will consider him (i.e. the same narrator) to be a liar, faithless, and having a poor memory. It becomes impossible to know whether a narrator is reliable or not based on this method. Now there will always be doubt in hadith narrated from him, and this is what has happened with those hadith which come to us through a single narrator (khabar-e-wahid). Because of this, hadith have lost their value and have become playthings in the hands of the scholars.
This subject has been practiced for 1000 years but even today there are disagreements among scholars on hadith. If this was a true science then scholars would have come to an agreement by now. There wouldn’t be so many differences between the fatwas of the mujtahids. One mujtahid would not declare something halal while another declares it as haram.
Views of early Shia scholars regarding ilm-al-rijal
The scholars who compiled our main books of hadith (kutub-e-araba, wasail-us-shia, etc) also provided the chain of narrators along with each hadith. However, the purpose of providing the chain was not to subject it to ilm-al-rijal. It was to comply with the commands of the Imam (as). Refer for example to the hadith by Imam Ali (as) above.
Sheikh Hurr Al Amili, the compiler of Wasail us Shia, says in his introduction:
- The science of rijal (men) should not be used.
- The science of rijal in Shi’ism is a recent innovation
- It was invented because of the Ahl al Sunnah’s continual criticism of the shias for not having and following a system for deriving laws from hadith.
- If the system was actually applied, very few, if any, Shia hadith would prove to be sahih (authentic), hasan (good) or muwathaq (trusted) – and the entire Shia collection of hadith would prove to be weak.
Esteemed scholar Baqir al Majlisi says:
Muhaqqiq Abu al Hassan al Sha’arani says:
“We do not need sanad (chain of narrators) for the four books (Kutub-e-Araba – the four early collections of hadith: Al-Kafi, Al-Istibsaar, Tahdhib Al-Ahkam and Man La Yahduruhu Al-Faqih) and when we place the sanad we do it just out of blessing and to follow the Sunnah of our predecessors” [Source: Rasael abi al Ma’ali lil Majlisi page 459]
“The majority of the hadiths of Usool (principle) in al Kafi are NOT sahih (authentic) in their sanad (chain of narrators) but they are adopted because their matn (text/content) agrees with the correct aqeedah (beliefs) and we do not need to look at the sanad (chain of narrators) in such narrations”
[Source: Miqyas al Hidayah 2/282, in the intro of Sharh al Jami’i Ala al Kafi]
Is ilm-al-rijal a science?
If the science of ilm-al-rijal is critical for us to be guided then should not Masumeen (as) have taught or at least mentioned it in a favorable light? Does this subject even qualify to be called a science? Even the hawza is not sure of the correct principles and rules of ilm-al-rijaal. See the “Advanced” tab at the following link: http://shiastudies.org/article/ilm-al-rijaal-science-of-men
Excerpt from above site:
“Although the science is one of the classical sciences, (al-Ulum al-Naqliyyah) that is taught and studied in traditional Islamic seminaries, it would be incorrect to assume that this science is in anyway uniformly rigid and there are varying views as to what the principles and rules of ilm al-Rijaal actually are. It follows therefore that whilst there are general agreed upon principles within the field, there is still debate over the scope of ilm al Rijaal, and even the particular methods of evaluating individual narrators’ reliability in the transmissions of reports.
In recent years, ilm al-Rijaal and its scope have been called into question by several controversies over whether or not the science is meant to be strictly applied to narrations in regard to Jurisprudence (as is practiced by the Jurists), or whether or not it has a broader scope, including the ability to call into question the authenticity of religious appeals.”
Embarassing contradictions in ilm-al-rijal
There are many embarassing contradictions in ilm-al-rijal where there are multiple opinions of the same narrator. For example regarding narrator Dawood Ibn Katheer Al Ruqa, Sheikh Al Toosi in his Rijaal (p.329 5003) considers him to be Thiqa (meaning reliable). Whereas, Sheikh Al Najashi said in his Rijaal (p.156 #410) that he (Dawood Ibn Katheer Al Ruqi) is very weak and the Ghulat (extremists) are narrating from him. Ahmad son of Abd Al Waahed said: I haven’t seen from him a strong hadeeth. And there exists a narration from Imam Sadiq (as) saying: “Consider Dawood Al Ruqi to me like the rank of Miqdad to the Messenger of Allah pbuh” [Source Mujam Rijaal AlHadeeth v.8 p.405]
In the face of such contradictions how can one ever find out the reality of a person?
It was necessary for the religious establishment to deter common people from learning the hadith in order to establish their rule over the masses. By creating doubt and confusion in the hadith, by placing complicated subjects as a pre-requisite to approaching hadith, the establishment succeeded in achieving it’s goal. Ilm-al-rijal is not based on the teachings of Masumeen (as). It is based on speculation and conjecture. It prevents common people from approaching the hadith, introduces doubt in religion and ultimately destroys it.