Ziyarat of Ashurah – Reliability of Traditions
How do we know that the traditions regarding Ziyarat of Ashurah or for that matter on any subject are reliable or not ?
Reliability of the Traditions :
Early Shi’ite scholars classified traditions into two: the reliable and the unreliable. Those traditions that were corroborated by circumstantial evidence were considered reliable and authoritative. Those that were not, were considered unreliable.
So, what is circumstantial evidence? Circumstantial evidence can be defined as any of the following:
1) The presence of a tradition in many of the four hundred primary works of traditions that were circulating among the early scholars and which they transmitted on the authority of their teachers in an unbroken continuous chain, which linked them to the infallible Imams (as).
2) The recurrence of a tradition in one or more primary works of traditions by means of multiple reliable chains. Alternatively, the existence of a tradition in a primary work attributed to a disciple of any of the Imams whose reliability and truthfulness was unanimously attested by the scholars. Examples of such disciples are Zurara bin A’yan, Muhammad bin Muslim and Fudhayl bin Yasar.
3) The existence of a tradition in one of the primary works that was presented to one of the Imams who commended it and praised its compiler. Examples are the book of traditions of ‘Ubaydullah al-Halabi (presented to Imam al-Sadiq), or the books of Yunus bin ‘Abd al-Rahman and Fadhl bin Shazan (presented to Imam al-’Askari).
4) The citation of a tradition from the books in circulation among the predecessors of the early scholars, provided the books were reliable, trustworthy and credible, irrespective of whether the compiler was an Imami or a non-Imami. Examples of such works from Imamis are the book on the ritual prayers of Hurayz bin ‘Abdullah al-Sijistani or the books of the two sons of Said bin al-Husayn al-Ahwazi and ‘Ali bin Mahzayar.
From the non-Imamis these include the book of Hafs bin Ghiyath al-Qadhi and Husayn bin ‘Ubaydullah al-Sa’di as well as the book on the prayer direction (al-Qibla) of ‘Ali bin al-Hasan al-Tatari. The early scholars therefore judged the transmitted traditions of some of the narrators as authentic andcorrect even when those narrators were not from the Imamiyya, such as ‘Ali bin Muhammad bin Riyah.
These are some of the examples of circumstantial evidence used to determine the authenticity of traditions. There are many other types of evidence too, but for the purposes of this discussion, the above-mentioned evidence will suffice.
With regards to the later Shi’ite scholars, they had to relinquish the two-fold classification in favour of a four-fold classification of traditions: authentic (sahih), dependable (muwathaq), good (hasan) and weak (dha’if). The reason for the adoption of a four-fold classification was the lack of circumstantial evidence, due to the passage of time and the loss of reliable primary compilations of traditions.
sahih-authentic, hasan-good, muwathaq-reliable and dha’if-weak. A sahih tradition is one that has been transmitted from an infallible by a continuous chain consisting of veracious Imamis. A hasan tradition is one that has been transmitted from an infallible by a continuous chain consisting of commendable Imamis but where there is no explicit or clear statement of their veracity.
A muwathaq tradition is one that has been transmitted from an infallible by a continuous chain consisting of veracious individuals, some of whom may espouse unorthodox beliefs and ideas. Given these definitions, a dha’if tradition is contrary to all three categories, though it may be in accord with reality and perhaps more so than the other three categories. However, due to the criteria established in the science of hadith, verification of such a tradition will not have probative authority.
Thus, the evidence rendering a tradition authentic due to the knowledge that it originated from the infallible Imams, was also lost. The four-fold classification of the traditions was now based on an analysis of the chains of transmission of the traditions and an investigation into the circumstances, conditions and positions of the narrators who featured in these chains.
Reliability of Ziyarat of Ashurah :
The recommendation to visit the grave of the Lord of the Martyrs, Imam al-Husayn (a.s.) (d. 61 A.H. / 680 A.D.) on the tenth day of the month of Muharram, is one on which the scholars of the Imamiyya sect have collectively agreed on throughout the centuries. This consensus is the best proof of its authenticity and its origins from the Imams of the House of the Prophet, may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon them all.
The reports encouraging the pilgrimage to the grave of the Lord of the Martyrs on the tenth day of the month of Muharram, have been narrated through five chains of transmissions.
The distinguished jurist and leader of the Imamiyya sect, Shaykh Tusi (d. 460 A.H. / 1067 A.D.) has recorded three reports in his book Misbahul Mutahajjid wa Silahul Mut’abbid. Each report has its own chain of transmission. The first report simply describes the rewards of visiting the grave, without providing the well-known text of the salutation, which is supposed to be recited at the site of the grave. However, the two other reports both state the text of the salutation.
In addition, Ibn Qawlawayhi (d. 369 A.H. / 979 A.D.) has recorded two reports of this recommendation in his book Kamil al-Ziyarat and both reports include a chain of transmission. Therefore the reports total five in number. In what follows, the five reports and their respective chains of transmissions will be presented and examined.
Therefore, in light of the above discussion, it should be known that when the five chains of transmission of Ziyaratu ‘Ashura’, each of which varies in its reliability and concomitant authority, are collectively considered along with the circumstantial evidence that accompanies them, then this bequeaths certainty and conviction regarding its divine origins. As a result, the faith and devoutness professed in it has come about in light of its probative authority and the recitor will be awarded according to the rewards specified in the tradition.
A reader who gives due consideration to these points and those to follow in the study of the chains of Ziyaratu ‘Ashura’ will come to realize that the Ziyarat is a reliable one, which has its origins with the Imams of the Ahlulbayt (as). It ensued from a pained and sorrowful heart, denouncing the politics of tyranny and oppression perpetrated by the Banu Umayya against the Ahlulbayt and that it was and continues to remain radiant throughout the centuries.
 Al-Wafi, volume 1, pages 11-12, in the second introduction.