Identity and social formation in the early Caliphate

Authored by: Peter Webb

Routledge Handbook on Early Islam

Print publication date:  August  2017
Online publication date:  August  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138821187
eBook ISBN: 9781315743462
Adobe ISBN:

10.4324/9781315743462.ch8

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Abstract

The study of communal identities in the early Muslim-era Middle East is perhaps the most direct pathway into the heart of pressing questions about the rise of Islam. Identity and community reflect the fundamental ways in which people express who they think they are, and in times of seismic political, doctrinal, and cultural changes, such as the shaping of the Caliphate following the Muslim Conquests, the ways in which groups organised themselves and articulated their characteristics are key barometers by which historians can track the practical everyday significance and effects of the wars and statecraft detailed in chronicles. Identity speaks to the culture and personal impact of Islam’s development, the soft factors of people’s quotidian lives underlying the economy and power politics of more traditional historiography. The purported march of Islam from the mid-seventh century onwards can be substantiated once we understand how and the extent to which it changed Middle Eastern society, but the analysis needs to proceed cautiously, as there are substantial challenges to navigate.

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