Hadith as Oral Literature through Early Islamic Literary Criticism

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Although the study of hadīth (the Prophet's speech) has advanced significantly in recent decades, several of its literary aspects remain unexplored within Euro-American scholarship. The epistemological status of hadīth within balāghah, the premodern Islamic theory of literary analysis, has received little scholarly attention. Drawing on Inimitability and Conciseness (Kitāb al-I'jāz wa al-Ījāz), written by the literary critic, Abū Mansūr al-Tha'ālibī (d. 1038 CE), I show how during the oral stages of its development, hadīth was a living tradition that was highly flexible in terms of its wording and content. I empirically explore the interface and interactions between oral and written media in the employment of individual hadīths as literary texts, showing how an in-depth exploration of the oral nature of hadīth illuminates the approaches of modern literary criticism to appreciate literary texts of oral origin. In conclusion, I suggest that the early Arabic discourse of literary criticism offers an emic (culture-specific) perspective that fosters recognition of the literary reception of hadīth and its profound integration into the Islamic literary culture.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)34-69
Number of pages36
JournalStudia Islamica
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2024


  • Arabic literary theory
  • Hadīth and Islamic literature
  • Islamic comparative literature
  • premodern Arabic poetics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • History
  • Religious studies
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory
  • Law


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