ʿAdālat al-Ṣaḥāba: The Construction of a Religious Doctrine

in Arabica
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This article investigates the development of ʿadālat al-ṣaḥāba, a central doctrine in Sunnī orthodoxy that stresses the integrity of the Prophet Muḥammad’s Companions. The examination of relevant Sunnī works indicates that the doctrine crystalized in the 5th/11th century, by which time the basic tenets of the doctrine had been developed. These include, among other things, the definition of Companions and their essential role in securing the authenticity of Islam. Furthermore, it was around that time that medieval Sunnī scholars developed an epistemological—rather than a historical or theological—basis for the doctrine. Establishing the integrity of the Companions during the Prophet’s lifetime on the presumption of innocence that is further confirmed by textual evidence, they argued that good Muslims must continue to accept that integrity given the lack of conclusive evidence that they lost it at a later time, particularly when they participated in civil wars. I argue that this epistemological ground was furnished by Murğiʾism, as the examination of some Murğiʾī texts demonstrates.1

ʿAdālat al-Ṣaḥāba: The Construction of a Religious Doctrine

in Arabica




Al-BuḫārīĞāmiʿ p. 897 (3649).


Ibn QutaybaTaʾwīl p. 340-2.


Ibn al-ṢalāḥMuqaddima p. 486-7.


Ibn KaṯīrIḫtiṣār p. 128.


Cook“Activism” p. 16.


I.H. InalThe Presentation of the Murğiʾa in Islamic LiteratureUnpublished PhD DissertationUniversity of Manchester2002 p. 52. Two views on the issue of the definition of faith were attributed to al-Ašʿarī. Inal points out that in many of his works al-Ašʿarī defined faith as the Ḥanbalīs did whereas in Kitāb al-Lumaʿ he defined it as taṣdīq (belief ) only similar to the Ḥanafī-Murğiʾīs.


A.J. WensinckThe Muslim Creed: Its Genesis and Historical DevelopmentCambridgeCambridge University Press1932 p. 49; W.M. Watt The Formative Period of Islamic Thought Edinburgh Edinburgh University Press 1973 p. 134. Watt [“The Doctrine of Īmān in Islamic Theology” Der Islam 18 (1967) p. 5] argues that the issue of īmān had to do with membership in the Muslim community. By asserting the equality of all people as believers the aim was to assert their equality as full members of the community in terms of rights and duties. Faith therefore cannot increase or decrease.


Cook“Activism” p. 16. M.A. Amir-Moezzi (Le Coran silencieux et le Coran parlant: Sources scripturaires de l’islam entre histoire et ferveur Paris CNRS 2011) has recently examined how early Šīʿī scholars perceived the schisms as part of a grand conspiracy led by most Companions of the Prophet Muḥammad to undermine Islam by usurping ʿAlī’s right as the legitimate political and religious leader of the umma (for this see the author’s discussion of the Kitāb al-Saqīfa attributed to Sulaym b. Qays [d. ca 76/695-6] p. 27-61 and passim). To that end these Companions or the hypocrites whom the Qur’ān mentions were willing to do anything including altering the text of the Qurʾān itself by for example removing explicit references to ʿAlī and his successors or forging ḥadīṯs and falsely attributing them to the Prophet (see for example p. 84-9). For a variety of reasons these early Šīʿī views gave way gradually in the 4th/10th century to a Twelver Šīʿī ‘theological-juridical rationalism’ that avoided questioning the authenticity of the official ʿUṯmānic version of the Qurʾān and toned down or avoided previous views on the integrity of the Prophet’s Companions (p. 119).


WattFormative p. 124.


For this see Madelung“Murdjiʾa”EI 2 and Watt Formative p. 119-43 especially p. 128 where he says that “as opponents of the divisive tendencies of both Šīʿites and Ḫāriğites all these early Murğiʾites were forerunners of the Sunnites and deserve to be honoured as such.” For the historical relationship between Murğiʾism and Ḥanafism see W. Madelung “The Early Murğiʾa in Ḫurāsān and Transoxania and the Spread of Ḥanafism” Der Islam 59 (1982) p. 32-9. Inal (Presentation p. 179-92) describes several techniques that Sunnī scholars used to deal with this. Some of them admitted the similarity between Sunnī and Murğiʾī views. Al-Māturīdī (d. 333/944) and Abū l-Muʿīn al-Nasafī (d. 508/1114) found no difficulty in attributing Murğiʾī views to Abū Ḥanīfa the eponymous founder of their legal school. However the former distinguished between good and bad Murğiʾīs (ibid. p. 153). Ibn Taymiyya distinguished between the Murğiʾīs of the jurists (murğiʾat al-fuqahāʾ) and extremist Murğiʾīs (al-murğiʾa l-ġulāt) (ibid. p. 119) and al-Šahrastānī between orthodox and heterodox Murğiʾīs (murğiʾat al-sunna wa-murğiʾat al-bidʿa) (ibid. p. 91). Other scholars strove to deny any affinity between Sunnism and ‘heretical’ Murğiʾism either by avoiding discussing Murğiʾī views while discussing their own (ibid. p. 166) or by presenting an extremist Murğiʾī sect as representative of all Murğiʾīs (Watt “The doctrine of īmān” p. 4 where he points out that “later Sunnite heresiographers finding the name ‘Murğiʾite’ widely used did their best to describe a sect of Murğiʾa who were heretical from the Sunnite standpoint but in fact they can only produce one or two influential figures who went to extremes on one point or another”). Ibn Taymiyya was aware of how polemics against other sects created false presentations of their creeds: “Scholars rely on rumours in their pronouncements and in attacking so-called heretics. They do not rely on what these heretics themselves say. The result of all this is that they wrongly attribute to these groups opinions they in fact do not hold.” For example he observes that “the claims that for the Murğiʾa religion (dīn) and belief (īmān) are the same and that īmān is [only] confession by the tongue are false and stem from the false method of dealing with the Murğiʾa” (ibid. p. 120-1). This was made possible by and may actually explain the fact that a single definition of Murğiʾism can hardly be discerned from Sunnī sources (ibid. p. 213; Watt Formative p. 73). Heretical Murğiʾism was thus a Sunnī construction. “Murğiʾism was indeed not generally considered as heretical among the traditionists despite the vigorous efforts of the ‘followers of Ibn Masʿūd’ to brand it as such. Only in the 3rd/9th century was Murğiʾism completely suppressed in Sunnī traditionalism” Madelung argues (“Some reflections” p. 241). Watt (“The Doctrine of īmān” p. 4) adds that Murğiʾism was initially branded heresy “from a Ḫāriğite or Muʿtazilite standpoint; and it is only from such a standpoint that Murğiʾa in general are heretics.”


InalPresentation p. 147.


InalPresentation p. 170 and 174. See also Madelung “Murdjiʾa” EI2; and Watt Formative p. 119-43.


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