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.
Patricia Risso is associate professor of history at the University of New Mexico.