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Thesis: The Emergence and Development of the Shiʻite Ḥadīth Canon

This study is focused on the ʾithnā asharī or Twelver strand of Shiʿism, the predominant branch of orthodox Shiʿa Islam. Shiʿa Islam emerges as a distinct tradition centred on the understanding of the Prophet Muhammad and particular members of his progeny, known as the Ahl al-Bayt (People of the Household), or alternatively, the Ma‘sūmīn (infallibles).

The past twenty years have witnessed an upsurge in research centred on critical analysis of the Shi’ite Ḥadīth canon, known as the Kutub al-Arba’ah. Little research however, has explored the emergence of the term Kutub al-Arba’ah. To this end, this thesis aims to detail the emergence of the term Kutub al-Arba’ah, and its subsequent usage and development in history. This will enable not only a greater understanding of the canonical texts, but also illuminate the pivotal role played by the Kutub al-Arba’ah in debates on authority in post-ghayba Twelver Shiʿism.

This study is focused on the ʾithnā asharī or Twelver strand of Shiʿism, the predominant branch of orthodox Shiʿa Islam. Shiʿa Islam emerges as a distinct tradition centred on the understanding of the Prophet Muhammad and particular members of his progeny, known as the Ahl al-Bayt (People of the Household), or alternatively, the Ma‘sūmīn (infallibles). In the Twelver tradition, the Ahl al-Bayt are limited to fourteen members: the Prophet Muhammad; Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law Imam ʿAli; Muhammad’s daughter Fātima, wife of Imam ʿAli; and select members of their offspring.

The intellectual heritage of Twelver Shiʿism, encompassing the teachings, anecdotes and biographies of the Ahl al-Bayt are recorded and preserved in ḥadīth compilations. Many ḥadīth compilations have been collected throughout Shi’i history, encompassing a variety of topics and approaches; all however, have sought to accurately represent the teachings of the Ahl al-Bayt. Over time, four ḥadīth collections came to be viewed as canonical. These four ḥadīth collections are: al-Kāfi of al-Kulayni (d. 329/941); Man La Yaḥḍuruhu al-Faqīh of al-Ṣadūq (d.381/991); and Tahdhīb al-Aḥkām and al-Istibṣār of al-Ṭūsi (d. 460/1067). These works came to be known as the Kutub al-Arbaʻah (The Four Books), and collectively, they comprise the Twelver Shi’i ḥadīth canon.

This study aims to explore the formation, emergence and development of the Kutub al-Arbaʻah. Although the Kutub al-Arbaʻah were produced throughout the 10th and 11th century, the designation of these four works as canonical did not occur until the 13th century. Rigorous discussion on their authenticity and functionality as a canon came to the fore in the 17th century, with the rise of the Akhbāri school within Twelver Shiʿism. A focused study on the changing nature of the Kutub al-Arba’ah, within the broader history of Shi’i ḥadīth, is therefore much needed.

It must be stated at the outset however, that a critical analysis of the contents of the Shi’i Ḥadīth canon is beyond the purview of this thesis. The authenticity, or lackthereof, of the hadiths contained within these collections is not of primary concern.Rather, the aim of the present study is threefold. First, it will examine the historical conditions that gave rise to the formation of the Shiʿa ḥadīth canon. Secondly, this study will identify the emergence of the term Kutub al-Arba’ah and detail the usage of the term Kutub al-Arba’ah throughout Shi’i history. This will shed light on the various ways in which Shiʿa scholarly communities throughout history have understood the nature, value and authenticity of Kutub al-Arba’ah. Thirdly, it will illuminate the role of the Kutub al-Arba’ah in scholarly debates centred on religious authority in Twelver Shiʿism.

 

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