Academics Connecting Together


Past, Present, Future

Please note: the below piece is a bit different than some of our normal pieces in a couple manners:

     1) it is summary rather than a critique, and 

     2) it is only indirectly related to Iran and about Islam instead. 

Every so often pieces like this will appear to give our readership something different to read.

Texts, Documents and Artefacts: Islamic Studies in Honour of D. S. Richards. Edited by Chase E. Robinson. Leiden: Brill, 2003, 417 pp.

Texts, Documents and Artefacts: Islamic Studies in Honour of D. S. Richards, edited by Chase E. Robinson is a tribute to D. S. Richards, one of the most renowned archaeologists and Arabists of his time, who taught at Oxford University for 40 years. The contributors to this work are those who have connected with him in the academic field; many of whom were his friends and students, some were also his colleagues. Each chapter presented represents Richards in some form or fashion.

The seventeen chapter Festschrift provides the reader with articles concerning Islamic studies that vary widely in duration, scope and detail. While Robinson does not categorize these pieces under any subheadings, one could argue they fall into three general captions: The Transmission of Islamic/Arabic Documents, Malmuk History and the Internal Struggles of Islam, and The Crusades and Christianity.

Of the articles relating to The Transmission of Islamic/Arabic Documents, David J. Wasserstein’s article, “When is a Fake a Fake and How Much Does it Matter? On the Authenticity of the Letter of the Descendants of Mohammed b. Sālih to the Descendants of Mu‘āwiya b. Sālih,” proposes one of the more intriguing theses.   Wasserstein, while agreeing with Richards in regard to the importance of determining authenticity of manuscripts, argues that, at least in this specific case, when the legitimacy of a document cannot be resolved (and it seems as if the text in question quite possibly could be a forgery), it still could be helpful in researching that era (386). While information in this letter should be confirmed by other sources, the text in question seems to confirm the existence certain people (Mu‘āwiya, Mohammed) living in a certain location (Syria); it also enlightens one to specific struggles, thoughts and societal issues (392–93). Another composition that attracts attention, especially after 9/11 and the increased interest in the Islamic understanding of jihād is Hugh Kennedy’s work, “Caliphs and Their Chroniclers in the Middle Abbasid Period (Third/Ninth Century).” While his piece concerns narratives regarding the accession of two leaders during the Abbasid period and not specifically on the term jihād, Kennedy explains that the accounts: 1) highlight the role of the Islamic leader (Caliph) to defend the faith and avenge those who wreaked pain on their Muslim brethren (25) and 2) explain the rationale behind jihād – to help determine and confirm the Caliph’s control (35).     

Concerning the pieces involving Malmuk History and the Internal Struggles of Islam, Reuven Amitai’s, “Foot Soldiers, Militiamen and Volunteers in the Early Malmuk Army,” provides an interesting take on the role of infantrymen vs. cavalrymen in the Ayyubid period. Amitai asserts that because the trained cavalry was becoming increasingly effective in battle, especially against the Mongols who were also riding on horses, the civilian infantry became increasingly marginalized. The Malmuks, the rulers of the time who were concentrated in parts of Egypt and Syria, had very little interest in supporting a local militias; they considered it their obligation to fight against the opponents and feared if they shared responsibility with resident soldiers governmental  jurisdiction and wealth would be lost (248–49). Wilferd Madelung’s, “A Treatise on the Imamate of the Fatimid Caliph Al-Mansũr Bi-Allāh,” focused indirectly on a somewhat broader aspect of Islam, the relationship between Shi’a and Sunni Muslims during the reign of al-Mansũr bi-Allāh Ismā‘īl, a Shi’a leader and the third caliph. While the thrust of the paper concerns the treatise al-Mansũr wrote, which was distinctly Shi’a (77), Madelung explains that al-Mansũr, in order to gain loyalty from his conquered Sunni compatriots, recognized the Sunni faith as legitimate (69). While the Sunnis did not reciprocate when they regained power and this acquiescence came back to haunt the Shiites (70), and aside from showing al-Mansũr’s loyalty to Ali (71), it illustrates an instance where the Shi’a and Sunni branches, for a time, seemed to cooperate. One wonders what the strength Islam would have if its sects were able to work together.      

Perhaps some of the most attention-grabbing articles Robinson compiled in Texts, Documents and Artefacts, revolve around The Crusades and Christianity. Of these, David Morray’s, “Materials for the Study of Arabic in the Age of the Early Printed Book,” and Carole Hillenbrand’s, “The Imprisonment of Reynald of Châtillon,” catch the eye. Morray surmises that the Protestant Reformation led to the study of Arabic in Europe. If, as Protestant scholars supposed, the Old and New Testaments were the Christian’s sole source for authority, determining the authenticity of the original text became one of the highest priorities. Learning Arabic (and Aramaic and Syriac) supposedly derived from Hebrew, could help clarify parts of the Bible, especially the Old Testament. While the Arabic texts of Scripture are considered inferior, they still were deemed useful because the original Greek and Latin Scriptures were lost. The Protestants’ emphasis on Scripture led to the development of Arabic study centers across Europe (405–06). Hillenbrand’s contribution is probably the most colorful. He describes the imprisonment of a flamboyant Christian crusader by Muslims who was so hated by Saladin (the Sultan of Egypt and Syria), he called him the nastiest of all the crusaders (82), and personally beheaded him. Hillenbrand contends that it was the imprisonment that led Reynald to re-center his energies on attacking Islam (102). While not much is known about his time in prison, before his incarceration, Reynald primarily attacked Christian territories but after focused on defeating Islam.  

One of the greatest gifts one can give a scholar is to compile articles by colleagues as a tribute to his work and influence. Robinson’s, Texts, Documents and Artefacts, is a Festschrift to a man that impacted not only a discipline, but also intellectuals with the same fundamental interest. As it can be surmised from the review, the diversity of topics only partially illustrates Richards’ influence. 


Philip O Hopkins, PhD

Managing Director, ACT