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Safran, Janina. Defining Boundaries in al-Andalus (Adil)

  • 20 Mar 2014 8:05 AM
    Message # 1521457
    Simon Doubleday (Administrator)
    Defining Boundaries in al-Andalus: Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Islamic Iberia. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2013. ix+247 pp. [paged separately]. ISBN 978–0–8014–5183–6

    Reviewed by Sabahat F. Adil (University of Chicago):

    The centuries following the birth of Islam in the seventh century witnessed its rapid expansion. While some people who found themselves under Islamic rule converted to Islam, many did not, including Jews and Christians. Indeed, foundational Islamic texts such as the Qurʾān, sayings of the prophet Muḥammad (ḥadīth), and jurisdictional texts discussed the reality of intercommunal relationships fostered by the growth of Islam. Janina M. Safran’s Defining Boundaries in al-Andalus: Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Islamic Iberia explores one facet of Islamic expansion through a study of Islamic Umayyad rule (756­–1013 CE) over Christians and Jews in al-Andalus. Through its careful analysis of legal texts and historical chronicles, the work provides rich, textured insight into intercommunal relations and boundary-making as a means of understanding politics, society, and culture in Umayyad al-Andalus.

    In the Introduction, Safran notes the paucity of archival sources for scholars studying intercommunal relations in the Islamic kingdoms of Iberia in relation to those working on such interactions under Christian rule. Given the relative lack of sources, Safran suggests that scholars studying intercommunal relations under Muslim rule in Iberia cannot develop a comparably dense and historical refined study. Yet Safran achieves just this in her monograph through her masterful use of wide-ranging sources, including Arabic legal texts composed in al-Andalus and the Maghrib from the ninth and tenth centuries. More broadly, the texts give us insight into “trends of social differentiation and cultural change in al-Andalus in the ninth and tenth centuries” (5). In addition to legal texts, which stem almost exclusively from the work of ninth- and tenth-century Maliki jurists, Safran relies upon historical chronicles, biographical literature, and polemical interpretations of the Christian martyrs movement of Cordoba written by Eulogius and Paul Albar. Taken together, the sources and Safran’s analysis of them provide rich insight into Umayyad al-Andalus in the ninth and tenth centuries.

    The monograph includes four thematically organized chapters, along with an introduction and conclusion. Chapter One provides a historical overview of the structuring of Umayyad political and religious authority in al-Andalus in the ninth and tenth centuries. Safran shows how Umayyad authorities, including rulers, judges, and jurists, produced the terms of Muslim identity in the kingdom in a collaborative manner, particularly in the social and legal spheres. Not only did they define the identity of their subjects through boundary-making mechanisms, the Umayyads also expressed their own legitimacy as rulers in their interpretations of Ibn Hafsun’s rebellion, focusing on identity, status, and other categories of social differentiation. Through the rebellion and other historical examples, Safran suggests that the concern of the Umayyads with boundaries and (inter)communal identity, much like that of their Syrian dynastic predecessors, was a way to showcase authority and build consensus among members of the ruled population.

    Chapter Two accounts the sociocultural transformation of Umayyad al-Andalus in the ninth and tenth centuries. First, Safran provides an overview of how communities were physically integrated after the Umayyad conquest of Iberia, as well as changing settlement patterns over time. Additionally, Safran explores marriage and conversion in this transforming sociocultural space. This transformation was tied directly to dynamics of intercommunal relations, which Safran explores through legal texts. The Christian martyrs of Cordoba comprise a large part of her discussion on the changing sociocultural landscape, intercommunal relations, and concomitant legal articulation. Through the texts, Safran suggests that the ninth and tenth centuries ought to be viewed as years of “anxiety and creativity for Muslim religious authorities” who sought to address legal problems arising out of the changing landscape of intercommunal relations and ultimately provided a legal structure and guidelines in the context of rapid sociocultural change (24).

    In Chapter Three, Safran explores the role of Muslim religious authorities, specifically jurists, in negotiating intercommunal Muslim-dhimmī relations. Through her analysis of extant legal literature, we learn that many jurists accommodated close personal relations between different groups, but they simultaneously maintained boundaries between communities. This chapter reveals that Maliki law in ninth- and tenth-century al-Andalus was in a process of development and involved in the often messy business and politics of boundary-making in the sociocultural realm. More broadly, Safran maps out the increasingly predictable and adaptable legal system in which Muslims and dhimmīs alike could participate. Yet the law became more routine and formalized over time with the increased systematization of legal interpretation, expansion of Umayyad administration, and greater proceduralization of legal questions concerning Muslims and dhimmīs.

    The first three chapters focus heavily on intercommunal relations and boundary-making in Umayyad al-Andalus, while Chapter Four considers the same themes in the context of borders and other such physically fluid areas. Specifically, Safran examines the military-political and jurisdictional border between the Domain of Islam (Dar al-Islam) and Domain of War (Dar al-Harb) and how this border informed jurisdictional understandings of Muslim-dhimmīs relations. More broadly, this chapter adds to our knowledge of the relationship between the transforming sociocultural sphere and the development of law. Safran shows how jurists such as Ibn Rushd considered legal questions regarding border crossings commonplace and acknowledged the protected status of dhimmīs in life in the borderlands (208).

    The Conclusion, which features an engaging discussion of dhimmīs, ties together the four main chapters of the work. Safran describes the contours of boundaries and mechanisms of boundary-making in the chapters, but she also demonstrates, perhaps most significantly, that they were defined on the basis of living, shifting realities on the level of politics, religion, society and culture. Additionally, she affirms in the Conclusion that boundary-making was bidirectional, “an act of engagement with the other” (17). Safran’s work masterfully demonstrates that even in boundary-making, a “recognition and accommodation of new social categories and relationships and multiple roles for individuals” can be detected (17).

    With its lucid and comprehensible write style, Safran’s engaging study, which brings together key themes from her earlier work on Umayyad al-Andalus, will appeal to a wide range of readers, including scholars and students of Islamic history and in related fields of history and historiography, along with general readers. For those interested in the history of Iberia more broadly, this study will prove insightful, as it beautifully complements scholarly analyses of Muslims and Jews under Christian rule in Iberia, including works by Mark D. Meyerson, David Coleman, Brian A. Catlos, Teofilo F. Ruiz, and Jonathan Ray. 

    Last modified: 20 Mar 2014 8:09 AM | Simon Doubleday (Administrator)

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