The Transmission and Dynamics of the Textual Sources of Islam: Essays in Honour of Harald Motzki.

Author:Lucas, Scott C.
Position:Book review

The Transmission and Dynamics of the Textual Sources of Islam: Essays in Honour of Harald Motzki. Edited by NICOLET BOEKHOFF-VAN DER VOORT, KEES VERSTEEGH, and JOAS WAGEMAKERS. Islamic History and Civilization, vol. 89. Leiden: BRILL, 2011. Pp. xvi + 494. $221.

What do a peculiar manuscript of the Quran in Gronigen, Elijah Muhammad, al-Dahhak b. Muzahim (d. 105/723), and contemporary Muslim youth in the Netherlands have in common? Answer: They appear as subjects of articles in a festschrift for the pioneering scholar of Islamic Studies Harald Motzki. While the editors have endeavored to group this unwieldy array of nineteen contributions into the subcategories of Production, Transmission, Interpretation, and Reception, nearly all of the articles fall into one of two categories: essays concerning the first two centuries of Islam; and essays concerning the past fifty years of Islamists. Only three articles cover anything between AH 200 and 1350: Maribel Fierro's "preliminary framework for the study of Hadith literature in al-Andalus" (p. 63); Gerard Wiegers's chapter "Jean de Roquetaillade's Prophecies among the Muslim Minorities of Medieval and Early-Modern Christian Spain: An Islamic Version of the Vademecum in Tribulatione"; and Uri Rubin's analysis of numerous Sunni exegetes' opinions on Q 44:10-11, which he argues shed light on the post-Quranic image of the Prophet Muhammad. I shall reflect briefly on this near-exclusive focus on Islamic origins and contemporary Islamists at the conclusion of this review.

While in graduate school I found Harald Motzki's isnad-cum-matn methodology a sophisticated and compelling use of Sunni hadith literature and a welcome departure from the prevailing orientalist approach of reliance upon arguments from silence, global conspiracy theories, avoidance of the vast majority of early hadith texts, and ignoring (or simply dismissing without engaging) the internal tradition of Sunni Muslim hadith criticism. Motzki not only avoided all of these pitfalls, but actually challenged them in the best academic journals. (1) He also brought to the attention of Western scholars the extraordinary significance of the Musannaf of 'Abd al-Razzaq al-San'ani (d. 211/827) for understanding the nature of Islamic law in the first and second centuries of Islam, although this massive text remains woefully underutilized to this day. (In this festschrift only the opening article by Nicolet Boekhoff-Van der Voort engages with 'Abd al-Razzaq's Musannaf.)

The editors of the volume under review summarize the isnad-cum-matn method in a single long paragraph (p. 10), and they ascribe it to both Harald Motzki and Gregor Schoeler (whose short article on Musa b. 'Uqba is the only non-English contribution to this volume). In short, the method consists of three steps:

  1. Collect many isnads of...

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