Is the Shi’a Hadith Literature Reliable?

This is a guest post from Br. Josip Bolić.

Alhamdulillahi rabbil `alameen, was salatu was salamu `ala nabiyyina wa sayyidina Muhammadin wa ´ala alihi wa sahbihi ajma´en

One of the problems that plague the Bible and all other “sacred” scriptures of the other world religions, such as the Bhagavad-Gita, the Avesta and so on, is the issue of the textual reliability.

It is not just that the content of those books is questionable and written down by often anonymous people who lived decades or even centuries after the alleged events they are talking about, but that the manuscripts themselves were heavily edited and tampered with by later scribes.

Majority of Orientalists Admit the Reliability Of The Qur’an

Hence, it is truly a mu´jizah (miracle) of world history that the Qur´an was preserved letter by letter.

The weird pseudo-scientific theories of revisionist western historians (John Wansbrough, Patricia Crone, Dan Gibson, Moshe Sharon, Yehuda Nevo, etc.) who challenged the textual genuineness of the Qur´an have all turned out to be false, as the great discoveries of numerous Quranic manuscripts from the life-time of the Messenger have vindicated the Islamic claim on the preservation of the Qur´an.

The expert on Islamic history Andrew Brockett concludes:

The transmission of the Qur’an after the death of Muhammad was essentially static, rather than organic. There was a single text, and nothing significant, not even allegedly abrogated material, could be taken out nor could anything be put in.1

He also says about the Qur´an:

All this points to a remarkably unitary transmission in both its graphic form and its oral form.2

Even the British Islamophobe and Christian missionary William Muir admits:

Yet but one Koran has always been current amongst them (i.e. Muslims)… There is probably in the world no other work which has remained twelve centuries with such a pure text.3

The historian John Burton says:

What we have today in our hands is the mushaf of Muhammad.4

The German historian Friedrich Schwally concludes:

As for the various parts of the Revelation, we can be satisfied that its text has generally been conveyed exactly as it was found in the legacy of the Prophet.5

The British cleric and historian Kenneth Cragg calls the transmission of the Qur´an “an unbroken sequence of piety.”6

But What about the Hadith Literature?

This also shows the reliability of the hadith sciences, whose version of the Islamic history on the Qur´an was obviously affirmed by modern historiography as well.

Sh. Mustafa Al-Azami wrote valuable books in which he refuted western speculations and claims against the hadith sciences, exposing their lies, misconceptions, false assumptions, logical fallacies, and errors.7

Even western historians have slowly realized how bad and fallacious their “arguments” against the reliability of hadith were, as Harald Motzki8, John Burton9 and John Esposito10 have shown.

The British historian Bernard Lewis says:

But their careful scrutiny of the chains of transmission and their meticulous collection and preservation of variants in the transmitted narratives give to medieval Arabic historiography a professionalism and sophistication without precedent in antiquity and without parallel in the contemporary medieval West. By comparison, the historiography of Latin Christendom seems poor and meager, and even the more advanced and complex historiography of Greek Christendom still falls short of the historical literature of Islam in volume, variety and analytical depth.11

The Unreliability of Shi’a Literature

Sh. Al-Azami talks extensively in his book on the history of the Quranic text, how meticulous and precise Islamic scholars were in transmitting and copying manuscripts, not just of the Qur´an but also other books of traditional Sunni literature.12

We do not need to explain why textual reliability is essential.

The problem of the Shi’a hadith literature is that it is replete with textual corruption.

It is not just the case that Shi’a hadith books are full of transmitters who have been famous liars and forgers13, but the manuscripts themselves have been changed.

RELATED: The Hidden Shia Agenda of The Muslim Vibe

Important Shi’a books in fact have been simply lost: Saduq’s 10-volume work of ahadith from the “imams”, Madinat al-´ilm, vanished and the Sunni hadith expert Shams ad-Din adh-Dhahabi (7th century Hijri) rejoiced that all books of the famous Shia scholar al-Mufid were lost as well; obviously, Dhahabi is happy that the Shi’as had no opportunity to spread the obnoxious heresies that al-Mufid propagated.

Sh. Ibn Taymiyya wrote a massive refutation of the Shi’as totaling well over 3,500 pages, where he quotes the Shi’a scholar al-Hilli and then deconstructs him word by word. But readers have surely noticed, when you go through it, that neither Ibn Taymiyya nor al-Hilli himself quote from the major Shi’a books we have today (al-Kafi, al-Istibsar, Tahdhib, etc). The reason is simply that all those books were lost for centuries at that time.

Today, we do have these books and we can see clearly that they have been distorted, the clearest signs being the anachronisms, which plague Shi’a books.

Thus, in Kafi, Basair ad Darajat, al-Imamah wa Tabsirah, Kashf wal Mahajjah and other works, we encounter ahadith which mention minutes and seconds.14 The problem is that minutes and seconds were unknown at that time, since minutes and seconds occurred some 700 years later, with the invention of the mechanical hour.

Even the rijali books were not spared. In Sunni hadith sciences, ilm ar-rijal is the biographical evaluation of an individual putting him in his temporal context in order to have the most precise picture of him and his ability to accurately transmit hadith.

Well, al-Najashi´s book of Rijal is one of the three major rijali-books for the Shi’as, although Najashi himself did not want to write a rijal-book but just a catalog of Shi’a authors, writers, and famous persons, as he himself states in the introduction of his book.

But the Shi’as took his book as a rijal-book, since there was a severe lack of it in Shi’a literature, making it impossible to evaluate the authenticity of the alleged ahadith of the “imams.”

To give one example of how unreliable this authoritative Shi’a work is, in Rijal al-Najashi we find the biography of the transmitter Muhammad ibn Hassan ibn Hamza, who died in the year 463 h.15

The peculiar detail is that al-Najashi himself died in 450 h.

Obviously, years and decades later after his death, Shi’as distorted his book, to the extent that even the title was changed: since al-Najashi was not a rijal-scholar at all, he did not write a book on ilm ar-rijal or al-jarh wa’l-ta’dil, rather, his book was just a list of well-known Shi’a authors, as, again, he explains himself in his introduction, and thus the historic name of his book was Fihrist (meaning “list”).

It was later Shi’a scholars such Ibn Davud al-Hilli and Allamah al-Hilli who started referring to the book as Rijal al-Najashi.

So even if al-Najashi was that “giant muhaddith,” as later Shi’as tried to portray him, the book may not even be from him, as we have seen.

It was then natural that some Shi’as hence questioned whether al-Najashi “really” died in 450, although all classical Shi’a scholars and biographers agree upon this date.16

The same problems affect all other Shi’a books.

Rijal al-Barqi is also just a list, without evaluating the reliability of the transmitters. The book itself has contradictory versions and it has been transmitted indirectly from other books.

The book Rijal Ibn Ghadairi suddenly appeared 200 years after its alleged author, whoever he was was, since Shi’a scholars themselves speculate about the real author (Husayn or his son Ahmad). Also, Shi’a scholars throughout history even mention contradictory titles of this same book (Du´afa, Fihrist, Tarikh, al-Mamduhim, etc.).

Hence, it is interesting to note that Ali Sistani, the most influential Ayatollah of Iraq today, still claims Rijal ibn Ghadairi to be the most authentic rijal book, which shows the contrast between the strict and even scientific Sunni methodology as compared to the Shi’a modes of textual transmission.

The manuscripts of the Rijal al-Kashshi are lost, too. A copy reached Sh. Tusi who shortened the book and renamed it, but this was also lost and only in parts transmitted by Sh. Radi ad-Din Ali Ibn Tawus in his book Faraj al-Mahmum.

Keep in mind all these unreliable books are supposed to be the most authoritative for Shi’as.


Since it is obvious that Shi’a scholars have not been able to even protect their own manuscripts from distortion, it should be clear why Shi’a theological claims cannot be trusted.

It is also ironic that the Shi’as, whose major scholars claimed tahreef or textual tampering of the Qur´an by Sunnis, are actually the ones who are making tahreef on their own works.

Also, as we began this essay by quoting major Western Orientalists who agreed with the Sunni view on the reliability of both the Qur’an and the Sunnah, let’s quote another Orientalist who talks about Shi’a literature in general, just to be fair.

Reinhart Dozy, a Dutch scholar writing in French in the second half of the 19th century CE, said:

Les auteurs chiites et ce sont certainement les plus grands falsificateurs de l’histoire qu’il y ait jamais eu.17

Which could be translated into English as:

The Shiite authors, and they are certainly the greatest falsifiers of history that there has ever been.


      1. Adrian Brockett, “The Value of Hafs and Warsh Transmissions For The Textual History of The Qur’ân” in Andrew Rippin (ed.), Approaches Of The History Of Interpretation Of The Qur’ân, 1988, Oxford: Clarendon Press, page 44.
      2. Andrew Rippin (ed.), Approaches Of The History of Interpretation Of The Qur’an, 1988, Oxford: Clarendon Press, p. 34.
      3. Sir William Muir, The Life Of Mohammad, 1912, Edinburgh: John Grant, pp. xxii-xxiii.
      4. John Burton, The Collection Of The Qur’ân, 1979, Cambridge University Press, pp. 239-240.
      5. Friedrich Schwally, Geschichte des Qorans, Leipzig: Dieterich’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1909-38, vol. 2, p. 120.
      6. Kenneth Cragg, The Mind of the Quran, London: George Allen & Unwin, 1973, p. 26.
      7. See the following three books in particular: Studies In Early Hadith Literature, University of Cambridge, 1978; On Schacht’s Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence, Riyadh: King Saud University 1985; The History of the Qur’anic Text: from Revelation to Compilation: A Comparative Study with the Old and New Testaments, UK Islamic Academy, 2003.
      8. Harald Motzki, Analyzing Muslim Traditions: Studies in Legal, Exegetical and Maghazi Hadith, BRILL, 2009 [with Nicolet Boekhoff-van der Voort and Sean W. Anthony]
      9. John Burton, An Introduction To The Hadith, 1994, Edinburgh University Press, p. 181.
      10. John Esposito, Islam: The Straight Path, 1998, Oxford University Press, p. 81.
      11. Bernard Lewis, Islam In History, 1993, Open Court Publishing, pp. 104-105.
      12. Mustafa Al-Azami, The History of the Qur’anic Text: from Revelation to Compilation: A Comparative Study with the Old and New Testaments, UK Islamic Academy, pp. 177-193.
      13. Refer to Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz bin Ali Al-Nasser, Al-Burhan Fi Tabriat.
      14. al-Kulayni, al-Kafi, vol. 1, p. 274.; al-Qummi, Basair ad-Darajat, p. 497.; Ibn Tawus, Kashf al-Mahjjah, p.3.
      15. Rijal an-Najashi, n. 1070.
      16. Abbas Qommi, Al Kunna wal aqwab, vol. 3, p. 240; Al-Hilli, Khilasat al-aqwal, vol. 1, p. 73.
      17. Reinhart Dozy, Essai sur l’histoire de l’Islamisme, E.J. Brill, 1879, p. 438.
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“The problem is that minutes and seconds were unknown at that time, since minutes and seconds occurred some 700 years later, with the invention of the mechanical hour.”

I think it would be more coherently phrased as “minutes and seconds were only conceptualised some 700 years later” rather than they “occurred some 700 years later”.