Cambridge Muslim College – Critical Hadith Engagement

Programme Description
This two-day programme will explore questions related to the modern study of the Hadith corpus from the perspective of the Islamic and western intellectual traditions. We will highlight the underlying perspectives of these two traditions, considering: presuppositions about what constitutes a historical proof; how the Hadith corpus was cultivated; mechanisms of evaluating historical data (such as Hadith reports) in both traditions. We will also examine the resurgence of critical Hadith studies in the Muslim-majority world, which lies at the intersection of these two traditions.

Day 1

Sessions 1 & 2: An Introduction to the Field of Hadith Studies
We will explore the nature of the Hadith corpus and the challenges related to studying it. In doing so, we will examine Hadith-related issues Muslims encounter in their everyday lives. We will explore questions such as, what is Hadith and what is Sunna? What can be known about Hadith? What is the Prophet’s role in a Muslim’s life? Can the Hadith corpus be considered authentic? At the end of the two sessions, we will have a clearer picture of how early Muslims viewed and dealt with Hadith, theologically and historically.

Sessions 3 & 4: The Authenticity Challenge to Hadith
We will discuss the study of Hadith in western secular academies and how the historical study of Hadith changed the modern Muslim and non-Muslim treatment of the early history of Islam. We will discuss questions such as: what is the authenticity question? Is it relevant to Muslims today? How has the field of Hadith studies evolved over the past century since non-Muslim academic researchers first raised considerable doubt about the Hadith literature? How relevant are western critiques of Hadith to the third/ninth-century Hadith critics?  At the end of the two sessions, we will have an understanding of the underlying perspectives of the western and Islamic traditions on what constitutes historical evidence and how the authenticity-related issues stem from these epistemic backgrounds. We will also have an overview of the state of the field of Hadith studies.

Day 2

Sessions 1 & 2: Muslim Hadith Criticism (al-Bukhari & Muslim)
We will discuss the early methods of Hadith criticism and some methods of dating Hadith-reports. The second session will include a hands-on workshop on the methods used by early prominent critics such as al-Bukhari and Muslim. At the end of these two sessions, we will have an understanding of the development of Hadith criticism over the centuries and will have developed an understanding of how al-Bukhari and Muslim evaluated Hadīth reports. We will also have developed an understanding of an isnād-tree and how to evaluate it.

Session 3: Hadith & Law
In this session, we will discuss the role Hadith plays in Islamic law. We will explore how the probative value of Hadith reports may influence a jurist’s opinion on a legal issue, and why early Islamic legal theory and Hadith criticism paid significant attention to the categories of Hadith. At the end of this session we will understand the relationship between Hadith and Islamic law, how and why legal scholars might not use a certain Hadith, why early scholars debated the authority of certain types of Hadith reports, and how Islamic jurisprudence influenced Hadith criticism.

Session 4: Towards a Critical Paradigm for Engaging Hadith?
In the final exploratory session, we will discuss potential avenues for alternative discourses about Hadith, its authenticity, authority, and use in legal and day-to-day matters. This plenary session will be discussion-based and participants are encouraged to share their views.

Cambridge Muslim College, 14 St Paul’s Road, Cambridge, CB1 2EZ.

Date & Time
Saturday, 21 & 28 October 2017, 10AM – 5PM
(Attendance is required for both days.)

Belal Alabbas is a historian, studying Islamic intellectual history and scholarly culture. His research addresses themes of knowledge transmission, Hadith, and the theory and practice of Islamic law. He is currently completing his doctoral project on the thought and legal doctrine of al-Bukhari (d. 256/870) at the University of Oxford. His publications include “the Principles of Hadith Criticism in the Writings of al-Shafi’i and Muslim” and “Al-Bukhari’s Criterion in Arabophone Scholarship”.

The programme fee is £150 (including hot lunch and tea/coffee)

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