The Burnt Book: A Case of Hadith Censorship by Early Sunni Critics


In a previous article[1] I demonstrated how the contents of a Hadith could play a significant role in the early Sunni Hadith critics’ acceptance or rejection of it[2] and could even affect the evaluation of a narrator who chose to transmit it[3].

What this means is that it was the subjective judgment of the Ahl al-Ḥadīth as a clique, they who saw themselves as gate-keepers to the prophetic Sunna, which determined what eventually made it into the canon and what was left out.

But the ‘problematic’ Hadiths that were left out were not just marginalized after being declared ‘weak’, some were even actively censored by being removed from circulation!

In this short companion-piece I document one particularly egregious case of attempted censorship by shining light on a book of Hadith that was ‘burnt’ solely due to its contents.


Just Burn It

What should be done to a book that contains ‘problematic’ Hadith?

This question was posed to Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal (d. 241) and I consider his answer to be representative of the position held by the Ahl al-Ḥadīth in general[4]

Abū Bakr al-Marrūdhī (d. 275), a prominent student Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal, relates that he asked his teacher:

I borrow from a Ṣāḥib Ḥadīth a book which contains ‘repulsive’ Hadith in it – do you deem it proper to burn it or destroy it?

Aḥmad responds:


Sallām b. Abī Muṭīʾ borrowed from Abī ʿAwāna a book in which such Hadiths could be found and then Sallām proceeded to burn it

A shocked Abū Bakr al-Marrūdhī needs to make sure that he heard right:

So he burnt it?

Aḥmad confirms:


Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal held Sallām b. Abī Muṭīʾ (d. 164) in high regard[6], and he considered what he had done with Abī ʿAwāna’s[7] (d. 176) book to be a precedent that should be followed in all such cases whenever one happens to gain access to a book that contains ‘repulsive’ Hadiths. Aḥmad is quoted as favourably citing this incident a number of times and this ends up being to our advantage because some retellings provide more clues as to the Hadiths found in the ‘burnt book’.

ʿAbdallāh, Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal’s son, reports from his father the following:

Abū ʿAwāna had authored a book containing Maʿāyib of the companions of the prophet and containing Balāya, so Sallām b. Abī Muṭīʾ came to him and said ‘O Abā ʿAwāna – give me that book’, he (i.e. Abā ʿAwāna) gave it to him, so Sallām took it and burnt it[8] 

We discover from this what exactly it was that was ‘repulsive’ about the Hadiths in Abī ʿAwāna’s book. The Hadiths were ‘repulsive’ because they recorded Maʿāyib or flaws of the companions and also contained Balāya, more on what this last term means later.          

Ḥanbal, Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal’s nephew, reports from his uncle the following:

Sallām b. Abī Muṭīʾ took the book of Abī ʿAwāna in which the companions of the prophet had been mentioned (in a negative light) and burnt ‘those’ Hadiths of al-Aʿmash (in it)[9]  

We discover from this that Abū ʿAwāna was narrating these Hadiths on the authority of his Shaykh – the famous Kufan narrator who went by the nick-name of al-Aʿmash (d. 148)[10].

Now breaching the confidence of an unsuspecting author who trusts you with his book, and going on to burn a book that contains Hadiths no less is a weighty matter, so it comes as no surprise that when Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal recounted Sallām’s act on yet another occasion a listener in the gathering could not help but exclaim:

I hope that this act of his (i.e. Sallām) does not harm him (i.e. make him sinful) in anyway – God Willing!

Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal immediately interjects to say:

Harm him?!

Rather he will be rewarded for it – God Willing![11]

Such was the attitude of the Ahl al-Ḥadīth towards the Hadith they deemed problematic!


A Lost Book?

This book-burning incident seems to have gained notoriety in Hadith circles where it served as an illustrative example of what can happen to any prospective author who harbours similar intentions, but was there anyone who was curious enough to know more about the contents of the book beyond a general description of its contents or the fact of its burning?[12]

You see, Abū ʿAwāna must have already transmitted the book’s contents to a number of those who came to take Hadith from him before Sallām’s fateful intervention, so there were still early authorities out there who had first-hand knowledge of the specific reports contained within the book.

It fell to Yaḥyā b. Maʿīn (d. 233), Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal’s life-long friend, to get us a precious glimpse into the book’s contents.

Yaḥyā heard Khālid b. Khidāsh (d. 223)[13], one of his teachers, recount the following:

Sallām b. Abī Muṭīʾ came to Abī ʿAwāna and said: ‘Hand over this Bidʿa that you have brought to us from Kufa!’

Abū ʿAwāna took out his books for him whereupon Sallām cast them in the oven!

Yaḥyā, who was always bolder than Aḥmad in this regard, asks Khālid what was found in the book.

Khālid responds:

The Hadith of al-Aʿmash from Sālim b. Abī al-Jaʿd from Thawbān who said: The Messenger of Allah said: ‘Fulfill your duty to the Quraysh …’[14] and the like.

Yaḥyā’s curiosity is not satiated and he asks:

What else?

Khālid responds:

The Hadith of ʿAlī – ‘I am the distributor of the Fire!’

Yaḥyā asks Khālid:

Did Abū ʿAwāna really narrate this to you from al-Aʿmash?

Khālid responds:


But ʿAlī declaring himself to be the ‘distributor of the Fire’ is not an example of a ‘flaw’ of the companions, one of the two categories which the book supposedly contained, it must therefore be an example of the Balāya, the second category which the book supposedly contained.

This is what leads me to conclude that Balāya (literally ‘calamities’) refers to those reports which were diametrically opposed to the sensibilities of the Ahl al-Ḥadīth and which as a result were to to be considered automatically false, for example, a report which depicts ʿAlī as having the loftiest position after the Messenger of Allah, something which went against their consensus of Abū Bakr and ʿUmar being better than him[16]  

What were the other Hadiths contained in the book apart from the two examples given by Khālid above?

The censorship I have described means that we have no way of answering this question and the other reports in the book could have disappeared without a trace for all we know[17], but the evidence brought in the next section suggests that some of these reports may have survived (although we can’t tell for sure if they were originally found in Abū ʿAwāna’s book).


“The Distributor of the Fire”

If one were to search for this statement of ʿAlī in the sources available to us today one will not find it in any canonical book of Hadith, but if one widens the search to, for example, those books whose very purpose was to record the Hadith that had been marginalized after being deemed weak or fabricated then the result is different.

Ibn Qutayba (d. 276) in his Gharīb al-Ḥadīth, al-Fasawī (d. 277) in his al-Maʿrifa wa-l-Taʾrīkh, al-ʿUqaylī (d. 322) in his al-Ḍuʿafāʾ al-Kabīr and Ibn ʿAdī (d. 365) in his al-Kāmil fī Ḍuʿafāʾ al-Rijāl transmit it with their different chains converging at al-Aʿmash[18]

From al-Aʿmash from Mūsā b. Ṭarīf al-Asadī from ʿAbāya b. Ribʿī al-Asadī, that he heard ʿAlī saying:

I swear by Allah other than whom there is no God (that) I am the distributor of the Fire. (I will say), “This (one) is for me and this (one) is for you”[19]

We don’t really need to study the narrators below al-Aʿmash because this report is authentically traced back to him. Recall that Yaḥyā b. Maʿīn (Thiqa) received confirmation from Khālid b. Khidāsh (Thiqa) that he had heard Abū ʿAwāna (Thiqa) narrating this report from al-Aʿmash (Thiqa).

So we turn to the two intermediaries above al-Aʿmash i.e. Mūsā b. Ṭarīf and ʿAbāya

The Sunni critics zoomed in on Mūsā and weakened him, but their reasoning for weakening him seems to be on the basis of him narrating this report[20].

So what we have here is a case of the cart being placed before the horse!


Yes, No, Maybe

Could someone get away with narrating such a report in proto-Sunni Hadith circles?

We already know what fate lay in store for Mūsā b. Ṭarīf al-Asadī, but being an insignificant Hadith narrator meant that he could easily be abandoned without a second thought, but what about a prolific narrator of the caliber of al-Aʿmash? Did he escape unscathed because of his prominence?

The sources indicate that al-Aʿmash received considerable backlash from his Ahl al-Ḥadīth contemporaries for narrating this report which they found unpalatable[21].

What was al-Aʿmash’s response when confronted by his peers?

Here the reports diverge wildly and a convincing reconciliation needs to be proposed.


  • I never narrated it!

Some reports depict al-Aʿmash as claiming that he never narrated this.

Warqāʾ b. ʿUmar (d. 169) and Misʿar b. Kidām (d. 153) went to al-Aʿmash with the express purpose of ‘blaming him for two Hadiths that were conveyed to them on his authority’:

The words of ʿAlī “I am the distributor of Fire” and another Hadith “So-and-so such and such on the Ṣirāṭ[22]

al-Aʿmash responds to them by saying: 

I did not narrate this nor did I ever say it![23]

ʿAbdallāh b. Dāwūd al-Khuraybī (d. 213) narrates how al-Aʿmash came to them one day ‘while angry’ saying:

Do you not wonder at Mūsā b. Ṭarīf?! He narrates from ʿAbāya from ʿAlī “I am the distributor of the Fire”’[24]

This makes it seem that al-Aʿmash rejected the report and had no role in transmitting it.


  • I was only joking!

Other reports have al-Aʿmash admitting that he did indeed report it but this was only in derision and with the aim of ridiculing its contents.

Sufyān al-Thawrī (d. 161) relates that it was said to to al-Aʿmash:

Why did you narrate this?          

Al-Aʿmash responds:     

I narrated it in mockery[25]

Qays b. al-Rabīʿ (d. 167) narrates that he heard al-Aʿmash say:

Bandits from assorted tribes come to me asking me about the Hadith of ʿAlī “I am the distributor of the Fire” I did not narrate this from Mūsā b. Ṭarīf from ʿAbāya except as a mockery of ʿAbāya![26]

But if making mockery of the report was al-Aʿmash’s true intention then he hadn’t expressed this very clearly for many of those who came to him took it seriously. 

Abū Bakr b. ʿAyyāsh (d. 193), a student of al-Aʿmash, recounts that he said to al-Aʿmash:              

When you narrated from Mūsā b. Ṭarīf from ʿAbāya from ʿAlī “I am the distributor of Fire” (what  were you thinking)?

Al-Aʿmash responds:     

I swear by Allah – I did not narrate it except in mockery!

Abū Bakr b. ʿAyyāsh intejects:

The people have carried it from you in their sheets (i.e. books of Hadith) and you claim that you narrated it in mockery?![27]


  • I narrate what I hear!

A third set has al-Aʿmash presenting no defense beyond ‘a narrator will narrate what comes his way’

ʿĪsā b. Yūnus (d. 187) recounts:

I never saw al-Aʿmash humbled except one time, for he narrated to us this Hadith: ʿAlī said, “I am the distributor of the Fire”

This reached the Ahl al-Sunna so they came to him and said, ‘Do you narrate Hadiths by which you strengthen the Rawāfiḍ, the Zaydiyya and the Shia?!

He said, ‘I heard it so I narrated it’

They said, ‘So everything that you hear you will narrate?!’

ʿĪsā b. Yūnus concludes:

So I saw him humbled that day[28]


al-Aʿmash’s Taqiyya

It goes without saying that these explanations are self-contradictory and cannot all be true. Perhaps there was a need to fabricate a defense to clear al-Aʿmash of any wrong doing, and the fabricators got their wires crossed. It is more likely, however, that al-Aʿmash, who was under sustained pressure for narrating the report, succumbed to employing Taqiyya when he denied ever narrating it or when he defended himself by claiming that he narrated it in jest.

And this is supported by the following report preserved by al-Fasawī (d. 277).

Abū Muʿāwiya (d. 195), a long-standing companion of al-Aʿmash, says that ‘they’ (i.e. his close students) begged al-Aʿmash:

Do not narrate these Hadiths!

Al-Aʿmash responded:

They (i.e. people) ask me (about them) so what can I do?

I may forget (to abstain from narrating) so if they ask me anything to do with this (i.e. the merits of ʿAlī) and I forget (am about to do it) then remind me (not to)!

Abū Muʿāwiya says:

We were with him one day when a man came and asked him about the Hadith “I am the distributor of the Fire”

So I cleared my throat (i.e. to remind al-Aʿmash to avoid answering)

But al-Aʿmash does not heed this warning and boldly states:

These Murjiʾa[29] will not let me narrate the merits of ʿAlī!

Remove them from the Masjid so that I can narrate to you![30]    

Do you not see, dear reader, how restrictive the atmosphere was, and how careful narrators had to be in how they negotiated narrating certain material so as to avoid getting ‘cancelled’?[31]


A Death-bed Scene

al-Ṭūsī (d. 460) preserves the following report which is attributed to the prominent Kufan judge and prolific Hadith narrator, Sharīk b. ʿAbdallāh al-Nakhaʿī (d. 177)[32], and which if accepted as historical[33] demonstrates that the consequences of narrating ʿAlī’s statement literally dogged al-Aʿmash to his death-bed:

I visited al-Aʿmash during the sickness in which he died, so I was at his (i.e. al-Aʿmash’s) place when Ibn Shubruma, Ibn Abī Laylā and Abū Ḥanīfa came in to see him. They asked him about his condition and he (i.e. al-Aʿmash) mentioned feeling excessive weakness, voiced his fear over his sins, and was overcome by emotion and cried.

Abū Ḥanīfa faced him and said: O Abā Muḥammad (i.e. al-Aʿmash), fear Allah and show concern for yourself, for you are in the last day of the days of the world, and in the first day of the days of the hereafter – you used to narrate about ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib some Hadiths which if you were to recant it would be better for you!

Al-Aʿmash said: Like what O Nuʿmān?

He (i.e. Abū Ḥanīfa) said: Like the Hadith of ʿAbāya “I am the distributor of the Fire”

He (i.e. al-Aʿmash) said: Is it to the likes of me that you say this you Jew?!

Make me sit, support me, make me sit (i.e. he was laying on bed and asked to be helped to sit down).

I swear by the One to whom is my journey (that) Mūsā b. Ṭarīf narrated to me, and I did not see an Asadī who was better than him. He said: I heard ʿAbāya b. Ribʿī the Imam of the tribe. He said: I heard ʿAlī the Commander of the Faithful say, “I am the distributor of the Fire. I will say ‘this one is my ally – leave him be’ and ‘this one is my enemy – take him’”  

And Abū al-Mutawakkil al-Nājī narrated to me in the governorship of al-Ḥajjāj, and he, that is al-Ḥajjāj, used to insult ʿAlī with the harshest of insults, may Allah curse him (i.e. al-Ḥajjāj), from Abī Saʿīd al-Khudrī. He said: The Messenger of Allah said: When it will be the Day of Judgment, Allah Mighty and Majestic will instruct (us) so ʿAlī and I will sit upon the Ṣirāṭ, and He will tell us, “Make the one who believes in Me and loves you both enter Paradise, and make the one who disbelieves in Me and hates you both enter Hell-fire!”     

Abū Saʿīd said: The Messenger of Allah said: He has not believed in Allah the one who does not believe in me, and he does not believe in me the one who does not consider ʿAlī his authority [or he said love ʿAlī], and he recited (this verse) “The two of you (i.e. Muḥammad and ʿAlī) cast into Hell every obstinate disbeliever” (50:24) 

So Abū Ḥanīfa covered his head with his wrap (after hearing al-Aʿmash say this) and said: Let us stand (depart)! Abū Muḥammad will not bring us something more calamitous[34] than this!  

The report ends with Sharīk b. ʿAbdallāh being quoted as saying, ‘So he, that is al-Aʿmash, did not stay one more night and left the world, may Allah have mercy on him’[35]   



The cumulative, fragmentary and incidental nature of the evidence presented above makes it very hard to dispute that great pressure was brought to bear on al-Aʿmash by some of his contemporaries over his decision to narrate a statement attributed to ʿAlī leading him to dissimulate[36], furthermore, the same statement when it made its way into Abū ʿAwāna’s book among other ‘problematic’ ones led to the book being burnt solely due to its contents.

What this case demonstrates is that Sunni Hadith critics were not the ‘objective’ and ‘impartial’ arbiters some present them to be, rather, they held certain pre-suppositions that need to be investigated and accepted as true before getting on-board with their enterprise and its associated findings, for if they were wrong in these pre-suppositions then all the results they produced are equally skewed!



[1] See my “ʿAbd al-Razzāq’s Shīʿīsm and the Limits of Sunni Hadith Criticism” which can be accessed on the site:

[2] A demonstrative example that comes to mind is that of Qays b. Abī Ḥāzim. Here we have a well-regarded Tābiʿī who narrated from most of the senior companions and whose Hadith can duly be found in all the six canonical works of Sunni Hadith, and yet he could not totally escape criticism for narrating a handful of reports that were deemed Manākīr (objectionable). Thus we find the pioneering Basran critic Yaḥyā b. Saʿīd al-Qaṭṭān saying about him ‘Qays b. Abī Ḥāzim is Munkar in Hadith’ before citing the Hadith of ‘the barking dogs at Ḥawʾab’ as an example. See Tahdhīb al-Kamāl, Vol. 24, Pg. 15 ( This, refers, of course, to the famous report of the prophet who warned that the dogs at Ḥawʾab will bark at one of his wives while she is in the wrong, something that occurred to ʿĀʾisha on the way to fight ʿAlī at the Battle of Jamal. Yaḥyā b. Saʿīd al-Qaṭṭān’s judgment is wholly subjective and informed by his bias, for other critics, such as Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal, had no problem with the report’s contents and indeed Aḥmad transmits it on the authority of Qays b. Abī Ḥāzim in his Musnad without comment! See Musnad Aḥmad, Vol. 40, Pgs. 298-299, No. 24254 ( [Note that Yaḥyā b. Saʿīd is the one who transmits this report to Aḥmad but this does not mean that Yaḥyā accepted it] and Vol. 41, Pg. 197, No. 24654 (

[3] What this implies is that some narrators were self-conscious as to what they chose to narrate and to whom, resulting in those reports whose contents were deemed problematic to be suppressed i.e. not enjoy as wide-spread transmission as they could have.

[4] There is a lot of evidence that can be adduced to suport this position. Consider, for example, this responsa from Isḥāq b. Rāhawayh (d. 238), a contemporary of Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal and also a primary figure within the Ahl al-Ḥadīth movement.

Q: A man steals a book from another, in it (i.e. the book) is found the beliefs of Jahm or Qadar?

A: He (i.e. the thief) gets rid of it.

Q: He was caught before he could burn it or get rid of it – is his hand cut (i.e. is the Ḥadd applied on him)?

A: No, his hand is not cut.

Q: A man has a book in which is found the beliefs of Irjāʾ, Qadar or any other Bidʿa – I ask to borrow it from him so when it comes into my hands I burn it or tear it up?

A: You have nothing to answer for.

See al-Sunna (of al-Khallāl), Vol. 3, Pg. 511, No. 823 (

[5] al-Sunna (of al-Khallāl), Vol. 3, Pg. 510, No. 821 (

[6] Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal says about him,   “Sallām b. Abī Muṭīʾ was from the Thiqāt among the companions of Ayyūb (i.e. al-Sakhtiyānī) and he was a righteous man. ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. Mahdī narrated to us on his authority”. See al-Sunna (of al-Khallāl), Vol. 3, Pg. 510, No. 820 (; al-ʿIllal wa Maʿrifat al-Rijāl, Vol. 1, Pg. 253, No. 357 ( Aḥmad also calls Sallām a Ṣāḥib Sunna (a term used for the predecessors of the Ahl al-Ḥadīth movement who were seen as being on the correct path) and he is portrayed as a firebrand against beliefs deemed to be ‘innovations’. Refer to statements quoted from Sallām such as, “To meet Allah with the book of deeds of Ḥajjāj is more beloved to me than meeting Allah with the book of deeds belonging to ʿAmr b. ʿUbayd (i.e. an early leader of the Muʿtazila)” and “The Jahmiyya are disbelievers, it is not permitted to pray behind them”. Sallām b. Abī Muṭīʾ resided in Basra and occurs as a narrator in both Ṣaḥīḥ Bukhārī and Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim. See Tahdhīb al-Kamāl, Vol. 12, Pgs. 298-301, No. 2663 (; Siyar Aʿlām al-Nubalāʾ, Vol. 7, Pgs. 428-429, No. 160 (

[7] He is Abū ʿAwāna al-Waḍḍāḥ b. ʿAbdallāh al-Yashkurī, one of those who were taken captive after the conquest of Jurjān. It is said that his master gave him the option of either being freed or writing Hadith. Abū ʿAwāna chose the latter. Al-Dhahabī describes him as ‘the Imam’, ‘the Ḥāfiẓ’, ‘the Thabt’,  ‘the Muḥaddith of Basra’ and ‘among the pillars of Hadith’. He occurs accross all the six canonical works of Sunni Hadith. See Tahdhīb al-Kamāl, Vol. 30, Pgs. 441-448, No. 6688 (; Siyar Aʿlām al-Nubalāʾ, Vol. 8, Pgs. 217-222, No. 39 ( 

[8] al-Sunna (of al-Khallāl), Vol. 3, Pg. 510, No. 820 (

[9] al-Sunna (of al-Khallāl), Vol. 3, Pg. 509, No. 818 (

[10] He is the famous narrator Sulaymān b. Mihrān al-Asadī. A freed slave who rose to the heights of scholarship in Kufa. He is described by al-Dhahabī as ‘the Imam’, ‘the Shaykh of Islam’, ‘the Shaykh of the Qur’an-reciters and Hadith-narrators’ and ‘the Ḥāfiẓ’. He occurs accross all the six canonical works of Sunni Hadith. Abū ʿAwāna is a known transmitter and student of his. See Tahdhīb al-Kamāl, Vol. 12, Pgs. 76-91, No. 2570 (; Siyar Aʿlām al-Nubalāʾ, Vol. 6, Pgs. 226-248, No. 110 (    

[11] al-Sunna (of al-Khallāl), Vol. 3, Pg. 511, No. 822 (

[12] Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal knew of the book only by its reputation and would not have been curious to know more. He would never have entertained the thought of attempting to gain access to the book even if it were possible for him to do so. Recall that this is the same man who used to put his fingers in his ears to avoid hearing ʿAbd al-Razzāq’s ‘problematic’ Hadith and gave up the chance to privately hear a sheet of Ghundar’s ‘problematic’ Hadith. If the contents of Abū ʿAwāna’s books were judged to be ‘problematic’ by earlier authorities then its burning marks the end of the story as far as Aḥmad was concerned and he would be happy if whatever Hadiths it contained never saw the light of day again.

[13] Khālid b. Khidāsh al-Muhallabī was a Hadith narrator from Basra who later came to reside in Baghdad. Al-Dhahabī describes him as ‘the Imam’ and ‘the Ḥāfiẓ’. Yaḥyā b. Maʿīn confirms that he wrote down Hadith from him and calls him Ṣadūq (truthful). Abū ʿAwāna is listed as one of his teachers. He occurs as a narrator in Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim and Sunan al-Nasāʾī. See Tahdhīb al-Kamāl, Vol. 8, Pgs. 45-50, No. 1602 (; Siyar Aʿlām al-Nubalāʾ, Vol. 10, Pgs. 488-489, No. 162 (       

[14] This prophetic report (with the same upper chain of al-Aʿmash from Sālim b. Abī al-Jaʿd from Thawbān) which has been truncated here survives in full in a few sources. It reads, “Fulfill your duty to the Quraysh so long as they fulfill their duty to you, so if they do not (fulfill their duty) then place your swords on your shoulders and annihilate the vast majority of them, but if you do not do this then become wretched farmers eating from the toils of your hands”. The reason why this report was deemed ‘problematic’ is obvious. It encourages rebellion against oppressive rulers, something which went against the creed of the Ahl al-Ḥadīth. See al-Ṭabarānī’s Muʿjam al-Ṣaghīr, Vol. 1, Pg. 134, No. 201 ( Aḥmad transmits this report in his Musnad but censors the sensitive ending. See Musnad Aḥmad, Vol. 37, Pg. 71, No. 22388 ( It is not like Aḥmad did not have the full version, he transmits the report in full elsewhere but goes on to comment ‘The Hadiths are against this. The prophet said, “Hear and obey, even if to a deformed slave (if he gains authority)’. See al-Sunna (of al-Khallāl), Vol. 1, Pgs. 126-127, No. 80 ( 

[15] al-Sunna (of al-Khallāl), Vol. 3, Pg. 510, No. 819 ( 

[16] Recall that Yaḥyā b. Maʿīn addressed Abū al-Azhar saying ‘You have come with a Ṭāmma’ when the latter returned from Yemen and was narrating the prophetic report, ‘O ʿAlī – you are a chief in the world, a chief in the hereafter’. I argue that Ṭāmma and Balāya are being used synonymously. See al-Irshād fī Maʿrifat ʿUlamāʾ al-Ḥadīth, Vol. 2, Pgs. 813-814 (

[17] This opens up the implication that we cannot be sure what percentage of the total amount of Hadith that was in circulation in the early period still survives today!

[18] Note that their chains do not pass through Abū ʿAwāna (whose book was burnt) but through other transmitters (ʿAbdallāh b. Dāwūd, ʿAlī b. Mushir, Ḥafṣ b. Ghiyāth, Sufyān b. Ibrāhīm b. al-Jurayrī, ʿAbdallāh b. ʿAbd al-Quddūs) who narrate it from al-Aʿmash. Al-Dāraquṭnī (d. 385) confirms that this report is established by way of al-Aʿmash > Mūsā b. Ṭarīf > ʿAbāya. See al-ʿIlal, Vol. 6, Pg. 273, No. 1132 ( We can infer that this report had numerous Ṭuruq (transmission routes or chains) which have not survived because al-Ṭūsī (d. 460) lists among the works of Ibn ʿUqda (d. 333) one which is entitled Kitāb man rawā ʿan ʿAlī annahu Qasīm al-Janna wa-l-Nār, similarly, al-Najāshī (d. 450) lists among the works of Abū Ṭālib al-Anbārī (d. 356) one which is entitled Kitāb Ṭuruq Qasīm al-Nār. See Fihrist al-Ṭūsī, Pgs. 73-74, No. 24/86 (; Fihrist al-Najāshī, Pgs. 232-233, No. 617 ( Both works have unfortunately been lost!        

[19] Gharīb al-Ḥadīth, Vol. 2, Pg. 150 (; al-Maʿrifa wa-l-Taʾrīkh, Vol. 2, Pg. 764 (; al-Ḍuʿafāʾ al-Kabīr, Vol. 3, Pg. 415 (; al-Kāmil fī Ḍuʿafāʾ al-Rijāl, Vol. 8, Pg. 54 (  

[20] Yaḥyā b. Maʿīn (d. 233) labels him Ḍaʿīf (weak) without providing any reason for doing so. Al-Bukhārī merely notes that Mūsā had Marāsīl (disconnected reports) without further censure. Al-Jawzjānī (d. 259), who is particularly rabid against those he perceives to be Rāfiḍī is attacking his sectarian affiliation when he labels him Zāʾigh (deviant). It is clear that al-ʿUqaylī (d. 322) had this particular report plus another which has ʿAlī returning to life after death (i.e. Rajʿa) in mind when he labels both Mūsā and ʿAbāya as Ghāl (extremist) and Mulḥid (heretic). It is Ibn ʿAdī (d. 365) who makes it explicit that the weakening is derived from the contents of this report when he says, “He was a Ghālī among the Kufans. I do not know of anyone else who narrates from him apart from al-Aʿmash. al-Aʿmash was confronted about a report that he narrated from him (i.e. Mūsā) until he (i.e. al-Aʿmash) had to swear that he narrated it from him in derision. This was the report ‘I am the distributor of the Fire’. He does not have many reports”. Ibn Ḥibbān (d. 354) asserts that Mūsā came with Manākīr (reports with objectionable content) that have no Uṣūl (substantiated basis). Ibn Ḥibbān’s claim that Abū Bakr b. ʿAyyāsh (d. 193) considered Mūsā a liar is based on a mistaken inference (refer to footnote no. 25 below). See Taʾrīkh Ibn Maʿīn (Riwāyat al-Dūrī), Vol. 3, Pg. 361, No. 1754 (; al-Taʾrīkh al-Kabīr, Vol. 7, Pg. 287, No. 1222 (; Aḥwāl al-Rijāl, Pg. 52, No. 24 (; al-Ḍuʿafāʾ al-Kabīr, Vol. 3, Pg. 415, No. 1457 (; al-Kāmil fī Ḍuʿafāʾ al-Rijāl, Vol. 8, Pg. 54 (; al-Majrūḥīn, Vol. 2, Pg. 246, No. 907 (

[21] This was an especially sensitive area for al-Aʿmash because he was already suspected of Tashayyuʿ if not outright Rafḍ by some of his contemporaries. The Basran Yazīd b. Zurayʿ (d. 182), who was considered a model Hadith-narrator by both Yaḥyā b. Saʿīd and Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal, is quoted as saying, “He (i.e. al-Aʿmash) was – I swear by Allah – a Sabaʾī, and I swear by Allah that if it were not for Shuʿba (b. al-Ḥajjāj) narrating from him I would never have narrated Hadith from him!”. See al-ʿIlal wa Maʿrifat al-Rijāl, Vol. 2, Pg. 342, No. 2517 (  

[22] This report was deemed so objectionable that it has been censored almost completely making it difficult to discern its meaning. Sayyid ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz al-Ṭabāṭabāʾī contended that this report was likely recounting the perilous fate of a certain ruler on the Day of Judgment. See “Ahl al-Bayt (ʿa) fī al-Maktaba al-ʿArabiyya (15)” in Turāthunā (Issue No. 24, Rajab 1411), Pgs. 77-91. I say: This report is about the prophet and ʿAlī dividing up all mankind while sat on the Ṣirāṭ. See the section ‘A Death-bed Scene’ below. 

[23] al-Ḍuʿafāʾ al-Kabīr, Vol. 3, Pg. 415 (

[24] al-Ḍuʿafāʾ al-Kabīr, Vol. 3, Pg. 415 (; al-Kāmil fī Ḍuʿafāʾ al-Rijāl, Vol. 8, Pgs. 53-54 (

[25] al-Kāmil fī Ḍuʿafāʾ al-Rijāl, Vol. 8, Pg. 53 (   

[26] al-Kāmil fī Ḍuʿafāʾ al-Rijāl, Vol. 8, Pg. 53 (

[27] al-Ḍuʿafāʾ al-Kabīr, Vol. 3, Pg. 415 ( Abū Bakr b. ʿAyyāsh (d. 193) claims this same excuse for Mūsā when he says, “I had seen Mūsā b. Ṭarīf, and even participated in his funeral prayer, he used to say about ‘those’ Hadiths which he used to attribute back to ʿAlī – “I am mocking them”. See al-Ḍuʿafāʾ al-Kabīr, Vol. 4, Pg. 158, No. 1729 ( This is Abū Bakr coming to the defense of Mūsā and there is no indication that Abū Bakr considered Mūsā to be a liar (pace Ibn Ḥibbān) otherwise why would he attend his funeral prayer? One Sallām al-Khayyāṭ who narrates the report directly from Mūsā also claims the same excuse when he says, “Mūsā used to subscribe to the creed of the Syrians (i.e. unsympathetic to ʿAlī) and he used to narrate this (report) in wonderment at it and in revulsion of it”. See ibid ( No later scholar has picked up on this defense of Mūsā and it is definitely strange that the same excuse is attributed to both al-Aʿmash and Mūsā. If this is not a contrived excuse falsely attributed to both as a way of clearing their names then we must conclude that Mūsā was applying the same Taqiyya that al-Aʿmash was applying. This last is supported by the fact that al-Aʿmash narrates that he asked Mūsā about the status of ʿAbāya ‘among you’ i.e. the tribe of Asad (since both Mūsā and ʿAbāya belong to this tribe) and Mūsā proceeds to respond favourably by mentioning ʿAbāya’s merit, prayers, fasting and general truthfulness. Does this look like the answer of someone who was engaged in the ‘mockery’ of ʿAbāya and the Shia? Or someone was revolted by this report? See al-Maʿrifa wa-l-Taʾrīkh, Vol. 3, Pg. 192 (

[28] al-Ḍuʿafāʾ al-Kabīr, Vol. 3, Pg. 415 (

[29] This label is significant in the Kufan context where pro-Alid sympathy was widespread and the main opponents of the Shia (of various stripes) were the Murjiʾa who claimed ‘neutrality’ on the question of the status of the companions who fought each other in the early wars and who were therefore prepared to accommodate all companions and rulers as legitimate. The Murjiʾa were a significant bloc in the haphazard coalition of those who later came to be called Sunnis.  

[30] al-Maʿrifa wa-l-Taʾrīkh, Vol. 2, Pg. 764 (

[31] If al-Aʿmash had to engage in Taqiyya about this then what about our Imams who were even more well-known public figures and who kept being asked sensitive questions so as to trip them up?             

[32] Sharīk is known to be Shīʿī but the nature of this is open to debate. While it was likely the general Kufan Tafḍīlī sort (i.e. preferring ʿAlī over ʿUthmān and detesting Muʿāwiya), more extreme statements have also been attributed to him. So he is quoted as saying ‘ʿAlī is the best of men, whoever denies has disbelieved’ and he also occurs in the chain of the report ‘For every prophet there is a successor and inheritor and ʿAlī is my successor and inheritor’. While no one questions his moral probity, there are contradictory statements about the ‘accuracy’ of his transmissions. He occurs as a narrator in the Four but is avoided by Bukhārī and used by Muslim only as corroboration (following the precedent of Yaḥyā b. Saʿīd al-Qaṭṭān who avoided his Hadith). See Siyar Aʿlām al-Nubalāʾ, Vol. 8, Pgs. 200-216, No. 37 (; Mīzān al-Iʿtidāl, Vol. 2, Pg. 270-274, No. 3697 (            

[33] The main problem with the report is an anachronism that needs to be explained since it depicts Ibn Shubruma who is said to have died in 144 coming in to visit al-Aʿmash at his death-bed in 148!

[34] Note that Abū Ḥanīfa uses the word Aṭamm which is the comparative of Ṭāmma i.e. the word Yaḥyā b. Maʿīn used for Abū al-Azhār’s report regarding the merit of ʿAlī (see footnote 16) and which I argued is synonymous to Balāya.

[35] al-Amālī, Pgs. 628-629, No. 7/1294 ( This same report but in a truncated fashion and with a completely different chain to Sharīk b. ʿAbdallāh is also narrated by the Sunni Muḥaddith ʿAbd al-Wahhāb b. al-Ḥasan b. al-Walīd al-Kilābī (d. 396) in the extract of his Musnad that survives (consisting of 32 reports) and which has been published at the end of Ibn al-Maghāzilī’s (d. 483) Manāqib. See Manāqib al-Imām ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib (ed. Dār al-Aḍwāʾ), Pg. 336, No. 3.     

[36] Note that this article does not seek to argue for or against the historicity of ʿAlī’s statement (i.e. whether he really said these words or not), rather, it studies how these words were received.

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