The Religious Elite of the Early Islamic Hijaz: Five Prosopographical Case Studies.

Author:Lecker, Michael
Position:Book review
 
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The Religious Elite of the Early Islamic Hijaz: Five Prosopographical Case Studies. By ASAD Q. AHMED. Prosopographica et Genealogica, vol. 14. Oxford: LINACRE COLLEGE, UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD, 2011. Pp. xi + 339. 50 [pounds sterling] (paper).

Prosopography takes us far beyond the trodden paths in the study of early Islamic history and historiography. In-depth research focusing on one of Muhammad's Companions, on a family, or on a tribe always leads to new insights. Prosopography has recently become even more practicable due to technological advances that make it possible to collect large amounts of literary evidence on every possible aspect of the Islamic past that is covered by the literature, and collecting this evidence is no longer a time-consuming process. Let us take, for example, Muhammad's Companion 'Abd Allah Ibn Mas'ud, a man of humble origin who became prominent in the spheres of politics, economy, and religion. When he died, he was the owner of several large estates and had families in three different places. A search for Ibn Mas'ud in the free and user-friendly al-Maktaha al-shdmila electronic database produced over seven thousand pages in which his name appears. Carefully selected, five percent of these pages are probably enough for a decent M.A. thesis covering this or that aspect of his life, while twenty percent should serve as a basis for a Ph.D. thesis. Such theses will teach us not only about Ibn Mas'ud himself, but also about a variety of topics ranging from the collection of the Quran to the establishment of the garrison town of Kufa and the emergence of the Islamic state.

Ahmed's monograph (based on his doctoral dissertation, Princeton 2006) employs prosopography to investigate the history of the Hijaz after the shift of the government to Syria. More specifically, he has collected and analyzed an enormous amount of data relating to five prominent Companions of Muhammad and their descendants. These are Sa'd b. Abi Waqqas, 'Abd al-Rahman b. 'Awf, Talha ibn 'Ubayd Allah, 'Uthman b. 'Affan, and 'Ali b. Abi Talib, all of whom played a major role in early Islam. Ahmed skillfully uses genealogical information about them that is usually neglected in scholarly research. His database is large enough to serve further studies. For instance, it turns out that some of these five Companions were married to more than ten wives at different periods (in addition to an unknown number of slave girls; needless to say, they were never...

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