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Conflicting traditions

From: Usul al-Kafi

143 A prominent narrator and learned person put the following significant question to Imam Ali (p), The Learned Person: I heard certain interpretation of the Quran and the traditions of the Prophet (p) from Salman al-Farsi, al-Miqdaq and Abu Dharr al-Ghiffari, are different from what other people generally say. I heard you conform what Salman al-Farsi, al-Miqdaq and Abu Dharr al-Ghiffari say. I have also noticed that you disagree with the interpretation of the Quran as well as the traditions of the Prophet (p), which others say, and believe them all to be void. Do you think that these people intentionally attribute falsehood to Prophet Muhammad (p), and interpret the verses of Noble Quran on the basis of their own guesswork?
Imam Ali (p): You have raised a question. Now pay attention to the answer.
The Imam (p) started answering the question in detail as follows: Verily whatever knowledge the people possess is either right or wrong; either true or false; they interpret either those verses (of the Noble Quran), which have abrogated other verses or interpret the abrogated verses, they interpret the manifest verses or the ambiguous ones, sometimes by memory and sometimes by conjecture. Even during the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad (p), people had the audacity (boldness) to attribute falsehood to him so much so that once the Prophet (p) delivered a sermon on this issue. Prophet Muhammad (p) addressed them as follows, ‘O people! Those who attribute false statements and refer those as my traditions, are in great number and they will be stuffed with hell-fire.
Continuing his discourse Imam Ali (p) said that the traditions of Prophet Muhammad (p) have come to you from four categories of narrators. There is no fifth category. One is a hypocrite who falsely claims to be a Muslim, and does not hesitate in willfully attributing a falsehood to Prophet Muhammad (p). If people were to know that he is a hypocrite and a liar, they will not accept a word from him and will never believe him. But people said, ‘This is the person who sat in the company of the Prophet (p), and had seen him and had heard him.’ And they accepted his words without knowing his credentials. But God has informed His Prophet (p) about the hypocrites all that was to be told, and has described all their characteristics, and therefore God, the Mighty, the Majestic, said: “When you look at them, their exteriors please you and when they speak, you listen to their words…” (Q, 63:4). And they (the hypocrites) remained in the Muslim society even after the demise of the Prophet (p). They established friendly relations with the ringleaders of the deviators from Truth, and with those activists who invite the people towards Hell by means of their fabrications, falsehoods and false accusations. The unjust rulers of the time entrusted them with certain missions to dominate the people. They imposed upon the religious lives of the laymen. The unjust rulers of the time shared the carnal luxuries with them. This is the description of one of the four categories.
Emphasizing on the subject, Imam Ali (p) continued: The second kind is one who actually heard the tradition from Holy Prophet (p), and could not retain it as it should have been retained, and fell in doubt. He has not intentionally fabricated, but he started practicing and narrating the traditions according to what he remembered incorrectly, and claims that he heard it from Prophet (p) himself. If the Muslims were aware of his misconceptions they would never have accepted his statements, and if he himself knew that he was mistaken, he would have discarded it.
Explaining further this important issue, Imam Ali (p) said: The person who belongs to the third category, is the one who heard a command from the Prophet (p), but did not know that the command was subsequently withdrawn by the Prophet (p). Or this person heard the Prophet (p) forbidding something and had no knowledge of the subsequent permission by the Prophet (p). So he retained in his memory the order, which was subsequently withdrawn by the Prophet (p). He knew the former, and not the latter. Had he known the latter, he himself would have withdrawn his narration. And if the Muslims, who heard the tradition from this person, had known that this narration had already been with drawn by the Prophet (p), they would have rejected his narration.
Imam Ali (p) continued his statement: The person belonging to the fourth and the last category, is the one who never attributed any falsehood to Prophet Muhammad (p), and who hated false statements because of his fear of God and due to his respect and high estimation of Prophet Muhammad (p). Whatever he hears from the Prophet (p) he commits it to his memory and never forgets it, and he narrates it exactly as he has heard it from the Prophet (p), and he never adds anything to it nor does he omit anything from it.
He knows the traditions which abrogated other traditions and deletes the abrogated traditions, whether they are specific or general, manifest or ambiguous. Similarly, like the verses of the Noble Quran, the sayings of Prophet Muhammad (p) have two aspects: the specific ones and the generally applicable ones. God, the Mighty, the Majestic, has said in His Book: “…And take whatever the Apostle assigns to you and deny yourself that which he withholds from you…”(Q, 59:7). So, the one who does not know and cannot understand as to what exactly God and Prophet Muhammad (p) mean by these words, remains in a dilemma, and not every companion of the Prophet (p) was able to comprehend the explanations of the Prophet (p) in reply to his question, so much so, that they wanted a Bedouin Arab or a wayfarer to come and put questions to Prophet Muhammad (p), so that they might hear the answer of the Prophet (p), and be enlightened.
Imam Ali (p), after explaining and analyzing the complexities of the problem, stated his own positions and special privileges.
“And I had the privilege of admittance to Prophet Muhammad (p) every day and every night in privacy, and I used to follow him wherever he went. And the companions of Prophet Muhammad (p) knew that He did not grant this privilege to anyone else. When I was in my house, Prophet Muhammad (p) used to come to my house very frequently. Whenever I used to enter his room, he used to order others including his wives, to vacate the room so no one remained with him except me. But whenever he came to my house, he would not ask Fatima (p) or any of my children to leave the house. And on such occasions when I used to put a question to him, he used to answer it. When I ran out of my questions and became silent, he used to initiate further talk. No verse of the Noble Quran was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (p), which he did not recite to me and did not dictate to me, and I did not write it down with my own hand, and he did not explain its essence, and did not interpret it. Prophet Muhammad (p) invariably used to tell me if this verse abrogated any previous verse, and also what verse was abrogated already. He also told me if the verse was manifest, ambiguous, specific, general or unconditionally applicable. And then Prophet Muhammad (p) used to pray to God to enable me to commit the verse to my memory, and also bestow on me its full comprehension. Ever since Prophet Muhammad (p) prayed for me, I never forgot a single verse of the Book of God. Also I never forgot the knowledge which the Prophet (p) has imparted to me, and which I had written down with my own hand. Nothing from what was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (p) – the permitted and the prohibited; nothing from the Divine do's and don'ts; nothing from what had already happened and what is destined to happen; and nothing from the books revealed previously to any of the prophets regarding worship and sins, did the Prophet (p) withhold from me, and everything I committed to memory. I never forgot a single word of it. The Prophet (p) once placed his hand on my chest and prayed to God to fill my heart with knowledge, understanding, wisdom and enlightenment.”
Then Imam (p) addressing Prophet Muhammad (p) said: O Prophet of God (p)! May my parents be sacrificed for you; I have never forgotten anything ever since you have prayed for me. I have not forgotten even what I had not written down. Do you fear that I might forget them in future? The Holy Prophet (p) replied, ‘I do not fear for you any forgetfulness or ignorance’.
144 Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (p) was asked: What should a person do when he finds two contradictory versions of a tradition, one of them commanding him to do something and the other forbidding him, and both the narrators belonging to his community.
The Imam (p): He should wait until he is able to verify from a reliable person. In such a case, it is permissible for him to postpone action until he finds the truth.
Another tradition says that one may follow any one of the two. He may follow any one of the two for his ease, till he verifies from a reliable person.
145 A believer asked Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (p): Two persons belonging to our community were quarrelling about debt or inheritance, and refer their dispute to the ruler of the time, or the judge appointed by him. Will it be lawful for them to obey?
The Imam (p): Whoever has his dispute settled by the ruler or the judge appointed by him, whether right or wrong, has in fact got his dispute settled by the Taghut. And the profits out of that decision will be ill-gotten for him, however lawful his ownership may be. The reason is that he has secured the ownership through the Taghut, while God has enjoined upon people to reject his verdict. God, the Almighty, the Sublime, said: “They intend to resort to the judgment of Taghut though they were commanded to reject him” (Q, 4:60).
The Believer: Then what should they do?
The Imam (p) replied: They should refer to one among you who is well versed in our traditions, and has a deep insight into imperatives, prohibitions and divine commands communicated by us. Since I have appointed him as your judge, they must accept him as their arbitrator. If such a person issues a verdict according to our commands, and the person concerned does not accept it, then the person has actually made light of the divine commands and has rejected us. And he who rejects us actually rejects God, the Almighty. Such a person has entered the realm of polytheism…

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