By Ḥaidar Ḥobbollah
Originally posted on the Thaqalayn Blog
This is a translation of a Q&A posed to Shaykh Hobbollah, original Arabic here
Question: By reading the fragrant biography of the Messenger of God ﷺ , and his family, peace be upon them, we clearly see their noble and lofty position, which no one doubts except for those who have lost their minds. But yet in many cases we find some scholars narrating, transmitting, and speaking about things which are outside the judgment of reason which contradict many ḥadīths, as a result doubts arise within and outside our school of thought, after which scholars interpret these cases and ḥadīths with wondrous and strange interpretations; In order to prove them, while doing so in reality does not increase the status of the Prophet and the Imām. Here I will give one example, which is that the sword of Imām ʿAlī, peace be upon him, was grabbed by the ground when he’d killed Marḥab, or the presence of Imām ʿAlī on the eleventh night of Muḥarram and others, which I believe does not add anything (Abbas).
Answer: Regardless of the examples you mentioned, the reality you referred to definitely exists. Some of us do not subject historical and ḥadīth texts to scientific criticism from the beginning, but rather narrate narrations and history from the pulpit and television screens and in books and pamphlets, and the result is that when embarrassment is made by a story here or there, one begins with the interpretations that want to solve the alleged problem, and this reality in its entirety is an unscientific methodology, for history and ḥadīth must be confirmed before they are transmitted under the impression that they are established things that are intended to produce knowledge or general religious understanding, and this confirmation must be subject to a studied scientific method, not to an ideological methodology that takes an internally inconsistent historical narration and transforms it into one wrought of certainty; Because it suits my disposition and my beliefs, while we subject an authentic, strong and coherent narration to surprising interpretations when it does not fit in with the disposition we carry, a disposition which unfortunately for some of us arises in an unsystematic way from the beginning, which then requires someone to invent a methodology to justify it, whereby we feel at peace with the methodology whenever it succeeds in establishing the idea which we already believed in beforehand, pay close attention to this.
The most dangerous thing in this field is that scientific methods are invented to justify beliefs or emotions that arose in a non-systematic way from the beginning, and this issue usually applies on what we’re discussing, where enthusiasm, emotion or general disposition leads us to adopt a historical event or an attributed narration, and we interact with it emotionally; Because it is consistent with our general intellectual disposition, and we do not feel the need to prove its historical credibility when those to whom we cast this narration or historical story are also familiar with its context in the first place, and when others who differ with us in the general intellectual disposition ask us for evidence, we invent a methodology that is compatible with it in order to be able to justify the belief we have chosen before, so the methodology here becomes the result of our (preconceived) conclusions, and the conclusions themselves are the product of the general disposition and the heart’s tranquility generated in turn by the educational, customary, social and local elements, although the conclusions are supposed to be the result of the methodology. And when the general standards become corrupted, we get struck with all this confusion that we live in today in multiple different places. This leads with the passage of time to devoting oneself to a methodology that arose exclusively to justify a specific situation, not because it is a proof in itself, and then this method will generate new results in the subsequent period, and with the passage of time the religious and historical understanding will appear other than what it was.
We were supposed from the beginning to lighten the loads on our shoulders, and to dig seriously in all the texts of history and ḥadīth to ascertain their value, before we had these convictions that come from the texts of history and ḥadīth, and little by little we will arrive at data that is certain from our point of view and leave others, and the most important thing in this journey, it is the abandonment of fear, as it is often said: I cannot accept this methodology of historical and ḥadīth verification; Because it is a methodology, if considered correct, that will overthrow dozens of things that I believe in, and this is contrary to reason; The correct methodology is supposed to prove what you believe in, not that what you believe in proves the correct methodology! This is how some of them tell you: If we took this methodology, we would lose a large number of ḥadīth and historical narrations!
And I [Shaykh Ḥobbollāh] say: And who told you that if you take all these narrations, you would gain something? And from where did you know that they are established, if you are now still searching for the method of proving and invalidating them?! Indeed, they are strange phenomena that I often do not have an explanation for except that we are often led by the ideological mind and move in a way that we may not even be aware of.
It is also strange that we ourselves praise the ingenuity of a researcher in history or ḥadīth who exposed the falsity of an idea that was agreed upon for hundreds of years or overthrew a very important historical source that was cherished by everyone for hundreds of years. We praise this researcher because the aforementioned idea or source benefits our religious, sectarian or factional opponents. So refuting the agreed upon history is ingenious when it is in favour of sectarian, religious or factional disputation, while it is a crime, a conspiracy or scientific weakness when the matter is at the expense of my belief, school of thought or community!
Years ago, I was giving a series of lectures about fabrication in ḥadīth to a group of students of the religious sciences. I told them about the story of Noah’s Ark from some Sunnī books, and explained to them the elements of the fabrication in this historical transmission. And when I was giving the talk to the student brothers, I used to examine the expressions on their faces. I saw that as soon as I read the story narrated about the circumambulation of Noah’s Ark around the Kaaba, its praying of Ṣalāt al-Ṭawāf, and some other details, marks of irony, mockery and laughter appeared on their faces. They all felt that this story was made up, and I didn’t notice that anyone hesitated that it was. And I purposely told them this first, in order to tell them after that this story was reported in the transmissions of the Shīʿa as well, but in the transmissions of the Shīʿa there was a strange addition, which is that Noah’s ark ascended to Mina, then returned and circled the Ṭawāf al-Nisāʾ as well! At this very moment, there was some silence, everyone was surprised by this, and one of the students who had been laughing a few seconds ago told me: Is it not possible to interpret the ḥadīth as such-and-such to dispel the accusation against it?! The situation had completely changed. A few moments ago, the mind was free and thinking without being under pressure. Perhaps it was exuberant due to the fact that the ḥadīth is from Sunnī sources, so the mind unleashed itself with an overdose this time, but as soon as he realized that the narration – which was even stranger than the Sunnī variant – exists among the Shīʿa as well. And this in Al-Kāfi by Shaykh al-Kulaynī, may God have mercy on him, the mind made a quick repositioning, to reproduce knowledge in another way. Why? Because we read the texts of history and ḥadīth in an ideological way, not in a unified, scientific, systematic way that acts in an academic, professional and honest manner with historical transmission wherever it is (and by the way, the narration is weak by its chain from more than one angle according to the Shīʿa, and I do not want to develop its content criticism right now, nor do I mean to reject it here or support it, but it is just an example, the like of which occurs frequently among different currents, sects, and groups).
This is the dilemma (with such narrations) that requires for (strange) interpretation, tawdry reasoning (like doing mental gymnastics) and (unsound) justification, and the solution is to liberate the mind from these dualities, liberate it from public and private emotions and dispositions, and liberate it from imitation and following, to pursue ijtihād and ingenuity, God willing.