[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.
Does Riwaya bil Ma’na mean that the Ahadith lose Hujiyyah? (Adopted from the Discussion by al-Moḥsini)
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 [the face] who hears my words and memorizes them and understands them and relays them to the one who did not hear them, for it may happen that a bearer of Fiqh is not a Faqih and it may happen that a bearer of Fiqh relays them to one who is more of a Faqih than him”. [This would seem to be demanding narration to be verbatim and underlining the unavoidability of variation in the comprehension of individual narrators].
However, al-Majlisi recounts in his Bihar: “There is a consensus between most of the Salaf and the Khalaf from both the sects as to the permissibility of narrating “by meaning” if one is certain that he is relaying the exact meaning [of what the Prophet or `Aimma meant]. It is known that the companions of the prophet and those of the `Aimma were not writing down the narrations in the same instance as they were hearing from them. Furthermore, it is customarily impossible for them to have memorized the exact wordings especially if they have heard it just once or if it was a lengthy narration, and the problem is compounded when someone is recollecting after a passage of time. This would explain why it is common to come across the same point narrated from them via different wordings, however none rejected this practice of theirs …”
I say: the condition that has been imposed for the permissibility of narrating “by meaning” – that is – the narrator should be certain that he is conveying the exact intended meaning – is not within the capability of ordinary narrators or even the adept ones to meet. For every Mujtahid has his own Hadas and subjective understanding gleamed from hearing the same words spoken. Furthermore, for latter-day scholars – who are far-removed from the age of the narrators who actually participated in transmitting narrations – to impose such a condition ex post facto – is to succumb to mere hubris which has no utility [it is purely theoretical]. It is ineffectual because it does not change an iota of what has already occurred before their life-times.
In fact, in some cases one might even be certain that the wordings were not conveyed exactly. Suppose that the Dua of Arafa at the Mawqif was Mu’tabar in its chain – would you accept that it actually goes back to al-Imam al-Husayn? Knowing that the narrator is an ordinary man who did not have writing-desk, ink-well and pen? Even if we grant that he had these things with him – was it possible for him to write it down at the time of a personal supplication? Whoever claims the authenticity of a narration in such circumstances then he is suspect in his thinking and in his intellect! As for the middling-length narrations from the `Aimma in whose time the use of pen and papers was prevalent then it is possible to accept them. All in all, there isn’t any intelligible answer that can be given to solve this quandary and the existence of differences in the contents of narrations probably owes its existence to this allowance of “narrating by meaning”.