Translated by Yusuf Ali
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ilm al-Rijaal is one of the classical sciences [al-Ulum al-naqliyyah] as taught within the Hawza system.
It has generally been taught since the very establishment of the classical Hawza. It concerns itself with the study of the biographies of the people who have transmitted the Prophetic statements from both the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) and the Imams (a.s) from within the books of Prophetic sayings and assesses the reliability or unreliability of those people.
ilm al-Rijaal as a term comprises of two words "'ilm" and "al-Rijaal" and when translated directly from Arabic literally means "The Science of Men."
The science has been appropriately named as it concerns itself entirely with Men (and women) and the finer details of their lives, beliefs and circumstances which are necessary to determine their reliability or unreliability in transmitting the words of the Prophet (s.a.w) or Imams (a.s).
In essence, the science of Rijaal is applying historical context to the statements attributed to the Prophet (s.a.w) and the Imams (a.s) within the Hadith literature, and the very objective of the science is to determine the reliability of a statement attributed to the Prophet (s.a.w) or Imams (a.s).
A working knowledge of the science of Rijaal is generally expected from every scholar who reaches the level of being a Jurisprudent and has the ability to give legal edicts and injunctions as a prerequisite of being able to do so would naturally entail the ability to filter any accurate saying of the Prophet (s.a.w) or Imams (s.a.w) from the contradicting non authentic sayings.
The science of Rijaal is viewed as having its roots in the Lifetime of the Prophet and the Imams when their own companions would seek to transmit only from those who were deemed as having actually met the Prophet (s.a.w) or the Imams (a.s). Other basic requirements were also sought in these people such as the ability to transmit accurately without any lapses in their memory, and indeed the ability to not mix and confuse various traditions into one statement and vice versa.
The science also has a precedent on a very basic level from the Qur'an itself which states:
"O Believers, if an unrighteous person comes to you with information, you should verify it or else you might inflict harm on a people in ignorance and then end up regretting what you have done." (Al Qur'an 49:6)
The science employs not only rigorous checking of the transmitters of the Hadith until the compilation of a work, but also has traditionally concerned itself with even a thorough examination of the individuals who have handed down the compiled works to us, thus avoiding the possibility of interpolations at the hands of those who have passed down works of a Hadith (of course, this problem has been somewhat solved since the invention of the mass-printing press, reducing the problem of scribal additions to texts).
One key point which cannot be overlooked in studying ilm al-Rijaal is that it cannot be mistakenly assumed to be a uniform Monolithic science upon which all Jurists agree, rather as with all other tools of historical investigation and indeed every other social science, there are disagreements over some of the finer details which may render a person's testimony to be valid and accurate.
As knowledge of society and even history evolves, so too shall the methods employed in accepting narrations to be historically sound or not.
ilm al Rijaal, or the Science of the Biography of the Narrators of Hadith, is the discipline concerned with the study of the biographical details of the men and women through whom narrations and reports attributed to the Prophet (s.a.w) and Twelve Imams (a.s) have been transmitted.
In keeping with tradition, Shaykh Mishkeeni (d. 1939AD) has defined ilm al-Rijaal as follows:
What is studied about a narrator's biography in accordance with the criteria for the acceptance of the report or the rejection of it
Although the science is one of the classical sciences, (al-Ulum al-Naqliyyah) that is taught and studied in traditional Islamic seminaries, it would be incorrect to assume that this science is in anyway uniformly rigid and there are varying views as to what the principles and rules of ilm al-Rijaal actually are. It follows therefore that whilst there are general agreed upon principles within the field, there is still debate over the scope of ilm al Rijaal, and even the particular methods of evaluating individual narrators’ reliability in the transmissions of reports.
ilm al-Rijaal is recognised as being one of the prerequisite sciences that is necessary for seminary studies in Jurisprudence, and principles of Jurisprudence, which form the core basis of the preparatory and preliminary studies required to attain the level of Ijtihaad. This is described as the authentication process of determining which narrations, attributed to the Prophet (s.a.w) and the Imams (a.s), can be put forward as juristic evidences for the rulings issued by jurists.
History of the Concept of ilm al-Rijaal
The history of ilm al-Rijaal, as a discipline, has an earlier history. It can certainly be seen to have grown organically and developed from its basic form which had existed at least since the ruling period of Imam Ali (a.s)  , and also has a clear precedent for its usage within the Qur'an itself:
"O Believers, if an unrighteous person comes to you with information, you should verify it or else you might inflict harm on a people in ignorance and then end up regretting what you have done." (Al Quran 49:6)
Biographies of the Companions of Imam Ali (a.s)
There is also evidence that there was a concern with keeping biographical details of people surrounding the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) and the Imams from a very early period.
An example from within the fifty years after the death of Muhammad (s.a.w), can be seen from the son of a servant of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) named Ubaydullah b. Abi Raafa'. He compiled a book based on the biographies of the companions of Imam Ali (a.s). This book was appropriately named: ‘Tasmiyat man shahida ma'a Ali hurubah min al-Muhajirin wa'l Ansar.’ It was expanded upon further by his son, after he passed away .
The companions of the Imams also seemed very concerned with keeping biographical details of other people surrounding the Imams (a.s), and were cautious in making sure they narrated only from those who were viewed as having an upright character and sound creed. This can be observed by a cursory view of the ‘Rijal’ works which remain relevant today, for example Fadl b. Shadhan (d. 795AH). The renowned companion of the ninth, tenth, and eleventh Imams (a.s), is quoted many times giving his opinion as to the trustworthiness of certain companions in the works of al-Kashshi (d 961AH), al-Tusi (d.1067AH) as well as in al-Najashi (d.1058AH).
The earliest compilers of the ‘Imami Books of Traditions’ were concerned with ilm al-Rijaal, and collected biographical data which is evident in ‘Thiqatul Islam‘ by Muhammad b. Yaqub al-Kulayni (d. 940AH).
It is generally recognized that he had compiled a work of Rijaal (though this no longer exists). Shaykh Abu Ja'far Muhammad b. Ali b. Babawayh al-Qummi, more famously known as al-Shaykh al-Saduq, (and commonly given the honorary title of "The Crown of the Traditionalists") in his work of traditions ‘Man La Yahduruhu al Faqih’ also made reference to certain traditions which indicates that he also used 'ilm al-Rijaal to authenticate and reject certain narrations included in his work.
Rijaal not only concerns itself with the narrators of traditions, but also with the way the works have been transmitted, even after their compilation. If it is unknown how we have received a compiled work, since its compilation to the present day, then the work is rejected. It cannot be known for sure when this principle came into usage amongst the Imami Scholars, however, it can be observed from the work ‘Tasheeh al-Itiqadat ‘of Shaykh al-Mufid (d. 1025AH) in which al-Mufid rebukes his teacher al-Saduq for utilising the work of Sulaym b. Qays (d. 710AH) due to the fact that Aban b. Abi Ayyash, who transmitted the book from Sulaym, was seen as being an unreliable figure .
Earliest Existing Ilm al-Rijaal Works
The earliest ilm al-Rijaal work, still in existence, which is considered to be of the six primary sources for ilm al-Rijaal is the work of Ahmad b. Muhammad b. Khalid al-Barqi (d. 887-893AH), who wrote ‘Kitab al-Mahasin’.
However, there have been some serious considerations as to whether or not this book is truly authentic. In addition to the problem of attribution, it is also unclear about the reliability of the majority of the narrators mentioned in the work. There are 1707 narrators mentioned in the work, yet the author only discusses the reliability, or lack thereof, of seven of them. For this reason, the status and acceptance of the work, has indeed been disputed and it is not relied upon for assessing the reliability of narrators by contemporary Scholars of the discipline.
Contemporary Scholarship proposes that this work, which has often been ascribed to Ahmad b. Muhammad b. Khalid al-Barqi, is most likely the work of Ahmad’s son, namely Abd Allah b. Ahmad al-Barqi, whom al-Kulayni often transmits traditions from directly. Or perhaps it is the work of his grandson Ahmad b. Abd Allah al-Barqi, from whom Shaykh Saduq frequently transmits directly from.
The second possibility seems more credible and also more likely to be the case due to the fact that the work lists contemporaries of Shaykh Saduq, and hence would unlikely be attributable to his father, much less his grandfather.
‘Al-Ikhtiyar fi Ma'rifah 'ilm al-Rijaal’ is the second oldest existing work on the subject, and is a revision, or critical selection, of the text known as ‘Rijaal al-Kashshi.’ Although the revised work is commonly referred to by the name of the earlier, more complete work. The original work was compiled by the renowned Imami Abu Amr Muhammad b. 'Umar b. 'Abd al-Aziz al-Kashshi (d. 961AH), but was further revised and reduced in size by Shaykh Tusi (d. 1067AH). Unlike the vast majority of other Rijaal works, ‘al-Ikhtiyar ‘assumes the format of a book of traditions pertaining to the virtues or defamation of Imami narrators.
K. Ibn al-Ghadha'iri (d. 1020AH) is another contentious work in the view of Scholars of 'Ilm al-Rijaal and has been rejected by many on various grounds.
Some scholars, such Al-Khu’i, argue that the work was the fabrication of opponents of the Imamiyyah and other scholars, such as Nuri al-Tabarasi, refer to Ibn al-Ghadha'iri as ‘the slanderer,’ primarily due to the fact he was perceived as weakening even narrators whose reliability seemed unquestionable. Others dispute whether this is the original work or if it is falsely attributed to Ibn al-Ghadha'iri.
The two works from this time, which continue to be relevant, and are viewed as highly invaluable today, are the works of the renowned Imami jurist and scholar Shaykh Abu Ja'far Muhammad b. al-Hassan al-Tusi (d. 1067AH), who in his works ‘Rijaal al-Tusi’ and ‘Fihrist al-Tusi’ respectively has contributed heavily to the development of Rijaal literature.
The second of the primary works for the discipline of ilm al-Rijaal is the work of Tusi's contemporary Ahmad b. Ali b. 'Abbas al-Najashi (d. 1058AH) ,who wrote ‘Fihrist al-Najashi,’ a work which is now recognized as being the most dependable of all the primary works for the discipline.
After the classical period, several more works of Rijaal were written by dependable scholars of the Imamiyyah, three in particular have gained relative importance and have come to be depended upon in the discipline, namely:
This last work is older than the other two, but is less widely used. These works, despite not being primary sources, have been extensively utilized by modern scholars in the field of 'ilm al-Rijaal.
Rijaal works since the time of Allamah Hilli are generally classified as modern Rijaal works. While there were many works written during this period, the two most celebrated ones are the reference works of two twentieth century Jurists
While not always recognized strictly as sources of ilm al-Rijaal, mention must also be made of two particular sources which have been heavily utilized by the scholars of ilm al-Rijaal:
Al-Ziyarat states in the introduction to his crucial work that he only narrates from trustworthy individuals (although Khu’i would interpret this to mean only those whom he narrated from directly) and ‘Ali ibn Ibraheem al-Qummi states that he too has only narrated from reliable individuals. However, unfortunately with 'Tafseer al-Qummi,’ there is a great deal of controversy over whether or not the Tafseer ascribed to him is actually the original Tafseer he wrote.
Individuals Who do not Require Verification as their Position in the Religion is Known
There are certain individuals who require no verification as to their status as they are so well known and respected by the scholars and the Imami community that their unanimous acceptance requires no need for verification.
This group can be divided into those whom the scholars have called “individuals above verification” and another group entitled the “Companions on whom there is a consensus”.
The individuals known as being “individuals above verification” are individuals who clearly would not require a second thought as to their reliability, such as the closest companions of the Prophet (s.a.w) and Imam Ali (a.s), for example Salman al-Farsi, Abu Dhar al-Ghifari, Miqdad ibn Aswad al-Kindi.
From the companions of the Imams, individuals such as Malik al-Ashtar, Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas, Habib ibn Muzahir and others who have a clear position in the religion.
The Companions on whom there is a consensus are known as the Ashab al-Ijmaa’a.
This is a group of select companions from the Sixth and Seventh Imams (a.s) over whom there is an absolute consensus as to their reliability and veracity.
Al-Kashshi lists individuals from the companions of Imam al-Baqir (a.s) and Imam al-Sadiq (a.s) as being from the Ashab al-Ijmaa’a namely:
1) Zurarah ibn Ayun
2) Mar’uf b. Kharabudh
3) Burayd b. Mu’awiya
4) Abu Baseer al-Asadi
5) Al-Fudayl b. Yassar
6) Muhammad b. Muslim
7) Jameel ibn Duraj
8) Abd Allah ibn Maskaan
9) Abd Allah ibn Bukayr
10) Hammad ibn ‘Uthman
11) Hammad ibn ‘Eesa
12) Aban ibn ‘Uthman
And from the companions of Imam al-Kadhim (a.s) and Imam al-Ridha (a.s):
13) Yunus ibn ‘Abd al-Rahman
14) Sufwan ibn Yahya
15) Muhammad ibn Abi ‘Umayr
16) Abd Allah ibn Mughayrah.
17) Al-Hassan ibn Mahbub
18) Ahmed ibn Muhammad ibn Abi Nasr
Main Debates and Arguments
There has historically been much debate as to the scope of ilm al-Rijaal and how reflective it is of an actual transmitted science.
Following the Akhbari-Usuli split within Twelver Shi'ism, there was a clear trend of those within the Akhbari camp outright rejecting the discipline of Rijaal, some even attacking it and dismissing it as a science which had been imported from the non-Imami sects. Even moderate Akhbari scholars, such as Yusuf al-Bahrani, advocated that it be rejected in favor of accepting all chains from the four original works of Hadith.
Other debates which have occurred in modern scholarship primarily relate to whether or not certain approaches accepted by the classical scholars can be accepted as sound methods for ascertaining the reliability or unreliability of a particular narrator.
In recent years, ilm al-Rijaal and its scope have been called into question by several controversies over whether or not the science is meant to be strictly applied to narrations in regard to Jurisprudence (as is practiced by the Jurists), or whether or not it has a broader scope, including the ability to call into question the authenticity of religious appeals.
Others have raised more basic objections, including the nature of ilm al-Rijaal, as being nothing more than the Ad Hominem rejection, or acceptance, of those whom the collective memory of the community had rejected or accepted based upon their conception of orthodoxy. Their conception of orthodoxy must be viewed in the context of their historical era and geographical location, for example the work of Ibn al-Ghada'iri ,who dismisses many narrators as being extremists despite the fact that Najashi and Tusi may describe them as trustworthy.
However, such an objection could also be answered easily owing to the fact that Rijaal as a science did not necessarily render individual men as unreliable due to their theological creeds. This is apparent from the fact that individuals who have been classified as extremists, deviants and of schools which were opposed to the school of the Imamiyyah have been on several occasions deemed as reliable transmitters of tradition.
As for the commonly leveled accusation that those who had commented upon the reliability of individuals have occasionally contradicted each other, the claim fails to take into account the nuances of scholarly differences of opinion. It is well known amongst scholars that differences of opinion in grading the reliability, or lack of in certain individuals, are based upon different conclusions reached by the researcher, much like Ijtihaad.
The Discipline of Rijaal will always remain relevant to the contemporary era as long the practice of perpetual Ijtihad, and the need for the Mujtahid to authenticate ahadith for deriving their rulings in jurisprudence exists.
However, the Rijaal literature can actually play a much more relevant role in the study of the development of the structures of the early Imami community. What debates and discussions interested the companions of the Imams are of great interest and also as a means of understanding any theological differences that existed between the varying communities in different geographical locations. The discipline of ilm al-Rijaal, is especially relevant for the field of Jurisprudence but also continues to be of interest to historians.
Bibliography and Further Reading
 Mirza Abu'l Hassan al-Mishkeeni, Wajeezah fi 'ilm al-Rijaal, (Mu'assasat al-'A'lami lil MaTbuaat, 1991) p.13.
 "Those who relate traditions are of four categories…" (A Famous Sermon, which has numerous variants found within NahjulBalagha, Tuhaf al-'Uqool, etc)
 Modarressi, H, Tradition and Survival, volume 1 (Oneworld publications, 2003) p. 32.
 Ibid, This is certainly recognized as being the earliest work for its genre, it is mentioned by many Sunni and Shi'a Scholars, Surprisingly the work remains extant to a large extent and is preserved in Qadi Nu'man's Sharh al-Akhbar (Albeit slightly interpolated).
 Al-Tusi, Rijaal al-Tusi, (Maktabah al-Hayderiyyah 1961) page 408.
 Al-Saduq, Man La Yahduruhu Al-Faqeeh, vol.1, pg. 251- full sources
 Al-Mufid, Tasheeh al-'Itiqadaat al-Imamiyyah, (Mu'assasat Imam al-Sadiq, 1992/1993) p. 148
 Mustadrak Wasa'il al-Shi'a, vol. 5, p.334. - reference
 al-Radhy, H, Ziyarat Ashura fi al-Mizan, page 7.– reference – no need for ’shaykh’
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