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.

Kamaluddin Ahmed is a final year DPhil candidate in the Faculty of Oriental Studies at the University of Oxford. His doctoral thesis is titled “Balancing Textual Tradition and Legal Reasoning: an Intellectual History of Ninth (CE) / Third (AH) Century Islamic Law” and focuses on the written corpus of Abū Jaʿfar al-Ṭaḥāwī (d. 321/933) as illustrative of the major intellectual debates of his century.  In 2017-18, he was a casual lecturer on Islamic Religion in the Faculty of Oriental Studies and a tutor in Arabic at Pembroke College. He holds a Bachelor’s from the University of Chicago and a Master’s from the University of Oxford and is also a classically trained Islamic scholar having earned the ʿālimiyyah and iftāʾ degrees after many years of traditional full-time study. His areas of specialization are Islamic intellectual history, Islamic law, qu’ranic exegesis (tafsīr), and philosophical theology.