Arabic Pasts - Abstracts

Reading Ibrahim Fasih al-Haidari: An Everyday History of Ottoman Iraq
Janna Aladdin, New York University

Scholars of Iraq and of the Ottoman Empire have often bemoaned Iraq’s alleged absence from Ottoman history. While this absence has been attributed to the lack of accessible sources, renewed interest in Ottoman Iraq has prompted innovative methods in reading and finding archival material. Hoping to add to these new accounts, this paper will draw on an intensive reading of Ibrahim Fasih al-Haidari’s chronicle, Unwan al-Majd fi Bayan Ahwal Baghdad wa Basra wa Najd (1869), in order to understand the socio-political realities of the provinces of Ottoman Iraq during the 19th century. Writing in Ottoman Basra, al-Haidari produced an impressive number of manuscripts including the aforementioned chronicle, as well as various tafaseers, and political treatises.  

In this chronicle, al-Haidari discusses his travel in al-Najd, Baghdad, and Basra while also covering recent political events within Basra, the conversion of certain tribes to Shi’ism, and the history of the three provinces and al-Najd. Through al-Haidari’s account this paper explores the relationship between identity, historical memory, and space within the Ottoman Iraqi context. In doing so it will bring al-Haidari’s notions of what constitutes Iraq, Ottoman belonging, and identity into discussion. Most interestingly, this paper argues that al-Haidari’s account demonstrates the Ottoman Porte’s limited knowledge of Ottoman Basra, and highlights the distinct social and political structure of Ottoman Basra. This diversity allowed for multiple identities, and notions of what constitutes Iraq and Ottoman belonging.

Ultimately the aim of this paper is threefold. First, it would like to present al-Haidari’s account as one step in reproducing a social history of Ottoman Iraq during the 19th century. Second, this paper will also analyze the form with which al-Haidari is writing in order to place him within a larger history of chronicle writing in the Ottoman Empire. Finally, this paper will address the “source-problem” impacting histories of Ottoman Iraq to emphasize the important of such types of written sources in constructing a history of Ottoman Iraq.


Writing History in the Future Tense: Colonialism and Modernity in Abu Ras’ Aja’ib al akhbar
Dr Arthur Asseraf , University of Cambridge

This paper focuses on the narrative strategies of an unusual manuscript from late 19th century Algeria which writes history in the future tense. Contextualising this particular manuscript’s strategies with other contemporary texts, I wish to show how authors of manuscript histories innovated with the genre to describe colonial modernity.

Entitled Aja’ib al akhbar dhat al-ta’sis fi ma waqa’ aw sawfa yaqa’ li-l-muslimin wa al fransis, the text described itself as a history (tarikh). The true author is anonymous, as it claimed to be written by a scholar, shaykh Abu Ras al-Nasiri, who had died well before the events described. Thus, the anonymous author conceals his identity by getting Abu Ras to prophesy the history of the conquest of Algeria in the future. As both Allan Christelow and James McDougall have pointed out, the text is thus a useful insight into certain Algerian understandings of the conquest.

However, neither of them looked closely into the text’s structure. My contention is that the switch to the future (sawfa yaqa’) halfway through the text is far more than an odd gimmick. What does it mean to write history in the future tense? Behind the façade of a traditional medium (manuscript), harking back to an 18th century scholar, the narrative demonstrates a sense of rupture of time that is characteristically modern. While McDougall’s work has dated the emergence of a new modernist, islahist Algerian historiography to the interwar period, I wish to show that when considered carefully, manuscript histories had undergone dramatic ruptures of their own well before. Works like Aja’ib al akhbar played with form to write the history of colonial modernity in a way that current historians can draw on.


Collective identity, historical consciousness, belonging, and history writing among the Berbers.
Dr. Xavier Ballestín, Departament d’Història i Arqueologia, Universitat de Barcelona

The origins of the Berbers received due attention from Ibn ʿAbd al-Ḥakam (d. 870), our most ancient source for the Islamic conquest, in his work Futūḥ Miṣr wa-akhbāru-ha, where they appear divided between Butr and Barānis, as Arabs themselves belonged either to Qaḥṭān and ʿAdnān. Besides this genealogical and kin related piece of information some other insights about Berbers, like the name of their first ancestor, Goliath – Jālūt -, their original settlement in Palestine and eventual migration to the Maghreb, can be found there. Arabic sources are not lacking in providing genealogical, political, and historical data about Berbers, but if the literature associated to the shuʿūbiyya movement, created by non-Arabic scholars fully Arabicized in speech and writing and fully engaged in discussion with Arabian belletrists, can be dated in the first century of Abbasid rule, a full-fledged scholarship concerned with the origins, history, and place of the Berbers in the umma appears only between the last quarter of the XIIIth century and the first quarter of the XIVth century. The purpose of this paper is to analyze this literature, which is represented, among other works, by the anonymous Kitāb Mafākhir al-Barbar (c. 1316 AD) and the Kitāb Ansāb al-Barbar wa-mulūki-him of Ibn ʿAbd al-Ḥalīm (c. 1300-1325 AD), and to compare it with dynastic oriented annalistic literature, as Berber rulers and dynasties became the norm in the political map of the Western Maghreb. This comparative analysis will provide the reader with a good understanding of the main exploits and merits of the Berbers from the viewpoint of late Islamic scholarship and will offer new insights about the Berbers’ image of themselves in the Umma, where they shared place and time, along with competition, with Arabs and Christians.


Emotion and Social Status: Examples from Arabic Literary and Documentary Sources
Karen Bauer, The Institute of Ismaili Studies

Historians of emotion have long recognised that the expression and repression of emotions is connected to power relationships in society. For instance, it was common for eighteenth-century colonial Americans to define social class by the control of emotions: the upper classes portrayed themselves as being more refined and able to control their passions, while they portrayed the lower classes, including escaped slaves, as having wild and uncontrolled emotions.[1] Perhaps surprisingly, a similar dynamic can be seen in the wholly different context represented by the Qur’an. In that text, elites (believers) and non-elites (deniers) are also described by their ability to control their emotions: deniers bite their fingertips in rage in Q. 3:119, whereas believers ‘restrain their rage’ (Q. 3:134). God, as the highest status figure in the Qur’an, expresses anger; but His anger is righteous, just, and controlled, only meted out to those who deserve it. This paper presents a sample of various sources, which I will use in order to form a hypothesis about the ways in which their authors use emotion to express and construct social hierarchies. In the process, I will examine whether theories developed by historians of emotion are applicable to Islamic history, a context in which emotion has remained virtually unstudied. My examples include the Qur’an, al-Ṭabarī’s history, sīra, possibly biography, and documents such as petitions and personal requests, all of which I will read not just for emotion words, but specifically attending to how emotion is portrayed in those who are in power (God, the Prophet Muhammad, caliphs, or the addressee of requests/petitions) and those who are subject to this power.

The mysterious Khwadaynamag tradition is perhaps the most baffling and difficult aspect of Middle-Eastern historiography in Late Antiquity. Theodor Noeldeke’s excellent study on the work of Tabari posited that all later Arabic and Persian accounts of the Sasanian dynasty were grounded in a single, official, royal chronicle. This idea was a considerable advance at the time, and Noeldeke’s work meant that a serious and complete history of the Sasanian dynasty could finally be written. But is the Khwadaynamag hypothesis sound? Can we really trust writers such as Tabari and Dinawari when it comes to the Sasanian past? How much has really been remembered? How much has been forgotten? I will expound Noeldeke’s theory, and explain its influence upon our study of Sasanian Iran. I will evaluate Noeldeke’s argument, and show that it is actually little more than a series of wishful assumptions. Closer study of our sources reveals a multiplicity of wildly divergent texts making up the Khwadaynamag tradition. Most of the Khwadaynamag tradition appears to have been doctored by Muslim authors, so as to empty it of all authentic Zoroastrian content. By way of example, comparison between the Middle Persian Karnamag of Ardashir and its recycling by later writers such as Dinawari proves this. But some anecdotes in that tradition appear to be of Christian origin, such as the vehement bias agains Peroz I and sympathy for Hormazd IV, the mysterious anecdotes about Khusro I and his association with Christians, and legendary accounts of certain kings’ conversion to Christianity. Most of such details are fanciful or absurd. But the contents of the Khwadaynamag tradition can tell us much about Sasanian self-image, and occasional notices provide plausible details which are found in no other sources. Most significantly, the Khwadaynamag tradition shows how post-Sasanian Muslims reimagined the Zoroastrian and Christian past of Iran. My presentation wil be anchored in my own historiographical work, that of the late Zeev Rubin, and the very recent study by Jaakko Hämeen-Anttila.


Heaven and History: Astrology and the Construction of Historical Knowledge in Early Islam
Antoine Borrut, Associate Professor of History University of Maryland, aborrut@umd.edu

This paper aims to address the construction of historical knowledge during the first centuries of Islam (7th-10th centuries CE) and to shed light on the much-neglected genre of astrological histories. It contends that the writing of history was largely delegated to court astrologers early on, before the subsequent rise of religious scholars who ultimately replaced them as arbitrators of knowledge. Such a radical shift in authors occurred in response to a profound shift in ideas surrounding historical causality, as planetary conjunctions were rejected to God’s sole benefit. I suggest that astrologers left an extraordinarily imprint on the establishment of the agreed upon chronology and periodization of pre-Islamic and early Islamic times. Indeed, the eventual rejection of astrology as a causal link did not prevent the adoption of what would become the historiographical skeleton of the historical vulgate. This paper also claims to make two broader historiographical interventions. First, by rehabilitating a much-overlooked historiographical genre, my study will offer new perspectives on the alleged “gap” of narrative sources that we are facing for the formative period of Islam. I argue that this perception is partly due to the ignorance of a sizeable corpus of extant sources best exemplified by astrological histories. Secondly, studying the highly cosmopolitan world of astrologers will also contribute to the rejection of a false dichotomy between Muslim sources seen as an “internal” discourse and non-Muslim sources understood as an “external” production. I will propose to shift paradigms in order to better integrate non-Muslim authors as cultural brokers in the early Islamic Empire. Moreover, my goal is to document a remarkable period in historical writing, and to bridge the gap between historiography and history of science.


Rethinking Pre-Islamic History in Contemporary Egyptian Thought
Duvall

Much in opposition to the dehumanising Islamic doctrine of ​jāhiliyya​, which presupposes the ignorance and barbarity of all outsiders-others, some of Egypt’s intellectuals -including Copts and Muslims- are, at present, retrieving their Pharaonic past to assert their identity and challenge the very concept of ​jāhiliyya​.

As I argued in my PhD thesis, the radical Islamist ideologue, Sayyid Qu​ṭb (d. 1966), who is famously known for espousing the most dehumanising views of the ‘other’ in his late ​jāhiliyya discourse as he joined forces with the Wahhābī House of Saud in the early 1960s, held the view in the pre-Islamist stage of his life that Pharaonic Egypt occupies the highest echelon in his study of the history of human conscience. Against the historiography of his mentor, ‘Abbās M. al-’Aqqād (d. 1964), which incorporated philosophy in recounting the history of religions in 1947, Quṭ​ b rejected ​all ​philosophical strands of thought, even as he objectified Islam as an ‘idea’ or a ‘concept’, in the early Islamist stage of his life.

Against the backdrop of the challenges posed by the spread of a radical form of Arab nationalism, on the one hand, and the Arabisation of Islam, due in part to Wahhābī and political islamism influences, starting in the early 1950s, on the other, this study’s objective is to elucidate a strand of contemporary Egyptian thought which aims to rethink pre-Islamic history with the view of reinstating the Pharaonic stage of Egypt’s history. In analysing the Egyptian intellectuals discourse, it becomes plain that retrieving the Pharaonic past evidently entails coming to grips with the biblical and qur’anic ​weltanschauung which ​is particularly inimical to Egyptian civilisation, posing a great challenge with which the Egyptian intelligentsia had to grapple.

Statues as “lieux de memoire” in al-Andalus: rewrite discourses about past, present and future

 Antiquity and its material and immaterial remnants constitute an essential element for establishing the origins, characterization and perception of the world’s shared cultural heritage and the identity and foundations of modern countries, especially Europeans. The Islamic world has always been excluded, saying that the Islamic world has never shown any interest for antiquity, but in contrast just ignorance and rejection.

It is worth reconsidering this paradigm and realize that Islamic perception of antiquity is much more complex than what we had thought. Al-Andalus is a unique scenario for doing that. My PhD has focused in the Umayyad period (92/711-422/1031), because is the moment immediately after the end of the ancient world and the beginning of the formation of an Islamic state, in which the urbanism and the culture of the old Roman Hispania and Visigothic are still visible, where there is a Latin culture that is unknown in the rest of the Islamic world, more influenced by the Greek, and where there are also other factors that are quite special, such as the existence of a frontier in front of the Christian world, a dynasty different from that which ruled the rest of the Muslim world, and a moment of political splendour and cultural in the tenth century, the Caliphate of Cordoba, where to main written works came into light: the Arabic translation of Orosius, the Kitāb Hurūšiyūs, and the Ta’rīj fī ajbār mulūk al-Andalus de Aḥmad al-Rāzī (m. 955), a complete narration of the preislamic history of the Iberian Peninsula that relays on classical sources.

The conclusions achieved by my project show an authentic and scholar interest in the pre-Islamic past that hasn’t been pointed out until now. Furthermore, considering all the antiquities mentioned by Arabic authors, statues are, with a great difference, the vestiges that received more interest and attention, reflecting the vague and uncertain perception of antiquity in Islamic societies. Nevertheless, even those elements that are outlandish can be integrated in the Islam and in its orthodoxy. Statues are the clearest examples.

The end of classical sculpture and the receptions of ancient statues have only been considered in a western point of view. Studies regarding the irruption of Christianity and its considerations against pagan sculpture may have been widely studied. Nevertheless, there are still no studies for those statues known and reuse in the Islamic world. The idea of an Islamic prohibition and rejection of any figurative art may explain this lack of studies, although it is clear that Islam is not an iconoclastic religion. The appropriate term would be “aniconism”, that means, the prohibition refers only to the representation of God and, figurative images are absent in the religious spaces (in the mosques we find geometric and vegetal decoration), but not in profane or secular places.

According to Arabic sources, statues are defined as ṣūra (image), timṯāl (statue) and dumya, but also as ṣanam (idol), a term directly related with the ŷāhiliyya and paganism. However, far from being rejected or destroyed, statues became a prominent element of the cities, were placed in their gates and baths, and considered as patrons or “ladies” (sing. fem. ṣāḥiba) of several cities, giving them the consideration of talismans (sing. ṭilsam), overtaking reticence and including them into the present and with a function in it. In fact, it might be said that many cases of destruction and mutilation of images in Islam are actually intended to “neutralize” this magical component and, by doing so, destroy talismanic images always had disastrous consequences and was seen as a reprehensible act.

The aim of this paper will to present the complexity that hides the Islamic reception of classical sculpture in al-Andalus: they were forgotten and recovered, destroyed but also reuse and reinterpreted from pagan idols to talismans. There are more than twenty-seven references to different statues, according to the written sources and archaeological evidences. The set of statues and sarcophagi at Madinat al-Zahra deserves a special attention, because it is connected directly with the Umayyad discourse of legitimation, using the pre-Islamic past as reference for justification and authority.


Tārīkh-e engārih: An Islamicate approach to the history of ideas in Iranian academia
M. Hadi Gerami

Even though it is well-known that in Middle Eastern countries, historical studies of Islam are not reliable and academic, but rather they are usually intertwined with a considerable amount of theological baggage, some Iranian scholars have recently tried to develop and domesticate an academic field of Islamic historiography entitled tārīkh-e engārih.

What these scholars elaborate upon is usually derived from an externalist perspective. The substantial problem, which has usually been criticized by Western scholars in the field, is that the major part of studies about Islam in Muslim countries has no affinity with historical objectivity, even though one can hardly grasp this objectivity in history; but at the very least can attempt to approach it. Seemingly, this is why it is challenging for a Muslim historian to consider Islam, which he believes in, from an outsider perspective. On the contrary, a western scholar, who does not possess an insider’s perspective, can approach this historical objectivity in his or her Islamic historiography much better than a Muslim scholar.

However, it comes as no surprise that the aforementioned impression of Muslim academics, at least within Iran, though remains very true, is not absolutely true. Tārīkh-e engārih, a Persian term put forth by Iranian philologist and historian Ahmad Pākatchī, is a field that tries to deal with this problem and works on developing a domesticated academic field of historiography for Islamic ideas.

Ahmad Pākatchī and his advocators and students, are primarily interested in early Islamic and Shi‘i intellectual history, mostly focusing on historical developments of terms and concepts over the course of Islamic history. This approach has some affinities with the so-called conceptual-intellectual history within western academia. The elaborated field in Iran is very important; for its advocators proclaim it as an academic approach which is in relation to its counterpart discourse in western academia.

This paper will shed more lights on the advent and development of this historical approach in Iranian academia to show how mutual dialogue and understanding between western and Iranian scholars have shaped a new discourse for the study of early Islamic history and ideas in the Middle East.


Taking the tribes to the museum: the institutionalisation of Qatari identity
Javier Guirado Alonso, Autonomous University of Madrid

 In this paper, I study how the tribe has functioned as the main repository for Qatari identity in history and how, since the independence and mostly from the 70s to the present day, it is in the process of being partially substituted by national institutions, such as the museum or the archive.

Given the fact that what now constitutes Qatar has been a segmentary society until recently, the social institutions and mechanisms have worked -and still do- in a different way to those of a modern nation state. Its economic and political transformation has provoked a tension between these modern institutions and the old ones in less than a generation.

Although some political scientists define the political regime of Qatar as authoritarian, I analyse it as a network of its own, being one of its features the ongoing construction of a national identity that legitimises the ‘Qatari’ to the eyes of a globalised world, aside from colonial perspective or a Western framework.

Historical landmarks such as the rise to power of the Al Thani, their relationship with the British or the Al Khalifa, and the importance of Doha in a material and symbolic sense are also taken into account to describe the co-opt of this discourse by the ruling family.

To sum up, this paper presents the characteristics of the Qatari historical and identitary institutions as halfway between those of a tribal, segmentary society and a modern, national one, being one of its own and showing a different relation with the ruling power. 


Some thoughts on the use and reuse of sira texts
As with all early Islamic religious literature, texts relating to the biography of the Prophet in the first centuries of Islam predominantly occur in compilatory works that are made up of small textual units, sira or maghazi reports. Such texts are prone to be reused, rearranged, or put in a different context without necessarily impacting much on the integrity of the individual textual units.

The paper seeks to explore and elucidate some of the ways in which sira texts have been reused and re-appropriated throughout the centuries. At least two different levels of reuse can be distinguished: Firstly, the individual textual units, the sira reports, were reused, adapted, and put in different contexts by different authors and compilers. And secondly, larger passages or narrations, which incorporated several of these textual units and placed them in a specific context were reused and re-appropriated by later authors.

In the sira literature, several types of reuse can be observed, among others

  • the reuse of sira reports within the same work
  • the reuse of sira reports by the same author in different works
  • the use of the same reports by different authors, possibly put in different contexts
  • the reuse of specific texts – reports or longer passages – by different transmitters/redactors of a work, acknowledging the source while possibly including additions, rearrangements, or omissions
  • the unacknowledged reuse and adaptation of texts by later authors

The paper seeks to illustrate these types through a number of examples, without, however, aiming be comprehensive. It will raise the question of how these different types of reuse of texts may help us to assess the reception of specific texts, their spread from one genre to another, and the changing perception of the past by Muslim scholars throughout the centuries.


Afterlives of the ‘ammiyyas: the Mount Lebanon commoner leagues of 1800-1840 in later chronicles and histories
Peter Hill, University of Oxford

This paper examines a range of Arabic accounts of the commoner leagues in Ottoman Mount Lebanon between 1800 and 1840. Often known as ‘ammiyyas, these uprisings drew Christian farmers across northern Mount Lebanon together in opposition to the ruling Emir and (in 1840) the Egyptian occupation. They have been much written about in Arabic ever since: featuring in a large number of chronicles by nineteenth-century contemporaries, often involved in the events themselves; and with the twentieth century giving rise to a number of interpretations by Lebanese historians. The early chronicles are very varied: from those close to the ruling Emir’s court to those sympathetic to the commoner movement; from the learned to the colloquial; and from a range of different geographical locations within Mount Lebanon. Later historians’ approaches have also been diverse: the ‘ammiyya movements have been built into genealogies of Lebanese nationalism, of Maronite Christian sectarianism, of democratic anti-feudalism, and of hybrids between these phenomena. The major historical actors have been seen as elite factions, family lineages, state apparatuses, religious groupings, or social classes. As well as attesting to the vigour of both elite and vernacular history-making in Mount Lebanon, this range of accounts of the ‘ammiyyas provides us with a lens through which to view the variations and shifts in chroniclers’ and historians’ approaches to history, its categories, and its motive forces. By surveying versions of the ‘ammiyya movements, and the different emphases they draw, this paper will draw out these distinctions in their underlying approach to history and its writing.


Muḥammad b. Isḥāq and the Composition of his Sīrah: A New Account
R. Kevin Jaques, Associate Professor of Islamic Studies, Department of Religious Studies, Indiana University

Most studies of Ibn Isḥāq’s Sīrah argue that the work was designed as a historical account of the life of Muḥammad and have placed its author in an academic setting of “professors” and “students” who were also engaged in an effort to understand Islamic history as a kind of academic discipline. Fück, Horovitz, Rosenthal, Abbott, Guillaume, Peters, Newby, Motzki, and others have tended to focus on Ibn Isḥāq’s sources and historical reliability, taking at face value later classical descriptions of how the Sīrah was composed and largely ignoring the dynamics of late Umayyad and early Abbasid religious, political, and social milieus that shaped the author, the context for the text’s composition, and how it was used by various audiences.

The present paper will focus on the preliminary results of a decade-long effort to reconstruct the many transmissions of the text and what these can tell us about the life of the author, the text, and how it came into existence. I will argue that Ibn Isḥāq did not plan to write a “book” or a history but began as a story teller who collected various accounts of Muḥammad’s life in Madīnah that he then told to pilgrims and others who visited the city in the last turbulent years of the Umayyad Caliphate. Initially, Ibn Isḥāq collected individual stories built around specific landmarks in and around Madīnah that he performed on guided tours of the area. Overtime, these stories formed an ever growing “script.” He added new material based on the tastes of his audiences and on accounts told by Madīnans, visitors to the city, and during a brief visit to Egypt around 119/737. Before he fled Madīnah in approximately 130/747, Ibn Isḥāq’s script was divided into three and possibly four large folders organized around the following themes: The Stories of the Ancients (Mubtadāʾ), The Sacred Context of Muḥammad Early Life and Mission (Mabʿath or possibly Sīrah), Muḥammad’s Conquests (Maghāzī), and an early collection of stories about events following Muḥammad’s death (sometimes referred to later as the Tārīkh). During the period between 130/747 and his eventual residence in Baghdād after 146/763, Ibn Isḥāq traveled around an area roughly encompassed by Kūfah in the south, Ray to the east, and parts of Jazīrah to the North-west. Traveling from place to place was not just an exercise is collecting stories but was also, and primarily, how he made his living. Ibn Isḥāq’s primary audiences were the Arabs living in the diaspora caused by the rapid conquests of the previous century and the displacement of dissident groups who relocated due to religious and political opposition. Arabs in the east lived in small and somewhat isolated communities and they hungered for stories that linked them and their ancestors to the foundations of the Muslim community. Ibn Isḥāq performed stories and sold copies of the scripts of the stories that focused on the roles of the ancestors of local peoples, highlighting (or inventing) the importance of their forbearers and sometimes the errors of their tribal antagonists. Previous studies have argued that Ibn Isḥāq only transmitted his “text” to between 10 and 18 “students.” My analysis demonstrates, however, that portions of the work were issued to over 100 people, 67 of which I have reconstructed in whole or part. Most of these are scripts of short story-units that contain characters who are related to the individual listed as receiving the story (the “transmitter” as they are usually described). In some cases, where the same story is told to more than one audience, Ibn Isḥāq clearly changes the narrative by adding new characters, removing others, or in telling a different version of the same event. Ibn Isḥāq also performed for communities of converts who wanted to understand their place in the growing Muslim ummah. For these groups, he told stories of how their ancestors were a part of the larger narrative of revelation that began with Adam. His stories of Biblical prophets and of ancient Persian rulers help give the convert communities, composed of folks coming from Christian, Jewish, Zoroastrian, and other traditions a sense of place, especially in a time when the role of the non-Arab was so hotly contested.

Over time, Ibn Isḥāq became well known for his tales and decided to sell copies of entire script-folders to wealthy individuals. At some point after 137/755, Ibn Isḥāq hired a scribe, Hārūn b. Abī ʿĪsā al-Shāmī, to transcribe specific folders, which were then bound for sale. The cost of these bound volumes must have been high. According to several accounts, for instance, al-Bakkāʾī sold a home and/or his library to raise enough money to purchase a copy of the Mabʿath and the Maghāzī, which were later used by Ibn Hishām. In all, only four to five bound copies of the Mubtadā, six to eight copies of the Mabʿath, and six to eight of the Maghāzī were ever produced. Each bound copy contained some variations as Ibn Isḥāq found new stories and added them to his script, but are generally rather generic compared to the story-unit texts produced for local audiences. After Ibn Isḥāq settled in Baghdād in 146/763, he produce the only unified edition containing all three sections (or possibly four, including the Tārīkh) in the no-longer extant edition commissioned by al-Manṣūr.

The project challenges the core ideas scholars have built around the purpose of Ibn Isḥāq’s work, the context for its transmissions, and how he understood his role. It seeks to rethink how we understand the idea of “history” and “tradition” in the early Muslim community and why his text became so controversial in the centuries following his death as scholars of history and tradition used his oeuvre in a way he most likely did not imagine.


Remembering the walī: politics, creed, and madhhab in the biography of Ibn ʿAbd al-Salām
Mohamad El-Merheb, SOAS, University of London

This paper investigates the remembrance of the renowned jurist ʿAbd al- ʿAzīz ibn ʿAbd al-Salām al-Sulamī (d. 660/1262) and its various uses from the late 13th century to the present day. It will first discuss the making of the saintly persona of Ibn ʿAbd al-Salām within the context of the late Ayyūbid and early Mamlūk period, which includes the influence of the Seventh Crusade and the domestic politics of the Muslim amīrs in the Syro-Egyptian lands. Within this context, I will trace the historiographical transformation of Ibn ʿAbd al-Salām’s persona from a renowned jurist and judge into a walī endowed with saintly attributes that allowed him to defeat the Christian saint of the Franks and resist unjust Muslim rulers.

The paper will then explore the role of the biography of Ibn ʿAbd al-Salām in forging the collective memory of the Shāfiʿī madhhab and in the preservation of a cherished Shāfiʿī golden age as related by 14th century Syrian and Egyptian authors. Furthermore, the paper will highlight the uses of his remembrance in the crystallization of the identity of a Sufi group in Egypt. Finally, the paper will examine the role of Ibn ʿAbd al-Salām’s biography in delimiting the contours of doctrinal disputes and tensions among different Muslim groups. I will present the uses of Ibn ʿAbd al-Salām’s memory in the constant rivalries and competition amongst Shāfiʿī-Ashʿarīs, Shāfiʿī traditionists, Ashʿarī-Sufis, and Ḥanbalīs throughout the Mamluk and Ottoman periods. I will lastly mention the uses of Ibn ʿAbd al-Salām’s biography in present day international politics.


 A Candelabrum in the Great Mosque of Gaza: The First Palestinian Historical Debate and the Concept of Jewish Historical Rights 

Eli Osheroff, PhD Candidate in the Department of Islamic and Middle Eastern studies at the Hebrew University and at The Simon Dubnow Institute for Jewish History and Culture, Leipzig.

In 1943, the prominent Palestinian Historian ‘Arif al-‘Arif (1891-1973) published his most thorough work until then, Tarikh Ghazza (The History of Gaza). ‘Al-Arif, a district officer in the Mandate government and an independent historian, utilized his command of seven languages to compose an inclusive narrative that recounted the history of the city from ancient times to his own. Unlike other books by his Palestinian colleagues, Tarikh Ghazza was rich with photographs and illustrations of archaeological findings. Their appearance in the independent book reflected al-‘Arif’s central position in the field of Palestinian historiography and his access to resources that many of his peers lacked.

As much as these illustrations enriched the book from a scholarly perspective, they also contributed greatly to the fierce criticism that al-‘Arif received. Not long after Tarikh Ghazza was published, the Gazan intellectual and poet Hilmi Abu Sha’ban (1911-1978) published a booklet by a similar name, Tarikh Ghazza: Naqd wa-Tahlil (The History of Gaza, Criticism and Analysis) dedicated to refuting al-‘Arif’s ideological standpoint and scholarly arguments. Abu Sha’ban argued that al-‘Arif had written a traitorous piece of Palestinian history, succumbing to Zionist perceptions and strengthening Jewish claims to the land. Abu Sha’ban was particularly drawn to one illustration of an allegedly Jewish candelabrum inscribed on the pillars of the Great Mosque of Gaza, which was presented in al-‘Arif’s book.

In my presentation I will elaborate on this previously unnoticed controversy between the two Palestinian intellectuals. I will present its scholarly roots, its social context, and its aftermath. More broadly, this controversy will serve as an example for discussing how Palestinian historians from different generations considered the Jewish past of Palestine during Mandate days, and more specifically how those historians approached the (mostly Zionist) concept of “Historical Rights,” negotiated it, or resisted it in variety of interpretive manners. Some of these discussions are still relevant to current historiographical arguments between Arabs and Zionists today.


 Gender, Sartorial Norms, & Resistance in Interwar Algeria
Sara Rahnama

This paper explores the role ideas about the past played in interwar Algerian debates about sartorial choices in the Arabic-language press. It considers how the continued contemporary obsession with veiling can be historicized through comparison with masculine sartorial choices around headwear. Unlike other colonial contexts where men were allowed to modernize while women bore the burden of upholding tradition, in Algeria some reformist men were open to modernizing veiling practices. Commenters including local imams argued that the customary form of veiling, which included coving the face and hands, should be abandoned in favor of the sharīʿa form, where the hands and face were visible. In contrast, reformists insisted Algerian men continue to wear the traditional tarbush as a statement of solidarity in the face of pressures to assimilate to French culture. These commentaries were provoked in part by both the passage of Ataturk’s hat law, which banned Turkish men from wearing the amama or tarbush styles of hat. Yet the Algerian discussions around men’s headwear became a space for men to grapple with the range of psychological responses provoked by the informal segregation and cyclical poverty of Muslim life under French colonialism. To some, the European-style hat signaled one’s shame in being Arab. Others situated leaders like Ataturk within a history of Muslim leaders, each with their own style of hat, to argue the western-style hat signaled a continuation, not the end, of centuries of Muslim progress. My analysis of these debates and their regional references relies on a range of Arabic-language sources, which offer access to the perspectives of multiple intellectual and religious communities. This kind of analysis proposes a frame that illuminates North Africa’s connections to the Middle East and works against the dominant narratives which stress Algeria’s colonial or nation history exclusively.


 A Narratological Analysis of the Prose Works by ʿUmāra al-Yamanī
Huzefa Tawawalla

This paper aims to present examples of narratological analysis being applied to the style, text and substance of the two prose works composed by the 12th century Yemeni historian and poet, ʿUmāra al-Hakami (c. 515-569/1121-1174). The first work is his Tārīkh al-Yaman[2] which attempts to sketch key moments of Yemeni history beginning from the Ziyadids and how they came to power to the time of ʿUmāra’s contemporaries within the Zuraiyhids, Mahdids and Najahids. The second work is his al-Nukat al-ʿArīyah fī Akhbār al-Wuzarāʾal-Miṣrīyah which, along with brief anecdotes about the Cairene caliphs, al-Fāʾiz and al-ʿĀḍid and their viziers, provides an autobiographical sketch of the author. This prospective paper aims to study the Tārīkh and the Nukat from the perspective of narrative voice or authorial agency. It attempts to analyse ʿUmāra’s narrativity to see how he consciously and unconsciously weaved information to create the narrative that he did in both works, and what effect that narrative weave has on their historical and literary aspects. Is it possible to discern modes of emplotment from his narratives which though portraying a picture of the past also depict how “different readings of the present were brought into a more authoritative format”?[3] ʿUmāra’s works are important from a historical perspective because of his unique proximity to events documented in his writings, because of who he was as an individual and due to the heterogeneous group of patrons he served.


Reform and Revolt through the Pen and the Sword: Ibadi Opposition to the British Informal Empire in the Arab-Persian Gulf Region of Oman
Amal Sachedina, George Washington University

In May 1913, the last Ibadi Imamate under Salim B. Rashid al-Kharusi was established in the Omani interior, the protracted result of a series of battles.  This event effectively created two governing territorial entities: the Imamate in inner Oman with its capital in Nizwa, and the British-supported Sultanate along the coastal regions with its centre in Muscat. The Imamate’s establishment was considered by both the British and the Ibadis to be the result of 1) regulation and blockade of trade in slaves and arms into the region 2) the active presence of British troops and naval squadrons in Oman 3) the increasingly strident protests against what was widely considered as the tyrannical regime of the Sultan. Western scholarship has generally cast British imperial sovereignty over the coasts of Oman (1861-1954) into the narrative mould of a  power struggle between competing French and British imperial spheres of influence or an integral means of strategically safeguarding the lines of communication to the British Raj. Yet, in such an approach, acts of violence are placed within an analytic framework where a whole variety of actions, desires and discourses are reduced to the binary of dominance/resistance.

It can be argued that the Ibadi revolt was undergirded instead by two distinctive conceptions of historical time.  The first was the British conception of progressive historicity that, buttressed by imperial gunboat diplomacy, aimed towards extending the field of “civilisation” across the region. The second was the Ibadi Imamate where tradition, in accordance with Ibadi shari’a, was not the enemy of change but the very ground through which change could be brought about. Historical logic not only gave rise of the last Ibadi Imamate (1913-1955), but was incorporated in thought and action by both sides to condition different modes of reasoning a moral relationship, between religion and politics.


The Polyglot Mask Multilingualism and Cosmopolitan Cultures of the fin de siècle Italian Press in Egypt
Olga Verlato New York University

This paper investigates the sociocultural and political significance of a discourse of cosmopolitanism and multilingual printing in late nineteenth-century Egypt. I specifically focus on the Italian, Cairo-based newspaper Il Cosmopolita (est. 1890), a self-declared “polyglot” publication featuring Italian, Arabic, Ottoman, French, English, and Greek. By surveying the strategic uses as well as discursive championing of multilingualism in the publication overtime, I expose the newspaper’s implicit tension between the legitimizing potential associated with cosmopolitan and polyglot inclusiveness, and its inscription within a hierarchy of cultural interests and languages with Italian, and the role of the Italian community in Egypt, at its first position.

Therefore, I demonstrate that a notion of cosmopolitan coexistence between different linguistic communities was championed by the newspaper as a viable political project aimed at contrasting the perceived jeopardy of the Italian press in Egypt and of the country’s colonial ambitions in the late nineteenth century. Specifically, Il Cosmopolita attempted, on the one hand, to present itself and the Italian community as the paladin of inclusive cosmopolitanism via its strategic and programmatic multilingualism, which in turn relied on a claim for millenary cultural affinity between the Italians and Egyptians. On the other hand, it aimed at building a series of shifting and at times conflicting alliances with various local linguistic groups, in particular the British administration and the Egyptian community at large. From this perspective, language selection and foreign language proficiency ultimately emerged as uniquely productive conduits for voicing political and cultural tensions in the colonial context. Finally, by focusing on this European, non-colonizer printing venture, I problematize a dichotomy between ‘colonizer’ and ‘colonized,’ to instead expose the intricate network of political and cultural aspirations and projects that intersected locally in the Egyptian fin de siècle.

[1] Nicole Eustace, Passion is the Gale: Emotion, Power, and the Coming of the American Revolution (Chapel Hill: UNC press, 2008), 5-7.

[2] The Tārīkh is also known as al-Mufīd fī Akhbār Ṣanʿāʾ wa Zabīd.

[3] Hirschler, K. (2006). Medieval Arabic Historiography: Authors as Actors. New York: Routledge. Page 65

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