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Two examples of the hadith-transmission in the Muslim World

by Asma Hilali

In this paper, I will try to give a schematic description of the transmission of the prophetic traditions (hadith) in the Muslim world between the first half of the 9th century and the beginning of the 11th century; a crucial period in the history of hadith transmission. I will speak about two historical moments in the Muslim world and two regions: The Arabic peninsula, more precisely the region of ’Iraq and Al-Andalus. The history of hadithtransmission is different between the Est and the West of the Muslim world and shows in the both examples the implication of various forms of political power in hadith-transmission. My intervention has three chapters:

  1. The opposition between hadith transmitters and the official theological school of al-Mu’tazila : ’Iraq in the 9th century.
  2. The opposition between hadith transmitters and the official juristic system of al-Andalus: al-Andalus in the 9th century.
  3. Conclusions

Some remarks about the context of the 9th century: I assume that "hadith" means the words and acts of Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam. Hadith is transmitted from the first generation of Muhammad’s companions and constitutes from the 8th century onwards, a base of juristic, social and theological norms. Texts of hadith are transmitted by people. Most of time, transmitters of hadith are traveling people, to travel is the fundamental way to teach and to learn hadith. The classical authors of hadith books say that any transmission is considered more authentic when the transmitter success to have a direct transmission with hearing the hadith directly "from the mouth of the "master". Our knowledge about the two first century of Islam is poor. But some written traces show that the transmission of hadith had already evoluated and hadith literature had been taught in many important centers of learning. In the 9th century, the important books of hadith, those who will be considered later by many scholars as canonical books, are written down. In other words, hadith is becoming more and more important between the experts as well as between the common people.

But, an important political event putted trouble in this process and introduced a rich debate between theological scholars and hadith scholars. What I will describe in few words is a period of inquisition called in Arabic "Mihna". It happened in the region of ’Iraq during the 9th century. The first important division between hadith transmitters and the political power concerns the period of the reign of al-Ma’mūn, seventh ’Abbaside caliph who reigned between (812 - 833). For various reasons, al-Ma’mūn applied himself to give importance and primacy to the theological school called al-Mu’tazila. This school becomes the official tendency of the government represented by Mu’tazilī political advisers. Mu’tazilī school is a religious movement founded in Basra in the first half of the 8th century. The name al- Mu’tazila means the position of neutrality between opposing factions: the first one is the predestination of the world in God’s creation, and secondly, man’s responsibility for his acts. I will not develop the Mu’tazilī theses. Let me say that one of their theses, the unity of God, has as consequence that the Kur’ān is considered to be created, not eternal. This becomes the fundamental dogma of the inquisition in Ma’mūn’s time at the beginning of the 9th century.

I will show how the intellectual and political interest of the Mu’tazilī school contradicts the interest of the hadith transmitters. There is a common point between the five theses of the Mu’tazila: the rational color of the Mu’tazilī thinking and the importance given to the speculation about the attributes of God. The technical term of this activity is the science of Kalām (scholastic theology). In the opposite with this rational method of religious thought, Hadith transmitters consider that the bases of knowledge are the Kur’ān and the prophetic traditions. The issue of this debate is to define the Sunnī Islam (orthodoxy) of Islam that emerges in this period.

I will summarize the political implication of the adoption of the Mu’tazilī school as the official school by al-Ma’mūn: The caliph al-Ma’mūn imposed the inquisition which is a procedure of imposing to the scholars and especially to the hadith transmitters to acknowledge one of the Mu’tazilī theses : the view that the Kur’ān had been created (only God is uncreated and eternal).The political consequence of this point of view: The imām, (leader), in this case the caliph himself, is able to use the Kur’ān in order to rectify the social and political order himself by means of his own knowledge (’ilm). Al-Ma’mūn and his two immediate successors had persecuted many scholars, by obliging them to acknowledge the dogma of the created Koran. The inquisition becomes a political and social crisis that opposed the hadith scholars to the government, and secondly the common people (’āmma) involved in hadith matter to the elite intellectual (khāssa), the mu’tazilite scholars. This is a very important point that may explain the course of events: The prosecution of the Mihna increases after the death of al-Ma’mūn. During the reign of his successors, the prisons were full of scholars. Almost all the hadith scholars acknowledged that the Kur’ān is created. As one of the few exceptions is considered the traditionniste Ahmad b. Hanbal (d. 855), who was made a hero by Sunnī Muslims because of his resistance to the inquisition. During the reign of al-Mutawaqqil between (847-861), the procedure of Mihna comes to it’s end by the decision of the caliph. He liberated the imprisoned scholars and stopped the growing influence of the Mu’tazilī school. The Kadīs who implemented the inquisition were replaced and dismissed. The caliph decided to get ride off the influence of the Mu’tazilī school. The advisers and consultants involved in this school were rejected and exiled.The most important consequence of the end of the inquisition is clearly expressed by Martin Hinds: "The end of the Mihna brought to a decisive end any notion of a caliphal role in the definition of Islam…it was now unquestionably the ’ulamā’ (religious scholars), rather than the caliphs, who were the legatees of the Prophets (warathat al-anbiyā’) and it would be they who, armed with this spiritual authority who held temporal power, elaborated classical Islam. "(M. Hinds, Mihna, EI2, v., VII, p.6)

My second historical example concerns the clash between hadith-transmitters and political power in al-Andalus at the end of the 9th century. Al-Andalus is the geographical term that denoted in the Islamic world up to the end of the Middle Ages the Iberian peninsula, that is modern Spain and Portugal. For seven century al-Andalus is under the Muslim occupation. The period I’m speaking about, the 9th century, concerns the Marwānid emirat of al-Andalus. The protagonists of this episode are the hadith- transmitters and the jurists of al-Andalus. An important figure is the hadith scholar, Abū ’Abd al-Rahmān Baqī Ibn Makhlad celebrated traditionist and exegete of Cordova. (d. 889).

After a travel in the orient where he listened hadith from various oriental scholars, Baqī Ibn Makhlad returns to al-Andalus. Very soon, he found himself regarded with hostility by the Mālikī jurists (fuqahā), who represented the law in al-Andalus of the 9 th century. Baqī b. Makhlad was nearly condemned to death on a charge of heresy. Indeed, the jurist milieu of al-Andalus refused the adoption of the oriental compilations of hadith. Their juridical system was based on other textual sources than the oriental compilations. This juridical system is called the Mālikī school (Mālikiyya). The Mālikiyya is the doctrine of Mālik b. Anas (d. 796). This school had already been diffused and circulated by the pupils of Mālik in the Maghrib and Spain. The Mālikī school is based on the notion of «Effective and unanimous practice of Medina» (’Amal ahl al-madina). Mālik b. Anas, the eponym of this legal school, is supposed to have compiled his own collection of legal hadith called al-Muwatta’. The introduction of the hadith compilations coming from the orient was a kind of challenge toward the powerful jurists of al-Andalus who refused the adoption of an other book of hadith that would introduce other references of the juristic practice.
By the 11th century however, under the Kingdoms of the Tā’ifas, the juristic milieu of al- Andalus had completely accepting the transmission of the "oriental hadith" compilations and considered the prophetic hadith progressively as source of law after the Kur’ān. The juridical system of al-Andalus didn’t change.

The struggle between hadith-scholars and theological and legal scholars expressed the emergence of the self-consciousness of the Muslim orthodoxy (Sunnism). By these two examples, very simplified of two historical struggles between hadith transmitters and political power, I hope that I succeeded to show that the history of the hadithtransmission is a history of a problematic link between power and knowledge. The example of al-Andalus illustrates that what we mean by political power could be represented by the juristic system and not necessary by institutions of repressions as we saw with the example of the Inquisition (Mihna). Hadith transmission is a kind of knowledge that could be identified to a powerful knowledge. The authority/power of hadith is it’s populist bases. In each step of the history of hadith transmission, the last word was given to the common people who recognize in hadith texts a powerful argument.