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Unhappy Offspring? Concubines and Their Sons in Early Abbasid Society

  • Matthew Gordon (a1)

Extract

Contemporary and later Arabic texts provide much evidence that wayward conduct by elite young adult males was a source of considerable stress in early Abbasid cities. This brief essay turns on a question: to what extent is such conduct to be attributed to concubinage? I treat two sample texts, each describing untoward activity on the part of well-placed adult sons and its impact on the Abbasid body politic. Neither text, however, speaks to concubinage. What follows, then, is an argument from circumstantial evidence. Concubinage seems a most likely source, and so can reasonably be connected to the broader patterns of social disjunction of the first Abbasid period (roughly the mid-8th to mid-10th centuries).

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NOTES

Author's note: I thank Alexis Wick and Dahlia Gubara for their helpful comments on the first draft of this paper.

1 See Bray, Julia, “Men, Women and Slaves in Abbasid Society,” in Gender in the Early Medieval World, ed. Brubaker, Leslie and Smith, Julia M. H (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 121–46.

2 El Cheikh, Nadia Maria, Women, Islam and Abbasid Identity (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2015): 67 ; Ahmed, Leila, Women and Gender in Islam (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1992): 8385.

3 Sirat Ahmad ibn Tulun, ed. Muhammad Kurd ʿAli (Damascus: al-Maktaba al-ʿArabiyya, 1939), 260–64.

4 N.e. (Cairo: al-Matbaʿa al-Amiriyya, 1331–38/1913–19), 7:5–10.

5 I was fortunate enough to have attended two courses taught by Professor al-Qadi at Columbia University (1985–86), in one of which we studied the letter. My comment is drawn from class notes.

6 Muhammad Abu al-Fadl Ibrahim, ed., Ta'rikh al-Tabari (Cairo: Dar al-Maʿarif, 1960–68), 8:275–77. See also Bosworth, C. E, trans., The History of al-Tabari, vol. 30, The Abbasid Caliphate in Equilibrium (Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1989), 179–83.

7 See Hazm, Ibn, Risala fi Ummahat al-Khulafaʾ, ed. Abbas, Ihsan (Beirut: al-Muʾassasa al-ʿArabiyya, 1981), 120–21.

8 For a close reading of these accounts, see El-Hibri, Tayeb, Reinterpreting Islamic Historiography: Harun al-Rashid and the Narrative of the Abbasid Caliphate (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999): 5994 .

9 For two accounts, see ibid., 95–142; and Cooperson, Michael, al-Maʾmun (Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2005), esp. 39–79.

10 See Bosworth, Equilibrium, 182.

11 Bray, “Men, Women and Slaves,” 142.

12 Ibid., 136.

13 Ibid., 142.

14 Crone, Patricia, Slaves on Horses: The Evolution of the Islamic Polity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), 7481 .

15 Ibn Hazm, Ummahat, 120.

16 Bray, “Men, Women and Slaves,” 141.

17 See Ali, Kecia, Marriage and Slavery in Early Islam (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2010); Brockopp, Jonathan, Early Maliki Law: Ibn ʿAbd al-Hakam and His Major Compendium of Jurisprudence (Leiden: Brill, 2000); and Mattson, Ingrid, A Believing Slave Is Better Than an Unbeliever (PhD thesis, University of Chicago, 1999).

18 See El Cheikh, Nadia Maria, “Gender and Politics in the Harem of al-Muqtadir,” in Gender in the Early Medieval World: East and West, 300–900, ed. Brubaker, Leslie and Smith, Julia M. H. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 147–61; and Kennedy, Hugh, The Court of the Caliphs: The Rise and Fall of Islam's Greatest Dynasty (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2004): 160–99.

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