Al-Ma[??]mun, the Inquisition, and the Quest for Caliphal Authority.

Author:Turner, John P.
Position:Book review
 
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Al-Ma[??]mun, the Inquisition, and the Quest for Caliphal Authority. By JOHN ABDALLAH NAWAS. Resources in Arabic and Islamic Studies, vol. 4. Atlanta: LOCK-WOOD PRESS, 2015. Pp. xvi + 340. $45 (paper).

Finally, and thankfully, John Nawas's dissertation (1993) that explores the inquisition (mihna) through the reign of al-Ma[??]mun has been published, but it supersedes the original. It has been tightened up, lightly reorganized, and includes well-marked updates to the bibliography and notes--now footnotes, which is much preferred so as not to miss the treasure trove of information contained in them. For all of the changes, the book maintains its elegandy concise and strongly supported argument while providing an excellent model for the judicious application of social science methodologies. Of particular note and value are the appendices--a comprehensive and annotated list of the seventy-two primary sources available on the mihna arranged by the author's death date (pp. 83-94); a table identifying the forty-four individuals interrogated in the mihna's first phases (pp. 95-105); a brief timeline (p. 107); and in particular, added to this publication (pp. 131-340), a reprint of Walter Patton's classic book Ahmed Ibn Hanbal and the Mihna (1897). I applaud the wisdom of placing the two books together and appreciate that for the ease of citation Patton's pagination was maintained--his argument is still worth reading, and, as noted by the series editors (p. ix), he gathered in one place and quoted voluminously the primary sources on the mihna. Unfortunately, there are a few, easily remedied, hiccups in the scan: p. 45, "al-Sakati ([dagger]253)"; p. 46, "two mentioned"; p. 51, "like his"; p. 52, "heterodoxy"; p. 53, "If I declare . . . and men will be . . . trouble"; and p. 67, "created . . . denying." Pencil those onto your copy and it is all sorted.

It is quite a testament that Nawas's dissertation remains an essential contribution to understanding al-Ma[??]mun, the mihna, and the early Abbasids. The basic questions underpinning the book are: Why did al-Ma[??]mun declare the Quran created, and why did he initiate the mihnal Viewing these two separately allows for recognizing the different motivations for each choice and thereby provides more sharply nuanced assessments. Halfway through (chap, four, p. 66) Nawas does express serious doubts about the six-year gap between al-Ma[??]mun's first declaration on createdness (212/827) and the initiation of...

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