An influential theological and legal tendency that identifies tradition (naql) rather than reason (‘aql) or considered opinion (ra’y) as the preeminent source of human knowledge. Traditionalists (ahl al-hadith, lit. ‘people of tradition’) typically privilege revelation (the Qur’an), the actions and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (sunna, lit. ‘well-followed path’, i.e. customary practice or tradition) and consensus (ijma‘). They place great stock in traditional reports of Muhammad’s actions and sayings (ahadith; sing: hadith) and revere those who collect and transmit these reports (muhaddith or ‘traditionists’). In general, they are opposed to figurative interpretations of the Qur’an and hostile to any kind of rational speculation or disputation about questions left unclear by revelation. They see pure reason as an unstable, unreliable device that gives rise to innovation and deviation from the truths provided by the sources mentioned above, leading to heresy and even unbelief. Not surprisingly, they are implacable critics of rationalist theologians and philosophers. However, traditionalists disagree about how best to respond to those who privilege reason. Pure or extreme traditionalists prohibit rational argumentation altogether and completely dissociate themselves from those who engage in it, branding them as unbelievers and in some cases even persecuting them. Moderate traditionalists engage with and attempt to refute advocates of reason, using not only traditional proofs but rational arguments themselves (turning reason on itself, as it were, to highlight its own limitations and inadequacies). This points up a certain ambivalence about the status of reason within traditionalism. While extreme traditionalists (e.g. the Zahirites) often seem to reject rational argumentation and interpretation altogether, moderate traditionalists (e.g. the Hanbalites) accept the use of reason so long as it is confirmed by tradition. Thus, figures like Ibn Hanbal and Ibn Taymiyya will employ reason to defend tradition and refute their rationalist adversaries (indeed, their arguments can be surprisingly resourceful), but ultimately assign it a subordinate role. In short, reason is answerable to tradition, but not vice versa.
   See Ash‘arites; Hanbalites; Ibn Hazm; Ibn Taymiyya; rationalism; theology
   Further reading: Abrahamov 1998; Arberry 1957; Hallaq 1993

Islamic Philosophy. . 2007.

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