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Responding to Some Points Raised By Ibn Khaldun (Part 2)

imam mahdi (a.s),

5. Unfounded Prejudice

It is obvious that to pursue an agenda and to follow prejudice is not conducive to objective research. Anyone who intends to do research about a subject and to get to the truth of a matter must discard his unfounded prejudices against and hatred towards it and then begin his investigation.

 When during the process of the investigation a piece of evidence is found in a tradition one should investigate its narrator in order to prove his reliability. If the narrator’s reliability is confirmed then his tradition should be accepted regardless of whether he is a Sunni or a Shi’i. It is against the rule of fairness and the method of investigation that the traditions of a reliable narrator be rejected simply because he happens to be a Shi’i or is accused of being one. In fact fair minded scholars among the Sunnis have been aware of this prejudice.

In this connection Asqalani comments:

One of the instances when one should pause in accepting the opinion of the person who is engaged in discrediting a narrator is to investigate whether there exists a difference in the matter of creed between the person who is engaged in discrediting and the narrator who is being discredited. For example Abu Ishaq Jawzjani was a Sunni who hated the Ahl-ul-Bayt (a nasibi) while the people of Kufa were famous for their Shi’ism.

Hence he discredited the Kufan narrators in the most severe terms. Accordingly people like A’mash Abu Nu’aym and Abd Allah bin Musa although the leaders and pillars of narrators of hadith were declared unreliable by him. Qushayri says: "The motives of the people resemble the pits of fire." Consequently in such instances a statement about the narrator’s reliability has preponderance over a statement about his unreliability.[34]

Similarly Muhammad bin Ahmad bin Uthman Dhahabi following his account about Aban bin Taghlib’s life writes:

If some one objects to why we declare him trustworthy in spite of the fact that Aban was among the people of innovation (i.e. Shi’is) I say thus: Innovation is of two kinds. One is a lesser type like the extremism in Shi’ism or Shi’ism without extremism and sinful deviation. This kind of innovation was common among a number from the second and third generation of the companions of the Prophet in spite of the fact that their piety and moral probity were beyond reproach. If it is decided that the traditions reported by such narrators should be rejected a large number of Prophetic traditions would necessarily have to be rejected. The wrongness of such an opinion is self-evident. The second type of innovation is of a greater type such as the complete rejection [of the first three caliphs] and the cursing of Abu Bakr and Umar. Indisputably the traditions reported by this group have no value and should be rejected.

jamkaran mosque

In short anyone who undertakes research and wants to discover truth should not accept such statements of the unreliability of a narrator at face value. Rather he should try to uncover the reason for discrediting a narrator and whether that person truly deserves such a judgment.

6. Sahih Muslim and Sahih Bukhari and Traditions about the Mahdi

It is important to emphasize that if the traditions about the Mahdi were not recorded by Bukhari and Muslim this does not mean that the reports were weak in transmission. After all these two compilers had no intention of shedding light on all the traditions. According to Bayhaqi Muslim and Bukhari did not intend to search for all the traditions. The evidence is provided by the inclusion of numerous traditions that were recorded by Bukhari and which are not part of Muslim’s collection. At the same time there are traditions in the Sahih of Muslim which were avoided by Bukhari. [35]

Just as Muslim claimed to have recorded only the authentic traditions in his compilation so did Abu Dawud in his collection. This latter fact has been observed by Abu Bakr bin Dasa who heard Abu Dawud says: "I have recorded 4 800 traditions in my collection of which all are either reliable or close to reliable." In addition Abu al-Sabah confirms that it was reported to him that Abu Dawud made a similar claim about the traditions in his compilation Sunan adding that if he included a weak tradition he made that clear. "Hence any tradition about which I have not made any comment should be regarded as reliable." A similar positive opinion about Abu Dawud’s Sunan has been related from Khatabi in the introduction to the present edition by Sa’ati. [36]

In short the traditions in Muslim and Bukhari are not different in reliability from the traditions recorded by other authors of the Sahih. What is important is that their transmitters should be investigated in order to establish their credibility or the lack thereof.

To be sure the Sahihs of Muslim and Bukhari whose authority is accepted by all the Sunnis are not completely devoid of traditions about the Mahdi although the term mahdi has not been used to express this belief among Muslims. Following is one such hadith:

It is reported from Abu Hurayra that the Prophet said: "What will be your reaction when the son of Mary descends and your Imam is among yourselves?" [37]

There are a number of other traditions on a similar theme in these two compilations. It is also important to bear in mind that Ibn Khaldun has neither totally falsified all the traditions about the Mahdi nor has he claimed that he does not accept them. The context of Ibn Khaldun’s remark about these traditions is provided by his opening statement in this section when he says:

It has been well known (and generally accepted) by all Muslims in every epoch that at the end of time a man from the family (of the Prophet) will without fail make his appearance who will strengthen Islam and make justice triumph. Muslims will follow him and he will gain domination over the Muslim realm. He will be called the Mahdi.

It is evident that he has briefly accepted the fact that the belief in the awaited Mahdi is common among Muslims. Moreover after his critical evaluation of the traditions and their transmitters he concludes the discussion with the following observation:

This is the situation of the traditions about the awaited Mahdi. It has been seen in the books that with the exception of very few most of these traditions are regarded as unreliable. [38]

Hence even at this point he has not rejected all the traditions on the subject. Rather as he confesses some of them are authentic.

Furthermore it is relevant to point out that the traditions on the subject of the Mahdi are not confined only to those mentioned and critically evaluated by Ibn Khaldun. Quite to the contrary most of the books on hadith both by the Sunnis and the Shi’ites narrate traditions in an unbroken chain of transmission which actually comes close to their verification as being credible. Had Ibn Khaldun known about the existence of all these traditions he would have probably regarded the belief in the Mahdi as deeply rooted in the Islamic revelation.

imam mahdi (a.s),

To conclude this discussion we can say that it is incorrect to maintain as some scholars do that Ibn Khaldun rejected the tradition about the Mahdi. On the contrary it is these authors who have read into Ibn Khaldun such an opinion.

Note: This time we will work on just ten parts of this useful book but as always accompany us for other parts of this book in  future.


(34). Lisan al-mizan Vol. 1 p. 16.

 (35). Sahih muslim Vol. 1 p. 24.

(36). See the introduction to the Sunan abi Dawud by Sa’ ati.

(37). Sahih muslim bab nuzul’isa volume 2; Sahih bukhari kitab bad’al-khalq wa nuzul’isa volume 4.

(38). Muqaddima p. 322.


Source: A book named The Just Leader of Humanity

By Ayatullah Ibrahim Amini

Translated by: Dr. Abdulaziz Sachedina


Other links:

The Beginning of the Belief in the Mahdi

The Mahdi from among the Descendants of the Prophet

The Sunni hadith on the Subject of the Mahdi

Ibn Khaldun and the Traditions about the Mahdi

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