- Al-Māturīdī and the Development of Sunnī Theology in Samarqand by Ulrich Rudolph
Memory is a strange thing. It is selective; it distorts and, when faced with its own lacunae, it invents. Most importantly, however, it emplots; it constructs meaningful narratives out of otherwise incoherent masses of data. Its function in the life of religious and sectarian communities does not, a few qualifications notwithstanding, greatly differ. In the collective memory of mainstream Sunnism, Abū Manṣūr al-Māturīdī (d. 333/944) ranks alongside al-Ashʿarī (d. 324/936) as the progenitor of a line of ‘orthodox’ theological teaching. Unlike his better known contemporary, however, Māturīdī is rarely cited and is even less frequently understood. Ulrich Rudolph’s monograph, ably translated by Rodrigo Adem, is a superb effort to redress the deficits of this theological imaginary. It radically undermines the apologetic notion of Māturīdī as a more or less unvarnished follower of Abū Ḥanīfah and demonstrates the extent to which his later reputation is an example of the invention of tradition. Rudolph also makes valuable contributions to our understanding of Ḥanafī theology in the period before Māturīdī, critically assessing the modern and pre-modern historiography on the subject, and furnishing us with an impressionistic account of the subsequent rise of a distinctive Māturīdī school. Rudolph marries painstaking textual analysis to careful reconstruction of the religious scene in second to fourth century ah Transoxania to present us with a complex and compelling portrait of the theology of Māturīdī in its context. As such, his monograph will surely form a new point of departure for studies of the development of kalām in Eastern Islamdom.
The author begins by remarking on Māturīdī’s curious status as a canonical theologian; this requires some explanation, given his conspicuous absence from the standard heresiographical references. Canonisation is a function of many factors including, rather prominently, [End Page 512] political ones. The obvious parallel here – deserving greater elaboration than Rudolph provides – is with the gradual development of mutual recognition among the legal schools, which grew especially pronounced in the Mamluk period. By the fourteenth century ce, it became common to speak of two orthodox theologies and four legitimate madhāhib, this notwithstanding the long and bitter history of odium theologicum and communal violence between followers of the diverse trends. This later conciliatory outline was projected onto the earlier period, and the genre of tolerable theological khilāf proved to be highly productive in literary terms. Western scholarship received this apologetic account somewhat passively, embracing it until the path-breaking researches of Madelung – on whose shoulders the author clearly stands. Closer comparison of the teachings of al-Ashʿarī and al-Māturīdī, now possible with the availability of critical editions, reveals substantial differences and the consistent misreading of the latter in particular in later sources (e.g. on questions of ontology). Admittedly, our author is not centrally preoccupied with the afterlife of Māturīdī’s theology but important lines of inquiry are suggested here. A detailed study of the Māturīdī school up to the time of its classical expositors, Abū al-Yusr al-Pazdawī (d. 493/1100) and Abū al-Muʿīn al-Nasafī (d. 508/1114) is now clearly a desideratum of the highest order; a parallel study of Ashʿarism up to al-Juwaynī (d. 478/1085) and al-Ghazālī (d. 505/1111) is equally desirable.
Throughout, Rudolph rightly emphasises the highly localised nature of theologico-legal milieus in the pre-classical period; this goes some way toward explaining the neglect of Māturīdī in important contemporaneous sources. From as early as the third century ah, a number of cities (particularly in Islamdom’s geographical periphery) had already acquired sectarian reputations, and thus discussion of authors operating in those contexts is only meaningful when local pre-histories and interlocutors are borne in mind. It...