"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Monday, October 24, 2011

Damascene Developments

As what we today call Islam begins in the seventh century its campaign of expansion out of the Arabian peninsula and into Syria, Egypt, and beyond, what was life like in those newly conquered territories, beginning with the first of them, Syria? What did Islam do to the Christians in Syria--and others--and the long-established religious culture of the region? A new book comes along to help us understand these questions more deeply: Nancy Khalek, Damascus after the Muslim Conquest: Text and Image in Early Islam (OUP USA, 2011), 224pp.
About this book, the publisher says that
Unlike other histories of the early Islamic period, which focus on the political and military aspects of the conquests, this book is about narrative history and the constitution of identity in the changing and dynamic landscape of the early Islamic world.
    Before it fell to Muslim armies in AD 635-6 Damascus had a long and prestigious history as a center of Christianity. How did the city, which became capital of the Islamic Empire, and its people, negotiate the transition from a late antique, or early Byzantine world to an Islamic culture? In this innovative study, Nancy Khalek demonstrates that the changes that took place in Syria during the formative period of Islamic life were not a matter of the replacement of one civilization by another as a result of military conquest, but rather of shifting relationships and practices in a multi-faceted social and cultural setting. Even as late antique forms of religion and culture persisted, the formation of Islamic identity was effected by the people who constructed, lived in, and narrated the history of their city. Khalek draws on the evidence of architecture, and the testimony of pilgrims, biographers, geographers, and historians to shed light on this process of identity formation. Offering a fresh approach to the early Islamic period, she moves the study of Islamic origins beyond a focus on issues of authenticity and textual criticism, and initiates an interdisciplinary discourse on narrative, story-telling, and the interpretations of material culture.        

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