The Hadith: Articulating the Beliefs and Constructs of Classical Islam (Critical Concepts in Islamic Studies)

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9780415473989: The Hadith: Articulating the Beliefs and Constructs of Classical Islam (Critical Concepts in Islamic Studies)

The Prophetic traditions of Islam, which are commonly referred to as the hadiths (literally: ‘reports’), preserve the sum and substance of the utterances, deeds, directives, and descriptive anecdotes connected with the life of the Prophet Muhammad and his Companions. Together with the Qur’an, the hadiths provide the religion of Islam with its principal scriptural sources.

The collection features an accessible and informative introduction which presents an outline of the significance of the hadiths within the religious tradition while also reviewing classical scholarship devoted to the literature of the traditions; moreover, the introduction decisively sets into context the academic debates and arguments which are fleshed out in the articles selected. It also charts developments in the academic study of hadiths, summing up the current state of the field and features a detailed bibliography listing primary classical sources germane to the field of Prophetic traditions together with recent research monographs and articles devoted to the subject.

This Major Work provides an authoritative collection of the seminal research articles produced by western academic scholarship on the subject of the hadith over the past century, including recent papers on the subject. In bringing together the finest examples of scholarship devoted to the hadith and the classical literature that surrounds it, these volumes provide an indispensable reference resource for academics, research institutions, governmental organizations, and those with a general interest in Arabic and Islamic Studies, Religious Studies, Arabic Cultural Studies, and Middle East History.

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About the Author:

School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London, UK


The Ḥadīth. Edited by Mustafa Shah. Critical Concepts in Islamic Studies. London:

Routledge, 2009. Pp. 1,704. £650.00.

This is a magnificent collection of essays on the subject of ḥadīth scholarship. The

Routledge series of ‘Critical Concepts in Islamic Studies’, for those who are

unfamiliar with the format, marks an important new initiative in the publication of

material on the subject. Unlike the Variorum presentation with which most of us have

long been familiar, the articles in these volumes are completely re-typeset in a

common format and each volume is continuously paginated, all of which gives a

much greater homogeneity and elegance to the whole. All the collections amount to

between three and six full-length volumes. Among the other collections in the series

which are likely to be of interest to students of early Islamic studies are Colin Turner’s

collection on The Koran, Paul Luft and Colin Turner on Shi’ism, and Lloyd Ridgeon’s

two collections on Sufism and Islam and Religious Diversity.

In four volumes Mustafa Shah has collected no fewer than 61 papers reflecting many

different approaches to the subject. All the papers come from the Western academic

tradition and all of them are in English. The editor stresses that they are all peer

reviewed, though quite how far the term ‘peer review’ can really be used of

Goldziher’s work is debatable. Suffice it to say that all the articles and chapters (for

some of the pieces chosen are particularly important sections from full-length books)

are by established scholars in the field, and I think it is fair to say that every single one

of them makes important and relevant points. There are, so to speak, no weak links.

The material is arranged by topic and themes, though, as Shah points out, many of the

themes overlap and many of the articles deal with more than one of them. Volume I is

concerned with ‘Codification, Authenticity’, Volume II with ‘Isnāds: Transmission,

Terminology and the Issue of Dating’, Volume III with ‘Scholarship, Perspectives and

Criticism’ and Volume IV with ‘Narrative, Context and Content’. In addition to the

‘Introduction’, there is also a chronological table which arranges all the articles by

date of publication, ranging from Goldziher in 1889–90 (although his ‘Ḥadīth and

Sunna’ is presented in Stern’s 1967 English translation) to Jonathan Brown’s ‘How do

we know early ḥadīth critics did matn criticism and why is it so hard to find?’ of 2008.

This is a long time span, though it is worth noting that Goldziher’s contribution is the

only one which dates from before 1950, and the collection as a whole demonstrates

the vast explosion of scholarly interest in ḥadīth studies which was characteristic of

the second half of the twentieth century and shows no signs of diminishing in the


The book opens with a substantial introduction by the editor. Considering the wealth

and variety of material in the four volumes, his summary is a masterpiece of clarity

and erudition, introducing the reader to all the main themes of the collection. In

particular, he takes Albert Berg’s division of scholars of ḥadīth into two separate

camps, the sceptical and the sanguine, and sees how different scholars fit into it.

There can be no doubt that the overriding theme in the collection, and indeed in the

whole scholarly discussion, is the question of dating and authenticity. The first paper

sets the agenda. It is often said that all Western philosophy is essentially footnotes to

Plato: it sometimes seems as if all of academic Islamic studies are essentially footnotes

to Goldziher. It was his essay, reproduced here, which raised for the first time the idea

that the ḥadīth as we have them now were essentially generated in the second/eighth

and third/ninth centuries to propagate a vision of Islam which had little if anything, to

do with the Islam of the time of the Prophet. Few now would accept his image of the

Umayyads as arrogant and godless tyrants, indeed recent scholarship has tended to

enhance the reputation of ʿAbd al-Malik, among others, as a serious figure in the

development of Islamic law, but his view of the elaboration of ḥadīth as a deliberate

construct of learned men still commands some support. And in the footsteps of

Goldziher comes, of course, Schacht with his almost blanket dismissal of Prophetic


In the other, sanguine, camp Shah places Nabia Abbott, a brilliant textual historian

whose work is sometimes underestimated, Fuat Sezgin and Mustafa Azami, all of

whom stress the antiquity of the earliest written ḥadīth. At the same time he points out

that the debate has in many ways moved beyond this sharp polarisation: Harald

Motzki, for example, seeing the apparent dichotomy as far too clear cut to reflect the

reality of many much more nuanced points of view. At the same time Gregor

Schoeler’s work on the complex interaction between the oral and the written has

added a whole new element to the discussion.

One of the great strengths of a collection like this is that it enables the student or the

scholar approaching the subject for the first time to gain an overview of the whole

question or rather of all the questions. Shah’s choice of papers means that we can see

all the great names at their most cogent, staking out their territory clearly, without the

reader having to track down rare and obscure articles in hard-to-find periodicals. And

there are pieces on subjects that are all too easily overlooked, like Maribel Fierro’s

essay on the introduction of ḥadīth into Andalusia. The final volume moves away

from issues of dating and reliability into interesting discussions of the more literary

aspects of ḥadīth narratives, with chapters on narrative discourse and modern literary

theory, ethics and aesthetics in ḥadīth, dreams as means to evaluate ḥadīth and a

feminist interpretation of knowledge, women and gender in the ḥadīth.

This is an excellently chosen and carefully edited selection of papers. In many ways it

is a much better introduction to ḥadīth studies than any single text book could be,

because it gives an insight into the whole scope of the subject, not just the well

rehearsed variety of opinions on dating and authenticity, but the wide variety of

different approaches with which people come to the subject.


Journal of Quranic Studies, volume 13, no 1, 2011

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