Genealogy and Knowledge in Muslim Societies

Genealogy and Knowledge in Muslim Societies: Understanding the Past

Sarah Bowen Savant
Helena de Felipe
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    Genealogy and Knowledge in Muslim Societies
    Book Description:

    From the Prophet Mohammad's family tree to the present, ideas about kinship and descent have shaped communal and national identities in Muslim societies. So an understanding of genealogy is therefore vital to our understanding of Muslim societies, particularly with regard to the generation, preservation and manipulation of genealogical knowledge.These case studies link genealogical knowledge to particular circumstances in which it was created, circulated and promoted. They stress the malleability of kinship and memory, and the interests this malleability serves.

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-4498-8
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures and Tables
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)
    Sarah Bowen Savant and Helena de Felipe

    Genealogy has long been recognised as one of the most important and authoritative organising principles in Muslim societies. Expressions of genealogy have over the course of history taken particular forms and performed important functions in Muslim societies, so many in fact that it would be impossible to describe them comprehensively. The Prophet’s family tree, including his ancestors, descendants (thesayyīdsorsharifs) and adoptive clients (mawāli), has provided an important paradigm, underwriting dynastic arrangements, providing access to patronage and supporting power brokers and mediators. Other patterns of kinship, including tribal lineages, descent from the Companions of the Prophet or descent...

  5. Part One: The Generation of Genealogical Knowledge
    • Chapter 1 Keeping the Prophet’s Family Alive: Profile of a Genealogical Discipline
      (pp. 11-23)
      Kazuo Morimoto

      People call his [that is, ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib’s] descendants the People of the House (Ahl al-Bayt), the Family of Muhammad (Āl Muhammad), the Relatives of the Prophet (‘Itrat al-Nabī) … and employ the titles “sayyid” and “sharīf” to address them. Because people desire to be counted among them, the discipline of genealogies (‘ilm al-ansāb) and [its] family tree books (kutub al-shajara) came into being. In order to show them respect, the braids of hair [a special sign forsayyidsandsharīfs] are removed from the impostors’ heads.¹

      Claiming kinship relation with the Prophet Muhammad, that is, claiming an affiliation...

    • Chapter 2 Motives and Techniques of Genealogical Forgery in Pre-modern Muslim Societies
      (pp. 24-36)
      Zoltán Szombathy

      In a society that attributes great significance to descent, genealogical forgeries will abound. Such phenomena were ubiquitous in pre-modern Muslim societies, where the dominant ideology considered descent to be a paramount factor in deciding a person’s character, prestige, status and political legitimacy, despite the contrary teachings of the Qur’an and hadith.

      In an important recent article, Ella Landau-Tasseron analyses the issue of falsifying descent. Her focus, however, is on adoption and the acknowledgement of paternity, not on forged genealogies, which, as she notes, tend to be glued to ancestors “already dead and buried”.¹ She hardly treats such brazen forgeries and...

    • Chapter 3 The Genealogy of Power and the Power of Genealogy in Morocco: History, Imaginary and Politics
      (pp. 37-52)
      Zakaria Rhani

      In his incisive criticism of Ibn Rushd’s views of nobility (sharaf), Ibn Khaldun addressed the significant role of politics and social solidarity in genealogical affiliation (nasab). While for Ibn Rushd nobility belongs to a people or a house (bayt) consisting of ancient settlers in a town and depends exclusively on the number of ancestors and their prominent origins, for Ibn Khaldun nobility refers to a sense of “group feeling” (asabiyya) and its associated political power and social authority – as “influence among men”. Since nobility is the result of personal qualities and group solidarity, only those “ who share in a...

  6. Part Two: Empowering Political and Religious Elites
    • Chapter 4 Berber Leadership and Genealogical Legitimacy: The Almoravid Case
      (pp. 55-70)
      Helena de Felipe

      They only knew the desert and had never seen a city. Neither did they know of wheat, barley or flour. They ate dairy products and, occasionally, meat. They rode camels and were brave and bold.¹ That was how Ibn Hawqal, the famous tenthcentury Muslim geographer, described the tribes living between Aoudaghost and Sijilmasa in the south of the Maghrib. Several of these tribes, including the Sanhaja, were part of the Almoravid movement and, within a short time, made the transition from the arid African sands and the lifestyle mentioned above to a structure with a political-military leader, Yusuf ibn Tashfin...

    • Chapter 5 Ways of Connecting with the Past: Genealogies in Nasrid Granada
      (pp. 71-88)
      Maribel Fierro

      The Malagan jurist al-Fakhkhar (d. 723/1323) compiled a number of eschatological traditions that addressed the dangers that Muslims had to face in al-Andalus. His was an age – the Nasrid period seventh/thirteenth–ninth/fifteenth centuries) – when Muslim rule was reduced to a small area around the city of Granada, after the loss of a major part of the territory where formerly the Arabic language and Islam had predominated. Al-Fakhkhar’s eschatological traditions could be understood as having been fabricated ad hoc to help the Andalusis face their predicament. However, they can be proven to be old traditions, some of which had been circulating...

    • Chapter 6 Embarrassing Cousins: Genealogical Conundrums in the Central Sahara
      (pp. 89-102)
      Judith Scheele

      Anybody looking for history (ta’rīkh) in the Central Sahara will soon be supplied with large quantities oftawārīkh: more or less historic documents looking suspiciously like genealogies. Sometimes, thesetawārīkhare written documents, carefully preserved by their owners; in most cases, however, reference is made to documents that are strikingly elusive, supposedly kept in private or in public archives elsewhere, and that matter mainly because of their existence, or rather, because this existence can be publicly claimed as beyond doubt. Thesetawārīkhare important, even today, because they are much more than accounts of past events. Through their form, as...

  7. Part Three: Genealogy as a Source for Writing History
    • Chapter 7 Was Marwan ibn al-Hakam the First “Real” Muslim?
      (pp. 105-114)
      Fred M. Donner

      Marwan ibn al-Hakam ibn Abi l-‘As, a leading member of the Umayyad family during the first/seventh century and himself brieflyamīr al-mu’minīn(“commander of the Believers”) from 64 until 65 ah (684–5 CE), is – like most members of the Umayyad clan – not very favourably remembered by the Islamic historical tradition. The main obstacle standing in the way of achieving a sound assessment of Marwan (or, for that matter, of almost any other figure of his time) is the virtual absence of documentary evidence about him.¹ This forces us to rely on reports found in later narrative sources, in which...

    • Chapter 8 Genealogy and Ethnogenesis in al-Mas‘udi’s Muruj al-dhahab
      (pp. 115-130)
      Sarah Bowen Savant

      In the tenth century, the litterateur and historian al-Mas‘udi (d. 345/956) composed one of the most eclectic accounts of the origins of the Persians surviving today. He begins his discussion of the subject in hisMuruj al-dhahab wa-ma‘adin al-jawharwith the statement that “the people have disagreed with one another regarding the Persians (al-Furs) and their genealogies (ansābihim)”, and then proceeds to place on apparently equal footing a number of theories, including some that are evidently pre-Islamic in origin and some arising after the emergence of Islam. He positions his discussion of the Persians’ genealogy amidst sections on Iranian history,...

    • Chapter 9 Genealogical Prestige and Marriage Strategy among the Ahl al-Bayt: The Case of the al-Sadr Family in Recent Times
      (pp. 131-148)
      Raffaele Mauriello

      Historians have given little sustained attention to the customs of nobility within Islamic civilisation. The role of genealogy in shaping political, religious and social realities appears to have been overlooked particularly, or even ignored, in the case of the contemporary history of the Middle East. This, at least, is the case with the Family of the Prophet (Ahl al-Bayt). However, observed through the lens of genealogical prestige and marriage strategies, the role and behaviour of the descendants of the Family of the Prophet in recent times reveal customs of nobility that are close, or at least similar, to those witnessed...

  8. About the Contributors
    (pp. 149-150)
  9. Index
    (pp. 151-160)