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Summary of question
I have a question concerning a hadith which normally lecturers and orators bring up during religious occasions. It is said that the Holy Prophet of Islam beseeched Allah to reduce the number of the rak\'ats of prayers to 17 as per Prophet Moses\' advice, otherwise it was 50 or 40 or 25. Is such a tradition true and reliable?
question
I have a question concerning a hadith which normally lecturers and orators bring up during religious occasions. It is said that the Holy Prophet of Islam beseeched Allah to reduce the number of the rak\'ats of prayers to 17, otherwise it was 50 or 40 or 25. That was because Prophet Moses had advised the Prophet of Islam (S) that his ummah (nation) would not tolerate performing so many units of prayers. Is this tradition authentic, though it might have been as part of a hadith Qudsi? What does it signify? Thanks
Concise answer
The details and sequence which you have reported and mentioned in your message are not correct, and we have cited the original tradition from Sheikh Saduq's book. This tradition has not been reported in any Shi'ah hadith books except Sheikh Saduq's Man Layahzuruhu al-Faqih. In fact, Sunni narrators have also narrated one such tradition which they have criticized from different angles. Thus, it can be said that the tradition is poor, not to mention  the fact that it has not been reported in any authentic Shi'ah books. Moreover, the tradition suffers from numerous ideological setbacks.
 
Detailed Answer
There are secrets and subtleties in the traditions concerning the nighttime journey of the Holy Prophet (S) to Heavens (ascension). Those subtleties are not easily understandable as they might need some interpretations.[1]
Late Allamah Tabatabai explaining the classification of Tafsir Majma'ul Bayan endorses the same classification and considers it to be very helpful. He has sorted out and divided the reports concerning the Holy Prophet's me'raj (ascension to the heavens) into several groups:
a)  Hadiths that are mutawatir (a hadith that has been narrated so much and by so many different narrators that one becomes sure that all of them couldn’t have lied or mistaken, thus one becomes sure that the hadith ascribed to the infallibles is true) and we are certain of their authenticity, such as the hadiths that mention the incident itself and don’t get into the details; naturally, these hadiths should be accepted.
b) Hadiths that mention some details that are not in conflict with religious and intellectual fundamentals; such as the ones that say the Prophet (S) was in the skies and met with other prophets and saw heavens and hell and Sidratul-Muntaha and the Arsh.  These reports are also acceptable and considered to have taken place for the Prophet (S) in his wakefulness, not in sleep as some have wrongly claimed.
c) Hadiths that actually seem to be in contradiction with what we have sought and learned earlier, but they can be explained in a way that the contradictions are resolved.  For instance, there are hadiths that say the Prophet (S) saw a group of people in Hell and another in Paradise.  The question that comes to mind is that the hereafter hasn’t come yet, so how can there be people in Paradise and Hell?  This question and apparent contradiction can be resolved by saying that what he saw wasn’t Paradise and Hell, but was the hell and heaven of the Barzakh (the intermediate world that starts from death till resurrection), or that it wasn’t actually the people themselves who were in hell and heaven, but were their ideal forms.  Hadiths like these should also be accepted after they have been interpreted (of course keeping their true meanings in mind).
d) Hadiths that neither comply with religious and intellectual principles, nor can be explained in a way that will fit Islamic teachings, e.g. the hadith that says the prophet (S) and Allah (swt) sat next to each other on the same throne!  It is appropriate that hadiths like these be rejected.[2], [3]
In fact, Allamah Tabatabai, may Allah bless his soul, has objected to some of the examples presented by the author of Majma'ul Bayan. [4]
The tradition concerning the number of prayers becoming obligatory has not been reported in any Shi'ah hadith books except Sheikh Saduq's Manla Yahzuruhu al-Faqih.[5]
The traditions about prayers and the numbers of the units of the prayers becoming obligatory can be found in Sunni hadith books authored before Sheikh Saduq's Man Layahzuruhu al-Faqih.[6]
There are two hadiths bearing the purport of the hadith in question. These two hadiths can be found in Man Layahzuruhu al-Faqih. One of the those traditions have been reported with a disconnected chain from Imam Sadiq (AS) from the Prophet (S) and the other hadith has been narrated by Sheikh Saduq from Zaid bin Ali from Imam Sajjad (AS).  As was said, this tradition has not been narrated in any other Shia books. Late Ya'qub Kulayni has made no mention of this hadith despite the fact that he has mentioned the reports concerning me'araj as well as some other relevant traditions.
Considering Zaid bin Ali's presence in the chain of transmission, it can be concluded that this tradition is part of Zaidiyah's hadith legacy which has later on been omitted from Shi'ah's hadith collection, albeit by Shi'ah traditionists (muhaddithin) who conducted a research into the traditions at the behest of the Infallible Imams (AS).
If we are to study this tradition with a view to its apparent meaning without having to interpret it, the tradition suffers from many difficulties. [7] That is why some scholars have considered this tradition as inauthentic and invaluable.[8]
Late Sayed Murtaza referring to the difficulties of this narration says in Tanzih al-Anbiya: "This narration is among the solitary reports which do not cause certainty, and such a report has been discredited."  Indeed, Sayed Murtaza further says that if the tradition is supposed to be true, it must be justified and interpreted. He says that the obligation of performing fifty units of prayers and then repealing the ordinance have something to do with the nullification (naskh) of the rules.[9]
However, late Muhaddith Husseini Armawi has a remark in Tafsir Jala al-Azhan wa Jala al-Ahzan about the objections raised by Sayed Murtaza saying: Nullification of rules takes place after they have become mandatory and when the time for performing them have set in, whereas, in fact, the rule regarding offering fifty units of prayers have been nullified without they becoming obligatory. Such a cancellation of a divine law is "bad'a (بدأ) which is totally rejected, much less the fact that this report is basically invalid.[10]
In his commentary book titled "Hujjat al-Tafasir wa Balagh al-Exir", Sayyid Abdul Hujjat Balaghi makes a detailed discussion about Gospel, Torah, Judaism and Christianity. When it comes to the narration in question, he says: Signs of Jewish fabrications are visible on every side of this story and these fabrications are never acceptable. Among the problems facing the narration, some are the following:
Firstly, where was Moses sitting since he was seen every time during revelation?
Secondly, where were other prophets and why haven't they uttered a word?
Thirdly, God is too great to allow such haggling to take between Him and the Holy Prophet (S).
Fourthly, the Holy Prophet (S) met with other prophets on the outward journey to me'raj, not on return from the journey. It is not known as to whether he had met anyone during the journey or not.
Fifthly, now also the daily prayers consist of fifty one rak'ahs (unit) rather than fifty rak'ahs.  Seven rak'ahs are obligatory and the remaining rak'ats are known as nawfil and they are recommended (Nafilah of Zuhr and Asr prayers are eight rak'ahs each, nafilah of Maghrib is four rak'ahs and nafilah of Isha prayers includes two rak'ahs which are considered as one rak'ah. The night prayers include eleven rak'ahs and the morning prayers consist of two rak'ahs.)[11]
Therefore, it can be said that such a tradition is not acceptable according to Shia scholars and muhaddethin (hadith experts).
 

[1] For instance, see: Tabatabai, Muhammad Hussein, Al-Mizan fi Tafsir Al-Qur'an, translated by Sayed Muhammad Baqir Hamedani, vol.13, p. 28, Islamic Propagations Office, Jame'ah Mudarresin Hawza Ilmiyah of Qom, Qom, 1374.
[2] Fadhl ibn Hasan Tabarsi, Majma’ul-Bayan, vol. 6, pg. 609, Naser Khosro Publications, Tehran, 1372.
[3] Adapted from question 15636 (site: 6152).
[4] For further information in this regard, kindly refer to Translation of Tafsir al-Mizan, vol.13, p. 43.
[5] Sheikh Saduq, Muhammad bin Ali, Man Layahzuruhu al-Faqih,  vol.1, p. 197, Islamic Publications Office, Jame'ah Mudarresin Hawza Ilmiyah Qom, Qom, 1413 The original version of the tradition is as under:
«إِنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ ص- لَمَّا أُسْرِيَ بِهِ أَمَرَهُ رَبُّهُ بِخَمْسِينَ صَلَاةً فَمَرَّ عَلَى النَّبِيِّينَ نَبِيٍّ نَبِيٍّ لَا يَسْأَلُونَهُ عَنْ شَيْ‏ءٍ حَتَّى انْتَهَى إِلَى مُوسَى بْنِ عِمْرَانَ ع فَقَالَ بِأَيِّ شَيْ‏ءٍ أَمَرَكَ رَبُّكَ فَقَالَ بِخَمْسِينَ صَلَاةً فَقَالَ اسْأَلْ رَبَّكَ التَّخْفِيفَ فَإِنَّ أُمَّتَكَ لَا تُطِيقُ ذَلِكَ فَسَأَلَ رَبَّهُ فَحَطَّ عَنْهُ عَشْراً ثُمَّ مَرَّ بِالنَّبِيِّينَ نَبِيٍّ نَبِيٍّ لَا يَسْأَلُونَهُ عَنْ شَيْ‏ءٍ حَتَّى مَرَّ بِمُوسَى بْنِ عِمْرَانَ ع فَقَالَ بِأَيِّ شَيْ‏ءٍ أَمَرَكَ رَبُّكَ فَقَالَ بِأَرْبَعِينَ صَلَاةً فَقَالَ اسْأَلْ رَبَّكَ التَّخْفِيفَ فَإِنَّ أُمَّتَكَ لَا تُطِيقُ ذَلِكَ فَسَأَلَ رَبَّهُ فَحَطَّ عَنْهُ عَشْراً ثُمَّ مَرَّ بِالنَّبِيِّينَ نَبِيٍّ نَبِيٍّ لَا يَسْأَلُونَهُ عَنْ شَيْ‏ءٍ حَتَّى مَرَّ بِمُوسَى بْنِ عِمْرَانَ ع فَقَالَ بِأَيِّ شَيْ‏ءٍ أَمَرَكَ رَبُّكَ فَقَالَ بِثَلَاثِينَ صَلَاةً فَقَالَ اسْأَلْ رَبَّكَ التَّخْفِيفَ فَإِنَّ أُمَّتَكَ لَا تُطِيقُ ذَلِكَ فَسَأَلَ رَبَّهُ عَزَّ وَ جَلَّ فَحَطَّ عَنْهُ عَشْراً ثُمَّ مَرَّ بِالنَّبِيِّينَ نَبِيٍّ نَبِيٍّ لَا يَسْأَلُونَهُ عَنْ شَيْ‏ءٍ حَتَّى مَرَّ بِمُوسَى بْنِ عِمْرَانَ ع فَقَالَ بِأَيِّ شَيْ‏ءٍ أَمَرَكَ رَبُّكَ فَقَالَ بِعِشْرِينَ صَلَاةً فَقَالَ اسْأَلْ رَبَّكَ التَّخْفِيفَ فَإِنَّ أُمَّتَكَ‏ لَا تُطِيقُ ذَلِكَ فَسَأَلَ رَبَّهُ فَحَطَّ عَنْهُ عَشْراً ثُمَّ مَرَّ بِالنَّبِيِّينَ نَبِيٍّ نَبِيٍّ لَا يَسْأَلُونَهُ عَنْ شَيْ‏ءٍ حَتَّى مَرَّ بِمُوسَى بْنِ عِمْرَانَ ع فَقَالَ بِأَيِّ شَيْ‏ءٍ أَمَرَكَ رَبُّكَ فَقَالَ بِعَشْرِ صَلَوَاتٍ فَقَالَ اسْأَلْ رَبَّكَ التَّخْفِيفَ فَإِنَّ أُمَّتَكَ لَا تُطِيقُ ذَلِكَ فَإِنِّي جِئْتُ إِلَى بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ بِمَا افْتَرَضَ اللَّهُ عَزَّ وَ جَلَّ عَلَيْهِمْ فَلَمْ يَأْخُذُوا بِهِ وَ لَمْ يَقِرُّوا عَلَيْهِ فَسَأَلَ النَّبِيُّ ص رَبَّهُ عَزَّ وَ جَلَّ فَخَفَّفَ عَنْهُ فَجَعَلَهَا خَمْساً ثُمَّ مَرَّ بِالنَّبِيِّينَ نَبِيٍّ نَبِيٍّ لَا يَسْأَلُونَهُ عَنْ شَيْ‏ءٍ حَتَّى مَرَّ بِمُوسَى بْنِ عِمْرَانَ ع فَقَالَ لَهُ بِأَيِّ شَيْ‏ءٍ أَمَرَكَ رَبُّكَ فَقَالَ بِخَمْسِ صَلَوَاتٍ فَقَالَ اسْأَلْ رَبَّكَ التَّخْفِيفَ عَنْ أُمَّتِكَ فَإِنَّ أُمَّتَكَ لَا تُطِيقُ ذَلِكَ فَقَالَ إِنِّي لَأَسْتَحْيِي أَنْ أَعُودَ إِلَى رَبِّي فَجَاءَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ ص بِخَمْسِ صَلَوَاتٍ».
[6] For instance, see Musnad of Ahmad bin Hanbal, vol.36, p. 246, Hadith 17165 Maktabat al-Shamelah Software.
[7] One of the difficulties of the tradition is that the tradition signifies that Prophet Moses knows the Ummah of the Prophet of Islam better than Allah and the Prophet of Islam do!
[8] Payanda, Abul Qasim, Nahjul Fasahah, p. 123, Introduction to the second edition, Dunya-e Nashr Publication, Tehran, 1382. He says, "I do not know whether the tradition narrated by Bukhari and Muslim about the night time journey (me'raj) and Prophet Moses' intervention in prayers and the Prophet's repeated appeal to get them reduced, is an insult to our prophet or reverence of the prophet of Jews! This is a myth fabricated by Jews and it can never be correct.
[9] See: Majlisi, Muhammad Baqir, Behar al-Anwar, vol.18, p.349, Wafa Publications, Beirut, 1404 A.H.
[10] Jurjani, Hussein bin Hasan, Jala al-Azhan wa Jala al-Ahzan, vol.5, p. 245 (footnote), Tehran University Press, Tehran, 1377.
[11] Balaghi, Sayyid Abdul Hujjat, Hujjah al-Tafasir wa Balagh al-Exir, vol.4, p. 58, Hikmat Publications, Qom, 1368 AH.
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