This is a draft of a chapter that has been accepted for publication by Oxford University Press in the forthcoming book The Oxford Handbook of Hadith Studies edited by Mustafa Shah due for publication in 2022
The formation of the Zaydite community is to some extend related to the emerging ḥadīth scholarship: both have their historical roots in the Iraqi city of Kūfa. This explains why the canonical Sunni ḥadīth collections also cite some members of the Zaydite community as transmitters of Prophetic Traditions. Nevertheless, the earliest school of Zaydite jurisprudence produced its own specific corpus of ḥadīth and fixed it in its legal literature. These books include also transmissions of sayings of the first Zaydite Imāms and, more generally, of the descendants of the Prophet’s family (ahl al-bayt). The collected sayings of the Imāms consist primarily of legal opinions. Unlike the Imāmites, the Zaydites do not give these
traditions the same status as the one attached to Prophetic ḥadīth. With the spread of Zaydism to northern Iran and Yemen, two additional Zaydite legal schools emerged alongside the ‘school of Kūfa’: the Qāsimī-Hādawī school, which regarded the two Imāms al-Qāsim b. Ibrāhīm al-Rassī (d. 246/860) and al-Hādī ilā l-Ḥaqq (d. 298/911) as the founding figures of their tradition, and the Nāṣiriyya named after the Imām al-Nāṣir al-Uṭrūsh (d.304/917). The Nāṣiriyya was rather inclined to a ‘Traditionalist’ or ‘scripturalist’ methodology, and so the sayings of the Prophet and his descendants were the principal fundament of the school’s doctrinal teaching. On the contrary, the Qāsimī-Hādawī school adopted a rational approach and claimed that knowledge in creedal matters can be achieved by rational proofs. During the fourth/tenth century, Zaydite scholarship in the city of Rayy and northern Iran increasingly used Sunni ḥadīth transmissions as authoritative sources in its legal literature. In Yemen, however, Sunni ḥadīth remained widely unknown.
This changed only over the course of the sixth to the seventh/twelfth to the thirteenth centuries, when the two communities of northern Iran and Yemen came to accept the same Imām as their political and spiritual ruler and, as a result, the legal and theological literature of the northern Iranian Zaydites were transmitted to Yemen. Around the same time, Yemeni Zaydite scholars increasingly engaged with scholars patronised by the Sunni dynasties of Yemen, and these contacts further stimulated the dissemination of the canonical Sunni ḥadīth collections. From the ninth/fifteenth century onwards, a new Zaydite trend rose in Yemen that can be described as the ‘Sunnisation’ of Zaydism (a term that was first proposed by Cook 2000: 247–51). This new inner-Zaydite reform movement established itself alongside the predominant Hādawī tradition. Its protagonists propagated a focused study of the primary sources, that is, apart from the Qurʾān, the corpus of Sunni ḥadīth.
These sources, they claimed, should constitute the foundation in legal scholarship and in creedal matters. For the republicans of the 1962 revolution, the legacy of this trend constituted a main source of ideological inspiration. In addition, the reform movement was also instrumentalized by Wahhābī-Salafī propaganda, that came to form a radical and militant opposition against the Hādawī inspired spectrum of Zaydism during the second half of the twentieth century.