Meaning of Hadith & Traditions 1
In works on Islam the word "hadith" usually refers to the sayings or "traditions" which have been transmitted from the Prophet. Muslims hold these to be the most important source of Islamic teachings after the Qur'an. Numerous works have been written in Western languages on the role of the hadith literature in Islam and a number of important translations have been made.
But almost all Western studies have been limited to the point of view of Sunni Islam and based on Sunni sources and collections. Practically no one has paid any serious attention to the different nature of the hadith literature in Shi'ism and the different sources from which the hadiths are derived.
The fundamental distinction to be made between Shi'ite and Sunni hadiths is that in Shi'ism the traditions are not limited to those of the Prophet, but include those of the Imams as well. As important and basic as this point is, it has not been understood even in such standard reference works as the new Encyclopedia of Islam. There the author of the article "Hadith" is aware that there is some difference between Shi'ism and Sunnism on the question of which hadiths are included, but he thinks that it lies in the fact that the Shi'ite collections accept "only traditions traced through 'Ali's family." But this is incorrect, since numerous traditions are also transmitted through other sources.
What the author fails to mention is that the hadith literature as understood by Shi'ites is not limited to the sayings of the Prophet, but includes those of the Imams as well. In short, collections of hadiths in Sunni Islam, such as those of al-Bukhari and Muslim, contain only sayings transmitted from and about the Prophet. But the Shi'ite collections, such as that of al-Kulayni, also contain sayings transmitted from and about the twelve Imams.
Naturally the Shi'ites make a distinction among the hadiths, so that those transmitted from the Prophet are of greater authority, but nevertheless all traditions are listed together according to subject matter, not according to author. The most famous and authoritative collections of Shi'ite hadiths are four works which, in terms of their importance for Shi'ism, correspond to the Six Correct Collections in Sunni Islam. These are al-Kafi fi 'ilm al-din (The Sufficient in the Knowledge of Religion) by Thiqat al-Islam Muhammad ibn Ya'qub al-Kulayni (d. 329/940), Man la yahduruhu al-faqih (For him not in the Presence of Jurisprudent) of Shaykh al-Saduq Muhammad ibn Babuyah al-Qummi (d. 381/991), Tahdhib al-ahkam (Rectification of the Statutes) by Shaykh al-Ta'ifah Muhammad al-Tusi (d. 460/ 1068) and al-Istibsar fi ma ukhtulif fihi min al-akhbar (Reflection upon the Disputed Traditions) also by al-Tusi.
The Present Collection
The sermons, sayings, prayers and writings translated here present a cross section of Shi'ite religious thought with an emphasis upon that which is most basic for the religion itself and most universal and hence understandable in the eyes of non-Muslims. As 'Allamah Tabataba'i points out in his foreword, in making these selections his aim was to emphasize the three basic dimensions of the Shi'ite tradition:
I. The profession of Unity (altawhid), or the metaphysical and theological principles of the faith
2. The political, social and moral teachings.
3. The inward, spiritual and devotional life of the community.
Hence the selections stress the principles and fundamentals (usul) of Islam, while they tend to ignore the branches and secondary aspects (furu). In other words, little is said about the concrete ramifications of the principles in terms of the details of the application of the Divine Law (al-Shari'ah) to everyday life. Nevertheless, the secondary aspects are clearly reflected in 'Ali's "Instructions to Malik al-Ashtar" and to a lesser degree in the prayers.
Although it is well known that the first "pillar of Islam" is the profession of faith, which begins with a statement of the Divine Unity, Western scholars have tended to explain the Islamic belief in God's Oneness as a relativity simple-minded affirmation of the existence of only one God. Perhaps one reason the Nahj albalaghah and the Shi'ite hadith literature in general have been neglected or simply branded as spurious is that their very existence flatly contradicts the commonly accepted idea of a simple bedouin faith with few philosophical or metaphysical overtones. In these writings we see that already in the first centuries of Islam the Divine Unity was affirmed in terms reminiscent of the subtlety of later "theosophical" Sufism, but still completely steeped in the peculiar spiritual aroma of the revelation itself.
In making the selections 'Allamah Tabataba'i utilized four works: the Nahj al-balaghah, al-Sahifat al-sajjadiyyah, Bihar al-anwar and Mafatih al-jinan. The first two works are discussed in Dr. Nasr's introduction. Bihar al-anwar (Oceans of Lights) is a monumental encyclopedia of hadiths which attempts to collect all Shi'ite traditions in a single work and which classifies them by subject matter. It was compiled in the Safavid period by the famous theologian Muhammad Baqir Majlisi (d. 1110/1698-9 or 1111/1699-1700).
The importance the work has possessed since its compilation as the standard reference work for all Shi'ite studies can hardly be overemphasized. One indication of its popularity is that, despite its enormous size, it was published twice in lithographed form in the nineteenth century. The modern edition of the work fills 110 volumes of approximately 400 pages each. Majlisi collected his traditions from numerous earlier sources. As examples, we can mention a few of the works from which he derived the hadiths in the present collection, works which have been independently published in modern times.
Shaykh al-Saduq, the author of one of the four basic works on Shi'ite hadiths referred to above, compiled dozens of authoritative hadith collections, each of which usually follows a particular theme. His al-Tawhid collects traditions which illustrate the profession of God's Unit. His 'Uyun akhbar al-Rida gathers together everything that has been related about Imam 'Ali al-Rida, the eighth Imam, whose tomb in Mashhad is the holiest site of pilgrimage in Iran. The work contains such things as descriptions of the Imam's mother, explanations of the reason his name was chosen, all the sayings which have been recorded from him, and traditions concerning his death and the miracles which have occurred at his tomb. Shaykh al-Saduq's al-Khisal demonstrates the importance of numbers in the traditions. In twelve long chapters he records all the hadiths which mention the numbers one to twelve.
The author of al-Ihtijaj, Abu Mansur Ahmad ibn 'al-Tabarsi (d. 599/1202-3), rejects the views of certain of his contemporaries who had claimed that the Prophet and the Imams never engaged in argumentation. He collects together traditions in which their discussions with opponents have been recorded. The fourth work from which 'Allamah Tabataba'i made his selections is Mafatih al-jinan ("Keys to the Gardens of Paradise"), a standard collection of Shi'ite prayers compiled from Bihar al-anwar and other sources by 'Abbas Qummi (d. 1359/1940-1). It includes prayers to be recited daily, prayers for special occasions such as religious holidays and days of mourning, litanies and invocations for different moments in one's life, instructions for making a pilgrimage to the tomb of the Prophet or any one of the Imams and prayers for every other conceivable occasion as well.
A note needs to be added about the method of translation. Because of the sacred nature of the texts and their fundamental importance as sources for the Shi'ite branch of Islam, I have attempted to translate them in a strictly literal manner so that the least amount of personal interpretation will have been made. There are definite disadvantages to this method, but the necessity for an accurate translation would seem to outweigh them all. After all, the Quran has been translated dozens of times. Others who may feel that the present translation does not do justice to the literary qualities of the text may try their own hand at rendering it into English. The necessity for a literal translation is all the greater because a good deal of the material translated here-in particular those parts which derive from the Nahj al-balaghah-has also been translated elsewhere and on the whole has been misrepresented.
Before such interpretive translations are made and held to reflect the thought of the Imams, literal translations are of paramount importance. In order to maintain a faithful translation, I have added notes wherever I deviate from a strictly literal translation or wherever there are questionable readings in the original. Because no standard translations exist for many technical terms, I have felt it necessary to add the Arabic original in brackets for the benefit of scholars and Arabic speakers.
This is especially true in the most difficult and metaphysical section of the book, Part I "On the Unity of God." Although the Arabic terms will prove a distraction to most readers, they represent the only practical way of tying the present texts into the reader's knowledge of the Arabic language. Finally I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Seyyed Hossein Nasr, who asked me to undertake this work many years ago and has guided me in every stage of it, although of course I remain completely responsible for any inaccuracies which may remain in the translations and notes. Peter Lamborn Wilson and William Shpall also read the manuscript and made valuable suggestions. And without the kindness and encouragement of Wg. Cdr. (rtd.) Husayn and the Muhammadi Trust, the work may never have been completed and published.
Meaning of Hadith & Traditions 2
Despite the vast amount of scholarship carried out by Western orientalists since the nineteenth century and the analyses and translations made of various Islamic sources, very little attention has been paid thus far to the collection of religious sayings, sermons, prayers, proverbs and didactic expositions which comprises the corpus of Hadith as understood by Twelve Imam Shi'ite Muslims. It is of course true that much of the substance of the Shi'ite hadith collection resembles the Sunni collection,  and to the extent that the latter has been studied the former has also been dealt with in an indirect manner. But in as much as Shi'ite hadiths possess a form, style and "perfume" of their own, no indirect treatment of their substance and content can replace the direct translation and analysis of this collection itself.
It is in fact rather amazing that despite the extreme importance of Shi'ite Hadith for the development of Shi'ite law and theology as well as many fields of the "intellectual sciences" (al-'ulum al-'aqliyyah), not to speak of its role in piety and the spiritual life, the sayings of the Imams of Shi'ism have not been rendered into English until now. Nor have they been studied as a whole and as a distinct body of religious writings of an inspired nature within the general context of Islam itself. The present volume represents, therefore, a pioneering effort to present a sample of this extensive body of writings to the English speaking world.
The Shi'ite hadith literature includes all the sayings of the Prophet of Islam accepted by Shi'ites as well as the traditions of the twelve Imams from 'Ali ibn Abi talib to the Mahdi. This collection is thus considered to be, after the Holy Quran, the most important body of religious texts for Shi'ites. As in Sunni Islam, so in this case: the Hadith forms along with the Revealed Book the basis of all the religious sciences, including of course the Shari'ah as well as religious life in both its intellectual and devotional aspects. No aspect of the life and history of the Shi'ite community would be comprehensible without a consideration of this body of inspired writings.
What is particular to this collection, however, is that although it is a part of the foundation of Islam as seen by Shi'ism, its "composition" stretches over a period of more than two centuries. In Sunni Islam, Hadith is limited to the sayings of the Blessed Prophet. In fact to use the term "hadith" in Sunnism is to refer to his sayings and not to anyone else's. In the case of Shi'ism, however, although a clear distinction is made between prophetic Hadith (al-hadith al-nabawi) and the sayings of the Imams (al-hadith al-walawi), the two are included in a single collection. This means that from a certain point of view the apostolic age of Islam is seen by Shi'ism to stretch way beyond the relatively short period usually associated with apostles in various religions.
The reason for this perspective lies of course in the Shi'ite conception of the Imam.  The term imam as used in a technical sense in Shi'ism differs from the general usage of the term in Arabic, where it means "leader", or in Sunni political theory where it means the caliph himself. As used technically in Shi'ism the term refers to the person who contains within himself the "Muhammadan Light" (al-nur al-mahammadi) which was handed down through Fatimah, the daughter of the Blessed Prophet, and 'Ali, the first Imam, to the others, terminating with the Hidden Imam who is to appear again one day as the Mahdi.  As a result of the presence of this light, the Imam is considered to be "sinless" (ma'sum) and to possess perfect knowledge of the esoteric as well as the exoteric order.
The Imams are like a chain of light issuing forth from the "Sun of Prophecy" which is their origin, and yet they are never separated from that Sun. Whatever is said by them emanates from the same inviolable treasury of inspired wisdom. Since they are an extension of the inner reality of the Blessed Prophet, their words really go back to him. That is why their sayings are seen in the Shi'ite perspective as an extension of the prophetic Hadith, just as the light of their being is seen as a continuation of the prophetic light. In Shi'ite eyes, the temporal separation of the Imams from the Blessed Prophet does not at all affect their essential and inner bond with him or the continuity of the "prophetic light" which is the source of his as well as their inspired knowledge.
This metaphysical conception is the reason that Shi'ites incorporate traditions stretching over two centuries into a single whole with those of the Blessed Prophet himself. It also distingiushes the Shi'ite conception of Hadith from that held in Sunnism. Otherwise, the actual content of Hadith in Sunni and Shi'ite collections is very close. After all, both kinds concern the same spiritual reality. Of course the chain of transmission accepted by the two schools is not the same. But despite this difference in the authorities who have handed down the prophetic sayings, the actual hadiths recorded by Sunni and Shi'ite sources have overwhelming similarities. The major difference is the Shi'ites' consideration of the extension of an aspect of the being of the Blessed Prophet in the Imams and therefore their addition of the sayings of the Imams to the strictly "prophetic" Hadith.
The sayings of the Imams are in many ways not only a continuation but also a kind of commentary and elucidation of the prophetic Hadith, often with the aim of bringing out the esoteric teachings of Islam. Many of these hadiths deal, like those of the Blessed Prophet, with the practical aspects of life and the Shari'ah. Others deal with pure metaphysics, as do certain prophetic hadiths, especially the "sacred hadiths" (hadith qudsi). Still other sayings of the Imams deal with the devotional aspects of life and contain some of the most famous prayers which have been recited over the ages by both Sunnis and Shi'ites. Finally some of the sayings deal with the various esoteric sciences.
They thus cover a vast spectrum ranging from the "mundane" problems of daily life to the question of the meaning of truth itself. Because of their innate nature and also the fact that like Sufism they issue from the esoteric dimension of Islam, they have intermingled over the ages with certain types of Sufi writings.  They have also been considered as sources of Islamic esotericism by the Sufis, because the Imams of Shi'ism are seen in the Sufi perspective as the spiritual poles of their age. They appear in the spiritual chain (silsilah) of various Sufi orders, even those which have spread almost exclusively among Sunnis. 
Because of the nature of their contents, these sayings have influenced nearly every branch of Shi'ite learning as well as the daily life of the community. Shi'ite jurisprudence (fiqh) bases itself directly upon this corpus in addition to the Holy Quran. Shi'ite theology (kalam) would be incomprehensible without a knowledge of these sayings. Shi'ite Quranic commentaries draw heavily upon them. Even sciences of nature such as natural history or alchemy were developed with reference to them. And finally these sayings have surfaced as sources for meditation of the most sublime metaphysical themes over the centuries, and some of the most elaborate metaphysical and philosophical schools of Islam have issued to a large extent from them. Later Islamic philosophy as associated with the name of Sadr al-Din Shirazi, would in fact be inconceivable without recourse to the Shi'ite hadith collection.  One of Sadr al-Din's greatest metaphysical works is his unfinished commentary upon a portion of the most important of the four basic Shi'ite collections of Hadith, the al-Kafi of al-Kulayni. 
Within the collection of Shi'ite hadiths are certain works which need to be mentioned separately. There is first of all the celebrated Nahj al-balaghah (The Path of Eloquence) of 'Ali ibn Abi talib assembled and systematized by the fourth/tenth century Shi'ite scholar Sayyid Sharif al-Radi. Considering the enormous importance of this work in Shi'ite Islam as well as for all lovers of the Arabic language, it is remarkable how little attention has been paid to it in European languages. 
After all, many of the leading writers of Arabic such as Taha Husayn and Kurd 'Ali claim in their autobiographies to have perfected their style of writing Arabic through the study of the Nahj al-balaghah, while generation after generation of Shi'ite thinkers have meditated and commented upon its meaning. Moreover, the shorter prayers and proverbs of this work have spread very widely among the populace and have entered both the classical and folk literature of not only Arabic but also Persian, and through the influence of Persian, several other languages of the Islamic peoples, such as Urdu.
The Nahj al-balaghah contains, besides spiritual advice, moral maxims and political directives, several remarkable discourses on metaphysics, especially concerning the question of Unity (al tawhid). It possesses both its own method of exposition and a very distinct technical vocabulary which distinguish it from the various Islamic schools which have dealt with metaphysics.
Western scholars refused for a long time to accept the authenticity of the authorship of this work and attributed it to Sayyid Sharif al-Radi, although the style of al-Radi's own works is very different from that of the Nahj al-balaghah. In any case as far as the traditional Shi'ite perspective is concerned, the position of the Nahj al-balaghah and its authorship can best be explained by repeating a conversation which took place some eighteen or nineteen years ago between 'Allamah Tabatabai, the celebrated contemporary Shi'ite scholar who is responsible for the selection of the present anthology, and Henry Corbin, the foremost Western student of Shi'ism. Corbin, who himself was as far removed from "historicism" as possible, once said to 'Allamah Tabataba'i during the regular discussions they had together in Tehran (in which the present writer usually acted as translator), "Western scholars claim that 'Ali is not the author of the Nahj al-balaghah. What is your view and whom do you consider to be the author of this work ?"
'Allamah Tabataba'i raised his head and answered in his usual gentle and calm manner, "For us whoever wrote the Nahj al-balaghah is 'Ali, even if he lived a century ago."
The second notable work in the Shi'ite collection of Hadith is the al-Sahifat al-sajjadiyyah (The Scroll of al-Sajjad of the fourth Imam Zayn al-'Abidin), also called al-Sajjad. A witness to the tragedy of Karbala-which must have left an indelible impression upon his soul-the fourth Imam poured forth his inner life in a symphony of beautiful prayers which have caused the Sahifah to be called the "Psalms of the Family of the Holy Prophet". These prayers form a part of the daily religious life of not only Shi'ites but also Sunnis, who find them in many of the prayer manuals most popular in the Sunni world. 
Also notable in the Shi'ite collection of Hadith are the sayings of the fifth, sixth and seventh Imams, from whom the largest number of traditions have been recorded. These Imams lived at the end of the Umayyad and beginning of the Abbasid dynasties when, as a result of the changes in the caliphate, central authority had weakened and the Imams were able to speak more openly and also train more students. The number of students, both Shi'ite and Sunni, trained by the sixth Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq has been estimated at four thousand. He left behind a vast body of sayings which range from the field of law to the esoteric sciences.
The sayings of the Holy Prophet and the Imams have been of course a constant source of meditation and discussion by Shi'ite men of learning throughout the ages. But it is especially in the later period of Shi'ite history beginning with Sayyid Haydar Amuli, leading to the great masters of the Safavid period such as Mir Damad and Mulla Sadra and continuing to the present day that these sayings have served as a distinct source for metaphysics and philosophy as well as the juridical and Quranic sciences. The commentaries of Mulla Sadra, Qadi Sa'id al-Qummi and many others on these collections of Shi'ite Hadith are among the great masterpieces of Islamic thought.  Later Islamic philosophy and theosophy in fact could not be understood without them. 
The present volume represents the second in a series of three which was planned many years ago with the help and support of Professor Kenneth Morgan, then of Colgate University, with the aim of presenting Shi'ism to the Western world from the point of view of Shi'ism itself. The first volume in the series appeared in English as Shi'ite Islam by 'Allamah Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabatabai edited and translated by the author of these lines.  The second volume, called The Quran in Islam (Qur'an dar islam), was also written by 'Allamah Tabataba'i and its Persian version printed in Tehrarn. Most of it was also translated by us into English, but the translation was not completed. The events of the last year in Iran have made the manuscript of what we have already translated inaccessible to us so that there is no possibility at the present moment to produce the English translation as planned.
The present volume is the third and final one in the series. After a long period of study and deliberation, 'Allamah Tabataba'i made the present selection from the vast collection of Hadith, a task which would have been bewildering for anyone not possessing his knowledge of this inspired literature. Once this selection was made, Dr. William Chittick, who was then residing in Tehran and working with us on various scholarly projects, undertook the arduous task of translating the very compact and difficult Arabic texts into English. Because of the lack of precedence for rendering these writings into European languages and the nature of the texts themselves, Dr. Chittick was faced with a formidable task. It was only his intimate knowledge of Arabic, Persian and the subject matter combined with great patience and meticulous scholarship that made it possible for him to succeed in such a laborious and exacting undertaking. He should be congratulated in every way for having successfully concluded this colossal task.
It remained for the Muhammadi Trust to bring the project to fruition and to make its publication possible. The credit for this volume and its effect in making Shi'ism better known must be given to a large extent to the Trust. As one who was responsible for this volume from its inception, I want to thank the Trust especially Wg. Cdr. (ret'd.) Q. Husayn, its very able secretary who with great love and devotion to the true cause of Islam, enabled us to complete this project. Dr. Chittick, also, has earned the gratitude of all students of Islam for his fine scholarship and devotion to the completion of a very difficult project.
This volume is particularly pertinent at the present moment, when volcanic eruptions and powerful waves of a political nature associated with the name of Islam in general and Shi'ism in particular have made an authentic knowledge of things Islamic imperative, lest ignorance destroy the very foundations of human society and the relations which make the discourse between various nations and religious communities possible.
At the dawn of this fifteenth century of the terrestrial existence of Islam, may this volume be an aid in bringing about an understanding of one of the fundamental sources of inspiration and knowledge for not only Shi'ism but Islam as such.
Seyyed Hossein Nasr
Muharram 1400 November 1979
 There are six canonical collections in Sunni Islam which have been accepted by the whole community since they were first compiled in the second and the third Islamic centuries. These collections, referred to al-Sihah al-sittah, the Six Correct Collections, are associated with the names of great scholars of Hadith such as Bukhari, Muslim, etc. Of these, the most famous is that of Bukhari, which has been translated into English (Sahih al-Bukhari: Arabic-English, by Muhammad Muhsin Khan, Islamic University, Madina; second revised edition, Ankara, 1976). The vast concordance of Hadith by Wensinck, Mensing et al. (Leiden, 1936-69) is based on these six collections.
 See 'Allamah Tabatabai, Shi'ite Islam, London-Albany, 1975, pp. 173ff.
 As far as the continuity of the chain is concerned the Isma'ili conception is of course different, since for the Isma'ilis the chain of Imams continues un-interrupted to this day.
 On the relation between Shi'ism and Sufism See S. H. Nasr, Sufi Essays, London, 1972, pp. 104-20
 A most interesting example of such interpenetration is to be seen in part of the famous prayer of the third Shi'ite Imam Husayn, also found in Shadhili prayers manuals. See W. Chittick, "A Shadhili Presence on Shi'ite Islam", Sophia Perennis, vol. I, 1975, pp. 97-100
 On this corpus as a source for the doctrines of Sadr al Din Shirazi see S. H. Nasr, Sadr al Din Shirazi and His Transcendent Theosophy, London-Boulder, 1978, chapter 4.
 This monumental work was translated into French by H. Corbin, who taught it for many years in Paris, but it has never been published. See Corbin, En Islam iranien, Paris, 1971.
 This work has been translated several times in part or wholly in the Indo-Pakistani sub-continent and in Iran, but none of these translations is completely adequate. A new translation as been prepared by S. H. Jafri which is supposed to be published soon and which, we hope, will fulfill the very difficult condition of doing justice to both the meaning and the literary beauty of the text.
 Some of these prayers have been translated by C. Padwick in her Muslim Devotions, London, 1961
 See H. Corbin, En islam iranien.
 Not only Mulla Sadra, but also his students were deeply influenced by this collection. One of Mulla Sadra's most famous students, Mulla Muhsin Fayd Kashani, who was at once theologian, gnostic and philosopher, was also an outstanding authority on Shi'ite Hadith. His al-Wafi is one of the most studied works on hadiths of the Shi'ite Imams and their lines of transmission.
 In our introduction to that work we have dealt with the conditions under which these works were conceived as well as a biography of 'Allammah Tabatabai. Shi'ite Islam, was published by both Allen & Unwin in London and the State University of New York Press in Albany. The work has also just appeared in paperback in America. It is of interest to note that the original Persian version of this work, written specifically for this project and with a Persian Introduction by S. H. Nasr, has become one of the most widely read works on Shi'ism in Iran itself and has been reprinted many times.
Al-Kafi' by Al-Kulayni
Dr. I. K. A. Howard
Al-Serat, Vol. 2 (1976), No. 1
The author of al-Kafi was thiqat al-Islam, Abu Ja'far Muhammad b. Ya'qub b. Ishaq al-Kulaini al-Razi. He died in 328 A.H. or 329 A.H. (939 or 940 A.D.). Very little is known of his life and there is some dispute as to whether the nisba by which he is known is al-Kulaini or al-Kulini. However, it is agreed that it refers to a village in Iran, Kulain or Kulin; both were villages there.
He first worked as a religious scholar and faqih (student of fiqh or religious law) among the Imami-Shi'i scholars of al-Raiy in Iran. Then he moved to Baghdad and became head of the religious and legal scholars of the Imamis during the time when al-Muqtadir was Caliph. Al-Kulaini's life's work took place during the time of the sufara' of the Mahdi (the agents who acted on behalf of the Hidden Imam during the lesser occultation, al ghaiba al-sughra).
Al-Kulaini is accredited with several works during this period. Among these are, as well as al-Kafi, a Kitab al-rijal, (a book in which men are assessed as authorities for traditions), al-Radd 'ala 'l-Qaramata ("Refutation of the Carmatians", Rasa' il al-a'immata "Letters of the Imams" and an anthology of poetry about the Imams. Only al-Kafi appears to have survived.
Al-Kafi is a collection of the traditions taught by the Prophet and the Imams and handed down to the Muslim Community by the disciples of the Imams. The name al-Kafi means "that which is sufficient" that is, the book was intended to be a comprehensive collection of Imami-Shi'i traditions. This is explained by al-Kulaini in his introduction to the work:
"...You wanted to have a book which would be sufficient (for your religious needs) (kafin), which would include all kinds of knowledge ('ilm) of religion, which would be adequate for the student, and to which the teacher might refer. Thus it could be used by anyone who wanted knowledge of religion and of legal practice ('amal) according to sound traditions (athar) from the truthful ones (the Imams) ..."
It is claimed that it took al-Kulaini twenty years to complete al-Kafi. It is indeed a very full and comprehensive work, divided into three sections, al-usul, al-furu and al-rawda. The usul give traditions concerning the principles of religion and principles on which religious law is based. The furu' concern the traditions which elaborate the details of religious law, while the rawda is a collection of traditions outlining various points of religious interest and including some of the letters and speeches of the Imams. One of the principal features of the work is that the traditions are presented systematically in chapters according to their subject matter. This is a system which Islamic scholars had begun to use in the second half of the second century and in the third century of the Islamic era. Al-Kulaini was not the first Imami scholar to use the method. There are other works of traditions which use the same method, notably Kitab al-Mahasin of Ahmad b. Muhammad b. Khalid al-Barqi (d. 274/887).
However it seems to have been the first work to present such a comprehensive survey of Imami traditions in this manner. The source collections of traditions were known as usul. These were collections of traditions, either heard directly from the Imam or at least at second hand. There were said to have been four hundred of such collections.
These traditions were not arranged in chapters according to subject but arranged in the order in which the traditions were heard, regardless of subject matter or which particular Imam they were heard from.
It was these usul as well as earlier edited collections which were the basis of al-Kulaini's collection as he heard them taught by earlier scholars. Unfortunately with the development of the comprehensive collections, the usul must have become less important, and only a few survive in manuscript. Traditionists before al-Kulaini and traditionists after him, examined the isnads (chain of authorities) with great care. Their purpose was to make sure that all reporters of a particular tradition were men of true faith; al-Kulaini himself seems to be less concerned with the isnad than with the matn or content of the tradition. Thus he sometimes reports traditions with men in the isnad, who were not strictly speaking disciples of the Imams; sometimes they belong to a different persuasion like the Zaidis, sometimes they are ghulat, extremists in their views. Some men in the isnads are those who regarded one of the earlier Imams as the final Imam and there are even men entirely unconnected with Shi'i views.
The scholars of tradition elaborated a system of categorising the different traditions according to the level of authenticity of a tradition, in terms of isnad and subject matter. The number of traditions in al-Kafi is 15,181;
according to another reckoning 15,176.
If the traditions reported in different sections are counted, the number is over 1,000 more. Of the basic traditions, 5,072 are considered sound (sahih) by scholars, i.e. first category; 144 are regarded as good (hasan), second category; 178 are held to be trustworthy (muwaththaq), third category; 302 are adjudged to be strong (qawi), fourth category; and 9,484 are considered weak (da'if), fifth category.
The fact that a tradition is considered weak does not mean that it is not true. What it means is that the scholars of tradition have found some weakness in the tradition, usually one of the persons in the isnad, which suggests the possibility that the tradition might not go back to the Imam as claimed. The science developed by Islamic scholars of tradition in order to examine the isnads and subject matter of traditions is a very specialised study; it involves, in particular, `ilm al-rijal, the study of the backgrounds of individual traditionists who have handed on the tradition. The usul of al-Kafi are divided into eight kutub or chapters and most of the kutub are divided into abwab or sections. The eight kutub are.
Kitab al-'aql wa-'l'jahl, "The Chapter of Reason and Ignorance". This chapter presents the theological distinction between reason and ignorance.
Kitab fadl al-'ilm, "The Chapter of the Excellence of Knowledge". In this chapter knowledge ('ilm) is dealt with on the basis of its basic early Islamic meaning of the traditional knowledge of Islam, i.e. knowledge of religion that has been passed on and inherited. In the course of this chapter, sections deal with the methods of approaching Islamic traditional knowledge; the methods of judging the truth of the subject matter of traditions, a description of traditions from the Imams and arguments against the use of personal opinion (ra'y) and analogy (qiyas).
Kitab al-tawhid, "The Chapter of Unity". This, as its name suggests, deals with the theology of God.
Kitab al-hujja, "The Chapter of the Proof". This deals with the need for man and the world to have "a proof". That "proof" is the Imams, and before them it was the prophets. It also includes an historical section on the Imams.
Kitab al-Iman wa-'l-kufr, "The Chapter of Faith and Unbelief". This is a comprehensive survey of the elements of faith (iman) and unbelief (kufr). It includes such important topics as "the pillars of Islam", and it also deals with the difference between faith (iman) and submission to God (Islam).
Kitab al-du'a', "The Chapter of Prayer". This does not concern the statutory salat which is also translated "prayer". This chapter deals with personal prayers (du'a') as distinct from the salat which is performed in a prescribed manner at prescribed times. It records prayers recommended by the Imams for a variety of situations and occasions.
Kitab al-fadl al-Qur'an, "The Chapter of the Excellence of the Qur'an". The title of the chapter shows that it concerns the advantages that accrue to the believer who recites the Qur'an, as well as advising on the methods of recitation.
Kitab al-'ishra, "The Chapter of Companionship". At first sight it seems rather surprising to find such a chapter included in the usul or principles of religion. The main concern of the other chapters has been man's relationship with God. This chapter emphasizes that that relationship with God also encompasses man's relationship with his fellow men.
The furu' of al-kafi are concerned with the elaboration of the details of Islamic law. Islamic law, as is well known, concerns the whole man and his conduct towards God is as much a matter of Islamic law as his conduct towards his fellow men. The furu' contain many more traditions than the usul and there are 26 kutub. It opens in the traditional Islamic manner with the Kitab al-tahara , "The Chapter of Purity", which concerns the ritual purification that is necessary before prayer (salat) and when the state of ritual purity is broken. The next book Kitab al-haid, "The Chapter of Menstruation" concerns one of the important states in which ritual purity is broken, that of menstruation. The third book also concerns a state which breaks ritual purity, that of death and Kitab al-jana'iz, "The Chapter of Funerals" deals with funerals and other matters concerned with burial rites. The Kitab al-salat, "The Chapter of Prayer" outlines the rules for ritual prayer, and also gives details of superrogatory prayer. Following Kitab al-salat is another pillar of Islam, the alms tax (al-Zakat) paid as a Muslim. After this comes the Kitab al-siyam, "The Chapter of Fasting". Here the rules of the prescribed fast of Ramadan are outlined as well as those of voluntary fasts, and fasts performed as an act of expiation. Kitab al-Hajj, "The Chapter of the Pilgrimage" gives the rules of that great Islamic rite. Al-Kulaini also includes in this chapter a section on visiting the tombs of the Prophet and the Imams (al-Ziarat). The next chapter Kitab al-jihad presents traditions on the regulations for holy warfare. It is followed by Kitab al-ma'isha which conerns the manner of earning one's living. All sorts of trading problems are treated in this chapter. Marriage (nikah) is the subject of the next book. There are numerous details including a very detailed section on mut'a or temporary marriage. Marriage is naturally followed by the birth of children and the next book deals with what is necessary and what is recommended at that time. Although it deals with a variety of matters concerned with the birth and bringing up of children, it is called Kitab al-'aqiqa. Aqiqa is actually a sacrifice performed on behalf of a seven-day old child. The hair of the child is cut off and its weight in silver given as sadaqa "charity". The Prophet performed this sacrifice on behalf of al-Hasan and al-Husain and Fatima gave away the sadaqa. After marriage and children, the next subject is that of divorce (al-talaq). The different laws concerning divorce are detailed in traditions from the Prophet and the Imams. Then the different kinds of slaves and the different methods of freeing them are discussed in kitab al-'itq wa'-l-tadbir wa-'l-katiba. The next two chapters concern hunting (said) and ritual slaughter (dhaba'ih). There follow three chapters on daily living: one is concerned with foods (at'ima) another drinks (ashriba), and the third with clothes, ornaments and courteousness (al-ziq wa-'l-tajammul wa-'l-muru'a). After this comes a chapter on domestic animals (dawajin). Two chapters deal with inheritance. The first entitled al-wasaya deals with bequests while the second al-mawarith outlines the ordinary laws of inheritance. The remaining chapters all concern the administration of the law. Kitab al-hudud outlines the circumstances and the manner in which punishments, which have the authority of the Qur'an, and the Prophet should be administered, while al-diyat concerns the laws of blood vengeance and details the compensation that must be given if someone harms another physically. Kitab al-shahadat concerns the requirements for testimony in legal cases, and Kitab al-qada' wa-'l-ahkam outlines the code of behaviour incumbent upon judges and what type of people they should be. The furu closes with a discussion of oaths, vows and the manner of atonement when the former two are broken in Kitab al-aiman wa-l-nudhur wa-'l-kaffarat. In the rawda of al-Kafi, al-Kulaini does not follow the systematic method he had used in the usul and the furu'. The traditions follow one another in what appears to be a fairly inconsistent order. It certainly lacks the detailed systematic approach that is so obviously present in the other two parts of the book. In presenting the traditions in al-Kafi, al-Kulaini's main approach seems to have been to let the traditions speak for themselves. He intervenes very little himself. Sometimes he thinks it necessary to explain some discrepancy or apparent inconsistency, but these occasions are very rare. His main contribution to the task has been the massive work of collecting and editing. The importance of al-Kafi as a work of tradition is considerable. It is regarded as one of the four major works of Shi'i traditions. This has led to considerable number of commentaries being written about it by later writers. The most important of these is Mir'at al-'uqul fi sharh akhbar al al-rasul by al-Majlisi (d. 1110/1698). Other commentators include Mulla Sadr al-Din al-Shirazi (d. 1050/1640), al-Mazandarani (d. 1080/1699), al-Qazwini (d. 1089/1678) and Muhammad Baqir b. Damad (d. 1040/1630). All these commentaries have been published, though most of them nearly a hundred years ago. In addition to these commentaries, there are numerous others, many of which have also been published.
The great value of al-Kafi to Shi'i Muslims is emphasized by the number of outstanding scholars of their community who have considered it worthwhile to write commentaries on the work. Al-Kafi represents a decisive moment in the collection of traditions from the Prophet and the Imams and their systematic presentation.
1.Cf. 'Ali Akbar al-Ghaffari's introduction to his eight volume edition of al-Kulaini's al-Kafi Teheran, 3rd edition 1388-), I, 9-13
2.Ibid. I 13-14
3.Ibid. I 14
4.Ibid. I 23-24 citing page 8 of al-Kulaini's text.
5.This work has been edited in two volumes by Jalal al-Din al-Husaini and published in Teheran, 1370 A.H.
6.On the Usul, see Agha Buzurg al-Tihrani al-Dhari'a ila tasanif al-Shi'a (Najaf and Teheran, 1963-), II, 125-129.
7.Hashim Ma'ruf al-Hasani Dirasat fi '1-Kafi wa'-l-Sahih (Sur 1968) 137-8
8.Based on a count of the various categories of Traditions given by Agha Buzurg al-Tihrani op.cit. XVII 245.
9.This number is given by Ali Akbar al-Ghaffar'i in his introduction to al-Kafi, I, 28 footnote 3
10.Agha Buzurg al-Tihrani, op.cit., XVII, 245.
11.F. Sezgin, Geshichte des arabischen Schrifttums (Leiden 1967-), I, 541-2.