Contested Boundaries: The Reception of Shi’ite Narrators in the Sunni Hadith Tradition

Michael Dann

Research output: Other contribution


This dissertation examines the lives of roughly 150 Shīʿite narrators active in the 2nd/8th and 3rd/9th centuries and their reception in the Sunnī hadith tradition. These narrators were contemporaneous with the crystallization of sectarian boundaries and the emergence of an inchoate Sunnī orthodoxy and their reception among Sunnīs sheds considerable light on both of these processes. Through the first decades of the ʿAbbāsid period (mid-2nd/8th century), Shīʿite narrators played a central role in the transmission of hadiths in the proto-Sunnī milieu. This was especially so in the city of Kūfa, where Shīʿite narrators of various stripes were associated with nascent sectarian trends and revolutionary efforts, and even defined the religio-political mainstream in the city to a significant extent. The diverse orientations of these figures constitute a testament to both the considerable sectarian ambiguity that characterized this era and to the contested processes by which sectarian boundaries were gradually drawn and enforced. In the course of the century following the accession of the ʿAbbāsids, the presence of Shīʿite narrators in the proto-Sunnī milieu underwent a precipitous decline. By the middle of the 3rd/9th century, the few Shīʿite narrators who continued to play a prominent role in the emergent Sunnī milieu were characterized by relatively mild Shīʿite sentiments lacking distinctively sectarian features. Several processes were at work in this decline, most prominent among which were cultural homogenization facilitated by trans-regional scholarly exchange, and increasingly exclusionary practices directed at figures who violated the boundaries of an incipient Sunnī orthodoxy. From the perspective of the proponents of this orthodoxy, the legacy of Shīʿite narrators was problematic, consisting of elements that were deemed indispensable to the Sunnī hadith tradition and others that were deemed vestigial reminders of its checkered genealogy. In an effort to delineate a standard for negotiating this problem, Sunnī scholars developed an increasingly nuanced discourse on narrating from “innovators,” a category of which Shīʿites were one prominent subset. This discourse had a significant impact in shaping the recorded legacy of Shīʿite narrators, and in large part has defined the terms by which their legacy has been debated down to the present day.
Original languageEnglish (US)
PublisherPrinceton University
Number of pages266
Place of PublicationPrinceton, NJ
StatePublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes


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