The following is my newly-published article, which will be appearing in the April 2023 volume of Speculum: A Journal of Medieval Studies. The full article is accessible here and has been made freely-available for the next six months.
This article seeks to contribute to larger scholarly conversations about the construction and deployment of difference in medieval borderland societies. It examines the ways in which genealogical notions of “Arabness” [ʿurūbiyyah], which expressed Islamic identity in terms of Arab lineage, structured the process of identity formation in Nasrid Granada (1232–1492). Through a close reading of the works of the Nasrid scholar-statesman Lisān al-Dīn ibn al-Khaṭīb (d. 1374) and his intellectual-political network, the article explores how Nasrid elites incorporated “Arabness” into the articulation of a local identity rooted in ethnic cohesion, religious exclusivity, and genealogical continuity. It argues that this constituted a particular strategy of identification that sought to differentiate Nasrid Granada from its neighbors and demarcate the boundaries between al-Andalus, Christian Iberia, and the Maghrib, even as these regions came to be tied even more closely together through political, intellectual, social, and mercantile networks between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries. The article concludes with a consideration of the “racialization of religion” and the manner in which Ibn al-Khaṭīb integrated ideas about environmental determinism and physiognomy, alongside genealogy, to represent the religious and cultural traits of the inhabitants of Granada as fixed, immutable, and heritable characteristics, the product of both lineage and environment. Through an examination of the racialized production of difference within the dynamic borderland context of late medieval Iberia, this article seeks to invite broader comparative approaches that integrate the medieval Islamic world into discussions about race, racialization, and ethnicity in the Middle Ages.
The past week (March 23rd to be exact) marked the 650th anniversary of the assassination of Pedro I of Castile-León (r. 1350-1369), one of medieval Iberia’s most controversial, enigmatic and interesting sovereigns. For some, he represents a vicious tyrant whose repressive policies were catastrophic for Castile. Meanwhile, others have memorialized him as a sovereign who promoted a culture of toleration, employed Jews and Muslims in significant numbers within his administration, and sought to curb the power of the nobility. Far from attempting to grapple with or unpack his complex legacy, this post introduces the English-speaking reader to this complicated sovereign in order to encourage further inquiry into his life and times.
This is the second part of a previous post on the subject (https://ballandalus.wordpress.com/2014/03/08/15-important-muslim-women-in-history/), which sought to highlight the important role of women in the influencing the political, social, intellectual and military developments in the Islamic world during the medieval and early modern era. This post, like the previous one, is an attempt to introduce readers to the names of a few women who made their mark in Islamic (and world) history while providing a few sources for those interested in learning more about each. Continue reading →
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.