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Summer Reading List

These are some books I’m planning to read over the summer. I figured I’d share in case anyone else was looking for some summer reading. Please recommend additional titles if they come to mind.

1) Philippe Buc, Holy War, Martyrdom and Terror: Christianity, Violence and the West. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015.

2) Allan Megill, Historical Knowledge, Historical Error: A Contemporary Guide to Practice. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.

3) Joseph A. Massad, Islam in Liberalism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015.

4) Asma Sayeed, Women and the Transmission of Religious Knowledge in Islam. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015 (paperback).

5) Muhammad Qasim Zaman, Modern Islamic Thought in a Radical Age: Religious Authority and Internal Criticism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

6) Brad S. Gregory, The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012.

7) Stephen Cory, Reviving the Caliphate in Early Modern Morocco. New York, Ashgate, 2013.

8) S. Frederick Starr, Lost Enlightenment: Central Asia’s Golden Age from the Arab Conquest to Tamerlane. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015 (paperback).

9) Marion Holmes Katz, Women in the Mosque: A History of Legal Thought and Social Practice. New York: Columbia University Press, 2014.

10) Robert Meister, After Evil: A Politics of Human Rights. New York: Columbia University Press, 2012.

11) James Turner, Philology: The Forgotten Origins of the Humanities. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014.

12) William Gervase Clarence-Smith, Islam and the Abolition of Slavery. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

13) A. Azfar Moin, The Millennial Sovereign: Sacred Kingship and Sainthood in Islam. New York: Columbia University Press, 2013.

14) Kecia Ali, Sexual Ethics and Islam: Feminist Reflections on Qur’an, Hadith and Jurisprudence. Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2006.

15) Paul M. Cobb, The Race for Paradise: An Islamic History of the Crusades. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

16) Daniel Egster, Divine Sovereignty: The Origins of Modern State Power. Chicago: Northern Illinois University Press, 2001.

17) Qadi al-Nu’man (trans. Devin Stewart), Disagreements of the Jurists: A Manual of Islamic Legal Theory. New York: New York University Press, 2015.

18) Anne Marie Wolf, Juan de Segovia and the Fight for Peace: Christians and Muslims in the Fifteenth Century. Southbend: University of Notre Dame Press, 2014.

19) Kathleen Davis, Periodization and Sovereignty: How Ideas of Feudalism and Secularization Govern the Politics of Time. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008.

20) Sarah Bowen Savant, The New Muslims of Post-Conquest Iran: Tradition, Memory and Conversion. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

21) Lenn Goodman, Islamic Humanism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

22) Dominique Iogna-Prat, Order and Exclusion: Cluny and Christendom face Heresy, Judaism and Islam (1100-1150). Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003.

23) Fatma Muge Gocek, Denial of Violence: Ottoman Past, Turkish Present and Collective Violence against the Armenians, 1789-2009. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

24) Natalie Zemon-Davis, Trickster Travels: A Sixteenth-Century Muslims between Worlds. New York: Hill and Wang, 2007.

25) Amy G. Remensnyder, La Conquistadora: The Virgin Mary at War and Peace in the Old and New Worlds. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (d. 1111) and the Rise of the Almohads

The following is another short excerpt that I have translated from the Buyūtāt Fās al-Kubrā by the fourteenth-century Andalusī historian Ismā‘īl ibn al-Aḥmar (d. 1407). I found this particular passage to be interesting because it reflects the manner in which the legend of the relationship between the Ash‘arite theologian and mystic Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī (d. 1111) and the founder of the Almohad movement, Muḥammad b. Tūmart (d. 1130) is developed. Ibn al-Aḥmar’s narrative, written in the fourteenth century, shows that nearly three centuries after the rise of the Almohads it continued to have resonance in the Islamic West. Two elements that I found particularly interesting was the link that is drawn between the Almoravids burning* of al-Ghazālī’s works and the latter’s invocation against them on one hand, and the conscious decision of al-Ghazālī, who probably never met Ibn Tūmart, to use his overzealous student as his agent in bringing about the destruction of the Almoravid polity. This is especially interesting in light of other historical accounts which suggest that it was none other than al-Ghazālī (and his student Abū Bakr al-Turtūshī) who played an important role in legitimizing the Almoravid state in the first place. Moreover, it was quite interesting to see such a prominent role given to the occult sciences in this text, with emphasis being placed on Ibn Tūmart’s receiving special instruction in this body of knowledge by al-Ghazālī.

*(For an important article on the politics of book-burning in al-Andalus, see

 (Coin of the Almohad caliph Abu Ya’qub Yusuf [r. 1163-1184]) (more…)

Michael Kritovolous of Imbros (d. 1470) on the Fall of Constantinople (1453)

The Ottoman Turks were originally based in western Anatolia and had risen to prominence as a frontier principality on the eastern borders of the Byzantine Empire during the thirteenth and fourteenth century. By the mid-fifteenth century, the Ottoman sultanate had conquered much of Anatolia, Greece, Thrace, and the Slavic-speaking regions south of the Danube; in effect, they had replaced the Byzantine Empire as the dominant power in the Balkans and the Aegean. The culmination of Ottoman expansion in southeastern Europe was the conquest of Constantinople on May 29th 1453, which was accomplished after a fifty-four-day siege by Sultan Mehmed II (r.1451–1481), known as “the Conqueror” following his capture of the Byzantine capital.


Image (more…)

Muslim/Magyar Invasions, Liudprand of Cremona (d. 972) and Christendom in the 10th Century

In my previous post ( I sought to briefly outline the political and military aspects of the Magyar and Muslim incursions into Latin Christendom during the ninth and tenth centuries. In this piece, I want to look more closely at how one Latin writer, Liudprand of Cremona (d. 972), reflected upon these events. From the outset it should be asked: how were the fact the major, destructive raids by Muslims, Magyars and Vikings on Europe interpreted by Latin Christians during this period? Did they view the raids as a consequence of the internal divisions and disunity that had become characteristic of the former lands of the Carolingian Empire or as a manifestation of God’s wrath against the impiety of Christians in Italy and Francia?

Liudprand, the Bishop of Cremona, and one of the main contemporary sources for the raids of the Magyars and Muslims in Europe, provides a unique perspective on these questions. He presents the invasions of the Magyars and Muslims in a similar manner, as a consequence of the chaos and civil strife that had plagued Western Christendom since the disintegration of the Carolingian Empire. Liudprand also emphasizes that this lack of order has led many Christian lords (and commoners) to behave unjustly and act impiously. He views the Magyars and Muslims as divine punishment sent to chastise these Christians, and Christendom as a whole, for their sins. He blames both the “evil Christians” and “infidels” for the turmoil of his times, and throughout his narrative attempts to associate these two categories with one another in order to properly explain why these invasions have occurred. By narrating the history of these invasions, Liudprand not only provides a strong critique of the present reality, but also implicitly (at times, explicitly) asserts that only a powerful, just, and Christian sovereign, Emperor Otto I, would be able to defeat the invaders, regain divine favor, and restore unity and order to Latin Christendom. (more…)

The Expulsion of Qadi Abu Bakr ibn al-Arabi (d. 1148) from Seville

One of the little-known historians of the late medieval Islamic West is undoubtedly Ismā‘īl ibn al-Aḥmar (d. 1407). He was an Andalusī Nasrid prince from Granada who spent most of his life in Fez and the Marinid realm, due to his branch of the family’s loss of political influence following the rise to power of the Nasrid emir Yūsuf I (r. 1333–1354). He was an important scholar, court secretary, poet and historian in Fez and many of his works have survived, including the Buyūtāt Fās al-Kubrā (a short history of the various noble families and famous scholars of Fez), a section of which is translated below. At some point in the future, I will be writing a lot more on the fourteenth-century Islamic West and Ibn al-Aḥmar, so for now let me turn to the specific passage presented below.

This short, translated passage is particularly interesting for a number of reasons. The figure of Abū Bakr ibn al-‘Arabī (d. 1148)–not to be confused with the later Muhyiddīn ibn ‘Arabī (d.1240)–who was a student of Abū Hāmid al-Ghazalī (d. 1111) and one of the most preeminent jurists of the Maliki school, was polarizing and extremely controversial due to his staunchly pro-Umayyad and anti-Alid views of early Islamic history. It is interesting how the text seeks to connect Ibn al-‘Arabī’s particular religio-historical perspective of early Islamic history with his tribal lineage’s traditional support for the Umayyads, both in the Levant and al-Andalus, suggesting that pro-Umayyad allegiance continued in some cases long after the fall of the dynasty in 1031. Among the most notable sections of the passage is the way that Ibn al-Ahmar seeks to convince his readers that the propagation of anti-Alid perspectives and crossing certain red lines surrounding the topic of the martyrdom of al-Ḥusayn b. ‘Alī at Karbala was enough to lead to a major riot in Seville, probably the most significant political and cultural center in 12th-century al-Andalus. Moreover, it shows the ability of religious scholars, especially the newly-constituted class of Almohad ṭalaba, to mobilize the general populace by appealing to their pro-Alid religious sentiment. In fact, one could read Ibn al-Ahmar’s narrative as a reflection upon the attempts of the Almohads to supplant former Almoravid officials (represented by Ibn al-‘Arabi) and replace them with their own candidates (hence the reference to the ṭalaba).

This passage demonstrates that even in the fourteenth-century, two centuries after Ibn al-‘Arabī’s death, debate around Ibn al-‘Arabī—and particularly his most controversial work, al-‘Awāṣim min al-Qawāṣim—continued to rage fiercely, so much so that at one point a Marinid sultan even considered demolishing his tomb. However, as Ibn al-Ahmar argues, Ibn al-‘Arabī’s expulsion from Seville may have had as much to do with his corruption, ineffective administration and failure to gain the support of the populace (perhaps as a result of his antagonizing historical/religious views?) as it did with a certain scholar’s utilization of key passages of al-‘Awāṣim min al-Qawāṣim to rile a mob up against him. It is important to recall that Ibn al-Ahmar’s narrative is only one version of the events that transpired in 1147-1148 in Seville, with other narratives (written between 1148 and 1400) providing a different view of events. In any case, I deemed this worth translating precisely because it adds a perspective on events that is largely unknown to most scholars and students of medieval al-Andalus and North Africa. (more…)

Review of “Wahhabi Islam”

The following is my review of Wahhabi Islam (

Natana J. DeLong-Bas’ “Wahhabi Islam: From Revival and Reform to Global Jihad” (Oxford University Press, 2004) is a self-described controversial book which has received rave reviews from critics, who have labeled the book “meticulously-researched,” “comprehensive and original,” and “path-breaking.” Utilizing the original writings of Muḥammad ibn Abd al-Wahhāb and his biographers, rendering them accessible to a broad audience through their translation into English for the first time, DeLong-Bas seeks to challenge the dominant scholarly interpretation of the founder of the Wahhabi movement and his legacy in the Muslim world. In this brief review, I will attempt to reconstruct her major arguments, analyze her methodology, and problematize many of her conclusions. (more…)

Muslim and Magyar Raids in Western Europe during the Ninth and Tenth Centuries

The ninth and tenth centuries were a particularly turbulent and eventful period in the history of Western Europe. In contrast with the cultural and intellectual revival of the era of Charlemagne and his son Louis the Pious during the early ninth century, the decentralization and decline of the Carolingian Empire later in the century was characterized by political fragmentation and turmoil. A significant feature and consequence of this chaos was the weakening of the Carolingian realm’s defenses which facilitated foreign invasion. Perhaps most well known of these incursions are the Viking invasions in the North, which began in the late eighth century and did not subside until the tenth century.[1] However, the Vikings were not the only invaders to plague the lands of the Carolingian Empire at this time; both the Muslims in the south and the Magyars in the east sought to capitalize on the weakened state of Latin Christendom. (more…)


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