Hadith Interpretation from Andalusia to South Asia

Episode 401

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Since the early centuries of Islam, Muslims have put tremendous effort into knowing and verifying reports of what the Prophet Mohammad said and did, known as hadith. They have written books collecting hadith, and even longer books explaining what they mean and how they should inform Muslim life. However, these books emerged (and continue to emerge) from a vibrant oral culture of hadith commentary. In this episode, Joel Blecher brings to life many sessions of hadith commentary from three different contexts: classical al-Andalus, Mamluk Egypt and modern India. Blecher tells us of al-Baji, who stirred up controversy in a quiet seaside town of Spain, of ibn Hajar's spontaneous poetic polemics at the Mamluk court, and of how al-Maqsari witnessed the Prophet in attendance in a hadith commentary session in Yemen. Concluding with modern Indian scholars' comments on British colonial officials, Blecher reflects on the way hadith commentary has always been a site of politics as well as piety.

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Contributor Bios
Joel Blecher is an Assistant Professor of History at George Washington University, in Washington D.C., and the author of Said the Prophet of God: Hadith Commentary across a Millennium (University of California, 2018). He is writing his second book on Islam and the Spice Trade, supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Shireen Hamza is a doctoral candidate in the History of Science department at Harvard University. Her research focuses on the history of medical exchange in the medieval Indian Ocean world. She is also the managing editor of the Journal of Middle East Women's Studies.
Chris Gratien is Assistant Professor of History at University of Virginia, where he teaches classes on global environmental history and the Middle East. He is currently preparing a monograph about the environmental history of the Cilicia region of the former Ottoman Empire from the 1850s until the 1950s.


Episode No. 401
Release Date: 11 February 2019
Recording Location: Washington, D.C.
Audio editing by Shireen Hamza
Music: Special thanks to The Overseas Ensemble for permission to feature their song.
Image and bibliography courtesy of Joel Blecher


The bookshelves of Muhammad Khwaja Sharif in the library of the Arabic school in which he is a rector, in Hyderabad. Ibn Hajar’s Fath al-bari sits on the top shelf, and the commentaries of Qastallani, Ibn Battal, and ʿAyni rest on the second and third shelves. Urdu commentaries on Sahih al-Bukhari are placed on the second lowest shelf. Immediately to the left of the second shelf (not pictured) are Arabic and Urdu commentaries on other hadith compilations, as well as Wensinck’s Concordance et Indices de la Tradition Musulmane. (Photograph by Joel Blecher) 

Select Bibliography

Blecher, Joel. Said the Prophet of God: Hadith Commentary across a Millennium, University of California Press, 2018.

_____. “Ḥadīth commentary," Encyclopaedia of Islam, THREE, Ed. Kate Fleet, Gudrun Krämer, Denis Matringe, John Nawas, Everett Rowson. Leiden: Brill, 2018.

Brown, Jonathan A. C. Hadith. Oxford: Oneworld, 2009.

Fadel, Muhammad. “Ibn Ḥajar’s Hady al-Sārī: A Medieval Interpretation of the Structure of al-Bukhārī’s al-Jāmiʿ al-Ṣaḥīḥ: Introduction and Translation.” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 54 (1995): 161–195.

Hoover, John. “Perpetual Creativity in the Perfection of God: Ibn Taymiyya’s Hadith Commentary on God’s Creation of This World.” Journal of Islamic Studies 15.3 (2004): 287–329.

Messick, Brinkley.Textual Domination and History in a Muslim Society. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

Ishaq, Muhammad. India’s Contribution to the Study of Hadith Literature. Dacca, Bangladesh: University of Dacca Press, 1955.

Mahmood, Saba. “The Pedagogies of Persuasion,” in Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005: 79–117.

Tokatly, Vardit. “The Early Commentaries on al-Bukhārī’s Ṣaḥīḥ.” PhD diss., Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2003.

Woodward, M. R. “Textual Exegesis as Social Commentary: Religious, Social, and Political Meanings of Indonesian Translations of Arabic Ḥadīth Texts.” Journal of Asian Studies 52.3 (1993): 565–583.

Zaman, Muhammad Qasim. “Commentaries, Print and Patronage: ‘Ḥadīth’ and the Madrasas in Modern South Asia.” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 62.1 (1999): 60–81.


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