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The Four Books

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The most important hadith books
(The Four Books)
  1. Al-Kafi
  2. Man la yahduruh al-faqih
  3. Tahdhib al-ahkam
  4. Al-Istibsar
(The Authentic Six)
  1. Sahih al-Bukhari
  2. Sahih Muslim
  3. Sunan Abu Dawud
  4. Sunan ibn Majah
  5. Jami' al-Tirmidhi
  6. Al-Sunan al-Sughra

Al-Kutub al-Arbaʿa or al-Uṣūl al-Arbaʿa (Arabic:الکتب الاربعة الاصول الاربعة) (the Four Books or the Four Principles) are the four books of hadith regarded as reliable by the Shi'as. The Four Books are: al-Kafi, Man la yahduruh al-faqih, Tahdhib al-ahkam, and al-Istibsar. Al-Kafi was written by al-Kulayni and Man la yahdur was written by al-Shaykh al-Saduq. Tahdhib al-ahkam and al-Istibsar were written by al-Shaykh al-Tusi.

The term, al-Kutub al-Arba'a, was first coined and used by al-Shahid al-Thani in a permission for the transmission of hadiths he gave to someone. Then the term began to be commonly used in jurisprudential texts. Some Shiite scholars regard all hadiths in the Four Books to be reliable. However, most of them restrict its reliable hadiths to those that are mutawatir or have reliable chains of transmitters.

The Most Reliable Sources of Shiite Hadiths

The Shi'as consider the four books—al-Kafi, Tahdhib, al-Istibsar, and Man la yahdur—to be their most reliable sources of hadiths, referring to them as "al-Kutub al-Arba'a" (the Four Books). However, the majority of Shiite scholars do not consider it as obligatory to act upon all hadiths in these books. They believe that hadiths in these books must be acted upon only if their chains of transmitters and implications are examined.[1]

The Historical Background of the Term, al-Kutub al-Arba'a

According to Andrew Newman's report of Muhammad 'Ali Amirmu'izzi, al-Muhaqqiq al-Hilli was the first person who used the term, "al-Kutub al-Arba'a", to refer to al-Kafi, Tahdhib, al-Istibsar, and Man la yahdur. However, it is said that he made a mistake in his translation of Amirmu'izzi's text. The original text suggests that al-Muhaqqiq al-Hilli referred to these books as reliable sources of hadiths for Shi'as. The writings of al-Muhaqqiq al-Hilli contain the word, al-Arba'a (the Four), but as he explicitly says in the preface of his al-Mu'tabar, by "the Four" he means to refer to the four jurists, al-Shaykh al-Tusi, al-Shaykh al-Mufid, al-Sayyid al-Murtada, and al-Shaykh al-Saduq, and not the four books.[2]

The author of the Persian paper, "The four hadith books of the Imamiyya and the common use of the term, al-Kutub al-Arba'a", takes al-Shahid al-Thani to be the first scholar who referred to the four books as "al-Kutub al-Arba'a". In 950/1543, he wrote a permission for the transmission of hadiths, in which he used the phrase, "Kutub al-Hadith al-Arba'a" (the Four Books of hadiths). He then used the same phrase as well as the phrase, "al-Kutub al-Arba'a", in a number of other permissions.[3]

According to this paper, in the same period of time, Husayn b. 'Abd al-Samad al-'Amili, al-Shaykh al-Baha'i's father, added the book, Madinat al-'ilm, by al-Shaykh al-Saduq to the Four Books, and used the phrase, "al-Usul al-Khamsa" (the Five Principles). However, the phrase did not come to be commonly used, perhaps because the book, Madinat al-'ilm, was destroyed and unavailable to the next generations.[4]

The first jurisprudential text in which the phrase, "al-Kutub al-Arba'a", was used is said to be al-Muhaqqiq al-Ardabili's Majma' al-fa'ida, the writing of which began in 977/1569 and was finished in 985/1577. Then it was respectively used in Zubdat al-bayan (written in 989/1581), Muntaqa l-juman (written in 1006/1597), and al-Wafiya (written in 1059/1649).[5]

The Reliability of the Four Books

Shiite jurists have accepted the general reliability of the Four Books to the extent that al-Shaykh al-Ansari suggests that the belief in the reliability of well-known books, including the Four Books, might be an essential component of the religion.[6] However, there is a disagreement among Shiite scholars with regard to certainty or uncertainty about whether hadiths in these books were issued by Infallibles (a), and whether all hadiths in these books are reliable. There are three views in this regard:

  • Certainty about the issuance and the reliability of all hadiths: Akhbaris believe that all hadiths in the Four Books are reliable, and all of them are certainly attributed to the Infallibles (a).[7] Al-Sayyid al-Murtada's view is close to Akhbaris in this regard. He takes the majority of hadiths to be mutawatir or certainly issued from Infallibles (a).[8]
  • Probable issuance of most of the hadiths and the reliability of those with reliable chains of transmitters: the most popular view among Shiite Usuli jurists is that, except for a few mutawatir hadiths, other hadiths in al-Kafi are only probably attributed to the Infallibles (a), and they are reliable only if their chains of transmitters fulfill certain conditions, although there are disagreements over these conditions.[12]


Main article: al-Kafi

Al-Kafi was compiled by Abu Ja'far Muhammad b. Ya'qub Kulayni (d. 329/941) during the Minor Occultation period. It contains sixteen thousands hadith which are divided into the three general sections of usul (principles), "furu'" (branches), and rawda (miscellaneous part). "Usul" contains hadiths related to beliefs, furu' contains hadiths concerning jurisprudence, and "rawda" contains hadiths pertaining to ethics and morality.[13]

Man la yahduruh al-faqih

The Four Books ; the most important sources in Shiite hadith and jurisprudence.

This work was compiled by al-Shaykh al-Saduq, Abu Ja'far Muhammad b. 'Ali b. al-Husayn b. Babawayh al-Qummi (d. 381/991). It contains six thousands hadiths related to jurisprudence and practical rulings - all of which al-Saduq deemed as authentic and used as the basis for his fatwas.[14]

Tahdhib al-ahkam

Main article: Tahdhib al-ahkam

This hadith collection was compiled by Shaykh al-Ta'ifah Abu Ja'far Muhammad b. al-Hasan al-Tusi (d. 460/1067). The hadith it contains are also mainly related to jurisprudence. Al-Shaykh al-Tusi compiled this work by the order of al-Shaykh al-Mufid as a commentary to al-Mufid's al-Muqni'a. In it, al-Tusi discusses rulings of jurisprudence ranging from tahara (purity) to diyat (blood money). The order of the book's content is the same as that of al-Shaykh al-Mufid's al-Muqni'ah.

It contains 393 chapters and a total of 13,590 hadiths. There is a section on mashikha at the end of this book which includes al-Tusi's chain of transmission for the sources he used.[15]


Main article: al-Istibsar

This hadith collection was compiled by al-Shaykh al-Tusi after Tahdhib al-ahkam in response to requests from some of his students. It consists of 5,511 hadiths.[16] In this work he has collected only those hadiths relating to jurisprudence which apparently contradict each other. Like other jurisprudence references, the categorization of topics in this book begins with tahara and ends with diyat. Under each topic, he first mentions the hadiths he regards as authentic, then mentions the ones that apparently contradict them, and finally, attempts to harmonize them.


  1. Amīnī, al-Ghadǐr, vol. 3 p. 383-384
  2. Bāqirī, Chahār kitāb-i hadīthī Imāmīyya wa rawāj iṣtilāḥ al-kutub al-arbaʿa: naqdī bar dīdgāh Andrew Newman
  3. Bāqirī, Chahār kitāb-i hadīthī Imāmīyya wa rawāj iṣtilāḥ al-kutub al-arbaʿa: naqdī bar dīdgāh Andrew Newman
  4. Bāqirī, Chahār kitāb-i hadīthī Imāmīyya wa rawāj iṣtilāḥ al-kutub al-arbaʿa: naqdī bar dīdgāh Andrew Newman
  5. Bāqirī, Chahār kitāb-i hadīthī Imāmīyya wa rawāj iṣtilāḥ al-kutub al-arbaʿa: naqdī bar dīdgāh Andrew Newman
  6. Anṣārī, Farā'id al-usūl, vol. 1 p. 239
  7. al-Istarābādī, al-Fawā'id al-Madanīyya, p. 112; al-Karakī, Hidāyat al-abrār, p. 17
  8. Ma'ālim al-usūl, p. 157
  9. al-Fādil al-Tūnī, al-Wāfīya fi usūl al-fiqh, p. 166
  10. Narāqī, Minhāj, p. 166
  11. al-Khu'ī, Mu'jam rijāl al-hadīth, vol. 1 p. 87
  12. al-Khu'ī, Mu'jam rijāl al-hadīth, vol. 1 p. 87-97
  13. Modir Shanehchi, Tarikh-i Hadith, p. 116 - 119.
  14. Modir Shanehchi. Tarikh-i Hadith. p. 130 - 135.
  15. Modir Shanehchi. Tarikh-i Hadith. p. 138 - 140.
  16. Modir Shanehchi. Tarikh-i Hadith. p. 148 - 150.


  • The material for this article is mainly taken from کتب اربعه in Farsi Wikishia.
  • Modir Shanehchi, Kazim, Tarikh-i Hadith, Samt Publication, Tehran, 1419/1998.
  • Istarābdī, Muḥammad Amīn, al-Fawā'id al-Madanīyya, Tabrīz, 1321.
  • Amīnī, Abd al-Ḥusayn, al-Ghadīr, Qom: Markaz al-Ghadīr li-l-Dirāsāt al-Islāmīyya, 1416/1995
  • Anṣārī, Murtaḍā, Farā'id al-uṣūl, Qom: Majma' al-Fikr al-Islāmī, 1428
  • Bāqirī, Ḥamīd, Chahār kitāb-i hadīthī Imāmīyya wa rawāj iṣtilāḥ al-kutub al-arbaʿa: naqdī bar dīdgāh Andrew Newman, accessed 20 October 2018
  • Khū'ī, Abū l-Qāsim, Mu'jam rijāl al-hadīth, Qom: Markaz Nashr al-Thiqāfa al-Islāmīyya fi l-'Ālam, 1372 Sh.
  • Faḍil al-Tūnī, al-Wāfīya fī uṣūl al-fiqh, edited by Raḍawī Kashmīrī, Qom: Majma' al-Fikr al-Islāmī, 1415
  • Karakī, Husayn b. Shihāb al-Dīn, Hidāyat al-abrār ilā tarīq al-a'imma al-aṭhār, edited by Ra'ūf Jamāl al-Dīn, Najaf: Mu'assisa Iḥyā' al-Aḥyā', 1396