In defence of Sunan al-Tirmidhi – Answering the Shia

Written by Farid

Bismillah wa salatu wal salam ala rasool Allah wa aalihi wa sahbihi wa man itaba’a hudaah

The shubha of tahreef in Sunan Al-Tirmithi isn’t all that new to the online world. I’ve run across an Arabic forum a while ago in which members were having trouble dealing with it, so I’ve decided that it should be taken care of as soon as possible to clear all the doubts.

The author of the article included the following as a synopsis:


The well-known and reliable hadith of the Prophet – “I am the city of knowledge and ‘Ali is its gate” is not present in the current editions of the Sahih (alternatively called Jami` or Sunan) of al-Tirmidhi (d. 279 AH). This book is one of the Sihah Sittah or Six Authentic hadith books for the Ahl al-Sunnah.

This case study will investigate the allegation that this hadith was included by al-Tirmidhi and used to be in his Sahih till it mysteriously disappeared at some stage in history.

I say, Sunan Al-Tirmithi is not an authentic book, and the author of the article is apparently going out of his way to misguide his audience.

The author indicates that the hadith mysteriously disappeared at some stage in history. This is an important point since this refutation will examine when this hadith supposedly disappeared.

Important: The purpose of this discussion is not to prove the reliability of the hadith. That has already been shown in several detailed works. For example, see the three volumes 10, 11 and 12 of Nafahat al-Azhar fi Khulasat ‘Abaqat al-Anwar dedicated to this hadith that show its tawatur. Therefore, for the purpose of this discussion, adverse comments on the strength of the hadith by some of the scholars below will be ignored.

Alhamdulillah, the written refutations against this by the brothers online are known to all Sunnis that have delved deeply in this field.

He continues:

Al-Tirmidhi lived between the years 209 AH and 279 AH. Several authors of books of hadith, sirah, history and kalam who came after him acknowledged that he has quoted this hadith – in the exact wording stated above – in his Sahih. However, the current editions of the Sahih only have the hadith ‘I am the house of wisdom and ‘Ali is its door’.

Indeed, the current editions include the hadith but by referring to it as the “house of wisdom” instead of “city of knowledge.”

The author then quotes evidences of late scholars mentioning the hadith of the “city of knowledge” and attributing it to Sunan Al-Tirmithi.

However, before we go into that, one needs to realize that the hadith of the “city of knowledge” is mainly narrated through two companions, Ibn Abbas, and Jabir bin Abdullah. While, the hadith of the “house of wisdom” can only be found attributed to Ali.

Those who say al-Tirmidhi had quoted the ‘city of knowledge’ hadith

Please note that the following list is only some of those sources of the Ahl al-Sunnah that quote the “city of knowledge” hadith mentioning al-Tirmidhi as one of its narrators. It does not include the multitude of other sources that narrate this hadith without mentioning al-Tirmidhi’s name.

Ta’rikh al-Khulafa’, Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti (d. 911 AH), p. 170

“… al-Tirmidhi and al-Hakim has quoted on the authority of ‘Ali who said: The Messenger of God, peace and blessings be upon him, said: ‘I am the city of knowledge and ‘Ali is its gate’…”

This hadith is indeed present with the exact stated wording in al-Hakim’s Mustadrak `ala al-Sahihayn, vol. 3, pp. 126-7.

In the above we find Al-Suyuti referring to both hadiths with a single line of text. He attributes the same hadith to both Ali and Ibn Abbas. This will become more clear in the next piece of “evidence”.

Al-Durar al-muntatharah fi al-ahadith al-mushtahirah, Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti (d. 911 AH), p. 23 

The complete text is the following. However, the author of the article didn’t include it since it would hurt his case:

حديث أنا مدينة العلم وعلي بابها.

الترمذي من حديث علي، وقال: منكر. وأنكره البخاري أيضا، والحاكم في مسدتركه من حديث ابن عباس وقال: صحيح، قال الذهبي: بل هو موضوع. وقال أبو زرعة: كم خلق افتضحوا فيه.

Notice, we find find Al-Suyuti attributing the hadith to Ali and says that it can be found in Al-Tirmithi. He then says, that Al-Hakim narrated it through Ibn Abbas. In this case, he is talking about two similar hadiths, and he differentiates them by mentioning that the companion narrating each hadith is different.

This specific quote is especially important for a couple of reasons. The author of the article is quoting this from Al-Suyuti to imply the following:

1- That this hadith existed within Sunan Al-Tirmithi at one time.

2- That Al-Suyuti has a version of the Sunan that we don’t today.

However, upon quoting Al-Tirmithi’s comment of the hadith “munkar” we come to the conclusion that Al-Suyuti is referring to the same hadith that exists with us in current versions of Sunan Al-Tirmithi. We are led to this conclusion since Al-Tirmithi comments on the hadith of “house of wisdom” as a munkar hadith as well.

Furthermore, if the “original” Sunan Al-Tirmithi had a “city of knowledge” hadith that was classified as munkar by Al-Tirmithi, then what is the motive for Sunnis to remove the hadith? Why get rid of one munkar hadith and leave the other be?

One more thing to make note of is that Al-Bukhari classified the hadith as munkar as well according to Al-Suyuti. Keep in mind, he is referring to the hadith of Ali, not the hadith of Ibn Abbas. Then, we find this hadith in Al-Ilal Al-Kabeer by Al-Tirmithi (p.402) in which he asks Al-Bukhari about the hadith of the “house of wisdom”.

This too implies that Al-Suyuti is referring to both texts as one.

And similarly:

Jawahir al-`Iqdayn, Nur al-Din ‘Ali al-Samhudi (d. 911 AH), manuscript

Al-Tirmidhi has narrated from ‘Ali with a raised chain of narration: ‘I am the city of knowledge and ‘Ali is its gate’.

The author of the article leaves out the following:

وقال الترمذي عقيب هذا: إنه منكر، وكذا قال شيخه البخاري.

Rough translation: Al-Tirmithi said after this: It is munkar. And, his sheikh, Al-Bukhari said the same.

Note, I’m not necessarily trying to weaken the narration, since this has been already achieved. But rather, I’m trying to make it more clear that these statements are the same statements that can be found after the hadith of the “house of wisdom”, which implies that we are indeed dealing with the same hadith.

Al-La’ali al-Masnu`ah, Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti (d. 911 AH), vol. 1, p. 332

This reference actually lends more support to the argument that scholars refer to both texts as one hadith. We find on page 331, the following:

حديث علي أخرجه الترمذي وحديث ابن عباس أخرجه الحاكم في المستدرك

Rough translation: The hadith of Ali has been narrated by Al-Tirmithi, and the hadith of Ibn Abbas was narrated by Al-Hakim in Al-Mustadrak.

Al-Suyuti then quotes the hadith of Al-Hakim, or rather the hadith of Ibn Abbas, yes, the hadith of the “city of knowledge”. He then spends about a page and a half discussing the strengths and weaknesses of this specific version. Finally on page 333, he quotes the hadith of Ali, from Al-Tirmithi, with the text of “house of wisdom”, and then says that both hadiths strengthen each other.

These actions by Al-Suyuti imply that he didn’t have access to a copy of Sunan Al-Tirmithi with “city of knowledge” in the text.

Although Ibn Taymiyyah does not consider the hadith reliable – and his view is thoroughly refuted in Nafahat al-‘Azhar (vol. 12, p. 132) – he is still aware that al-Tirmidhi has narrated it in the words of “city of knowledge”. If he believed that this hadith was absent from the Sahih then he would not have lost the opportunity to say so to strengthen the position of his argument.

Ironically, this led me to dig through Minhaj Al-Sunnah to find the reason as to why Ibn Taymiyah referred to this hadith as such.

Right after the quote, I find the following:

وذكره ابن الجوزي وبين أن سائر طرقه موضوعة

Rough translation: And Ibn Al-Jawzi mentioned this and how all the chains are fabricated.

Which led me to Al-Mawdoo’aat by Ibn Al-Jawzi, in which I found him titling the chapter:

الحديث العاشر في ذكر مدينة العلم

Rough translation: Hadith Number Ten: The City of Knowledge

Ibn Al-Jawzi spends the next few pages weakening each of the chains of the hadith, and among them a few hadiths with the text “house of wisdom” and “house of fiqh”. This implies that scholars used to refer to all these hadiths are the hadith of “city of knowledge”.

Ibn al-‘Athir can also be seen ascribing the ‘city of knowledge’ version to al-Tirmidhi:

Jami` al-‘usul fi ahaditrh al-Rasul, Ibn al-‘Athir (d. 606 AH), vol. 9, p.473

As in the case of Subul al-Huda above, the modern editor of Ibn al-‘Athir’s book, `Abd al-Qadir al-‘Arna’ut, in a footnote to this entry says that the wording of this hadith according to al-Tirmidhi was “I am the house of wisdom (dar al-hikmah) and ‘Ali is its door.”

This implies that a leading scholar such as Ibn al-‘Athir either considered the two ahadith to be identical, or mistakenly attributed the wrong version to al-Tirmidhi. It could also mean that al-Tirmidhi quoted this hadith in some other work of his, other than his Sahih (also called Jami`).

A more likely possibility is that Ibn al-‘Athir knew the “city of knowledge” version to be in al-Tirmidhi’s Sahih but al-‘Arna’ut had to offer the explanation because he could not locate the hadith in it.

The most likely explanation is the simplest one. It is that Ibn Al-Atheer didn’t differentiate between the two, and if he did, he would’ve included both versions in Jami’ Al-Usool.

Similarly, there is another book that gathered the usool and put them in one place. Al-Mizzi (742 AH), quotes the hadith of the “house of wisdom” and attributes it to Al-Tirmithi, in Tuhfatul Ashraaf (9/333). Of course, there is no mention of the “city of knowledge” in the book at all.

One of the main reasons in which the scholars apparently referred to both hadith as one apparently started from as early as the times of Ibn Hibban. In Al-Majrooheen he says:

عمر بن عبد الله الرومي: شيخ يروى عن شريك يقلب الاخبار ويأتى عن الثقات بما ليس من أحاديثهم لا يجوز الاحتجاج به بحال. روى عن شريك عن سلمة بن كهيل عن الصنابحى عن على عليه السلام قال: قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: ” أنا دار الحكمة وعلى بابها فمن أراد الحكمة فليأتها من بابها “. رواه عنه أبو مسلم الكجى. وهذا خبر لا أصل له عن النبي عليه الصلاة والسلام ولا شريك حدث به ولا سلمة بن كهيل رواه ولا الصنابحى أسنده. ولعل هذا الشيخ بلغه حديث أبى الصلت عن أبى معاوية فحفظه ثم أقلبه على شريك وحدث بهذا الاسناد.

Rough translation: Omar bin Abdullah Al-Rumi: A sheikh that narrates from Shareek, he flips narrations and he narrates from thiqaat what doesn’t look like their hadiths. It is forbidden to use him as a hujjah. He narrated from Shareek from Salama bin Kuhail from Al-Sanabihi, from Ali alaihi alsalam: The Prophet (pbuh) said: “I am the house of wisdom and Ali is its door, so who wishes for wisdom should come through the door.” Abu Muslim Al-Kijji narrated this. This hadith is a fabrication attributed to the Prophet (pbuh), Shareek didn’t narrate this, nor did Salama bin Kuhail, and nor did Al-Sanabihi. It seems as though this sheikh heard this hadith from Abi Al-Salt from Abi Mu’awiya, memorized it, then attributed it to Shareek and narrated it with this.

What Ibn Hibban means by the hadith of Abi Salt, is the “city of knowledge” hadith. This implies that the original fabrication was the “city of knowledge” hadith, which was then narrated by other liars as the “house of wisdom”. Apparently, this is why the scholars would refer to both as one, of course, that and the fact that some of them chose to summarize.

Perhaps the final nail in the coffin is evidence from a well-known contemporary scholar and his usage of the terms “city of knowledge” to refer to the hadith of Al-Tirmithi. Al-Albani, in Al-Silsila Al-Da’eefa (6/527), under the hadith of the “city of knowledge” mentions that the hadith can be found in Sunan Al-Tirmithi:

أما حديث علي، فأخرجه الترمذي واستغربه، وقد بينت علته في تخريج المشكاة (6087)

Rough translation: As for the hadith of Ali, it was extracted by Al-Tirmithi who found the hadith as strange, and I pointed out to the flaws in the takhreej of Al-Mishkaat (6087).

In conclusion, we found that the scholars of hadith would at times refer to hadiths with similar wording by referring to it in a single name. We found this to be the case with the hadith of the “city of knowledge”. The statements of Al-Suyuti indicate that there was a difference between the hadith of Ali, which is narrated by Al-Tirmithi and the hadith of Ibn Abbas, and yet, refers to both at times with one name. We also found that Al-Tirmithi and Al-Bukhari rejected the hadith of the “house of wisdom”, and according to the author, rejected the “city of knowledge” hadith as well. If that was the case, then why can we find only one hadith in Sunan Al-Tirmithi? Why aren’t both removed? Or why aren’t they both left in if the grading of both hadiths are the same?

Inshallah this is sufficient for the followers of Ahlul Sunnah and inshallah this clears the doubts surrounding this issue… and alhamdulillahi rab al-a’alameen.


Filed under Articles, Clarification about sunni hadiths, Exposing, Rebuttals

3 responses to “In defence of Sunan al-Tirmidhi – Answering the Shia

  1. zillay_shah

    asalam alikum
    I’m from ahlus sunnah and I follow hanafi fiqh and my aqeeda is that of aqeeda tahawiya, I thought I should clarify this Incase I get accused of rifz. First let me commend you guys do a great job in refutation of the rawafidh but be mindful unless this changes into khwarijism or nasibism. I’m sorry to say Wahhabis totally stink of nawasib roots and cannot simply stomach sound merits of ahlul bayt and like to declare sound narrated Hadith as weak. Al sayuti was of ahlus sunnah so he deemed the Hadith correct like many others but of ofcourse wahabism wasn’t produced yet hence the current stance. Also there is not such a strict criteria in authenticity in matters of fadhail anyway.

    Ibn taymiya considered deviant by the orthodox Muslims was well known for his deviancy and hatred for the commander of the faithful sayduna Ali ( karamAllahhuwajhulkareem) as recorded by Ibn hajar in al dur al kamina. In his minhaj as Sunna it is was a common habit of taking merits of ahlul bayt narrating the well known Hadith with different wording’s alien to other muhAditheen and ascribing false ijma or scholarly consensus. Loving ali is a sign of faith related by the sahabah which no wobbler in the world can deny. I’m no Sufi before you jump that band wagon I’m simply ahlus sunnah as sawad azam. We are the majority the mainstream the orthodox and not from the cursed horn of satan najd nor do we have any association with the children of dhulkhuwaysira at tamimi ( aka Ibn wahab).

    Peace be upon the followers of guidance.

  2. thanks for your invitation but id rather refrain from such forums mainly due to the fact of abundance of wanabe scholars and ofcourse biased moderators I would however appreciate feedback here on your articles if and where I comment, Ofcourse if at all possible

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