Isnad-cum-matn Analysis and Kalala: Some Critical Reflections.

Author:Scheiner, Jens
Position:Critical essay

The Quranic term kalala is enigmatic. In Q 4:176, for example, kalala refers to someone who has died leaving only one or more siblings, in which case they are entitled to inheritance; in Q 4:12 kalala is also used in the context of Quranic inheritance law but, depending on the vocalization of the preceding verb, yurathu (passive) or yurithu (active), it is usually interpreted as referring to the heirs of the deceased and not to the deceased him- or herself. The correct lexical understanding of the term, the--possibly contradictory--relationship between the two Quranic verses, and the legal implications of both passages have puzzled Muslim scholars for centuries and are still keeping modern Islamicists busy. Following upon the publications of David Powers (1982, 1986, 2009) and Agostino Cilardo (2004), Pavel Pavlovitch, Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at Sofia University "St. Kliment Ohridski," has dedicated to this issue a new study that is under review here.

Pavlovitch's main concern is to answer the question of what kalala meant in the second/eighth century (p. ix). Or, put differently: How did Muslim linguists, exegetes, and legal scholars understand and interpret the term at that time? Following John Wansbrough, Pavlovitch uses the term masora from the rabbinic tradition to refer to the linguistic understanding of kalala, while he employs the term halakha when the legal context is meant (p. xi n. 7). However, his objective is not only to list various understandings and interpretations of the term, but also to study the intellectual development that was connected to it. Accordingly, "the history of kalala... involved a comprehensive, yet not always straightforward, interaction between scriptural and sunnaic norms, which, in combination, shaped the theoretical and practical outlines of Islamic law during the second century AH" (p. xi). In other words, Pavlovitch intends to reconstruct part of the second/eighth-century scholarly discourse on kalala (although this is not stated expressis verbis).

To attain these objectives Pavlovitch makes use of the so-called isnad-cum-matn analysis (ICMA), i.e., a combined approach to chains of authorities (sing, isnad) and texts (sing. matn) in clusters of hadith (reports on the Prophet or other authoritative early figures). This method allows one ultimately to establish a chronology regarding the textual development and transmission of these reports by reconstructing older versions and dating them on the basis of the floruit of the earliest common transmitter (the so-called common link, CL). This philological method is very detailed and labor-intensive, but Pavlovitch has mastered it very well and is aware of the method's many intricacies. As has been observed (and as is the case in this study too), the rigidity of this method, however, ends up classifying only a few texts as ancient and reliable, so that the historical information they yield is equally scarce; this circumstance might be regarded as disappointing when we consider the enormous number of hadith preserved in the various collections. However, the reports reconstructed on this basis can be used for the historical reconstruction of events and--as in this case--of debates with a very high degree of reliability. In addition, whenever ICMA is applied--be it in cases of biography (sira), (1) Islamic law, (2) history, (3) or exegesis (4)--the basic method has needed some fine-tuning. Pavlovitch therefore developed some adaptations (eight, by my count), the mention (and assessment) of which will be of help for the prospective reader of the monograph.

(1) According to Pavlovitch, "the floruit of... the Common Link... may be identified as the time period when this matn variant was put into circulation" (p. xii). This very common assessment of the CL's role is in itself not problematic; regarding the exact floruit, however, on the one hand, Pavlovitch tries to narrow it down on the basis of biographical information "with the precision of less than a decade," yet, on the other hand, in most cases he defines it, quite generously and "tentatively," as "the last four or five decades of the CL's lifetime" (p. 48). He does not give a reason for this definition, which provides for quite a large time span since we cannot know whether an average scholar was active for forty or fifty years. (For this reason I chose in my work a period of twenty-five years, which lies in the middle of Pavlovitch's figures. (5))

(2) When assessing an isnad-bundle Pavlovitch does not want to anticipate the analysis by defining a scholar "at whose level the isnad branches out to several later transmitters" (p. 25) as common link (CL), partial common link (PCL), or seeming CL/PCL. Therefore--following G. H. A. Juynboll--he uses the more general term "key transmitter." In the course of his analysis, he later specifies the key transmitters accordingly. On the one hand, this is a valid refinement of the method; on the other hand, it complicates the analysis unnecessarily and can sometimes lead to confusion when an obvious PCL or CL is initially not described as such, but is identified only after lengthy discussion (e.g., pp. 149, 287).

(3) Pavlovitch distinguishes between "direct collectors" (DCRs) and indirect collectors (my expression, not his). While the first are "collectors who transmit directly on the authority of a key figure" (p. 25), the latter transmit from the key figure via one or two intermediates. This distinction is probably due to Pavlovitch's assessment of the single strand, which he held to be inauthentic in most of his cases because it could not be corroborated by other evidence. (6) Regarding the single strand below the CL, Pavlovitch argues that "the CL would have supplied them [i.e., the traditions] with isnads that may have included real transmitters along with fictitious persons" due to a faulty memory or previous anonymous circulation (pp. 28-29). For this reason, the author does not reflect on the provenance of the information a...

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