We have a fresh opportunity to reflect about Hadith, more particularly its role in the public square. At this point Professor Harald Motzki isn't going to speak about his views on Hadith only but Maghazies too.
Professor Harald Motzki.
He is a German-trained scholar of Islam who writes on the transmission of hadith. He received his PhD in Islamic Studies in 1978 from the University of Bonn. From 1983 until 1991 he was assistant professor of Islamic Studies at Hamburg University. He was Professor of Islamic Studies at Nijmegen University (Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen) in the Netherlands from 1991 until 2011.
• Analyzing Muslim Traditions: Studies in Legal, Exegetical and Maghazi Hadith (2009) [with Nicolet Boekhoff-van der Voort and Sean W. Anthony]
• Hadith: Origins and Developments (2004) ISBN 0-86078-704-4
• The Origins of Islamic Jurisprudence (2002) [with Marion H. Katz] ISBN 90-04-12131-5
• The Biography of Muhammad: The Issue of the Sources (2000), Brill Academic Pub.
You can add as you like, professor.
Q: First of all I wonder what made you focus on Islamic studies?
Motzki: I received a classical education in Germany that aroused my interest in the history of earlier cultures, especially their religions. Consequently I studied comparative religion, Islamic studies, Old and New Testament studies, and European history. For my doctorate, I chose to focus on Islamic studies. This religion and culture attracted me because of their close affinity with Christianity and Judaism and because of the many and varied relations between their followers through the centuries. This interest is reflected in my doctoral thesis that deals with the relations between Muslims and non-Muslim minorities in Egypt during the 18th century and with the aftermath of the French occupation of Egypt (1798-1801) for these relations.
Q: It is known that the field of your interest is Hadith studies; what made you take up Hadith studies?
Motzki: After my doctorate I participated for a few years in a research group that investigated historico-anthropological issues cross-culturally such as ‘sexual maturity and legitimation of procreation’, ‘social history of childhood’, and ‘tasks, roles and spaces of man and woman.’ Investigating these issues for the early and classical Islamic culture, I studied the respective sources such as Qur’an, Hadith, legal, theological, philosophical, medical and Adab works. During this research, I was frequently confronted with the problem of dating the sources and their contents. This issue fascinated me and I made it the focus of my habilitation dissertation in which I analyzed the Musannaf of `Abd Ar-Razzaq As-San`ani (d. CE 827) and a large sample of traditions contained in it, Hadiths about the Prophet Muhammad included.
Q: “a large sample of traditions contained in it, Hadiths about the Prophet Muhammad included”.
Well, do you agree with me as it is better to use Hadith or Prophetic traditions than traditions as it confused students because of background?
Motzki: In early and classical Arabic and Islamic sources the term Hadith means ‘narration’ and can be used in a general way or in more specific meanings, for instance, for a narration going back to the Prophet, or a Companion or a Successor. For that reason, Western scholars often use the term in the same way. I am called a Hadith scholar because a large part of my research focused on narrations or traditions traced back to the early Muslim generations, not only the Prophet. In the course of centuries, when the amount of available Prophetic traditions grew and with it their importance within the Muslim community, the term Hadith became first and foremost used for Prophetic traditions. Other traditions were termed Khabar or Athar, but this differentiation was not always made and we find the earlier broader use of the term Hadith in late Islamic sources as well. Students must learn that and then will not get confused.
Q: In an essay that appeared in the Journal of Near Eastern Studies you concluded that the Prophetic traditions are an important and useful type of source concerning the study of early Islam: "While studying the Musannaf of `Abd Ar-Razzaq, I came to the conclusion that the theory championed by Goldziher, Schacht and in their footsteps many others – myself included – which in general, rejects Hadith literature as a historically reliable source for the first century A.H., deprives the historical study of early Islam of an important and a useful type of source.” I would like you to elaborate on that, please?
Motzki: This essay is a summary of my above-mentioned habilitation dissertation published in German in 1991, the English translation followed in 2002 (The Origins of Islamic Jurisprudence. Meccan Fiqh before the Classical Schools) and the Arabic translation in 2010 (Bidayat Al-Fiqh Al-Islami Wa-Tatawwuruhu fi Makkah Hatta muntasif Al-Qarn Al-Hijri Al-Thani/Al-Miladi Al-Thamin, Beirut). In this book, I first critically review the theories, methods and conclusions of Goldziher, Schacht and many other scholars writing in Western languages about Muslim traditions and I pinpoint the problems found in their works. Then I show by an in-depth study of `Abd Ar-Razzaq’s Musannaf which conclusions of Goldziher and Schacht concerning the development of Islamic jurisprudence and the role of the Qur'an, Hadiths of the Prophet and other early traditions therein are tenable and which are not.
The outcome is that several crucial conclusions of Goldziher and Schacht are much too generalized. Schacht, for instance, constructed a schema of development of legal traditions in which references back to the Successor generation are the earliest, then follow traditions ascribed to Companions, and only later, from the middle of the second century H. onwards, traditions ascribed to the Prophet are brought into circulation. Schacht held that the traditions ascribed to the Prophet and to his Companions are to be regarded as generally fictive, and the traditions of the Successors largely inauthentic. My study of `Abd Ar-Razzaq’s Musannaf shows, however, that all three types of traditions circulated already at the turn of the first century and that some of them can be dated even earlier. This is only one of several new insights into the development of Islamic traditions. My results are based on reconstructions of the most important sources used by `Abd Ar-Razzaq for his compilation, and on reconstructions of the sources of `Abd Ar-Razzaq’s sources. Isnads and texts (Matns) of the traditions are the basis of these reconstructions.
Q: Analyzing Muslim Traditions: Studies in Legal, Exegetical and Maghazi Hadith States: This book by Harald Motzki is an introduction into the science of Hadith. I haven't read all of it yet but it focusses on Hadiths, their collection and their criticism, I wonder what the main aims particularly after more than 30 years of studying in the science of Hadith, and focusses on Hadiths, their collection and their criticism, early Hadith scholars focused on the isnad, the isnad’s quality, the quality of the Matn, Could you elaborate on that, please?
Motzki: This book may be used as an introduction into the science of Hadith for advanced students, but it is not conceived as a comprehensive introduction. It contains in English translation four studies of mine published between 1991 and 2001 in German and a fifth study written in 2003 but remaining unpublished. These studies continue my dispute with Western scholars who have published on Muslim traditions―J. Schacht, G.H.A. Juynboll, I. Schneider, J. Wansbrough and H. Berg―and they add to my English articles that also critically react to their writings and to the writings of I. Goldziher, N. Calder, M. Speight, M. Cook and F. Sezgin. However, the main aim of all my essays and of the two studies written by N. Boekhoff-van der Voort and Sean W. Anthony contained in this book, is not criticism of the works of other scholars who all contributed greatly to our understanding of Muslim traditions. The focus of our essays is development and testing of methods that enable us to date Muslim traditions more accurately on the basis of the available sources. The different methods of analyzing Muslim traditions used by scholars in the West, their advantages and disadvantages, are described in detail in my study “Dating Muslim Traditions: A Survey” (Arabica LII, 2005).
Q: Could you elaborate on Maghazi especially battle of Badr?
Motzki: I have investigated thoroughly the Maghazi traditions on the murder of Ibn Abul-Huqayq (published) and several Sira traditions (still unpublished) but not the traditions on the battle of Badr. However, a recent study of the earliest traditions on this event is available in the book of my colleagues A. Görke and G. Schoeler, Die ältesten Berichte über das Leben Muhammads. Das Korpus `Urwah ibn Az-Zubair, Princeton, N.J. 2008, pp. 78-124.
Q: Do you think all the Sira [Prophetic biography] is about is killing and using swords and nothing thing else?
Motzki: Everyone who is acquainted with the Sira [the Prophet's biography] of Ibn Hisham knows that such a statement is not true. The first part of the book deals with events before Muhammad’s birth, then follow stories about his life in Mecca. After the announcement of his prophetical mission, he and his followers had to endure the insults and the hostile behavior of the leading figures of Makkah that finally lead to the emigration of the Muslims to Medina. In the first year and a half of their stay there is no killing or waging of war by Muslims reported either. That means that about 40% of the Sira narrations do not mention this issue. The rest of the book deals mostly with the war between the Muslims and their Meccan enemies (in some cases also their Jewish enemies inside or outside Medina). From the Muslim’s perspective this warfare was a defense of their religion and their new religious community against the aggression and the threat of the heathen Meccans and their (partly Jewish) allies. This is also the legitimation given in the Qur'an.
Abdur-Rahman Abou Almajd: Thank you Professor Harald Motzki.
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