Hadith - Western Academic Scholarship

Western Academic Scholarship

Early Western exploration of Islam consisted primarily of translation of the Qur'an and a few histories. In the 19th century, scholars strove for impartiality, and translated and commented upon a great variety of texts. By the beginning of the 20th century, Western scholars of Islam started to critically engage with the Islamic texts, subjecting them to the same agnostic, searching scrutiny that had previously been applied to Christian texts (see higher criticism). Ignaz Goldziher is the best known of these turn-of-the-century critics, who also included D. S. Margoliuth, Henri Lammens, and Leone Caetani. Goldziher writes, in his Mohammedan Studies: "... it is not surprising that, among the hotly debated controversial issues of Islam, whether political or doctrinal, there is not one in which the champions of the various views are unable to cite a number of traditions, all equipped with imposing isnads". John Esposito notes that "Modern Western scholarship has seriously questioned the historicity and authenticity of the hadith", maintaining that "the bulk of traditions attributed to the Prophet Muhammad were actually written much later." He mentions Joseph Schacht as one scholar who argues this, claiming that Schacht "found no evidence of legal traditions before 722," from which Schacht concluded that "the Sunna of the Prophet is not the words and deeds of the Prophet, but apocryphal material" dating from later.

Contemporary Western scholars of hadith include: Herbert Berg, Fred M. Donner and Wilferd Madelung. Madelung has immersed himself in the hadith literature and has made his own selection and evaluation of tradition. Having done this, he is much more willing to trust hadith than many of his contemporaries. Madelung said of hadith: "Work with the narrative sources, both those that have been available to historians for a long time and others which have been published recently, made it plain that their wholesale rejection as late fiction is unjustified and that with a judicious use of them, a much more reliable and accurate portrait of the period can be drawn than has been realized so far."

Harald Motzki said: "The mere fact that ahadith and asanid were forged must not lead us to conclude that all of them are fictitious or that the genuine and the spurious cannot be distinguished with some degree of certainty."

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