Muslim Intellectual History A Survey
Main Article Content
Muslim intellectual history, Muslim ummah, Islamic thought, Muslim Scholars, Islamic studies, Muslim intellectual timeline, Muslim cities map, Islamic scholarship
This article strives to chart the intellectual history of Muslims and the trans-civilizational, discursive tradition of Islam spanning fourteen centuries. It chronicles the scholarly projects shaping Islamic thought as they developed in the wake of the Prophet’s (s) death and intensified in the ensuing centuries despite the numerous changes and tumultuous times the Muslim ummah encountered. Together with an accompanying map and visual timeline, it endeavors to empower students of Islam in general and Islamic Studies programs in particular with an appreciation of the breadth and depth of Muslim intellectual history. The article begins by tracing the foundation of early regional centers, the side-by-side formation of disciplines, the development of the various legal schools as well as the many strains of Islamic thought, and how they not only influenced one another but also became absorbed into mainstream Islam, ending with an overview of the impact of modernity on Islamic thought. Through this effort, I hope that students will be able to cultivate a rudimentary understanding of Islamic scholarship in its historical context, make interdisciplinary connections, critically engage with the individual disciplines in their focused study, and gain an overall nuanced reverence for the collective Muslim intellectual legacy across 1400 years along with the diversified scholarly struggles to diligently honor and observe the message received from the Prophet Muhammad (s).
The map and timeline accompanying the present survey of Muslim intellectual history are available here.
1 To determine the Gregorian equivalent, here is a good formula: CE = 0.970229 × AH
+ 621.5643. For conversion from CE to hijri year, use the following formula: AH =
1.030684 × (CE − 621.5643).
2 While the early “scholars” were known as ‘fuqaha’ and ‘ulama,’ these were loosely
applied terms and did not signify the technical meaning they came to carry with the
systematization of Islamic scholarship. Calling them “memorizers, collectors, and
exemplars,” Ovamir Anjum explains that they were “trustworthy receptacles of the
Companions’ teachings and judgments, and they were sages—wise men and women—
who embodied that knowledge and advised others, answering people’s questions that
arose out of the day-to-day practice of Qur’an and the known Sunna” (A History of
Islam in Action: The Umayyad Period 40-132/661-750, Ch. 8, unpublished manuscript).
3 To see an isnad of an ijaza (certification) in Qur’anic recitation spanning 14 centuries,
for instance, see Figure 3.1 in Ingrid Mattson, The Story of the Qur’an (Chichester,
West Sussex: Blackwell, 2013).
4 Isnad is the “chain of transmission through which a scholar traced the matn, or
text, of a hadith back to the Prophet … an effort to document that a hadith had
actually come from Muhammad.” Jonathan Brown, Hadith: Muhammad’s Legacy in
the Medieval and Modern World (Oxford: OneWorld, 2018), 4.
5 Hadith is a “report describing the words, actions, or habits of the Prophet” and serves
as the “unit through which the Sunna was preserved, transmitted, and understood”
6 For more details on how oral and written transmission took place across the disciplines,
see Brown, Hadith, 44ff; Mattson, The Story of the Qur’an, Ch. 3; Ahmed
El Shamsy, The Canonization of Islamic Law: A Social and Intellectual History (New
York: Cambridge University Press, 2013), Ch. 6; Asma Sayeed, Women and the
Transmission of Religious Knowledge in Islam (New York: Cambridge University
Press, 2013), 123-125 and Ch. 4, and Sean Anthony, The Expeditions: An Early
Biography of Muhammad by Ma‘mar ibn Rashid (New York: New York University
Press, 2015), xxii-xxiii and xxviii-xxxi. See also Gregor Schoeler and Shawkat
Toorawa, The Genesis of Literature in Islam: From the Aural to the Read (Revised
edition, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009).
7 Hussein Abdul-Raof, Schools of Qur’anic Exegesis: Genesis and Development (New
York: Routledge, 2010).
8 “School” here refers to tendency in approach towards Islam and not the legal schools
(madhahib; sing. madhhab) that were formalized much later, in the fourth century AH.
9 Abdul-Raof, Schools of Qur’anic Exegesis.
10 Sunnah is the “normative legacy of the Prophet … and, although it stands second
to the Quran in terms of reverence, it is the lens through which the holy book is
interpreted and understood” (Brown, Hadith, 3).
11 Schoeler and Toorawa, The Genesis of Literature in Islam.
12 Brown, Hadith.
13 Yasin Dutton, Early Islam in Medina: Malik and His Muwatta (London: Bloomsbury,
14 Anjum, A History of Islam in Action.
15 Brown, Hadith; El Shamsy, The Canonization of Islamic Law.
16 Anjum, A History of Islam in Action.
18 Mohammad Akram Nadwi, al-Muhaddithat: The Women Scholars in Islam (Oxford:
Interface Publications, 2014). Nadwi notes that hadith scholarship among women
waned in Syria after the first hijri century but revived again in the sixth century
AH. Shaykh Akram Nadwi’s 43-volume biographical compilation of female hadith
scholars is now available in Arabic: al-Wafa’ bi asma’ an-Nisa’ (Jeddah: Dar al-Minhaj,
19 El Shamsy, The Canonization of Islamic Law.
20 Anthony, The Expeditions.
21 El Shamsy, The Canonization of Islamic Law. Schoeler and Toorawa in chapter 4
of The Genesis of Literature in Islam also explain that the early texts were written
for the court, where they were stored in the royal library.
22 Dutton, Early Islam in Medina.
23 El Shamsy, The Canonization of Islamic Law.
24 Nimrod Hurvitz, Formation of Hanbalism: Piety into Power (New York: Routledge, 2011).
25 El Shamsy, The Canonization of Islamic Law; Hurvitz, Formation of Hanbalism.
26 Nadwi, al-Muhaddithat.
27 Sayeed, Women and the Transmission of Religious Knowledge in Islam.
28 Nadwi, al-Muhaddithat.
29 Anjum, A History of Islam in Action.
32 Qadar (divine predestination) is one of the articles of faith and indicates Muslim
belief in God’s ultimate and complete power. The Umayyads politicized this core
concept to justify their political ends and the suffering endured by the community
during their rule. By “attributing their licentiousness and iniquities to qadar,”
Umayyad rulers and governors sought to “gag the opposition, exonerate the unscrupulous
rulers and justify their political misfortunes” (Abdul-Raof, Schools of Qur’anic
Exegesis, 57). In other words, the Umayyads asserted that to reject them was to deny
God’s plan (Anjum, A History of Islam in Action).
ibn Hanbal and the Qur’an,” Journal of Qur’anic
Studies 6, no. 2 (2004): 22–34.
43 Brown, Hadith.
44 The inscribed Qur’an in the form of sahifas (loose pages) – as meticulously verified
by the chief scribe, Zayd ibn Thabit, and his team – was safely kept by Abu Bakr
(ra, d. 13), then ‘Umar (d. 23), and then Hafsa (ra, d. 45). During the caliphate of
‘Uthman, a final codex was compiled as a mushaf (collection of pages) and circulated
as the official written Qur’an. For a detailed discussion of how the Qur’an was
compiled and finalized, see Mattson, The Story of the Qur’an, p. 95-100. See also Yasin
Dutton, “The Form of the Qur’an: Historical Contours” in The Oxford Handbook of
Qur’anic Studies, ed. Mustafa Shah and Muhammad Abdel Haleem (London: Oxford
University Press, 2020) regarding companions’ written copies of the Qur’an which
differed from one another and variant readings (qira’at).
45 Brown, Hadith. Brown explains that only a few companions wrote down some of
his sayings as private notes.
47 See Abdul-Raof, Schools of Qur’anic Exegesis, Ch. 3; Mattson, The Story of the Qur’an,
192-3, and Hurvitz, Formation of Hanbalism, Ch. 8.
48 Jonathan Brown, The Canonization of al-Bukhari and Muslim: The Formation and
Function of the Sunni Hadith Canon (Boston: Brill, 2007), 57.
49 Brown, Hadith.
50 For details, see Zainab Alwani, “Muslim Women as Religious Scholars: A Historical
Survey,” in Wiener Islamstudien, Volume 3: Muslima Theology: The Voices of Muslim
Women Theologians, eds. Ednan Aslan, Marcia Hermansen, and Elid Medeni
(Frankfurt am Main, DEU: Peter Lang AG, 2013).
51 Brown, Hadith.
52 El Shamsy, The Canonization of Islamic Law.
53 For a detailed study of his life and work, see Feryal Salem, The Emergence of Early
Sufi Piety and Sunni Scholasticism: ‘Abdallāh b. al-Mubārak and the Formation of
Sunni Identity in the Second Islamic Century (Leiden: Brill, 2016).
54 Brown, Hadith, 80.
55 Nadwi, al-Muhaddithat.
56 Sayeed, Women and the Transmission of Religious Knowledge in Islam, 3.
57 El Shamsy, The Canonization of Islamic Law.
58 Martin Nguyen, Modern Muslim Theology: Engaging God and the World with Faith
and Imagination (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2019).
59 El Shamsy, The Canonization of Islamic Law.
60 Ibid., 37.
61 Dutton, Early Islam in Medina, 39.
62 Ibid., 64. See also chapter 4.
63 Kecia Ali, Imam Shafi‘i: Scholar and Saint (Oxford: Oneworld, 2011).
64 El Shamsy, The Canonization of Islamic Law.
69 More than the locations of battles or raids, Anthony explains in The Expeditions
(2015) that the term “maghazi” here refers to “sites of sacred memory… A maghzah,
therefore, is also a place where any memorable event transpired and, by extension,
the maghazi genre distills all the events and stories of sacred history that left their
mark on the collective memory of Muhammad’s community of believers” (xix-xx).
70 El Shamsy, The Canonization of Islamic Law, 96. Any references here to Maliki or
Hanafi are used informally to identify the respective followers of Malik ibn Anas and
Abu Hanifa, not their legal schools which were formalized in the fourth century. See
Dutton, Early Islam in Medina, Ch. 5, for an exchange between Malik and al-Layth
ibn Sa‘d (d. 175) regarding Malik’s objection that al-Layth’s fatwas in Egypt were
running counter to Madinan ‘amal.
71 El Shamsy, The Canonization of Islamic Law.
72 This entailed that an Arab patron would give protection to a non-Arab, his client.
Both patron and client were called mawla (pl. mawali). Anjum in A History of Islam
in Action explains that at first Muslim and Arab were synonymous terms but by
the end of the 1st century, a significant number of non-Arabs had become Muslim.
In terms of ‘ulama, he notes that in the 1st century, Arab ‘ulama outnumbered
non-Arab ‘ulama. In the 2nd century, non-Arab ‘ulama equaled Arab ‘ulama. In the
3rd century, non-Arab ‘ulama outnumbered Arab ‘ulama. By the 4th century, the
distinction between non-Arab and Arab lost any importance.
73 For more details, see El Shamsy, The Canonization of Islamic Law, 100-103. The
patron-client relationship was common during the Ottoman Empire as well. For a
detailed overview of how Bosnian Muslims resourcefully integrated themselves in
the contemporary educational elite circles, see Ayelet Zoran-Rosen, “The Emergence
of a Bosnian Learned Elite: A Case of Ottoman Imperial Integration,” Journal of
Islamic Studies 30, no. 2 (2019): 176-204.
74 El Shamsy, The Canonization of Islamic Law.
75 Ibid. El Shamsy also remarks, “al-Shafi‘i most probably adopted the justification of
prophetic tradition as evidence of divine intention from the Hanafis in Iraq” (78)
who had utilized this argument in a debate with Kharijis when the latter refused to
accept hadith in interpreting Qur’anic verses.
76 Wael Hallaq notes the following about another potential school: “The Zahirite school,
by contrast, which remained steadfast in its literalist/traditionalist stand and adamantly
refused to join this synthesis, was left behind and before long expired.” Hallaq, The
Origins and Evolution of Islamic Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).
77 This science was refined in the next few centuries: legal acts were categorized as obligatory
(fard/wajib), recommended (mandub), permissible (mubah), prohibited (haram),
and repugnant (makruh); acts were further distinguished based on whether they were
valid (sahih), invalid (fasih), or null and void (batil); explication of imperative and prohibitive
forms; the distinction between recurrent (mutawatir) reports that are similar in
wording (lafzi) and those that differ in wording but share the same meaning (ma‘nawi);
the delineation of attributes that hadith transmitters must possess as required by jurists,
such as justice (‘adl), truthfulness (sadiq), precision (dabt), etc.; criteria based on which
reports are evaluated and given preference (tarjih); rules of abrogation (naskh); how and
when consensus (ijma‘) may be reached or reasoning (qiyas/ijtihad) may be employed,
and maqasid al-Shari‘ah (the higher objectives of Shari‘ah), among others. For detailed
treatment of usul al-fiqh, see Wael Hallaq, A History of Islamic Legal Theories: An
Introduction to Sunnī Uṣūl al-Fiqh (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).
78 El Shamsy, The Canonization of Islamic Law, 116.
80 Hurvitz, Formation of Hanbalism.
81 Ibn Hanbal’s followers, including his son ‘Abdullah (d. 290), would serve as judges
for the court. Ibid.
82 The House of Wisdom began as a library of manuscripts on a host of subjects in
the arts and sciences in many languages; it was later expanded as a research center
where scholars engaged in translations, analyses, discussions, and production of
literary works. Salim Al-Hassani, 1001 Inventions: The Enduring Legacy of Muslim
Civilization (Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2012).
83 Hurvitz, Formation of Hanbalism.
84 Wasil ibn ‘Ata (d. 131) of Basra is considered to be the founder of the Mu‘tazilis. For
more details on the Mu’tazilis, see Mattson, The Story of the Qur’an, 143-6; El-Tobgui,
Ibn Taymiyya on Reason and Revelation, 41-42, and Blankinship, “The Early Creed,” in
The Cambridge Companion to Classical Islamic Theology, ed. Tim Winter (Cambridge,
UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 47-51.
85 That is, “an argument for the existence of God which claims that all things in nature
depend on something else for their existence (i.e. are contingent), and that the
whole cosmos must therefore itself depend on a being which exists independently
or necessarily” (Oxford Languages).
86 El Shamsy, The Canonization of Islamic Law.
87 Hurvitz clarifies that there were Sunni mutakallimun as well as Hanafis who
opposed the mihna. Sunni mutakallimun were those scholars who opposed the
Mu‘tazili positions but did not reject kalam altogether. Hurvitz also asserts that
the mihna was meant to “advance the collective interests of all mutakallimun,” not
just the Mu‘tazilis (Formation of Hanbalism, 129).
88 Hurvitz, Formation of Hanbalism.
89 Mattson, The Story of the Qur’an. She adds, “the mihna had the long-term effect of
strengthening the social profile of the scholarly class, who henceforth tried to assert
their independence from political rulers to judge on matters of religious law and
belief, while simultaneously calling upon the power of the state from time to time
to enforce the orthodoxy they delineated” (145).
90 Ibid., 152.
91 See note 87.
92 Brown, The Canonization of al-Bukhari and Muslim, 77.
93 Hurvitz, Formation of Hanbalism; for detailed discussion, see 152-155. Jahmis were
followers of Jahm ibn Safwan (d. 128); this term was used pejoratively by Hanbalis
to indicate Mu‘tazili tendencies among peers. Jahm ibn Safwan had questionable
beliefs such as “faith is merely an internalized knowledge in the heart, without
any outward expression at all” along with “the view that heaven and hell are not
eternal” (Blankinship, “The Early Creed,” 44).
94 Hurvitz, Formation of Hanbalism.
95 Blankinship, “The Early Creed.” Sajjad Rizvi discusses the Mu‘tazili influence on
Shi‘a theology in Oliver Leaman and Sajjad Rizvi, “The Developed Kalam Tradition,”
in The Cambridge Companion to Classical Islamic Theology, 92-94.
96 Brown, Hadith, 80.
97 Hallaq, The Origins and Evolution of Islamic Law.
98 El Shamsy, The Canonization of Islamic Law.
99 Ibid., 157.
100 Brown, The Canonization of al-Bukhari and Muslim.
103 Ibid., 58. Brown explains, “Since the early days of Islam, the transmission of hadiths
was a means for everyday Muslims to bind themselves to the inspirational authority
of the Prophet and incorporate his charisma into their lives. Like all early Muslim
scholarship, the collection and study of hadiths was not the product of institutions
of learning; it was undertaken by devout individuals whose eventual knowledge and
pious allure earned them positions of respect and authority in their communities”
104 Sayeed, Women and the Transmission of Religious Knowledge in Islam.
105 Ibid., 103.
106 Nadwi, al-Muhaddithat. For detailed descriptions, see 44-46, 98-102, and 142-149.
108 Sayeed, Women and the Transmission of Religious Knowledge in Islam.
109 Nadwi, al-Muhaddithat.
112 Brown, The Canonization of al-Bukhari and Muslim. Brown mentions that al-Daraqutni
(d. 385) and al-Harawi (d. 430) each compiled hadith collections that they
considered sahih which they believed should’ve been included by al-Bukhari and
113 Joel Blecher, “Hadith commentary,” in Encyclopedia of Islam, Third Edition, ed. Kate
Fleet, Gudrun Krämer, Denis Matringe, John Nawas, and Everett Rowson.
117 Brown, Hadith.
120 Ibid. Brown notes, “The Sahihayn canon was an ideal polemical weapon to use
against one’s opponents. But that did not mean that scholars felt they had to obey
all the hadiths found in the two collections in their own work. If a scholar of the
Shafi‘i or Hanafi school of law found a hadith in al-Bukhari’s or Muslim’s collections
that he disagreed with, he had no compunction about criticizing its authenticity.
… Only in the early modern and modern periods has it become controversial to
criticize the Sahihayn, but this is primarily due to Muslim scholars’ eagerness to
protect the status of two books that they see as symbols of an Islamic tradition
under attack from modernity” (41-2).
121 Some scholars have considered this to be the ‘closing of the gate of ijtihad (independent
reasoning based on revelatory sources).’ However, Hallaq forcefully opposes
this view in Wael Hallaq, “Was the Gate of Ijtihad Closed?” International Journal of
Middle East Studies 16, no. 1 (1984): 3–41.
122 Abdul-Raof, Schools of Qur’anic Exegesis.
124 El Shamsy, The Canonization of Islamic Law.
126 Brown, The Canonization of al-Bukhari and Muslim.
128 Brown, Hadith.
129 Abdul-Raof, Schools of Qur’anic Exegesis.
130 For detailed treatment of the interaction between hadith and tafsir, see R. Marston
Speight, “The Function of Hadith as Commentary on the Qur’an, as Seen in the Six
Authoritative Collections,” in Approaches to the History of the Interpretation of the
Qur’ān, ed. Andrew Rippin (Piscataway, NJ, USA: Gorgias Press, 2013).
131 Abdul-Raof, Schools of Qur’anic Exegesis.
132 Ibid. See also, Mattson, The Story of the Qur’an.
133 This refers to the method that utilizes verse(s) from one part of the Qur’an to explain
134 Abdul-Raof, Schools of Qur’anic Exegesis.
137 Schoeler and Toorawa, The Genesis of Literature in Islam.
138 C.H.M. Versteegh, Arabic Grammar and Quranic Exegesis in Early Islam (Leiden:
E.J. Brill, 1993).
139 Al-Du’ali also added markings to indicate short vowels and double consonants while
the dots and diacritical marks were added later. Mattson, The Story of the Qur’an.
140 Michael Carter, Sibawayhi (London: I.B. Tauris, 2004). Other prominent grammarians
in subsequent generations include al-Farra (d. 207), Ibn Qutaybah (d. 276), and
al-Sarraj (d. 316). Ibn Qutaybah was also a prolific writer of moralistic books on a
variety of topics. See Schoeler and Toorawa, The Genesis of Literature in Islam, 103-4,
where they also mention the Mu‘tazili al-Jahiz (d. 255) who reportedly wrote over
200 books on a wide range of subjects.
141 For a detailed treatment of this, see Versteegh, Arabic Grammar and Qur’anic
Exegesis, and S.R. Burge, The Meaning of the Word: Lexicology and Qur’anic Exegesis
(London: Oxford University Press, 2015).
142 Mattson, The Story of the Qur’an.
143 Walid Saleh, “Hermeneutics: al-Thaʿlabi,” in The Wiley Blackwell Companion to the
Qur’an, ed. Andrew Rippin and Jawid Mojaddedi (Chichester, UK: Wiley Blackwell,
144 Abdul-Raof, Schools of Qur’anic Exegesis.
146 Mattson, The Story of the Qur’an.
147 Brown, Hadith.
148 Andrew Rippin, “Tafsir,” in Encyclopedia of Islam, Second Edition, ed. P. Bearman,
Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, and W.P. Heinrichs.
150 Abdul-Raof, Schools of Qur’anic Exegesis.
151 Walid Saleh, “Hermeneutics: al-Tha‘labi.”
152 Walid Saleh, The Formation of the Classical Tafsir Tradition: The Qur’an Commentary
of al-Thaʿlabi (Leiden: Brill, 2004).
153 Walid Saleh, “Medieval Exegesis: The Golden Age of Tafsir,” in The Oxford Handbook
of Qur’anic Studies.
154 Walid Saleh, “Preliminary Remarks on the Historiography of Tafsir in Arabic: A
History of the Book Approach,” Journal of Qur’anic Studies 12 (2010): 6-40. See also
Rippin, “Tafsir,” EI2.
155 Here we see the distinct shifts in writing that took place in the second and third
centuries: from being a mneumonic device (lecture notes) to writing as a mode
of expression (Malik’s al-Muwatta), it eventually took on the specific purposes of
developing, systematizing, and spreading of ideas (al-Shafi‘i’s works and onwards).
156 El Shamsy, The Canonization of Islamic Law.
157 Saleh, “Preliminary Remarks.” Rippin explains that though Zamakhsahri’s tafsir is
“renowned for its Mu’tazili perspective,” it is “distinctive primarily for its special
outlook and not for the presence of an overall theological argument per se, nor for
the quantity of such argumentation.” (“Tafsir,” EI2.)
158 Younus Mirza, “Ishmael as Abraham’s Sacrifice: Ibn Taymiyya and Ibn Kathir on the
Intended Victim,” Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations 24, no. 3 (2013): 277–298.
159 Younus Mirza, “Ibn Kathīr, ʿImād al-Dīn,” EI3.
160 Saleh, “Preliminary Remarks.” For a detailed treatment of this, see Ahmed El
Shamsy, Rediscovering the Islamic Classics: How Editors and Print Culture Transformed
an Intellectual Tradition (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2020).
161 Mirza, “Ibn Kathīr, ʿImād al-Dīn,” EI3.
162 Rippin, “Tafsir,” EI2.
164 Brown, The Canonization of al-Bukhari and Muslim.
165 Khalid Blankinship, “The Early Creed.”
166 Nguyen, Modern Muslim Theology, 127.
167 Khalid Blankinship, “The Early Creed.”
168 Nader El-Bizri, “God: Essence and Attributes,” in The Cambridge Companion to
Classical Islamic Theology.
169 Tilman Nagel, The History of Islamic Theology from Muhammad to the
Present (Princeton, NJ: Markus Weiner Publishers, 2000).
170 Martin Nguyen, Modern Muslim Theology.
171 Khalid Blankinship, “The Early Creed,” 53.
173 Ibid. See also Nader El-Bizri, “God: Essence and Attributes.”
174 Martin Nguyen, Modern Muslim Theology.
175 Peter Adamson, “al-Kindi,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2020
Edition), ed. Edward N. Zalta, https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2020/entries/
al-kindi/. See also, Carl Sharif El-Tobgui, Ibn Taymiyya on Reason and Revelation:
A Study of Darʾ taʿāruḍ al-ʿaql wa-l-naql (Leidin; Boston: Brill, 2020), 55-57.
176 El-Tobgui, Ibn Taymiyya on Reason and Revelation, 57-60.
179 Robert Wisnovsky, “Avicenna and the Avicennian Tradition” in The Cambridge
Companion to Arabic Philosophy, ed. Peter Adamson and Richard C. Taylor
(Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 92.
180 El-Tobgui, Ibn Taymiyya on Reason and Revelation, 61.
182 Ayman Shehadeh, Doubts on Avicenna: A Study and Edition of Sharaf al-Din al-Masudi’s
Commentary on the Isharat (Leiden: Brill, 2016).
183 El-Tobgui, Ibn Taymiyya on Reason and Revelation. For more details, see 60ff.
185 Toby Mayer, “Theology and Sufism,” in The Cambridge Companion to Classical Islamic
186 Al-Ghazali also wrote a treatise refuting Ismaili Shi‘as, another faction gaining
strength at the time.
187 In fact, his expository work on falsafa, Aims of the Philosophers, translated into
Latin and Hebrew, was misinterpreted as a treatise advocating philosophy and
widely circulated. See Frank Griffel, “al-Ghazali,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of
Philosophy (Summer 2020 Edition), ed. Edward N. Zalta, https://plato.stanford.edu/
188 Ibid. This last point is connected to Ibn Sina’s conception of God as passively and
generally aware of His creation.
190 El-Tobgui, Ibn Taymiyya on Reason and Revelation.
191 Montgomery Watt, “al-G̲h̲azali,” in EI2.
192 El-Tobgui, Ibn Taymiyya on Reason and Revelation.
193 Hossein Ziai, “Islamic Philosophy (falsafa),” in The Cambridge Companion to Classical
194 When a hadith is “transmitted by such a vast number of people in so many different
places that it is impossible to imagine that anyone could have made it up or
conspired to forge it,” it is called mutawatir. Brown, Hadith, 191.
195 Sherman Jackson, On the Boundaries of Theological Tolerance in Islam: Abū Ḥāmid
Al-Ghāzalīʼs Fayṣal Al-Tafriqa Bayna al-Islam wa al-Zandaqa (Karachi: Oxford
University Press, 2002).
196 This transformation of al-Ghazali is well-recorded. David Burrell, “Creation,” in The
Cambridge Companion to Classical Islamic Theology, relates it in al-Ghazali’s own words.
198 Mayer, “Theology and Sufism,” 270.
199 W. Montgomery Watt, Muslim Intellectual: A Study of Al-Ghazali (Edinburgh:
Edinburgh University Press, 1971). https://www.ghazali.org/articles/watt.htm.
200 Mayer, “Theology and Sufism.”
201 Ahmet Karamustafa, “Sufism,” in Voices of Islam, Volume 1, Voices of Tradition, ed.
Vincent J. Cornell (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2007). Reproduced in Muhammad in
History, Thought and Culture: An Encyclopedia of the Prophet of God (ABC-CLIO/
205 Devin DeWeese, “Organizational Patterns and Developments within Sufi
Communities,” in The Wiley-Blackwell History of Islam, ed. Armando Salvatore
(Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2018).
206 Ahmet Karamustafa, “Antinomian Sufis,” in The Cambridge Companion to Sufism,
ed. Lloyd Ridgeon (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015).
208 Brown, Hadith.
209 Karamustafa, “Sufism.”
210 Sayeed, Women and the Transmission of Religious Knowledge in Islam.
211 Karamustafa, “Sufism.”
212 Sayeed, Women and the Transmission of Religious Knowledge in Islam.
214 See Watt, Muslim Intellectual, The Crisis of 1095.
215 Karamustafa, “Sufism.”
216 DeWeese, “Organizational Patterns and Developments within Sufi Communities.”
217 Karamustafa, “Sufism.”
218 SherAli Tareen, Defending Muḥammad in Modernity (Notre Dame, Indiana:
University of Notre Dame Press, 2020), 19.
219 Karamustafa, “Antinomian Sufis.”
221 Karamustafa, “Sufism.”
223 This is a common Sufi view that the awliya’, those who have reached the highest
maqam in the Sufi hierarchy, receive divine inspiration (ilham). For instance, it is
said that Rumi (d. 672), the renowned Sufi master and poet, was inspired to recite
his Mathnawi. See Jawid Mojaddedi, “Rumi,” in The Wiley Blackwell Companion to
224 Franz Rosenthal, “Ibn Arabi Between ‘Philosophy’ and ‘Mysticism’: ‘Sufism and
Philosophy Are Neighbors and Visit Each Other’” Oriens 31, no. 1 (1988): 1–35, at 34.
225 Caner Dagli, Ibn Al-Arabi and Islamic Intellectual Culture: From Mysticism to
Philosophy (Florence: Routledge, 2016), 52. Dagli adds, “It was Ibn al-Arabi who
demonstrated that a mystical point of view could have something to say about all
the areas touched on by falsafah and kalam, and in fact claimed that only through
a system that took as its pinnacle the direct encounter between man and God could
rational thinking assume its proper place in human knowledge” (52).
226 Mayer, “Theology and Sufism.”
227 Rosenthal, “Ibn Arabi Between ‘Philosophy’ and ‘Mysticism.’”
228 Dagli, Ibn Al-Arabi and Islamic Intellectual Culture, 52.
229 Dagli argues that Ibn al-Arabi never used this phrase in his writings and it was
developed as a concept by successive generations of scholars belonging to the
“school of Ibn al-Arabi.” For detailed discussion, see Dagli, Ibn Al-Arabi and Islamic
Intellectual Culture, chapter 2.
Winter, “Introduction,” in The Cambridge Companion to Classical Islamic Theology.
234 Brown, Hadith, 58.
236 Schoeler and Toorawa, The Genesis of Literature in Islam.
238 Sayeed, Women and the Transmission of Religious Knowledge in Islam.
239 Ibid. See 175-177 for details on how ijazas were often granted to children in the
hopes of maintaining the linkages between the old and the young for the sake of
242 It should be noted that campaigns and expeditions continued with various dynasties
fighting one another for control. External threats such as the Mongols and Crusaders
also existed. In the course of Muslim intellectual history, many scholars participated
in jihad, such as al-Hasan al-Basri, Abdullah ibn Mubarak, Ibn Taymiyya, and Ibn
Khaldun, among others.
243 El-Tobgui, Ibn Taymiyya on Reason and Revelation. An earlier history of Damascus
was written by the historian Ibn ‘Asakir (d. 538).
244 For a timeline of the reason versus revelation debate in Muslim intellectual history
leading up to Ibn Taymiyya, see Ibid., 39-40.
246 Ibid., 92.
247 Ibid., 93.
248 Ibid. This refers to al-Ghazali’s crisis and turn towards mysticism. However, there
is no evidence that al-Ghazali ever abandoned his Ash‘ari orientation.
250 This refers to the authentic and mutawatir hadith: “The best of people are my
generation, then those who follow them, and then those who follow them” (Sahih
251 El-Tobgui, Ibn Taymiyya on Reason and Revelation.
254 See Younus Mirza, “Ibn Kathir (d. 774/1373): His Intellectual Circle, Major Works
and Qur’anic Exegesis” (PhD thesis, 2012), for a detailed description of the richly
diverse Damascus scene and the interactions between the elite Shafi‘i Ash‘aris, their
traditionalist Shafi‘i counterparts, along with Ibn Taymiyya and his circle.
255 Khaled El-Rouayheb, Islamic Intellectual History in the Seventeenth Century: Scholarly
Currents in the Ottoman Empire and the Maghreb (New York: Cambridge University
256 Oliver Leaman, “The Developed Kalam Tradition,” in The Cambridge Companion to
Classical Islamic Theology.
257 Ibid., 86.
258 Hallaq, A History of Islamic Legal Theories.
259 Ebrahim Moosa and SherAli Tareen, “Revival and Reform,” in The Princeton
Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought, ed. Gerhard Bowering, Patricia
Crone, Wadad Kadi, Devin J. Stewart, Muhammad Qasim Zaman, and Mahan
Mirza (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012).
260 Hallaq, A History of Islamic Legal Theories.
261 El-Rouayheb, Islamic Intellectual History in the Seventeenth Century. El-Rouayheb
particularly emphasizes that, contrary to popular narratives of intellectual decline,
there was a thriving scholarly culture in the seventeenth century across the Ottoman
262 Bruce Masters, The Arabs of the Ottoman Empire, 1516–1918: A Social and Cultural
History (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013).
263 El Shamsy, Rediscovering the Islamic Classics.
264 Sayeed, Women and the Transmission of Religious Knowledge in Islam.
266 Ousmane Kane, Beyond Timbuktu: An Intellectual History of Muslim West Africa
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2016), 8.
269 For more details on female scholarly and spiritual networks in West Africa, see
Britta Frede, “Following in the Steps of ʿA’isha: Hassaniyya-Speaking Tijani Women
as Spiritual Guides (Muqaddamat) and Teaching Islamic Scholars (Limrabutat) in
Mauritania,” Islamic Africa 5, no. 2 (2014): 225–73; Joseph Hill, Wrapping Authority:
Women Islamic Leaders in a Sufi Movement in Dakar, Senegal. (Toronto, London:
Toronto University Press, 2018).
270 Valerie Hoffman, “East Africa,” in The Islamic World Routledge Handbook, ed. Andrew
Rippin (Abingdon: Routledge, 2008).
271 Camilla Gibb, “Negotiating Social and Spiritual Worlds: The Gender of Sanctity in a
Muslim City in Africa,” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 16, no. 2 (2000): 25–42.
272 Edward A. Alpers and Anne K. Bang, “East Africa”, EI3.
274 Hoffman, “East Africa.”
275 Ahmad Yousif, “Contemporary Islamic Movements in Southeast Asia: Challenges
and Opportunities,” in The Blackwell Companion to Contemporary Islamic Thought,
ed. Ibrahim Abu-Rabi’ (Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2006), 449–465.
276 Leonard Andaya, “The Introduction, Spread, and Circulation of Islam up to the Early
Colonial Period in Southeast Asia,” in Routledge Handbook of Islam in Southeast Asia,
ed. Khairudin Aljunied (London: Routledge, 2022), 13-29.
278 Khairudin Aljunied, “Bringing Rationality Back: Harun Nasution and the Burden
of Muslim Thought in Twentieth-Century Southeast Asia.” Journal of Islamic and
Muslim Studies 6, no. 1 (2021): 29–55.
279 Andrew Simpson, “Indonesia,” in Language and National Identity in Asia, ed. Andrew
Simpson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 312-336.
280 Asmah Haji Omar, “Malaysia and Brunei,” in Language and National Identity in Asia,
281 Andaya, “The Introduction, Spread, and Circulation of Islam up to the Early Colonial
Period in Southeast Asia.”
283 Ibid., 24.
284 Barbara Watson Andaya, “Islam and Women in Precolonial Southeast Asia,” in
Routledge Handbook of Islam in Southeast Asia, 157-175.
285 Kristian Petersen, Interpreting Islam in China: Pilgrimage, Scripture, and Language
in the Han Kitab (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2017).
286 Ibid., 45.
288 For a detailed study of China’s female mosques, see Maria Jaschok and Shui Jingjun,
The History of Women’s Mosques in Chinese Islam: A Mosque of Their Own (Richmond:
290 Rian Thum, The Sacred Routes of Uyghur History (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
291 Rachel Harris and Aziz Isa, “Islam by Smartphone: Reading the Uyghur Islamic
Revival on WeChat,” Central Asian Survey 38, no. 1 (2019): 61-80.
292 See Michael Kemper and Shamil Shikhaliev, “Kunta-Hajji,” EI3; Clemens Sidorko,
“al-Ghazi Ghumuqi,” EI3.
293 Nathan Spannaus, “al-Marjani, Shihab al-Din,” EI3.
294 Brown, Hadith.
295 See Ibid., Ch. 10.
296 For a detailed discussion, see Ibid., Ch. 9.
297 Sara Konrath, Shariq Siddiqui, and Saulat Pervez, “Muslim Education Reform:
Prioritizing Empathy and Philanthropic Acts,” Journal of Education in Muslim societies
2, no. 2 (2021): 31–56; see section titled “Philanthropy and Education in Muslim
298 Emad Hamdeh, Salafism and Traditionalism: Scholarly Authority in Modern Islam
(Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2021), 204.
299 El Shamsy, Rediscovering the Islamic Classics; according to him, the classical period of
Muslim scholarship was ninth to fifteenth centuries CE and the postclassical period
consisted of sixteenth to nineteenth centuries CE. However, these terms and their time
periods are contested. For instance, El-Tobgui, Ibn Taymiyya on Reason and Revelation,
situates Ibn Taymiyya, who died in the 8th century AH/14th century CE, in the postclassical
period because he takes the first five or six centuries of Islam to be its classical
period. Brown, Hadith, refers to a “Late Sunni Tradition” that began in the 1300s CE
up till modern times. Scholars also define these periods differently depending on their
field of study. For example, Johanna Pink considers the classical period of Qur’anic
tafsir to be from 10th century CE with the postclassical period taking place from the
14th through the 19th centuries CE, whereas Robert Wisnovsky defines the classical
period of falsafa to be from 800-1200 CE and the postclassical one from 1100-1900
CE. See Pink, “Classical Qur’anic Hermeneutics,” in The Oxford Handbook of Qur’anic
Studies, and Wisnovsky, “The Nature and Scope of Arabic Philosophical Commentary
in Post-Classical (ca. 1100-1900 AD) Islamic Intellectual History: Some Preliminary
Observations,” Bulletin - Institute of Classical Studies 47, no. S83PART2 (2004): 149–191.
300 El Shamsy paraphrases Ibn Hanbal’s warning to his students: “written discourse
possesses its own momentum, which mirrors that of ra’y: one book, such as Malik’s,
invites another, such as al-Shafi‘i’s, which in turn prompts further responses, refutations,
and counterrefutations in an endless sequence” (El Shamsy, The Canonization
of Islamic Law, 223). A modern example of this can be seen in the retaliatory treatises
written by traditionalist scholars as well as al-Albani and his students (see Hamdeh,
Salafism and Traditionalism (see Hamdeh, Salafism and Traditionalism, 52-58).
301 El Shamsy, Rediscovering the Islamic Classics.
302 Ibid. Much of the information about scholars and their works can be found in the
biographical texts called Tabaqat. One of the earliest Tabaqat text, consisting of eight
volumes, was written by Ibn Sa‘d (d. 230). Additionally, the bookseller Ibn al-Nadim’s (d.
380) Fihrist, a bibliography of all the books in his inventory, “provided Arab intellectuals
and correctors … with a map to the ocean of Arabic manuscripts by situating works
within their times and genres and by charting the intellectual affiliations of their authors,
which the postclassical teaching tradition had forgotten or suppressed” (88).
304 Hamdeh, Salafism and Traditionalism. Hamdeh adds that this situation has become
exacerbated in the age of the internet and digital information.
305 Ibid. Hamdeh notes that Sherman Jackson’s definition of taqlid as “deference to
precedent is more accurate because it represents the utilization and capacity of
taqlid in Islamic law” (1). Jackson adds that jurists followed the opinions of their
predecessors because they lent authority and validity to their views, not because
they were incapable of conducting ijtihad themselves. See Sherman Jackson, “Ijtihad
and Taqlid: Between the Islamic Legal Tradition and Autonomous Western Reason,”
in Routledge Handbook of Islamic Law, ed. Khaled Abou El Fadl, Ahmad Atif Ahmad,
and Said Fares Hassan (New York: Routledge, 2019).
306 Brown, Hadith.
307 El Shamsy, Rediscovering the Islamic Classics, 171.
308 Brown, Hadith, 278: “Although they did not abandon the classical Islamic tradition,
these movements sought to revaluate it and revive Islam’s primordial greatness by
breaking with taqlid (unquestioning loyalty to existing institutions and tradition)
and embracing ijtihad (independent reasoning based on the original sources of
Islam – the Quran and Sunna). Many of these revivalist scholars believed that they
were just as capable as classical masters like al-Shafi‘i and Abu Hanifa of deriving
laws directly from the Quran and the Prophet’s teachings.” El-Rouayheb clarifies
that for nonjurists the opposite of taqlid was tahqiq (verification), not ijtihad; see
his discussion on taqlid and ijtihad in Islamic Intellectual History in the Seventeenth
309 Ermin Sinanović, “Islamic Revival as Development: Discourses on Islam, Modernity
and Democracy since the 1950s,” Politics, Religion & Ideology 13, no. 1 (2012): 3-24.
310 Tareen, Defending Muḥammad in Modernity.
312 The concept of the “ideal Muslim woman” was evident in other parts of the Muslim
world as well, such as Iran, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.
313 Darakhshan Khan, “In Good Company: Reformist Piety and Women’s Daʿwat in
the Tablīghī Jamāʿat,” The American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences 35, no. 3 (July
316 Norbani B. Ismail, “Female Preachers and the Public Discourse on Islam in Malaysia,”
The American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences 33, no. 4 (2016): 24–47.
For details on how some Uzbek women operate religious schools in their homes, see Svetlana Peshkova, Women, Islam, and Identity: Public Life in Private Spaces in Uzbekistan (Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 2014).
For recent engagement on this topic, see Shuruq Naguib, “Islam and the Epistemic Politics of Gender: A Decolonial Moment,” American Journal of Islam and Society 38, no. 1-2 (2021): 2-19; Hadia Mubarak, Rebellious Wives, Neglectful Husbands: Controversies in Modern Qur’anic Commentaries (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2022).
319 Brown, Hadith.
324 Ibid., 295.
325 Ibid. See Hamdeh, Salafism and Traditionalism, 24ff on the various differences among Salafis.
326 Emad Hamdeh, “Qurʾān and Sunna or the Madhhabs? A Salafi Polemic Against Islamic Legal Tradition,” Islamic Law and Society 24, no. 3 (June 2017): 211–253.
327 Ibid. Hamdeh explains, “The fall of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of secular governments in the Muslim world resulted in a decline of Traditionalist ‘ulama authority and pedagogical methods. As Traditionalist scholars lost their powerful positions, a vacuum in religious authority emerged. These changes took Traditionalists by surprise and some of them held on to the madhhabs in a very rigid fashion as a way of rejecting secularism. Albani grew up in this atmosphere of unbending madhhabism, which contributed to his disdain for Traditionalists” (216).
329 Emad Hamdeh, “The Formative Years of an Iconoclastic Salafi Scholar,” The Muslim World 106, no. 3 (July 2016): 411–432.
330 Hamdeh, “Qurʾān and Sunna or the Madhhabs?”
331 Ibid., 218. Hamdeh adds, “Had he conceded that his conclusions involved an interpretive process he would not have been able to claim to depend only on scripture. In other words, instead of Salafism being based on the absolute truth it would just be another madhhab trying to understand texts” (218).
332 Hamdeh, Salafism and Traditionalism.
335 Hamdeh, “The Formative Years.”
336 Hamdeh, Salafism and Traditionalism, 118.
337 This was severely criticized by al-Albani. See Hamdeh, “The Formative Years,” 421-424.
338 Brown, Hadith.
339 Hamdeh, Salafism and Traditionalism.
340 Brown, Hadith.
341 Hamdeh, Salafism and Traditionalism.
342 See Tareen, Defending Muhammad in Modernity, 15-24. This simplistic dichotomy is in clear contradiction with what has been discussed earlier, that “following the Sufi path requires adherence to the dictates of the law” (19).
343 For the purposes of this article, I have adapted Maha Hilal’s discussion of internalized Islamophobia in the context of War on Terror. See her Innocent Until Proven Muslim: Islamophobia, The War on Terror, and the Muslim Experience since 9/11 (Minneapolis: Broadleaf Books, 2021).