Category Archives: Uncategorized

How to Study Tafsir

Sadly, Quranic studies in general, and tafsir in particular, are often the weakest parts of the curricula of Islamic schools, institutes and universities. What follows is a suggestion on how to study this noble science.

As with all disciplines in Islamic studies, they are interrelated as part of a holistic curriculum. Thus, to truly benefit from tafsir, one must also study related sciences, especially lugha, nahw, sarf, balaghah, usul al-fiqh, and sirah. So, as one completes the elementary stage, one should have also completed elementary study in these fields too. This is very important so as to not leave any gaps in one’s understanding.


The objective at this stage is to study completely an abridged and easy tafsir that gives one a general understanding of the Quran. This is a vital stage as it introduces the science of tafsir to the beginner. It must be emphasised that the book one chooses must be studied cover to cover, without getting preoccupied with the troublesome aspects (variant readings, conflicting interpretations, linguistics, etc.) of each ayah.

Tafsir al-Muyasir, al-Muntakhab fi Tafsir al-Quran al-Karim, and the recently published al-Mukhtasar fi al-Tafsir by Markaz al-Tafsir all give the general meaning of each ayah, without explaining each and every word. At first glance, this might seem to be a deficiency, as one would expect to have each word explained, but these works serve as excellent starting points in getting the gist of an ayah before further and deeper investigations. A student should be able to explain the general meaning of each ayah. A committee of scholars worked for years on each of these and one engaged with tafsir can really appreciate the efforts, as they present the most accurate interpretation of each ayah summarised in contemporary Arabic.

To compensate for the lack of vocabulary explanation in the aforementioned books, one should also add a work that defines the ambiguous words (gharib al-Quran) such as Kalimat al-Quran: Tafsir wa Bayan by Hasanayn Muhammad Makhluf. A similar work is al-Siraj fi Gharib al-Quran by al-Khudayr. Both of these contemporary works are easily arranged by ayah sequence. A more classical work is the excellent Tafsir Gharib al-Quran by Makki al-Qaysi, sometimes printed with the title al-‘Umdah. A simple classical work arranged like a dictionary is Tuhfat al-Arib by the famous grammarian and exegete Abu Hayyan.

One might ask, what about Tafsir al-Jalalayn by al-Mahalli (d.864) and al-Suyuti (d.911)? Whilst a short abridgement, it is not suitable for beginners because it has many difficult passages covering technical linguistic issues and variant readings (qira’at) that need further commentary and explanation. It assumes a certain level of learning on behalf of the reader. This is clear to anyone who has studied it. Yet, if any tafsīr is included in a curriculum, it is usually this one. The truth is that it more suitable for a higher level review for scholars and teachers, to be read alongside its hawashi, such as those by al-Jamal (which is excellent) and al-Sawi (abridged from the former). Its fame, in part, owes to being including in the Azhar curriculum over the centuries, where in previous times the students were much more grounded in linguistics and variant readings than they are today. If one, however, has been trained and has good grounding in linguistics and variant readings then it is an excellent choice.

A much more suitable pre-modern work (by a contemporary of al-Suyuti) for the elementary level is Jami’ al-Bayan by Muhammad b. ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Iyji al-Shafi’i (d.905), which is a very clear and concise summary of the great works. As he states in his introduction, he wrote his tafsir as he felt there was a need for something like it, as aspirations had lowered and abilities weakened in his time for the study of the classics. He heavily relies on Tafsir Ibn Kathir and Tafsir al-Baghawi for validating narrations, and depends only on hadiths found in the canonical Six Books of Hadith. His stated main sources, in addition to the aforementioned, are al-Wasit by al-Wahidi, Tafsir al-Nasafi, al-Kashaf by al-Zamakhshari with the following three glosses: Hashiyat al-Tibi (highly regarded by al-Suyuti and Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani), Hashiyat al-Kashf by Siraj al-Din ‘Umar al-Thani, and Hashiyat al-Taftazani. The final work upon which he relies is Tafsir al-Baydawi. He uses expressions to indicate authorities, such as saying ‘or’ (aw) between statements to indicate the Salaf (i.e. the Companions and Followers), and saying ‘it is said’ (qila) for the views of the later exegetes. It is an excellent tafsīr for beginners as it prepares one well for future study.

Other easy classical commentaries suitable for the beginner include Tafsir Ibn Abi Zamanin al-Andalusi (d.399), by the famous early Maliki master, which is abridged from Tafsir Yahya b. Sallam (d.200).

A popular contemporary work among my teachers and peers is Aysar al-Tafasir by Abu Bakr al-Jaza’iri, which was written after the president of the Islamic University of Medina specifically asked him to write a tafsīr that resembles Tafsīr al-Jalālayn, but with a Salafī agenda, which could replace the former in institutions of religious education. It is based on Tafsīr al-Ṭabarī, Tafsīr al-Jalālayn, Tafsīr al-Marāghī and al-Saʿdī’s Taysīr al-Karīm al-Raḥmān.

However, I personally much prefer Safwat al-Tafasir by al-Sabuni. It is quite similar to al-Iyji’s tafsir in that it is based on the classical commentaries. It focuses on introducing each surah, explaining vocabulary (al-lughah), highlighting subtleties (latifah), benefits (fawa’id), places verses in context in relation to others (al-munasabah), causes of revelation (asbab al-nuzul), and rhetorical devices (al-balaghah). I would venture as far as to say that it is the best introductory tafsir written by a living scholar. Some of the criticisms against it by contemporaries in Arabia are exaggerated and do not affect its overall value.

It is important at this stage to be consistent. One should plan well and designate a set amount to study each week, sticking to it till one completes the task. A manageable amount is to read half a juz a week, or the tafsir of about a page from the Mushaf al-Madinah a day. In this manner, one will have completed the basic tafsir of the Quran in approximately one year.


The objective at this stage is to familiarise oneself with multiple aspects of tafsir, especially concerning the explanation of words and the various narrations regarding each ayah, without striving to find which is preponderant (tarjih) nor being too concerned when different statements are attributed the same authorities, such as Ibn ‘Abbas

This level is the beginning of specialization. One moves beyond having a general picture about each ayah that presents only one meaning and moves towards exegetical methodology (usul al-tafsir) and the various statements of the exegetes (aqwal al-mufassirin).

It is important that one understands exegetical methodology, the causes of different opinions, the categories of interpretation, the rules of interpretation, the rules of giving preponderance (tarjih), knowing the nomenclature of the exegetes, knowing the variant readings (qira’at), causes of revelation (asbab al-nuzul), abrogation (al-nasikh wa al-mansukh), etc.

Thus, one should read works that address such issues, taking care to memorise to various views of the early exegetes.

Zad al-Masir by Ibn al-Jawzi is a good intermediate tafsir that concisely presents the various opinions without selecting the preponderant view. It was designed as an intermediate tafsir to give basic tools to student before going into depths. It is both comprehensive and concise. One may use it to build upon al-Iyji’s work by determining who said what about each ayah.

Tafsir Ibn Juzayy is another excellent intermediate work.

Gharib al-Quran by Ibn Qutaybah is a highly influential work that is quoted by many of the classical works such as those by al-Tabari, al-Qurtubi, and al-Razi. It is relatively brief and is the best place to begin when looking for the meaning of some of the more ambiguous words. Due to its conciseness, I prefer it to similar, but more expansive, works such as Majaz al-Quran by Abu ‘Ubaydah and Ma’ani al-Quran by al-Farra’.

One might ask, for the intermediate level, what about Tafsir al-Baydawi? Whilst this is a very popular commentary that is still studied (in part not in whole) in some institutes, it is not suitable even for intermediate students. It is a difficult book as is clear from reading and cannot be fully understood without further commentary. It attracted more than 2,000 marginal glosses (hawashi), the most famous by al-Tibi, as scholars grappled to understand and engage with certain passages. Why such a large number, you might ask? It was later adopted and promoted in the curriculum of the Ottoman Empire by Shaykh al-Islam Abu al-Su’ud and ratified by Sultan Sulayman. Its standing grew to such an extent that certain teaching positions were only given to someone who had written a gloss on it. This partly explains why it has attracted a huge amount of glosses in manuscript. It is, by far, the most popular tafsir among scholars of the later pre-modern period (‘asr al-muta’akhirun). It is a Sunni refinement of Tafsir al-Zamakhshari, removing the Mu’tazali arguments, whilst retaining its linguistic discussions, which are somewhat perplexing to students, and even many teachers, today due to the paucity of contemporary understanding of Arabic linguistics. Again, as with Tafsir al-Jalalayn, this is a book for experts to review.


At this stage one starts to address to issue of preponderance (tarjih) with the aim that the student should know which view is most correct about what is said about each ayah, as well as the strongest non-preponderant views, as these have the possibility of also being correct. One should research issues in the major references and practically apply the methodologies, focusing on the specialised features which distinguish each exegete, be that language, fiqh, variant readings, etc.

The best references for seeking the preponderant views in vocabulary and narration are: al-Tabari, Ibn ‘Atiyyah, Ibn ‘Ashur, Abu Hayyan, al-Razi, and al-Raghib.

Tafsir al-Tabari – all knowledge of tafsir has its foundation in this book, as it shows one how to deal with: reconciling the variant opinions of the commentators, interplay with other ayat, deduce rulings, etc. in order to establish the correct meaning.

Tafsir Ibn ‘Atiyyah  pays great attention to establishing the preponderant view (tarjih) from the sayings of the Salaf (the first three generations), and it helps to train the student in tarjih for other narrations not addressed by Ibn ‘Atiyyah. It was highly regarded by Ibn Khaldun and Ibn Taymiyyah due to its extensive and meticulous research, summarising the formative tradition with the most accurate narrations, and was influential on later exegetes such as al-Qurtubi, Abu Hayyan, Ibn Kathir, and al-Shawkani.

Ibn ‘Atiyyah sources include the premier books of his time in tafsir, qira’at, fiqh, and lugha with the aim of tafsir the pinnacle of Islamic studies. He is unique for his time in that he included nothing of the Isra’iliyat common in tafsir books.

When Ibn Atiyyah quotes from earlier scholars, he looks very critically at what they say, making sure that what he quotes is correct and accurate. In this way, he was able to purge any interpretation that sought to give Qur’anic words or statements anything other than their immediate meanings. He rejects all suggestions that Qur’anic statements may have hidden meanings that could be known only to an elite group of people. To him, the Qur’an is God’s book addressed to all mankind in a direct and straightforward manner. This does not allow any room for hidden meaning.

Ibn Atiyyah explains his methodology stating: “I move in this commentary according to the word order of every verse, explaining its ruling, grammatical position, linguistic function, meaning and pronunciation in different methods of recitation.” Thus, he tackles every word of the Qur’an, according to its word order, without moving from one aspect to another until he has completed its discussion. Thus, he finishes with its linguistic function before speaking about its meaning, and then moves on to its pronunciation. However, he attaches great importance to grammar and linguistics, which makes his book an authority on the subject. This is very logical because it is the key to understanding the Qur’an.

When he speaks of the legal implication of verses and sentences, Ibn Atiyyah does not confine himself to his school of Fiqh, which is the Maliki school, nor does he always support the views of his school. He weighs up the evidence supporting each view and gives greater weight to other views when they have more solid basis. When he discusses a point, he gives it his full attention, treating it fully and arriving at whatever conclusion he determines before he moves on to another point. This keeps his reader focused, able to grasp the subject matter, without being distracted by side issues. Furthermore, Ibn Atiyyah does not discuss in any great detail the finer elements of the Qur’anic style or imagery. It is noticeable that he tries to take Qur’anic words in their real sense, wherever this is possible. Thus, he limits the allegorical scope of Qur’anic texts. Besides, this approach makes him disinclined to include philosophers’ views or scholastic discourse. This adds to the merit of his commentary.

Tafsir Ibn ‘Ashur, al-Tahrir wa al-Tanwih (The Verification and Enlightenment), is in my view by far the greatest tafsīr of the last century. I believe that if any modern tafsīr work is still read in centuries ahead, it will be this one. Yet, it has largely been overlooked, having been overshadowed by modernist works by the likes of Rida and Qutb. However, unlike many 20th century exegetes, Ibn ‘Āshūr was firmly grounded in the classical tradition, hailing from a scholarly aristocratic family of judges. The distinguishing feature of his tafsīr is his identification of the ta’lil, or rationale as well as underlining the maqasid, or objectives. He also highlights rhetorical devices and reconciling different views. It gives one a solid foundation in tafsir.

It was published between 1956 and 1970 and was the fruit of a lifetime of scholarship of the highest order.

He is critical of most tafāsīr in that they are dependent on previous works, basically gather what are dispersed among the abridged and extensive tafāsīr. My own readings support this observation too. There are certain works that are so original and pioneering that they influenced many subsequent works to the extent that one finds entire passages copied. Al-Zamakhsharī’s tafsīr is a prime example. Most post-Zamakhsharī linguistic tafāsīr cannot avoid engaging with it.

Ibn ‘Āshūr goes on to state the most important exegetes in his view:

  • al-Zamakhsharī
  • Ibn ʿAṭiyyah
  • al-Rāzī
  • al-Bayḍāwī, which he says is a summary of al-Zamakhsharī and al-Rāzī in a wonderful achievement
  • al-Ālūsī
  • The glosses on al-Zamakhsharī by al-Tibi, al-Qazwini, al-Qutb, and al-Taftazani
  • The gloss on al-Bayḍāwī by al-Khafājī
  • Abu al-Suʿūd
  • al-Qurtụbī
  • Ibn ʿArafah
  • al-Ṭabarī

What is most intriguing for me is that al-Zamakhsharī, a noted Mu’tazali, is listed first, as Ibn ‘Āshūr’s exegesis of 42:51 could draw criticism of I’tizal, even though it is presented as Ash’ari.

Ibn ‘Āshūr himself emphasizes that tafsīr is the art of expounding meaning and what can be deduced from it thereof. It is firmly grounded in the classical tradition, as can be deduced by his list of important tafāsīr, in focusing on linguistic analysis and Ibn ‘Āshūr’s mastery of Arabic allows him to make penetrating insights in his exegesis.

Ibn ‘Āshūr listed the following eight objectives (maqasid) for his tafsīr:

  1. Reforming Islamic education
  2. Explaining correct beliefs
  3. Defining Quranic law
  4. Clarifying the policy of the Islamic community
  5. Analyzing the history of ancient punished community
  6. Demonstrating sound Quranic methods of proof and deduction
  7. Moral development
  8. Demonstrating the miraculous nature of the Quran

Tafsir Abu Hayyan – is the apex of classical grammatical and linguistic tafsir and is the first point of reference in this regard. 

Tafsir al-Razi – excellent at solving problems and is one of the main references scholars keep coming back to, alongside al-Tabari and Ibn ‘Ashur. Ibn Taymiyyah once infamously stated that ‘in it is everything except tafsir!’ Many later scholars criticised this statement, as Tafsir al-Razi is extremely popular, for good reason. Rather, as some retorted, ‘in it is everything plus tafsir,’ indicating its encyclopaedic scope.

al-Mufradat fi Gharib al-Quran by al-Raghib al-Asfahani is the main reference for defining Quranic vocabulary. The definitions here overcome those in other works.


The objective of this stage is to read the major references and give preponderance based on the skills acquired in the previous stage.

How does one identify the major works? I personally check the listings of major scholars. The main references are Muhammad al-Zarqani (Z), Muhammad Husayn al-Dhahabi (DH), al-Fadl b. ‘Ashur (IA), Nur al-Din ‘Itr (I), Mustafa al-Bugha/Muhyi al-Din Mistu (B), Abdullah al-Juday’ (J), Ibrahim Rufaydah (R), Manna’ al-Qattan (Q), Musa’id al-Tayyar (T), and Muhammad al-Sabuni (S).

Ibn Ashur probably has the most specialized knowledge and is well-versed in the tradition, al-Dhahabi and al-Sabuni probably have the best overview, Rufaydah has good judgment in grammar, and Juday’ and al-Tayyar are probably the most insightful. I have highlighted those that are listed by seven or more authorities.

Muqātil (d. 150; the earliest preserved tafsīr) none listed but still important nevertheless

Yaḥyā ibn Sallām (d. 200) IA

al-Farrāʾ (d. 207) R

Abū ʿUbaydah (d. 209) R

al-Zajjāj (d. 311) R, Z

al-Ṭabarī (d. 311) (ma’thūr) IA, DH, R, Z, Q, J, B, I, T, S

Abū Mansụ̄r al-Māturīdī (d. 333) – the first major theological tafsīr IA

al-Naḥḥās (d. 338) R, J (I’rab) Z (nasikh mansukh)

al-Jasas (d. 370) ahkam J, S

al-Samarqandī (d. 375) ma’thur  DH, Z, Q, S

al-Thaʿlabī (d. 427) mathur IA, DH, S

Makki al-Qaysi (d. 437) J

al-Wāḥidī (d. 468) R, Z (basit), Z (asbab)

ʿAbd al-Qāhir al-Jurjānī (d. 471) a major linguistic tafsīr IA

Ilkiyā al-Harāsi (d. 504) J, S

al-Baghawī (d. 516) mathur DH, Z, J, S

al-Zamakhsharī (d. 538) a major linguistic tafsīr (with al-Jurjānī) IA, R, Q, B, I, S

Ibn ʿAṭiyyah (d. 542) – ma’thur masterpiece in tarjīḥ IA, DH, R, Q, J, T, S

Ibn al-Jawzī (d. 597) J, T

Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (d. 604) IA, DH, R, Z, Q, B, S

al-Qurtụbī (d. 671) R, Z, Q, J, B, S

al-Nasafī (d. 710) ra’y DH, R, Z, Q, I, S

al-Khāzin (d.725) DH, Z, Q, I, S

al-Naysābūrī (d. 728) – ra’y lists the qira’āt, DH, Z, S

Ibn Juzayy (d. 741) T

Abū Ḥayyān al-Gharnāṭī (d. 745) – the apex of grammatical tafsīr , DH, R, Z, Q, J, T, S

Ibn Kathīr (d. 774) – distinguished in ḥadīth DH, Z, J, B, I, T, S

al-Bayḍāwī (d. 791) IA, DH, R, Z, Q, J, I, S

Ibn ʿArafah (d. 803) IA

al-Thaʿālibī (d. 875) DH, R, I, S

al-Suyūṭī (d. 911)  al-Durr al-manthūr (and Tafsīr al-Jalālayn) DH, Z, Q, J, S

al-Khaṭīb al-Sharbīnī (d. 977) – ra’y gives tarjīḥ DH, R, Z, S

Abū al-Suʿūd (d. 982) IA, DH, R, Z, Q, I, S

al-Siyālkūtī (d. 1066) – best hashiya on al-Bayḍāwī, though incomplete IA

al-Khafājī (d. 1069) one of the best hawashi on al-Bayḍāwī IA, R

al-Shawkānī, (d.1250) both ma’thūr and ra’y R, J

al-Ālūsī (d. 1270) IA, DH, R, Z, Q, I, S

Ibn Ashur (d. 1393) the tafsīr of our age J, T


Posted by on July 6, 2015 in Books, Qur'an, Uncategorized


Reviews of Yasin Dutton’s Works

Yasin Dutton has some very interesting works concerning the history of the Maliki school. Here are some sharply contrasting reviews of those works.

Motzki’s review of ‘The Origin’s of Islamic Law’ can be found here:

Haddad’s review of ‘Original Islam’ follows:


By Yasin Dutton. London and New York: Routledge, 2007.
Pp. xiii + 219. ISBN10: 0-415-33813-1.
ISBN13: 978-0-415-33813-4 (HB).

For three quarters of its pages the translation of a 9th-century
outdated anti-Shafi`i work advocating the superiority of the Maliki
School – Intisar al-Faqir al-Salik li-Tarjih madhhab al-Imam al-Kabir
 by Shams al-Din al-Ra`i al-Gharnati (782-853), an obscure
Andalo-Egyptian grammarian whom Imam al-Sakhawi described as a good poet
who possessed “a sharp tongue and sharp manners” – Original Islam‘s
unoriginal material and real author are shanghaied by Arabic Studies
Senior Lecturer at the University of Cape Town Yasin Dutton (a disciple
of the Murabitun movement leader and Scottish writer `Abd al-Qadir
al-Sufi) and recast, with a provocative title, notes and prefatory
material, into an essentialist Murabitun manifesto of their
interpretation of the Maliki madhhab as the only real, “original” Islam.

Dutton prolongs his introductory murmurs against “The madhhabs today”
(p. 1-3) in the next section as well, “al-Ra`i and his Intisar” (p.
7-20) then proceeds to the translation proper, consisting in the
author’s introduction and five chapters:

1. “On giving preference to Malik.” This chapter – and al-Ra`i’s book –
begins with a forged hadith (p. 26): “Whoever honours an `alim is
honouring Allah and His Messenger, while whoever belittles an `alim is
making light of Allah and His Messenger.” Al-Ra`i goes on to say that
preferring the Shafi`i School is “mere claim and self-delusion” (p. 45).

2. “On giving preference to the Maliki madhhab” wherein (p. 72) is found
`Iyad’s attribution to Ibn Mahdi the statement that “The established
sunna of the people of Madina is better than hadith” (which Dutton’s
co-disciple Aisha Bewley cites as, “The Sunna of the people of Madina is
more excellent than hadith”) when the correct form of his statement is,
in `Iyad’s Tartib: “The older Sunna (al-sunnatu al-mutaqaddima, i.e.
before the murder of our liegelord `Uthman) of the people of Madina”
and, in Ibn `Abd al-Barr’s Tamhid: “Some (min) of the Sunna of the
people of Madina is better than the hadith” – meaning, said Ibn `Abd
al-Barr in al-Tamhid, “better than the hadith we have with us in Iraq.”

3. “Some points of [legal] difference with the other madhahib,” with the
expected fare of insufferable anecdotes over disagreements which only
specialists are fit to address and which otherwise are the fuel of
School fanaticism.

4. “Some examples of the prejudice witnessed by the author.” This
chapter of 18 pages is the mean-spirited core of the book and provides
the best clues to the suspect reasons behind its promotion. It is
written in the dhamm genre Ibn Hajar described as “how not to write” and
contains accusations of bigotry, ignorance or worse against some of the
greatest Imams in Islam and their followers.

5. “Some grammatical points where many specialists make mistakes.” The
section-title should be translated as “Some lexical points,” not
grammatical. This section is beyond the pale of the book and discusses
six extremely basic language mistakes that are common among non-jurists
(wudu’wadu’ etc.), to which al-Ra`i adds a rather pedantic, long
discussion of a seventh entitled “Reasons why the way many mu’adhdhins
call the adhân is kufr.”

The book ends with under 30 pages of notes, a glossary, biographical
notes, a bibliography and an index. Dutton nowhere clarifies his
abbreviations, so the reader has to divine that glyphs such as “Mad. B
i.61/M i.38″ refer, not to Bukhari and Muslim, but to the Mohammedia and
Beirut editions of `Iyad’s Tartîb al-Madârik.

Dutton’s introduction rehashes the familiar themes of the Murabitun
agenda: the practice of the people of Madina is the ur-School, a point
the Ummah, in its delusion, fails to grasp: “In mainstream Sunni
consciousness, there are four equally acceptable madhhabs.” The
following paragraphs twice repeat this lament of the perception of the
other Schools as “acceptable,” as if Dutton were diagnosing a disease.
The School of Madina, you see, “rather than being simply one among
others, is the source of all the others madhhabs!”

One can imagine what al-Awza`i, the Kufans, Ibn Mahdi and al-Tabari
would make of such a claim, not to mention the Imams of the Successors
such as `Alqama, Masruq, al-Sha`bi, al-Hasan al-Basri, Ibn Sirin,
al-Nakha`i, al-Sikhtyani… But at least five famous historical
responses do give it short shrift: al-Layth’s letter to Malik, the
latter’s subsequent replies to the Caliphs who attempted to turn his
Muwatta’ into law for the whole Ummah, al-Shafi`i’s refutation
literature, Ibn Hazm’s blunt Risala Bahira – and al-Ra`i’s own epigraph,
with its luminous declaration that “You must follow the Imams of the
Religion… all of them guide to the ultimate good, So follow whomever
you love among them… All of them are equal with regard to the
obligation to follow them
.” (my emphasis).

The equal validity of the Schools of those al-Dhahabi named “The
Imitated Ones” (al-muqalladun) in Islam is a truism of the Salaf and
their epigones, including the Malikis who named them “all paths to
Allah” (al-Shatibi in the Muwafaqat), hence the magnum opus of their
major latter-day authority, Ibn Rushd, was Bidayat al-Mujtahid
wa-Nihayat al-Muqtasid
, a comparative work. The great Tlemcenian Faqih
and Qadi Abu `Abd Allah al-Maqarri (d. 759) in his Qawa`id (rule 149)
even declared it “impermissible to demonstrate the superiority of one’s
madhhab with proofs the way the specialists of variance (khilâf) do,
except for training in presenting proofs… because whoever is
well-guided in presenting proofs and reaching conclusive arguments does
not ever see the truth as being the province of a single man.”

The first paragraph of Dutton’s introduction is an avalanche of errors.
He describes the Muwatta’ as the “final record in written form” of the
“essentials of the Islam established by the Prophet and his
Companions… inherited and transmitted as a fully functional social
pattern by the following generations.” Apart from the fact that even the
Malikis themselves do not derive Malik’s madhhab from the Muwatta’ as
much as they do from other sources, the claim that it formed a final
record is not only historically false, but doctrinally precluded as
well. The Prophet MHMD upon him blessings and peace, made it religion for
the Companions and Successors to travel out of Madina, ensuring that the
transmission of the essentials to posterity actually became a
decentralised and universal fact, not a local monopoly.

Dutton propounds the exclusivity of Madina as the only legitimate source
of the Religion (p. 1):

“We refer to Islam as it was first understood and practised by those who
lived in the place where the Prophet lived, at the time he lived there
and, following him, those who lived there at the time of the Rightly
Guided Caliphs and, following them, those who lived there at the time of
the remaining Companions and of the following two generations of the
Successors and the Successors of the Successors who were praised by the
Prophet in the hadith: “The best of you are my generation, then the ones
who follow them, then the ones who follow them.” (Emphasis mine)”

But anyone can see that the hadith quoted is about the early Muslims
regardless of place. Apart from this particular tendentious
interpretation, Dutton’s text is actually a turgid paraphrase of Malik’s
(93-179) argument in his famous letter to his contemporary al-Layth ibn
Sa`d (94-175), whom al-Shafi`i considered stronger in fiqh than Malik
(this was also the view of Ibn al-Mubarak, Sa`id ibn Abi Ayyub, and
Yahya ibn Bukayr while al-Darawardi put al-Layth even above Rabi’a,
Malik’s teacher).

Al-Layth replied with a brilliant epistle on variance in which he
reminded Malik that the Companions had differed among themselves, then
the Tabi’in with the Companions and among themselves, and so forth until
Ibn Shihab and Rabi’at al-Ra’i in Madina, who may give discrepant
answers to the same question and with whom many of the Madinans
themselves differed, including Malik. Al-Layth then listed many of the
great Companions praised by the Prophet, MHMD upon him blessings and peace,
and trusted by him and by the Rightly-Guided Caliphs, who had emigrated
out of Madina:

– in Syro-Palestine: `Ubayda ibn al-Jarrah, Khalid ibn al-Walid, Yazid
ibn Abi Sufyan, `Amr ibn al-`As, Mu`adh ibn Jabal, Shurahbil ibn Hasana,
Abu al-Darda’, Bilal ibn Rabah;
– in Egypt: Abu Dharr, al-Zubayr ibn al-`Awwam, Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas
(al-Suyuti documents 350 names in Durr al-Sahaba fi-Man Dakhala Misr min
– in Hims alone, seventy veterans of Badr;
– in Iraq: Ibn Mas`ud, Hudhayfa ibn al-Yaman, `Imran ibn al-Husayn, and
`Ali ibn Abi Talib.

Al-Layth then gave several examples in which the fatwa of the
non-Madinans showed more conformity to the first generations than the
practices (plural!) of Madina. Among those examples: the non-joining of
prayers in case of rain, unlike the fatwa of Madina; the non-receiving
of testimony with less than two male witnesses or one male and two
women, unlike the fatwa of Madina which allowed one male witness; the
disallowing of early payment of the full dowry, unlike the fatwa of
Madina wich allowed it even before death or divorce; and the strict
performance of khutba before the prayer for rain (istisqa’), unlike the
fatwa of Madina which put the prayer first, followed by the khutba.

Al-Layth’s reply evidently influenced Malik in his subsequent staunch
defense of madhhab differences before the Abbasid caliphs. Malik then
formulated, as narrated by al-Khatib al-Baghdadi in al-Ruwat `an Malik,
one of the fundamental principles of Ahl al-Sunna wal-Jamâ`a for all
times: “Commander of the Believers! The difference of the Ulema are a
mercy from Allah Most High to this Community. Each follows whatever is
considered correct by him, each is well-guided and each seeks Allah.”
Another version states that he said: “The Companions differed in the
Branches (al-furu’) and split into factions (tafarraqu), and each one of
them was correct in himself.” I have cited these and other testimonies
to Malik’s mature defence of variance in my recent Four Imams and Their
 and they are the best illustration of the chasm between the real
Malik and the Murabitun’s Malikism.

A fundamental misinterpretation by Dutton of the contrast between the
practice of Madina and the other Schools is his blurry understanding of
Malik’s phrase “This is more authentic than hadith” (p. 19). Through
Murabitun glasses, the phrase acquires absolute, supra-hadith overtones
to mean that the singular unwritten practice of the Madinans can amount
to a sunna not only without any transmitted hadith evidence, but “at
variance with a sound, authentic, impeccably narrated hadith, and even
one that [Malik] himself narrates”. Dutton adduces sadl, the hanging
loose of the arms in prayer, as the supposed evidence of this method. In
reality, Malik’s phrase never refers to the unqualified superiority of
practice over hadith but to the superiority of consensus to
lone-narrated hadith, a principle shared with all the Schools, just as
all the Schools agree with his teacher Rabi`a that “1,000 transmitting
from 1,000 is preferable to one transmitting from one.”

In any case, the pre-eminence of mass-transmitted practice, Madinan or
non-Madinan, over non-mass-transmitted Prophetic and Companion-reports
is based on criteria not exclusive to Malik but acceptable to other
Schools as well. Thus the requisite of consensus – as implied by
al-Layth’s reminder that the Prophet’s city was never a monolithic fiqh
entity – shows that by Madinan practice we really mean that particular
practice which mustered consensus among many Madinan practices, since
“Malik himself,” as the great Qadi Abu al-Walid al-Baji said in Ihkam
al-Fusul fi Ahkam al-Fusul
, “in numerous matters contravened the
positions of the People of Madina.”

As for the ruling of sadl related from Malik, he himself nowhere
stipulates that it is based on Madinan practice. Indeed, the notable
Maliki arguments in its defense – by al-Mahdi al-Wazzani, Muhammad
al-Khadir al-Shinqiti and Mukhtar al-Dawudi among others – are
hadith-grounded. Furthermore, another reliable narration from Malik
states that he held it Sunna that the hands be grasped (qabd), right
hand on top of left hand, or left wrist, or left forearm. This is
related from Malik by Mutarrif and Ibn al-Majishun in the Wadiha and is
the position of al-Lakhmi, Ibn `Abd al-Barr, Ibn al-`Arabi, Ibn Rushd in
the Muqaddimât, `Iyad – who considers it the Maliki Jumhûr position in
his Ikmâl – and others, in line with the totality of the Madhâhib
including the three Schools, Sufyan al-Thawri, Ishaq ibn Rahawayah, Abu
Thawr, Dawud al-Z.ahiri, and al-Tabari. Qabd is the correct Maliki
stance according to Ibn `Azzuz al-Tunisi, Muhammad al-Masnawi, Muhammad
ibn Ja`far al-Kattani, his student Ahmad al-Ghumari, Muhammad
al-`Imrani, Ibn Abi Madyan al-Shinqiti, and other Maliki authorities. A
third fatwa of Imam Malik – narrated by Ibn Nafi` and Ibn al-Majishun –
stipulates indifference (ibaha) in either case.

Dutton’s Malikism is a utopia of unproblematic sunna nomenclature in a
world menaced by two hobgoblins [fn1] straight from Orientalist constructs (p.
17-18): “the Iraqis’ penchant for exercising qiyas (analogy) to arrive
at new judgments in the absence of sufficient material in their existing
textual sources” on the one hand and, in contrast to this alleged
under-reliance, al-Shafi`i’s over-reliance on hadith, “subtly chang[ing]
the way that this sunna was to be understood… In other words, if one
has an authentic hadith, then that is what one has to follow.” Even
worse, al-Shafi`i changed the definition of ijma` away from its Madinan
denotation to a universal one (p. 18):

“Al-Shafi`i was also instrumental in a second redefinition…. Whereas
the Madinans had recognised an ijma` of the people of Madina as
authoritative, al-Shafi`i’s ijma` was to be an ijma` of all the Muslims
– or, at least, all the learned ones among them [a typically Orientalist
aside, since the Qur’an, Hadiths and Salaf before al-Shafi`i and Wael
Hallaq were born had already codified that the paradigmatic Congregation
are its mujtahid scholars, as confirmed by the Maliki al-Wansharisi in
his Mi`yar]. In other words, the idea of a “local” ijma`… was rejected
and a universal concept substituted.”


In reality, not only are the first foundations of Malik’s School the
Qur’an and the Sunna including Hadith (and not only Madinan practice!
“The claim that we do not accept reports except those accompanied by
Madinan practice is ignorance or a lie,” said `Iyad) but also:

(a) when Hadith provides stronger evidence than Malik’s madhhab, the
Malikis themselves leave the madhhab and follow the evidence. Such is
the method of Ibn `Abd al-Barr in the Tamhid, Ibn al-`Arabi in Ahkam
al-Qur’an, Ibn Rushd the Grandfather in the Muqaddimat and al-Bayan
wal-Tahsil, Ibn Rushd the Grandson in Bidayat al-Mujtahid, Ibn Abi Jamra
in Bahjat al-Nufus, and others among the major Maliki jurists;

(b) The point made by al-Shafi`i is irrefutable lexically and
doctrinally, namely that, “When I saw that Malik meant by the statement
‘this is Sunna’ the Sunna of the people of Madina, I refrained from
accepting that,” since, al-Subki explained in al-Ibhâj, “such a
statement, at face value, must mean the Sunna of the Messenger of Allah MHMD
upon him blessings and peace, as long as there is no proof that what is
meant is the Sunna of a country or some other meaning.” To call this “a
subtle change in the way this sunna is understood” shows ignorance of
the Prophet’s own usage, upon him blessings and peace. Moreover,
al-Shafi`i never stopped valuing, in his arguments, such expressions as
“the learned among the Madinans,” “those I trust among the Madinans,”
“the people of fatwa among the Madinans” etc.

(c) When qiyas and lone-narrated hadith clash, most of the Malikis give
precedence to qiyas and this is Malik’s position as stated by al-Qarafi
in Tanqîh al-Fusûl fil-Usûl, Ibn al-Qassar, and others. Such a
“penchant,”[fn2] then, does not hinge on any purported “absence of sufficient
material in their existing textual sources!”

(d) The consensus of the world’s regions (ijmâ` al-amsâr) is a
conclusive proof in Malik’s madhhab as stated at the very beginning of
the Maliki Qadi of Baghdad Ibn al-Qassar’s (d. 398) Muqaddima fi Usul
, and this is also agreed upon in the other Schools. As for the
preponderance of the consensus of the Madinans, al-Shafi`i never
rejected its canonicity since he says in the Risala (§1557): “What
musters agreement in al-Madina is stronger than isolated reports.” This
preference (tarjîh) is reiterated on his behalf by al-Zarkashi in
al-Bahr al-Muhit. Indeed, the shared position of the Three Schools is
the preponderance of pre-fitna Madinan practice – as related above from
Ibn Mahdi and as narrated by Ibn `Abd al-A`la from al-Shafi`i in Egypt.
Namely, what Malik specifically refers to as “having always been the
scholarly practice since the beginning in Madina” (al-ladhi lam yazal
`alayhi ahl al-`ilmi bi-baladina

Al-Shafi`i only rejected the exclusivity of such ijma`, hence the
misunderstanding `Iyad attributes to al-Ghazali and al-Sayrafi, who “say
that Malik says that it is only the consensus of the people of Madina
and not that of any others that should be considered, whereas this is
something that neither Malik nor any of his companions would ever have

Furthermore, `Iyad said that even the Malikis did not consider such
consensus a proof when it stemmed from intellectual striving (ijtihâd)
and inference (istidlâl).

Dutton mistranslates al-Ra`i’s title as “Help for the Needy Traveller in
Giving Preference to the Great Imam Malik” when the correct meaning is
“Help from the Needy Traveller,” a reference to the author himself, who
did not say nusrat, which would have had transitive force, but intisâr,
which is reflexive, so that the title is literally: “This Travelling
Pauper’s Support of the Argument for the Superiority of the School of
the Great Imâm Mâlik.”

GF Haddad


Posted by on December 1, 2013 in Uncategorized


A Review of Juynboll’s ‘Muslim Tradition’

“Muslim Tradition” expands upon the arguments of Joseph Schacht. As Schacht had proposed in the 1960s, Juynboll in the 1980s elaborated: that many Islamic traditions (Hadiths) were forged – so many, that the burden-of-proof for any given Hadith must rest upon the scholar making the assertion. Juynboll however fell into some of the same traps as Schacht had fallen into.

Juynboll’s book starts with an essay on the origins of the Hadith, as distinct from the origins of Islamic religious practice (Sunna). Much of this is based on Muslims’ own accounts of who did what “first”, the “Awwal” hadiths. From these, Juynboll sees Islamic law as not reliant upon hadith; where precedent was needed, the example of the Companions sufficed (and such an anecdote was not equipped with an “isnad” chain of authority). Under Umar II, there came to be hadiths; and afterward, there arose hadith-centres, in Egypt, Syria, the Hijaz and especially Iraq.

The next chapter sifts through these centres of hadith (and Sunna), and notes fundamental differences between the local judges’ attitude toward hadith. Egypt and Syria did not use hadith much. Madina did accept hadiths, but it did not *follow* those hadiths. Iraqian law at the other extreme relied heavily upon hadiths – especially Baghdad, which, as we know, was founded later than were Kufa and Basra and so *could not* rely upon precedent.

Then Juynboll goes for the jugular of the Hadith-based Sunna – the most famed “well-attested (mutawaatir)” traditions. Juynboll proves that these traditions are frauds; ergo, mutawaatir is invalid as a means to prove a hadith. The chapter after that looks at Muslims’ own critiques of the Hadith – mainly from Ibn Hajar’s Tahdhib – and concludes that some transmitters have been pulled apart to become duplicates with the same name (Ikrima), and that others were originally multiple people with the same name but have been amalgamated (“Zuhri”).

The last chapter, almost but not quite a conclusion, is a rambling essay that really should have been organised better. As best I can tell, it first sifts through how Ibn Hajar’s attitude differs from that of another Rijal author, Abu l-Qasim. It digresses into a list of hadith collections, then critiques the musnad of Abu Hurayra and ends by restating Schacht’s common-link theories.

So, this book almost could have been written by Schacht himself. It revives Schacht’s skepticism particularly of the Nafi < Ibn Umar chain, which chain is critiqued pp. 142-3. This book also follows Schacht in style: in that, where the book must make a digression on some minute point that cannot wait for its own journal article or appendix, the book inlines the point into the main text but offset.

Since the 1980s, we have had three decades to digest this book’s claims – and Western Islamic scholarship has controverted it strongly. One notably trenchant critique underlies SC Lucas’ book “Constructive Critics”.

Lucas in his own work has offered some valuable correctives to Juynboll that are worth reprinting here. Lucas rebutted Juynboll’s identification of Muslim b al-Hajjaj’s opponents (Juynboll, 168). Juynboll thought that Muslim intended Karabisi and the Jahmites, but Lucas (p. 12 n. 52) pointed out that Dhahabi said that Muslim intended no less than Bukhari and the latter’s teacher Ali Ibn al-Madini. “Muslim Tradition” asserted that the Islamic doctrine of the sahaba being honest was Ibn Abi Hatim’s (194-5). Lucas credited Waqidi (267-8); with reference to Waqidi’s impassioned essay toward the end of Ibn Sa`d’s Tabaqat v. 2 (English speakers may read this in full in tr. Moinul-Haq, 482-4).

Lucas reports that Juynboll has offered negative opinions about Shu`ba b. al-Hajjaj, mostly elsewhere; but in “Muslim Tradition”, Juynboll says mainly that Shu`ba was gullible (177, 182). Lucas defends Shu`ba’s reputation generally in his fourth chapter. Indeed Lucas proposes to overthrow most of Juynboll’s first chapter (Juynboll pp. 39-76), in Lucas’s own eighth chapter. Around here should be mentioned, also, that Juynboll follows Schacht that the qadi Shurayh did not exist (87-88); this is rebutted in Motzki tr. “The origins of Islamic jurisprudence”, 167-9.

Lucas faults “Muslim Tradition” overall for relying upon too few sources (scil., Ibn Hajar: Lucas, 111-2). I can take Lucas’s and Motzki’s word for most of these critiques.

Lucas (368) and Motzki also undermine Juynboll’s extreme rejection of legalistic hadiths. Juynboll is not Schacht; “Muslim Tradition” nowhere pins the blame for the “hadith explosion” upon Shafi`i. Juynboll says only that the explosion itself was real. We could revert Lucas’s own arguments, on why Malik and his students canonised as few Prophetic traditions as they did, fewer than those hadiths which were contemporary with their work, and indeed fewer than those which they themselves re-transmitted outside the Muwatta. We could assert that the Malikis *already* were living in the Hadith Explosion – and resisted it. What went into the Muwatta was binding upon Madinans. As for what did not: hadith in the remainder might be worthy of transmission (elsewhere) as a *possible* authentic “musnad” / “marfu`” hadith, or as an archaeological artifact of a post-Muhammadan age; but it was not, for Malikis, *law*. Such a hadith was suspect. Juynboll notes that very Madinan tendency to transmit hadiths that Madinans refused to follow, in p. 89.

This book to be chaotic and dense, like much of Juynboll’s work, and is for specialists only; and even specialists should treat it with caution.

Although I have posted this earlier, I am attaching Jonathan Brown’s review of Juyboll for relevance:

Review of Juynboll’s Encyclopaedia of Canonical Hadith:

Encyclopedia of Canonical Hadith
By G. H. A. Juynboll (Leiden: Brill, 2007), xxxiii, 804 pp. Price HB $289.00. EAN 978–9004156746.

G. H. A. Juynboll’s contribution to the Western study of the hadith tradition has been substantial and groundbreaking. From his earliest book on twentieth-century Egyptian debates over the authenticity and proper function of hadith (The Authenticity of the Tradition Literature: Discussions in Modern Egypt, Brill, 1969) to a myriad of articles dealing with subjects from mass transmission (tawatur) to unnaturally old transmitters (muammarun) and controversial, ‘woman demeaning’ hadiths, Juynboll has investigated and elucidated a wide range of topics in the hadith universe. Basing his work on Schacht’s premise of using the isnad of a hadith to determine when it entered circulation, Juynboll developed an elaborate and idiosyncratic method of uncovering the ‘originator’ of a hadith—the person responsible for attributing a statement to the Prophet. In his case-by-case analysis of many hadiths, Juynboll developed a vocabulary for describing the different phenomena of isnad and matn fabrication. Juynboll’s method is revisited and explained in the introduction to this, his latest work (see pp. xvii–xxxiii).

In Juynboll’s own words, the Encyclopedia of Canonical Hadith is an effort to translate and analyse ‘most of the major traditions from the canonical collections’ (the publisher’s description on the back of the book says ‘all canonical hadiths’) of Sunni Islam. He attempts this by presenting chapters structured not according to hadiths, but rather around the hadith transmitters that Juynboll identifies as ‘Common Links’, those individuals responsible for forging and circulating hadiths. In the chapters on these transmitters, Juynboll discusses only select hadiths, basing his discussions, as he says, on a ‘sometimes merely tentative identification of their [the hadiths’] respective originators’. In these biographically organized chapters Juynboll then presents isnad analysis of selected hadiths ‘in an attempt to justify, or the case so being, speculatively postulate, the identification of that originator’ (p. xvii).

The biographical information and analysis of the careers and contributions of the individuals to whom Juynboll devotes chapters in this Encyclopedia are valuable. Entries range from Companions such as IbnAbbas (d. 68/686–88) to major hadith transmitters such as al-Zuhri (d. 124/742) and collectors like Malik b. Anas (d. 179/796) and even to the authors of the canonical Six Books. Scholars interested in these individuals, their place in the network of hadith transmission and evaluations of their scholarly activity would be well rewarded by consulting this work. Another useful feature of the book is the translations and explanations of the hadiths that Juynboll incorporates into his discussion.

It is in the promise suggested by its title, however, that the Encyclopedia of Canonical Hadith is unsatisfactory: it is specifically not an encyclopedia of canonical hadiths. Even in a book organized as a biographical dictionary, we would expect to find at least the bulk of the hadiths from the Six Books listed accessibly and with reference to Juynboll’s discussion of their circulation and originator. But this is not the case; indeed the book has no index of hadiths, either in Arabic or transliterated. One finds only an extensive index of technical terms, subjects, and proper names. Thus, in order to find the famous hadith narrated by Abu Hurayra on how one should rinse a bowl that a dog has licked, one must either look under all the entries for ‘Abu Hurayra’ (138 pages listed) or ‘dog’ (36 pages listed). Out of a sample of twenty well-known hadiths from the Six Books (such as the hadith ‘Woe to you Ibn Sumayya, you will be killed by the rebellious party’) I was able to find only six in this book. Because, despite its title, the book makes no claim at comprehensiveness, it is impossible to know if one should even expect to find a specific hadith in the work. I fear that the book has only limited utility if it were to be used for the function that its title suggests, namely a source for analysis of the contents of the canonical Six Books.

The Encyclopedia of Canonical Hadith is also the sizable product of one man’s scholarship, not a collaborative effort. As such, readers consulting it should be aware of Juynboll’s position towards the hadith tradition and his methods of evaluating how and when a hadith came into circulation. Begging the reader’s indulgence, I will summarize this position and will then summarize existing criticisms of Juynboll’s methods, since one would expect that a work published in 2007 would reflect critical responses and the general state of the field of hadith studies.

Juynboll’s operating assumption is that one should assume that all reports attributed to the Prophet are forged. As is well known, Schacht had declared that he would consider that an isnad had ‘grown backward’ from a legal maxim into a Prophetic hadith if he found a Prophetic hadith in a collection like Sahih al-Bukhari that had appeared in an earlier collection as a statement of a Companion or Successor. Juynboll generalizes this conclusion. In his view, even if you cannot find a Companion/Successor opinion that corresponds to a Prophetic hadith, the fact that so many Prophetic hadiths seem to have originated from these kinds of non-Prophetic statements leads Juynboll to consider ‘any “prophetic” saying suspect as also belonging to that genre …’.1

Building on Schacht’s Common Link Theory, Juynboll asserts that the more people transmit a hadith from a scholar, ‘the more historicity that moment has’—the more people narrated a hadith from a transmitter, the more attestation there is that the hadith actually existed at the time.2 This hadith must therefore have been forged at some earlier date. Any links in an isnad that lack such multiple attestations are of dubious historical reliability, especially in light of the supposed adoration that early Muslims had for hadiths and their preservation.3 Juynboll feels that concluding that a hadith must have been forged because more transmissions of it do not exist (an argument e silentio) is well justified in his opinion. Since Muslim hadith scholars habitually collected all the available transmissions of a hadith they could find, their omission of any transmission must entail that it did not exist.4 For Juynboll, then, the only historically verifiable ‘moment’ in the transmission of a hadith occurs with a Common Link. Because it is inconceivable that a real hadith could be transmitted by only one isnad from the Prophet, anything before this Common Link must have been fabricated by him.5 A hadith that has no Common Link, only a set of unrelated single strand chains (which Juynboll terms a ‘Spider’), is not historically datable in any sense.6

According to Juynboll, isnads that are found in hadith collections post-dating the ones in which the Common Link’s chains of transmission are found are called ‘diving’ isnads, which Juynboll assumes were forged by these later collectors in order to appear to have unique or shorter links to the Prophet for this hadith. Consequently, Juynboll’s judgment on ‘diving’ chains of transmission leads him to dismiss the whole notion of corroborating transmissions (mutabaa) among Muslim hadith scholars. Because these chains of transmission appear independently and lack any Common Link, they cannot be verified in his view and should be assumed to be forgeries. They are simply plagiarisms of the Common Link’s isnads claiming to make the hadith seem more reliable. Juynboll notes that it ‘never ceases to astonish’ him that master Muslim hadith scholars like Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani (d. 852/1449) did not realize that corroborating isnads were in fact groundless fabrications.7

In recent years, Juynboll’s operating assumptions and methods have come under severe criticism, however. In light of his continued adherence to his methods in the volume under review here, it seems fair to discuss the salient objections to Juynboll’s approach and the extent to which the Encyclopedia of Canonical Hadith has taken them into account. I will try to summarize criticisms of Juynboll’s work.

Objections to Juynboll’s methods8 have centred on three main points: the questionable accuracy of the assumptions that he takes to be indisputable, the limited number of sources from which he draws hadith evidence, and the fact that his arguments ask the reader to make leaps of faith far greater than those asked by the Muslim scholars Juynboll criticizes.

(1) The leading critic of Juynboll’s methods has been Harald Motzki, who proffers two main criticisms of Juynboll’s scholarship. First, he argues that the argument e silentio is invalid. Second, Motzki argues that, rather than being consummate forgers of hadiths, major ‘Common Link’ hadith transmitters such as al-Zuhri and Ibn Jurayj (d. 150/767) were in general reliably passing on reports from the previous generation.

As for the assumption that if a hadith was transmitted via only one isnad in the early period then it must have been forged, Motzki argues that we should not expect to find numerous isnads from figures like the Successors back to the Prophet. Isnads, after all, only came into use during the Successors’ generation in the late 600s/early 700s. Even for those early hadith transmitters and legal scholars who provided isnads to the Prophet at that time, it was only necessary to provide one isnad for a hadith, not a bundle, as became common in the second half of the 700s and the 800s.

As for Juynboll’s argument that Muslims obsessively transmitted hadiths, with hundreds of students attending their teachers’ dictation sessions, there are many reasons why history could have preserved only one person’s transmission from that teacher instead of those of many students. Just as only a small percentage of any teacher’s students go on to become teachers themselves, so it is not inconceivable that only one of a hadith transmitter’s students would go on to become a transmitter as well. Juynboll had argued that only the transmission of one-to-many can be considered a historically documented ‘moment’ in the life of a hadith. But, Motzki counters, if we only consider transmission from one person to a number of people historically reliable, then why do we have only a few transmissions of actual written hadith collections from their authors or people transmitting from a Common Link? If we assume, like Juynboll, that the hadith came into existence with the Common Link, and that any hadith that actually existed must have been transmitted by all those who heard it from a teacher, then after the Common Links we should find thousands of chains of transmission in the fourth and fifth generations. But this did not occur. Thus, the fact that we find very few transmissions from the Common Links strongly suggests that Common Links were the exception rather than the rule in the transmission of hadiths. Their absence thus cannot be construed as proof for a hadith not existing at that time.

(2) Another of Motzki’s central criticisms of Juynboll’s work is the small number of sources from which he draws hadiths in determining the Common Link. In collecting transmissions of a hadiths to locate a Common Link, Juynboll relies principally on the Tuhfat al-ashraf of Jamal al-Din al-Mizzi (d. 742/1341), a work that collects all the chains of transmission for a hadith but is limited to the traditions and transmissions found in the Six Books (and a few other small books). Indeed, in the preface to the Encyclopedia of Canonical Hadith Juynboll recalls how he discovered the Tuhfa and dedicates the book to its editor. Motzki notes how, if one draws on a much larger and more diverse body of sources, including early ones such as the Musannaf of lhringAbd al-Razzaq al-Sanlhringani (d. 211/826), and later ones, such as al-Bayhaqi’s (d. 458/1066) Dalarhringil al-nubuwwa, one finds that the real ‘Common Links’ for many hadiths he analyzes are found in the time of the Companions in the second half of the seventh century. This is much earlier than the figures that Juynboll typically identifies as the originators of hadiths.

(3) But perhaps the most problematic aspect of Juynboll’s method, in my opinion, is that it collapses under Occam’s razor. Juynboll carries scepticism towards the Muslim hadith tradition to such an extreme that the reader is asked to believe in the existence of a web of lies, forgeries and conspiracy so elaborate that it is easier to believe that—from time to time—the Prophet might actually have said some of the hadiths attributed to him. For Juynboll, anything other than the well-attested isnads emanating from a Common Link is assumed to be a forged chain of transmission. This includes all corroborating transmissions (mutabilhringat) and, using his terminology, ‘Single Strand’ hadiths, ‘Spiders’ and ‘diving’ chains. Thus the vast bulk of the material sorted through by Muslim hadith scholars over centuries and recorded in their voluminous works was not only forged, but all the thousands of scholars from Spain to Iran involved in transmitting and analysing this material from the eighth to the fifteenth centuries were able to orchestrate, contain and conceal this titanic, common forgery endeavour. Here we must remember that the fiercest critics of Muslim hadith transmitters and the jurists who employed their material were other Muslim hadith critics and opponent jurists. It is thanks to their collective obsession with documenting the failings of their colleagues’ hadith transmission that Western scholars even have the raw material needed to perform isnad analysis.

It is most unreasonable to assume that many hadiths attributed to the Prophet are forgeries. While one can certainly question some of the credulity and naiveté of Muslim hadith critics, it is unreasonable to entertain that the preponderance of pages filling the thousands of volumes lining any hadith library, not to mention the pervasive critical ethos that motivated their production, could have been stuffed there speciously by the continentally-separated, internally-diverse and virulently divided community of pre-modern Muslim hadith scholars. Although less glamorous, this suggestion is as far-fetched as that made by Père Hardouin, the eighteenth-century French Jesuit who, relying on numismatic evidence, concluded that all works of classical Greek and Roman literature (with the exception of Cicero’s letters and a smattering of other works) had been forged by a cadre of fourteenth-century Italian tricksters.9

Going back to the Encyclopedia of Canonical Hadith, the reader finds no echo of the objections raised against Juynboll’s methods. The work’s introduction dwells on the subjects to which Juynboll has already devoted articles: the failure of Muslim hadith critics to associate the notion of madar (the ‘pivot’ of a hadith) with the Common Link (p. xxv), the absurdity of corroborating narrations in al-Zurqani’s (d. 1710) commentary on Malik’s Muwattarhring (p. xxvi–ii), and the topic of preternaturally long-lived hadith transmitters (p. xxviii–ix). Only tangentially does Juynboll refer to criticisms of scholars like Motzki and Ozken. In a footnote to the entry on Nafilhring the mawla of Ibn lhringUmar, Juynboll suggests that the reader ‘compare (cf.)’ with Motzki’s ‘overall unconvincing excursions in Der Islam LXXIII’ (p. 435). Despite Motzki’s extensive rebuttal of Juynboll’s article on Nafilhring, Juynboll maintains steadfastly in the Encyclopedia that the figure of Nafi the great hadith transmitter is the ‘spectacular’ creation of Malik b. Anas and other Iraqi, Makkan and Egyptian Common Links who were seeking earlier sources for their forgeries (p. 435; cf. 283).

Most surprising is Juynboll’s statement in the introduction of the Encyclopedia that ‘[i]n the main, medieval Muslim hadith scholars view an isnad strand, which they find attached to a particular hadith, individually …’ without looking at how and where it overlaps and interacts with other isnads (p. xxiii). ‘It seems,’ Juynboll continues, ‘as if they [Muslim hadith critics] never studied with the constant help of a work such as [al-Mizzi’s] Tuhfa, at least not in any meaningful way …’ (ibid).

This is a difficult statement to scan. If Juynboll means that Muslim hadith critics did not look at how isnads of a hadith interacted, interwove and contrasted holistically, then this is simply incorrect. Virtually all that Muslim hadith critics concerned themselves with was analysing all the available transmission of a hadith to determine if it was corroborated or collecting all the available transmissions narrated by a certain person to see if he or she was corroborated as a transmitter. A brief look at the Ilal al-hadith of Ibn Abi Hatim al-Razi (d. 327/938) and the Kamil fi duafa’ al-rijal of Ibn Adi (d. 365/975–6) would illustrate this sufficiently, if not ad nauseam. If, on the other hand, Juynboll means to fault Muslim hadith critics for not basing their evaluation of hadiths on the Tuhfa and similar digest works, then this was because they were too busy writing them and the hundreds of other hadith-critical and hadith-analytical works that preceded them and built up the edifice on which the fourteenth-century Tuhfa is but a minor decoration. Indeed, relying on the Tuhfa to dismiss classical Muslim hadith scholarship as atomistic is like calling a whole society disorganized based on a reading of its voluminous, intricately ordered phonebook.

Juynboll’s ahistorical perspective and his limited concentration on the Tuhfa explain much of the methodological failings of his Encyclopedia. The Tuhfa is a digest of the isnads found in the canonical Six Books of Sunni Islam. These Six Books are the finished and refined products of six ninth-century Muslim scholars who produced them as references for Muslim legal and doctrinal life. The Six Books were a distillation, indeed samplings, of a massive universe of hadith criticism and transmission, the horizons and methods of which Juynboll’s above statement means he is still evidently unaware. Anyone interested in a glimpse into that world could do so easily by consulting that genre in which classical Muslim hadith critics did lay out their critical methods, and the vast sea of material to which they applied it, for full viewing: books of ilal (hadith flaws) such as that of al-Tirmidhi (d. 279/892) or al-Daraqutni (d. 385/995). It is no surprise that in the select bibliography of Juynboll’s Encyclopedia of Canonical Hadith no such references appear.

The study of the hadith tradition in the West owes much to G. H. A. Juynboll’s many contributions. Unfortunately, for an encyclopedia like this most recent work to claim in its very title to be concerned with canonical hadith and then limit itself to an indeterminate sampling is misleading. Furthermore, the excessive scepticism based on a stubbornly parochial understanding of classical Muslim hadith scholarship that informs this work prevents it from genuinely advancing this still underdeveloped field.

Jonathan A. C. Brown


1 G. H. A. Juynboll, Muslim Tradition: Studies in Chronology, Provenance and Authorship of Early Hadith (London: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 72–4.

2 Juynboll, ‘Some Isnad-Analytical Methods Illustrated on the Basis of Several Women-demeaning Sayings from Hadith Literature,’ in Studies on Origins and Uses of Islamic Hadith (Aldershot: Variorum, 1996), 352.
3 Juynboll, ‘Some Isnad-Analytical Methods’, 353.

4 Juynboll, Muslim Tradition, 98.

5 Juynboll, ‘Some Isnad-Analytical Methods,’ 353.

6 Juynboll, ‘Nafilhring, the mawla of Ibn lhringUmar, and his position in Muslim hadith literature’ in Studies on the Origins and Uses of Islamic Hadith, 215.

7 Juynboll, ‘(Re) Appraisal of some Hadith Technical Terms,’ Islamic Law and Society 8/3 (2001), 318.

8 For more details on objections to Juynboll’s methods, see Halit Ozken, ‘The Common Link and its Relation to the Madar,’ Islamic Law and Society 11/1 (2004): 42–77; Harald Motzki, ‘Der Fiqh des Zuhri: die Quellenproblematik’, Der Islam 68 (1991): 1–44; id., ‘The Murder of Ibn Abi Huqayq’ in Harald Motzki (ed.), The Biography of Muhammad, (Leiden: Brill, 2000), 170–239; id., ‘The Musannaf of lhringAbd al-Razzaq al-Sanlhringani as a Source of Authentic Ahadith of the First Century AH’, Journal of Near Eastern Studies 50 (1991): 1–21; and especially, id., ‘Quo vadis, Hadit-Forschung? Eine kritische Untersuchung von G. H. A. Juynboll: “Nafilhring the mawla of Ibn lhringUmar, and his position in Muslim Hadit Literature” ’, Der Islam 73/1 (1996): 40–80.

9 Arnaldo Momigliano, Studies in Historiography (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1966), 16.

Leave a comment

Posted by on November 30, 2013 in Uncategorized


Maliki Usul al-Fiqh

The Malikis have made some excellent contributions to the study of Usul al-Fiqh. The following works are considered essential in a curriculum for Malikis:

  • Sharh al-Waraqat by al-Hattab
  • al-Isharat fi Usul al-Fiqh by al-Baji
  • Maraqi al-Su’ud with the Sharh Nathr al-Wurud by Muhammad al-Amin al-Shanqiti
  • Taqrib al-Wusul by Ibn al-Juzay
  • Ihkam al-Fusul by al-Baji
  • Miftah al-Usul by al-Tilimsani (for takhrij al-furu ‘ala al-usul)
  • al-Furuq by al-Qarafi
  • al-Muwafaqat by al-Shatibi

A number of key works are missing, but this should give a good grasp of Maliki Usul. Mastery requires reading widely and critically engaging with the field.


Posted by on November 29, 2013 in Uncategorized


Mustafa Sa’id al-Khin’s Thesis on Juristic Differences

The late great shaykh, Dr Mustafa b. Sa’id b. Mahmud al-Khin al-Maydani al-Shafi’i (may Allah have mercy on him), was one of the eminent scholars of Syria in the 20th Century. Growing up in the conservative Damascus suburb of Maydan (Midan in the local dialect), he attended the lessons of the noble Hassan al-Habbanaka al-Maydani, from the age of nine. He quickly rose to prominence and became a teacher of Shari’ah and Arabic at universities in Syria and Saudi Arabia during the 1950s and 60s. He later traveled to Egypt to obtain his PhD, whilst already a distinguished scholar, from al-Azhar in 1971. I am attaching the thesis, titled, ‘Athar al-Ikhtilaf fi al-Qawa’id al-Usuliyah fi Ikhtilaf al-Fuqaha.’

In this thesis, the shaykh elaborates how the legal principles (usul) upon which the scholars built their schools lead to differences in law (furu’). This is a subtle point that is lost on many students. Towards the end of the thesis, the shaykh shows how these different usul lead to different furu in marriage. 

This is a brilliant book which should be required reading by all serious students of knowledge. 


Posted by on October 6, 2013 in Uncategorized


Quran Apps

These apps for Apple and Android devices are great tools for the linguistic and grammatical study of the Qur’an. It seems that Kai Dukes at Leeds University may be involved.

QuranWorks 2.0: iPhone/iPad: Android:

1 Comment

Posted by on August 2, 2013 in Uncategorized


Qur’anic Recitations

Here are the best quality recorded recitations of the Qur’an available:




Leave a comment

Posted by on August 2, 2013 in Uncategorized


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 81 other followers