French Translation of Ibn Khaldun’s History of the Nasrid Dynasty

The following is a link to a 19th-century French translation of ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Khaldun’s History of the Nasrid Dynasty, excerpted from his Kitab al-‘Ibar. It was translated by Maurice Gaudefroy-Demombynes and printed in Paris in 1899 as Histoire des Benou’l-Ahmar : rois de Grenade. It provides a French translation of all the relevant sections from Ibn Khaldun’s universal history dealing with the 13th- and 14th-century history of the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada.

http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k6209967r/f1.image.r=ibn%20khaldoun

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Notes on Identity in the Medieval Islamic World

The “medieval Islamic world” is a difficult concept to define. Traditionally, scholars have used the phrase dār al-Islām (literally the “Abode of Islam”) to denote the lands under Muslim rule or, alternatively, the lands in which Muslim institutions were maintained. In the dār al-Islām, we are told, borders were porous and freedom of movement was expected for all Muslims to such a degree that, in theory, one could travel from Iberia to the foothills of the Himalayas largely unimpeded. Most significantly, within the dār al-Islām, religious identity (Muslim vs. non-Muslim) was—in theory—a far more important defining marker than any concept of race, class or ethnicity. As such, in many ways the term dār al-Islām designates a cultural or religious unity (or an idealized notion of that unity) rather than a unified political entity. Dār al-Islām was usually defined in explicit contradistinction to the dār al-harb (literally “the abode of war”), denoting the region where non-Muslims ruled. According to various Islamic political theorists and jurists in the Middle Ages, it was the objective of Muslims to bring the dār al-harb within the sphere of dār al-Islām. The instrument through which this would be accomplished was either jihad (military expansion) or da‘wa (missionary activity).

This framework for understanding medieval Islamic history certainly mirrors the understanding of medieval Muslim historians, jurists, geographers and political thinkers. However, the reference to the medieval Islamic world through the (Islamic) juristic construction of “dār al-Islām,” while certainly important to understand, is unsatisfactory for the modern historian for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it fails to take into account that for the greater part of the medieval period many of the lands designated as “Islamic lands” were, in fact, populated by significant communities (or majorities, in some regions) of Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and others. The utilization of “dār al-Islām” generally ignores the presence, institutions, contributions and significance of these communities. Another reason for the inadequacy of the term is that it enforces the theoretical notion that religious identity was the supreme defining marker of the regions being discussed while ignoring the increasing important of sectarian, social, cultural and linguistic identity. While most certainly important as an idealized notion among Muslims, the notion of the “ummah” is not the most useful analytical category for a historian seeking to understand the diversity of the medieval world. In any case, this remains an open question for me and the utilization of the phrase “medieval Islamic world” is not necessarily more satisfactory than the traditional framework nor do I view the term “Islamicate” as a particularly significant improvement.

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The Aljafería Palace in Zaragoza

One of the most important Andalusi cultural and historical monuments in Zaragoza is the Aljafería Palace (or Qasr al-Ja’fariyya). This fortress-palace complex was built between the ninth and eleventh centuries and was the political and administrative center of the northern parts of al-Andalus (thaghr al-‘ala). Although most of it was built during the second half of the 11th century during the period of the ta’ifa Kingdom of Zaragoza of Al-Andalus, later additions were made by Christian monarchs, who made it their northern residence in Spain. In the 11th century, it was the residence of the Banu Hud dynasty during the era of Abu Ja’far al-Muqtadir (r. 1046-1081). The palace reflects the splendor attained by the Kingdom of Zaragoza (1013-1110) at the height of its grandeur and provides a magnificent example of Islamic architecture during the early period of al-Andalus. The Aljafería Palace is one of the only royal residences from 11th-century Iberia to have been preserved almost perfectly until the present. The palace currently contains the Cortes (regional parliament) of the autonomous community of Aragon. This makes it one of the oldest structures in the world with a continuous use as a political center

File:Location map Taifa of Zaragoza.svgThe following are some pictures taken during my trip to the site in 2012 (I’ve also included a few higher-resolution pictures found online):

https://i2.wp.com/www.aragonmudejar.com/zaragoza/aljaferia/mapas/aljaferia-3d.jpg Continue reading

Subhat al-Akhbar: Art and Genealogy in the Service of Ottoman Imperial Legitimacy

One of the most beautiful historical treasures of the 17th-century Ottoman empire is a work known as the Subḥat al-Akhbār. It is a work in Ottoman Turkish delineating the genealogy of the Ottoman Sultans, from Adam, the first human being and prophet, to Sultan Mehmed IV (r. 1648–1687). As Professor Shahzad Bashir has noted: “genealogy was a major component of political ideology among Islamic dynasties, and this text comes in a long line of similar works produced throughout the medieval period.” It is a particularly interesting historical document for two reasons: 1) it provides significant insight into Ottoman political legitimation and self-representation; and 2) it demonstrates the importance of figural representation in Ottoman art well into the late seventeenth century.

https://i2.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/ee/IV_Mehmet.jpg(Ottoman sultan Mehmed IV) Continue reading