By Kathryn Ann Rose
Master’s Thesis, Miami University, 2011
Abstract: This thesis examines the ninth-century Baghdadi scholar al-Tabari and his narrative representation of the three civil war caliphs of the Umayyad era (661-750 CE). It explores this important early Muslim historian’s methodological approach to writing narrative history as a way of understanding his own religio-political world rather than a factual recounting. It argues that al-Tabari’s narrative discussion of the first and last Umayyad civil war caliphs differ from that of the second. This study reveals that al-Tabari was less concerned with generating caliphal histories as he was with pointing out the lack of stability within the Islamic Empire and associating that instability with the reigning caliph of the time. This study contributes to a more systemized model of source analysis by which modern scholars fruitfully use the historiography of early Arabic/Islamic sources.
Introduction: This thesis is a source-critical study of the ninth-century Baghdadi scholar Abu Ja`far Muhammad b. Jarir al-Tabari (d. 923 CE) and his representation of the three rulers, all members of the Umayyad Dynasty, responsible for the first, second, and third fitan of early Islamic history – Mu`awiya b. Abi Sufyan (r. 661 – 680 CE), `Abd al-Malik b. Marwan (r. 685 – 705 CE), and Marwan b. Muhammad b. Marwan (r. 744 – 750 CE), also known as Marwan II or Marwan al-Himaar. It utilizes Khalid Keshk’s narrative-based analysis of three distinct time periods in the life of the caliph Mu`awiya b. Abi Sufyan (r. 661-680 CE). By applying Keshk’s technique to the final two, yet equally important, civil war caliphs of the Umayyad era, this thesis will contribute to a more systemized model of source analysis by which modern scholars can overcome the historiographical concerns of using early Arabic/Islamic sources to discuss a period as early as the Umayyad Dynasty and its involvement in periods of great civil conflict.
Early Islamic history is typically categorized into three periods – pre-Islam, also known as the Jahiliya period or the time of ignorance (before c. 620 CE), formative (c. 600-949 CE) and classical (c. 950-1500 CE). To obtain information regarding these three periods, historically, modern scholars of Islamic history have had to rely heavily on early Muslim historiographical sources. The majority of the commentaries that survive today were generated in the aftermath of the turbulent and controversial period known as the Umayyad era (r. 661 – 750 CE). The Islamic Empire under Umayyad rule had been stricken by three civil wars – the first of which initiated Umayyad control, and the last of which ended it. Works generated in the years following their collapse were the result of a new kind of scholarship filled with pro- `Abbasid and anti-Umayyad themes. These works have become the topic of copious scholarly debate concerning historical accuracy, objectivity, and authenticity. Modern scholarship has covered this ground effectively and continues to produce a number of valid and thought provoking conclusions. Where they have fallen short, however, is in making a connection between the fresh memories of civil war, and the debates surrounding historical accuracy, objectivity, and authenticity.