She studied Arabic Language, Literature and Civilization at the University of Tunis I. In 2001, she was a recipient of the scholarship of the Chancellor of the Universities of Paris, in Letters and Human Sciences, for her PhD project at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (Paris). She completed a PhD thesis, entitled “The theory of authenticity in Hadith sciences between the first and the sixth century of Islam”, in 2004. Her thesis analyses the authentication of Hadith as a complex system, the criteria of which is based on three historical aspects: the geography of transmission, the history of transmission and the ethic of transmission. Analysed in the strict framework of Hadith science, the authenticity of the tradition appears to be a malleable concept whose use determines its meaning. This new and nuanced approach is not an attempt to establish whether certain categories of the prophetic tradition are true or not, but rather to determine what epistemological reasoning influenced whether or not medieval Muslim scholars accorded to it an “authentic” status. Authenticity is not only a discursive argument designating a theoretical notion, but also a belief and a vision of history marked by the moment of its origins.
From 2005 and 2008, Asma Hilali held a post-doctoral fellowship at the Graduate School of Asia and Africa in World Reference Systems (GSAA) at the Martin Luther University in Halle-Wittenberg (link is external), Germany. The fellowship allowed her to engage in research while also teaching at the Orientalisches Wissenschaftliches Zentrum (OWZ). The results of this work has been presented in a series of articles, beginning with “Coran ou Hadith? La transmission textuelle dans les six premiers siècles de l’islam” (Qur’an or Hadith? Textual Transmission in the First Six Centuries of Islam),Revue d’Histoire des Religions, 2010.
In the first half of 2010, she lectured on “Images en Islam médiéval: confrontation des textes religieux et de l’iconographie” (Images in Medieval Islam: Confrontation of Religious Texts and Iconography) at the University of Paris IV (Sorbonne) in the History of Art and Archaeology.Since 2008, Asma Hilali has worked on the edition of manuscripts of the Qur’an, which were discovered in Sana’a in the 80's within a CNRS project (France). Her findings were presented in several conferences, where she demonstrated that the Sana’a palimpsest is probably not a complete codex of the Qur’anic text but fragments that contain didactical notes concerning the recitation of specific Qur'anic passages.
She includes the Qur’an edition work in her larger research project on the transmission of Qur’an and Hadith and “intermediary genres” during the three first centuries Islam. Along with this subject, most of Asma Hilali’s publications and conferences are about the transmission of religious literature, its process of conceptualisation, and the historical issues that surround it.