Islam and the Humanities

Conference 2019

Kamaluddin Ahmed

Oxford University


The Mukhtaṣar (Compendium) in Islamic Scholarship

While much attention has been paid to the genre of commentary (sharḥ) in classical Islamic scholarship, little research has been done on the genesis and structure of the short form that gave rise to the commentarial tradition, namely the Mukhtaṣar. This paper will examine the earliest Mukhtaṣars in the disciplines of fiqh, uṣūl al-fiqh, and uṣūl al-ḥadīth including the Mukhtaṣars of al- Buwayṭī (d. 264/877) and al- Muzanī (d. 231/846) in Shāfiʿī fiqh, al-Ṭaḥāwī (d. 321/933) in Ḥanafī fiqh, al-Nasafī (d. 710/1310) in uṣūl al-fiqh, and Ibn Ṣalah (d. 643/1245) in uṣul al-ḥadīth. I argue that the process of codification of knowledge and the quest to create authority and continuity in these critical disciplines gave rise to the Mukhtaṣar. However, by reducing positions to those deemed most preferred (rājiḥ), the diversity and plurality of early Islamic scholarly opinion was restricted by the Mukhtaṣar genre in ways that the later commentarial tradition were only partially able to undo. It is only through examining the form and structure of the Mukhtaṣars that one may appreciate the structural limits placed on commentaries and glosses. The canonization and almost sacralization of the Mukhtaṣar genre harnessed future epistemological activity to these core texts, which by their very nature were reductionist and essentialist. The absence of reasoning and evidences in the compendia would often lead to innovative reconstruction of arguments and debates by later commentators.