Discussing the Ḥadīth of “Whoever dies without an Imam…man māta…” & Responding to Reformists who Deny this ḥadīth
Transcript of Lecture by Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi, recited on December 30, 2021 at Jaffari Community Centre, Toronto, Canada.
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و صلى الله على محمد و آله الطاهرين
1. What is bay’at?
When we talk about bay’at (e.g., when we hear in the context of ‘Ashurā’, where Imam Ḥusayn (a) was asked to do bay’at to Yazid), what that means basically is acknowledging the Imam of the time and pledging our loyalty and support for him. It simply means the pledge of allegience.
I talked about this issue from the perspective of the Sunni ḥadīth two years ago in a majlis. I would like to return to this issue with elaboration from the Shi‘a aḥādīth and also connect to a different angle as far as the Sunni aḥādīth are concerned. This basic concept of the bay’at, whether you say it refers to the Imam (of the Shi‘a) or the Caliph (of the Sunni), is accepted by both sects.
2. Ḥadīth of “Man māta” in Shi’a Sources
Amongst the Shi’as, I would like to present to you one of the earliest compilation of ḥadīth from Al-Kāfi of Shaykh Kulayni, compiled during the era of al-Ghaybat aṣ-Ṣughra. He took 20 years to compile the book known as Al-Kāfi and he died in the year 329 AH.
Kulayni, through his chain of narrators goes all the way to ‘Isa ibn al-Sariyy Abu al-Yasa’, who asked the Sixth Imam (a), “Can you explain to me what are the indispensible da’āimul Islam, the fundamentals of Islam? The fundamentals whose ignorance can lead to corruption of one’s faith and whose deeds would not be accepted by Allah?…”
The Sixth Imam responds to him by describting the da’āimul Islam (the fundamentals of Islam): number one is tawḥīd – there is no God but Allāh; second, you can’t have Islam without believing that Muḥammad (s) is the Messenger of Allāh; third, to acknowledge whatever he has brought from Allāh; fourth, to affirm that right in one’s wealth known as alms. Then the Imam ends with Wilāyah as a fundamental pillar: this wilāyat which Allāh has made obligatory upon us, and that is the wilāyat of the family of Prophet Muḥammad (s).
So then, ‘Isa the narrator, asks the Imam a follow up question, “How would you explain the importance of this wilāyat?”
The Imam responds by reciting 4:59 of Holy Qur’ān: “O believers, obey Allāh, and obey the Messenger and the ulūl amr among you, (i.e., those among you who possess Divine Authority).” The Ulūl amr in the verse refers to those who have the authority in place of Rasūlillāh (s).
Then the Sixth Imam says that: “The Messenger of Allāh said,
“مَنْ مَاتَ وَ لَا يَعْرِفُ إِمَامَهُ مَاتَ مِيتَةً جَاهِلِيَّةً
Whoever dies without knowing his Imam, he dies the death of jāhiliyyah.”
Jāhiliyyah is term used for pre-Islamic era and non-Islamic values. “Death of Jāhiliyyah” means that that person’s death is death of kufr, infidelity.
Then the Imam applies this ḥadīth to the Prophet Muḥammad (s) and the Imams of Ahlul Bayt (a). He said: “There was the Messenger of Allah (s) and after Rasul is ‘Ali (a). Some say Mu’āwiyah. Then Ḥasan (a), then Ḥusayn (a). And yet others says Yazid bin Mu‘āwiyah. Yazid and Husayn bin ‘Ali (a) are not same nor can you compare [Mu‘āwiyah with ‘Ali (a)]!”
The Imam was then silent for a moment until someone from the audience asked him to elaborate more. Then Imam said, “Then you have ‘Ali ibn al-Husayn (a) then Muhammad ibn ‘Ali, Abu Ja’far (a)…” (Then he describes the role of the Fifth Imam in educating the Shi’a about their faith and rituals).
Then the Imam says: “This is how the reality will be, and the earth does not remain without an Imam ever —
مَنْ مَاتَ وَ لَا يَعْرِفُ إِمَامَهُ مَاتَ مِيتَةً جَاهِلِيَّةً
and whoever dies without knowing his Imam, he dies the dealth of infidelity.
The time when you need this belief [and marifat] most is the time when death comes – then you will realize what is the benefit of believing in the Imam of the time.”
This same narration has been written by Shaykh al-Kulayni from another chain of narrators. In the first narration quoted above, Kulayni’s chain starts to from Muḥammad bin Yaḥya and ends with ‘Isa bin as-Sariyy; and the second narration in which he quotes this same ḥadith from another chain of narrators starting with Abu ‘Ali al-Ash‘ari and ends with ‘Isa bin as-Sariyy. So, we have two chains of narrations quoted from Shaykh Kulayni in Al-Kāfi.
Another example of this ḥadīth is from a scholar of the same era as Shaykh Kulayni. ‘Ali bin Muḥammad al-Khazzāz al-Rāzi. He has a book called Kifāyatul Athar fi ’n-Naṣṣ ’ala ’l-A’immati ’l-Ithnā ‘Ashar. There, through his own chain of narrators, he says that Abu Hamām heard from Muḥammad bin ‘Uthmān al-‘Amri (one of the four nā’ibs of the Imam in the ghaybat aṣ-ṣughra). This narration is of the days of the Eleventh Imam, and Muḥammad al-‘Amri said: “I heard my father asking a question to the Eleventh Imam and I was there.”
Then he continues: My father (‘Uthmān al-‘Amri) asked the Eleventh Imam about a statement that has been narrated from the Imam’s forefathers. The narration that he wanted to verify with the Imam is the following:
“The earth will never be devoid of the ḥujjat/representative of Allāh till the day of qiyamat.
مَنْ مَاتَ وَ لَمْ يَعْرِفْ إِمَامَ زَمَانِهِ مَاتَ مِيتَةً جَاهِلِيَّةً
And whoever dies and doesn’t know the Imam of his time, he dies the dealth of infidelity.”
When the 11th Imam heard that narration, he said: “Innā hadhā ḥaqqun kamā anna an-nahāra ḥaqqun – this is truth as the daylight (around us right now) is the truth.”
And so, somebody asked him, “O the son of the Messenger! So who will be the Ḥujjah and Imām after you?” The Imam (a) replied,
“My son Muḥammad, he will be the Imam and Ḥujjah after me.
مَنْ مَاتَ وَ لَمْ يَعْرِفْهُ مَاتَ مِيتَةً جَاهِلِيَّةً
Whoever dies and doesn’t know him, his death will be death of jāhiliyyah/infidelity.”
Then the Imam goes on to talk about the state of the people after ghaybah.
So, we have one ḥadīth from the Sixth Imam, with two different asnād/chains quoted by Shaykh Kulayni, and another ḥadīth from the Eleventh Imam quoted by Shaykh Rāzi. All three asnād are authentic and correct. Shaykh Ṣadūq has also quoted it in Kamālu ’d-Dīn but I am not mentioning it because his narration is based on the book of Shaykh ar-Rāzi.
This is the Shi’a perspective, and there is no doubt about it.
3. Ḥadīth of “Man māta” in Sunni Sources
The Sunni scholars are also unanimous in quoting the ḥadīth of “man māta…”. It has been quoted in Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, Ṣaḥīḥ Ibn Ḥabbān, Majma‘u ’z-Zawā’id of al-Haythami, al-Mu‘jam al-Awsaṭ of aṭ-Ṭabarāni, Musnad of Aḥmad bin Ḥanbal, al-Mustadrak of al-Ḥākim Nishāpūri and others.
These are all famous Sunni compilers of ḥadīth and they have quoted this ḥadīth in slightly different wordings. In all, there are four versions:
The first one:
“من مات و ليس في عنقه بيعة، مات ميتة جاهلية – Whoever dies and doesn’t have the bay‘at on his neck, then dies the death of infidelity.”
The second version:
“من مات و لم يعرف امام زمانه، مات ميتة جاهلية – Whoever dies and doesn’t know the Imam of his own time, then he dies the death of infidelity.” This version of ḥadith is has the same wordings as the second narration of the Shi‘as quoted earlier.
The third version:
“من مات و ليس عليه إمام، مات ميتة جاهلية – Whoeve dies and there is no Imam on him (he doesn’t believe in an Imam), then he dies the death of infidelity.”
And the fourth version:
“من مات و ليس له إمام، مات ميتة جاهلية – Whoever dies and doesn’t have an Imam, then he dies the death of infidelity.”
So, when you look at this, you will realize that, at least, when it comes to this concept of bay’at (the pledge of allegiance and knowing the Imam of the time) there is no dispute between Shia and Sunni.
4. Objections Against the Ḥadīth “Man Māta…”
There has been an attempt in the last few months to “reform” our aqeeda and weaken the fundamentals of our Shi‘a faith. One of the attacks was on this belief in the bay‘at of the Imam. Whenever you present a ḥadīth, they brush it aside by using the labels as “weak” or “fabrications of the Ghulāt (extremists)”. Let me respond to this.
(a) The authenticity of the ḥadīth in the Shi‘a sources:
We presented one ḥadīth from Shaykh Kulayni with two asnād/chains of narrators. And one narration from Ar-Razi. If you look at those asnād of narrators, according to the experts of the science of ḥadīth and ‘ilm al-rijāl, these three chains are absolutely authentic and ṣaḥīḥ.
What About Shaykh Muḥsini’s Methodology?
Then we will be told we have a scholar in our time called Shaykh Āṣif Muḥsinī who has critically reviewed the narrations in Biḥāru ’l-Anwār and he has said that a very small percentage of the narrations in Biḥāru ’l-Anwār are authentic and the majority are to be discarded; therefore, if you bring any ḥadīth that goes against their belief, they will say it is fabrication. Unfortunately, the name of the late Shaykh Muḥsinī is being thrown into these discussions without much thought regarding the methodology he has adopted. He was a Shi’a Ithnā ’Ashari and did not intend his methodology to be used this way. I have doubt that the people who throw around Shaykh Muḥsinī’s name have even read his book.
Shaykh Muḥsini looked at Biḥāru ’l-Anwār and then came up with the index in three volumes of the aḥādīth that he considers to be authentic from Biḥār and named the index as Mashra‘atu Biḥāri ’l-Anwār. Three remarks in his own words, from the preface of his own book, are very important.
• The first point: In the preface of his work, Shaykh Muḥsini writes: “Sometimes I have considered a narration to be unreliable not because I have been able to ascertain the unreliability of some of the narrators or their ignorance. Rather because of my ignorance of their situation since they have not been mentioned in the books of rijāl.” In other words, I don’t know much about them so I discarded them.
Let me elaborate on this: If you are able to ascertain that the narrator is a liar, a fabricator, or an enemy of the Ahlul Bayt, then you easily say that this ḥadīth is dhaīf/weak because this person comes from a dubious background, that is one thing. But if there is someone you don’t know anything about him because they have not been mentioned in the books of rijāl, that’s a completely different thing. This is a very important disclaimer from Shaykh Muḥsinī. He is basically saying, you cannot take my judgments in a blanket form.
• The second point Shaykh Muḥsini makes is also important: “Some narrations mentioned in Biḥāru ’l-Anwār have the asnād (the chains of narrators) which are unreliable and so we classified them as unreliable; but those same aḥādīth might have reliable asnād in the earlier four books [of ḥadīth] which the writer, ‘Allāmah al-Majlisi, doesn’t mention them because of their fame [among the scholars]…and they may also have a reliable asnād in other sources…So our judgements about those narrations being unreliable is a relative judgement regarding only the aḥādīth in Biḥāru ’l-Anwār in that particular chapter, and that we don’t think of them as being unreliable in general.”
[Meaning, there might be a ḥadīth in Biḥāru ’l-Anwār that Shaykh Muḥsini looked at and found the narrators to be unreliable – that doesn’t mean if you see that same or similar ḥadīth with another chain of narrators in another book of ḥadīth (like al-Kāfi for example), that also is unreliable.]
He then concludes that his remarks with a caution: “so don’t forget this point.” This statement of caution is for my young brothers and sisters who are getting caught up with this wrong understanding of ḥadīth scrutiny and give hasty judgements about them.
• The third point from Shaykh Muḥsini: “If a single ḥadīth has three chains of narrators (asnād)…then [that itself is sufficient and] it is not difficult to rely on that since it is far-fetched to think that all these three sets of narrators got together and conspired to fabricate this same ḥadīth.”
This also has also been confirmed by one of the scholars of Qum, Shaykh Ḥubbullāh, who promotes the methodology of Shaykh Muḥsini, and has popularized his work in Al-Mu‘tabar min Biḥāri ’l-Anwār. In the preface to that work, Shaykh Ḥubbullāh writes: “[That according to the methodology of Shaykh Muḥsini,] if the asnād [of a ḥadīth] reach to three of more, then it is possible to consider it to be authentic even if each chain by itself is dhaif/weak.”
What do these two individuals mean? Example: If I have never been to Mecca and that we lived in a time when there was no photography, and five individuals come from hajj and they describe the Ka’aba to me. One says the height of the Kaaba is a three-storey building. One fellow is a good person but he is not good in measurement, so I doubt what he says, perhaps he is exaggerating. The second fellow says the same thing about the height but I know he is a liar. The third fellow says the same thing about the height of the Ka’aba. He is a righteous person but simple minded and his judgement does not carry that much weight. Then two righteous, smart people also come and say the same thing. In this case, I wouldn’t say: I accept the last two reports and reject the first three. Because the last two were reliable and smart people, then I will collectively accept all five reports. Individually, I have a problem with the report because of the first three, but because of the last two reports, I accept all five reports including the one of the known liar.
So we have two groups narrating from the 6th Imam and then there is another group, narrating from the 11th Imam. And all three chains are authentic. However, if you have problem with their asnād, then, even on criterion of Shaykh Muḥsini, you would still accept them as there are three different chains for it.
Finally and interestingly, even Shaykh Muḥsini has included the narration of al-Kāfi on “man māta…” in his selection of the authentic aḥādīth from Biḥāru ’l-Anwār!
So there is no basis to brush away these authentic aḥādīth aside by using the broad brush of “fabrications by the Ghulāt.”
(b) The Authenticity of Ḥadīth in the Sunni Sources
We are also told that the Sunni aḥādīth of “man māta…” are weak, especially that of Aḥmad bin Ḥanbal’s chain. This, however, is a hasty judement without proper study of the Sunni ḥadīth literature since Aḥmad bin Ḥanbal is not the only source for this ḥadīth. There are the other sources which are accepted by the Sunni standards of ḥadīth.
From the four versions of the ḥadīth from the Sunni sources that I quoted earlier, the first version has been verified by the topmost Sunni scholar of ḥadīth criticism of this century, namely Shaykh Muḥammad Nāṣir Ad-Dīn Al-Albāni (d. 1991). He was a Salafi and one of the Salafi Muftis used to call him “Bukhariyu ’l-‘asr – i.e., the Bukhari of our time.” Shaykh Al-Albāni has many books in which he classifies aḥadīth of the earlier scholars. He has compiled books of ṣaḥīḥ aḥādīth. One of them is Silsilatu ’l-Aḥādīth aṣ-Ṣaḥīḥah, i.e. “The Series of the Authentic Aḥadīth”. In Volume 2, he quotes the first of the four versions of the Sunni ḥadīth of “Man māta …” ḥadīth and includes it in his series of authentic aḥadīth.
The third version, which is “Man māta wa laysa ‘aliyihi Imam, māta mitatan jahiliyyah,” has been narrated even before Imam Bukhari (and before Shaykh Kulayni). It has been narrated by Shaykh Ibn Abi ‘Āṣim (d. 287 AH) in his Kitābu ’s-Sunnah. A new version of his book has been printed with annotations of Shaykh Albāni. Under the ḥadīth under discussion, Shaykh Albāni writes that the sanad of this ḥadīth is good/ḥasan and the narrators are reliable/thiqāt.
So, two of these four versions of this ḥadīth from Sunni sources are considered ṣaḥīḥ, authentic according to Albāni. And so the statement of the “reformers” that the Sunni versions of this ḥadīth are not authentic is an arbitrary statement, not based on facts.
(c) Who is the “Imam” referred to in this “man māta” ḥadīth?
A final point: The “reformers” also say that even if the Sunnis accept this ḥadīth, they say that it refers to the bay’at of the Prophet (s) only.
Interestingly, even the Sunnis would not accept this explanation. Shaykh Allbāni says it refers to “khalīfatu ’l-Muslimīn – the Khalifa of the Muslims.” Moreover, Sa‘du ’d-Dīn at-Taftāzāni (d. 692), a Mu‘tazili Sunni theologian, relates this ḥadīth to “ulūlu ‘l-amr” (in verse 4:59) who are different from the Prophet (s).
On a practical level, this ḥadīth was used for the bay’at of the khulafa and not of Rasulullah. Yes, the ṣaḥābah did bay’at in Hudaybiya and Fath-e Mecca, in different situations, for Rasulullah; but this ḥadīth of “man māta…” is referring to the leader of the time. Sunnis say it refers to the khalifa, we say it refers to the Imam appointed by Allah through the Prophet.
This is where we have to realize that amongst the narrators of this ḥadīth from the Sunni books, we have Abu Hurayrah, Mu‘āwiyah and ‘Abdullāh bin ‘Umar and many others. ‘Abdullāh bin ‘Umar is interesting, the son of second khalifah who is known as a reliable source of knowledge among the Sunnis. See how he has implemented this ḥadīth in his life.
After the events of Kerbala, there was a change in the Umayyad dynasty. Āl-e Abu Sufyan came to an end due to Karbala. After Yazid, his son didn’t even survive for six months and then he abdicated, and thereafter Marwān bin Ḥakam became the khalifa. When Marwān died, his son, ‘Abdul Malik bin Marwān became the khalifa.
The news of ‘Abdul Malik’s khilāfat reached Madina at night time. When ‘Abdullah bin Umar heard this, he goes at night time to the house of Ḥajjāj bin Yūsuf, the brutal governor who was known for his high level of hatred for Imam ‘Ali (a) and his Shi‘as. ‘Abdullah bin ‘Umar tells him:
هات يدك أبايعك لأمير المومنين عبد الملك، فإنى سمعت رسول اللهص يقول: من مات و ليس عليه بيعة إمام فموته جاهلية. ..
“Give me your hand so I may pledge allegiance on your hand for ‘Abdul Malik.”
He is asked what is the urgency that you couldn’t wait till morning. ‘Abdullah bin ‘Umar says that he was worried what if he died by morning and had not pledged allegience; and so he says: “I heard from the Messenger of Allah that ‘whoever dies without pledge of allegiance of the Imam, then his death is of infidelity.’” So, ‘Abdullah bin ‘Umar applies this ḥadīth on Marwan not on Rasulullah (s). This ḥadīth is authentic and has power in it and people were worried about its application. So, don’t tell me that it is a fabrication by the Ghulāt.
What does Ḥajjāj do? He says, I am busy; both my hands are occupied. And so I will not extend my hand for bay’at. He then extended his feet and ‘Abdullah bin ‘Umar did bay’at on Ḥajjāj’s feet for ‘Abdul Malik bin Marwān!
(The ironry is that this same ‘Abdullah bin ‘Umar was one of the few who refused to do bay’ah on Imam ‘Ali (a) when the people appointed him. In Jamal and Siffin he remained his neutrality and didn’t take part, until the day ‘Ammār bin Yāsir was killed and people remembered the ḥadīth of Prophet (s) about ‘Ammār bin Yāsir being killed by a rebellious group while he will be calling people to Jannah and they will be calling him to Jahannam. That’s when ‘Abdullah decided to do bay’at of Imam Ali, a few months after he was appointed. What if he had died before then?!)
5. Why is this ḥadīth crucial? How would you classify the death of Sayyida Fatima (a)?
This ḥadīth is also very crucial for us in the Shi‘a-Sunni dispute. When Shi‘a argue from Qur’ān, Sunnis may say this verse doen’t mean this; about Ghadir, they say the word mawla has a different meaning. But what would they say about this ḥadīth in which both Shi‘a and Sunni believe?
Look at a narration in Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhāri from ‘Ā’isha in which it clearly states:
فغضبت فاطمة بنت رسول الله(ص) فهجرت أبا بكر فلم تزل مهاجرته حتى توفيت. وعاشتْ بعد رسول الله(ص) ستة أشهر
“Fāṭima, the daughter of Allāh’s Apostle got angry and stopped speaking to Abu Bakr, and continued assuming that attitude till she died. Fāṭima remained alive for six months after the death of Allāh’s Apostle.”
It says that after the death of the Prophet, Sayyida Fāṭima (a) goes to Abu Bakr to ask for her right. He doesn’t agree based on a concocted ḥadīth. ‘Ā’isha says that Fāṭima (a) got angry with Abu Bakr and stopped talking to him till her death. And that her death was 6 months after the death of Rasulallah according the Sunnis.
My question to the Muslims is: If a person dies without knowing the Imam of their time, then he/she dies the death of infidelity; then please tell me that when Sayyida Fāṭima (a) died, how do you classify her death? Because according to Ṣaḥīḥ Bukhāri, Sayyida Fāṭima (a) refused to do bay’ah to Abu Bakr. Not just Sayyida Fāṭima (a), but Sunni historians say even Imam Ali (a) did not do bay’ah while Sayyida Fāṭima (a) remained alive.
So, did she die a death of kufr? If you say this, even your status as a Muslim would be a problem as Fāṭima (a) is in ayah Mubahila, ayah Tatheer and surah Kawthar. Fāṭima (a) is the one about whom Prophet says who hurts her, hurts me. So if that is your answer, then you are in trouble.
So you are left with the only other answer: her death was based on imān and not kufr. And the logical conclusion of that is that Abu Bakr’s khilafat is invalid. This ḥadīth of “man māta,” thus, has far-reaching conclusions.
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