In an effort to avoid the subjectivity of individual reason, Sunni Islam elaborated a
method of ḥadīth criticism that subordinated evaluating the meaning of a report to
an examination of its chain of transmission. With the fourth/tenth-century epistemological
compromise of Ashʿarism, however, Sunni ḥadīth scholars adopted rationalist
criteria of content criticism that included explicit rules for rejecting ḥadīths because
of their meaning. is resulted in a strong internal tension within Sunni ḥadīth
criticism from the fifth/eleventh century onwards, with one and the same scholar
upholding rigid rules of content criticism but not employing them or even rejecting
them in application. e inherent subjectivity of content criticism resulted in different
Muslim scholars either rejecting or affirming the same ḥadīths. Some scholars were
much more inclined to reject a ḥadīth out of hand because of its meaning, while
others were willing to extend a ḥadīth more interpretive charity. e tension created
by the subjectivity of content criticism emerged in unprecedented relief in the modern
period, when ‘science’ and modern social norms presented an unmatched challenge
to the interpretive awe in which pre-modern (and Traditionalist scholars today) held
attributions to the Prophet.
The Rules of Matn Criticism – There are No Rules – Islamic Law and Society
Faithful Dissenters – Sunni Skepticism about the Miracles of Saints
Belief in the miracles of saints (karāmāt al-awliyāʾ) is a requirement in Sunni Islam. Challenges
to this position are generally seen as limited to Islamic modernists effected by Western historical
criticism. This article demonstrates that there have actually been leading Sunni Muslim scholars
from the fourth/tenth century until the modern period who held positions regarding the miracles
of saints that were much more skeptical than the mainstream Sunni stance. These ‘faithful dissenters’
were motivated by both theological and social concerns, and the methodologies they
presented for sifting true from false miracle claims were based entirely on indigenous Islamic
epistemological and textual criticism.
The Challenges and Choices of Interpreting the Prophet’s Legacy
Named as one of the top books on religion of 2014 by The Independent…! Misquoting Muhammad takes the reader back in time through Islamic civilization and traces how and why such controversies developed, offering an inside view into how key and controversial aspects of Islam took shape. From the protests of the Arab Spring to Istanbul at the fall of the Ottoman Empire, and from the ochre red walls of Delhi’s great mosques to the trade routes of Islam’s Indian Ocean world, Misquoting Muhammad lays out how Muslim intellectuals have sought to balance reason and revelation, weigh science and religion, and negotiate the eternal truths of scripture amid shifting values.
See the review by The Independent, the Times of London, The Economist and the Washington Post.
In Sunni Islam, the canonical ‘Six Books’ of hadith derive their authority as doctrinal
references from scholarly consensus on their reliability as representations of the Prophet’s Sunna.
One of the Six Boooks, the Sunan of Ibn Majah, however, presents a bizarre exception. Although
it has been considered part of the Six Book collection since the late eleventh century, it has been
consistently and severely criticized by Sunni scholars for the large number of unreliable hadiths it
contains. Explaining the canonical status of Ibn Majah’s Sunan despite these criticisms requires
recognizing that the hadith canon was based not only on authenticity but also on utility. The Six
Books served to delimit the countless numbers of hadith in circulation into a manageable form, and
Ibn Majah’s Sunan added to this canonical body a useful number of hadiths not found in the other
Six Books. Sunni scholars themselves acknowledged that, in the case of Ibn Majah’s Sunan, utility
trumped authenticity in the Sunni hadith canon.
Download Full PDF
The comprehensiveness of Islamic law has been questioned seriously in
the modern period by Muslim reformists like Rashīd Riḍā . Such reformists
have used as evidence Qur’anic verses and Prophetic reports that
seem to state clearly that the strictures of Islamic law are few and
limited and that Muslims should not extend them to all areas of life. How
could the Shariah have developed as a holistic and exhaustive body of
law in light of such evidence? Looking back at earlier Muslim scholars
from the ninth to the eighteenth centuries, however, we see that these
Qur’anic verses and Prophetic edicts were never understood in this way.
They were either diffused with various hermeneutic strategies or understood
as applying to debates unrelated to the comprehensiveness or
minimalism of the Shariah.
Download Full Article PDF
The article contends that ahl-al-hadīth did not view the historical reliability of hadīths through the epistemological lens of later Sunni legal theorists. It claims that the ahl-al-hadīths conceived of sound hadīths as providing what will define a historical certainty. It explores the extent to which the term ahl-al-hadīth, which means Partisans of Hadityh, was actually used by scholars. The two pitfalls when thinking about how the early Sunnis viewed the historical reliability of hadīths are noted.
Download Full Article PDF
Modern scholarship has accepted the ‘backgrowth of isnāds’ in the early
ḥadīth tradition, but this phenomenon did not occur without controversy
among classical Muslim scholars. Ḥadīth critics were aware that material
was being pushed back to the Prophet, a phenomenon they approached
through the lens of ziyāda (addition). By examining works devoted to criticizing
ḥadīth narrations (`ilal) from the 3rd/9th to the 8th/14th centuries,
we will see that the original non-Prophetic versions of many ḥadīth survived
alongside their Prophetic counterparts well into the 5th/11th
century. More importantly, certain ḥadīth scholars from the 3rd/9th to the
7th/13th centuries believed that Prophetic reports in the canonical ḥadīth
collections were actually statements of other early Muslims. The position
of these critics, however, was marginalized in the 5th/11th century, when
mainstream Sunni jurists chose to accept the Prophetic versions categorically.
Although the jurists’ position became dominant in Sunni Islam,
criticism of the backgrowth of isnāds has continued in the work of select
ḥadīth scholars until today.
Download Full Article PDF