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Religious Texts in Islam: Authority, Reception and Use

organised by Dr. Asma Hilali and Prof. Dr. Stefan Leder

Location:   Orientwissenschaftliches Zentrum
                Mühlweg 15
                06114 Halle (Saale)
                Seminar room 1


The workshop "Religious Texts in Islam" aims at reconsidering the authority of religious texts as ensuing from their reception and employ. This approach, inspired by the theoretical framework of pragmatics, is not concerned with the «origin» of the religious text, nor deals with any specific historical period. Instead, our purpose here is to examine the manners and effects of the reception of religious texts and their application to various contexts and practices as these contribute to the construction of authority. When dealing with a religious text the believer establishes a link with the past from which authority is derived, and simultaneously with the future, which is the horizon of the same authority. In our workshop, the Prophetic Tradition (hadit) will be examined in an exemplary manner as a religious text. The institution of transmission, definitely linked to the production of an authoritative corpus, demonstrates the reception of the text in various contexts and social settings. It could be relevant to ask: what are the forms of reception of religious texts between these two perspectives of authority in the past and in the future. When studying the use of hadit in various fields, such as literary, juridical, theological and liturgical, it would be interesting to discuss how the hadit texts are used as argument in these various contexts. Our approach also seems to encourage discovery of the complementarities between textual structures and forms of reception. The interactive link between these two levels could show how the reception of the text is oftentimes confused with its genesis. Indeed, it can be argued that the reception of hadit is a creative reception. hadit becomes only progressively a religious text. Its religious career is not to be held distinct from its transmission and its use. Furthermore two genres of questions seem to be related to our inquiry: First, what is the religious value of the evolution/transformation of the transmitted hadit? Secondly, what are the mechanisms of the authority in hadit history? The first question concerns the textual characteristics of hadit (like the literary genres and the narrative structures) and evokes the problem of the hermeneutic of religious text in Islam. The second question concerns the reception of the text and its usage among the Muslims and shows the necessity of a new definition of the hadit authority, its bases and its mechanisms. Thus, in this preliminary vision, the pivotal axes of examination emerge as being focused on two aspects: The text, its structures and dynamics of transformation, and it reception and employ.




17.00 - 20.00
Open session: The participants are invited to present themselves and their work as far it is related to the issues in question. We also would want to engage in critical discussion of contemporary hadīth studies trying to identify problems and matters unstudied so far. This session will be organized as an open discussion and introduction to next day's session.



10.00 - 10.45
Dr. Adrien Leites (Paris):
Gazālī's use of hadīth

10.45 - 11.30
Dr. Recep Senturk (Istanbul):
Farewell Sermon and its Changing Classicaland Modern Usages in the Human Rights Debate

11.30 - 12.15
Mehmetcan Akpinar (Halle):
The Prophet's words as a Narrative Matrix

12.15 - 12.45

12.45 - 13.30
Dr. Andreas Goerke (Berlin):
Maghazi and Hadith

13.30 - 14.15
Dr. Jonathan Brown (University of Washington):
How We Know that Early Hadith Scholars Did Matn Criticism and Why It's So Hard to Find?

14.15 - 15.00
Dr. Asma Hilali (Halle):
Some remarks about the usage of eschatological hadīth-s

15.00 - 15.15



06/08/2007, 5 - 8 pm: Presentation of the participants

Pr. Dr. Stefan Leder opened the session. He underlined the importance of a pragmatic approach of the religious texts in Islam through the example of hadīth. Then he asked the participants to present themselves and their link to the hadīth studies: Recep Senturk (Istanbul) started with general theoretical remarks. He stressed the social bases of each type of narratives underlining the idea that "Each social actor is a narrative". In hadīth studies, he proposes to consider the discourse not as an accident but as an inherent element of the society. Mehmetcan Akpinar (Chicago/Halle) precised that his interest with hadīth is linked to his Phd thesis entitled "Abū Bakr and His Image in the Second /Eighth Century". The method of M. Akpinar is the isnād-cum-matn-analyse of Harald Motzki. He tries to apply this method to the hadīth-s concerning Abū Bakr, the 1st caliphe (d. 634). Akpinar supports the idea that Motzkien method is compatible with the analyse of narratives. Andreas Goerke (Berlin) presented his experience with hadīth studies focusing on the question of the literary genre and the link between hadīth and other types of texts like Maghāzī. Adrien Leites (Paris) focused on the subject of his Phd thesis (the birth date of the Prophet Muhammad). He had the opportunity to work on hadīth texts when he wrote articles about the conception of time in Muslim tradition. Jonathan Brown (Washington) evoked his experience with hadīth studies in his Phd thesis on the canonisation of Bukhārī and Muslim. Asma Hilali expressed her interest with hadīth since many years: it started with her research on Apocryphal hadīth-s. The question of authority of hadīth leads her to study the argument of hadīth authority: the theory of authenticity, subject of her Phd thesis. Her post-doctoral project is about hadīth authority. Prof. Dr. Stefan Leder had many opportunities to work on hadīth texts since he studies the Arabic narratives (khabar pl akhbār). His experience with the certificates of lecture1 enabled him to better understand the link between the hadīth texts and the social context in which they are narrated. The second part of the session was dedicated to the discussion around the important problems the participants had met in their researches on hadīth. Prof. Dr. Stefan Leder proposed to proceed with the most important questions the participants follow in their work. The first question raised was: How to define the text called hadīth?
(A. Hilali)

1 Stefan Leder, Yāsīn Muhammad al-Sawwās, Ma‟mūn al-Sagarj (éds.) Mu ‘jam al-samā ‘āt al-Dimashqiyya, les certificats d’audition ą Damas 550-750h./ 1155-1349. Damas 1996.

Discussion: The open definition of the text hadīth

The first comment on the question how to define the text hadīth was that a pragmatic approach of hadīth should not be linked to the task of definition. (A. Leites). But, a definition of hadīth could be flexible (A. Hilali). The first trial of definition was: hadīth is the text attributed to the Prophet Muhammad with a complete chain of transmission (hadīth musnad) (J. Brown). This definition can be criticized because of its limitation to the perspective of the authenticity and it considers the canonised history of hadīth as the unique definition of the term. The history of hadīth informs us about the importance of other canals of transmission than the called authentic ones. They have to be considered in the definition of hadīth (A. Hilali). The second definition of hadīth was "disjoined narratives": The fragmented aspect of hadīth determines the hadīth literature and can be considered as a distinctive character. In this perspective, hadīth can be compared to the genre Maghāzī (R. Senturk). In the opposite with the authors of the Maghāzī, the transmitters of hadīth don‟t have a clear perspective in their exercise of transmission than the accumulation of texts (R. Senturk). One can adds that hadīth has to be defined as an "open text" (A. Goerke); a pragmatic definition of hadīth has to include many definitions (S. Leder). The question of the status of the text was evoked in the aim to underline the difference in hadīth history between the so-

called authentic hadīth "hadīth sahīh"and the so-called apocryphal hadīth "hadīth mawdū‘ " (A. Hilali). The history of the canon and the normative performance of hadīth were added to the list of hadīth-definitions (S. Leder). The legitimacy of hadīth and its authority was evoked during the discussion: In hadīth literature, "every word is variable but it has to be authorized" (R. Senturk); the canonization process has to do with hadīth authority. The discussion turned afterwards around the narrative elements that compose hadīth texts. The definition of hadīth has to consider two levels: the verbal transmission as a fixed element, and the transmission of meaning as a changing element (A. Leites). An important point was added to this remark: each variant in hadīth literature is hadīth in its own (J. Brown). The narration as a distinctive character of hadīth literature was discussed and the question whether or not hadīth can be considered as a narration was evoked (M. Akpinar). The narrative character of hadīth has to be considered in its limits, "hadīth is not always narration" (S. Leder). The last crucial element in the definition of hadīth was: transmission "we have to consider transmission as a essential notion in the definition of hadīth" (S. Leder).

The first session was closed with the consciousness of the open character of hadīth definition. Technical aspects (chain of transmission), literary aspect (narration, genre of literature), historical aspect (canonization), social aspect (legitimacy, authority), theoretical level (authentic hadīth, apocryphal hadīth) all of them; take part in the definition of hadīth. Nevertheless, the transmission seems to be the permanent element in the definition of hadīth literature (S. Leder).

06/09/2007: second session

The second session of the workshop was dedicated to the contributions of the participants:

1) Dr. Adrien Leites started with his paper intituled "Gazzālī‟s use of hadīth ". He showed the changing in the traditions used by Gazzālī. His first remark concerns the word khabar and hadīth and their subjective usage by Gazzālī that means the author follows his own understanding of the two terms. The paper of A. Leites has three parts: The permutation of hadīth; the replacement of Speech and suppression of deed; the change of ascriptions. A. Leites compared the usage of Gazzālī to the common orthodox usage of hadīth through specific examples. He concluded that the author has a different conception of authority than the common basic orthodox conception. For example, Gazzālī does not consider the Prophet‟s authority but speaks about ancient‟s authority (al-salaf).

the paper of A. Leites raised many important questions; the most important one concerns the conception of authority within Gazzālī. A. Leites considers that Gazzālī follows his own argument and doesn‟t take care of the cotation of hadīth texts as authoritative texts. He even breaks the legitimacy of hadīth as an authoritative argument since he rewrites the hadīth texts with the three forms of recasting analysed in the paper. The second question was related to whether or not Gazzālī has a clear policy in his usage of hadīth? (J. Paul). A. Leites answered that Gazzālī‟s unique purpose is his own topic and he doesn‟t seem to be precise in using hadīth cotations.

2) Dr. Recep Senturk‟s paper intituled "Farewell Sermon and its Changing Classical and Modern Usages in the Human Rights Debate" started with theoretical general remarks concerning hadīth texts and their social functions and canals of transmission. He proposed to answer the following questions: what does hadīth represents in Islamic society? What has people to do with it? And what is authority in Islam? R. Senturk evoked the importance of narratives in society and their self-reflexivity: narratives reflect social reality and constitute in the some time the reality. He evoked the causality model between text and reality and the retrospective construction of narratives. Farewell Sermon (Khutbat al-Wada‘) of Prophet Muhammad has been put to a different use in the modern era to demonstrate that Islam fathered universal human rights. For that, the meaning of the first expression in the Farewell Sermon "Ya ayyuhā al-nās!" was extended to all people and all places. The application of the human rights notion was possible through the hermeneutic and juridical debate around the meaning of the hadīth text.

The paper of R. Senturk raised some questions including the following one: can a sacred text be used in any way? (S. Leder). In his answer, R. Senturk precised that the hadīth-usage is limited to the "authorised" meaning that means every usage of hadīth is possible when it is authorised by the consensus or the common sense of Muslim scholars.

3) Mehmetcan Akpinar (Chicago/Halle) presented a paper intituled "The Prophet's words as a Narrative Matrix". M. Akpinar applied the method of isnād-cum-matn-analyse of Harald Motzki on two examples of traditions.

M. Akpinar‟s paper evoked many important questions related to the changing of hadīth variants. The first question was whether or not "There is an harmonization of narratives according to the Prophet words?" (S. Leder). M. Akpinar confirmed this perception of his analyse of the two traditions. The second comment concerned the criteria of dating hadīth-s: "when the matn analyse shows a more elaborated version, it doesn‟t mean necessarily that this version is the later one" (A. Goerke). The last question concerned the changing variants of hadīth and its link with the "supplement element" in the text: M. Akpinar confirmed in his paper that one could observe changing elements only in the matn analyse. Nevertheless, the chain of transmission has to be considered as part of the argumentation in hadīth literature. The sanad analyse should consider the role of the chain of transmission in the construction of hadīth authority (A. Hilali).

4) Dr. Andreas Goerke (Berlin) presented a paper intituled "hadīth and Maghāzī". He evoked the ambiguity of the genre Maghāzī that deals with many kinds of texts. But in the opposite with the hadīth transmitters, authors of Maghāzī control the arrangement of their material. Through a specific example, A. Goerke asked the question if the hadīth connected with al-hudaybiyya event belongs to the collections of hadīth or to the Maghāzī literature?

Many questions were evoked during the discussion of this paper: Why we find hadīth with and without context? Can hadīth be used in Maghāzī and not in hadīth collections and vice versa? A. Goerke answered that the hadīth used in hadīth collections have the "best" isnād. In the contrary with hadīth collections, the authors of Maghazī literature use of hadīth like they do with other types of texts: they choose what is good for their argumentation; he stressed the special interest the authors of Maghāzī have with legal hadīth. He added that the personal preferences of the authors and their interest with details play an important role in their use of hadīth. To the question whether or not Maghāzī is a genre defined by subject matter (S. Leder), A. Goerke answered that we can consider Maghāzī more than a genre, "a kind of writings". The link between Maghāzī and the literature of "Ayyām al-‘Arab" was an important subject evoked during the discussion (J. Brown).

5) The paper by Dr. Jonathan Brown (University of Washington) intituled "How we know that Early Hadith Scholars Did Matn Criticism and Why It's So Hard to Find"? Evoked the factors and consequences of the rare occurrences of matn criticism. J. Brown affirms the existence of the matn criticism as a method. The rarity of matn analyse is the result of conflict between the adherents of personal opinion "ra'y" and the adherents of hadīth. The question raised by this paper concerns whether or not we can consider the suppression of hadīth in apocryphal collections (mawdū‘āt) as a method of matn criticism (A. Hilali). J. Brown affirmed that we have to consider this method as matn criticism since the reasons of the suppression of the matn is declared by the author of the compilation in the titles of the chapters.

6) The last paper was given by Dr. Asma Hilali (Halle) "hadīth as a writing process: some remarks about eschatological hadīth." Starting from the example of eschatological hadīth in the Sunnī as well as in the Shī„ī corpus, A. Hilali described the changing elements in hadīth literature as a system in its own right. She defended the idea that a writing process does exist in hadīth literature; its basis are changing and permanent elements. The coranic text plays an important role in conducting the writing process and in legitimating eschatological/exegetical hadīth as a sacred text. The eschatological hadīth are indeed most of time exegetical texts inspired by coranic motives. A tentative of a new definition of hadīth has to consider that the text hadīth is the result of a process of sacralisation of texts that provides them the status and the function of a sacred text.

The questions evoked during the discussion concern the invalidity of this method with legal hadīth often used in fatwā documents (A. Goerke). The question whether or not we can consider a part of hadīth-s texts as prophetic saying was raised (J. Brown) A. Hilali stressed that the prophetic character/origin of hadīth texts doesn‟t exclude that they are part of the writing process of a sacred Islamic text.

Asma Hilali