An Introduction to the Hadith.

Author:Dickinson, Eerik

This is a book that wears its title rather uneasily, for it contains much advanced material. Burton does offer certain concessions to the title's promise, but ultimately limitations remain. It is very difficult to decide whether the book should be judged as a technical treatise for experts or a general work aimed at beginners. Elements of both are found and they jostle one another uncomfortably.

For some time Burton has been one of the most productive and provocative researchers in early Islamic thought and a summary of the conclusions he has reached concerning hadith would be of great value for students in the field. Therefore, it is regrettable that he has chosen here not to provide a clear and coherent exposition of his original insights, but rather to imbed them in critiques of Ignaz Goldziher and Joseph Schacht, found throughout the text. As it is, the reader must extract Burton's views one-by-one and piece them together on his own. Those who have read Burton's other works are familiar with the importance he ascribes to "the looming presence of the Quran" (p. 149), and he states here that "many of the hadiths can be shown to spring from an ancient source in the primitive [Qur anic] exegeses" (p. 181). Although these hadith may not have necessarily emanated from the Prophet, they may date from "very soon after" (p. 181). For Burton, most hadith are the "documentary precipitation" of a "paper war" between scholars more concerned with establishing ideals than regulating behavior (p. xxiii). This differs considerably from the view of Schacht, who saw late Umayyad administrative practice and popular usage as the sources of many legal hadith. Chapter four, "The Study of the Hadith," examines the exegetical hadith and is one of the most interesting sections of the book. Burton divides exegetical hadith into "pure" and "applied," the difference being that the former were directly inspired by the text of the Qur an while the latter seem to be those that argue their point by providing variant readings of the Qur anic text. Here we are expertly led through a number of legal disputes where the role played by hadith is clearly shown. These discussions are unavoidably intricate, but they amply repay the effort expended in following them. Burton's discussion of the question of whether hadith could abrogate the Qur an is also important (pp. 113-16).

The elements of the book which are appropriate for an introductory work aimed at undergraduates or...

To continue reading