Thursday, September 18, 2014
Understanding Shiite Hadith References
There appears to be some confusion, especially among Sunnis, as to why there can be a Shiite hadith that we reject. This is because al-Kafi and other Shiite ahadith compendiums are not like Sahih Bukhari, Sahih Muslim, or the other four of the Kutub as-Sittah of the Sunnis.
Most Sunnis accept the Kutub as-Sittah, especially Bukhari and Muslim to be nearly entirely authentic. If a hadith is in Bukhari or Muslim, Sunnis regard it to automatically be considered correct and legally binding. In Shiite tradition, however, this is not the case.
Shiite collections were compiled on the idea that we should preserve as many ahadith as possible, even the fabricated and weak ones. Then, people with adequate knowledge of the hadith sciences could determine if they are authentic or not. This is seen even in the secular world.
In the secular world, for example, if a scientist does a study that comes out to be an absolute failure, he does not trash it. He still records his findings, saves them, and sometimes publishes them. This is so people in the future can look back and find out where he failed and what went wrong. Science is constantly improving everyday on a regular basis. Such is also the case with our studies in history and the humanities.
Our understanding of history is constantly improving as well. As archaeologist and anthropologists uncover more and more "buried treasure" of the ancient world, we are able to refine our understanding of what happened. That is why Shiites do not destroy fabricated ahadith nor remove the bad ahadith from their collections. Even fabricated hadiths have some value to them for our understanding of history and what really happened.
Therefore, when one is quoting a Shiite hadith, it is not sufficient to simply give a reference as to where one has found it but one must also have to provide whether scholars believe it to be authentic, strong, weak, fabricated, etc.
It would also help if one explained why the scholars accept it as such. On the other hand, if one is posting a Sunni hadith, it is usually sufficient to simply provide the reference, as all of the ahadith in Bukhari and Muslim are considered to be authentic by the majority even though in reality it may not always be the case.
I hope that this article will help people in the future to hold better intrafaith dialogue. Yes, there are some really strange things in our hadith books. However, that doesn't mean we believe them, and it doesn't mean that they are authentic. Kitab al-Kafi is not the Shiite version of Sahih al-Bukhari.