Western scholars generally agree that early ḥadīth critics limited their authentication
of ḥadīths to examining isnāds. The argument that these critics took the matn
into account has relied on material of dubious reliability or on works produced
after the formative period of the Sunni ḥadīth tradition. By providing examples
of matn criticism from the 3rd/9th and 4th/10th centuries, I prove that Sunni
ḥadīth critics did in fact engage in matn criticism; and I argue that these critics
consciously manufactured the image of exclusive focus on the isnād in an effort
to ward off attacks by rationalist opponents. By demonstrating a high correlation
between the ḥadīths found in early books of transmitter criticism and those found
in later books of forged ḥadīth with explicit matn criticism, I show that early
critics engaged in matn criticism far more often than appears to have been the
case, disguising this activity in the language of isnād criticism.

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