An Analysis of the Hadith al-Thaqalain
The rationale of the ‘Finality of Prophethood’ is that the divine authority to speak on behalf of God is terminated in the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him & his family) and that after him the authority in Religion is only invested in the Holy Qur’an revealed to him and in his Sunna (personal practice and teachings). However, the Imamiya Shi’a sect hold that after the Prophet, divine authority in matters of Religion have additionally been invested in the Prophet’s family and progeny. They are not merely saints and models of piety which Muslims are to take inspiration from, but are in themselves the ultimate divine authority to interpret and teach the Religion. One can easily see how this Imamiya doctrine contravenes the concept of ‘Finality of Prophethood’ so central to Islam (Sura 33: 40). But the Imamiya Shi’a argue that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him & his family) himself instructed his Umma that after him they must adhere to his Ahl-al-Bait (household), which is the basis for the Ahl-al-Bait’s divine authority in the Religion, i.e., the Ahl-al-Bait are invested with the same divine authority as the Holy Qur’an itself. They cite the well–known Hadith al-Thaqalain ‘the Two Weighty–Things’ as evidence for this position. According to their interpretation, in this Hadith the Prophet ﷺ stated that he was leaving behind two things for his followers that they must cling to and adhere to, first the Book of Allah (Qur’an) and second his Ahl-al-Bait (Household). Hence these are the two ‘Weighty–Things’ that are invested with divine authority, adherence to which is mandatory in the religious sense. The Imamiya Shi’a point to the fact that there are versions of this Hadith present in the corpus accepted by the mainstream Sunni branch of Islam too, which only serves to confirm its historical authenticity. Now it is true there are versions of this Hadith in the Sunni corpus, though they have come with some variation in wording, and not all of the narrations are authentic. But the most authentic version of this Hadith for Sunnis is reported in the collection of Sahih Muslim:
قَامَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَوْمًا فِينَا خَطِيبًا بِمَاءٍ يُدْعَى خُمًّا بَيْنَ مَكَّةَ وَالْمَدِينَةِ فَحَمِدَ اللَّهَ وَأَثْنَى عَلَيْهِ وَوَعَظَ وَذَكَّرَ ثُمَّ قَالَ " أَمَّا بَعْدُ أَلاَ أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ فَإِنَّمَا أَنَا بَشَرٌ يُوشِكُ أَنْ يَأْتِيَ رَسُولُ رَبِّي فَأُجِيبَ وَأَنَا تَارِكٌ فِيكُمْ ثَقَلَيْنِ أَوَّلُهُمَا كِتَابُ اللَّهِ فِيهِ الْهُدَى وَالنُّورُ فَخُذُوا بِكِتَابِ اللَّهِ وَاسْتَمْسِكُوا بِهِ " . فَحَثَّ عَلَى كِتَابِ اللَّهِ وَرَغَّبَ فِيهِ ثُمَّ قَالَ " وَأَهْلُ بَيْتِي أُذَكِّرُكُمُ اللَّهَ فِي أَهْلِ بَيْتِي أُذَكِّرُكُمُ اللَّهَ فِي أَهْلِ بَيْتِي أُذَكِّرُكُمُ اللَّهَ فِي أَهْلِ بَيْتِي
Zaid b. Arqam narrates: One day Allah’s Messenger ﷺ stood up to deliver sermon at a watering place known as Khumm situated between Mecca and Medina. He praised Allah, extolled Him and delivered the sermon and exhorted (us) and said: Now to our purpose. O people, I am a human being. I am about to receive a Messenger (the Angel of Death) from my Lord and I, in response to Allah’s call, (would bid good-bye to you), but I am leaving among you two weighty things: the one being the Book of Allah in which there is right guidance and light, so hold fast to the Book of Allah and adhere to it. He exhorted (us) (to hold fast) to the Book of Allah and then said: The second are the members of my household I remind you for Allah’s sake (of your duties) to the members of my family, I remind you for Allah’s sake (of your duties) to the members of my family, I remind you for Allah’s sake (of your duties) to the members of my family.
Now a close analysis of this Hadith reveals the fact that the Imamiya Shi’ite thesis is unwarranted. Firstly, the phrase ‘I am leaving among you Two Weighty–Things’ does not make it explicit that these Two Weighty–Things possess divine authority. It is only to draw attention to the fact that these Two Weighty–Things are important and now the Prophet ﷺ will explain what his Will is for how the Muslims are to deal with them. Now the first is the Book of Allah (Qur’an), and the Prophet ﷺ explains that containing Guidance and Light, the Muslims have to adhere to it and follow it. Hence this phrase فَخُذُوا بِكِتَابِ اللَّهِ وَاسْتَمْسِكُوا بِهِ is indicative of the Book of Allah possessing divine authority, and is the actual successor of the Prophet ﷺ in terms of possessing divine authority. This is similar to how the Sikhs believe that after their tenth ‘Guru’ Gobind Singh, the actual text of Sikhism, the Granth, became the ‘Guru’ for all time thereafter. Hence why it is referred to by them as ‘Guru’ Granth sahib. Similarly, in Islam, with the ‘Finality of Prophethood’ no other human being possesses the divine authority to speak on behalf of God, but the most sacred text of Islam, the Holy Qur’an, which contains God’s revelations to the Prophet ﷺ is what is left behind after him as the only thing containing divine authority until the end of time. Then the Prophet ﷺ mentioned the second of the Two–Weighty Things, namely his Ahl-al-Bait (members of his house), but he did not say the same thing about the Ahl-al-Bait that he said about the Book of Allah. Remember the Prophet ﷺ said we have to adhere to the Book of Allah and cling to it, establishing its divine authority, but he did not say the same thing about the Ahl-al-Bait. Rather he ﷺ reminded his Umma about his Ahl-al-Bait for Allah’s sake three times. This is to indicate that the Umma should not mistreat the Prophet’s Family, as the Prophet had foreseen through revelation and inspiration that his Family would face immense hardships and even persecution at the hands of the tyrannical so-called ‘Muslim’ rulers and dynasties. It can in no way be construed as meaning that the Umma is instructed to adhere to the Ahl-al-Bait as its divine authority. In fact, this Hadith is echoing an imperative already established from the text of the Suhuf-i-Mutahhara (Qur’an):
قُل لَّا أَسْأَلُكُمْ عَلَيْهِ أَجْرًا إِلَّا الْمَوَدَّةَ فِي الْقُرْبَىٰ
Say (O My Prophet ﷺ ): I do not ask you for this (Message) any payment except love for (my) Kin
(Sura 42: 23)