PublicationsThe History of the Adhān: a View from the Ḥadīth Literature
The ḥadīth literature has preserved for us many different and at times contradictory stories about how the adhān originated, who instituted it, and the reason it was introduced. Several scholars have paid attention to parts of this corpus of narratives in their studies and there seems to be a consensus among them that the introduction of the adhān predated the death of the Prophet. In the present essay – originally part of my doctoral dissertation – I applied a close textual analysis to all the narratives I have found about the origins of the adhān until the third/ninth century. My research contributes to a better understanding of the birth of the Islamic call to prayer and its cultural implications for the first two centuries of Islamic history as well as the debates that it provoked. At a literary level, this study sheds light on the mechanisms employed in some of the narratives to promote different viewpoints.
In collaboration with Stefan Wezel.
For scholars studying Ḥadīth texts, drawing an isnād tree with more than 40 transmitters is a tedious work and finding the right medium to desplay it fully can even prove to be impossible. The isnalyser is a simple program for the automation of isnād trees drawing and their customisable display in handy formats.
Time, Space and Relations in Hadith Literature:
a machine-learning approach
Ḥadīth means in Arabic “narrative”, generally understood in the Muslim tradition as a ‘story’ purportedly related by Muslims’ Prophet Muḥammad or his companions at the beginning of the seventh century C.E. in Medina, on the Arabian Peninsula. These narratives were transmitted orally from one generation to the next across the whole islamic empire, from Andalusia to Samarkand, retelling deeds and words of Muḥammad, whose leading role within the growing Muslim community became increasingly clearer and stronger after his death. Perhaps one of the most prolific genres in human history, ḥadīth literature encompasses all the numerous volumes of collected ḥadīth narratives together with the prolonged scholarly commentaries on these collections, from the eighth century C.E. until today.
Understanding Islam, its evolving cultures and traditions, its legal apparatus—extensively based on the ḥadīth literature—, and the historical development of Muslim societies until today necessarily requires interactions with the ḥadīth literature. Yet, its texts not only combine various streams of memories from different times, they also interweave genres, fields and regions. Hence their analysis requires vast and interdisciplinary expertise.
One approach developed over the past two decades consists in an interdisciplinary and contextual close textual analysis of a small portion of ḥadīth narratives, usually pertaining to a single topic. I employed this method in my doctoral dissertation to analyse the accounts retelling the genesis of the Islamic call to prayer and their multiple variations. Like other scholars before me, I was able to shed light on regional and legal idiosyncrasies, but within a limited scope. A larger-scale understanding remains a daunting exercise with such methods because of the fluid nature of ḥadīth literature and its sheer volume (>200 mio. words). Hence, a global perspective is still missing.
The aim of the present research project is to achieve a unique, broader perspective on the dynamics of narrative adaptation in ḥadīth literature by applying advanced data analysis. We have now digitized databases as well as sophisticated and efficient algorithms, which were the missing factors for large-scale studies of ḥadīth literature as a whole. Using comprehensive datasets and recent algorithmic advances in text processing and machine learning (ML) models, I want to observe the use, reuse and adaptations of ḥadīth narratives to better apprehend regional and general patterns within the whole ḥadīth literature. These patterns will both illustrate the diversity of Muslim societies and the Islamic specificities that unite them.
The application of ML methods will result in abundant and complex relational outputs. To facilitate the understanding and dissemination of my results, I plan to develop and make available data-dense visualisation software, particularly exploiting the possibilities of browser-based interactive data displays. This will allow me to share easily my findings with other scholars within and outside the field. Finally, the corpora, models and visualisations I will develop, will be of help to further advance digital Islamic studies, which have not benefited yet from recent progress in NLP.