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In Islam and the Problem of Black Suffering, Jackson opens by stating the creation of Islamic theology was a result of the expansion of the religion. As Islam grew and included non-Arabs of different cultures and states, two groups of theologians, the Traditionalists and the Rationalists, emerged. Jackson highlights that these two parties did not differ in their emphasis of reason over revelation, or vice versa. Both recognized the importance of revelation (or tradition) and reason; however, the distinction was which sense should be used when reading and interpreting revelation. Traditionalism and Rationalism arose from the conflict of whether to use reason or revelation as the context in which to understand the Qur’an.
In The Formative Period of Islamic Thought, Watt describes the “Traditions” at length. In contrast to Jackson, he does not discuss the Traditionalist point of view but refers to the “hadith,” or the Prophet’s (PBUH) sayings and narrations of actions. Eventually, for a Tradition to be deemed reliable, an “isnad,” or authentic chain of narrators, was required. Nonetheless, because there was no systematic communication of the Traditions in the seventh century, Watt describes Goldziher’s demonstration of how the Traditions may not be impartial, accurate accounts, but were instead influenced by political or sectional agendas. Watt later briefly mentions traditionalists, but only to say that scholars ceased identifying as either traditionalists or as lawyers, because both law and Traditions were being studied. He then remarks that the label “traditionalist” is more appropriate for the “mu-haddithun,” who were scholars who took part in conveying the Traditions. In contrast, the Ahl al-Hadith were those who not only conveyed the Traditions, but also emphasized the use of Traditions in law. Watt closes by detailing the study of the Traditions and their use in determining theological and legal matters.
In his introduction to The Cambridge Companion to Classical Islamic Theology, Winter describes the impact of Islamic theology on monotheism, with its unique point of view and room for interpretation. Winter continues to discuss the impact of theology on Islamic law by highlighting that most Muslims desired a moderate view Islam that incorporated the scripture but allowed for the creation of definitions and multiple rulings. He then introduces the reason and revelation debate, describing Rationalists as believing that reason trumps revelation. This depiction contradicts Jackson’s distinction between Traditionalists and Rationalists, who did not prioritize reason or revelation, but differed in which context revelation should be understood in. According to Winter, Rationalists had a nonrepresentational representation of God, while Traditionalists, or strict scripturalists, included anthropomorphic features. However, Winter does describe Leaman’s discussion of reason and revelation as not being against one another, but more aligned with Jackson’s idea that they are tools to be used in discussions of understanding the Qur’anic revelation.
In the article, “Qur’an and Hadith,” Abel Haleem details the role of revelation and narration in “the tradition,” which refers to the religion of Islam as a whole, instead of the Traditionalist party. The Qur’an is believed to be the word of God, and thus is the primary source of belief for the religion. The hadith are viewed as another form of revelation and serves as a companion to the Qur’an by emphasizing Quranic content and expounding upon teachings and rulings. Abdel Haleem mentions Ash’arism, the main school of orthodox Muslims, but does not delve into the Traditionalist/Rationalist dichotomy.
Goldziher opens Introduction to Islamic Theology and Law by describing the culture in which Muhammad (PBUH) lived and in which early Islam began. Although he does describes the Qur’an as the foundation and basis of Islam, he does not introduce the “hadith” or Traditions in this introduction to early Islam. However, he does list other cultures and ways of thinking that influenced the formation of Islam, such as Hellenistic and Hindu thought, Roman law, and Persian politics.
These introductory readings detail the early beginnings of Islam and the influences and evolution of its theology and doctrine. Although each author focuses on different aspects of the early religion, all agree on the importance of the scriptures: the Qur’an as the primary source, and the “hadith,” or narrations of the sayings of the Prophet (PBUH). Although different theologians employ different methods of thinking when understanding the revelations and attempting to answer complex questions, the influence of these sacred writings are undisputed.
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