--While Abbott has for the most part constructed a coherent argument, her reading of the sources seems naive to some scholars.
As GHA Juynboll has pointed out, ''Abbott seems to rely too heavily on much of the information given in isnads and in books about
isnads concerning the information given in isnads and in books about isnads concerning the three oldest tabaqat
''. Yet it is isnads
and their authenticity that lie at the heart of the debate over the authenticity of hadiths. Her conclusions come as no surprise
once she accepts the historicity of the information contained in isnads, for she has simply developed a circular argument.
--(Fuat) Sezgin offers no real argument for why one should give up the old 'prejudice' against the authenticity of the isnads; he
simply says it most be so. However, as Juynboll points out, ''unearthing and cataloging material, as Sezgin has done is something
altogether different from establishing authenticity
--The dismissal of a few examples does not necessarily weaken the overarching patterns suggested by Schacht, especially since
many of (Mustafa) Azami, like those of (Nadia) Abbott and Sezgin, rest on complete faith in the historicity of the source material.
This faith, of course, is the problem for sceptics. The arguments of Abbott, Sezgin, and Azami rely on biographical materials that
were produced symbiotically with the isnads they seek to defend. These sources are not independent.
--Many scholars have found merit in the arguments and theories of Goldziher and Schacht, and in those of Abbott, Sezgin, and
Azami. While the scepticism of the former two seems largely justified, these other scholars are loath to accept the full implications
of the doubts raised. They are not willing to resign themselves to such uncertainty. Nor are they willing to accept what appears at
times to be the seemingly naive position of the latter three. The use of simple ascription is historically untenable to them.
--Gautier H. A. Juynboll, like Azami, has delved deeply into the issues of origin and authenticity of the hadith material as raised
by Schacht. But, unlike Azami, Juynboll embraces Schacht's work and in many respects his successor, even though he differs from
him on several significant points. That is, Juynboll defends and considerably refines Schach's theories, but he also retreats from his
complete scepticism about the authenticity of the hadiths. On the whole, he is just as distrustful of the historical value of isnads,
but pushes the date for their appearance to no earlier and the end of the first century (+/-740), which is several decades earlier
than Schacht places it.... Juynboll says: ''Something which always struck me in the work of Sezgin, Azami and also of Abbott... is
that they do not seem to realize that, even if a manuscript or a papyrus is unearthed with an allegedly ancient text, this text could
easily have been forged by an authority who lived at a time later than the supposedly oldest authority given in its isnad. Isnad
fabrication occurred on just as vast a scale as matn fabrication
--According to the awa'il sources, after Muhammad's death the first to spread stories about him (in a deliberate manner) were the
storytellers (qussas), who told stories of an edifying nature. Isnads proper were not attached to the 'prophetic' utterances. It is
reported that Sha'bi (d.721-8) was the first person to question someone about an authority and that Shu'ba ibn al-Hajjas (d.777)
was the first to examine every isnad. And so, systematic rijal criticism began about 130/747. Hence, isnads did not appear as early
as many Muslim scholars believe.... He does not dispute the fact that Muslims began to record things about their prophet during his
lifetime, but there is nothing to suggest that this was practiced on a significant scale. His examination of the awa'il evidence on the
introduction of hadiths to various parts of the Islamic world and on the collection of such material indicates a relatively late growth.
The Authenticity of the Historical hadiths
--Wansbrough argues that the sira (biography of the Prophet) is salvation history, and not just history. It was a product of a
polemical context and employs exegetical, parabolic, and paraphrastic narratives in order to historicize or exemplify the scripture.
In other words, the sira is tafsir and cannot be used to determine the real events during the life of the prophet.
--Though some of his conclusions are diametrically opposed to those of Wansbrough, a similar scepticism is evinced by (John) Burton.
In his study of hadiths about the collection of the Quran, he argues that, though they may be contradictory, they all agree insofar as
they attempt to mask what really happened -that is, they attempt to cover up the awkwardness of having a doctrine of abrogation in
conjunction with Muhammad having produced the text of the Quran himself. Furthermore, he argues that some historical hadiths (in
this case sunna, but in others sira) are more exegetical than 'historical'.... In the case of historical hadiths, these later scholars seem
to be in the majority (Wansbrough, Calder, Hawting, Crone, Cook, and Hinds, notwithstanding). This was less the case for legal
hadiths and, as we saw, not the case for exegetical hadiths -despite recent efforts to do so.
--The similarity in the content of the matns observed by Stauth may not indicate a common source at all. It may simply reveal that
the spread of isnads occurred, not just with an isolated hadith, but with a collection of them. As Cook suggests with respect to
hadiths in general, isnads may have been fabricated in order to skip contemporaries, to assign teachings to one's own teacher, or to
remove the charge of being 'isolated'.
--A fabricator, whether he is unscrupulously lying or piously inventing, is also limited in the manner in which he expresses his ideas by
the exegetical devices with which he is familiar. And so a profile of his exegetical methods can also be constructed. Whether exegete
or fabricator, an informant can only transmit to his students from the pool of hadiths he has generated.... It is al-Tabari, according to
Gilliot, who sought to define the limits of acceptable interpretation by adducing material that placed those opinions in the mouths of
earlier Muslims. The role of isnads was essential in this process. And so it is with al-Tabari that any investigation into the correlation
of style and isnads should begin.
(Note: I've skipped what has been covered in my preceding post on Herbert Berg, about al-Tabari and Ibn Abbas)
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On Ibn Abbas
--It seems very unlikely that exegetical hadiths could been fabricated on such a massive scale without generating some dissent in the
extant literature. Therefore, a second and equally important question is raised: how could it have been possible to maintain such a large
and complete conspiracy of silence regarding the true origin of the of the material (see the first three chapters). C. Gilliot provides the
first part of the answer. He argues that Ibn Abbas came to have a mythic status in the practice of quranic exegesis.... Leemhuis suggest
that a not insignificant factor is his being a progenitor of the ABBASID caliphs, who ruled when much of the tafsir was being produced.
The next part of the answer comes from Schacht. His assertion that legal hadiths were projected back upon Successors, then Companions,
and finally the Prophet himself, seems applicable to exegetical hadiths too. The vast majority of the hadiths in al-Tabari's Tafsirs are not
linked with Ibn Abbas (5,835 out of 38,388).... Although he is the most numerically prominent exegete. Hence, most hadiths come from
later generations of Muslim exegetes. The data analyzed above cannot be used to verify the authenticity of hadiths whose isnads end
with the students of Ibn Abbas (... Ibn Jubayr, Ikrima, Mujahid...), but it does suggest that the exegetical opinions of the hadiths of
my sample originated neither with Ibn Abbas nor with his students.... Schacht's model seems to fit the exegetical material, though the
ultimate authority becomes Ibn Abbas, not Muhammad....
--This seems to be confirmed by a notable feature in the tafsir. For each interpretation of a word or verse, there are often many hadiths
adduced -some containing the views of Ibn Abbas, through Ibn Jubayr, Ikrima and/or Mujahid for example, and some the views of (these
students) themselves. The fact that these students of Ibn Abbas felt the need to give their own opinions when, according to the isnads,
they were well aware of Ibn Abbas' opinion and when the opinions were exactly the same at times, conforms to a scenario in which the
hadiths were projected back progressively further with the passage of time.
--One could ask why a fabricator would appeal first to the students of Ibn Abbas... If one is going to fabricate a matn, why not give it the
best possible isnad? In the case of exegetical hadiths, it may be that Ibn Jubayr, Ikrima, Mujahid, and later exegetes were associated
with quranic exegesis prior to Ibn Abbas. They only became his 'students' when his mythic status as the great commentator and teacher
--The ubiquitous use of students like Ibn Jubayr, Ikrima and Mujahid, whether as transmitters or as exegetes, is consistent with (Norman)
Calder's suggestion that isnads converge at the levels of the Successors and the Companions simply because of the shared respect for
these early Muslims by all later (rival) groups and individuals.... an approach that culminated (in the world of tafsir) in al-Tabari's work.
--These formulations were systemic, but not systematic (the latter of which would certainly require conspiracy or at least collusion).
That ibn Abbas contradicts himself continously according to the hadiths recorded by al-Tabari is evidence that the various authors did
not necessarily agree on what it was that Ibn Abbas had said.... Why would the figure of Ibn Abbas have been chosen if he had not
already been esteemed as an exegete? The mythic status he attained in the field of quranic exegesis is undeniable and no doubt led to
the invocation of his authority by the backward projection of later opinions. However, it seems only logical that such spurious attributions
must be posterior to the emergence of the mythic status and, therefore, that the historicity of Ibn Abbas' exegetical activities led to the
emergence of the status.... My analysis suggest that the hadiths examined do not seem to originate with him or his students. if some of
the material is authentic, it can never be recovered.
--A student of Ibn Abbas who transmitted only prophetic traditions cannot be made into a transmitter of lexical explanations by later
successive generations of transmitters, if they are authentically transmitted.... That is, the number of authentic hadiths coming from
Ibn Abbas via Ibn Jubayr must be less than those from Ibn Abbas. The smaller the number of hadiths, the less the possibility of skewing
the stylistic profile.
--Schacht delves more deeply (than Goldziher) into the implications of this new incredulity particularly with respect to legal hadiths...
First, he suggests that the more perfect the isnads, the later the hadiths.... His methods for examining isnads are challenged by both
later skeptics (such as Cook and Calder) and those who place faith in the information provided by isnads (such as Sezgin and Azami)...
Nevertheless, together Goldziher and Schacht manage to break the link between Muhammad and his sunna. Wansbrough extends this
process, breaking the link between the figure of Muhammad and the Qur'an and sira.
--The stylistic profile of Ibn Abbas is not preserved by his students or by al-Tabari's informants. Nor are the stylistic profiles of each
students transmission of ibn abbas consistent for each of al-Tabari informants. This general inconsistency indicates that most, if not
all, of the hadiths of my sample cannot have originated with Ibn Abbas as their isnads contend. Moreover, the inconsistency between
his students and the informants implies that these hadiths cannot have been circulated by the students either. Therefore, if neither
Ibn Abbas nor his students can be linked with these hadiths, I must conclude that the claims of the isnads are false. At the very least,
the first two (and most crucial) links in the isnads are incorrect. And, if the isnads of Ibn Abbas's hadiths are largely or completely
spurious, the reliability of the isnads of most exegetical hadiths is in serious doubt. As a result, one must assume the inauthenticity
of the information in such isnads.
--Schacht's model for the development of legal hadiths, particularly if modified by contributions from Calder, Rippin, and Gilliot,
largely applies to exegetical hadiths too. Isnads, at least at first, grew backwards; later, wholesale fabrications, 'dives', seem
likely. At one point during this process, a myth of origins for quranic exegesis developed around the figure of Ibn Abbas.
--A symbiosis between myth of Ibn Abbas and this consensus gave rise to many of the hadiths which bear his name. Later, many
hadiths, no doubt, drew on the authority of Ibn Abbas in a more contrived manner. Therefore, not only is there is no possibility
of reconstructing the original tafsir of Ibn Abbas, but there is also no point in attempting to do so.
--It is obvious that my experiment supports the view of the skeptics, particularly those of Wansbrough. He argues:... The supplying
of isnads, whether traced to the prophet, to his companions, or to their successors, may be understood as an exclusively formal
innovation and cannot be dated much before 200/815. That Shafi'i stringent standards with regard to prophetical hadiths were not
applied in the fields of history and exegesis is an impression derived from a wholly artificial classification of their contents. The
substance of history, of exegesis, and of law was identical: its degree of attestation depended upon the particular use being made of
it. And the quality of isnad (marfu, muttasil, mursal, maqtu, etc), too, varied for the same material according to its employment.''
--Wansbrough's doubt about the origin of tafsir seems confirmed: the earliest names given in the isnads do not seem to have any
consistent or discernable connection to the exegetical material in the corresponding matns. Moreover, it certainly seems that exegetical
hadiths were subject to the same processes as their legal and historical counterparts. No longer can the former be privileged as somehow
unique. And although these results will not be the final word in the debate begun by Goldziher, it is a strong argument in favor of
scepticism toward the isnads of exegetical hadiths in particular, and of other genres of hadiths in early Islamic texts in general.