Resolving Disparities In Hadith

Reading and pondering over hadith and acquiring knowledge directly from our Imams (as) is not the prerogative of the mujtahids only. It is a duty and responsibility of each and every muslim. We quote two hadith below from the Masumeen (as):

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 (as) and has been reported form us (as), 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 (as) and to us (as) is it’s link, so by that he has exited out of our wilayah (guardianship) [Source: Basair ul Darajat Chapter 22]

The Messenger of Allah (sawas) said: Seeking of knowledge is an obligation on every Muslim. Seek knowledge from its sources (i.e. Masumeen (as)) and take it from the People of Ahadith (i.e. narrators of hadith) [Source: Wasail us Shia H33127]

Unfortunately, the religious establishment has divided the society into two classes – clergy and layman. The layman are discouraged from accessing the hadith directly. One of the reasons often quoted is that the hadith literature has been corrupted and a layman will be unable to differentiate the sound (sahih) hadith from unsound (zaif). Nothing is further from the truth – our great collections of hadith are extremely reliable and a source of truth for us. Secondly we are not layman and should not consider ourselves as such. Knowledge of the hadith is an obligation on each and every one of us.

If we doubt our hadith (specifically the collections sourced from the Masumeen (as)) then God forbid we will have attributed a lie (false claim) to the Holy Prophet (as) who mentioned in hadith al thaqalayn that he (sawas) leaves behind two weighty things – the book of Allah and the Ahlul bayt (as). After Ghaibat-e-Kubra, the reference to Ahlul bayt (as) includes the vast amount of recorded hadith left behind. The Imams (as) had laid great emphasis on their companions the necessity of recording and preservation of hadith and this was acted upon meticulously by them.

We have already mentioned the fallacy of the subject of ilm-al-rijal in our previous post and proved its invalidity based on the hadith of the Masumeen (as).

Despite careful preservation, what should one do when encountered with contradictory hadith? The solution to this problem has also been provided by the Masumeen (as). In this post, we will quote a series of hadith by our Imams (as) which can be used to resolve disparities. What is most important to understand is that despite our best efforts if we are still not able to resolve the difference between two hadith then one can act on any one of them. We will be judged by Allah (swt) on our sincere efforts to follow the footsteps of the Masumeen (as). At least, we made the effort and did not resort to the short cut of acquiring religion from the mouth of men. At least we did not commit shirk by blindly following (taqleed) a fallible mujtahid.

Below are some of the hadith we have compiled that explain clearly how to resolve disparities. As you will see there is no mention of the concept of Ilm al Rijal anywhere and in fact, you will not find any hadith that advocate this concept. On the contrary there are numerous hadith (refer to my article on Ilm al Rijal) which speaks against using this concept.

1. Refer to the Book of Allah:

Abu Abd Allah (asws) said: The Messenger of Allah (saww) said: ‘Surely on every truth there is reality, and on every correct thing there is a light. Whatever is in agreement with the Book of Allah (azwj) take hold of it, and that which is against the Book of Allah (azwj), leave it’.
[Source: H33343 Wasail us Shia]

Abu Ja’far (asws) said: ‘If there comes to you from us (asws) a Hadith, you find a witness for it or two witnesses from the Book of Allah, take by it otherwise stand still, then return it back to us (asws), until its clarification comes to you’.
[Source: H33351 Wasail us Shia]

2. Prefer the one who has more knowledge of Hadith:

Abu Abd Allah (asws) said – Regarding two people who agree on the appointment of two just persons who issue decisions which are different, and they are happy with the fairness of the two judges, which of the two decisions have to be implemented? He (asws) said: ‘Look at their understanding and knowledge of our (asws) hadith and whoever is better, implement his decision and do not pay attention to the other one’.
[Source: H33351 Wasail us Shia]

Here the Imam (as) is referring to the ones who have knowledge of hadith. These are the narrators/compilers of hadith (defined as fuqaha by the Imams) – the ones who readily quote hadith and provide references to them. Not the mujtahids who perform ijtihad based on aql and ijma, who never quote hadith and require us to follow them blindly without asking for proof.

3. One Must Hold Back in Confusing Matters:

Abu Abd Allah (asws) said: ‘Holding back in confusing matters is better than falling into destruction. For every truth there is a reality, and on all correctness there is a light. Whatsoever is in agreement with the Book of Allah azwj, take it, and whatsoever is against the Book of Allah azwj, leave it’.
[Source: H33368 Wasail us Shia]

4. Flexibility in choosing one of them:

Imam Al-Reza (asws) said, when it was said to him (asws), ‘The Hadith from you (asws) are differing’, he (asws) said: ‘What comes to you from us (asws), compare it to the Book of Allah and our (asws) (other) hadith. If they are similar, then they are from us (asws) , and if they are not similar, then they are not from us (asws)’. I said, ‘There come to us two men – and both of them are reliable – with two hadith which differ, and we do not know which one of them is on the just’. He (asws) said: ‘If you do not know then you have been given the flexibility to take to whichever of them’.
[Source: H33373 Wasail us Shia]

5. Choose the one against the majority of Muslims:

And from Sama’at Bin Mehran, from Abu Abd Allah (asws) when it was said to him (asws), ‘Two Hadith get referred to us, one of them orders us for something, and the other one prohibits us’. He (asws) said: ‘Do not act upon any one of them until you meet your Master (asws), ask him (asws)’. I said, ‘If it is necessary to act upon one of them?’ He (asws) said: ‘Take to the one which is against the generality of the Muslims’.
[Source H33375 Wasail us Shia]

Ameerul Momineen (as) said, ‘Allah has made certain acts compulsory upon you. Do not waste them. He also has created boundaries for you. Do not cross them. He has forbidden from you certain things. Do not go against Him. Whatever has not been mentioned was not due to Allah forgetting. So do not try to know about them.’ [Source: Nahjul Balagha Saying No 835]

This proves that if you do not find an order regarding an issue in Quran or hadiths then you should refrain from performing that act because this is the will of Allah. If you attempt to create rulings from your own opinion, it is as if you are competing with Allah.

Imam Jafar Sadiq (as) said, ‘In the case of doubt, it is better to refrain from performing an act than to become destroyed by performing it’.
[Source: Usool e Kafi Kitab e Aql chapter 22 hadith 10]

6. One Must Wait until he Finds the Authentic Hadith:

When it was asked from Abu Abd Allah (asws) about the man, for whom there is a dispute about the differing orders of two men of his religion, both of them narrate to him, one of them orders him to do something and the other one forbids him, how does he act? He (asws) said: ‘He should abstain until such time as he meets someone who gives him the Hadith. He should wait until he meets him’.
[Wasail us Shia H 33338]

7. One Must Act on a Hadith which is Closer to his Time:

And from him, from his father, from Usman Bin Isa, from Al Husayn Bin Al Mukhtar, from one of our companions, who have narrated the following from Abu Abd Allah asws: ‘If I (asws) were to give you a Hadith and a year later you come to me and I (asws) give to you a Hadith different to that previous one, which one of these will you act by?’ I said, ‘The latter one’. He (asws) said to me: ‘May Allah have Mercy on you’. [Wasail us Shia H 33340]

I said to Abu Abd Allah (asws) , ‘A Hadith comes to us from the former one of you (asws) and a Hadith comes from the later one of you (asws), which one shall we take?’ He (asws) said: ‘Take it until such times as one Hadith comes to you from a living one (asws). When you are told something by a living one (asws) grab his (asws) speech’. [Wasail us Shia H 33341]

H 33342 – Kulayni said, And in another Hadith it is “Take by the (new) Hadith”.

8. Choose An Arbitrator who has more Knowledge of Ahadith:

‘I asked Abu Abd Allah (asws) about two men from our companions who have a dispute about religion or heritage (inheritance), give us a verdict’ – until he said – ‘If each one of them chooses from our companions to represent his rights and they differ in their judgements, and they all dispute about your (asws) Hadith?’ He (asws) said: ‘The judicial decision will be by the one who has more understanding and is more truthful in the Ahadith and their narrations, and do not pay attention to the decision of the other’.

The narrator said, ‘I said to him (asws) : ‘Both of them are regarded as just amongst our companions, there is no distinction of one over the other’. He (asws) said: ‘Look at which of their narrations that they have used in making the decision that they have agreed upon, so take by that and ignore the one which is not well known among your companions, for the one which is known by all, there is no doubt about that’

The narrator asked: ‘If the Hadith used by them are all well known, then what?’ He (asws) said: ‘Look, at what is in accordance with the Book and the Sunnah and is opposite to what the generality of the Muslims do, take by that, and ignore what is against the Order of the Book and the Sunnah’.

I said, ‘May I be your (asws) sacrifice! I see both of them to be men of understanding who understand the Order from the Book and the Sunnah, and we find one of the two Hadith to be in accordance with the generality of the Muslims, and the other one to be in opposition to them, which one of these Hadith shall we take by?’ He (asws) said: ‘That, which is against the generality of the Muslims for there will be guidance there in’.

I said, ‘May I be your (asws) sacrifice, what if both the Ahadith are in accordance with the generality of the Muslims?’ He (asws) said: ‘Look to what their governors and judges are deciding by the most, ignore these and take to the others’.

I said. ‘What if their governors make use of both these Hadith equally?’ He (asws) said: ‘If that were to be the case, wait until you meet your Imam (asws) for staying away in doubtful matters is better than indulging in destruction’.

[Source: H33334 Wasail us Shia]

Lastly we would like to quote, Sheikh Yaqub al Kulayni (one of our greatest scholars of hadith who lived in the time of Ghaibat-e-Sughra) who writes the following in his introduction to Al Kafi:

Thus, you should know, my brother – may God [continue to] guide you – that nobody can resolve any of the disparities in the traditions of the Imams – may God’s peace be upon them – using his own opinion. Rather [these can only be resolved] according to the methods stated by one of the knowledgeable Imams – may God’s peace be upon him – when he said “Compare them to the book of God. Take whichever of them concurs with the book of God – almighty is he and sublime – and reject whichever of them contradicts the book of God;” and when he said “Abandon whatever concurs with the majority [i.e., Sunnis], for guidance is found in opposing them;” and when he said “Take what is unanimously agreed upon, for there is no [room to] doubt in what is unanimously agreed upon”. However, [despite these methods] we only know a few instances where true resolution is possible. Thus, we find no path more prudent, or easier than to refer the knowledge of all this back to the knowledgeable Imam of our time – may God’s peace be upon him – and to accept the freedom of choice that he gave to us when he said “Any one [hadith] that you act on out of submission is fine”

Fallacy of Ilm-al-Rijal

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:

“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 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:

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.