بسم الله الرحمن الرحیم
A well-known saying among the Salaf (due to Imam Abdullah ibn al Mubarak, if I recall correctly) is, roughly from memory“Isnad is part of the religion; if it were not for isnad, anyone could have said anything.”
Now, why exactly does isnad prevent people from saying anything they like?
Well, if someone claims they have a hadith, we ask them who they heard it from. If they say “X told me”, we can check what he narrates from X by comparing it to what other students of X have narrated. For example, if we know those other students were reliable, we can evaluate whether X is truthful or accurate by this comparison, and can even detect outright forgeries. Thus, requiring people to cite their sources means we have an independent check on their accuracy or truthfulness, because the sources they cite had other students whose narrations we can access.
A Hypothetical Example: So let’s say someone, call him “Zurarah”, narrates a hadith, and says he heard it from Imam Malik. We can then go and look at what well-known students of Imam Malik narrated from him. Suppose the narration of this hadith by Zurarah from Malik differs significantly from the narrations transmitted of the same hadith transmitted by other students. We suspect Zurarah of forgery, and we go to him and say “How come this hadith of yours differs so much from what all other students of Imam Malik related?” Zurarah stutters and stumbles, and is unable to give a convincing reply. So we grade him as “weak” or “forger”, and his narrations are not used as proof.
Now this sort of cross-checking of narrations is a well-known method. (It is mentioned in Ibn Salah’s standard book on the sciences of hadith, and there is an article in English by Ifitkhar Zaman that applies it to a hadith of Sad ibn Abu Waqqas may Allah be pleased with him.) In a community where this sort of cross-checking goes on, forgers will be deterred from their activities, because they know they can be easily found out.
So now we have a clear understanding of why it is that isnad prevents people from saying whatever they like; liars and forgers know too well that there are ways of checking on the accuracy of their reports.
But this common-sense approach breaks down in Shia communities in which people think that the Imams practice taqiyya when narrating hadiths or teaching religious rulings.
Why is this exactly? What difference does the belief in the taqiyya of the Imams make?
Well, if someone claims they have a hadith from an Imam of the Ahl ul Bayt, we can again check his hadith against what others have narrated from the same Imam. If he agrees with the other narrators, all well and good. But what if he disagrees with the other narrators? In that case, we can’t reject his narrations or suspect him of weakness; he may be inaccurate or a liar, or it may be that the Imam was engaging in taqiyya that time. Thus, the belief in the taqiyya of the Imams means we lose the ability to detect weak or forging narrators.
To illustrate this, consider
Another Hypothetical Example. So let’s say someone, call him “Zurarah”, narrates a hadith, and says he heard it from Imam Jafar, and we think Imam Jafar regularly practises taqiyya. We can then go and look at what well-known students of Imam Jafar narrated from him. Suppose the narration of this hadith by Zurarah from Jafar differs significantly from the narrations transmitted of the same hadith transmitted by other students. We suspect Zurarah of forgery, and we go to him and say “How come this hadith of yours differs so much from what all other students of Imam Jafar related?” Zurarah grins smugly, and with a twinkle in his eye, confidently says “Well, Imam Jafar engaged in taqiyya with the others.” Because we think Imam Jafar does often engage in taqiyya, we are forced to admit that this is a possibility. We therefore can’t downgrade Zurarah, and his reputation remains intact.(Note that Zurarah’s excuse would never work with Imam Malik, because nobody thinks Malik ever thought it was permissible for him to lie in transmitting hadiths.)
It’s worth thinking about this carefully. In a community which believes in the taqiyya of the infallible Imams, even when teaching religion and not under immediate threat, people can make things up and attribute them to the Imams without having to worry about getting caught through others cross-checking their narrations.
Muslims feel proud that because of isnad, people can’t just say anything they like.
But not to worry! The Shias came up with a brilliant response. By promoting the belief that the Imams engage in taqiyya without being under immediate threat, and even while narrating hadiths or issuing fatwas, it once again became possible for anyone to say anything they like.
And just like Muslims argue that “Isnad is part of the religion”, the Shias claim that “Taqiyya is nine-tenths of the religion.”
By means of their belief in the taqiyya of the Imams, the Shias have removed a key deterrent to liars and forgers, and have once again made it easy for liars and forgers to spread falsehood.
And Allah knows best!
By HughSlaman (member of Islamic-Forum.net)
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