Islamic Histories, Part 1: Recollections of the Classical Age of Islam and Empire

AHA Session 125
Saturday, January 4, 2020: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Metropolitan Ballroom West (Small) (Sheraton New York, Second Floor)
Sana Haroon, University of Massachusetts Boston

Session Abstract

The history of Islam has been predominantly represented in modern academic discourses as a linear chronology beginning with the birth of Muhammad, taking shape in a classical age of empire, experiencing decline and then reassertion in a reformist revival. Shahzad Bashir has offered a provocative critique of this notion of a singular Islamic history and the historical methodology on which that idea has been founded in his paper “On Islamic Time” (History and Theory 53 (2014)). He suggests that historians should make different uses of sources pertaining to Islam, with a proper appreciation for the ways in which Muslim thinkers have themselves accounted for the past, and present alternatives to this reified chronology of change. This is the first of two sessions which bring together scholars of the extensive and diverse Islamic world to interrogate the salience of the notion of a unitary and linear Islamic history by describing conceptions of history, time and change contained in a range of Islamic histories. Does the chronology of events unravel? Do we return to it as a stable means of conceptualizing change as it pertains to Muslims? Or can it be replaced?

In this panel, Shahzad Bashir argues for attention to literary methods and philosophical motives associated with references to events from the history of Islam as these are described in Islamic texts and traditions. He describes his invitation to reopen the material and literary archive pertaining to Islam and to think anew about the relationship between Islam and time. Three panellists then describe ways in which events from the chronology of Islam are conceptualized and recalled in Islamic traditions. Bernard Haykel describes the centrality of references to the life of Muhammad and the pious ancestors to the Salafi political project. Mona Hassan discusses the ways in which Muslim histories of the caliphate serve as a vehicle of collective memory. Noor Zehra Zaidi describes the commemoration of the tragedies of Karbala at the shrines of women saints in Damascus and Lahore, demonstrating that references to this critical event of the early Islamic era are central to place making.

This session will be organized as a series of four 10 minute presentations, leaving 50 minutes for a moderated discussion.

See more of: Islamic Histories
See more of: AHA Sessions