One day God’s Messenger ﷺ stood up and gave a speech to his Ummah, reminding them of what he will be leaving behind once he returns to the Highest Companion ﷻ. He ﷺ spoke of leaving behind two ‘weighty things’ (thaqalayn), but the way he described them varies in different narrations. Unfortunately, it has become common practice to neglect the most authentic wording of this crucial speech and to quote the distorted version, and then to re-interpret the authentic version based on the words of the distorted version. Some, including Sunni hadith scholars who are descendants of God’s Messenger, sometimes even treat every variation as a separate narration to add more stress on the importance of their family line. However it is really only hadith, uttered only once and in one way. It is our duty as those who have surrendered our selves and lives and bodies to Allah ﷻ to put our desires and biases behind and to find and lovingly accept what God’s Messenger ﷺ really told us, not what we might wish he said.
He ﷺ said,
‘O people, I am only human, and a messenger from my Lord (i.e. an angel) will soon come to me (to take my soul) and I will accept His call. I will be leaving among you two weighty things. The first is the Book of Allah. In it there is guidance and light. Hold firmly to the Book of Allah and act upon it.’
He then spoke more, encouraging holding on to the Book of Allah – and in one narration he added here: ‘He who holds on to it and acts upon it is guided, and he who leaves it is misguided’ – then he also said,
And (the second is) my Household. I remind you of my Household. I remind you of my Household. I remind you of Allah with regard to my Household.’Sahih Muslim, Sunan al-Darimi, Musnad Ahmad on the authority of the Companion Zayd ibn Arqam.
This is the most authentic narration, and it mentions the ‘two weighty things’ for completely different reasons. The Book of Allah was singled out for guidance. That is what we were encouraged to hold on to and act upon to stay guided. God’s Messenger ﷺ did not even mention his Sunna, because it is an explanation of the Book of Allah. Then God’s Messenger ﷺ mentioned leaving behind his Household, reminding his Ummah to look after them and treat them well, as if forewarning them of the catastrophes that would befall them soon after his death at the hands of so-called Muslims. God’s Messenger ﷺ did not say that his family our Household or descendants were a second source of guidance. He did not turn this final religion for all mankind into a family affair. He ﷺ meant to warn his Ummah not to mistreat his blessed and beloved family. As for guidance, only the Book of Allah was mentioned, not the family, nor the Sunna as in the famous words attributed to him ﷺ without any reliable chain of transmission: ‘I have left you two things that, if you hold on to them, you will never go astray: the Book of Allah and the Sunna of His Messenger’ (words quoted by Imam Malik in his Muwatta as something he heard attributed to God’s Messenger without a chain, and which comes outside the Muwatta through chains with men whose narrations are rejected by the experts).
Tirmidhi in his Jami’ (aka Sunan) quoted a different version of this same hadith, going back to the same Companion, but transmitted via two unreliable, weak, Shia narrators (note: they are not considered unreliable simply because they are Shia, as the Sunni hadith experts did narrate from reliable and truthful Shia narrators), however these people were were unreliable, and were likely to transmit hadith in a way that supported their Shia beliefs:
* Atiyya al-Awfi. (Bukhari said that his teacher’s teacher in Hadith Science, Yahya al-Qattan, did not accept his hadiths; Muslim, Abu Hatim al-Razi, Abu Zur’a al-Razi, Ibn Hanbal, and al-Nasa’i, said: he is weak). Atiyya attributed this hadith to the Companion Abu Sa’id al-Khudri, when in fact Ibn Hibban said: ‘He used to said ‘Abu Sa’id narrated to me,’ to make people think he was referring to Abu Sa’id al-Khudri, when in fact he really took those hadiths from the untrustworthy Shia story-teller Ibn al-Sa’ib al-Kalbi whom he had nicknamed ‘Abu Sa’id.’ Ibn Hibban therefore said: ‘It is not permissible to even write down his narrations except to marvel at them (i.e. at the lies in them).’
*Ali ibn al-Mundhir al-Tariqi. He was considered generally trustworthy (except by al-Ismai’li who did not trust him), but weak.
It is when the hadith comes via these narrators that the hadith’s wording is subtly altered, so that it says: ‘I am leaving you with that which you will not go astray if you hold on to, one of them greater than the second: The Book of God, a rope extending from the Heavens to the Earth, and my family, my Household. They will not separate until they meet me at the Basin (on the Day of Judgement)…’. Here, all of a sudden, the Prophet’s family become a second source of guidance inseparable from the Qur’an.
Tirmidhi then mentioned that this narration was Hasan Gharib: (which in Tirmidhi’s unique usage means: weak but has general support in its meaning from elsewhere, by which he means the more correct version in Sahih Muslim, and that this version suspiciously comes via only this chain). Even if these variations came from trustworthy narrators they would not be accepted because they go against the most established wording of the hadith. The hadith of God’s Messenger ﷺ that was narratted by Zayd ibn Arqam (as noted above, the narration from Abu Sa’id al-Khudri via Atiyya is false) was only uttered one way.
Therefore our job as Muslims is to compare and study all the different versions to find the most correct wording and hold on to it, rather than accept less reliable wordings and allow them to cloud our understanding of the most authentically established words of God’s Messenger ﷺ. This hadith is also confirmed by another hadith in Sahih Muslim reported by the Companion Jabir regarding the Farewell Speech of God’s Messenger ﷺ in which he said, ‘I have left you with that which, if you hold on to it, you will never go astray: the Book of Allah.’ This hadith was actually transmitted from Jabir by Muhammad al-Baqir (son of Ali Zayn al-Abidin son of Imam al-Husayn), who transmitted it to his son Ja’far al-Sadiq, and is thus a blessed chain of the great imams of jurisprudence and guidance from amongst the progeny of God’s Messenger ﷺ, and also only mentions the Book of God as the source of guidance we must hold on to.
Whether we are Sunnis who adhere to the Sunna of God’s Messenger ﷺ as recorded by the Sunni masters of hadith criticism, or Shia who adhere to the teachings of the Ahlul Bayt, whether we are or are not descendants of God’s Messenger ﷺ, we must accept that God’s Messenger ﷺ did not refer to either in these speeches as a source of guidance. He stressed only holding on to the supreme source of guidance: the Book of Allah ﷻ.