The Culture of Letter-Writing in Pre-Modern Islamic Society

The Culture of Letter-Writing in Pre-Modern Islamic Society

ADRIAN GULLY
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 232
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3366/j.ctt1r27sp
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  • Book Info
    The Culture of Letter-Writing in Pre-Modern Islamic Society
    Book Description:

    This book presents a unique analysis of letter writing in the Middle Islamic period.

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-3374-6
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-ii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. iii-iii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
    (pp. iv-v)
    Adrian Gully
  4. PROLOGUE
    (pp. vi-xii)

    When Maaike van Berkel published her short article on the historical position of the secretary (Ar. kātib)¹ she raised some issues that have been fundamental to the writing of this book. That is not to say that much of what follows in this volume had not been conceived of in some shape or form prior to my reading that article. However, through van Berkel’s doubting of the value of the administrative texts as an accurate historical source on the position of the secretary she inadvertently presented me with additional justification for the formulation of this work.

    Van Berkel claims that...

  5. CHAPTER 1 THE FOUNDATIONS OF LETTER-WRITING IN PRE-MODERN ISLAMIC SOCIETY
    (pp. 1-28)

    The epistle as a representation of Arabic literary genres has a long history. Literary and historical sources abound with examples of letters allegedly exchanged during the early Islamic period. Collections of these examples have been assembled by modern scholars in an attempt to illustrate the importance of the epistle as a record of early political and social activity in Islamic society,² and also as documental evidence of early Arabic prose style. Written contracts and epistles undoubtedly existed at the advent of Islam, and the commandment to register debts with a scribe is found in the Qur’ān.³ Some scholars believe that...

  6. CHAPTER 2 EPISTOLARY PROSE, POETRY AND ORATORY: ESSENTIALS OF THE DEBATE
    (pp. 29-49)

    It is now time to turn to two of the most fundamental questions in the history of letter-writing in pre-modern Islamic society. Why and how did letter-writing come to prominence as the most important mode of written, artistic prose communication? How did it remain the most popular writerly form for so many centuries? There is no doubt that historical and social circumstances played a major role in its longevity, since the expansion of the Islamic state created a need for a reliable form of communication that could be conveyed over vast distances. But I am going to argue over the...

  7. CHAPTER 3 THE POWER OF THE PEN AND THE PRIMACY OF SCRIPT
    (pp. 50-71)

    Although the rich oral tradition of Arab and Islamic society will never be totally replaced, there came a point in Islamic history when the written word began to assume increasing significance and potency. In this chapter I set out to show how the power of the pen prevailed in the domain of communication in pre-modern Islamic society. Its supremacy dominated not just in the face of a strong oral culture, but also in the context of a prominent military one in which the sword and its wielders, that is to say, the military, often contested power in that society. The...

  8. CHAPTER 4 THE COMPOSITION SECRETARY (I): BACKGROUND AND STATUS
    (pp. 72-101)

    Before examining more closely the background and status of the secretary in pre-modern Islamic society, I should point out that in a previous study I found it necessary to evaluate the social and intellectual position of a particular group of scholars in relation to their peers. In that work I was looking at the relationship between grammar and semantics, and found it especially instructive to look at how the class of grammarians fitted into the intellectual stratum of Islamic society in the pre-modern period.² Almost nothing had been written previously on that aspect of the life of a grammarian. The...

  9. CHAPTER 5 THE COMPOSITION SECRETARY (II): MORAL AND INNER QUALITIES
    (pp. 102-130)

    Before moving into a description of what I broadly term the moral characteristics and inner qualities of the secretary I would like to review briefly the context from which they derive. It has already been demonstrated that the first chapter of the Mawādd al-Bayān was devoted to a large degree to Ibn Ḫalaf’s attempts to settle the argument about the supremacy of writing and epistolography over all other crafts, and the secretary over all other administrative professions. His descriptions of the responsibilities of the secretary are statesmanlike, as he portrays the relationship between him and the Ruler and the positive...

  10. CHAPTER 6 BALĀĠA, EPISTOLARY STRUCTURE AND STYLE
    (pp. 131-165)

    This chapter will focus on of some of the precepts of balāġa (communicative eloquence), especially those of bayān (clarity of expression) that are particularly important to epistolography and the structure of letter-writing. It is beyond the scope of this present study to analyse exhaustively the way in which the vast array of tropes and literary devices available to the secretary are used in the epistolary genre. However, I have identified a small number of devices that seemed to draw the attention of the most prominent literary critics, such as Ibn al-Aṯīr and al-Askarī, and which reflected some of the unique...

  11. CHAPTER 7 EPISTOLARY PROTOCOL
    (pp. 166-192)

    This whole book is, in a sense, about epistolary protocol. The study of the culture of letter-writing in the Islamic Middle period could have gone in many different directions. This work has not placed much focus on the metalinguistic details of letter-writing, such as the spacing requirements for specific aspects of a given epistle, even though those details are in themselves fascinating and important, but some reference will be made to them later in this chapter. What should have become clear so far, however, is that the secretaries spared no detail in setting the parameters, codes and protocol for epistolary...

  12. EPILOGUE
    (pp. 193-196)

    Thus the story has been told. The preceding pages have brought to the fore some of the complexities and beauties of the culture of letter-writing in the pre-modern Islamic (or Islamic Middle) period. In telling this tale of the secretary and his craft I have attempted to provide the reader with an account that evokes something of the literary, cultural and historical environment of that period. What was originally conceived as an idea to conduct a stylistic analysis of Arabic epistolary prose soon developed into an exploration of writerly culture in the 5th–9th/11th–15th centuries. That is principally why...

  13. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 197-207)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 208-212)