Date of Award

Spring 5-1-2014

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

Jewish, Islamic and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures

Degree Name

Master of Arts (AM/MA)

Degree Type



Of the four main Sunnī schools of law, the Ḥanafī school and its eponymous founder Abū Ḥanīfa (d. 767) have historically been labelled by their opponents as ahl al-ra’y (those who prefer reason over Ḥadīth (Prophetic reports)). This issue was quite charged in the early period of the development of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence). It was reignited in nineteenth century India by a group of scholars who called themselves “Ahl-e-Hadīs.” In response, a group of Ḥanafī scholars, later called Deobandīs, attempted to defend their school by re-articulating Ḥanafī legal theory to explain the “proper” position of Ḥadīth in it, and by trying to demonstrate the Ḥadīth competence of Abū Ḥanīfa. In addition, Deobandīs also composed new Ḥadīth collections and commenatries on existing Ḥadīth works, with a view to “proving” that the Ḥanafī school was as grounded in Ḥadīth as any other Sunnī school. Moreover, they established a new curriculum in their madrasas (traditional Islamic schools/colleges) in which major attention was given to the relationship between Ḥanafī fiqh and Ḥadīth. Through textual analysis of Deobandi works and personal experience of the curriculum and pedagogy in a Deobandī madrasa, I argue that Deobandī articulation of Ḥanafī legal theory with respect to Ḥadīth was not mainly for the derivation of legal rulings but was meant to create “acceptance” of Ḥanafī Ḥadīth proofs on the part of their opponents, Ahl-e-Hadīs. Moreover, Deobandīs were not alone in trying to defend Abū Ḥanīfa and the Ḥanafī school. During the same period and earlier, in India and the Middle East, other Ḥanafīs were engaged in a similar defense of Abū Ḥanīfa and the Ḥanafī school against charges of indifference toward Ḥadīth. I also argue that the Deobandīs’ approach toward Ḥadīth and Ḥanafī fiqh is a detailed and somewhat altered application of the ideas Walī Allāh had held earlier in his craeer, namely, selective appropriation of Ḥanafī jurists’ work to bring forward those opinions from within the school that were closer to Ḥadīth, and therefore, to the Prophet sunna (practice).


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Hayrettin Yucesoy

Committee Members

John Bowen


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