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INTRODUCTION Clearly defining the place of prophetic hadiths in the epistemology of Sunni Islam has proven extremely difficult. On the one hand, Sunni hadith scholars and legal theorists elaborated two parallel but contrasting scales for describing their certainty that a hadith represented the authentic words or deeds of the Prophet. On the other hand, these Muslim scholars employed hadiths in a wide range of scholarly discourses and homiletics with seeming disregard for both of these epistemological rankings. The scale developed by legal theorists and adopted into Sunni Islam in the late fourth/tenth and early fifth/eleventh centuries has been well studied. (1) But what about the epistemological scale of the formative Partisans of Hadith (ahl al-hadith), the original "Sunni" (ahl al-sunna wa-l-jama'a) scholars, who preceded this adoption? What did al-Shafi'i (d. 204/820) or Ibn Hanbal (d. 241/855) mean when they said that a hadith was "sound" (sahih)? (2) Did they mean that they believed that the Prophet had actually said that statement, or that he probably had, or did they only mean that it was indicative of his normative precedent? When al-Bukhari (d. 256/870) or al-Tirmidhi (d. 279/892) declared a hadith lo be sound or "fair" (hasan), how did those terms reflect their opinion on the historical truth of the hadith in question? If a sahih hadith was an authenticated report of the Prophet, how could scholars so regularly state that one hadith was "sounder" (asahh) than another? (3) How do we translate the historical vision of early Muslim scholars into terms that are comprehensible in modern Western thought? (4)

1. April
American Oriental Society

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