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Orientalists on Hadith from 1848 to 1950 by Fatma Kizil

Orientalists on Hadith from 1848 to 1950 by Fatma Kizil

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Orientalists on Hadith from 1848 to 1950 by Fatma Kizil
Orientalists on Hadith from 1848 to 1950 by Fatma Kizil

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THE VIEWS OF ORIENTALISTS ON THE HADITH LITERATURE
 Fatma KizilA CHRONOLOGICAL ANALYSIS (1848-1950)The question of the value of the hadith literature (sayings of the Prophet) as a legitimate source is abroad one in which orientalists, not only those working on hadiths, but also those in other areas,including Islamic law, Islamic history and the Quran, are interested. For this reason, the discussionhere needs to be limited according to some parameters. Focusing on the period between 1848 and1950 is appropriate, for it allows one to make a chronological analysis and is a period in whichleading orientalists produced their major works that shaped the view of the entire orientalisttradition on hadiths.In the West, hadith studies began to become an independent discipline rather than being a part of studies on Islamic history or the life of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in 1890 when the Hungarianscholar Ignaz Goldziher (1850-1921) published the second volume of his famous book,Muhammedanische Studien, in which he focuses on the hadiths. Therefore, any exploration of theorientalist view of the authenticity and sources of hadith literature must focus on the period thatstarts with Goldziher, although one also should pay attention to earlier studies as well.Prior to Goldziher, an important figure in the literature was Gustav Weil (1808-1889), who argued inhis Geschichte der Chaliphen that all the hadiths in al-Bukhari must be rejected. He was alsoskeptical of the authenticity of those verses in the Quran that speak of the Prophet as a mortal beingand those about the event of the Isra (the night journey - a miraculous event). Shortly after him,Aloys Sprenger (1813-1893) argued in his three-volume book Das Leben und die Lehre desMohammad, published between 1861 and 1865, that the hadith literature contains more authenticmaterial than fabricated events. Another orientalist who worked on the authenticity of the hadithliterature is William Muir (1819-1905). In the introduction to The Life of Mahomet, he proposed anumber of criteria to establish the authenticity of hadiths, thereby giving the first examples of theorientalist effort to establish a chronology for them. According to Muir, although narrators oftenmade distortions in hadith texts, the hadith literature largely contains historical facts. Finally, the lastname in the pre-Goldziher era that should be mentioned is that of Reinhart Dozy (1820-1883) withhis Het Islamisme (1863). Influenced by both Sprenger and Muir, Dozy argued that about half of thehadiths in al-Bukhari were authentic. For him, the fact that the writing of the hadiths occurred in thesecond century after the Hijrah was the reason why many fictitious hadiths to be included in theliterature. His work, which also involves the claim that the revelations were epileptic crises,"generated negative reactions from all circles of society for insulting religious values" (Hatiboglu,"Osmanli Aydinlarinca Dozy'nin Tarih-i Islamiyyet' ine Yoneltilen Tenkitler [Criticism Directed toDozy's History of Islam by the Ottoman Intellectuals], p. 202).Ignaz Goldziher, a prominent figure who is referred to by every orientalist working on the hadiths,was also skeptical about the hadith literature, but disagreed with Dozy on his view that at least half of the hadiths in al-Bukhari should be considered as authentic. Revealing his overall distrust of thehadith literature, he claimed that the great majority of the hadiths were products of the religious,historical and social conditions prevalent in the first two centuries of Islam. For him, this literaturecontains all kinds of competing political views. Although he sometimes implies that the hadith
 
literature might contain some amount of authentic material, he is not clear on this issue. Also, heclaims that the significance of the sunnah (practices of the Prophet) as a legitimate source hadgradually increased - a claim which would be taken up by later orientalists, particularly by Schachtand his followers, who argued that the prophetic traditions were not a reference source at thebeginning of Islamic history. Goldziher draws a picture of a Muslim society where the fabrication of hadiths was a widespread phenomenon, with people frequently producing fictitious hadiths forpolitical or other purposes. He argues that different groups would either make up many hadiths thatsupported their respective positions, or modify existing traditions to justify their views, or elsecensor the hadiths that had been adopted by others. He also accuses Muslim scholars of relyingsolely on the isnad (chain of transmitters) without paying attention to ‘obvious anachronisms' inhadith texts.The Dutch orientalist C. Snouck Hurgronje (1857-1936), a contemporary of Goldziher's, claimed, justlike the latter, that the hadith literature was a product of dominant groups in the first threecenturies of Islam, and thus it reflected their views. Both orientalists agree on the idea that differentgroups made up many hadiths and used them as a means to gain their objectives. Likewise, theyboth claim that the hadith literature contains many elements of the Old and the New Testament, aswell as Roman law. According to Hurgronje, when the Muslims scholars realized that these foreignelements had started to become a threat, they started sorting them out and eliminating those thatwere having a negative impact; however, they kept those elements that had become an integral partof the Islamic tradition, and then erased any sign that might have indicated their real source, callingthese retained traditions "hadith". Accordingly, Hurgronje asserts that the idea that the roots of these hadiths can be traced all the way back to the Prophet is completely false and that the life andteachings of the Prophet cannot be re-constructed based on these traditions - an assertion that is alogical consequence of his biased view of the hadith literature.Goldziher's claim that Muslim scholars could not notice the ‘obvious anachronisms' in hadith textswas also taken up by the Belgian orientalist Henri Lammens (1862-1937). According to him, since theMuslim ulema (scholarly class) largely confined their efforts to the critique of narrative chains (isnad)and paid insufficient attention to the internal/textual critique of the hadiths, they failed to noticelogical and historical impossibilities and anachronisms in the narrations. As on many points, heagrees with Goldziher about the allegedly fictitious nature of the traditions, and argues that Islamiclaw was very much influenced by Roman law. According to Lammens, elements borrowed fromforeign sources were not only falsely attributed to the Prophet and his Companions through thefabrication of hadiths, but they also had been completely assimilated into Islamic law, therebymaking it seem as if Islamic lae was an original and authentic legal tradition.Another orientalist scholar who takes the idea that Islamic law is an imitation of other systems asself-evident is David Samuel Margoliouth (1858-1940). Highly influenced by Goldziher and Muir,Margoliouth claims that the development of the hadith literature, as explicated in Goldziher'sstudies, should lead the researcher to be skeptical and to constantly ask the question, "what is thepossible reason for the fabrication of this particular hadith?" In addition to being influenced by hispredecessors, Margoliouth also had a considerable impact on subsequent orientalists, particularlyJoseph Schaht, and through him, the entire orientalist tradition. In this context, his most effectiveassertion is the idea that the concept of the "sunnah" was originally used to refer to pre-Islamiccustoms/traditions that had not been abolished by the Quran. For him, the attribution of the term
 
"sunnah" to the Prophet's sayings and deeds was a result of a slow and gradual process. One of thereasons behind this transformation, he argues, was the desire to prevent a potential anarchicalsituation that might be caused by the prevalence of the traditions and life styles of the differentgroups that were integrated into the Muslim world as a result of the expansion of Islam. Margoliouthsees the concepts of infallibility (ismah) and non-recited revelation (wahy ghayr matluw) as theoriesconstructed to justify the position of the Prophet's sunnah as a legitimate source of the law. Asimilar claim was made by Goldziher in the context of ghayr matluw revelation. Margoliouthmaintains that at the end of the process of justifying existing practices by referring them to theProphet, with these practices becoming the Prophet's sunnah and thus strengthening authority, al-Bukhari tried to sort out the hadiths with his strict rules; however, in the view of Goldziher theauthenticity of those traditions he considered to be reliable are still questionable.Another Western orientalist in the pre-1950 period is Josef Horovitz (1874-1931), who is known forhis studies on the seerah literature. However, as Horovitz himself remarks, it is not possible tocompletely separate the latter from the hadith literature. He tried to establish the chronology of theisnad by employing the methods of Ibn Ishak (85/704-151/768). According to Horovitz, the isnad firstemerged in the last quarter of the first century AH. Although this is an earlier date for the start of the isnad than that given by previous orientalists, Horovitz was still skeptical about the isnad interms of its role in establishing the ‘sources' of hadiths, unlike other orientalists, such as G. H. A.Juynboll, who traced the isnad back to the same date. Likewise, although Horovitz differs from hispredecessors on the issue of the chronology of the isnad, he occupies common ground with them interms of the assertion that Islam contains many elements from other religions and cultures. Hedescribes Islam as "an area where syncretism dominates."The same assertion was also made by the Dutch orientalist Arent Jan Wensinck (1882-1939), whowas a leading member of the famous Concordance project. A study on the Dutch orientalist traditionreports that while he was working on his PhD dissertation on Prophet Muhammad's relationshipswith the Jews in Medina, Wensinck realized the significance of the hadiths for Islamic theology, andthus started the Concordance project in order to make sure that the hadiths could be used moreefficiently in studies on Islam. He claims that the scope of the provisions of the Quran was limited tothe Medina context, and with the expansion of Islam beyond the Arabian Peninsula there emergedthe need for different moral and legal sources; these Muslims found in Roman and Jewish law,Christian ethics and asceticism, and Hellenism. Elements taken from these external traditions,according to him, compensated for the missing traditions, and they are contained in the hadithliterature. He further claims that this literature includes not only those elements borrowed from theabove-mentioned traditions, but also the hadiths fabricated by competing groups, as Goldziherargued before him. For this reason, Wensinck sees the hadiths as an important source for the historyof Islamic theology. Assuming that the Quran was authored by the Prophet, he claims that thehadiths were produced by Islamic society after him, and that this is the reason why they have beenso popular among Muslims.Another Western scholar working on the prophetic traditions, Alfred Guillaume (1888-1965), differsfrom his predecessors with his claim that the different ways in which the hadiths were fabricatedreflect the political and religious tendencies of competing groups. He also argues that only a few of the hadiths can belong to the authorities to whom they were attributed, based on mistakes made

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