Contested Avenues in Post-Classical Sunni Ḥadīth Criticism: A Reading through the Lens of al-Mughnī ʿan al-Ḥifẓ wa-l-kitāb

Journal of Islamic Studies 29 (2):149-180 (2018)

Abstract
This article analyses Sunni ḥadīth criticism by focusing on both its historical development and its reception in contemporary Muslim discourses on the authority of the Prophet’s Sunna. It argues that while ḥadīth criticism was an isnād-oriented elite practice relying on a close study of individual ḥadīths for roughly the first four centuries, new challenges arose to these major characteristics from the fifth/eleventh century onwards, including a growing concern to address the practical needs of a wider audience. Related to this, the role of the isnād was diminished or blurred and alternative methods of ḥadīth authentication were developed, particularly in the mawḍūʿāt literature, such as subordinating the ḥadīth to overriding rules and principles. Though these developments did not receive a warm welcome from mainstream ḥadīth scholarship, they have continued to form domains of tension and dispute among scholars well into modern times. Focusing on the writings of Muḥammad Zāhid al-Kawtharī and Abū Isḥāq al-Ḥuwaynī, two influential ḥadīth authorities of recent times, the article explores how ḥadīth criticism emerged as a fierce battlefield between two contemporary schools of Islamic thought in twentieth-century Egypt.
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DOI 10.1093/jis/etx079
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