The Construction of Knowledge in Islamic Civilization: Qudama B. Jafar and His Kitab Al-Kharaj Wa-Sina'at Al-Kitaba

The Construction of Knowledge in Islamic Civilization: Qudama B. Jafar and His Kitab Al-Kharaj Wa-Sina'at Al-Kitaba

The Construction of Knowledge in Islamic Civilization: Qudama B. Jafar and His Kitab Al-Kharaj Wa-Sina'at Al-Kitaba

The Construction of Knowledge in Islamic Civilization: Qudama B. Jafar and His Kitab Al-Kharaj Wa-Sina'at Al-Kitaba

Synopsis

This study examines the role of the state in the construction of knowledge in Islamic civilization in its early classical period (third/ninth and fourth/tenth centuries). Different voices representing different social groups savants, littérateurs, religious scholars, state officials all brought their particular conception of knowledge to bear on the formation of the various branches of knowledge known to Islamic civilization. Reading the works of various branches of knowledge alongside the administrative encyclopedia of Qud ma b. Ja far (d. 337/948), a state official in the employ of the Abbasid dynasty, has served to highlight the particular point of view of the state in the intellectual and cultural dialogue of the day. At the same time, this approach has shown Islamic civilization to be as much a dialogue of values between the different social groups of the day as a series of events or collection of ideas.

Excerpt

This study is a revised version of a doctoral dissertation completed at the University of Chicago in May 2000; it will thus bear the marks of a first effort. Its primary purpose is to raise questions about the way we read the Islamic sources and to suggest a methodological horizon in which it is possible and fruitful to read them from their own point of view. What has been undertaken, in short, is an intense reading of the sources of a particular period through the prism of an encyclopedic work—an attempt to classify knowledge—by an employee of the state, Qudāma b. Ja’far (d. 337/948). It is not this figure that has been so revealing, but rather his work—well organized, if somewhat tedious—as a guide to reading the sources: an insider’s look, as it were, at certain bodies of literature in early Islam. This reading of the sources has found them to represent a dialogue or a series of dialogues among the many groups making up the Islamic world in its late formative or early classical period (the third/ninth and fourth/tenth centuries). Some may find it odd that we draw upon sources which are already so familiar, but it has been our task to re-read them once again, but now from a contemporary’s point of view. It is in that sense that the sources must be read and understood and their integrity defended. While the sources used in this study constitute branches of knowledge of interest to the state, it is equally possible to consider other bodies of literature— e.g. historical literature, ethical literature—as a dialogue in which different points of view and values are represented. Our hope, then, in presenting this study is to offer a small window into the world not only of a particular state official, but more so into the Islamic civilization of his day.

This study can be read either entirely from beginning to end or as separate units depending on the reader’s interests. After the introductory chapter (chapter one), each of the following chapters (chapters two through five), although part of a single theme pursued throughout the study, can be read individually as independent studies.

I should like to thank Wadād al-Qādī, Fred Donner and ʿAbd alʿAzīz al-Dūrī for their supervision of this work in its dissertation form and their many helpful suggestions for its final refinement. I should . . .

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