George Warner studied Arabic and Islamic studies at Cambridge University and in Damascus and has recently completed his PhD at SOAS, where he currently teaches the history of Shi’i Islam. His interests include Shi’ism and sectarianism, Arabic and Persian literature (particularly compilation studies), and hadith.
Perfect Speech: Adab as Sectarian Polemic in the Buwayhid Era
Home to many titans of adab literature, the Buwayhid intellectual context also houses intense sectarian dispute. While these two aspects are usually treated separately, this paper will examine their extensive interdependence. In Buwayid adab compendia we find not only recurring registers of inter-sectarian argument, but also efforts by author-compilers to claim ownership of the wealth of adab discourse for their own group. This engenders not only significant, even defining imprints of such disputes on adab literature, but a simultaneous penetration of adab literature’s forms and priorities into canonical works of doctrine.
This paper takes as its starting point two adab compendia of the period: the Shāfiʿī Sunnī al-Māwardī’s Adab al-dunyā wa’l-dīn and the Imāmī Shīʿī al-Sharīf al-Murtaḍā’s Ghurar al-fawāʾid wa durar al-qalāʾid. Both seminal figures in their respective legal-theological traditions, both scholars attempt in these works to negotiate between the usual polyphonous curiosity of the adab compendium, their sources ranging from Abū Bakr to Buzurjmihr, and a shared sectarian concern to routinize authority in a strictly demarcated set of sources. Though called a compendium, al-Māwardī’s work is dominated by his own voice, the book’s colourful array of gobbets subordinated to his own exacting definitions of the concepts that they illustrate and thus, ultimately, to the authority of the qualified scholar. Al-Murtaḍā, meanwhile, is often to be found digressing into assertions of the (sometimes improbable) Shīʿī credentials of his sources, and meanwhile arguing that such wisdom as he narrates from them has nothing to add to that of the imāms. His efforts are reflected in his brother al-Sharīf al-Raḍī’s Nahj al-balāgha, a work in which we see not a collection of ḥadīth as repositories of doctrine but an attempt at an adab compendium composed solely of the imām’s inspired speech.