The Formation of Islam: Religion and Society in the Near East, 600-1800

The Formation of Islam: Religion and Society in the Near East, 600-1800

The Formation of Islam: Religion and Society in the Near East, 600-1800

The Formation of Islam: Religion and Society in the Near East, 600-1800

Synopsis

Jonathan Berkey surveys the religious history of the peoples of the Near East from approximately 600 to 1800 c.e. After examining the religious scene in the Near East in late antiquity, he investigates Islam's first century, the "classical" period from the accession of the Abbasids to the rise of the Buyid amirs. He then traces the emergence of new forms of Islam in the middle period, deftly showing how Islam emerged slowly as part of a prolonged process.

Excerpt

This book constitutes an attempt to describe and understand the slow emergence of a distinctively Islamic tradition over the centuries which followed the death of that tradition's founder, Muhammad ibn 'Abdallah, in 632 CE. It is not a narrative history, although its analytical approach is (I hope) historical. I have cast the central questions as those of religious identity and authority. The question of what it means to be a Muslim requires, I believe, a dynamic answer. Had the question been posed to Muhammad, his answer (if indeed he would have understood the question) would have been quite different than that of a jurist in Baghdad in the ninth century, or of a Sufi mystic in Cairo in the fifteenth. From a historical perspective, no answer is better than any other, and none has any value except against the background of the larger historical factors that produced it. In the multicultural Near East, those factors have always included faith traditions other than Islam, and so I have tried throughout to give some account of the complex ties which, from the very first, have bound Muslim identities to those of Jews, Christians, and others.

The target audience for this book is quite broad, and therefore the target is, paradoxically, perhaps more difficult to strike squarely than with, say, a scholarly monograph of the usual sort, or a conventional introduction to “Islam”. It is hoped that the book will serve students, both graduates and undergraduates, and also an interested lay public, as an introduction to the historical origins and development of the Islamic tradition. At the same time, I have tried to write it in such a way that specialists may also find it of use. I have, therefore, made decisions regarding editorial matters such as transliteration and footnoting with an eye on the whole target rather than any one portion of it. I have not shied away from using foreign (mostly Arabic) terms; on the other hand, those terms are transliterated in a simplified fashion, omitting most of the diacritical marks that are standard in scholarly writing, and a glossary is provided for the convenience of non-Arabic speakers. For non-specialists, this may remove a source of visual distraction and confusion; specialists, by contrast, should have no difficulty recognizing the indicated Arabic terms. The footnotes I have used for disparate purposes: both to indicate the particular sources from which I have taken information or ideas, and also to suggest to the interested reader places where she or he might be able to pick . . .

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