SHAFAQNA – Sulaym ibn Qays al-Hilālī al-ʿĀmirī (Arabic: سليم بن قيس الهلالي العامري) was one of the Tabi‘un and companions of Imam Ali (AS) towards the end of the latter’s life. Sulaym was also a loyal companion of Ali’s (AS) sons Imam Hassan (AS) and Imam Hussain (AS), the latter’s son Imam Ali Zayn al-‘Abidin (AS), and Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (AS). He authored the well-known book, Kitab Sulaym ibn Qays (The Book of Sulaym ibn Qays).
Sulaym ibn Qays was born near the place where Kufa was later built. The exact date of Sulaym’s birth is not known, however scholars estimate that Sulaym was born between 7 and 9 Hijrah (somewhere during the early years after migration of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to Medina and his demise). His father was Qays, hence his name ibn Qays (son of Qays). He belonged to the Banu Hilal branch of the Banu ‘Amir tribe.
Immigration to Medina
It is documented that Sulaym moved to Medina during the caliphate of Umar. He is among the people who never met the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). While in Medina, Sulaym became very attached to Imam Ali (AS). His attachment led him to become a partisan of Imam Ali (AS), along with Abu Dhar al-Ghifari, Salman al-Muhammadi, Miqdad ibn Aswad, and Ammar ibn Yasir. Ibn al-Nadim stated that Sulaym ibn Qays was among the devout companions of Ali in his book about the early Muslim scholars and Hadith contributors.
In 694, Sulaym fled to Persia with his writings because Hajjaj ibn Yusuf, the Umayyad general and persecutor of the Alids, became the governor of Kufa; Al-Hajjaj sought to arrest and execute Sulaym. In Persia, Sulaym stayed in Nobandegan. There he found a fifteen-year-old boy, by the name of Aban ibn Abi-Ayyash. He became rather fond of him and started to educate him about the teaching of the Ahl al-Bayt. Through Sulaym, Aban became a Shi’a. Aban offered him shelter in recognition of him being a companion of Imam Ali (AS). When Sulaym was inspired about his death, he told Aban,
O the son of my brother, I am about to leave this world, as the Prophet (PBUH) has informed me so.
Eventually, Sulaym entrusted all of his writings that he had compiled to Aban. Aban had made a solemn oath not to talk of any of the writings during Sulaym’s lifetime and that after his death he would give the book only to trustworthy Shi’a of Ali. The year in which Sulaym died is debated, some saying it 689 and others 695. Others report Sulaym died between 699 and 708.
Sulaym documented many aspects pertaining to teachings and experiences with Imam Ali and the Ahl al-Bayt. He collected information such as Imam Ali’s (AS) sermon in the Mosque of Kufa. After the assassination of Imam Ali (AS), Sulaym remained in Kufa during Mu’awiyah‘s era. Sulaym kept compiling works and documenting the teachings of the Ahl al-Bayt (AS).
The book became known as Kitab Sulaym ibn Qays (The Book of Sulaym ibn Qays). It is a collection of traditions, teachings, and eye witness accounts of events that occurred in history. Kitab Sulaym is the earliest/oldest book pertaining to the collection of hadith, which was composed in the first Islamic century after the death of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). It is older than al-Kafi, Sahih al-Bukhari, and the other books on hadith.
In his book, Sulaym documents Prophetic traditions concerning Imam Muhammad al-Mahdi (AJ). He documents that the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) had promised his followers about a man from the lineage of Imam Hussain (AS) who would purify Islam by removing innovations (distortion of Quranic interpretation and Prophetic traditions “Hadiths”). Sulaym is also one of the first to document the political divide amongst Muslims after the death of Muhammad. And how certain figures in Islam distorted Prophetic traditions in order to gain power. One of the events Sulaym documents is the event of Saqifah in which Abu Bakr forcefully striped the rightful leadership of Imam Ali. For instance, Sulaym documents that Salman al-Muhammadi, Miqdad ibn Aswad, Ammar ibn Yasir, Abdullah ibn Ja’far, Abu al-Haytham ibn Tayhan, Khuzaymah ibn Thabit, and Abu Ayyub stated that Muhammad at Ghadir Khumm said,
- “O people, the legal power (al-Wilaya) is granted only to Ali ibn Abi Talib (AS) and the trustees from my progeny, the decedents of my brother Ali. He will be the first, and his two sons, al-Hassan AS) and al-Hussain (AS), will succeed him consecutively. They will not separate themselves from the Qur’an until they return to Allah (SWT).”
The events documented in his book have either been observed by his own eyes or have been directly heard from those who have directly heard from the Divine tongues of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) or Amir al-Momineen Imam Ali ibn abi Talib (AS). Most of Sulaym’s work is attributed to Muhammad.
Ibn al-Nadim states and later investigation shows his book is “the oldest surviving Shi`ite book” which is written in the first Islamic century.
Recordings of Imam Ali’s (AS) sayings
Sulaym recorded many teachings of Imam Ali (AS) such as the following:
- “God intended us by his saying, in order that you may be witnesses over humankind, for the Apostle of God is over us and we are God’s witnesses over his creatures and his proofs in his earth. We are those of whom God said, ‘Thus have we made you a community of the middle path.'”
- “Inform me of the most excellent trait (Afdal Manqaba) [conferred] on you (Imam Ali (AS)) by the Messenger of God, peace and blessing be upon him. He (Ali (AS)) replied, ‘his appointment of me [as his successor] on the day of Ghadir Khumm when he spoke to me of walaya by the command of God the exalted and by his saying, ‘You are to me of the same station as Aaron (AS) was to Moses (AS).”
- “Umar, resembles the Samiri, who made the Calf (an idol) for the Children of Israel.”
- “The ones from our Shias and those that loves us, who does not have Kitab (Book of) Sulaym Bin Qays al-Hilali, then there is nothing with him from our matters, nor does he know anything from our reasons, and it is the Alphabet (Abjad) of the Shiites, and a secret from the secrets of the Progeny of the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH).”
Sulyam is also honored by many Muslims around the world for preserving the teachings of the Ahl al-Bayt (AS).
Sources and dispute of existence
Much of the information about Sulaym comes from Shia Muslim tradition. According to modern historian Mokhtar Djebeli, “the very existence of this man, and his work, should be regarded with caution, since apart from Ibn al-Nadim … only a few Shi’is mention him, and then only in a very terse and laconic fashion”. Ibn al-Nadim himself, as well as later biographers including al-Tusi, relied on the Alid writer Ali ibn Ahmad al-Aqiq (d. 911). The Sunni Shafi’i scholar Ibn Abi’l-Hadid, questioned Sulaym’s existence, claiming “he had heard” certain Twelver Shi’a scholars assert that Sulaym was “pure invention of the imagination” and “his alleged book being nothing but the apocryphal work of a forger”.
The Twelver scholars Ahmad ibn Ubayda (d. 941) and Abu Abd Allah al-Ghadhanfari (d. 1020) based their denial of the existence of Sulaym’s book on three factors: a segment in the book indicates there were thirteen Imams instead of the traditionally held twelve; another segment states Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr condemned his dying father Abu Bakr despite Muhammad being a three-year-old child; and the book was allegedly solely transmitted to Aban ibn Abi Ayyash, despite the fact that the latter was only fourteen-years-old. However, the prominent Twelver scholar al-Hilli rejected theories about Sulaym’s non-existence, though Djebli asserts al-Hilli’s “arguments were too unconvincing to sweep away such doubts”. Nonetheless, later Shi’a biographers produced al-Hilli’s arguments verbatim, and Sulaym’s book is considered by Shi’a scholars as among the oldest sources of Shi’a thought and superior to the much later four Sunni tradition, namely the Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, Musnad Ibn Ḥanbal and Muwaṭṭaʾ Imām Mālik.
Hossein Modarressi writes that the oldest, preserved and intact version of the Kitab Sulaym ibn Qays comes from the final years of Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik’s reign. He also points out in his work, after famous Shi’a exegesist of the Quran Ahmad ibn Ali al-Najashi (born 372 after Hijri/982 CE), that the alleged indication in the Ibn Qays’ book that there were thirteen Imams instead of the traditionally held twelve, is a later addition by one Islamic fourth century scholar who wanted to please his Zaydi patron, and added Zayd ibn Ali to the list as an Imam. It wasn’t a part of the original book and was removed in successive editions.
- Pagano, Jo Anne. Exiles and Communities: Teaching in The Patriarchal Wilderness. Ed. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Hamid Dabashi, and Seyyed Vali R. Nasr. Albany, New York: State University of New York, 1989. Print. ISBN 1438414269 Pg. 15 and 17
- Ibn Qays, Sulaym. The Book of Sulaym Ibn Qays al-Hilālī. Trans. Muḥammad Bāqir. Al-Anṣārī. Bayrūt: Dār Al-Ḥawrāʼ, 2005. Print. Pg. 7 and 8
- Ibn Abi Talib, Ali. Nahjul Balagha: Path of Eloquence. Trans. Yasin Al-Jibouri. Vol. 3. Bloomington, Indiana: Authorhouse, 2013. Print. ISBN 1481747878pg. 275 and 276
- Djebli 1997, p. 818.
- http://www.alseraj.net/maktaba/kotob/english/historyofislam/Sulhal-Hasan/sulh/24.htm Sulh al-Hasan
- Ayoub, Mahmoud. The Qur’an and Its Interpreters. Vol. 1. Albany: State University of New York, 1984. Print. ISBN 0791495469 Pg. 172 and 173
- Afsaruddin, Asma. Excellence and Precedence: Medieval Islamic Discourse on Legitimate Leadership. Leiden: Brill, 2002. Print. ISBN 9004120432 Pg. 219
- Ritter, H., and G. Endress. Oriens. Ed. R. Sellheim. Vol. 36. Neitherlands: Koninklijke Brill, 2001. Print. ISBN 9004121358 Pg. 209
- Djebli 1997, p. 819.
- Modarressi, Hossein (2003). Tradition and survival: a bibliographical survey of early Shī’ite literature. Oxford, England: Oneworld Publications. p. 83. ISBN 1-85168-331-3.
- Ibid., p. 84