[P5898] Empires of Hadith: Cities, Commerce, and Conquest

Created by Mairaj Syed
Monday, 10/05/20 11:00 am


This panel brings together a diverse range of scholarly papers--historians and scholars of religion--to showcase how innovative digital tools, understudied manuscript sources, and interdisciplinary methods are changing the field of hadith studies to deliver luminous insights into the social and political worlds of the medieval Middle East, from the early Islamic period to the Mamluk and early Ottoman eras. Scholars of political history, economic history, urban history, religious studies, and ethics will find much of interest in this panel, which moves beyond the narrower forms of analysis that have too long discouraged disciplinary outsiders from finding rewards in the academic study of hadith.

Our first panelist takes a big-data approach to analyzing chains of transmission (isnads) and uncovers, how and when the centers of hadith transmission rose and fell, and how those contours correlate with the political and economic history of the early Middle East. Our panel next explores representations of jihad in early hadith literature, and shows how a close examination of these accounts might press our field to question the dominant historical narratives about the early Islamic conquests. Moving forward in time, our panel turns to the proverbial Spice Trade of the 13th-16th centuries, and explores the elective affinity between the pursuit of profit and prophetic traditions across the Mediterrenean and the Indian Ocean. Indeed, as this paper argues, the spice trade and the tradition of hadith transformed one another, as merchants, scholars, and merchant-scholars alike turned to prophetic traditions to mediate the novel dilemmas sparked by ever-widening flows of people, capital, and ideas. Our panel concludes by examining understudied manuscripts sources--reading licenses (ijazas) in particular--to illuminate how Mamluk-era networks of hadith study fared under the Ottoman conquest. This final contribution marks an important corrective to the current understanding that the study of hadith declined with the fall of the Mamluks, and traces a novel genealogy of Sunnism in the Ottoman Empire.

Far from an obscurantists' fascination, these four panelists show just how much hadith literature has yet to teach the broader field of Middle East Studies about trade, empire, war, and the formation of social networks in the Islamic world. The panel will close with a roundtable-style conversation with the audience on new approaches and new directions in hadith studies, and how to make the rewards of studying hadith useful to broader and interdisciplinary audiences of the medieval Middle East.


Middle East Medievalists (MEM)






Joel Blecher

(George Washington University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;