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Power-Knowledge in Tabari’s «Histoire» of Islam

Politicizing the past in Medieval Islamic Historiography


Amir Moghadam and Terence Lovat

Muhammad al-Tabari’s History, written about 300 years after the establishment of Islam, is one of the religion’s most important commentaries. It offers important insights into the early development of Islam, not so much for its history as for the ways it was interpreted and understood. Through application of modern historiographical analysis and scriptural exegesis, the book explores the space between factual history and interpretive history, or histoire. The focus is especially on the ways in which al-Tabari himself understood and interpreted Qur’anic evidence, employing it not so much for literal as for political purposes. In this sense, his work is best understood not as a reliable history in the modern sense but as a politically-inspired commentary. Granted that his work has often been relied on for Islam’s historical claims, this book offers important new insights into the ways in which power and politics were shaping interpretations in its first three hundred years.

«This is an outstanding work on all accounts. It takes on a major challenge, being the critical examination of the cultural and textual roots of an important Islamic text. The authors demonstrate unusual competence in dealing with these kinds of literatures and, by doing so, are making a substantial, original and timely contribution to the study of Islam and appreciating the challenges facing Muslim scholars today.» (Emeritus Professor Gary D Bouma, UNESCO Chair in Interreligious and Intercultural Relations – Asia Pacific, Monash University, Australia)

«Power-Knowledge in Tabari’s Histoire of Islam offers readers a penetrating look at the construction of Islamic origins in Tabari's foundational history. Through this work readers will appreciate Islamic historiography with all of its political, social, and religious complexity. The authors not only shed new light on the motivations behind the founding narratives of Islam, they also show how appreciating the constructed nature of these narratives is a first step to overcoming pejorative notions of the other in today's world.» (Gabriel Said Reynolds, Professor of Islamic Studies and Theology, University of Notre Dame, USA)