Suggested Reading 2.0

Farasat asked: excellent. Can you post a reading list of islamic history (from muslim and balanced non-muslim authors)?

Okay, this is the point where most Islamicists, myself included, get slightly chagrin, as most introductory texts on Islamic history rely more of works by non-Muslim authors than on those by Muslim ones.  The source material is Muslim, of course, but in terms of secondary literature, particularly if you want material in English, the list of Muslim authors will generally be fairly short.

In terms of non-Muslim sources, I’ve suggested some intro sources in an earlier post here –  if you’re looking for slightly more advanced materials, I would add to that list Marshal Hodgson’s Venture of Islam for a general overview of the early and Medieval period and P. M. Holt’s Age of the Crusades if you’re particularly interested in the Muslim perspective on the Crusades.

As for histories by Muslim historians, there are several reasons why they feature less centrally in English-speaking histories of the Middle East – the most basic is that Islamic history is a small field that has evolved in the West over the last hundred and fifty years, and often, students cite their teachers, who cite their teachers, etc.  This system is made more complex by the realities of the early days of Islamic studies in the West – the field developed in conjunction with European imperialism in the Middle East and South Asia, and often the early histories demonstrate a clear bias.  The best example is the history of India written by James Mill (father of the philosopher John Stuart Mill) – Mill had never been to India, and had only the few indigenous sources that had been translated in the West, but his work played a significant role in shaping the British Raj.

However, there are some important exceptions to this general rule of Middle Eastern history being written by Western thinkers – the most important being Edward Said.  Said was a literary critic by training, and a Palestinian American, and Orientalism remains required reading for anyone interested in Middle Eastern history.  In addition, Albert Hourani, a British scholar of Lebanese decent, although not a Muslim, still wrote eloquently about Middle Eastern tradition, and his History of the Arab Peoples is a wonderful read (and the first book on Islamic history I ever read, the summer before I started college).

There are also several modern historians who have written interesting studies on particular aspects of Islamic history – Wadad al-Qadi at Chicago has written several articles about political authority in early Islam (which, unfortunately, are pretty much only available if you can access JSTOR or the like); Amin Maalouf wrote a fascinating history of the Crusades from the native, Middle Eastern perspective called Crusades through Arab Eyes; and A. A. Sachedina’s The Just Ruler is interesting both for his account of the development of early Shi’i thought, as well as a historical source itself, as it was written in the glow of the Iranian revolution.

I would guess that the field is slowly becoming more balanced between Muslim and non-Muslim authors, although questions of bias and cultural perspective remain.

About askanislamicist

I'm an academic who specializes in early Islamic history and the history of religious interactions, who, in her free time, enjoys shouting into the internet.
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1 Response to Suggested Reading 2.0

  1. farasat latif says:

    I ve been reading the history of the first four caliphs of Islam by Dr Ali Muhammad Al-Salaabi. In one of the volumes he make the point that orientalist works on the history of early islam have been heavily influenced by Shia works, Do you agree with this?
    Whilst acknowledging that the orientalist perspective is not monolithic, I’m interested in researching the Sunni, Shia and Orientalist perspective on certain key events in early Islamic history and whether concurrence between the Shia and Orientalist readings is significant.
    These (events ) include the issue of succession after the death of the Prophet, the compilation of the Quran in the era of Abu Bakr and Uthman, the assassination of Uthman, and the subsequent civil war between Ali and Muawiya.

    I’d be very interested to hear your views on this.

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