The Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding of Georgetown University and the Centre for Islamic Studies and Civilisation of Charles Sturt University in collaboration with Comparative Islamic Studies (Equinox Journal)are pleased to host an online conference on Isnād-cum-matn Analysis (ICMA) as a Method in Contemporary Hadith Studies on 27-28 January 2024.
Western academic scholarship on the origin and transmission of hadith and traditional Muslim hadith methodologies of authentication, though studying the same body of literature, often operate in disconnected universes. It is of scholarly importance to academic development and for the continued vibrancy of the hadith tradition, as practiced by Muslim ulema, that dialogue continues between the two. Conferences aiming to do so, such as the one at Pembroke College, Oxford in 2019 on the topic of Modern Hadith Studies between Arabophone and Western scholarship, are a welcome effort, though the field remains siloed.
Since the academic movement is most closely associated with the work of Harold Motzki from the 1990s, there has been a shift beyond the so-called ‘skeptical’ school with respect to hadith using the technique of ICMA. This method analyses the variation of hadith texts according to their paths of transmission, seeking to provide a reliable date for the time at which a hadith was first in common circulation (as witnessed by its corroborated chains). Scholars with a range of theoretical perspectives have used this methodology to analyze and in particular, date hadiths on various topics. The method is commonly used to recover as much as possible of the hadith corpus as a viable historical source for the first two centuries of Islam, even though the canonical compilations date mainly to the third century and later. Though ICMA has received positive reception, especially in the context of the prior prevailing academic skepticism about hadith, critical voices have been raised. Some scholars have argued for the continuation of a more skeptical attitude towards the transmission of hadith, based on the ways that fabricated reports and chains can enter the corpus. Others have suggested that Motzki’s focus on full textual corroboration does not go far enough and other techniques, including those used within the Islamic intellectual tradition, could be legitimately added to date hadiths earlier still. Finally, some scholars defend the integrity of the canonical hadith collections as a whole.
This conference will provide a forum for the assessment of an international group of experts on hadith, from a variety of backgrounds and theoretical perspectives. The intention is to provide a ‘state of the art’ appraisal of ICMA within hadith studies and related academic disciplines, with selected papers published with the blind peer reviewed journal Comparative Islamic Studies.