In a recent issue of Arabica , Tilman Nagel published a fundamental
critique of the isnād-cum-matn analysis.1 He claims that the method is a formalistic
procedure that is incapable of producing any relevant results with regard to
the life of Muḥammad and that is to be regarded as a step backwards in the study
of the historical Muḥammad. He also criticises the proponents of this method –
most notably Gregor Schoeler and Harald Motzki – and accuses them of methodological
flaws and scholarly naïveté. In particular, he argues that the proponents
of this method wrongly claim that it allows the identification of ‘authentic’ traditions
about the life of Muḥammad.
The following article offers a critical review of Nagel’s arguments. It shows
that Nagel’s criticism is fraught with misunderstandings and misrepresentations
of the works he discusses and that his accusations are thus unwarranted and
untenable. The article also explains what the isnād-cum-matn analysis actually
is and how it can be used for dating traditions, which is – in contrast to Nagel’s
claims – the method’s primary objective.