The Four Books

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The Four Books (Arabic: ٱلْكُتُب ٱلْأَرْبَعَة‎, al-Kutub al-ʾArbaʿah), or The Four Principles (al-Uṣūl al-Arbaʿah), is a Twelver Shia term referring to their four best-known hadith collections:

Name Collector No. of
Kitab al-Kafi [a] Muhammad ibn Ya'qub al-Kulayni al-Razi (329 AH) 16,199
Man La Yahduruhu al-Faqih Muhammad ibn Babawayh 9,044
Tahdhib al-Ahkam Shaykh Muhammad Tusi 13,590
Al-Istibsar Shaykh Muhammad Tusi 5,511

Shi'a Muslims use different books of hadith from those used by other Muslims, who prize the six major hadith collections. The Shi'a countries consider many Sunni transmitters of hadith to be unreliable because many of them took the side of Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali instead of only Ali (and the rest of Muhammad's family) and the majority of them were narrated through certain personalities that waged war against Ahlul Bayt or sided with their enemies such as Aisha that fought Ali at Jamal, or Muawiya who did so at Siffin. Hussain (grandson of Muhammad and son of Ali ibn Abi Talib) was martyred at the Battle of Karbala.[1] Shia trust traditions transmitted through the Imams, Muhammad's descendants through Fatima Zahra.[2]

The Four Books have been praised by many, but not all, notable Shia scholars. This is what some have said:

  • Abd al-Husayn Sharaf al-Din al-Musawi said: "Al-Kafi, Al-Istibsaar, Al-Tahzeeb and Mun La Yahduruhu Al-faqeeh are Mutawatirah and agreed on the accuracy of its contents (the Hadiths), and Al-Kafi is the oldest, greatest, best and the most accurate one of them.“ [The book of Al-Muraja'aat (A Shi'i-Sunni dialogue), Muraj'ah No. 110]
  • Al-Tabarsi said: "Al-Kafi among the 4 shia books is like the sun among the stars, and who looked fairly would not need to notice the position of the men in the chain of hadiths in this Book, and if you looked fairly you would feel satisfied and sure that the hadiths are firm and accurate."[Mustadrak al-Wasail, vol. 3, p. 532]

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  1. ^ Momen, Moojan, Introduction to Shi'i Islam, Yale University Press, 1985, p.28-31
  2. ^ Momen, Moojan, Introduction to Shi'i Islam, Yale University Press, 1985, p.174