Merchants and Faith: Muslim Commerce and Culture in the Indian Ocean

Merchants and Faith: Muslim Commerce and Culture in the Indian Ocean

Merchants and Faith: Muslim Commerce and Culture in the Indian Ocean

Merchants and Faith: Muslim Commerce and Culture in the Indian Ocean

Synopsis

The intersection of Islamic history and Indian Ocean history is vast but inadequately explored. It is essential to understanding how and why Islam influenced Asia and to determining the extent to which maritime success affected the mostly land-based Muslim political powers. This area of research has elicited a lively debate involving scholars as diverse as William McNeill, K. N. Chaudhuri, Niels Steensgaard, Philip Curtin, and Janet Abu-Lughod. Merchants and Faith provides an insightful overview of this debate and addresses the major questions raised by it: What were the relationships between littoral Asia and land-based empires? How can we best explain the role played by West Europeans? What difference did it make to be a Muslim merchant? Other considerations are the production roles of China and Hindu India and the nature of the Asian trade revolution. General histories of Islamic Asia seldom draw upon the rich literature on the Indian Ocean region; Indian Ocean studies are often couched in the technical jargon of economic theories and are occasionally marred by ideological bias. To make all of this literature more accessible to a general audience and to students, Merchants and Faith distills the results and implications of this research and connects them to the well-established features of Islamic political history.

Excerpt

The main focus of this book is the intersection of Islamic and Indian Ocean histories; the main purpose is to illustrate relationships among ideology, culture, and economics. The intersection is potentially a rich area for research but is complicated by subspecialty boundaries, the huge expanses of time and space, and linguistic challenges. Despite these difficulties, there is a growing body of relevant scholarly literature. Such research has generated questions that help to shape this book: What were the relationships between littoral Asia and land-based empires? How can we best explain the role played by West Europeans in the Indian Ocean region, particularly in relation to Muslims? What difference did it make to be a Muslim merchant?

Within the historical framework of land-based states, particularly of Islamic states, this book explores the less accessible story of maritime Asians, particularly Muslims. General histories of the Islamic world seldom draw upon research dealing with the Indian Ocean, probably because the latter is often couched in the technical language of economic theories and systems. In order to make that material more accessible to non-specialist readers and to students, this study attempts to distill some of its more significant results and connect them to well-established features of Islamic and Asian history. The emphasis on Muslims dictates the starting point of the seventh century. The mid-nineteenth century is a reasonable place to stop not just because of the consolidation of the British Empire but also because, by then, the impact of European technology was evident. Also in that century, Muslims lost their high profile in the Indian Ocean. There is no attempt to impose analytic unity on the fourteen hundred or so years covered here; rather, Chapters 2 through 5 have their own chronology and illustrate themes reflected in their titles. Chapter 2 deals with the rise, development, and especially the expansion of Islam and the dispersion of Muslims as far as the coast of China. The third chapter follows further expansion and permanent Islamization in South Asia, Southeast Asia, and East Africa during a middle era, when military states dominated the Asian landmass. Chapters 4 and 5 form a complementary pair, examining the early modern era first with an emphasis on Asian strengths and then in terms of European impact. The chapter themes are drawn together by historiographical con-

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