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Author: Jonathan Brown

Abstract

Sunni Islam is at heart a cult of authenticity, with the science of Hadīth criticism functioning as a centerpiece designed to distinguish authentic attributions to the Prophet from forgeries. It is thus surprising that even after Hadīth scholars had sifted sound Hadīths from weak, mainstream Sunni Islam allowed the use of unreliable Hadīths as evidence in subjects considered outside of the core areas of law. This majority stance, however, did not displace minority schools of thought that saw the use of unreliable Hadīths as both a danger to social morality and contrary to the stated values of Islamic thought. This more stringent position has burgeoned in the early modern and modern periods, when eliminating the use of weak Hadīths has become a common call of both Salafi revivalists and Islamic modernists. This article explores and traces the history of the various Sunni schools of thought on the use of weak and forged Hadīths from the third/ninth century to the present day.

In: Islamic Law and Society
Author: Jonathan Brown

Abstract

Western scholars generally agree that early hadīth critics limited their authentication of hadīths to examining isnāds. The argument that these critics took the matn into account has relied on material of dubious reliability or on works produced after the formative period of the Sunni hadīth tradition. By providing examples of matn criticism from the 3rd/9th and 4th/10th centuries, I prove that Sunni hadīth critics did in fact engage in matn criticism; and I argue that these critics consciously manufactured the image of exclusive focus on the isnād in an effort to ward off attacks by rationalist opponents. By demonstrating a high correlation between the hadīths found in early books of transmitter criticism and those found in later books of forged hadīth with explicit matn criticism, I show that early critics engaged in matn criticism far more often than appears to have been the case, disguising this activity in the language of isnād criticism.

In: Islamic Law and Society
The Formation and Function of the Sunnī Ḥadīth Canon
Author: Jonathan Brown
The two 'Authentic' ḥadīth collections of al-Bukhārī and Muslim are the most famous books in Islam after the Qur'ān – a reality left unstudied until now. This book charts the origins, development and functions of these two texts through the lens of canonicity. It examines how the books went from controversial to indispensable as they became the common language for discussing the Prophet’s legacy among the various Sunni schools of law. The book also studies the role of the ḥadīth canon in ritual and narrative. Finally, it investigates the canonical culture built around the texts as well as the trend in Sunni scholarship that rejected it, exploring this tension in contemporary debates between Salafī movements and the traditional schools of law.
Author: Jonathan Brown

Abstract

Modern scholarship has accepted the 'backgrowth of isnāds' in the early hadīth tradition, but this phenomenon did not occur without controversy among classical Muslim scholars. Hadīth 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 hadīth narrations ('ilal) from the 3rd/9th to the 8th/14th centuries, we will see that the original non-Prophetic versions of many hadīths survived alongside their Prophetic counterparts well into the 5th/11th century. More importantly, certain hadīth scholars from the 3rd/9th to the 7th/13th centuries believed that Prophetic reports in the canonical hadīth 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 hadīth scholars until today.

In: Islamic Law and Society