Light in the Heavens

Sayings of the Prophet Muhammad

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al-Qadi al-Quda'i
Tahera Qutbuddin
  • New York, NY: 
    New York University Press
    , November
     192 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


In addition to the Qur’ān the other basic source of Islamic guidance, the Ḥadīth—statements including the words, actions/deeds, answers to queries, sermons, speeches or habits of Muḥammad, the Prophet of Islam—carries a great significance for Islam, and in the lives of Muslims. These statements are both valued and prescribed tenets from the Prophet of Islam to address the different aspects of human life, from doctrinal and apocalyptic in nature to ritualistic to civic and criminal affairs. Obviously, as literature, the Ḥadīth also carries great significance as the best possible source of the explanation of the Divine word, and thus a “natural companion” to the Qur’ān itself.  Disclosing “the ethos of the earliest period of Islam,” the Ḥadīth collections reveal the intuitional “vision of one of the most influential humans in history” and “form an integral part of the Muslim psyche”.(xiii).

The written Ḥadīth material—Suḥf; sing.,Saḥīfa—that was available to the Companions of the Prophet Muḥammad and who lived in a predominantly “oral milieu,” in addition to what was codified verbatim from their individual memories, was transcribed to forms these compilations. The large and varied number of “legally grounded and specialist-oriented” Ḥadīth compilations came to light and the process continued unabatedly to provide guidance to the Ummah, elucidating the rulings for ritual, civic and criminal regulations. The scholars/compilers took into consideration the “doctrinal and legal” significance of the Ḥadīth, aiming to demonstrate the practical application of the Ḥadīth in the Muslim societies. More importantly, these compilations were brought about meticulously while still employing a “scholarly apparatus of authentication.” For example, the application of tools such as the  Asmā’ al-Rijāl—biography of the Ḥadīth narrators/transmitters to check their reliability and trustworthiness—and the Jaraḥ Wa Ta‘dīl—to scrutinize the Ḥadīth text—in order to present  the authentic traditions, and refrain from fabricated material. The result was a classification of Ḥadīth narrators as well as Ḥadīth texts defined by their level of “trustworthiness” (narration) and “authenticity” (texts). There remains no civilization or nation save the Muslim community that maintained such a meticulous or scrupulous methodology for data verification than that of the Ḥadīth sciences bequeathed by their classical experts of the field. Scrutiny of the Ḥadīth corpus was necessary given the fabrications supporting the authenticity of a specific faction, for political or material interests, or even to induce austere ritualistic behaviour among the believers. The painstaking task of verification and authenticity of the Ḥadīth corpus by experts—Muḥaddithīn—yielded fine results alongside the development of this discipline of “Ḥadīth sciences,” unique to Islam and the community of its followership. In the later stages, according to editor Tahera Qutbuddin, both Sunnī as well as Shi‘a contributed to the most authentic volumes of Ḥadīth.

Light in the Heavens includes an “Introduction” by Qutbuddin, editor and translator, of the original work—Kitāb al-Shihāb—contextualizes the significance of this work of Al-Qudā‘ī. While encapsulating the major life events of the Prophet, followed by the enumeration of the development of Ḥadīth literature, Tahera brings Al-Qudā‘ī’s bio-academic profile and his literary contribution into the limelight as well as highlighting Kitāb al-Shihāb. This book has attracted the attention of eminent scholars of the various denominations from both the Sunni and Shi‘a worlds, along with a considerable number of translations and commentaries in Arabic, Persian, Turkish and even in French, English, and Urdu over the centuries. Though largely remaining impartial in her discussion, Qutbuddin’s   partiality is evident in the conclusion of the biographical sketch of Prophetic events. Here, she highlights the Shi‘a point of view on the “Ghadīr declaration of the Prophet” by declaring ‘Alī as his successor yet fascinatingly skips mentioning the Sunni explanation of this event which highlights ‘Alī’s honour, status and his calibre.

The text is composed of the Ḥadīth Qudsī--Words of Allah transmitted directly by the Prophet—supplications of the Prophet, and a major portion of the general sayings of the Prophet meant for directing human behaviour and increasing God’s consciousness. In addition, the bulk of the material,is “promoting upright character,” providing pragmatic advice for “keen observation on human nature, and legal rulings on social and economic issues” (xxii). The translator’s “A Note on the Text” includes a brief overview of the original manuscript, its different editions, the current translation, and supplies timely information to a reader. This translation is significant in that it promotes readership of Kitāb al-Shihāb by making it accessible to a large number of English-speaking readers in addition to the original Arabic.

The work includes the main Arabic text alongside the translation of the ‘Introduction’ and a series of seventeen chapters from the original work—Kitāb al-Shihāb fī--al-Amthāl Wa al-Mawā‘iẓ wa al Ādāb : Alf Kalimah wa Mi’ata Kalimah min Ḥadīth  al-Nabī Ṣallallahu ‘Alyhi Wasallam of Al-Qudā‘ī. Qutbuddin’s challenging job of translating the Ḥadīth follows the “sentence-to-sentence” rather than “word-to-word” style of translation, in an effort to convey the essence and preserve the “substantive spirit and rhetorical texture” of the original Arabic text. This she has done successfully while bringing about her own specific and relevant English rendering of the technical religious terminology wherever needed. She employs lucid and easily comprehendible language so much that the book is an easily readable and accessible source for direct guidance on the Prophetic sayings (Ḥadīth). Overall format of the text is good, however, there is inconsistency in transliteration (i.e.,) followed irregularly e.g., hadith [e.g., p.xiii, should have been Ḥadīth, Kaaba (e.g., p.xiv) [Ka‘bah], hadiths Aḥadīth ] etc.

Strikingly, every chapter contains the original Arabic text—Aḥādith—alongside its English translation and this feature adds to the readability of the book for both English and Arabic readers.  Furthermore, there are explanatory “Notes, a “Glossary of Names and Terms,” a handsome “Bibliography,” and “Index” which makes the whole volume an academically commendable one.

In totality, this volume is highly recommended and beneficial for the expert, the scholar and the student of Islamic Studies while equally expedient for general readers.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Mohammad Ifran Shah is a doctoral candidate at the Institute of Islamic Studies at Aligarh Muslim University.

Date of Review: 
April 6, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

al-Qadi al-Quda'i​ (d. 454 H/1062 AD) was a Sunni jurist, a scholar of hadith and history, and a senior government official of the Fatimid dynasty in Cairo.

Tahera Qutbuddin is Associate Professor of Arabic Literature at the University of Chicago. She is the author of Al-Muʾayyad al-Shirazi and Fatimid Daʿwa Poetry: A Case of Commitment in Classical Arabic Literature.


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