The Medieval Islamic Republic of Letters: Arabic Knowledge Construction

University of Notre Dame Pess
Free sample

In The Medieval Islamic Republic of Letters: Arabic Knowledge Construction, Muhsin J. al-Musawi offers a groundbreaking study of literary heritage in the medieval and premodern Islamic period. Al-Musawi challenges the paradigm that considers the period from the fall of Baghdad in 1258 to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1919 as an "Age of Decay" followed by an "Awakening" (al-nahdah). His sweeping synthesis debunks this view by carefully documenting a "republic of letters" in the Islamic Near East and South Asia that was vibrant and dynamic, one varying considerably from the generally accepted image of a centuries-long period of intellectual and literary stagnation. Al-Musawi argues that the massive cultural production of the period was not a random enterprise: instead, it arose due to an emerging and growing body of readers across Islamic lands who needed compendiums, lexicons, and commentaries to engage with scholars and writers. Scholars, too, developed their own networks to respond to each other and to their readers. Rather than addressing only the elite, this culture industry supported a common readership that enlarged the creative space and audience for prose and poetry in standard and colloquial Arabic. Works by craftsmen, artisans, and women appeared side by side with those by distinguished scholars and poets. Through careful exploration of these networks, The Medieval Islamic Republic of Letters makes use of relevant theoretical frameworks to situate this culture in the ongoing discussion of non-Islamic and European efforts. Thorough, theoretically rigorous, and nuanced, al-Musawi's book is an original contribution to a range of fields in Arabic and Islamic cultural history of the twelfth to eighteenth centuries.
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About the author

Muhsin J. al-Musawi is professor of Arabic and comparative studies at Columbia University.

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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Notre Dame Pess
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Published on
Apr 15, 2015
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Pages
480
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ISBN
9780268158019
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Europe / Medieval
Literary Criticism / Medieval
Religion / Islam / History
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This content is DRM protected.
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Muhsin J. al-Musawi
In this fascinating study, Muhsin J. al-Musawi shows how deeply Islamic heritage and culture is embedded in the tales of The Thousand and One Nights (known to many as the Arabian Nights) and how this integration invites readers to make an Islamic milieu. Conservative Islam dismisses The Thousand and One Nights as facile popular literature, and liberal views disregard the rich Islamic context of the text. Approaching the text with a fresh and unbiased eye, al-Musawi reads the tales against Islamic schools of thought and theology and recovers persuasive historical evidence to reveal the cultural and religious struggle over Islam that drives the book's narrative tension and binds its seemingly fragmented stories.

Written by a number of authors over a stretch of centuries, The Thousand and One Nights depicts a burgeoning, urban Islamic culture in all its variety and complexity. As al-Musawi demonstrates, the tales document their own places and periods of production, reflecting the Islamic individual's growing exposure to a number of entertainments and temptations and their conflict with the obligations of faith. Aimed at a diverse audience, these stories follow a narrative arc that begins with corruption and ends with redemption, conforming to a paradigm that concurs with the sociological and religious concerns of Islam and the Islamic state. By emphasizing Islam in his analysis of these entertaining and instructional tales, al-Musawi not only illuminates the work's consistent equation between art and life, but he also sheds light on its underlying narrative power. His study offers a brilliant portrait of medieval Islam as well, especially its social, political, and economic institutions and its unique practices of storytelling.

Reza Aslan
A fascinating, accessible introduction to Islam from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Zealot and host of Believer

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In No god but God, internationally acclaimed scholar Reza Aslan explains Islam—the origins and evolution of the faith—in all its beauty and complexity. This updated edition addresses the events of the past decade, analyzing how they have influenced Islam’s position in modern culture. Aslan explores what the popular demonstrations pushing for democracy in the Middle East mean for the future of Islam in the region, how the Internet and social media have affected Islam’s evolution, and how the war on terror has altered the geopolitical balance of power in the Middle East. He also provides an update on the contemporary Muslim women’s movement, a discussion of the controversy over veiling in Europe, an in-depth history of Jihadism, and a look at how Muslims living in North America and Europe are changing the face of Islam. Timely and persuasive, No god but God is an elegantly written account that explains this magnificent yet misunderstood faith.

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Muhsin J. al-Musawi
In this fascinating study, Muhsin J. al-Musawi shows how deeply Islamic heritage and culture is embedded in the tales of The Thousand and One Nights (known to many as the Arabian Nights) and how this integration invites readers to make an Islamic milieu. Conservative Islam dismisses The Thousand and One Nights as facile popular literature, and liberal views disregard the rich Islamic context of the text. Approaching the text with a fresh and unbiased eye, al-Musawi reads the tales against Islamic schools of thought and theology and recovers persuasive historical evidence to reveal the cultural and religious struggle over Islam that drives the book's narrative tension and binds its seemingly fragmented stories.

Written by a number of authors over a stretch of centuries, The Thousand and One Nights depicts a burgeoning, urban Islamic culture in all its variety and complexity. As al-Musawi demonstrates, the tales document their own places and periods of production, reflecting the Islamic individual's growing exposure to a number of entertainments and temptations and their conflict with the obligations of faith. Aimed at a diverse audience, these stories follow a narrative arc that begins with corruption and ends with redemption, conforming to a paradigm that concurs with the sociological and religious concerns of Islam and the Islamic state. By emphasizing Islam in his analysis of these entertaining and instructional tales, al-Musawi not only illuminates the work's consistent equation between art and life, but he also sheds light on its underlying narrative power. His study offers a brilliant portrait of medieval Islam as well, especially its social, political, and economic institutions and its unique practices of storytelling.

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