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Book description

Between the eighth and eleventh centuries, many defining features of classical Sunni Islam began to take shape. Among these was the formation of medieval Sunnism around the belief in the unimpeachable orthodoxy of four eponymous founders and their schools of law. In this original study, Ahmad Khan explores the history and cultural memory of one of these eponymous founders, Abū Ḥanīfa. Showing how Abū Ḥanīfa evolved from being the object of intense religious exclusion to a pillar of Sunni orthodoxy, Khan examines the concepts of orthodoxy and heresy, and outlines their changing meanings over the course of four centuries. He demonstrates that orthodoxy and heresy were neither fixed theological categories, nor pious fictions, but instead were impacted by everything from law and politics, to society and culture. This book illuminates the significant yet often neglected transformations in Islamic social, political and religious thought during this vibrant period.


‘In important parts of the Middle East and South Asia's vast Sunni Muslim population, Islam and the school of practice initiated by Abū Ḥanīfa have long been nearly synonymous. However, for the medieval clerics who first spoke of 'Sunni Islam', Abū Ḥanīfa was a heretic. This rich and careful study details how Sunni Islam expanded to admit Abū Ḥanīfa and the broad diversity of thought and practice found in the Muslim world today.’

Jonathan A.C. Brown - Georgetown University

‘With mastery of a wide range of sources, clarity of expression and methodological insight, Ahmad Khan guides us through the intricate ways in which accusations of heresy were constructed during the early Islamic period, the defensive reactions they provoked and how such processes contributed to the emergence of classical Sunnism.’

Maribel Fierro - Spanish National Research Council

‘This is a highly original and important study which challenges many assumptions about how ideas around heresy and orthodoxy were articulated by early Sunnis. The book is deeply researched, and its nuanced arguments are supported by an impressively wide range of sources. The conclusions have significant ramifications for the field.’

Harry Munt - University of York

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