I have been asked a question via the Contact Us form of the blog regarding the famous story of al-Ḥasan and al-Ḥussayn helping an old man with his wudū’
A very famous story I hear all the time is when Hasan and Hussain helping an old man to do wudu, and they teach him by performing wudu themselves, and he sees that he was doing it wrong. I tried to look online for this information, but no one gives the source to this.
What is the source to this story? And is this story authentic?
This is one of the most oft-repeated stories you hear about al-Ḥasan and al-Ḥussayn (عليهم السلام), speakers throughout the world use this story as an example of Amr bi’l Ma`rūf wa Nahī `Anil Munkar  . When looking through the classical sources of ḥadīth in both Shī`ah and Sunnīs, you do not find this story mentioned. In Shī`ah books you do not find this ḥadīth mentioned at all, the only time you find this ḥadīth mentioned is when a Shī`ah scholar is quoting from a Sunnī book.
The first time this story can be seen in Shī`ah books is in a book called al-Manāqib Āl Abī Tālib (The Merits of the Family of Abī Tālib). The author of this book is Abī `Abd Allāh Muḥammad b. `Alī b. Shahrāshūb (commonly known as Ibn Shahrāshūb), he died in the year 588 AH. This book has four volumes and is a book of ḥadīth that has many merits and stories of the Ahl al-Bayt (عليهم السلام). All of the ḥadīth in this book do not contain a full connected chain of narrators, so all of the ḥadīth in this book will be classed as da`īf (weak) because of it being mursal (disconnected chain of narrators).
Ibn Shahrāshūb has taken this story from a book called `Uyūn al-Majālis. Al-Majlisī also adds this story in his book Bihār al-Anwār, quoting from `Uyūn al-Majālis. In Bihār al-Anwār the book that al-Majlisī quotes from is named `Uyūn al-Maḥāsin. This is either a transcription error or al-Majlisī made an error; unfortunately the editors of Bihār al-Anwār didn’t catch it. The name of the book is actually `Uyūn al-Majālis, and we have come to this conclusion because:
1. A book named `Uyūn al-Maḥāsin has been authored by al-Ḥasan b. `Alī b. Muḥammad b. `Alī b. al-Ḥasan al-Tabarī (d. after 798). He is commonly known as `Imād al-Dīn al-Tabarī)
2. This book cannot be it, because Ibn Shahrāshūb (d. 588 AH) quotes from `Uyūn al-Majālis and he lived about two centuries before the author of `Uyūn al- Maḥāsin, so the book `Uyūn al- Maḥāsin was not authored during the life of Ibn Shahrāshūb.
3. al-Majlisī also quotes other ḥadīth from the book `Uyūn al-Majālis, so he had access to this book and used this book in his encyclopedia of ḥadīth.
Here is the full ḥadīth that is in Ibn Shahrāshūb’s al-Manāqib and al-Majlisī’s Bihār al-Anwār:
(Taken from my personal copy of al-Majlisī’s Bihār al-Anwār)
(Click image to enlarge)
عُيُونُ المجالس عَنِ الرُّويَانِيِّ أَنَّ الْحَسَنَ وَ الْحُسَيْنَ مَرَّا عَلَى شَيْخٍ يَتَوَضَّأُ وَ لَا يُحْسِنُ فَأَخَذَا فِي التَّنَازُعِ يَقُولُ كُلُّ وَاحِدٍ مِنْهُمَا أَنْتَ لَا تُحْسِنُ الْوُضُوءَ فَقَالَا أَيُّهَا الشَّيْخُ كُنْ حَكَماً بَيْنَنَا يَتَوَضَّأُ كُلُّ وَاحِدٍ مِنَّا فَتَوَضَّئَا ثُمَّ قَالَا أَيُّنَا يُحْسِنُ قَالَ كِلَاكُمَا تُحْسِنَانِ الْوُضُوءَ وَ لَكِنَّ هَذَا الشَّيْخَ الْجَاهِلَ هُوَ الَّذِي لَمْ يَكُنْ يُحْسِنُ وَ قَدْ تَعَلَّمَ الْآنَ مِنْكُمَا وَ تَابَ عَلَى يَدَيْكُمَا بِبَرَكَتِكُمَا وَ شَفَقَتِكُمَا عَلَى أُمَّةِ جَدِّكُمَا
`Uyūn al-Majālis: From my narrators, that al-Ḥasan (عليه السلام) and al-Ḥusayn (عليه السلام) passed by an old man (shaykh) who was performing wuḍū’, and he did not do it correctly. So they had a feud and said to one another, ‘you are not doing it correctly’. So they said: ‘O Shaykh (old man), each one of us will do wuḍū’, can you judge between us?’ So they did wuḍū’ and they said: ‘Which one of us is correct?’ He (the old man) said: ‘Both of you have correct wuḍū’, but this old man (i.e. himself) is ignorant, he did not do it correctly, and he has now learned from you two, and I seek repentance upon both your hands, your blessing, your compassion upon the Ummah of your grandfather’
The only book in Islāmic history that is titled `Uyūn al-Majālis is by a Sunnī author named `Abd al-Wahhāb al-Baghdādī (d. 422 AH), a Mālikī scholar. This is a fiqh book, it is a possibility that Ibn Shahrāshūb quoted from this book since he lived before Ibn Shahrāshūb’s time, and this book is extant.
This story is da`īf (weak) for many reasons:
1. This book is a Sunnī book, and Sunnī books and Sunnī ḥadīth hold no weight to the Shī`ahs.
2. The story does not mention a narrator who narrates the ḥadīth; it simply says “My narrators”. This does not count when it comes to ḥadīth science.
3. You do not know who is saying this story, if it is coming from any of the Ahl al-Bayt (عليهم السلام), or from a saḥābah (companions) or tabi`īn (successor).
This story is also mentioned in another Sunnī book, much later without a chain of narrators, named Fayḍ al-Qadīr Sharḥ al-Jāmi` al-Saghīr min Aḥādīth al-Badhīr al-Nadhīr authored by Muḥammad `Abd al-Ra’ūf b. Tāj al-Manāwī (b. 952 – d. 1031).
وقد حكى أن الحسن والحسين رضي الله عنهما وعن والديهما وعلى جدهما أفضل الصلاة وأتم التسليم مرا بشخص يفسد وضوءه فقال أحدهما لأخيه تعال نرشد هذا الشيخ فقالا يا شيخ إنا نريد أن نتوضأ بين يديك حتى تنظر إلينا وتعلم من يحسن منا الوضوء ومن لا يحسنه ففعلا ذلك فلما فرغا من وضوئهما قال أنا والله الذي لا أحسن الوضوء وأما أنتما فكل واحد منكما يحسن وضوءه
And it is related that al-Ḥasan and al-Ḥussayn, (may Allāh be pleased with both of them and their fathers and their grandfather, with the greatest prayers and complete peace), passed by an individual who had a corrupt wudū’, and one of them said to his brother: ‘Come, let’s guide this shaykh (old man)’. So they said: ‘O Shaykh (Old man), we would like to do wudū’, can you help us and see us and let us know who has a better wudū’ from us, and who does not have a correct one?’ So they did that (wudū’), and when they finished their wudū. He (the old man) said: ‘I, by Allāh, was not doing my wudū’ correctly. And as for you, both of you two did the wudū’ correctly’
Even though this story sounds like something our A’immah (عليهم السلام) would do, there is no definitive way to say that this story is accurate and correct. Therefore, we should not narrate these stories from our pulpit, and we should tell others not to narrate this story. We have many beautiful Ṣaḥīḥ (Authentic) aḥādīth and stories about Imām al-Ḥasan (عليه السلام) and Imām al-Ḥussayn (عليه السلام) that we do not need to narrate stories that are not authentic.
And Allāh Knows Best.
Jamadi’ al-Awwal 27, 1433
April 19, 2012
Jamadi’ al-Awwal 27, 1433
April 19, 2012
 Tr. ‘Enjoining in good, and forbidding from evil’
 Agha Buzurgh al-Ṭehrānī, al-Dharī`ah ‘ila Taṣānīf al-Shī`ah, (Beirut: Dār al-Aḍwā’, 3rd ed., 1403), vol. 15, pg. 382, book # 2385
 This `Imād al-Dīn al-Tabarī is different from the `Imād al-Dīn al-Tabarī (d. after 554 AH) who is the author of the famous book Bishārah al-Muṣṭafa.
 al-Majlisī, Bihār al-Anwār, (Tehran: Dār al-Kutub al-Islāmiyyah, 4th ed., 1362), vol. 79, ch. 19, pg. 150, ḥadīth # 1-2
 al-Majlisī, Bihār al-Anwār, (Beirut: Dār al-Turāth al-`Arabī, 3rd ed., 1403), vol. 43, ch. 13, pg. 319
 Ibn Shahrāshūb, al-Manāqib Āl Abī Tālib, 4 vols., (Qum: Mu’assasah al-`Allāmah lil-Nashr, 1379), vol. 3, Ch – Makārim Akhlāqumā (Their Noble Manners), pg. 400; al-Majlisī, Bihār al-Anwār, op. cit., vol. 43, ch. 13, pg. 319
 Ibn Qayyim in his Ijmā` al-Jayyūsh al-Islāmiyyah says about `Abd al-Wahhāb al-Baghdādī: “He is from the great Mālikī (scholars) of Iraq.”
 This book is a commentary of the famous book al-Jāmi` al-Saghīr of al-Suyūṭī (b. 849- d. 911). The ḥadīth in this book are categorized in alphabetical order, like `Abbās al-Qummī has done with his book Safīnah al-Bihār.
 He is from one of the major Sunnī scholars. It is said that he used to eat very little, because he was very careful about his food. He has authored over 80 books, and spent his life in Cairo, Egypt.
 al-Manāwī, Fayḍ al-Qadīr, (Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-`Ilmiyyah, 1415), vol. 2, pg. 416