Ninth-century Abbasid depictions of Jahiliyya Arabness



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Abstract: Abbasid scholars began compiling complete histories of the Arab peoples for the first time in the eighth and ninth century. Prior to this, all histories of the Arab peoples had been passed down orally, through poetry and spoken histories. In compiling and writing these grand histories, ninth-century Muslim scholars were afforded a unique opportunity to editorialize historical Arab exemplars, and by extension, editorialize Arabness. Armed with knowledge from the Qur'an, these Muslim scholars could imbue select famous historical Arab figures with Qur'an approved Jahiliyya Arab traits while excising or modulating forbidden traits in order to present an ideal Arabness to which all Arabs might aspire. The three authors selected for this thesis are Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari, Ibn Hisham, and Ibn Sa'd. These authors all either wrote or edited grand scale historical compendia on the Arab people. The exemplars utilized by these authors were all depicted to exhibit many ideal traits as per the Qur'an and Abbasid society in the ninth century, demonstrating retroactively that the Arabs were the perfect people to receive the final revelations of God. This thesis advances the theory that these ninth-century scholars' depictions of jahiliyya Arabness contributed to the ideal of Arabness today, and aid in our understanding of the relationship between Arabness and Islam.