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Gender and Legal Authority: An Examination of Early Juristic Opposition to Women's Hadīth Transmission

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This article analyzes two cases of early juristic opposition to the legal authority of hadīth narrated by women. These cases appear as striking anomalies for two reasons: first, jurists broadly agreed that the gender of narrators in a chain of transmission was not a criterion in evaluating hadīth; and second, the cases involve female Companions of the Prophet whose value as transmitters came to be universally acknowledged by Muslim scholars of the classical period. In this article, I demonstrate that these incidents of gender-based disparagement are more useful because of what they reveal about the development of hadīth transmission (riwāya) and legal testimony (shahāda) as technical categories rather than for what they can tell us about normative gender discourse in early and classical Islam. I also contextualize the cases in terms of early methodological debates on the legal authority of isolated reports (khabar al-wāhid, akhbār al-ahād).

Affiliations: 1: Department of Religious Studies, 324 Pardee Hall, Lafayette College, Easton, PA 18042


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