Transmitting the Narration Non-Verbatim

//Transmitting the Narration Non-Verbatim

Muʿjam al-Aḥādīth al-Muʿtabara, Transmitting the Narration Non-Verbatim‎ – Ḥadīth #2

[2/52] al-Kafi: And from him (Muhammad b. Yahya) from Ahmad b. Muhammad and Muhammad b. al-Husayn from Ibn Mahbub from Abdallah b. Sinan who said: I said to Abi Abdillah عليه السلام – a group comes and hears your narrations from me – but I (sometimes) become weary and do not have the strength (to read all that I have to them), he said: then read for them from the beginning of it (the book) a narration and from the middle a narration and from the ending a narration. Comments

This narration is very a beneficial one because it proves that even in the earliest days (the Imama of al-Sadiq) the Ashab used to hold sessions wherein the Shaykh goes over the narrations he has obtained from the Imam to his students (technically called Qira’a) while the students listen to his recital (technically called Sima’a). More important is that the Hadith indicates that the narrations were in written form i.e. ‘beginning’, ‘middle’ and ‘ending’ makes sense only if ‘it’ in the Hadith refers to a book of Hadith (narrations recorded in written format), proving the oft-repeated claim that Shi’ite Hadith were recorded in writing from the start. When the Shaykh cannot read to his students all of his narrations at any particular time he should read a few narrations from the book so that the blessings of going over the whole book is still obtained. He can then presumably provide the book to them to go over it themselves (the Hadith has been used to argue for the permissibility of the Ijaza system, wherein you license the book to them without going through the formal Qira’a or Sima’a) or resume the normal sessions when his strength returns.

[2/52] الكافي: وعنه، عن أحمد بن محمد ومحمد بن الحسين، عن ابن محبوب، عن عبدالله بن سنان قال: قلت لابي عبدالله عليه السلام: يجيئني القوم فيستمعون مني حديثكم فأضجر ولا أقوى قال: فاقرأ عليهم من أوله حديثا ومن وسطه حديثا ومن آخره حديثا

Muʿjam al-Aḥādīth al-Muʿtabara, Transmitting the Narration Non-Verbatim‎ – Ḥadīth #1

[1/51] al-Kafi: Muhammad b. Yahya from Muhammad b. al-Husayn from Ibn Abi Umayr from Ibn Udhayna from Muhammad b. Muslim who said: I said to Abi Abdillah عليه السلام: I hear the narration from you – am I allowed to add or decrease (some words to/from it)? he said: if you intend to convey the same meaning then there is no harm. Comment: Does Riwaya bil Ma’na mean that the Ahadith lose Hujiyyah?

Beginning at first principles would require us not to accept Riwaya bil Ma’na (“narration by meaning”) because it entails addition and deletion of words at the narrator’s whim. “Narration by meaning” is Hadasi [involves the narrator’s own cognitive creativity in framing the narration such as in word-choice etc. depending on how he has understood the Imam’s words – and this understanding is not infallible but could be faulty]. Hadas of a narrator is not a Hujjah for other than him. But the Imam in the above reliable-by-chain narration permits this practice, and this permission does not seem to be limited to Muhammad b. Muslim. In reality we cannot ascertain the number of narrators who made use of this permission.

If it is proven that a large number of narrators made use of it – then – it is not far-fetched to hold the position that the apparent meaning of the narrations (Dhawahir al-Ahadith) that have been attributed to al-Sadiq and the `Aimma after him have lost any probative force (Hujiyya) they had. The logical conclusion of holding such a position would be the need to go for the epistemic theory of Insidād (closing the doors to certain knowledge).

And I wrote asking this question in my early student days to al-Sayyid al-Hakim, to which he answered: “The narrator when he says: al-Sadiq “said”: such and such …, it is apparent that all the wordings are from him (i.e. the Imam) in toto, and this apparency is not abandoned because of the mere possibility of the narrator having used his discretion in selecting words while narrating the narration “by meaning” – to abandon the apparent would require a special indicator (Dalil Khass).”

I say: Because of the existence of the permission from the Imam, and the inevitable presence of narrators who acted upon such a permission, we do not accept that the apparent meaning conveyed by the word “said” should be that a narration are the words of the Imam verbatim, and even if the default position is taken to be this – it is still possible to negate the Hujiyyah [of the narrations] because we have Ilm al-Ijmali [knowledge of a general kind] that narrators did indeed make use of their arbitrary judgment over the narrations’ wordings. In summary, this is an intractable problem (from among the Mushkilat), and the problem is even more severe in the case of lengthy narrations since there is no indicator in each specific case of the transmission being of a written nature.

Conclusion of the Discussion

In a narration from the Prophet: “may Allāh make radiant […]

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