Did the Imam Make a Mistake in the Ruling of Stoning?
Hamdan said, Mu'awiya narrated to us, from Shu'aib Al-Aqrqufi, from Abu Basir, he said, "I asked Abu Abdullah, peace be upon him, about a woman who got married while she has a husband, then it became apparent." He (a) said, "The woman is stoned and the man is flogged a hundred lashes because he did not ask."
Shu'aib said: "So I went to Abi Al-Hassan, peace be upon him, and I said to him: 'A woman got married while she has a husband'. He said, 'The woman is stoned and there is nothing on the man.' So I met Abu Basir and said to him, 'I asked Abi Al-Hassan, peace be upon him, about the woman who got married while she has a husband'. He said, 'The woman is stoned and there is nothing on the man.' He said, 'So he wiped his chest and said: 'I don't think our companion's ruling has stopped yet.'" (Rijal Kashshi 292)
First, this hadith is weak in chain. As the scan points out, the Hamdan here is Hamdan b. Ahmad al Nahdi. Sayyed Khoei says that this person also goes by the name Muhammad b. Ahmad b. Khaqan al Nahdi and also by the name of Hamdan al Qalanisy, (Mu'jam Rijal al Hadith), and Allamah Tustari agrees likewise. (Qamus al Rijal). However contrary to what the scan says, as Tustari points out, although Hamdan was authenticated by Kashshi, Hamdan was weakened by Ibn Ghadairi and Najashi. (Qamus al Rijal). Furthermore, as Sayyed Khoei points out, Kashshi never met this Hamdan. (Mu'jam Rijal al Hadith) (أنّ الرواية مرسلة، فإنّ الكشّي لا يمكن أن يروي عن حمدان بلا واسطة،) (This was also pointed out by Sheikh Jamil Hammoud al Amili). On top of Hamdan never having been recorded to have narrated from Kashshi, another consideration is that Kulayni and Kashshi were contemporaries, but Kulayni always narrates from Hamdan through an intermediate, so how can it be conceivable that Kashshi actually met this Hamdan? So, in addition to Hamdan being weak, there is a gap in the chain, and therefore this hadith is not accepted.
Second, this hadith is mentioned by two different chains with a completely different wording:
Ali b Hasan b Faddal from Ayyub b. Nuh from Sanadi b. Muhammad AND Ali b. Muhammad from Muhammad b. Ahmad from Muhammad b. Hasan altogether from Safwan b. Yahya from Shuaib al Aqarqufi (?): I asked Aba Hasan (a) about a man who marries a woman with a husband and he doesn't know. The Imam said: "stone the woman and nothing is on the man if he didn't know." I said, so I mentioned that to Abu Baseer and he said: "I swear to God, Ja'far (a) said to me that you stone the woman and whip the man with the hadd." and he said, rubbing his hand over his chest, "I do not think our companion's ruling has stopped yet" (Rijal Kashshi 293; al-Istibsar 687).
This wording is more favorable. Apart from simply weakening the chain of the doubtful narration, we can say the wording from Istibsar is more likely to be the authentic one because this wording comes to us through two chains, both being authentic.
Now we turn our attention to resolving the conflict in the hadith from Istibsar. Ayatollah Sistani says: "It should be known that a number of instances where one presumes the presence of a real contradiction between Ḥadīth are, in actuality, cases of mistaken presumption. That is to say, there seems to be a contradiction but that is not so... The Imam’s reply may sometimes be given in consideration of the questioner’s circumstances and personal condition which the Imam would normally come to know of." (Why Shia Hadith Contradict)
And hence Sheikh Tusi explains the narration as follows:
“There is no contradiction between what Shu‘ayb narrated from Abī al-Ḥasan [a] and what Abū Baṣīr heard from Abī ‘Abd Allāh [a]. This is because what Abū Baṣīr heard is about the man who marries a woman and he knows she already has a husband. It (the punishment) is obligated upon him as well because he committed adultery. There is no contradiction between the two reports or the two fatwas. The matter was similar to Abū Baṣīr so he did not distinguish the one matter from the other so he assumed that there was a contradiction between them.” (al-Istibṣār 3:190)
Third, even if, by some fantastical leap of the imagination, the original doubtful narration were authentic, there would still be no problem. In the first place, the doubtful narration is asking about a completely different situation. Whereas the correct wording is concerned with whether a man knew whether a woman was married, the doubtful narration is concerned with whether a man asked if the woman was married. In this case, the reconciliation is simple. One could simply say that the man asked but was lied to, and therefore there is no punishment on the man whereas the woman is stoned.
Again, as Sayyed Sistani points out, we often have a mistaken presumption about whether Hadith contradict. Sometimes, it may be the case that "[a] statement of the Imam may have been issued in light of the historical circumstances specific to that time (and then mistakenly applied to all time)." (Why Shia Hadith Contradict).
In light of this, we can identify that the general rule is that asking is not obligatory:
Muhammad ibn Yahya has narrated from Ahmad ibn Muhammad from Ali ibn al-Hakam from ‘Umar ibn Hanzalah who has said the following: “I once said to abu ‘ Abd Allah (a.s.), ‘I married a woman and asked about her and things were said about her.’ He (the Imam) said, ‘Why did you ask about her also? It is not obligatory on you to ask and investigate.’” (Al Kafi)
However, another narration tells us that this rule can change based on time and place:
Muhammad ibn Yahya has narrated from Ahmad ibn Muhammad from ibn Mahbub from Aban from abu Maryam who has said the following: “Once, abu Ja‘far (a.s), was asked about al-Mut‘ah (advantageous marriage). He (the Imam) said, ‘Al-Mut‘ah today is not like it was before this day. Women in those days could be trusted, but today they cannot be trusted, so ask them.”’ (Al Kafi)
Hence, even if we took the doubtful wording, it would not be a problem whatsoever, because it aligns with other narrations we have and fits with common-sense standards of reconciling narrations.