Workshop on Holistic Approaches to the Study of Early Islam and the Late Antique World
April 15-17, 2016
IMU Sassafrass Room
The Indiana University Working Group on the Study of the Late Antique and Early Muslim Period will host a workshop that explores the intersections of the religions of the Late Antique and Early Muslim period (500-1000 CE).
- 5:30-7:30 Opening Reception
- Keynote Address:
John Voll, Georgetown University Religion & Politics in Late Antiquity: A Hemispheric View
- 8:00-8:45 Continental Breakfast at Meeting Room
- 8:45-9:00 Opening Remarks by Kevin Jaques
- 9:00-10:30 Session 1: Late Antique Religions of Persia
- 10:45-11:45 Session II: The Bible, Qur’an, and the Talmud
- 11:45-1:00 Lunch Break
- 1:00-2:30 Session III: Christianity and Christian Encounters with Islam 632-1000
- 2:30-4:00 Session IV: The Early Muslim Encounter with the Other
- 4:15-5:45 Session V: Religion and Empire: Byzantines, Sassanians, and the Early Caliphs
- 9:00-11:30 Workshop on Next Steps and Proposal for NEH Application
- 11:30-12:00 Closing Remarks
Jason Mokhtarian, Indiana University
Zoroastrian Polemics against early Islam and other Religions of Late Antiquity: A Study of the Škand Gumānīg Wizār in its Literary and Historical Context
Jennifer Hart, Elon College
When Good Rituals Go Bad: Tracing and Theorizing about a Concern for Orthopraxy in Late Antique Mandaiesm
Mona Zaki, William and Mary University
Early Zoroastrian influence on Jahannam’s narrative
George Archer, Georgetown University
Question Those Who Enumerate," or That Whole Thing With the Nineteen: The Qurʾān’s Number Games as an Argument Against Hairsplitting in the Oral World of Late Antiquity
Michael Pregill, Boston University
Tafsir, Midrash, and the Renovation of Early Judeo-Islamic Studies
Christine Shepardson , University of Tennessee-Knoxville
Apocalypse Now: Early Syrian Orthodoxy and the Rise of Islam
Abby Kulisz, Indiana University
Identity and Ambiguity in Christian-Muslim Exchanges on the Trinity
Jeremy Schott, Indiana University
What is the Islamic Book in Late Antiquity?
Pamela Klasova, Georgetown University
The role of language in building the Islamic empire: Umayyad language policies and their impact on the non-Arab populations
Sarah Mirza, University of Michigan
Law as more motivating than religion: dhimma agreements at Islamic Origins
Kevin Jaques, Indiana University
The Munāfiqūn, the Ḥanīfīyah, and the Boundaries of Monotheism in Ibn Isḥāq’s Sīrat Rasūl Allāh
Parvaneh Pourshariati, CUNY
Mehr worship in Pahlav lands and the articulation of Islamic dogma by the Parthian Mihrans
Matthew Niemi, Indiana University
‘There is no Compulsion in Religion’: Christianity and Judaism in Early Muslim Qur’ān Commentaries.”
Abbas Barzegar, Georgia State University
The Umayyad Imperial Prerogative, The Friday Mosque, and the Sunni Jamāʿa
Sayed Hassan Akhlaq, Catholic University of America
Salman the Persian, a Key for Inter and Intra-Religious Confrontation in Earlier Islam
Click on the above links to read each speaker's abstract.
The Workshop is supported by a grant from the College Arts and Humanities Institute and the generous support of the Department of Religious Studies, the Islamic Studies Program, the Borns Jewish Studies Program, the Department of Central Eurasian Studies, the Inner-Asian and Uralic National Resource Center, Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, the Center for Religion and Ethics in Society, and the Center for the Study of the Middle East.
John Voll, Georgetown University. “Religion & Politics in Late Antiquity: A Hemispheric View.”
Late antiquity is a time of major transitions throughout Afro-Eurasia, not just in the Mediterranean basin and the Middle East. Major elements in what is frequently called the “classical” period (roughly 500 BCE- 500 CE) experienced significant transformations. The history of late antiquity (possibly 500 CE-1000 CE) involves a post-classical phase with some continuities and then, by the second millennium CE, the emergence of new socio-political/ religious frameworks for human life.
The presentation will suggest that in the hemispheric history of late antiquity, civilizations are involved in broad networks of economic, cultural, and religious activities that are not defined by clear boundaries on a map. The concept of “the human web” as a framing narrative for world history (as presented by J. R. McNeill and Williajm H. McNeill) can provide a useful alternative to the standard civilizational narrative. In this way, the hemispheric and global visions defined by scholars like Marshall Hodgson and Gunder Frank can be focused on late antiquity. Similarly, the static sense of the nature of “religions” can be usefully changed by understanding the “religions” of late antiquity as cumulative discursive traditions (building on the conceptual frameworks of W.C.Smith and Talal Asad). Post-classical “religions” were in the process of rearticulating their visions in neo-axial terms.
Two broad subjects illustrate the transitions of the era. In the process of transition that Fowden has described as going “from empire to commonwealth,” the relationships between state and the cumulative faith traditions are central. In post-classical polities, rulers generally were expected to uphold their faith tradition but were not expected to participate in defining the content. In Muslim experience there is the transition from the Rightly Guided caliphs through the imperial caliphates (and the case study of the failure to impose Mu’tazilism) coming to the emergence of the sultanate system by the eleventh century. This long transition can be compared with the Sui-Tang-Song dynastic sequence in China, Harsha and the evolution of non-imperial polities in South Asia, church-state relations in Byzantium (possibly noting the parallels to the Mu’tazilite controversy in the iconoclastic battles) and Charlemagne in Western Europe.
A second major transition is the continuing evolution of the cumulative discursive faith traditions. The major traditions developed institutional forms that tended to be distinct from the structures of political authority. In Islamdom, the scholars (ulama) sometimes held governmental positions but they emerged as the distinctive definers of Islamic law and doctrinal content. The emergence of the independent church structures in Western Europe and the development of non-statal authorities in Hinduism and Buddhism can be seen as a part of a broader hemispheric pattern. Similarly, major efforts resulted in production of relatively comprehensive (and often systematic) re-articulations of the Axial and classical faith traditions. These activities reframed the cumulative traditions in post-classical terms. Rather than being “new religions,” they are neo-axial developments of the discursive faith traditions (like neo-Confucianism in China).
The presentation will conclude that the history of late antiquity has a hemispheric unity in which the early post-classical institutions evolve and become, by the second millennium CE, new ways of structuring polities and faith traditions.
Jason Mokhtarian, Indiana University. “Zoroastrian Polemics against early Islam and other Religions of Late Antiquity: A Study of the Škand Gumānīg Wizār in its Literary and Historical Context.”
This paper is a detailed analysis of the ninth-century Zoroastrian apologetical-polemical treatise entitled The Doubt-Dispelling Exposition, or in Middle Persian, the Škand Gumānīg Wizār. This work, which covers a wide range of topics in Zoroastrian theology, cosmogony, creation, ethics, and myth, is one of the richest sources of Zoroastrian polemics against early Islam and the other religions of late antiquity, especially Judaism, Christianity, and Manichaeism. The first ten chapters of the Škand are an attempt to validate Zoroastrianism’s truth-claims; the remaining seven chapters are then refutations against other religions of the time. This under-studied masterpiece of religious literature, which to date has no comprehensive modern critical edition save for a partial one from the 1940s by Jean de Menasce (Une apologétique mazdéenne du IXe siècle: Škand- gumānīk vičār, la solution décisive des doutes. Fribourg: Librairie de l’Université, 1945), is a major and untapped resource for understanding more broadly the genre of apologetics and polemics in the early Islamic period. The work was clearly influenced by comparable works and apologetic trends in the late Sasanian-early Islamic Near East, and its author reveals intimate knowledge of the Torah, rabbinic literature, the Peshitta, and the Quran. Yet how it engages such sources remains largely unknown. Interestingly, the work is in part presented as a spiritual journey of a highly-knowledgeable Zoroastrian sage from Fars named Mardānfarrox son of Ohrmazddād, whose main goal is to demonstrate the value of dualistic theologies vis-à-vis the rise of monotheism which was so prevalent in the early Islamic period. (Manichaeism would be an exception to this—on which see chapter 16 of the Škand.) The author’s main interlocutor was a man named Mihrāyar ī Mahmadān, whose identity has been debated among scholars: Was he a Zoroastrian convert to Islam whom the author is trying to convince to return to the Good Religion? Was he a Zoroastrian non-priest who sought answers about his own faith? If it is true that one of the Škand’s motivations was to preserve late-Sasanian ideas about Zoroastrian dualism, and perhaps then use those earlier doctrines in order to refute the dominant religions of the ninth century when he himself lived, then it may be the case that this work’s first ten chapters contain earlier, sixth-century(?) Zoroastrian tenets which can be used to further our knowledge of Sasanian-era Zoroastrianism, a typically elusive topic. In my presentation at the IU conference, I shall present updated critical editions of several rich passages from the Škand Gumānīg Wizār’s polemics against Islam, and in particular against Mutazilite and Asharite thought, as a means of exploring further how this work fits into broader patterns of interreligious dialogue and polemic in the late Sasanian-early Islamic era.
Jennifer Hart, Elon University. “When Good Rituals Go Bad: Tracing and Theorizing about a Concern for Orthopraxy in Late Antique Mandaiesm.”
Among the religious literature produced by the Mandeans during Late Antiquity exists one text, the Alf Tristar Suialia (Thousand and Twelve Questions) which is regularly noted by scholars of Mandaeism but is little studied. As the name suggests the 1012 Questions is largely composed of questions (and answers), the primary focus of which is inquiries about how rituals go wrong and what to do about it when rituals do go wrong. This paper takes up the task of examining these questions (and answers) and putting them in context both within Mandaeism and the religious world of Late Antiquity as a whole. The paper begins by categorizing the types of ritual error chronicled by the 1012 Questions. It then turns to an analysis of the significance and symbolism of the errors and their corrections. Finally the paper builds upon this analysis to argue that the concern for ritual error expressed by the 1012 Questions derives from an effort to secure a unique religious identity for Mandaeism amidst the religious plurality of Late Antiquity.
Mona Zaki, William and Mary University. “Early Zoroastrian influence on Jahannam’s narrative.”
It might come as a surprise to some that Jahannam emerged as a post-prophetic construct. Based on Qur’anic verse, hell began as place with a distinct climate, flora and fauna. Its inhabitants, initially a nameless mass, acquired sharp definition by the fourth century hijri. That the inhabitants would become labeled as sinners not only affected their placement in hell but also dictated the types of punishments they were subjected to. The early debates on salvation, the definition of the sinner, and his chances of reprieve validated Jahannam as an afterlife destination in these early centuries. It was much later – by Suyuti’s time - which the idea of ransom evolved to give Muslim sinners the chance to rejoin their own community in paradise.
That the Prophet had less of an impact on the formation of the infernal narrative forces us to look at different early sources for authorship. In the first part of this paper I draw attention to the Zoroastrian influence on Jahannam’s narrative. Apart from specific landmarks and the cold zamharir, some Muslim punishments parallel those depicted in the Book of Arda Viraf. The absence of attribution with regard to non-Arab material had some scholars like Claude Gilliot argue in favor of expanding the definition of Isra’illiyyat to include a broader Near Eastern base and where a narrational exegete like Muqatil b. Sulayman could be treated as a plausible source. Did Muqatil’s description of rivers of metal derive from a Zoroastrian original? Zoroastrian influence on the Muslim afterlife should be assessed first on how much of the material is drawn from this source.
In the second part of my paper I discuss the conundrum Jahannam poses. If Arabic would be the language of the blessed, what alternatives did its counterpart have? Was it Persian, Hindi or Turkish? Did Muslims ever get placed along other groups in Jahannam’s structure and what did it tell us about their chances for salvation? Along similar lines, Abu Muslim al-Khurasani was seen in a vision tortured in Jahannam. Based on Crone’s book Nativist Prophets, did the popularity of Khurranism explain this rare inclusion as a way to debunk the popularity of his messianic image? Although this paper poses more questions than answers, there is material to discuss the strong presence of Zoroastrian ideas on the infernal narrative.
George Archer, Georgetown University. ""Question Those Who Enumerate," or That Whole Thing with the Nineteen: The Qurʾān’s Number Games as an Argument Against Hairsplitting in the Oral World of Late Antiquity."To observe that the Quran is an oral performance speaking primarily to a pre- or semi-literate people is hardly controversial. Neither is it news to say that the Quranic setting is steeped in various strains of the biblical lore. But the full implications of the Quran’s oral, biblical audience have not yet been addressed. This paper will argue for just one unexplored facet of orality in the Quranic-biblical milieu, and how this orality may be used to explain a mysterious Qurʾānic passage: 74:30-31.
There verse 30 says that over hell (saqar) stand “nineteen.” While in the following verse the “nineteen” seems to refer to a number of angels, the Quran goes on to say (in a disjointedly long aside) that “We have made their number only as a test for the disbelievers, so that those who have been given the Scripture may be certain.” The Quran even condemns those who would question the meaning of the number. But we must ask despite this condemnation, what is this supposed to mean? The “nineteen” does not refer to anything in the extant biblical and post-biblical literatures of Jews and Christians, and so we must wonder what is the significance of the “nineteen” to the people of the biblical lore?
For clarification, we can look to a few other occasions when the Quran plays number games with biblical lore. For some examples, the Qurʾān mentions the seven days of biblical creation (e.g., Q 7:54), the number of sleepers in the Sleepers of Ephesus/Companions of the Cave story, and the number of years they slept (Q 18:9-26). And the Quran purposefully confuses these numbers, or (again) mocks the audience for bickering over them. Like in the case of the “nineteen,” the Quran condemns those who get caught up in the numbers themselves, rather than trusting in the one God who speaks through these numerical signs.
Using numerical hairsplitting as an emblem of disbelief would have been a notably powerful way of attacking the sectarian controversialism of the biblical communities. Why? Because number is the most powerful tool of oral memory. One can forget a beautiful poem, or confuse a monotonous rhyme scheme, but one always remembers how to count. In an oral biblical setting, memory of number is therefore a central tool for making contact with the sacred past. The Quran, by introducing number games into the memories of the biblical past can at once graft its own message onto these ancient memories, while destabilizing the culture of theological nitpicking which surrounds them.
Michael Pregill. Boston University. “Tafsir, Midrash, and the Renovation of Early Judeo-Islamic Studies.”
My paper will address the broader methodological issues pertaining to a single question: can the success of the burgeoning field of Judeo-Iranica over the last twenty years inspire a reinvigoration or renovation of the field of Judeo-Islamica?
Scholars since the time of Graetz have seen the period preceding and following the Arab conquests as one of the most obscure in Jewish history. Reconstructing the history of Arabian Jews’ interactions with the early Muslims, as well as that of the immediate impact of the spread of Islam on Jewish communities in Syria, Palestine, and Iraq, has thus proven difficult. At the same time, while documentary evidence for this period is scarce, I will argue that there are classic Jewish works that represent largely untapped resources for recovering evidence of the Islamic impact on the literary and religious imagination of those Jews who were early on drawn into the Arab-Islamic cultural ambit.
Scholars have long acknowledged that Pirqe de-Rabbi Eliezer and Targum Pseudo-Jonathan must date to the period after the Arab conquests, at least in the forms in which they are currently extant. Nevertheless, the place of these late midrashim in their milieu, and thus in the history of development of Jewish exegesis of the Bible, has only begun to be properly appreciated. Since the time of Geiger, these works have frequently been cited as the source of traditions that supposedly “influenced” qur’anic versions of biblical narratives. However, the recent works of Bakhos, Sacks, and Adelman aim to correct this anachronistic approach to Pirqe de-Rabbi Eliezer in particular, investigating the work’s literary qualities, compositional artistry, and place in its historical context. However, only Bakhos investigates the significant links between Islamic traditions and the content of this work, the unique – and thus presumably ‘post-Islamic’ – elements in which often align with material in Targum Pseudo-Jonathan and another late midrashic work, the later recension of Midrash Tanhuma. Revisionist approaches to Targum Pseudo-Jonathan have been rare, while studies on Midrash Tanhuma’s links to Islamic tradition are nonexistent.
Here, I will argue for the necessity of approaching this corpus of works, which I have dubbed Islamicate midrashim, by taking both their creative adaptation of older traditions of Jewish exegesis of the Bible and their engagement with contemporary Islamic exegesis of the Qur’an seriously. I will suggest that the time is ripe for a new generation of scholars to approach the corpora of midrash and tafsir as intertwined discourses, and in particular to investigate late midrashic works not only as examples of early medieval rabbinization (as has been proposed) but also as early responses to the religious and ideological implications of the Arab-Islamic imperial project.
Christine Shepardson, University of Tennessee-Knoxville. “Apocalypse Now: Early Syrian Orthodoxy and the Rise of Islam.”
In the late sixth century, the Christian leader John of Ephesus wrote his Church History and Lives of the Eastern Saints, both of which renounced Byzantine persecution of his Syriac-speaking church that rejected the Council of Chalcedon (451 CE) and therefore imperial orthodoxy. By the middle of the seventh century, Muhammad’s followers had taken control of many of the regions where anti-Chalcedonian Christians survived despite decades of imperial pressure, and by the late seventh and early eighth century, Muslims began to welcome more freely non-Arab converts to Islam. In response, Syriac-speaking anti-Chalcedonian Christians produced the Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius (ca. 692) to combat the growing threat they believed Muslims posed to their community. While some scholars have studied Pseudo-Methodius’s Apocalypse in this context, none have added John of Ephesus’s texts to the discussion. The only surviving manuscript of John’s Syriac Lives was produced in 688; part III of his Church History appears to be written by the same scribe; and part II of his Church History survives in one ninth-century manuscript that Pseudo-Dionysius incorporated into his Chronicle in the late eighth century. I argue that John’s texts, with their strong arguments about remaining steadfast in (anti-Chalcedonian) Christianity in the face of government persecutions and financial and political incentives to apostasize, resonated with Syriac-speaking anti-Chalcedonian Christians not only against the Chalcedonian empire of the sixth century, but also against Muslims in the late seventh and eighth centuries. This paper will highlight some thematic echoes between John of Ephesus’s writings as they were preserved during the rise of Islam and the contemporaneous Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius. Doing so will contribute to our understanding of late antique Syriac Christianity’s development in conversation with the rise of Islam, and should in turn spark new discussions about how Islam was in turn shaped by its Christian neighbors.
Abby Kulisz, Indiana University. “Identity and Ambiguity in Christian-Muslim Exchanges on the Trinity.”
It has been a common trend in late antique scholarship to overlook the emergence of Islam within its larger Christian and Jewish context. Not only does this narrow demarcation of history exclude Islam from the religions of late antiquity, it also ignores critical discourses in Christian intellectual history after the seventh century. During the early years of the ‘Abbasid dynasty, Christians faced increased religious restrictions as well as opportunities to engage in theological debates with Muslims. The growing sophistication of Islamic thought meant that Christians had to employ creative techniques to articulate and defend their doctrines. Building upon recent scholarship on the relationship between Islam and late antiquity, this paper explores exchanges on the Trinity in two ninth century apologetic writings, one Christian and one Muslim: Abū Rāʾitah al-Takrītī’s First Letter on the Holy Trinity and al-Nāshiʾ al-Akbar’s Against the Christians. In the first work, Abū Rāʾitah, a Christian theologian active near Baghdad, participates in kalām (Islamic theological discourse) as a Christian mutakallim (Islamic theologian) in order to make the Trinity identifiable to Muslims. His apology blurs the line between “Christian” and “Islamic” elements, which is evidenced by his insertion of Christian terminology into Islamic doctrines. Abū Rāʾitah’s apology will then be put into conversation with al-Nāshiʾ’s critique of the Trinity and defense of the Islamic unity of God. Al-Nāshiʾ’s apology indicates his anxiety over his Christian interlocutors’ juxtaposition of the Trinity to Islamic conceptions of God’s oneness. Both writings reveal “slippages,” that is, points where the author becomes so immersed in his opponent’s theology that it becomes impossible to distinguish between what is distinctively “Christian” and “Islamic.” Ultimately, exchanges on the Trinity are reflective of Christians’ and Muslims’ deep understanding of each other; they also function as a launching point for situating Islam within the broader context of late antique philosophical and theological discourse.
Jeremy Schott, “What is the Islamic Book in Late Antiquity?”
Pamela Klasova, Georgetown University. “The role of language in building the Islamic empire: Umayyad language policies and their impact on the non-Arab populations.”
As Muslim sources have it, around the year 700 the caliph Abd al-Malik in Syria and his governor al-Ḥajjāj in Iraq rendered all imperial administration into Arabic. A few years later the same process took place in Egypt. It was a momentous change: Anyone who wanted to play any role in the state from now on needed to master Arabic. This step was not self- explanatory. While Christians and Jews had been reading, writing, and speaking a variety of languages, Muslims insisted that the language of revelation should also be the language of running the empire. Even the sanctity of the Arabic Qur’an, el-Azmeh insists, does not explain this decision, for “[h]istory is replete with instances in which a sacred language is made doubly sacred by limits on its use or is otherwise disengaged from the vernacular” (el-Azmeh). Despite the monumentality of these policies, as Wadad al-Qaḍi noted, the scholarship on the Arabization of the diwan is surprisingly scarce. This paper aims to help remedy this lacuna through the analysis of what the Muslim sources retained about these Umayyad policies, non-Muslim sources, and archeology preserved about these Umayyad linguistic policies, their success and impact on the non-Arab population.
My starting point will be Muslim sources, which I will analyze through methods of narratological historiography. Then, I will compare the results of this analysis with non-Muslim and material sources. For instance, according to Muslim sources, the famous Greek secretary to ʿAbd al-Mālik in Syria, Sarjun b. Manṣūr, urinated into the inkwell, whereupon he was dismissed and substituted by Arabic speaking administrators. In Iraq, the powerful Persian secretary, Zadhanfarrukh feared that he may be replaced by his Arabic-speaking assistant Salih and thus he sent him home to pretend sickness. However, even this shrewd Persian did not escape his destiny, was deposed, and the diwan translated despite efforts made by his sons to scare and bribe Salih. I suggest that literary analysis of these texts will reveal topoi that will shed light how the Arabs remember their formative period. While the Muslim sources agree that these policies took place under the rule of ʿAbd al -Mālik, Theophilus of Edessa, for instance, attributes them to later al-Walīd. However, he too, may have his reasons to postdate these events. Finally, we look at archeological evidence, ʿAbd al-Mālik’s coin policies seem to show an overall concern with Arabic as the language of administration.
Though this methodology, this paper will attempt to address the following questions: What impact did these language policies have on non-Arab population? Were they indeed as successful as Muslim sources have it? Were they an instantaneous decision of a caliph or stemming from an over overall concern with language? By the way of conclusion, this paper will set these findings within the framework of the late antique world, and thereby aims to contribute to the discussions of late antique multilingualism and interaction between linguistic and religious groups.
Sarah Mirza, University of Michigan. “Law as more Motivating than Religion: Dhimma Agreements at Islamic Origins.”
"They have the security of God and of his prophet" (lahum dhimmat Allāh wa dhimmat rasūlihi) is a formula that appears in literary recensions of documents attributed to Muhammad, where its use does not correspond to dhimma as intertwined with the obligation of the jizya in later Islamic legal tradition. In these earlier documents, the presence of the formula itself does not allow identification of the addressee as Muslim or non-Muslim. The documents are addressed to newly converted populations, groups conceding to political domination, agreeing to peace, or petitioning for safe-conduct or rights to land, to Bedouin submitted to a special tax, and to Christian and Jewish settlements. The formula is used to express types of exchange, and sometimes occurs as part of a conditional statement, providing dhimma in return for tribute, submission, or adoption of Islam. The use of the formula in these documents tells us less about the development of confessional identity than about the culture and typology of security contracts available in late antique Arabia. This earlier dhimma formula is unique in comparison to later documentary tradition. Reasons for the development away from this earlier conception and terminology of dhimma have been discussed by both Robert Hoyland, who has published the earliest papyrological attestation of the formula (PNess 77), and by Milka Levy-Rubin, who has traced the formulae of conquest-era surrender agreements to pre-existing Levantine and Greek idioms. Jeremy Johns has noted the entrance of dhimma agreements into non-Muslim local law, with the publication of an eleventh century document recording Muslim jizya payers in Norman Sicily. All of these complicate our understanding of the history of dhimma. This project seeks to add to this understanding by contextualizing the formula in earlier legal terminology and in the socio-political developments in late antique Arabia. The formula's occurrence in the documents attributed to the Prophet raises questions on the history of negotiating relations between different types of social groups. What were the established patterns for negotiating security agreements, and how did the other parties in these agreements negotiate on their own behalf? How was identity negotiated by both parties? Which identities mattered in the formulation of the agreement? Treating this formula as evidence of the negotiation of security agreements, the relationship between the Prophet and the groups and settlements granted these agreements can also be put in the context of the establishment of sanctuaries at Mecca and Medina. The earliest chronological appearance of the formula is in the 'ahd al- umma document, which sanctifies Medina. Here Ancient South Arabian epigrahpic and archaeological studies can be correlated with this literary-legal evidence. Using Andrey Korotayev, Vladimir Klimenko, and Dmitry Proussakov's argument for the development in sixth century Arabia of "soft structures," networks produced by the sanctuary and pilgrimage system, these Medinan developments can be seen as indicating the maintenance of the pre-Islamic system of sanctuaries in the Ḥijāz. The dhimma formula from Prophetic- era documents is thus a relic of this earlier Arabian polity.
Kevin Jaques, Indiana University. “The Munāfiqūn, the Ḥanīfīyah, and the Boundaries of Monotheism in Ibn Isḥāq’s Sīrat Rasūl Allāh.”
Ibn Isḥāq’s biography of Muḥammad, as it comes down to us in Ibn Ḥishām’s Sirāt Rasūl Allāh, provides a window onto how Muslims in the early second Islamic century understood the foundations of the Islam. One of the major themes of the text is establishing an idea of a form of monotheism that is different from, but in line with, the monotheisms of Judaism and Christianity. Yet, the text also depicts a third form of monotheism, the Ḥanīfīyah, that Watt, Peters, and others describe as a non-descript form of monotheism that was a minor and unorganized movement in the century before Muḥammad. I argue, to the contrary, that Ibn Isḥāq presents the Ḥanīfīyah dīn Ibrāhīm, as a major competitor to Muḥammad’s movement, who understood themselves to have revived the original system of worship established by Abraham in Mecca. Ibn Isḥāq describes the leader of the Ḥanīfīyah in Medina as Abū ʿĀmir, who claims to represent to true dīn of Abraham and who rejects Muḥammad’s claim to being the sole reviver of monotheism. Abū ʿĀmir’s followers and allies become the principle leaders of the Munāfiqūn, generally described by scholars as “hypocrites.” The Munāfiqūn are an ambiguous group in the text, described as following Muḥammad (aslama, or submitting), they nevertheless reject his leadership at pivotal moments, yet almost all escape any punishment, with Muḥammad repeatedly forgiving many, such as ʿAbd Allāh b. Ubayy, for their lack of loyalty (even Abu ʿĀmir escapes retribution). My paper argues that the key to understanding the relationship between the Munāfiqūn and the Ḥanīfīyah is Ibn Isḥāq’s account of the raid on Tabūk and the masjid al-ḍirār (the “defective” mosque) that Muḥammad initially agrees to endorse but following the troubles surrounding Tabūk, orders destroyed. Ibn Isḥāq describes the masjid al-ḍirār as a hot bed of dissent founded by the community led by Abū ʿĀmir. I argue that by reading the story of the masjid al-ḍirār as the frame for understanding the Munāfiqūn, it becomes clear that Ibn Isḥāq seeks to depict the Medinan Ḥanīfīyah and the Munāfiqūn as the same group. Because of their claims to represent a monotheism that predates Judaism and Christianity, their acceptance of ritual worship that fit within the parameters set by the Qurʾān, and the size of their movement, Ibn Isḥāq depicts them as a major challenge to Muḥammad’s claims. The Medinan Ḥanīfīyah thus become stigmatized with the title “munāfiq,” that I argue, derives from the Hebrew and Syriac roots, meaning to “sell themselves cheaply” (contrary to most scholars who argue that it comes from the IV form of the Arabic verb, meaning “to go out from.”).
Parvaneh Pourshariati, CUNY. “Mehr worship in Pahlav lands and the articulation of Islamic dogma by the Parthian Mihrans.”
Much work remains to be done on the religious scenery of the Iranian world in Late Antiquity. What is certain is that it betrays a heterogeneous medley of religious currents. Side by side of the Jews who, outside of Babylonia, had long formed one of the most ancient post-Exilic Jewish communities, lived the adherents of a variety of Iranian religions, an ever growing Christian population, Manicheans, and Buddhists (in the East), to name but a few. Into this scene had entered a nascent and, at least initially, quite inarticulate, devotees of a community with a new religion: Islam. The story of the potential influences that the Iranian religions might have exerted on the articulation and growth of Islamic dogma remains an untold story. Concentrating on one potential venue of investigation, the present talk will focus on the contours of Mihr worship in the northern Parthian regions of Iran during the Sasanian period and will underline the role of one of these Parthian families, the Mihrans, in the articulation of Islamic dogma in the medieval period.
Matthew Niemi, Indiana University. “’There is no Compulsion in Religion’: Christianity and Judaism in Early Muslim Qur’ān Commentaries.”pI am interested in discussing the early tafsirs of the oft-cited quraʾn̄ic verse “There is no compulsion in religion,” though not for the usual ecumenical reasons. The early tafsirs take three main trajectories in explaining this verse: 1) the verse refers to the lightened burden of the Muhammadan law as compared with the laws of earlier revelations; 2) the verse refers to the permissibility of taking the jizya from Zoroastrians as well as People of the Book; and 3) the verse was sent down regarding Muslims who had children who were Jews or Christians and wanted to force them to accept Islam. The first seems to have arisen intra-textually by looking at surrounding verses, the second is connected to common knowledge of Muslim imperial policies, but the third seems to preserve a memory of pre-Islamic Arabian practice that may shed light on how Judaism and/or Christianity were integrated into the Arabian pagan landscape. This presentation will argue that pre-Islamic Arabs did not see Judaism and Christianity as separate “religions,” in the same way we might think of today, but rather more like religious orders that one could join if one were particularly dedicated to religion. The difference between a pagan and a Jew, then, in this context, was more like the modern difference between clergy and laity within a single religion. This model is reinforced by comparison with other ancient near-eastern religious practices as well as in conjunction with other evidence from Ibn Isḥāq's Sirah material concerning Jews and Christians.
Abbas Barzegar, Georgia State University. “The Umayyad Imperial Prerogative, The Friday Mosque, and the Sunni Jamāʿa.”
Despite the fact that the Umayyads remain, until this day, a controversial aspect of Muslim history, their imprint on the Islamic tradition has remained all but permanent and paradoxically understudied. Umayyad investments and innovations in architecture and monument building for example, were among the chief mechanisms through which the Muslim polity came to be associated so closely with the Islamic tradition. Even to the casual observer, Umayyad architecture, demonstrates that administrators of the nascent Muslim polity were self-consciously replicating the structures of late antique imperial rule even as they were inheriting, superceeding, and modifying them.
Monument construction was a high-priority medium that imperial rulers in the late antique period sought out in order to solidify their claims to authority and legitimacy. As elements of visual and material culture monuments such as cathedral mosques and palaces communicated to local populations—most of whom were non-Muslim subjects—that Muslim rulers, albeit neophytes on the religious and imperial scene, were worthy of succeeding the grandeur of their Roman and Persian predecessors. In this capacity, then, they operated as both a functional social utility as well as a means of ideological communication.
The Umayyad Caliphs ʿAbd al-Malik b. Marwan and his son al-Walid I embarked upon a massive monument construction campaign that unfolded in tandem with their expansion into Byzantine territory which coincided with their political consolidation among competing Muslim groups. There are few monuments as illustrative of this point as the Great Mosque of Damascus which not only continued the late antique tradition of universal supercessionism but set a precedent that would be followed by princes, sultans, and warlords for centuries to come as well. As Finbarr Flood points out, the Great Mosque of Damascus “was the logical point of comparison for the Great Mosque of Samarra, the centerpiece of the imperial programme undertaken by the Abbasids..” as well as the for dynastic successors as far west as Cordoba and Cairo and as far east as Isfahan and Ghazna.1 Similar patterns of supercessionist material culture can be seen in The Dome of the Rock, Masjid Ibn Tulun, and the original Grand Mosque at Isfahan.
This paper explores the relationship between the architecture of the classic imperial mosque and Sunni sensibilities of community. The grand mosques of major city center, as Hugh Kennedy and others have pointed out, replaced the agora and Roman forum as the central site for political community in the Late Antique Mediterranean environment. However, that the agora and the forum were also sites of the sacred suggesting that the Muslim community, then, manifested in this space through the weekly Friday prayers. The intimacy of the relationship between community, religious identity, and this space can be easily demonstrated in the proximity of these terms in Arabic which all derive from the common tri-consonental root j-m-ʿ, which implies gathering, or congregation. The central mosque in a city or a village, for example, is technically termed the Jamiʿ Masjid. Friday is the Day of Gathering, Jumaʿa, and the prayer is Jumaʿa prayer. From a broad historical view, then, the Muslim congregational prayer by taking place literally atop the former agora and forum indicates a physical and theological sublimation of the late antique sensibilities of the sacred.
This paper further explores the relationship between imperial Sunni architecture during the Umayyad and Abbasid periods and Sunni sensibilities of community by surveying the transmission history of Prophetic hadith that stress the centrality of attendance to the Friday prayer as a cornerstone of faith, identity, and inclusion in the community. This cursory takhreej of hadith reports (isnad analysis) builds upon a previous study which identified a clear correlation between Umayyad patronage networks and segments of the ahl al-hadith that promoted the cause of communal togetherness (luzum al-jamāʿa). The results then further corroborate the notion that Umayyad impressions on Islamic theology and identity are far more lasting than is conventionally understood.
Sayed Hassan Akhlaq, Catholic University of America. “Salman the Persian, a Key for Inter and Intra-Religious Confrontation in Earlier Islam.”
Salam al-Farsi (568-656) the first Persian convert to Islam had a great background in Zoroastrianism and Christianity. Looking for the Promised one, he had many adventures and right before he met the Prophet, he was enslaved. When He met the Prophet, Salman tested the Prophet by the signs that a monk had described to him to make sure Muhammad was the Promised one. Accompanying the Prophet, he exercised Islamic virtues to the highest degree. For example, he contributed to both external and internal Jihad. The peak of his contribution to physical and external Jihad appeared in the Battle of the Trench. Concerning internal Jihad he achieved a such high level of spirituality that the Prophet to considered him a member of his household. Also Salman participated in fundamental Islamic values like immigration, brotherhood, council, preaching, and participating in socio-political affairs. Although Salman is among the few partisans of Ali, he served as the governor of the Sasanid capital for three caliphs including Umar and Uthman. Salman is the first one who translated some part of the Quran into a foreigner language, communicating with the “Other”. All these facets happen between two extremes: pre-Islamic background, Zoroastrian and Christian, and the new faith of Islam. In other words, as much as Salman connects various forms of faith together he also influenced new emerging religiosity so much so that in discussing his character we find many fundamental evolutions in Islamic faith. Those are related to the Sunni and Shia division and the fundamental concepts of Sufism.
I attempt to examine Salam’s religious journey in this context and to address the following questions:
(1) How close was Salman to the Prophet and to the change from pre-Islamic faiths to Islam?
(2) How does Salman demonstrate the meeting point between Islam, Zoroastrianism and Christianity from a philosophical perspective?
(3) How does his presence affect the Quranic approach to Zoroastrianism?
(4) How does his presence influence the Quranic approach to the people of the Book?
(5) How does his Christian background provide a spectrum to better understand the distinction between Sunni and Shia theologies?
(6) How does his example cause different Sunni and Shia interpretations of Islam?
(7) How does his example manifest interconnection between Sunni and Shia in earlier Islam? (8) How does the meeting between many cultures and faiths in Salman pave the road toward Sufism in Islam?
(9) How does Salman’s experience of being a Persian slave provide him the chance to build a bridge between Persians and Arabs?
Overall this research paper elaborating these questions with regards to stories around Salman suggests (1) how the whole of earlier Islam interacted with and inspired cultural and religious exchange between the Zoroastrian worldview and Nestorian Christian monks in the Middle East and Persia; and (2) which points require further scholarship. I use primarily Arabic and Persian references, though I will take a look at Louis Massignin’s La Mubahala de Medine et I'hyperdulie de Fatima as well.