The most important debate in Islamic origins is that of the
reliability of the lists of transmitters (isnads) that are said to
guarantee the authenticity of the materials to which they are
attached. Many scholars have come to the conclusion that most
traditions (hadiths), which claim to preserve the words and deeds
of Muhammad and early Muslim scholars, are spurious. Other scholars
defend hadiths and their isnads, arguing for an early continuous
written transmission of these materials. The first purpose of this
study is to summarize and critique the major positions on the issue
of the authenticity of hadiths in general and exegetical hadiths in
particular. The second purpose is to devise a means of evaluating
isnads that does not rely on circular arguments and to use it to
determine if the hadiths in the Tafsir of al-Tabari, attributed to
Ibn 'Abbas, are genuine.
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