Q: Please tell me more on what Abdul-Rahmaan Jami writes about the battle of Siffeen and about Ali (RA) is true in his Shawahid un Nubuwwah ‘I testify there is no God but Allah. I testify that Muhammad is the Prophet of Allah, and I testify that Ali is the Wasi of the Prophet Muhammad‘. Is Abdul-Rahman Jami a reliable author or scholar of the Sunni.
A: My response to the incident allegedly quoted by Mawlana Jami follows:
Mawlana ‘Abd ar-Rahman ibn Ahmad al-Jami was a great scholar and Sufi who died in 898 AH. He excelled in various fields, such as grammar, philosophy, logic, theology and jurisprudence, in which field he followed the Hanafi school. In addition he was a refined poet of the Persian language.
Amongst the various writings ascribed to him is a book in Persian called “Shawahid an-Nubuwwah”. However, there are a number of things to keep in mind when discussing the contents of books such as this. One of these is a general idea of historiography; and the other is an overview of an unusual biographical and literary phenomenon that appeared in Iran during the 11th and 12th centuries, which I will term, for lack of existing nomenclature, “the Safavid Rehabilitation”.
The mere mention of an alleged incident in a book does not guarantee its authenticity. It is for this reason that Muslims have, since the earliest days of Islam, developed the system of “isnad” in terms of which the narrator or the documenting author had to state each and every successive source through whom the report had been handed down to him, on the basis of which its authenticity could then be determined.
No author, howsoever eminent and learned, confers the benefit of authenticity upon the material he includes into his book merely by virtue of his personality. This is true even of the great Imams al-Bukhari and Muslim. The authenticity of the ahadith in their respective collections is not due to their personalities, but rather to the fact that the material which they included into their collections complied with the rigid criteria of authenticity.
Therefore, even a historian like Ibn Jarir at-Tabari, whose history is meticulously recorded with complete chains of narration, makes no claim of authenticity for the material documented in his book, and declares in the very opening of his book that the material in it is only as authentic as the chains of narration through which it was handed down to him. (“Tarikh at-Tabari” vol. 1 p. 24)
In the case of this particular report from the book “Shawahid an-Nubuwwah”, one is immediately struck by two things: one, the complete lack of sources; and two, the yawning chronological gap of almost a thousand years which separate the author, Jami (if it is indeed him) from the time of alleged ocurrence. With a time lapse such as that, it is absolutely inconceivable that the information could be first-hand; there had to have been a source.
This of course leads to the logical question: What was the source? Inability to answer this question leaves us in a cul-de-sac inasmuch as concerns the historicity of the incident.
What further robs this anecdote of the last bit of respectability it might have laid claim to is the fact that nowhere else in the reliable, or even unreliable annals of history, has any incident of this nature been reported.
However, there is another angles that begs investigation. That angle poses the following question: No matter whether the incident is true or not, why would a person like Mawlana Jami quote it? I hope that the discussion under the next heading will produce an answer to this question.
THE SAFAVID REHABILITATION
Jami lived in Persia (Iran) shortly before the Safavid conquest which commenced in 905 AH /1500 CE. It is for all practical purposes a matter of consensus amongst historians that the people of Iran were overwhelmingly of the Ahl as-Sunnah before the Safavid takeover. Conversion to Shi’ism was a relentlessly enforced policy of the Safavid state, and it had several spinoffs, one of which was a rehabilitation of the great intellectual figures of Iran’s immediate and distant past. Persons such as Imam al-Ghazali, Hafiz Abu Nu’aym of Isfahan, the poet Sa’di of Shiraz, the muhaddith Jamal ad-Din of Herat, and the theologian-philosopher Jalal ad-Din ad-Dawwani, were rehabilitated to appear as either open or crypto-Shi’is.
Al-Ghazali’s monumental “Ihya” was rewritten by Mulla Muhsin Fayd al-Kashani (who died in 1091 AD, and who enjoyed the patronage of Safavid state) along Shifi lines, and entitled “al-Mahajjah al-Bayda”. This new recension of the “Ihya”, its author claimed was necessitated by the fact that its author, towards the end of his life, converted to Shi’ism, but did not live long enough thereafter to rewrite his magnum opus. (See “al-Mahajjah al-Bayda” vol. 1 p.)
In the case Hafiz Abu Nu’aym we find Mulla Muhammad Baqir al-Majlisi (probably the greatest clerical figure in Safavid Iran, who died in 1111 AH) “discovering” the fact that Abu Nu’aym was a crypto-Shi’i a full seven centuries after his death in 413 AH. Al-Majlisi goes as far as to claim descent from Hafiz Abu Nu’aym, but conveniently ignores the fact that his claims are reduced to ridicule in the face of Abu Nu’aym’s own works such as “Kitab al-Imamah” and “Fadafil al-Khulafa al-Arbafah”. (See Majlisi’s claims in Khwansari’s “Rawdat al-Jannat” vol. 1 p. 273)
Jalal ad-Din Muhammad ibn Asfad ad-Dawwani (died 928 AH) was a theologian-philospher from Shiraz who stood heir to the intellectual tradition of as-Sayyid ash-Sharif al-Jurjani and Safd ad-Din at-Taftazani. He was also a Shafi’i jurist. He lived his last years in Shiraz at the time that Shah Isma’il Safavi was conquering various parts of Iran, and was strongly averse to the Safavids. Yet, it was not long before his personality too, was rehabilitated into that of a devout Shi’i, and he was credited with authorship of a purely Shi’i work in Persian entitled “Nur al-Hidayah”. (See the editor’s not on page 34 of volume 2 of “al-Anwar an-Nu’maniyyah”.)
Sayyid Jamal ad-Din of Herat is best known for the devotion with which he and his family taught and commented upon the famous hadith collection “Mishkat al-Masabih”. He died in 926 AH. Strangely enough (or should one start replacing “strangely” with “as can be expected”) he is listed as a Shifi both by Qadi Nifmatullah Shustari in “Majalis al-Mu’minin” and Mulla Muhammad Baqir al-Khwansari in “Rawdat al-Jannat” (vol. 1 p. 449). More interestingly, his own book “Rawdat al-Ahbab” was subjected to interpolation, as a result of which it came to exhibit strong Shifi tendencies.
Mawlana Jami was a contemporary of both Jalal ad-Din ad-Dawwani and Sayyid Jamal ad-Din, and as a scholar and man of letters he enjoyed a reputation by no means less than theirs. Like them he was a devout Sunni. In Tasawwuf he was an initiate of the Naqshbandi tariqah as a direct disciple of the great Khwajah ‘Ubaydullah Ahrar of Samarqand. The extreme acrimony which existed between the Naqshbandis and the Shi’ah can be seen from the fact that the first Sufi tariqah to be exterminated from Safavid Iran was the Naqshbandi tariqah. Mawlana Jami’s credentials as a Sunni is further underlined by his authorship of a polemical tract against the Shi’ah entitled “Silsilat adh-Dhahab”. As a last nail in this particular coffin, one might mention the fact that the deplorable Safavid habit of desecrating the graves of Sunni men of learning induced Mawlana Jami’s son to remove his mortal remains from his grave when the Safavid armies marched upon Jam. When the Safavids found his grave empty, they burned the wood around it. (See Ibn al-‘Imad, “Shadharat adh-Dhahab” vol. 9 p. 543)
Finally, in the light of the above -Jami’s pronounced Sunnism, and the aforementioned Safavid “rehabilitation” of eminent men of learning of the pre-Safavid era- it seems an inescapable conclusion that the works of Jami had been tampered with in the same way as those of his contemporaries, Sayyid Jamal ad-Din and Jalal ad-Din ad-Dawwani.
Like his two contemporaries, Mawlana Jami too, eventually came to be labeled as a Shi’i. Mulla Muhammad Baqir Khwansari has included Mawlana Jami in his book of Shi’i biographies, “Rawdat al-Jannat” (pp. 437-438). For what reason could this be, other than the fact that his works, or works that were eventually ascribed to him were posthumously filled with material of a markedly Shi’i flavour?
And Allah knows best