Fallacy of Ilm-al-Rijal

Ilm-al-Rijal literally means ‘Knowledge of Men’ and is more commonly understood as the Science of Narration. This science is one of the most important founding pillars of Ijtihad (and thus the system of Taqlid and Marjaiyat). The purpose of this science is to distinguish between reliable and unreliable hadith by evaluating the biographies of the narrators instead of examining the actual text and contents of the hadith. This science was first invented by the Ahlul Sunnah and Ahmad ibn Hanbal (founder of the Hanbali Sunni School) was among one of 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)”.

In this article, we will show that this subject is diametrically opposed to the teachings of the Masumeen (as). When this subject is proved to be false, the system of Ijtihad (and thus Taqlid of fallibles) also collapses. This subject is taught in the Hawza (Shia Islamic Seminary) and a working knowledge of this subject is generally expected from every scholar who reaches the level of being a Jurisprudent (mujtahid) and has the ability to give legal edicts and injunctions.

There is not a single hadith or ayah of Quran that promote or even mention this subject. On the other hand, there are numerous hadith from Masumeen (as) which are opposed to the concept of Ilm-al-Rijal. Why are these hadith hidden from the public and never mentioned? Because Ilm-al-Rijal is a convenient tool and this very tool is used to reject hadith which speak against it. It is a powerful weapon used to establish rule and control over the masses.

Foundations of Ilm al Rijal
The foundation of Ilm-al-Rijal is based upon 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 below references where it is clearly stated that Ilm-al-Rijal was founded on the above verse:

What is most shocking is that the above verse is in fact clearly opposed to the concept of Ilm-al-Rijal. This verse asks us to investigate the report not evaluate the profile of the reporter since the reporter is already mentioned to be a fasiq (evil doer). In other words, don’t reject a report even it is from a fasiq, rather investigate into the contents to ascertain it’s truth.

If the mujtahidin want to apply the above verse to Ilm-al-Rijal where is the proof? Is there any tafsir of the above ayah by Masumeen (as) indicating that this verse applies to the subject of Ilm-al-Rijal and transmission of hadith? If Ilm-al-Rijal is so important that the whole process of ijtihad depends on it then it is surprising that there are no hadith clearly outlining the definition and process 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.

The above statements are self-contradicting and simply a play of words to confuse the people. The end result of Ilm-al-rijal is to accept/reject hadith based on a fictitious whimsical and non-measurable threshold. Religion is based on conviction – not on uncertainty and doubt and Ilm-al-rijal is being used to create uncertainty. At the end of this exercise there are only two outcomes – either reject or accept the hadith based on the narrator – so essentially one has proved hadith to be true or false.

Hadith against Ilm al Rijal
Now, below are some hadith from Masumeen (as) clearly contradicting the entire philosophy 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 – H33259]

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 a cyclical (repetitive) problem with Ilm-al-Rijal which can be understood as follows. How do we know if a narrator who lived a thousand years ago was a reliable person? Through a biography – which is an account of someone’s life written by someone else. How do we know if this “someone else” is reliable and is not lying or mislead. We would need another biography of this “someone else”. And so the cycle continues – leaving us in complete doubt and uncertainty regarding the original narrator.

Opinions regarding other people
Everyone is entitled to have an opinion regarding another person. Everyone’s opinion can be personal, subjective and different based on the nature of their contact and the time of contact with that particular individual. In addition, a person can change during his life from being truthful to dishonest. How can anyone say with guarantee that a certain narrator is truthful?

If you look into the books of Rijal, you will find many contradictions regarding narrators. One expert of Rijal says a certain narrator is reliable, faithful and had a good memory. Another expert considers the exact same narrator to be a liar, unreliable, with no iman, and a bad memory. It will be impossible to know whether this narrator is reliable or not based upon this method. Even if you tried from now until the Day of Judgment, you will never be able to know. Then there will always be doubt in every hadith that is narrated from him, and this is what has happened with every single narrator. Because of this, hadith have lost their entire value and are nothing more than playthings for the people.

How long has this procedure of separating doubtful hadith from real hadith has been in place? More than 800 years has passed since that time. Despite the passage of eight centuries, the people of today are still unable to determine which hadith are correct and which are incorrect. If it had been determined, then there would be no differences between the fatwas of the mujtahids. One mujtahid would not declare something halal while another declares it as haram. This undeniable truth is a proof that Ilm al Rijal is false, and it is nothing more than conjecture and guesswork. It was invented in order to deceive the people and to destroy the shariat of RasoolAllah (saw).

Views of early Shia scholars regarding Ilm al Rijal
Early Shia scholars (narrators of hadith) never paid much importance to the chain of narrators. Sheikh Hurr Al Amili, the compiler of Wasail us Shia (one of the biggest collection of Hadith), says the following 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:
“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]

Muhaqqiq Abu al Hassan al Sha’arani says:

“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 Ilm al Rijal were to be such an important piece of guidance for the Shias, then should not Masumeen (as) have taught or mentioned it? This is claimed to be a science but it is not really a science. Even the hawza is not sure on the correct principles and rules of ilm-al-rijaal. Read the information in 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]

Now in the face of above type of contradictions how is one ever going to find out the reality of a person.

Conclusion
In order to establish their rule over the masses and to make hadith doubtful, it was necessary for the religious establishment to invent a system, which they referred to as “knowledge” and gave it the name of “Ilm al Rijal”. It is based purely on speculation and conjecture. This concept cannot be found even in one ayah of the Holy Quran or even one hadith of the Masoomeen (as). Religion is based on ‘yaqeen’ (certainty) not on doubt. Ilm-al-rijal is a satanic tool that results in creating, rather than removing, doubt in religion.

Hadith

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