KOLAYNI (or Kolini, erroneously Kalini), Abu Jaʿfar Moḥammad b. Yaʿqub b. Esḥāq Rāzi, prominent Imami traditionist. He was born (at an unknown date) in the village of Kolēn (Arabicized as Kolayn or Kolin), situated 38 km southwest of Ray in the district of Pašāpuya. He must have lived for a time in Qom, since many of his authorities were leading Qomi scholars. Among them were ʿAbd-Allāh b. Jaʿfar Ḥemyari, Aḥmad b. Edris Ašʿari, ʿAli b. Ebrāhim b. Hāšem, Dāwud b. Kura (or Kuza), Moḥammad b. Ḥasan Ṣaffār and Saʿd b. ʿAbd-Allāh Ašʿari. He also transmitted from a number of scholars in Ray, including his maternal uncle ʿAli b. Moḥammad b. Ebrāhim Kolyani Rāzi, known as ʿAlān (or ʿAllān), who is credited with a Ketāb aḵbār al-qāʾem (Najāši, II, p. 88). Kolayni later moved to Baghdad, where he lived in the darb al-selsela (Ṭusi, 1970, IV, p. 310) near the Bāb al-Kufa, in the southwestern part of the old city. He was therefore also known as Selseli (Moḥsen Amin, X, p. 99). In his Fehrest (p. 166), Abu Jaʿfar Ṭusi gives Kolayni’s death-date as 328/939-40; in his Rejāl (pp. 495-96), which is a later work (and therefore perhaps more reliable; see Māmaqāni, IV, p. 201), the date provided is Šaʿbān 329/May 941, and this is also the year noted by Najāši (II, p. 292). The funeral prayer was led by Abu Qirāṭ Moḥammad b. Jaʿfar, and Kolayni was buried in the cemetery of Bāb al-Kufa. Aḥmad b. ʿAbd al-Wāḥed b. ʿAbdun, known as Ebn Ḥāšer (d. 423/1032), reports that he had still been able to identify the tomb but that it had since been obliterated (Najāši, II, p. 292). According to Moḥammad Mahdi Baḥr-al-ʿOlum (d. 1212/1797), Kolayni’s shrine was renovated and had become a center of pilgrimage (Ḵvānsāri, VI, p. 110).

Kolayni’s greatest claim to fame is his Kāfi (“The Sufficient”), the oldest of the four canonical books of traditions (al-kotob al-arbaʿa) of the Imami Shiʿa. He worked on it for twenty years, completing it in Baghdad. In his introduction, Kolayni maintains that it is incumbent upon the believer to perform the religious duties on the basis of knowledge, certainty and understanding (ʿelm wa-yaqin wa-baṣira). Without these he will remain in a state of doubt (šakk) and will not be eligible for reward (ṯawāb, jazāʾ) (Kolayni, I, pp. 6-7). This knowledge is to be found in traditions on the authority of the Imams, and Kolayni describes his aim as providing a book of such traditions that would include all branches of religious knowledge and would serve as a guide to the believers (Kolayni, I, p. 8). Continuing the work of earlier Qomi scholars, Kolayni sifted what he considered reliable from unreliable traditions, retaining only those traditions which he considered to reflect orthodox teaching.

A recent study suggests that in the Kāfi, Kolayni set out to counter the brand of Imami Shiʿism promoted in Baghdad by a number of powerful families, such as Banuʾl-Forāt and the Banu Nawbaḵt. The latter in particular upheld Moʿtazeli rationalism, maintained that in the wake of the disappearance of the Imam the community had to be organized along hierarchical lines, and worked for cooperation with the ʿAbbāsid authorities. Kolayni’s response was to include traditions underlining the Imams’ special authority on issues of both doctrine and practice. A further aim was to combat the claims of Sunni traditionists to be the sole guardian of authentic ḥadiṯ (Newman, 2000, pp. 94-112).

Over 16,000 traditions are cited in the Kāfi. In virtually all of them the text (matn) is preceded by an esnād, though some of the esnāds are abbreviated by the use of the formula “a number of our masters” (ʿedda men aṣḥābenā; see Najāši, II, p. 292; Qohpāʾi, VII, pp. 200-201). Only rarely are the views of Imami scholars quoted. Thus the Ketāb al-naqż ʿalā Abi ʿObayd fiʾl-ṭalāq by Fażl b. Šāḏān Nišāpuri is partially preserved (Kolayni, VI, pp. 93-96); also recorded are some of Fażl’s elaborations on the laws of inheritance, which may well have been taken from his Ketāb al-farāʾeż (Kolayni, VII, pp. 88-90, 95-96, 98-99, 105-08, 116-18, 120-25, 142, 145-46, 148-49, 161-62, 166-68).

The Kāfi comprises eight volumes. The first two, known as al-Oṣul men al-kāfi, are devoted mainly to theology, prophecy and the imamate. Particular attention is paid to the Imams: they hold a unique position as inheritors of the Prophet and as moḥaddaṯun (those addressed by an angel); they possess limitless knowledge; various Qorʾānic passages refer to them; they are the sole guides for mankind. Another major topic is belief and unbelief (al-imān waʾl-kofr): among the subjects discussed here are the characteristics of believers and unbelievers, praiseworthy and blameworthy attitudes and actions, sin and repentance. The Oṣul also include chapters on supplications (doʿāʾ), the merits of the Qorʾān, and social intercourse (ʿešra). Volumes three to seven, the Foruʿ men al-kāfi, deal with legal matters, beginning with acts of devotion (ritual purity, prayer, almsgiving, fasting, pilgrimage, jehād) and continuing with topics such as the means of earning a livelihood (maʿiša), marriage and divorce, foodstuffs and beverages, wills and inheritance, penal law, blood-money, the rules of testimony and judgeship. The final volume, entitled al-Rawża men al-kāfi, comprises traditions of a doctrinal, exhortatory or exegetical nature. Some late Imami authors expressed doubts as to the authenticity of the Rawża (Ḵvānsāri, VI, p. 111; al-Ḏariʿa, XI, p. 302); yet these doubts do not seem to be well-founded.

The eight volumes are subdivided into a number of “books” (kotob), each ketāb being further divided into chapters (abwāb). In the modern printed editions of the Kāfi, there are 37 kotob: books 1 to 8 make up the Oṣul, books 9 to 36 are the Foruʿ, and book 37 is identical with the Rawża. This deviates somewhat from earlier divisions; Najāši, for example (II, p. 291), lists 31 books, one more than Ṭusi (1983, p. 165); Moḥammad b. Makki Šahid Awwal (d. 786/1384) is reported to have listed 32 books (Ḵvānsāri, VI, p. 109) and both Zayn al-Din b. ʿAli Šahid Ṯāni (d. 965/1557-58) (Majlesi, CVIII, p. 159) and Ḥosayn b. Ḥaydar Karaki (fl. mid-11th/17th century) (Ḵvānsāri, VI, p. 107), as many as 50. On occasion, the relationship between the different divisions can be established. Thus eight of the books in the printed editions appear in Ṭusi’s Fehrest as four (al-ʿaql wa-fażl al-ʿelm, al-ṭahāra waʾl-ḥayż, al-ṣayd waʾl-ḏabāʾeḥ, al-aṭʿema wa’l-ašreba), while the Ketāb al-woquf waʾl-ṣadaqāt - the only title in Ṭusi’s list that does not appear in the printed editions - probably forms part of the Ketāb al-waṣāyā (cf. Kolayni, VII, pp. 30ff.; Ṭusi, 1970, IV, pp. 97ff.). The order of the books as preserved in the Fehrest does not always correspond to that of the printed editions, and this is also true of the titles and order of appearance given by Najāši.

The Kāfi was transmitted by a number of Kolayni’s students. They include Abuʾl-Ḥosayn ʿAbd-al-Karim b. ʿAbd-Allāh b. Naṣr Bazzāz, Abu ʿAbd-Allāh Aḥmad b. Abi Rāfeʿ Ebrāhim Ṣaymari, Abuʾl-Ḥosayn Aḥmad b. Aḥmad al-Kufi al-Kāteb, Abuʾl-Ḥosayn Aḥmad b. ʿAli b. Saʿid Kufi, Abu Ḡāleb Aḥmad b. Moḥammad Zorāri (d. 368/978), Abuʾl-Ḥasan (or Ḥosayn) Esḥāq b. Ḥasan ʿAqrāʾi (or ʿAqrāni), Abu Moḥammad Hārun b. Musā Tallaʿokbari (d. 385/995). Abuʾl-Mofażżal Moḥammad b. ʿAbd-Allāh b. Moḥammad Šaybāni (d. 387/997), and Moḥammad b. Moḥammad b. ʿEṣām Kolayni. Particularly noteworthy are Abuʾl-Qāsem Jaʿfar b. Moḥammad b. Qulawayh (d. 368/978 or 369/979), who transmitted all of Kolayni’s works to Šayḵ Mofid (d. 413/1022), whence they reached Ṭusi (Ṭusi, 1970, IV, pp. 305-07; Ṭusi, 1983, p. 165); and Moḥammad b. Ebrāhim Ebn Abi Zaynab Noʿmāni (d. 345/956 or 360/971), whose Ketāb al-ḡayba (completed in 342/952-53) includes extensive citations from the first volume of the Kāfi, especially traditions on the occultation of the Twelfth Imam (Noʿmāni, pp. 95-96, 138-41, 162-63, 166, 183-89, 196, 199-201, 215, 219, 221-22, 224-25, 229, 231, 235-36, 238, 244-47, 249-50, 253, 256-57, 259, 272-74, 278, 294-95, 305, 315-30, 419-23, 470-73). The Kāfi formed part of the library of Abu Ḡāleb Zorāri (Abu Ḡāleb Zorāri, pp. 176-77) and was occasionally cited by Ebn Bābawayh (d. 381/991) in his Man lā yaḥżoroho’l-faqih (e.g. III, p. 223, IV, pp. 151, 165, 169, 171, 173, 175-76), but was slow gaining recognition: although Mofid praised it as “one of the most important and useful books of the Shiʿa” (Šayḵ Mofid, p. 27), neither the Kāfi nor its author is mentioned in Ebn Nadim’s Fehrest (written in 377/987-88). The Kāfi was first extensively used by Ṭusi (who possessed a manuscript of the work; see Ebn Ṭāwus, 1998-99, pp. 345-46). It went on to become the most authoritative collection of Imami traditions, gaining for its author the title of restorer (mojadded) of the Imami maḏhab at the end of the 3rd/9th century (ʿAẓimābādi, XI, p. 392, Māmaqāni, IV, p. 202, both quoting Ebn Aṯir’s Jāmeʿ al-oṣul). In later periods the Kāfi was one of the texts at the heart of the debate between Aḵbāris and Oṣulis, with the latter refusing to acknowledge that all traditions in it derived with certainty from an Imam (qaṭʿi al-ṣodur) (Ḵuʾi, I, pp. 25-35). Some Imami scholars did not hesitate to point out weaknesses in it. Thus Šarif Mortażā (d. 436/1044) claimed that it included forged traditions (Mortażā, I, p. 410); and Fayż-e Kāšāni, while praising the Kāfi as the most complete and trustworthy of the kotob al-arbaʿa, maintained that not all legal subjects are represented in it, that at times only one side of an argument is presented, and that some traditions appear under the wrong heading (Fayż, I, p. 5).

Beginning in the Ṣafavid period, numerous commentaries, abridgements, glosses, studies and Persian translations were written on the Kāfi (al-Ḏariʿa, VI, pp. 180-84, XIII, pp. 95-100, XIV, pp. 26-28; Sezgin, I, pp. 541-42). Arguably the most useful and comprehensive commentary is the Merʾāt al-ʿoqul fi šarḥ aḵbār āl al-rasul by Moḥammad-Bāqer Majlesi. Majlesi had several manuscripts of the Kāfi at his disposal. He began working on the Merʾāt in or before 1076/1665-66 and had almost brought it to completion by the time of his death (al-Ḏariʿa, XX, pp. 279-80; ʿAskari, II, pp. 512-16). Majlesi elucidates the various traditions and also classifies them, in accordance with the principles of ʿelm al-derāya (the science of knowledge of the traditions), as “sound” (ṣaḥiḥ), “good” (ḥasan), “reliable” (mowaṯṯaq), “strong” (qawi), “weak” (żaʿif) and so forth (for these terms see e.g. Dāmād, pp. 40-42, 115-22; cf. Modarressi, pp. 5-6). Another well-known commentary is the Rawāšeḥ al-samāwiya fi šarḥ al-aḥādiṯ al-emāmiya by Moḥammad-Bāqer Dāmād (d. 1040/1630-31), which covers only a fraction of the text (al-Ḏariʿa, XI, p. 257). The Šarḥ oṣul al-kāfi by Mollā Ṣadr-al-Din (Ṣadrā) Širāzi (d. 1050/1640-41) was criticized by Moḥammad Ṣāleḥ Māzandarāni (d. 1080/1669 or 1081/1670) in his own commentary, which covers the Oṣul, the Rawża and part of the Foruʿ. Ḵalil b. Ḡazi Qazwini (d. 1089/1678) wrote the Šāfi fi šarḥ al-kāfi, a commentary on the Oṣul and the Ketāb al-ṭahāra of the Foruʿ, as well as a Persian commentary on both the Oṣul and Foruʿ entitled al-Ṣāfi fi šarḥ al-kāfi (al-Ḏariʿa, XV, pp. 4-5).

In addition to the Kāfi, Kolayni is credited with the following works, all of which are lost: Ketāb al-radd ʿala’l-qarāmeṭa; Ketāb al-rejāl; Ketāb mā qila fi’l-aʾemma men al-šeʿr; Ketāb taʿbir (or tafsir) al-roʾyā; Ketāb al-rasāʾel (or Ketāb rasāʾel al-aʾemma). The latter two were still available to Rażi-al-Din Ebn Ṭāwus, who cites a number of excerpts from them (Kohlberg, 1992, pp. 312-13, 337-38).


ʿAbd-Allāh Efendi, Reyāż al-ʿolamāʾ, ed. A. Ḥosayni, Qom, 1401/1980-81, V, pp. 199-200.

Abu Ḡāleb Zorāri, Resālat Abi Ḡāleb al-Zorāri elā ebn ebnehe fi ḏekr āl Aʿyan, ed. Moḥammad-Reżā Ḥosayni, Qom, 1411/1991, pp. 176-77.

Āqā (Āḡā) Bozorg Ṭehrāni, Ṭabaqāt aʿlām al-šiʿa: al-qarn al-rābeʿ wahowa nawābeḡ al-rowāt fi rābeʿat al-meʾāt, ed. ʿAli-Naqi Monzawi, Beirut, 1390/1971, pp. 314-15.

Moḥsen Amin, Aʿyān al-šiʿa,X, Beirut, 1406/1986, p. 99.

Mohammad Ali Amir-Moezzi, The Divine Guide in Early Shiʿism, tr. D. Streight, Albany, 1994, index.

Mortażā ʿAskari, Moqaddemat merʾāt al-ʿoqul, II, Tehran, 1404/1984, pp. 512-16.

Moḥammad Šams al-Ḥaqq ʿAẓimābādi, ʿAwn al-maʿbud šarḥ Sonan Abi Dāwud, XI, Medina, 1388-89/1968-69, p. 392.

Yusof Baḥrāni, Loʾloʾat al-Baḥrayn, ed. Moḥammad-Ṣādeq Baḥr-al-ʿOlum, Najaf, 1386/1966, pp. 386-95.

Brockelmann, GAL, I, pp. 199-200, S, I, p. 320.

Leonardo Capezzone, “Un aspetto della critica imamita alle tradizioni eterodosse,” Annali di Ca’ Foscari, 38/3, 1999, pp 171-93.

Moḥammad b. Aḥmad Ḏahabi, Seyar aʿlām al-nobalāʾ, XV, ed. Šoʿayb al-Arnāʾuṭ, Beirut, 1403/1983, p. 280.

Mo ḥammad-Bāqer (Mir) Dāmād, al-Rawāšeḥ al-samāwiya fi šarḥ al-aḥādiṯ al-emāmiya, Qom, 1405. al-Ḏariʿa VI, XI, XIII-XV, XX. Ebn Aṯir, Ketāb al-kāmel, VIII, Beirut, 1385-86 /1965-66, p. 364.

Moḥammad b. ʿAli Ebn Bābawayh, Man lā yaḥżorohoʾl-faqih, ed. Ḥasan al-Musawi al-Ḵarsān, Tehran, 1390/1970-71.

Ebn Ḥajar ʿAsqalāni, Lesān al-mizān, V, Beirut, 1408/1988, p. 490.

Ebn Mākulā, Ekmāl, VII, ed. Nāyef al-ʿAbbās, Cairo, n.d., p. 186.

Ebn Šahrāšub, Maʿālem al-ʿolamāʾ, Najaf, 1380/1961, p. 99.

Ebn Ṭāwus, Falāḥ al-sāʾel, ed. Ḡolām-Ḥosayn Majidi, Qom, 1419/1998-99, pp. 345-46.

Idem, Kašf al-maḥajja, Najaf, 1370/1950, p. 159.

Moḥsen Fayż, al-Wāfi, I, Iṣfahān, 1412/1992, p. 5.

Ḥasan b. Yusof Ebn Moṭahhar Ḥelli, Ḵolāṣat al-aqwāl, ed. Jawād Qayyumi, n. pl., 1417/1997, pp. 245-46.

Etan Kohlberg, Belief and Law in Imāmī Shīʿism, Aldershot, U.K., 1991, index.

Idem, A Medieval Muslim Scholar at Work: Ibn Ṭāwūs and His Library, Leiden, 1992, index.

Kolayni, Kāfi, Tehran, 1375-77. Moḥammad-Bāqer Ḵvānsāri, Rawżāt al-jannāt, VI, Beirut, 1411/1991, pp. 101-112.

Abuʾl-Qāsem Musawi Ḵuʾi, Moʿjam rejāl al-ḥadiṯ, n. p., 1413/1992, I, pp. 22-35, 81-86.

Wilferd Madelung, “al-Kulaynī,” EI2 V, pp. 362-63.

Moḥammad-Bāqer Majlesi, Beḥār al-anwār, Tehran, 1376-1405/1957-85.

Māmaqāni, Tanqiḥ al-maqāl fi aḥwāl al-rejāl, Najaf, 1349-52/1930-33, part iv, pp. 201-02, biography no. 11,540.

Hossein Modarressi Ṭabāṭabāʾi, An Introduction to Shīʿī Law, London, 1984, pp. 4-6, 33.

Šarif Mortażā, Jawābāt al-masāʾel al-Ṭarābolsiyāt al-ṯāleṯa, in Rasāʾel, I, Qom, 1405/1985, pp. 408-11.

Abu’l- ʿAbbās Aḥmad Najāši, Ketāb al-rejāl, II, ed. Moḥammad-Jawād Nāʾini, Beirut, 1408/1988, pp. 290-92.

Andrew J. Newman, The Formative Period of Twelver Shīʿism: Ḥadīth as Discourse between Qum and Baghdad, Richmond, 2000, index. Idem, “Between Qumm and the West: The Occultation According to al-Kulaynī and al-Kātib al-Nuʿmānī,” in Culture and Memory in Medieval Islam: Essays in Honour of Wilferd Madelung, ed. Farhad Daftary and Josef W. Meri, London, 2003, pp. 94-108.

Moḥammad b. Ebrāhim Ebn Abi Zaynab Noʿmāni, Ketāb al-ḡayba, ed. with a Persian translation by M. J. Ḡaffāri, Tehran, 1363 Š./1985.

ʿEnāyat-Allāh b. ʿAli Qohpāʾi, Majmaʿ al-rejāl, VI, ed. Ż. ʿAllāma, Eṣfahān, 1384-87/1964-68, pp. 73-75.

Ḵalil b. Aybak Ṣafadi, al-Wāfi beʾl-wafayāt, V, ed. Sven Dedering, Wiesbaden, 1389/1970, p. 226.

Šayḵ Mofid, Šarḥ ʿaqāʾed al-Saduq aw Taṣḥiḥ al-eʿteqād, ed. ʿAbbāsqoli Ṣ. Wajdi, Tabriz, 1371.

Sezgin, GAS, I, pp. 540-42. Abu Jaʿfar Ṭusi, Estebṣār, ed. Ḥasan al-Musawi al-Ḵarsān, IV, Tehran, 1390/1970.

Idem, Fehrest, Beirut, 1403/1983, pp. 165-66.

Idem, Rejāl, ed. Moḥammad-Ṣādeq Āl Baḥr al-ʿOlum, Najaf, 1381/1961, pp. 495-96.


(Etan Kohlberg)

Originally Published: July 20, 2004

Last Updated: July 20, 2004

Cite this entry:

Etan Kohlberg, “KOLAYNI,” Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2004, available at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/kolayni (accessed on 16 August 2017).