ABSORPTIVE CAPACITIES

Arabic-Islamic literature came into being in the century following the rise of Islam. Building on an Arab heritage of poetry (shir), genealogy (nasab), and tribal lore (ayyam al-Arab), elements from the Judaeo-Christian tradition as well as the original contributions of Islam, its initial focus lay on the crucial decades of the life and preaching of Muhammad.[1] [2]

Systematic study of the Qur’an promoted the assimilation of pre-Islamic heri- tages.2 Certain passages of the Qur’an were only comprehensible if read against the background of older Jewish and Christian traditions. Although its role for Islamic theology was to be debated, Judaeo-Christian tradition played an important role in moulding Arabic-Islamic approaches to the past.[3]

The study of the prophet’s life and preaching furthered the development of research tools. Contemporary Arabic-Islamic scholars were confronted with the testimonies of eyewitnesses who were enmeshed in the sociopolitical conflicts of the day and prone to subordinate their memories to the aim of legitimizing a specific claim to the prophet’s heritage. The genre of hadith with its chain of transmitters (isnad) and the systematic biographical study of transmitters (tabaqat) arose from the necessity of analysing the trustworthiness of these testimonies.[4] The wish to record the foundations of Muslim collective identity was then extended to events and developments in the lifetime of the prophet’s successors. Factionalism further promoted the rise of historiography that formulated political claims in its evaluation of past events.5

  • [1] Khalidi, Thought (1996), pp. 1—7, 83.
  • [2] Donner, Narratives (1998), pp. 275—90; Schoeler, Genesis (2009).
  • [3] Vajda, ‘Israiliyyat’ (1978), p. 211; Nagel, ‘Kisas al-anbiya’ (1986), p. 180.
  • [4] Robson, ‘hadith’ (1971), p. 23; Gilliot, ‘tabaqat B’ (2000), p. 7.
 
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