Muhammad b. Sinan: A Controversial Narrator (II)

Was he Praised by the Imam?

There exist narrations in which Muhammad b. Sinan is being praised by Imam al-Jawad عليه السلام

عن أبي طالب عبد الله بن الصلت القمي قال: دخلت على أبي جعفر الثاني عليه السلام في آخر عمره فسمعته يقول: جزى الله صفوان بن يحيى و محمد بن سنان و زكريا بن آدم عني خيرا فقد وفوا لي و لم يذكر سعد بن سعد، قال: فخرجت فلقيت موفقا، فقلت له: إن مولاي ذكر صفوان و محمد بن سنان و زكريا بن آدم و جزاهم خيرا، و لم يذكر سعد بن سعد قال: فعدت إليه، فقال: جزى الله صفوان بن يحيى و محمد بن سنان و زكريا بن آدم و سعد بن سعد عني خيرا فقد وفوا لي

964. From Abi Talib Abdallah b. al-Salt al-Qummi who said: I entered in to see Abi Ja’far the Second (al-Jawad) عليه السلام towards the end of his life. I heard him saying: ‘May Allah grant a goodly recompense to Safwan b. Yahya, Muhammad b. Sinan and Zakariyya b. Adam on my behalf – for they have been loyal to me’, but he did not name Sa’d b. Sa’d.

He (Abu Talib) said: I left and encountered Muwaffaq (a servant of al-Jawad) and said to him: My master mentioned Safwan, Muhammad b. Sinan and Zakariyya b. Adam supplicating for their good, but he did not name Sa’d b. Sa’d.

He (Abu Talib) said: Then I returned to him (i.e. the Imam) and he said: ‘May Allah grant a goodly recompense to Safwan b. Yahya, Muhammad b. Sinan, Zakariyya b. Adam and Sa’d b. Sa’d on my behalf – for they have been loyal to me’. [Rijal al-Kashshi: Pg. 503]

The narration seems to contain straight-forward praise for the four mentioned individuals. The first thing to note is that all four happen to be Wakils (agents of the Imam).

In some narrations, two of the four, that is, Muhammad b. Sinan and Safwan b. Yahya are singled out.

حدثني محمد بن قولويه، قال: حدثني سعد بن عبد الله، قال: حدثني أبو جعفر أحمد بن محمد بن عيسى، عن رجل، عن علي بن الحسين بن داود القمي قال: سمعت أبا جعفر الثاني عليه السلام يذكر صفوان بن يحيى، ومحمد ابن سنان بخير وقال: رضي الله عنهما برضائي عنهما، لا (فما) خالفاني قط

هذا بعد ما جاء عنه فيهما ما قد سمعته من أصحابنا

963. Muhammad b. Qulawayh – Sa’d b. Abdallah – Abu Ja’far Ahmad b. Muhammad b. Isa – a man – Ali b. al-Husayn b. Dawud al-Qummi who said: I heard Aba Ja’far the Second (al-Jawad) عليه السلام mention Safwan b. Yahya and Muhammad b. Sinan with positive words, and he (the Imam) said: ‘May Allah be pleased with them both because of my pleasure with them, for they never disobeyed me’.

(al-Kashshi:) This after what has come from him about them – that – which you have heard from our companions [Rijal al-Kashshi: Pg. 502].

Another version of the same narration puts it as follows:

محمد بن مسعود، قال: حدثني علي بن محمد، قال: حدثني أحمد بن محمد، عن رجل، عن علي بن الحسين بن داود القمي قال: سمعت أبا جعفر عليه السلام يذكر صفوان بن يحيى، ومحمد بن سنان بخير، وقال: رضي الله عنهما برضاي عنهما، فما خالفاني، وما خالفا أبي عليه السلام قط

967. Muhammad b. Masud – Ali b. Muhammad – Ahmad b. Muhammad – a man – Ali b. al-Husayn b. Dawud al-Qummi who said: I heard Aba Ja’far (al-Jawad) عليه السلام mention Safwan b. Yahya and Muhammad b. Sinan with positive words, and he (the Imam) said: ‘May Allah be pleased with them because of my pleasure with them, for they did not disobey me, and they never disobeyed my father ever’.

بعد ما جاء فيهما ما قد سمعه غير واحد

(al-Kashshi:) After what has come about them – thatwhich was heard by more than one [Rijal al-Kashshi: Pg. 503-504].

How do we reconcile the import of these narrations with the negative assessment of Muhammad b. Sinan in the books of Rijal?

 

The Importance of Intra-textuality

The starting point must be the enigmatic words of al-Kashshi, who felt the need to comment on both the narrations above with near-identical phrases.

Studying them raises the following questions: How should ‘this’ be understood? What is that’ which  had come about them which was heard by more than one? And why is ‘this’ being juxtaposed with that’ which had come before?

I posit that a matching clause – heard by more than one – found in another narration buried in the same book holds the key to unlocking the puzzle:

محمد بن مسعود، قال حدثني علي بن محمد القمي، قال حدثني أحمد بن محمد بن عيسى القمي قال: بعث إلي أبو جعفر عليه السلام غلامه و معه كتابه، فأمرني أن أصير إليه فأتيته فهو بالمدينة نازل في دار بزيع، فدخلت عليه و سلمت عليه، فذكر في صفوان و محمد بن سنان و غيرهما مما قد سمعه غير واحد، فقلت في نفسي أستعطفه على زكريا بن آدم لعله أن يسلم مما قال في هؤلاء، ثم رجعت إلى نفسي فقلت من أنا أن أتعرض في هذا و في شبهه مولاي هو أعلم بما يصنع، فقال لي يا أبا علي ليس على مثل أبي يحيى يعجل، و قد كان من خدمته لأبي عليه السلام و منزلته عنده و عندي من بعده، غير أني احتجت إلى المال الذي عنده (فلم يبعث) فقلت جعلت فداك هو باعث إليك بالمال، و قال لي إن وصلت إليه فأعلمه أن الذي منعني من بعث المال اختلاف ميمون و مسافر، فقال احمل كتابي إليه و مره أن يبعث إلي بالمال فحملت كتابه إلى زكريا، فوجه إليه بالمال، قال، فقال لي أبو جعفر عليه السلام ابتداء منه ذهبت الشبهة ما لأبي ولد غيري فقلت صدقت جعلت فداك

1115. Muhammad b. Masud – Ali b. Muhammad al-Qummi – Ahmad b. Muhammad b. Isa al-Qummi who said: Abu Ja’far عليه السلام sent to me with a servant carrying a letter ordering me to go to him. I came to him while he was in Madina residing in the house of Bazi’. I entered in to him and greeted him. He (the Imam) spoke about Safwan, Muhammad b. Sinan and others in the way which more than one had heard from him (i.e. negatively).

I said to myself:  I will try to excuse Zakariyya b. Adam (a relative of Ahmad) (from the tirade) so that he may be saved from being included in that which he says about these. Then I reproached myself saying: Who am I to intervene in this matter and its like, my master is more aware in what he is doing!

He (the Imam) said to me: O Aba Ali, the likes of Abi Yahya (Zakariyya) are not hurried (in normal circumstances), for he has a long record in serving my father and he had an esteemed status with him, and with me after him, but I have a need of the money which is with him.

I (Ahmad) said: May I be made your ransom, he is sending you the amount, he (Zakariyya) had said to me ‘if you reach him (the Imam) then inform him that the thing which prevented me from sending the money to him (before) was the controversy between Maymun and Musafir (two servants of the Imam)’.

He (the Imam) said: Carry this letter of mine to him and order him to send me the amount.

I carried his letter to Zakariyya and he sent him the amount.

He (Ahmad) said: Abu Ja’far عليه السلام said to me without me prompting him: The doubt has abated – my father did not have any other son except me (i.e. there is no other suitable candidate for the Imama for I am the only son)!

I said: You have spoken the truth may I be made your ransom. [Rijal al-Kashshi: Pg. 596]

Note: This same narration is found in Basair al-Darajat of al-Saffar wherein Ahmad b. Muhammad b. Isa is narrating it from his father Muhammad b. Isa al-Qummi. This is clearly the more accurate version because the Imam refers to the primary narrator as Aba Ali which is the Kuniyya of Ahmad’s father and not Ahmad himself who was Abu Ja’far.

It is clear that al-Kashshi had this narration (No. 1115) in  mind when commenting on the other narrations (Nos. 964 and 967). The only clue we have left to make this connection is the fortunate borrowed phrasing found almost a hundred pages later. This shows how the abridgment of al-Tusi to the original work of al-Kashshi, which potentially affected the arrangement of chapters, has led to the loss of contextual indicators.

Reading all the narrations together under the interpretive control of No. 1115 leads us to the realization that ‘this’ (in the words of al-Kashshi) refers to the praise of the Imam, while that’ which had come about them before was censure from the Imam for delaying to send the dues owed, the two are being juxtaposed because they are quite disparate, at one time the Imam had cursed them only to praise them now.

A credible explication for al-Kashshi’s comments will then be:

This (the positive words of the Imam) after what had come from him (the Imam) about them (Safwan and Ibn Sinan) that (disparagement) which you have heard from our companions.

And:

After what had come about them (Safwan and Ibn Sinan) that (disparagement) which was heard by more than one (of our companions).

Thus, we come to see the importance of intra-textuality, that is, closely studying the internal relations within a text, especially in a book like al-Kashshi which has so many manuscriptal issues and which requires creative reconstruction.

 

Historical Background

al-Jawad عليه السلام assumed the position of Imama at a very young age and there was controversy about his succession which took years to resolve. Furthermore, the Imam was called away to the court of Ma’mun in Baghdad and returned to Madina many years later. Throughout this period, the Wikala continued its activities in the face of the challenge of a child Imam as independently as it could.

When the Imam had the opportunity to be allowed to return to Madina he wished to assume full command of the machinery and demanded his dues from Safwan b. Yahya, Muhammad b. Sinan and the others, but they were tardy in meeting this instruction and delayed in sending it to him for whatever reason, this led to the Imam’s disparagement of them and the use of harsh words against them at the first instance, but they soon sent this to the Imam who became pleased with their conduct.

Thus, the narrations of praise have to be understood in the new context of rapprochement between al-Jawad and his Wukala who ultimately proved loyal to him in the end.

Confirmation that the Imam was initially displeased with these agents is found in another narration:

حدثني محمد بن قولويه، قال: حدثني سعد، عن أحمد بن هلال، عن محمد بن إسماعيل بن بزيع أن أبا جعفر عليه السلام كان يخبرني بلعن صفوان ابن يحيى، ومحمد بن سنان فقال: إنهما خالفا أمري، وقال: فلما كان من قابل قال أبو جعفر عليه السلام لمحمد بن سهل البحراني: تول صفوان بن يحيى ومحمد بن سنان فقد رضيت عنهما

Muhammad b. Qulawayh – Sa’d – Ahmad b. Hilal – Muhammad b. Ismail b. Bazi’ that: Abu Ja’far (al-Jawad) عليه السلام used to inform me about his cursing of Safwan b. Yahya and Muhammad b. Sinan and say: They disobeyed my command. He (Muhammad b. Ismail b. Bazi’) said: When it was a new year Abu Ja’far عليه السلام said to Muhammad b. Sahl al-Bahrani: Associate with Safwan b. Yahya and Muhammad b. Sinan (i.e. consider them your allies) for I am pleased with them.

In conclusion, the Imam’s subsequent praise of Muhammad b. Sinan and the other agents should be seen solely in context of their obedience in delivering the dues after an initial delay. It has nothing to do with their status as narrators, trying to exonerate the weak status of Muhammad b. Sinan (as found in the books of Rijal) on the basis of this narration is misplaced. However, his being chosen as an agent and being loyal in financial matters must speak something of his personality and character  …

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