The Rehabilitation of 'Ali in Sunni Hadith and Historiography

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After the Prophet Muhammad, the most contested figure in Islamic history would be his son-in-law, 'Ali b. Abi Talib. 'Ali's political rivals staunchly denounced him, his family and his partisans as impious criminals in his own lifetime and after his death. Shortly after his assassination, the Umayyads succeeded in obtaining the reins of the caliphate and establishing a dynasty that lasted close to a century. Medieval sources indicate that rhetoric and propaganda hostile to 'Ali permeated public discourse under the Umayyads. Nonetheless, through the efforts of his admirers, 'Ali became a respected authority in both Sunni and Shi i Islam within a few centuries of his death. His nearly universal portrayal in Muslim literature as a pious authority rather obscures a centuries-long process of contestation and rehabilitation. This study considers the methods that hadith transmitters and scholars employed to reconcile expectations regarding Ali's character and image in Sunnism with the vast and heterogeneous body of accounts about him. Sunni scholars made use of their editorial privilege by transmitting selected versions of reports and omitting controversial material.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)565-583
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of the Royal Asiatic Society
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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