Parable and Politics in Early Islamic History

Parable and Politics in Early Islamic History: The Rashidun Caliphs

Tayeb El-Hibri
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 488
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    Parable and Politics in Early Islamic History
    Book Description:

    The story of the succession to the Prophet Muhammad and the rise of the Rashidun Caliphate (632-661 AD) is familiar to historians from the political histories of medieval Islam, which treat it as a factual account. The story also informs the competing perspectives of Sunni and Shi'i Islam, which read into it the legitimacy of their claims. Yet while descriptive and varied, these approaches have long excluded a third reading, which views the conflict over the succession to the Prophet as a parable. From this vantage point, the motives, sayings, and actions of the protagonists reveal profound links to previous texts, not to mention a surprising irony regarding political and religious issues.

    In a controversial break from previous historiography, Tayeb El-Hibri privileges the literary and artistic triumphs of the medieval Islamic chronicles and maps the origins of Islamic political and religious orthodoxy. Considering the patterns and themes of these unified narratives, including the problem of measuring personal qualification according to religious merit, nobility, and skills in government, El-Hibri offers an insightful critique of both early and contemporary Islam and the concerns of legitimacy shadowing various rulers. In building an argument for reading the texts as parabolic commentary, he also highlights the Islamic reinterpretation of biblical traditions, both by Qur'anic exegesis and historical composition.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52165-9
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. CHAPTER ONE Introduction
    (pp. 1-25)

    The starting point for any investigation of early Islamic historiography has to be study of the stories, and specifically the stories of prophets. From its very beginning, Islam viewed itself as a continuation of earlier monotheistic messages and conceived of Muhammad’s life as another chapter of dialogue between a messenger and his people. The battle that biblical figures as diverse as Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus had earlier fought on behalf of monotheism and imminent redemption found its conclusion in Arabia in the early seventh century and, to Muslims, was ultimately fulfilled by the victory of Muhammad and his companions...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Abū Bakr: The Moment of Confirmation
    (pp. 26-76)

    The death of the Prophet in A.D. 632 did not come about suddenly. It followed a gradual fever that grew for days after Muhammad had moved into the house of ‘Āisha, where he decided to spend his last days. He was brought there leaning on ‘Alī and al-‘Abbās, the two chiefs of what would one day be viewed as the main branches of the Hāshimite family, the ‘Alid and the ‘Abbāsid. However, there are few reports about any interaction between him and members of his family once he was settled in ‘Āisha’s house: ‘Alī, al-‘Abbās, ‘Abdallāh b, al-‘Abbās, or even...

  7. CHAPTER THREE ‘Umar b. al-Khabṭṭāb: A Saga of Law and Conquest
    (pp. 77-121)

    The name of Abū Bakr is usually paired in Sunnī Islamic doctrine with that of the second caliph, ‘Umar, and together the two are well known as “alshaykhān” (the two sages) in ḥadīth collections. Their practices and sayings are generally viewed as setting standards of religious behavior, and as second in authority only to Muḥammad’s. No other companion, including ‘Alī, is viewed as more excellent in merit than these two, and Sunnī jurists level harsh criticisms against those who detract from the tafḍīl (high ranking) of the two caliphs.¹ Ḥadīth s that praise Abū Bakr and ‘Umar are considered an...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR ‘Uthmān: The Challenge of Innovation
    (pp. 122-153)

    The foundations that ‘Umar b. al-Khaṭṭāb laid for the nascent Islamic state rested on a complex balance of networks among Meccan and Medinan elites, western Arabian and eastern tribes, Islamic beliefs, and tribal custom. His renowned charisma and ascetic example probably played a key role in holding together an early Islamic coalition of divergent interests. However, religious factors aside, the second caliph seems to have also recognized the pragmatic limits that tribal politics placed on his political power. ‘Umar came from a minor branch of the clan of Quraysh and this forced him as a leader to rely heavily on...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE The Road to Civil War: Issues and Boundaries
    (pp. 154-204)

    Ṭabarī begins to lay the groundwork for describing the causes and conditions that eventually led to the challenges to ‘Uthmān under the year A.H. 33/A.D. 653. Although these events, which will take place in Iraq and Syria and will involve the governors of ‘Uthmān (Sa‘īd b. al-‘Āṣ and Mu‘āwiya b. Abī Sufyān), do not yet involve ‘Uthmān or ‘Alī, they do introduce some of the controversial political and moral themes that will be magnified in subsequent years. The absence of ‘Alī and ‘Uthmān from the beginning scenes of conflict probably had a double purpose. On one level this allowed the...

  10. CHAPTER SIX ‘Alī: In the Image of the Prophets
    (pp. 205-261)

    The death of ‘Uthmān marks a key turning point in the narrative of the Rāshidūn caliphate. For the last six years of ‘Uthmān’s reign there are conflicting arguments in the texts, as we saw, about how to judge the third caliph: whether he had provoked the opposition with his innovations and bias to his family or if it was the opposition that exaggerated the case against him and was ultimately to blame for the breakdown of negotiations and the beginning of the attack. All these divergences, however, come to a halt once ‘Uthmān is killed. Suddenly the various narrative voices...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN From Caliphate to Kingship: ‘Umar’s Reign and Future Changes
    (pp. 262-299)

    A reader who seeks to establish a firm sequence of causality for the political turmoil that spanned ‘Alī’s reign and the civil wars can easily concentrate on the reign of ‘Uthmān for having provided the background and various radical changes that affected the government of the early Islamic state. However, when the history of this period is read from the perspective of the inferences of the Islamic historiographical scheme, it becomes evident that in fact it is the reign of ‘Umar that holds the real answers, not only about the reigns of ‘Uthmān and ‘Alī but also about the emergence...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT Conclusion
    (pp. 300-306)

    The religion of Islam strongly contrasts with predecessor Near Eastern religions, especially Judaism and Christianity, in the way the political history of the early Islamic caliphate greatly defines sectarian differences as well as political controversies in later times. Certain central questions, such as whether the Prophet’s family should have succeeded to the caliphate first, whether the ‘Alids or ‘Abbāsids should have inherited the caliphate, and what the nature of the authority of the caliph was as imām (whether political, religious, or symbolic), produced political conflicts in the period between the seventh and the ninth centuries.

    In a reading of the...

  13. APPENDIX ONE Abū Mikhnaf’s Account of the Saqīfa of Banū Sā‘ida
    (pp. 307-314)
  14. APPENDIX TWO The Succession to ‘Umar
    (pp. 315-324)
  15. APPENDIX THREE Manūshihr’s Declaration
    (pp. 325-328)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 329-444)
  17. Glossary
    (pp. 445-446)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 447-462)
  19. Index
    (pp. 463-472)