A History of Muslim Sicily. By Leonard C. Chiarelli. Sta Vanera, Malta: Midsea Books, 2011. Pp. xliv + 417. $50 (paper).
The publication of a scholarly work on (medieval) Muslim Sicily is always a happy occasion given the relatively sparse archive with which we work, and Leonard Chiarelli's A History of Muslim Sicily is a welcome addition to our small but growing library. Those seriously interested in a comprehensive study of the political and cultural history of Muslim Sicily from 827 until roughly 1250--that is, from the period of Muslim sovereignty until the end of Frederick II's reign, broadly speaking--normally begin with the groundbreaking work of the Italian orientalist, Michele Amari (1801-1889), whose Biblioteca arabo-sicula and Storia dei musulmani di Sicilia constitute something of the "foundational texts" for the study of our field. The first is a collection and edition of all known texts--at the time of Amari's life--and passages related to the subject, and the second is a massive encyclopedic survey of Sicily drawing on Arabic, Greek, and Latin sources. In the twentieth century, several attempts have been made, largely in Italian and Arabic, to reinvent or rewrite survey histories of Muslim Sicily with relatively little advancement beyond what Amari had produced. Ihsan 'Abbas's literary history of Muslim Sicily (al-cArab ft Siqilliya: Dirasafi l-tarikh wa-l-adab, 1959) is arguably the most successful of its kind to date. In English, two survey histories of scholarly significance have been published: Aziz Ahmad's A History of Islamic Sicily (1975) and now Chiarelli's History, here reviewed. While both derive substantially from Amari's work, in content and in form, the latter is a major advancement for Anglophone scholars and students on account of its sheer size and the impressively rich and up-to-date bibliography that Chiarelli has accumulated over many years.
However, the field of Siculo-Arabic studies has grown and developed in other ways, by what I would call local histories, scholarly works that set their sights on smaller parts in order to understand the whole. It is the accumulation of these works against which I will measure both the strengths and weaknesses of Chiarelli's History.
Chiarelli's History can be divided into two parts: the first is a chronological survey of Muslim Sicily's political history from beginning to end, grafted along Aghlabid, Fatimid, and Kalbid periods, and the second contains three studies, on...