Gestures in the Process of Ḥadīth Transmission: The Case of Divine Hearing and Seeing

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One of the markers of orality in the ḥadīth literature is the gesture (ishāra pl. ishārāt). In 1886, Ignaz Goldziher observed that the muḥaddithūn (teachers of ḥadīth) performed gestures while transmitting ḥadīth on various topics. The following article picks up the thread of Goldziher’s unique inquiry, characterizes gestures in the ḥadīth and groups them into categories. The gestures related to the transmission of aḥādīth al-ṣifāt, namely the traditions about divine attributes (ṣifāt Allāh), form a separate category because they entailed doctrinal and theological implications. This article spotlights the preservation and interpretation of one specific gesture which appears in a ḥadīth attributed to the ṣaḥābī Abū Hurayra. According to this ḥadīth, the Prophet placed his thumb on his ear and his forefinger on his eye to demonstrate that God “hears all and observes all” (Qurʾān 4:58). Does this gesture denote the attributes of God’s hearing and seeing, or God’s eye and ear? Was this gesture perceived as a metaphoric gesture representing an abstract concept, or was it understood as an iconic gesture displaying a concrete scene? The article considers the several possible interpretations of this gesture through the writings of the ultra-traditionalistic scholar Abū Saʿīd al-Dārimī (d. between 280-282/893-895) and the Ashʿarī theologian Ibn Fūrak (d. 406/1015)
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)291-357
Number of pages67
JournalJerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam
StatePublished - 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, The Max Schloessinger Memorial Foundation, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. All rights reserved.


  • iconic gestures
  • metaphoric gestures
  • ishāra
  • bi- lā kayfa
  • aḥādīth al-ṣifāt
  • orality of ḥadīth
  • ṣifāt Allāh
  • bi-lā kayfa


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