The Role of ʿAql in Determining the Rules of Matn Criticism in al-Ṭaḥāwī’s Sharḥ Mushkil al-Āthār

Mir Sadeq Ansari

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Recent work in hadith studies have demonstrated that content criticism (matn criticism) has taken place in different genres, such as the narrator biographies collections (ʿilm al-rijāl), books in jurisprudence (uṣūl al-fiqh) and literature of fabricated hadiths (mawḍūʿāt). Each of these genres have their own advantages and limitations. The ikhtilāf al-ḥadīth genre, a body of literature that deals with contradictions found in the canonical hadith corpus has not received much academic attention. The Sharḥ mushkil al- āthār of Abū Jaʿfar al-Ṭaḥāwī (d. 321) is the most significant text of not only the ikhtilāf genre, but matn criticism at large as it is authored by a primary hadith collector and a leading Ḥanafī jurist. Beyond demonstrating whether al-Ṭaḥāwī conducts content criticism or not and in which topic areas, this study critically analyses the use of rational thinking by the author throughout his magnum opus and explores how he applies the principles of matn criticism. Specific tools of matn criticism such as the use of historical information, Arabic hermeneutics and general principles of logic are further examined to extract particular criteria that al-Ṭaḥāwī employs in his application of these rules. This research critically evaluated the 15 volumes of Sharḥ mushkil al- āthār, categorising data based on the tools of content criticism. At times, al-Ṭaḥāwī using historical information, rejects hadith due to content difficulties, regardless of the strength of its isnād. In other places, he can be found apologetically defending problematic content hadith despite its weakness in the chains of transmission. This research grouped all techniques of content criticism employed by al-Ṭaḥāwī and aimed to understanding his methodological approach towards their application. Al-Ṭaḥāwī’s Arabic hermeneutic advocates for a flexible philosophical take on the language on the one hand, yet it also applies rules and limitations on the other, even if logical problems arise due to them. Underneath al-Ṭaḥāwī’s apologetic defence of the corpus of hadith not containing contradictions and his polemical exchanges with his interlocutors, this study argues that he does have a consistent set of rules by which he applies to matn criticism. Adding significance to his hermeneutics, which this study explores, is the fact that al-Ṭaḥāwī’s creedal text is studied by all theological inclinations of Sunni Islam. This research also critically evaluates al-Ṭaḥāwī use of ʿaql in the preferences he makes in relation to Qur’anic variant readings (qirāʾāt), a contentious topic that is not often associated with matn criticism. This study shows that many prophetic hadith deal with qirāʾāt and given the higher ontological status they enjoy, al-Ṭaḥāwī’s core philosophical undertaking of the field, as well as his practical applications highlight the significance he enjoys in his hermeneutics.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
  • Yucel, Salih, Principal Supervisor
  • Coruh, Hakan, Co-Supervisor
  • Brown, Jonathan A.C., Co-Supervisor, External person
Place of PublicationAustralia
Publication statusPublished - 2022


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