"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).

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Islamization of Egypt

As Arab Muslims swept across Egypt in the seventh century, it's not as if the extant Coptic civilization simply disappeared overnight. But gradually Egypt did become more and more an Islamic state, and the Copts were reduced to the minority they remain today--roughly 10% of the population. The details of that centuries-long process are still not entirely known, but one recent book in the prestigious series Oxford Studies in Byzantium sheds welcome light here: Shaping a Muslim State: The World of a Mid-Eighth-Century Egyptian Official (Oxford UP, 2014),424pp.

About this book we are told:
Shaping a Muslim State provides a synthetic study of the political, social, and economic processes which formed early Islamic Egypt. Looking at a corpus of previously unknown Arabic papyrus letters, dating from between AD 730 and 750, which were written to a Muslim administrator and merchant in the Fayyum oasis in Egypt, Sijpesteijn examines the reasons for the success of the early Arab conquests and the transition from the pre-Islamic Byzantine system and its Egyptian executors to an Arab/Muslim state.

By examining the impact of Islam on the daily lives of those living under its rule, the volume highlights the striking newness of Islamic society while also acknowledging the influence of the ancient societies which preceded it. The book applies theoretical discussions about governance, historiography, (social) linguistics, and source criticism to understand the dynamics of early Islamic Egypt, as well as the larger process of state formation in the Islamic world.

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