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Early Shiite hermeneutics and the dating of Kitāb Sulaym ibn Qays

  • Robert Gleave (a1)

The Kitāb Sulaym ibn Qays, a collection of sayings attributed to ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib, was supposedly collected by the (otherwise unknown) Sulaym b. Qays al-Hilālī (d. 76/678); the work is generally recognized as an important source for early Shīʿī thought. There has been much debate, both within the Shīʿī tradition and outside of it, over when its contents reached their current form and how representative they were of Shīʿī views in the early centuries of Islam. Here, I take one passage from the Kitāb Sulaym and set it against the development of early Muslim hermeneutics in an attempt to establish a tentative dating for this passage. The result is a dating between late eighth century ce (second century ah) and the early ninth century ce (early third century ah), roughly contemporary with, and perhaps postdating the revolutionary hermeneutic work of Muḥammad b. Idrīs al-Shāfiʿī (d. 204/820). This conclusion tallies, to some extent, with an analysis of the report's various isnāds.

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2 Hawting, G.R., The Idea of Idolatry and the Emergence of Islam (Cambridge, 1999), 19.

3 Sulaym b. Qays al-Hilālī, Kitāb Sulaym ibn Qays ed. Muḥammad Bāqir al-Anṣārī al-Zanjānī (Qum, 1415), II, 564.

4 These are given full coverage by Anṣārī: Sulaym b. Qays, Kitāb Sulaym, I, 101–48.

5 Ibn al-Ghaḍāʾirī (d. 411/1020) and his rejection of the book's authenticity is the best known case. The debate is catalogued thoroughly by Anṣārī in his introduction. See Sulaym b. Qays, Kitāb Sulaym, I, 155–200 (editor's introduction).

6 Those who support its authenticity and its significance are listed by Anṣārī, Kitāb Sulaym, I, 10614, the last of whom was the famous Ayatallāh Shihāb al-Dīn al-Marʿashī (d. 1990).

7 The earliest expression of scepticism is Goldziher's categorization of the Kitāb Sulaym, and other early Shīʿī literature as “pseudo-evidential”, and saying that the Shīʿa are “even more prone than orthodox Islam itself” to refer back to apocryphal books. See Goldziher, I., Muhammedanische Studien, Halle 1888–90, II, 10–11 and Muslim Studies (trans. C.R. Barber and S.M. Stern, London 1968–9, II, 23–4). See also Moktar Djebli, “Sulaym b. Ḳays” in Encyclopaedia of Islam, second edition.

8 Modarressi, Hossein, Tradition and Survival: A Bibliographical Survey of Early Shīʿite Literature Volume 1 (Oxford, 2003), 82–6. Modarressi views this as the oldest surviving Shīʿite book”.

9 Massi Maria Dakake, “Love, loyalty and faith: defining the boundaries of the early Shiʿite community”, PhD dissertation, Princeton, 2000, 346–56.

10 Amir-Moezzi, Mohammad Ali, “Note bibliographique sur le Kitâb Sulaym b. Qays, le plus ancien ouvrage shiʿite existent”, in Amir-Moezzi, M.A., Bar-Asher, M.M. and Hopkins, S. (eds), Le shîʿisme Imāmīte quarante ans après. Hommages à Etan Kohlberg (Paris, 2009), 3348. Amir-Moezzi has an extended examination in his Le Coran Silencieux et le Coran parlant (Paris, 2011), 2762; with an English summary: The silent Quran and the speaking Quran: history and scriptures through the study of some ancient texts”, Studia Islamica 108, 2013, 143–74 (the Kitāb Sulaym is discussed, pp. 146–9).

11 Modaressi, Tradition and Survival, 86.

12 Amir-Moezzi, “Note bibliographique”, 40.

13 Crone, P., “Mawālī and the Prophet's family: an early Shīʿite view”, in Bernards, Monique and Nawas, John (eds), Patronate and Patronage in Early and Classical Islam (Leiden, 2005), 167–94.

14 Crone, “Mawālī”, 179.

15 For reasons that become clear below, I view the tenth report in the current edition of Kitāb Sulaym as a composite report, consisting of (at least) two separate reports. In the following analysis, “the report” refers not to the whole of the tenth report, but only to this first section.

16 Muḥammad b. Yaʿqūb al-Kulaynī, al-Kāfī ed. Ghaffārī, Alī Akbar (Tehran, 1363 Sh), I, 62–4; Ibn Bābawayh, al-Khiṣāl ed. Ghaffārī, Alī Akbar (Qum, 1403 ah), 255–7; al-Faḍl b. Shādhān, Mukhtaṣar ithbāt al-rajʿa, ed. Bāsim al-Mūsawī, printed in the journal Turāthunā, XV, 193–223 – the report is found on pp. 201–06; Ibn Shaʿba al-Ḥarrānī, Tuḥaf al-ʿUqūl ed. Ghaffārī, Alī Akbar (Qum, 1404 ah), 193–6. Below, I refer to them for variants by the initials: Kulaynī: K; Ibn Bābawayh: IB; Al-Fadl b. Shādhān: F; and al–Ḥarrānī: Ḥ. Tamima Bayhom-Daou has analysed the version found in Kulaynī’s al-Kāfī in her doctoral thesis, completed under the supervision of Professor Hawting: “The Imāmī Shīʿī conception of the knowledge of the Imām and the sources of religious doctrine in the formative period: from Hishām b. al-Ḥakam to Kulīnī”, unpublished PhD thesis, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 1996, 200–9. Her dating of the report there, and in her contribution to this volume, is based primarily on treating the report as an integral whole; I prefer to distinguish between this early section and the report's later, more extensive, section, as they draw on quite different sources. There are some differences between the Kulaynī version and that found in the Kitāb Sulaym which I refer to below. The Shīʿī tradition also saw them as detachable (hence, the various versions, including the Nahj al-Balāgha, in which only the first section is presented).

17 I will not here discuss in detail the Nahj al-Balāgha variant (al-Sharīf al-Raḍī, Nahj al-Balāgha, ed. Muḥammad ʿAbdūh (Qum 1412 ah), II, 189–91, no. 310); though it is undoubtedly a version of this report, it shows extensive signs of adjustment and updating; this is important for the dating of the Nahj al-Balagha (a topic for another occasion), but it does not shed much light on the history of the report within the Kitāb Sulaym.

18 I have already discussed this report briefly in Gleave, R., Islam and Literalism: Literal Meaning and Interpretation in Islamic Legal Theory (Edinburgh, 2011), 128–30. This article is, to an extent, a development of the arguments presented there. In addition to the alternative translation of Bayhom-Daou found in this volume, and the translation of the Kulaynī version of the report in her PhD thesis, we have a French translation of part of the report by Amir-Moezzi (Le Coran silencieux et le Coran parlant (Paris, 2011), 41–3).

19 F, K, and IB have the inserted phrase “I have heard from Salmān … reporting from the Prophet different from that which is in the hands of the people” – emphasizing the point that these three early Companions, stalwarts of ʿAlī’s cause, are at odds in their tafsīr and riwāya from the rest of the Muslim community. Ḥ abbreviates this section considerably and this element is not present.

20 F, K and IB read “all of it (kullahu) is false”, once again emphasizing the clear difference between the Shīʿa and the rest of the community's interpretations and transmissions of the Prophet's message.

21 Sulaym b. Qays, Kitāb Sulaym, II, 620–1.

22 On the establishment of Quran and Sunna as the two principal sources of law, and the controversy around this establishment, see (among the many secondary source discussions): Ansari, Z.I., “Juristic terminology before Shāfiʿī: a semantic analysis with special reference to Kūfa”, Arabica 19, 1972, 255300; Juynboll, G.H.A., “Some new ideas on the development of sunna as a technical term in Early Islam”, Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 10, 1987, 97118; Hawting, G., “The role of Qurʾān and Ḥadīth in the legal controversy about the rights of a divorced woman during her ‘waiting period’ (ʿIdda)”, BSOAS 52/2, 1989, 430–45; Burton, J., “Law and exegesis: the penalty for adultery in Islam”, in Hawting, G.R. and Shareef, Abdul-Kader A. (eds), Approaches to the Qurʾān (London, 1993), 269–84; Lowry, J., “Does Shāfiʿī have a theory of four sources of law?”, in Weiss, B. (ed.), Studies in Islamic Legal Theory (Leiden, 2002), 2350.

23 One could also argue that the ḥaqq/bāṭil pairing was hermeneutic since it is found regularly in the Quran (Q. 2:42; 3:71; 8:8; 17:81; possibly 7:118); they do not, however, appear to be categories for facilitating textual interpretation as such, but are rather general categories relating to religious truth. The pairing (or one or the other terms) was, of course, incorporated into fiqh and other sciences, though not so universally (bāṭil, for example, is often paired with ṣaḥīḥ for valid/invalid). For more on pairs and pairing in the Quran, see Schmidtke, S., “Pairs and pairing”, in McAuliffe, Jane Dammen (ed.), Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān (Leiden, 2001–06), IV, 19.

24 Kinberg, L., “Muhkamāt and Mutashabihāt (Koran 3/7), implication of a Qurānic pair of terms in medieval exegesis”, Arabica 35, 1988, 143–72; Syamsuddin, S., “Muḥkam and Mutashābih: an analytical study of al-Ṭabarī’s and al-Zamakhsharī’s interpretations of Q. 3:7”, Journal of Qur'anic Studies, 1/1, 1999, 6379; McAuliffe, Jane Dammen, “Quranic hermeneutics: the views of al-Ṭabarī and Ibn Kathīr”, in Rippin, Andrew (ed.), Approaches to the History of the Interpretation of the Qurʾān (Oxford, 1988), 4662; Gleave, Islam and Literalism, 68–9.

25 See Burton, J., The Sources of Islamic Law: Islamic Theories of Abrogation (Edinburgh, 1990), 81121.

26 Al-Shāfiʿī himself lists the qualities of an acceptable transmitter (Muḥammad b. Idrīs al-Shāfiʿī, al-Risāla ed. Shākir, Aḥmad (Cairo, 1940), 370, para. 1001, and in relation to comparing the reliability of transmitter, 408–9, para. 1251–2). Lowry, J., Early Islamic Legal Theory: The Risāla of Muḥammad ibn Idrīs al-Shāfiʻī (Leiden, 2007), 193–4. Listing the qualities of a reliable transmitter is one thing, setting up a categorization schema for ḥadīth transmitters is, most likely, a later embellishment of the science.

27 The list in Ibn Abī Ḥātim al-Rāzī’s Taqdima, for example, was composed up to a century after al-Shāfiʿī, and consists of a fivefold classification scheme. All except one category of transmitter have their ḥadīth accepted (though with varying degrees of reliability) in contrast to the Kitāb Sulaym, where only one category is acceptable. See Dickinson, E., The Development of Early Sunnite Hadīth Criticism: The Taqdima of Ibn Abī Ḥatim al-Rāzī (240/854–327/938) (Leiden, 2001), 93–4.

28 It is tempting to see the emphatically explicit refusal to explore the possibility of a fifth category as a rejection of the emerging fivefold categorization (such as that found in Ibn Abī Ḥātim). See above n. 27.

29 F, K, Ḥ and IB add here the sentence “They took from him, whilst not knowing his situation/character” (akhadhū ʿanhu wa-hum lā yaʿrifūn ḥālahu), which I take to be an indication that the people accept the word of a ṣaḥābī without enquiring or investigating his character – that is, an insertion of the standard isnād critical criterion of ʿadāla for the transmitter.

30 Modarressi, Tradition and Survival, 82.

31 Sulaym b. Qays, Kitāb Sulaym, II, 623.

32 Al-Shāfiʿī, Risala, 122, para. 361, may not reflect a fully established terminology for abrogation when he writes maʿnā ‘nasakha’ taraka farḍahu. Ibn Abī Ḥātim, al-Jarḥ wa-al-taʿdīl (Cairo, 1979), I, 10 uses taraka for the rejection of the weak transmitter's ḥadīth.

33 See John Burton, “Those are the high flying cranes”, Journal of Semitic Studies, 15, 1970, 250; al-Shāfiʿī is understood to hold the “possibly solitary view” (Lowry, Early Islamic Legal Theory, 90) that only Quran can abrogate Quran, and Sunna abrogate Sunna. Later uṣūlīs, including Shāfiʿīs, were quite accepting of inter-source abrogation. I would think that prolonging the debate around the dating of al-Shāfiʿī’s al-Risāla (see below n. 59, n. 60 and n. 61) would not be particularly productive without the discovery of new sources from the third/ninth century. There are few who defend Calder's more radical redating now, the last being Christopher Melchert (Ch. Melchert, Qurʾānic abrogation across the ninth century: Shāfiʿī, Abū ʿUbayd, Muḥāsibī and Ibn Qutaybah”, in Weiss, Bernard G. (ed.), Studies in Islamic Legal Theory (Leiden, 2002), 7598). The abridgement of the Risāla by his pupil al-Buwayṭī in which sections of the Risāla are cited or referred to with no significant difference in terminology and theoretical structure seem to make the redating to later in the third/ninth century extremely unlikely. See El-Shamsy, Ahmed and Zysow, Aron, “Al-Buwayṭī’s abridgment of al-Shāfiʿī’s Risāla: edition and translation”, Islamic Law and Society 19/4, 2012, 327–55.

34 See Burton, Sources, 156–8 regarding the number of sucklings required to establish a marriage bar. Burton, it could be argued, is trying to map (perhaps too forcefully) the structure of later naskh theories (here naskh al-tilāwa dūn al-ḥukm) onto al-Shāfiʿī’s theory. The notion does not, I would argue, play a significant role in al-Shāfiʿī’s Risāla. See below n. 45.

35 It could, of course, be argued that the discussion of texts being abrogated rather than rulings (bound up with naskh al-ḥukm bidūn al-tilāwa – the abrogation of the rulings but not recitation) is only relevant for Quranic passages and not, as is the focus here, Prophetic reports. It is not clear from the version in Kitāb Sulaym whether the report of the abrogated Prophetic ruling or the ruling contained within the report is rejected (rafaḍa) – the text could be read in either way: ḥafiẓa al-mansūkh wa-lam yaḥfaz al-nāsikh, fa-law ʿalima annahu mansūkh la-rafaḍahu wa-law ʿalima al-muslimūna annahu mansūkh idh samiʿūhu lā rafaḍūhu. For the transmitter himself, it would seem the earlier ruling is rejected; for the Muslims, it might be argued they reject both the report and the ruling contained within it.

36 lam yawham. K reads “he does not forget it”; IB has “he is not inattentive”, though these appear as orthographic variants (lam yansahu; lam yashu). The Nahj al-Balāgha reads “he is not mistaken” (lam yaham). Ḥ has “he is not deluded (yatawahham) nor does he forget”, combining the two variants.

37 K and IB record “known” (ʿalima) here rather than “preserves” (ḥafiẓa) indicating “he knows the difference between the abrogating and the abrogated”. In the Nahj al-Balāghā, the process of adjustment to the established theory of naskh is complete: He “preserved the abrogating and acts on it, and preserves the abrogated, but avoids it (janabahu)” (Al-Sharīf al-Raḍī, Nahj al-Balāgha, II, 190).

38 Sulaym b. Qays, Kitāb Sulaym, II, 623.

39 See Brown, Jonathan. “Did the Prophet say it or not? The literal, historical and effective truth of Hadiths in Sunni Islam”, Journal of the American Oriental Society, 139, 2009, 259–85.

40 Hallaq, Wael, “The authenticity of prophetic Hadith: a pseudo-problem”, Studia Islamica, 90, 1999, 7590.

41 Juynboll writes that the mutawātir lafẓī and mutawātir maʿnawī distinction was only fully exploited in the ḥadīth sciences from the time of Ibn al-Ṣalāh al-Shahrazūrī (d. 643/1245) when it was “defined precisely what the term [mutawātir] actually stood for…”. The introduction of the terminology may be late, of course, but this does not mean that the lafẓī/maʿnawī distinction was not known (and expressed implicitly or even explicitly) at some earlier date. Juynboll, G., “(Re)appraisal of some terms in Ḥadīth science”, Islamic Law and Society, 8, 2003, 327.

42 Al-Shāfiʿī, Risāla, 370, para 1001. The rest of this paragraph combines a stipulation for verbatim transmission with a full understanding of meaning both being prerequisites for sound transmission. This is, effectively, the same position as that argued for in the Kitāb Sulaym report.

43 See Lowry, Early Islamic Legal Theory, 127.

44 It could mean that they are kept separate from one another, or that the mansūkh is not discarded as such, but is no longer considered relevant (but why then contrast it with the preservation of the abrogated?); ḥafaẓa min is perhaps an unusual construction; the variant in K and IB of ʿalima min is certainly more natural, and would indicate “to distinguish one thing from another”.

45 The naskh process was always a matter of juristic opinion, and was hardly demonstrated with such a level of certainty that the proposed abrogated ḥadīth could be discarded and forgotten. It is, after all, rulings which are abrogated and not texts, and there was rarely going to be consensus that a report from the Prophet need not even be remembered: see Hallaq, W., A History of Islamic Legal Theories: An Introduction to Sunnī uṣūl al-fiqh (Cambridge, 1997), 69.

46 I.e. that the two parties of aṣḥāb al-raʾy and the aṣḥāb al-ḥadīth were nascent in the mid-eighth century, and fully developed by the mid-ninth century as separate parties (with al-Shāfiʿī attempting to “steer a middle course between them”). Melchert, C., “Traditionist-jurisprudents and the framing of Islamic law”, Islamic Law and Society, 8, 2001, 383406.

47 F, IB and K all insert a Quranic quote here, saying, “God says in his book, ‘What the messenger brings you, take it, and what he prohibits you, prohibit it.’” (Q. 59:7). For a full discussion of the early development of the ʿāmm/khāṣṣ distinction, up to and including al-Shāfiʿī, see Tillschneider, H., Die Entstehung der juristischen Hermeneutik (uṣūl al-fiqh) im fruhen Islam (Wurzburg, 2006).

48 lam yaʿrif – F, K and IB have an addition “and does not know” (lam yadri); Ḥ has instead the insertion “and does not know” (lam yaʿlam).

49 Sulaym b. Qays, Kitāb Sulaym, II, 623.

50 mā ʿanā bihi Allāh wa-mā ʿanā bihi rusūl Allāh – Ḥ makes this explicit: “he preserves/remembers [the report] but he does not understand [it] (lam yafham)”.

51 Sulaym b. Qays, Kitāb Sulaym, II, 624.

52 Gleave, Islam and Literalism, 63–93.

53 See Gleave, R., “Early Shīʿī hermeneutics: the exegetical techniques attributed to the Shīʿī Imams”, in Bauer, K. (ed.), Aims, Methods and Contexts of Qurʾanic Exegesis (2nd/8th–9th/15th c.) (London, 2013), 141–72.

54 For example of the rijāl portrayed as differing from the Imams, and attempting to establish for themselves a separate scholarly authority, see Takim, L., The Heirs of the Prophet: Charisma and Religious Authority in Shiʿite Islam (Albany, 2006), 95–9.

55 These are conveniently gathered by Anṣārī. Kitāb Sulaym, III, 970–74.

56 G.H.A. Juynboll's extensive study of isnāds often makes for a challenging read. For an overview of his method, see his “General overview” in his Encyclopaedia of Canonical Hadith (Leiden, 2007), xviixxxii.

57 A dive is an attempt to circumvent a weak transmitter in an isnād by leap-frogging him and providing an entirely new chain from someone nearer to the supposed source. See Juynboll, Encyclopaedia of Canonical Hadith, xxii–xxiii.

58 Al-Shafiʿī in his Kitāb al-Umm produces short lists of hermeneutic categories (see, for example, Muḥammad b. Idrīs al-Shāfiʿī, Kitāb al-Umm (Beirut, 1403), VII, 16, 92, 289 and 360). Though there is no list in the Risāla, the collocation of sections examining the pairings (not just ʿāmm/khāṣṣ but naṣṣ/jumla also) would seem to imply a bracketing of these techniques. The listing receives more thorough coverage (and integration into an overall legal theory) in the tenth century – see for example Abū Bakr al-Jaṣṣāṣ, al-Fuṣūl fi uṣūl al-ahkām (Istanbul, 1994), I, 129, and his Aḥkām al-Qurʾān (Beirut, 1995), I, 71.

59 Lowry, J., “The legal hermeneutics of al-Shāfiʿī and Ibn Qutayba: a reconsideration”, Islamic Law and Society, 11, 2004, 78.

60 See Calder, Norman, Studies in Early Muslim Jurisprudence (Oxford, 1993), 7685 and 233–44.

61 In saying this, I am arguing that I am not entirely convinced by Hallaq's relegation of al-Shafiʿī’s immediate importance in his article Was al-Shāfiʿī the master architect of Islamic jurisprudence?”, International Journal of Middle East Studies, 25, 1993, 587605.

62 This confirms, to an extent, some of the conclusions of Etan Kohlberg (in his Imam and community in the pre-Ghayba period”, in Arjomand, S.A. (ed.), Authority and Political Culture in Shiʿism (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1988), particularly pp.35–8; Takim, The Heirs of the Prophet, 78–109.

1 An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Mellon Islamic Studies Seminar, University of Chicago, when I was visiting professor there, January–March 2013. I am grateful to the wonderful faculty and students of the departments of Divinity, NELC and History of the University for hosting me with such hospitality. I am also grateful to Professors Todd Lawson, Devin Stewart and Tahera Qutbuddin who acted as discussants at the seminar, and made some pertinent suggestions which, I hope, have improved the argument presented here. I also thank Mohammed Ali Amir-Moezzi, who read an earlier version, giving very useful feedback, and the BSOAS anonymous reader who saved me from some errors in presentation and argument.

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