Shaykh Tusi (d. 460) stands out among that famous trio (the other two being Kulayni and Saduq) for having authored two of the ‘Four Books’ of Hadith (i.e. Tahdhib al-Ahkam and al-Istibsar fi ma-khtalafa min al-Akhbar).
These books are rightly considered to be the bed-rock of Twelver Imami jurisprudence. Despite the recognition they have achieved in later Shi’i discourse, many commit the error of treating them under the same rubric, without considering the vastly different motivations and methodologies of their respective authors.
In this installment, we look specifically at Tahdhib al-Ahkam, combining a close reading of its contents together with an analysis of relevant sections from the Khutba (opening preface) and Khatima (conclusion) to shed more light on such aspects.
We do not know much about the early life of Abu Ja’far Muhammad b. al-Hasan b. Ali al-Tusi, beyond the fact that he was born in Tus (Greater Khurasan), in the month of Ramadhan, in the year 385.
His birthplace, from which he derives his Laqab (epithet), was one of the largest districts of the Islamic world at the time, covering an area consisting of about five towns and a thousand smaller villages. One of these villages was Mashhad, the site of the grave of the Eighth Imam, which because of its religious significance gradually grew to such an extent that it dwarfed Tus itself.
All that lay in the future and any promising Shi’i youngster who had acquired some elementary instruction in Adab (literary skills), Hadith and Fiqh had to look elsewhere to advance in scholarship. The natural destination would have been what was considered by many to be the capital city of knowledge – Baghdad. Tusi arrived in Iraq in the year 408, being in the twenty third year of his life.
He would have been attracted to it by the presence in it of such renowned names as Abu Abdallah Muhammad b. Muhammad b. al-Nu’man al-Mufid (d. 413), the undisputed authority of the Shia world in his time, among other leading lights.
Tusi did not spend long under the tutelage of Mufid who passed away five years after the former’s arrival. The main influence on Tusi after the death of Mufid was the Sharif al-Murtada (d. 436), who had taken Mufid’s place as the head of the Baghdadi Imami community. Murtada soon discovered Tusi’s talents and drew him into the circle of his most eminent students, granting the latter the highest stipend of all his boarders (this was 12 Dinars every month).
Issues of Dating
We know that Tusi began authoring Tahdhib al-Ahkam while Mufid his teacher was still alive. This is because he uses the formula ‘may Allah assist him’ when referring to Mufid in the book’s Khutba, a supplication which is not used for the dead.
Now since Mufid passed away in the year 413, then Tusi began work on the Tahdhib between the years 408 (when he first arrived in Baghdad at the age of 23) and 413 (when he was 28).
During this period of time, Tusi would have been a relatively obscure, up-and-coming scholar, while the Shaykh Mufid, widely esteemed for his merit, intelligence and genius, would have been in his seventies and at the peak of his authority.
Indeed, Mufid’s study sessions were being attended by accomplished scholars in their own right, the likes of the aforementioned Sharif Murtada, al-Qadhi al-Karajiki (d. 449) and Mufid’s son-in-law Abu Ya’la al-Ja’fari (d. 463), in front of whom Tusi was not but akin to the smallest of students seated in the shoes-row.
This background to the authorship (i.e. Tusi’s lack of experience) is essential because it helps explain several peculiarities about the book (as we will come to see below)
The answer lies in the aforementioned Khutba, which was clearly written before work on the main body began.
In it, Tusi refers to:
بعض الأصدقاء أيده الله ممن أوجب حقه علينا
One of the friends – may Allah assist him – whose Haqq (right) has become due upon us
It is this unnamed figure who discusses (ذاكرني) with Tusi about:
أحاديث أصحابنا أيدهم الله ورحم السلف منهم، وما وقع فيها من الاختلاف والتباين والمنافاة والتضاد، حتى لا يكاد يتفق خبر إلا وبإزائه ما يضاده ولا يسلم حديث إلا وفي مقابلته ما ينافيه
The Hadiths of our companions (the Shia) – may Allah assist them (those who are living) and have mercy on the predecessors among them – and what has occurred in them of divergence, variation, inconsistency, and contradiction, such that there is barely a report in agreement except there is near to it that which contradicts it, and no Hadith is safe except there is opposite to it that which negates it.
This is a particularly compelling problem to deal with because:
جعل مخالفونا ذلك من أعظم الطعون على مذهبنا، وتطرقوا بذلك إلى إبطال معتقدنا
Our opponents have made that (i.e. the presence of contradictions) one of the greatest attacks on our Madhhab (sect), and escalated that (argument) into an invalidation of our Belief.
The nature of these opponents’ argument is paraphrased as follows:
لم يزل شيوخكم السلف والخلف يطعنون على مخالفيهم بالاختلاف الذي يدينون الله تعالى به ويشنعون عليهم بافتراق كلمتهم في الفروع، ويذكرون أن هذا مما لا يجوز أن يتعبد به الحكيم، ولا أن يبيح العمل به العليم، وقد وجدناكم أشد اختلافا من مخالفيكم وأكثر تباينا من مباينيكم، ووجود هذا الاختلاف منكم مع اعتقادكم بطلان ذلك دليل على فساد الأصل
Your (i.e. the Shias) earlier Shuyukh (scholarly authorities) and subsequent ones did not cease criticizing your opponents (i.e. the Sunnis) because of the Ikhtilaf (difference) with which they worship Allah the Elevated by, and kept denouncing them because of the disparity between their positions in Furu (details of Law).
And they said that “this (variance) is that which (it) is not permissible to worship the Wise-One with, nor can the Knowledgeable-One permit acting by (such)”
But we have found you differing more excessively (among yourself) than those who differ with you (i.e. from other sects)! And more opposed than those who oppose you!
The presence of such differences among you despite your belief in the invalidity of that (i.e. there is no room for variability in the Law because the source of the Law is one – the unerring Imam) is an indication of the falsity of the Asl (essential belief in Imama).
What is worse is that this argument was effective and had swayed some who left Twelver Shi’ism because of it:
حتى دخل على جماعة ممن ليس لهم قوة في العلم ولا بصيرة بوجوه النظر ومعاني الألفاظ شبهة، وكثير منهم رجع عن اعتقاد الحق لما اشتبه عليه الوجه في ذلك وعجز عن حل الشبهة فيه
Until doubt entered (the minds of) a group of those who do not possess acumen in knowledge, nor insight into different facets of reasoning and diverse interpretation of words.
Many of them recanted from true Belief, when the reason for that (seeming contradiction) eluded them, and when they failed to solve the doubt in it.
Tusi cites Mufid who gave an example of one such individual (an otherwise unknown Alid) who left Shi’ism:
سمعت شيخنا أبا عبد الله أيده الله يذكر أن أبا الحسين الهاروني العلوي كان يعتقد الحق ويدين بالإمامة فرجع عنها لما التبس عليه الامر في اختلاف الأحاديث وترك المذهب ودان بغيره لما لم يتبين له وجوه المعاني فيها، وهذا يدل على أنه دخل فيه على غير بصيرة واعتقد المذهب من جهة التقليد، لان الاختلاف في الفروع لا يوجب ترك ما ثبت بالأدلة من الأصول
I heard our Shaykh Aba Abdillah (i.e. Mufid) – may Allah assist him – mention that Aba al-Husayn al-Haruni al-Alawi used to subscribe to the Truth and believe in the Imama, but he turned away from it, when the matter became confused for him in regard to the Ikhtilaf (difference) between the Hadiths, and he abandoned the Madhhab and followed another, because the different (possible) interpretations in them (the Hadiths) was unclear for him.
And this indicates that he had entered it (i.e. the Madhhab) whilst not possessing insight (about it), and believed in the Madhhab by way of Taqlid (blind following), because differences in Furu (secondary details of the substantive Law) does not necessitate abandoning what has been (independently) established by proofs from among the Usul (Essentials of belief).
A Polemical Work
It is clear from this that Tusi’s aim for authoring the book was vastly different from that of the previous two authors whose works had already gained fame when he set out to compose his own.
While Kulayni and Saduq were aiming to compile only those reports that met a modicum of reliability in their eyes and which were then to be put into practice by a believing audience, the impetus for Tusi’s work was a polemical one, that is to say, to defend the Madhhab against a line of attack developed by opponents.
The Shia, and from the earliest of times, were united in believing that there is only one true position in the Law, that which is set out by the lawful Imam. They had traditionally used the presence of Ikthilaf within the Sunni Madhahib to indicate the invalidity of these Madhahib, for how could the One God, who sent One Prophet with One religion, allow for different Rulings in the Law, all of which are considered valid?!
But now, as their opponents took great glee in pointing out, the Shia themselves were divided, basing their divergent practices on contradictory statements attributed to their Imams. The tables had turned. The same argument they had used was being used against them, which made it particularly hard-hitting.
Tusi’s aim is to show that this charge is an exaggeration by those who do not know how Hadiths that seem contradictory on the surface are actually multifaceted reflections on different aspects of a ruling, which can be creatively brought together by a learned jurist such as himself.
To do this he is deliberately going to include contradictory reports (irrespective of their reliability) before attempting a reconciliation.
At the Behest of a Friend
Tusi’s contemporaries would come to acknowledge his brilliance in all the branches of the Islamic sciences. He would go on to become the undisputed authority of the Shia world as reflected by the title that was given to him ‘Shaykh al-Ta’ifa’.
Yet, a lack of experience in this early work (as alluded to in the section on dating above) explains the fact that the finger-prints of this anonymous friend are writ large in the whole project.
It is he who first proposes it. Tusi says:
وذكر انه إذا كان الامر على هذه الجملة فالاشتغال بشرح كتاب يحتوي على تأويل الاخبار المختلفة والأحاديث المتنافية من أعظم المهمات في الدين ومن أقرب القربات إلى الله تعالى، لما فيه من كثرة النفع للمبتدي والريض في العلم
And he (the anonymous friend) said that if the matter is so (as has been described), then working on writing a commentary to a Book, (a commentary) which deals with interpreting (i.e. reconciling) the divergent reports and contradictory Hadiths, is of the greatest importance in the religion, and an act that can bring one closest to Allah the Elevated, because of what there is in it of benefit to the beginner and the novice in knowledge.
It is he who identifies the base-text on which the commentary is to be written:
وسألني أن اقصد إلى رسالة شيخنا أبي عبد الله أيده الله تعالى الموسومة (بالمقنعة) لأنها شافية في معناها كافية في أكثر ما يحتاج إل يه من أحكام الشريعة، وانها بعيدة من الحشو
He requested me to select the Risala (treatise) of our Shaykh Abi Abdillah (i.e. al-Mufid) – may Allah the Elevated assist him – which is called al-Muqnia, because it is clear in its subject matter, comprehensive in (covering) most of that which is required of the rulings of the Law, and is far removed from Hashw (simplistic literalism).
As well as giving some specific directives such as:
وأن أقصد إلى أول باب يتعلق بالطهارة وأترك ما قدمه قبل ذلك مما يتعلق بالتوحيد والعدل والنبوة والإمامة لان شرح ذلك يطول، وليس أيضا المقصد بهذا الكتاب بيان ما يتعلق بالأصول وأن أترجم كل باب على حسب ما ترجمه
That I begin (the commentary) with the first chapter that has to do with Tahara (ritual purity), and leave what precedes that (i.e. in al-Muqnia) which has to do with Tawhid, Adl, Nubuwwa, and Imama, because a commentary on that will be prolonged, nor is it the aim of this book (to provide) an explanation of that which has to do with the Usul (Essential beliefs), furthermore, that I should expound each chapter on the basis of how he (Mufid) expounded it.
Speculating on the identity of this ‘friend’ and the reason why Tusi chose to leave him unnamed is not very productive. Suffice it to say that Tusi felt indebted to him in some way, beyond the normal rights of a believer over another.
Twice, first at the very beginning of the Khutba (see above), and again right at the end of it, he refers to this ‘right’ that he owes the ‘friend’
فقصدت إلى عمل هذا الكتاب لما رأيت فيه من عظم المنفعة في الدين وكثرة الفائدة في الشريعة مع ما انضم إليه من وجوب قضاء حق هذا الصديق أيده الله تعالى
Thus I sought to write this book because of what I saw in it of great benefit for the religion, and ample usefulness for the Sharia, in addition to the obligation of fulfilling the right of this friend – may Allah the Elevated assist him.
The informal nature of the address ‘friend’ points perhaps to a senior colleague (fellow student under Mufid) instead of a financial patron. The latter were known to sponsor such works but demanded acknowledgement.
If this colleague had not yet made his mark in the world of scholarship then there would be no reason why Tusi would have felt the need to identify him. That he was a student of knowledge is strengthened by the fact that he engages in an academic discussion with Tusi and sets out useful guidelines for the project.
What was the Muqnia?
The base-text that was chosen by this friend for Tusi’s commentary was the Muqnia of Shaykh Mufid. Consequently, one cannot understand the Tahdhib without understanding the Muqnia first.
The latter work which survives and has been published in modern editions was conceived of by its author as a Mukhtasar (summary manual of jurisprudence) touching on most areas of the Law relevant to the average person, who was the target audience of the book as made clear in the introduction:
من جمع مختصر في الأحكام، وفرائض الملة، وشرائع الإسلام، ليعتمده المرتاد لدينه، ويزداد به المستبصر في معرفته ويقينه، ويكون إماما للمسترشدين، ودليلا للطالبين، وأمينا للمتعبدين، يفزع إليه في الدين، ويقضي به على المختلفين
In compiling a brief work concerning the Ahkam (rulings), the Obligations of the Milla, and the Laws of Islam, so that the Murtad (returnee) can depend on it for his religion, and the Mustabsir (aware one) can increase by it in his knowledge and certainty, and it can be an Imam (guide) for those looking for guidance, a sign-post for the seekers, and a security for the worshippers, who can resort to it in religion, and can rule decisively through it upon the contending parties.
Mufid must have written the work later in life after assuming the position of the chief of the sect and in response to the demand of the masses who wanted to emulate his positions in the Law.
For this reason, Mufid limits himself throughout the treatise to giving his preferred positions, speaking mostly in the first voice, without supporting his edicts by quoting the proof-texts (i.e. reports attributed to the Imams) on which they are based, except rarely. Most importantly, he does not deal with contradictory evidence that can be found in the reports and how these can be reconciled.
Mufid notes that he will include a discussion on key theological matters before going into the subject-matter proper of the book:
وأن أفتتحه بما يجب على كافة المكلفين من الاعتقاد الذي لا يسع إهماله البالغين، إذ هو أصل الإيمان والأساس الذي عليه بناء جميع أهل الأديان، وبه يكون قبول الأعمال ويتميز الهدى من الضلال، وبالله أستعين
I will preface it with that which is obligatory on all the Mukallifin (legal agents) in terms of the beliefs that cannot be overlooked by those who are Baligh (have reached the age of maturity), since they (these beliefs) are the root of faith, and the foundation upon which the followers of religions have constructed (their edifice), and with them are the deeds accepted, and guidance and deviation separated. And upon Allah is my dependence …
It is these preliminary sections, wherein we find brief doctrinal expositions on the Existence of the Creator, the sending of the Prophets, divinely appointed Successors to the prophet, and the Resurrection, that Tusi was advised to leave out in his commentary by the friend.
The Initial Methodology and Arrangement
Tusi gives his methodology and proposed arrangement of the book in a key section of the Khutba which is reproduced below:
وأذكر مسألة مسألة فاستدل عليها
I will mention one Mas’ala (jurisprudential question) after another, and provide proofs for it
إما من ظاهر القرآن أو من صريحه أو فحواه أو دليله أو معناه
Either from the Dhahir (apparent meaning) of the Qur’an, or its Sarih (explicit text), or its Fahwa (over-arching implication), or its Dalil (indication), or its Ma’na (derived meaning);
وإما من السنة المقطوع بها من الأخبار المتواترة أو الاخبار التي تقترن إليها القرائن التي تدل على صحتها
Or from the Sunna that is certain, such as reports that are Mutawatir, or reports that are coupled with Qarain (indicators) evidencing their authenticity;
وإما من إجماع المسلمين إن كان فيها أو إجماع الفرقة المحقة
Or from the Ijma (consensus) of the Muslims – if such is there for it, or the Ijma of the true sect (i.e. Twelvers);
ثم أذكر بعد ذلك ما ورد من أحاديث أصحابنا المشهورة في ذلك
Then I quote after that what has come of the Mashhur (well-known) Hadiths of our co-religionists in that (matter);
وانظر فيما ورد بعد ذلك مما ينافيها ويضادها وأبين الوجه فيها
After that, I look into what has come (i.e. of secondary reports) that oppose and contradict it (i.e. the primary reports above), and clarify the reason for that,
إما بتأويل أجمع بينها وبينها
Either by a Ta’wil (interpretation) with which I unite between one report and the other (that apparently contradicts it),
أو أذكر وجه الفساد فيها إما من ضعف اسنادها أو عمل العصابة بخلاف متضمنها
Or I mention the aspect of defect in it (i.e. the secondary report), either because of the weakness of its chain, or the acting of the Isaba (group of scholars representing the sect) in opposition it its purport.
فإذا اتفق الخبران على وجه لا ترجيح لأحدهما على الآخر بينت أن العمل يجب أن يكون بما يوافق دلالة الأصل وترك العمل بما يخالفه
So if the two reports are fully matched, such that there cannot be (credible reason for) preference of one of them over the other, I clarify that action has to necessarily be based upon that which agrees (is more consistent) with the Dalala (indication) of an Asl (certain proof), and to abandon acting on that which is contrary to it.
وكذلك إن كان الحكم مما لا نص فيه على التعيين حملته على ما يقتضيه الأصل
Similarly, if there is a ruling for which there is no textual basis (i.e. a report) specifying it, I favour that (ruling) which an Asl (certain proof) requires.
ومهما تمكنت من تأويل بعض الأحاديث من غير أن أطعن في اسنادها فاني لا أتعداه
Wherever I am able to make Ta’wil (interpretation) of some reports without criticizing (looking into) its chains then I will not go beyond that (i.e. that’s what I will do).
وأجتهد أن أروي في معنى ما أتأول الحديث عليه حديثا آخر يتضمن ذلك المعنى إما من صريحه أو فحواه حتى أكون عاملا على الفتيا والتأويل بالأثر، وإن كان هذا مما لا يجب علينا لكنه مما يؤنس بالتمسك بالأحاديث
And I will strive to transmit another report (i.e. a tertiary report), having the (same) meaning – either in its explicit test or its implication – as what I interpret the report (in question) by, so that I can (be said to) act on the basis of an Athar (transmitted report) in (giving) Fatwa and in (making) interpretation, even if this is not required of us but it accustoms (us) to holding onto the reports.
وأجري على عادتي هذه إلى آخر الكتاب وأوضح إيضاحا لا يلتبس الوجه على أحد ممن نظر فيه
I will follow this convention of mine (as described) to the end of the book, and will elucidate it clearly, such that no one who looks into it (i.e. the book) will mistake its point.
Tusi’s methodological approach is to use Mufid’s position (ruling) as the central point around which to commentate. He will adduce proofs from the different Sources of the Law to support the position that Mufid arrived at. Tusi divides these proofs as belonging to two main domains i.e. Qat’i (certain) and Dhanni (speculative).
His intention is to begin with the proofs that provide certain knowledge as represented below:
The definitive nature of these proofs means that they cannot be negated by something else, which is by definition lesser in strength to them, nor can the notion be entertained that there is a real contradiction between these proofs in of themselves.
It is only after exhausting this domain that he moves on to the speculative domain. Reports under this category do not necessarily originate from the Imam (their historical provenance is not certain) and thus the possibility of contradiction between them can be entertained.
He begins with the Ahad (solitary) reports that are Mashhur, that is to say, widely known and accepted by Twelver scholars of different generations who acted upon their purport, making it very likely (but not certain) that they originate from the Imam. I call these the primary reports.
Then Tusi shifts to quoting reports that seem opposed to the primary reports above that had been marshaled in support of Mufid’s position. I call these the secondary reports.
This is where we encounter the raison d’être for the book. Tusi is motivated to show that what seems contradictory (as the opponents would have it) is not so in reality. His task is to find a Ta’wil (creative re-interpretation) that will fit the primary and secondary reports together, reflecting different aspects of the same unified narrative.
Sometimes this is not possible, at this point Tusi has to disqualify the secondary report(s) for possessing some flaw. He identifies two main reasons here, one is weakness in chain, and the other is the fact that the whole assembly of scholars purposely acted against the reports purport.
What happens when he has failed to find a Ta’wil for the two contesting sets of reports and at the same time they are equally matched in terms of strength?
Under such a scenario, Tusi will fall-back to evaluating (matching) the two contradictory sets of reports against a yard-stick or anchor called the Asl. This means, in practice, to favour the report that is more consistent with the implications of an Asl, alluding here to a definitive proof relevant to the matter found in the original sources of the Law (either Qur’an, Sunna or Ijma). In other words, the decisive evidence available on the subject from the Qat’i domain, which he had promised to include first.
Similarly, when there is no textual basis (the position is not found at all in the sources) for conflicting rulings, he will favour that ruling which is more in keeping (more aligned) with an Asl.
Tusi’s approach can be summarized in the decision-tree depicted below:
What is very important to keep in mind (and Tusi even has a critical disclaimer to that effect) is that he will always prioritize attempting to reconcile the reports to the fullest extent of his ability, without resorting to investigating the chains, wherever possible to do so.
In other words, he prefers to work with the assumption that both sets of Ahad reports have some truth to it, and can be reconciled with each other, over a summary dismissal of one set (because there is always the small possibility that this set reflects the true position of the Law).
After setting out the Ta’wil he has come up with, Tusi promises to quote even more reports, which I call the tertiary reports, supporting the validity of the reinterpretation and indicating that this is what the Imams had in mind. He does this even if it is not strictly necessary, but in keeping with the ideal of holding on to textual sources over application of reason (even though both are equally valid in his epistemology).
Thus the structure followed by the Tahdhib in the vast number of cases is as represented in the diagram below:
A Bigger Book?
In the concluding paragraph of the Khutba, Tusi alludes to a more ambitious project for the future where he will not limit himself to the Masail as found in al-Muqnia (and the reports in support or contradiction to these) alone, but produce an ell-encompassing book of Hadith that includes everything he can find and how to reconcile between them.
وأنا أرجو إذا سهل الله تعالى إتمام هذا الكتاب على ما ذكرت ووفق لختامه حسب ما ضمنت أن يكون كاملا في بابه مشتملا على أكثر الأحاديث التي تتعلق باحكام الشريعة، ومنبها على ما عداها مما لم يشتمل عليه هذا الكتاب إذ كان مقصورا على ما تضمنته الرسالة (المقنعة) من الفتاوى ولم اقصد الزيادة عليها لأني إن شاء الله تعالى إذا وفق الله الفراغ من هذا الكتاب ابتدئ بشرح كتاب يجتمع على جميع أحاديث أصحابنا أو أكثرها مما يبلغ إليه جهدي وأستوفي ما يتعلق بها إن شاء الله تعالى
I hope, if Allah the Elevated makes ease for me to complete this book in the way I have mentioned, and if He facilitates me to conclude it in accordance to what I have guaranteed, that it be comprehensive in its genre, inclusive of most of the reports that have to do with the rulings of the divine Law, and alluding to the remaining that has not been covered by this book, in so far as it (the book) is limited to that which is found in the treatise al-Muqnia of Fatawa, and I do not intend to add to that, for I shall, if Allah the Elevated Wills, and if Allah facilitates me to finish this book, begin writing a commentary which covers all the Hadiths of our companions, or most of it, as far as my efforts allow, and I will be comprehensive in (including) all that is related to that, if Allah the Elevated Wills.
We do not have an exact date for when the Tahdhib was completed, but the terminus ante quem is taken to be 448 (Tusi kept up in residence in Baghdad for a period of forty years, from 408 to 448).
The book underwent several transformations throughout this period but the two given below are the most noteworthy:
(a) A key transformation was the abandonment of that which he had promised at the outset (in the Khutba), whereby he was supposed to adduce proofs both from the Qat’i (Qur’an, certain Sunna and Ijma) and the Dhanni domains for every position (as explained above) but ended up presenting only the latter.
He explains this decision in the Khatima (conclusion) of the book which was written after finalizing the book proper. This can be considered a post-script which Tusi wrote to explain changes that have occurred since writing the Khutba all those years ago:
كنا شرطنا في أول هذا الكتاب ان نقتصر على ايراد شرح ما تضمنته الرسالة المقنعة وان نذكر مسألة مسألة ونورد فيها الاحتجاج من الظواهر والأدلة المفضية إلى العلم ونذكر مع ذلك طرفا من الاخبار التي رواها مخالفونا ثم نذكر بعد ذلك ما يتعلق بأحاديث أصحابنا رحمهم الله ونورد المختلف في كل مسألة منها والمتفق عليها ووفينا بهذا الشرط في أكثر ما يحتوي عليه كتاب الطهارة
We had placed (on ourselves) a condition at the beginning (outset) of this book to limit ourselves in presenting a commentary of (only) that which is found in the treatise al-Muqnia, and to quote a Mas’ala one after the other, and to include for it evidences from the Dhawahir (apparent meanings) and the Dalail (indicators) that bring about knowledge (are Qat’i), and to add on top of that a selection of reports transmitted by our opponents, and then to quote after that the reports of our companions, may Allah have mercy on them, and to bring out the Mukhtalif (disagreed upon) in every Mas’ala from it and the Muttafiq (agreed upon), and we lived up to (fulfilled) this condition in most of that which is found in Kitab al-Tahara.
ثم انا رأينا انه يخرج بهذا البسط عن الغرض ويكون مع هذا الكتاب مبتورا غير مستوفى فعدلنا عن هذه الطريقة إلى ايراد أحاديث أصحابنا رحمهم الله المختلف فيه والمتفق
Then we saw that with such a wide scope it (the book) will elude the main purpose, and with that, the book will become cut-off and not comprehensive, so we turned away from this convention – to presenting (only) the reports of our companions, May Allah have mercy on them, those that disagree and those in agreement.
That is why one who studies the chapters of al-Tahdhib (after the first chapter Kitab al-Tahara) will not find any citation of proofs from the verses of the Qur’an or reports from the Sunnis (to support claim of Ijma), but a discussion that wholly revolves around Shi’i Hadith which are Ahad in nature.
The reason given for this is that citing proofs from both domains will make the book become too bulky (unwieldy), while at the same time not cohere with the main aim of the book was always dealing with the Ikhtilaf in Shia Hadith in particular.
But Tusi must have also realized not long after commencing the book that the Qat’i domain (Qur’an, certain Sunna and Ijma) is of limited utility (silent or unavailable) for the vast majority of Masa’il. That being the case, proofs for most cases would always have to devolve to the speculative domain of solitary reports (be they primary, secondary or tertiary).
(b) Another key transformation had to do with the scope of the project. What began as a localized commentary to al-Muqnia and with the purpose of supporting the positions of al-Mufid, was transformed into something bigger as Tusi started gaining more authorial voice, and he realized that he could transform the Tahdhib into the future ambition he had expressed in the Khutba of a comprehensive commentary on Hadith.
As he says in the Khatima:
ثم رأينا بعد ذلك أن استيفاء ما يتعلق بهذا المنهاج أولى من الاطناب في غيره فرجعنا وأوردنا من الزيادات ما كنا أخللنا به
Then we saw later – that being comprehensive pursuant to this (latest) methodology is preferable to expanding in other than it, so we went back and included ‘additions’ of what we had left out from it.
This refers to the Abwab al-Ziyadat (additional chapters) that Tusi went back and appended to earlier chapters which originally dealt only with Masail that Mufid broached. The additional chapters included material for Masail that the latter had not considered.
Al-Tahdhib ended up becoming the bigger book Tusi had in mind, covering all areas of Fiqh (having 13590 Hadith in 393 chapters).
Generally speaking, authors of Hadith works used to record the full chain (i.e. the names of all intermediaries between themselves and the authority they are quoting) before each report cited throughout the main body. This was the practice of Kulayni.
Saduq was innovative in this sense because he chose to truncate most of the chain in the body of al-Faqih, apart from naming the primary narrator quoting the Imam. He then gave the chains to these primary narrators at the end of the book (the so-called Mashyakha al-Faqih).
Tusi chose a middle position that is noticeable as we move forward in the book. This was to drop the names of intermediaries in the lower chain and give only the upper chain.
To make sense of this terminology one has to recognize that Shia Hadith transmission was primarily written by nature, and a scholar like Tusi, who belongs to the third generation of Shia Hadith authorship, was mainly referring to previous compilations of Hadith as his sources when authoring the Tahdhib.
Thus, a full chain of Tusi to the Imam is actually composed of two parts: Tusi’s chain to a previous author and his earlier work from which he is quoting directly (lower chain), and then the chain of the author of this earlier work to the companion of the Imam (upper chain).
The lower chain is mainly repetitive because Tusi is quoting a large number reports from a small handful of these second generational works that had already compiled most of what had come before.
At some point Tusi decided to begin the chain with the name of the author whose work he is using as a source. Tusi refers to this in the Khatima as follows:
واقتصرنا من ايراد الخبر على الابتداء بذكر المصنف الذي أخذنا الخبر من كتابه أو صاحب الأصل الذي أخذنا الحديث من أصله
We have limited ourselves when presenting a report to mentioning at its beginning the name of the author from whose book we have taken the report, or the author of the Asl from whose Asl we have taken the Hadith.
He then gives his chains to these authors in the final section of the book i.e. the Mashyakha which he introduces as follows:
والآن فحيث وفق الله تعالى للفراغ من هذا الكتاب نحن نذكر الطرق التي يتوصل بها إلى رواية هذه الأصول والمصنفات ونذكرها على غاية ما يمكن من الاختصار لتخرج الاخبار بذلك عن حد المراسيل وتلحق بباب المسندات
And now since Allah the Elevated has facilitated the completion of this book, then we will mention the chains through which we transmit these Usul and Musannafat, and we will mention them as briefly as possible, so that the reports can exit from the bounds of the Marasil (disconnected) and join up with the category of the Musnadat (fully chained).
It is hoped that a better understanding of the ‘polemical’ motivation of Tusi (as opposed to that of Kulayni and Saduq) will rid us of the simplistic notion that a report found in the Tahdhib is authoritative simply because it is found in one of the Four ‘canonical’ books.
Understanding the methodology used by Tusi will also allow us to divide the reports he includes into the three categories ‘primary’, ‘secondary’ and ‘tertiary’, instead of flattening all the reports he quotes (i.e. treating them equally) without taking notice of this key hierarchical arrangement.
Evaluating the success of the Ta’wil (creative reconciliation) that Tusi engages in throughout the book is left for the future, suffice it to say that his decision to include Shaadhi secondary reports as opposed to limiting himself to the Mashhur primary reports, and then preferring Ta’wil between them instead of considerations of Sihha as the Qudama had in mind (including Rijali analysis) has had its ramifications.