Thursday, December 6, 2007


November 30

1. General remarks on the “world of Islam”
World of Islam/Dar al-Islam
The Irano-Mediterranean world and its legacy

2. The Irano-Mediterranean world circa 600

A. Universalistic empires and religions
Byzantine Empire – imperial center in Constantinople
Official religion: Orthodox Christianity
But also: Monophysites- Armenian, Syrian and Coptic Churches
Sassanian Empire – imperial center in Ctesiphon
Official religion: Zoroastrianism
But also: Mazdakeanism, Manicheanism, Judaism and Nestorian Christianity

B.Arabia before the rise of Islam
Beduin society: nomadic pastoralism and tribal mode of organization
Towns: agricultural settlements, market towns, sanctuaries (haram)
The tribal value system and religion
The cult of Allah and hanifs

3. The rise of Islam
The problem of sources on early Islamic history
The Prophet Muhammad and his early revelations
Troubles with the Meccan establishment and the Hijra/Migration
The “Constitution of Medina” and the formation of the umma
The umma at the end of Muhammad’s life

December 3

The Formation of the Caliphate

1.Succession to the Prophet and the office of the caliph
Meaning of the term caliph
Caliphal titles: Khalifa, khalifatullah, khalifat rasulullah (later)
Amir al-mu’minin
Election through consultation (shura)
The “rightly-guided caliphs” (khulefa-i rashidun) – a later historical construct

Abu Bakr (632-634)
‘Umar (634-644) – center moves from Mecca to Medina
'Uthman (644-656)
‘Ali (656-661)

The Umayyad caliphs (661-750)
The Abbasid caliphs (750-1258)

2.Warfare and expansion
Political conditions in the Byzantine and Sassanian Empires on the eve of the Arab-Muslim expansion
Motivations – political, economic, religious
The conversion of local people was neither an aim nor an immediate consequence of the Arab-Muslim expansion; the spread of Islam was slow and came later.
Non-Muslim populations accommodated through the categories of Ahl al-kitab/People of the Book and Ahl al-dhimma or dhimmi, Protected People
Discriminatory measures against non-Arab converts; status of mawla (pl. mawali)

3.After the conquests: the caliphate reconfigured
Settlement of Arab tribes
Tribalism reconfigured and sometimes intensified
Conflicts over the distribution of land and benefits
Umar and the institution of the diwan system
Contention during the office of Uthman and Ali
Umayyad caliphate
Center of caliphate moves to Damascus
Continuance of Byzantine and Sassanian administrative and bureaucratic institutions, practices and personnel
Realignment under Abd al-Malik (692-705) – Arabic adopted as language of administration, new coins issued, construction of Dome of the Rock.
Creative dialogue with pre-Islamic royal traditions along with increasing emphasis on Arab and Muslim identity

December 5

Religious and political fragmentation in the lands of Islam: sectarianism and the break-up of caliphal unity

1. Formation of sectarian differences

Main points:
a. While sectarian differences among the Muslims originated in the disagreements over the question of leadership of the umma that took place right after the death of the Prophet, it took centuries for the differences between Muslims to crystallize into sectarian formations.
b.Different sects were crystallized at different times. The dissenting minorities - Kharijis and Shiis - before the majority that remained, i.e., the Sunnis
c.No church to impose a definition of orthodoxy; caliphal attempts to do so meet opposition from piety-minded/proto-ulema

Kharijis – Those who “went out”
Egalitarian, anti-authoritarian, puritanical
Shiis (Shia Ali) – The Party of Ali
Support the rights of Ali and his descendants to the imamate (preferred term rather than caliphate)
Regard them as divinely elected
Esp. early Shii beliefs have a strong messianic component – the figure of the Mahdi
Sunnis (Ahl al-Sunna wa’l-Jama‘a) – The People of Tradition and Community
Privilege “community”
Historical realists on the subject of caliphal authority – consider all who held effective power as legitimate but have greater esteem for the first four “rightly guided” caliphs
Define caliphal authority more narrowly

2. The Abbasid mission and its transformation
A.Religious realignments

Cf. Later Sunni image of Umayyads and Abbasids
Early Abbasids and Shiism
Experimentation with Mu‘tazilism – rational school of Islamic theology – effective resistance by traditionists/ahl al-hadith (nucleus of ahl al-Sunna wa’l-Jama‘a)

Center shifts from Syria to Iraq (new capitals: Baghdad, Samarra)
Reliance on Persian-speaking bureaucracy
Adoption of Sassanian institutions (ex. office of the vizier)
Attempts to impose orthodoxy: also inspired by Sassanian models

Abbasids come to power with the help of the Khorasanian army, but by early 9th century, the Khorasanian army becomes a problem.
The Abbasid response is to build a new “slave army” staffed by Turks from C. Asia; institution known as ghulam.

3. The Dissolution of Abbasid power
Revolts in the center (revolts by Turkish slave soldiers, Khariji-inspired revolts of African slaves, etc.) enables dissent in outlying provinces to come to the fore, and more and more provinces break loose from the center.
Fiscal crisis and the Abbasid response in the form of a new institution: iqta
936: Abbasid caliph delegates all effective authority to a Turkish commander and grants him the title of amir al-umera
945: Shiite Buyids come to Baghdad and strike deal with Abbasid caliphs

4. Post-Abbasid period
Post-Abbasid states replicate Abbasid institutions such as the office of the vizier, the ghulam institution and the iqta.
Many of them recognize the Abbasid caliphs as symbolic heads of Islamic community and are recognized in turn as legitimate rulers.
Fatimid Caliphate – represents a direct challenge to Abbasids; claim the caliphate and make propaganda for Ismaili Shiism throughout the Islamic world.
10th century – known as the “Shiite Interlude” because of the dominance of Shiite states like Buyids and Fatimids. Very rich period in terms of intellectual activity. Plurality of political courts with a wide variety of sectarian affiliations sustains a wide array of scholars, philosophers, etc.
11th and 12th centuries – called the period of “Sunni revival”; more properly called the period of Sunni consolidation.
The rise of new regimes with a strong Sunni orientation.
Key event: The arrival of Seljuk Turks in Baghdad in 1055. They claim to restore the Sunna and strike a deal with the Abbasid caliph, who recognizes the Seljuk ruler as “sultan.”
[Crusades and Ayyubid response]
End to the Fatimid caliphate in 1171

December 7

Medieval Near Eastern Societies
The Sunni Revival Revisited
Newcomers to the Islamic heartlands: Seljuks and the Crusaders
Rise of new political regimes with a strong Sunni identity (e.g. Ayyubids)
Alliance between religious scholars and military ruling elites
Consolidation of Sunnism

I.Religious communities

Slow Islamization
Religious plurality

II.Ethnic and linguistic groups

Spread of Arabic
Revival of Persian as a written language
Medieval Islamic ethnography

III.Social groups

The countryside vs. the towns
The importance of urban life
Urban elites

1.Military ruling elites
4.“Urban bourgeoisie”

Terms and names

Crusader states
Salah al-Din
Genizah documents
Umera (s. amir)
Sufi, dervish
Marifa (gnosis) vs. ilm (knowledge)
Dervish lodge (khanqah, ribat, zawiya)
Abu Hamid al-Ghazzali