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This chapter is centered on the biography of Musa al-Ka?im (d. 183/799). Sunni historical chronicles utilized al-Ka?im to highlight the deterioration of the relationship between the ‘Abbasids and the ‘Alids. Many chroniclers integrated these familial tensions into a broad narrative detailing the rise and fall of ‘Abbasid power. Sunni biographical works, by contrast, included al-Ka?im in a wider community of pious scholars, focusing on his generosity and piety. Zaydi authors focused almost exclusively on court and caliphal politics, citing al-Ka?im’s refusal to support the rebellion at Fakhkh to compare him unfavorably with Ya?ya b. ‘Abd Allah. Twelver authors appropriated malleable narrative elements to craft interpretive frameworks that reflected the community’s political and social conditions. Overall, the chapter highlights the fact that all Muslim historians operated within the presuppositions of rhetoricized historiography with no real methodological difference between those of Sunni and Shi‘i backgrounds.
The chapter summarizes the findings in the book, focusing on the need for new approaches to the study of Muslim historical writing. It begins by documenting the utility of the model proposed in chapter one for the case studies in chapters two through four. It then turns to more foundational questions about the nature of early Muslim historiography focusing on three areas: presuppositions that governed the craft of historical writing, the intended audiences of historical works, and the methods employed by historians. This chapter also explicitly rejects the arbitrary division between Sunni and Shi‘i historical works.
This chapter examines the historiographical depiction of Mukhtar b. Abi ‘Ubayd in the period between 61/681 and 67/687. It identifies four primary interpretive frameworks that pervade historical depictions of Mukhtar. The first framework highlights tensions between Arab tribal elites and non-Arabs (both clients and slaves) with Mukhtar representing the demands of non-Arab populations systematically denied status and financial benefits. The second centers on the religious dimensions of Mukhtar’s rebellion often equating his supporters with the Shi‘a. Some historians openly dispute the sincerity of Mukhtar’s religious claims, particularly his calls for avenging the family of the Prophet. The third interpretive framework places Mukhtar’s revolt within a broader regional struggle between the Umayyads in Syria and the Zubayrids in the ?ijaz. The fourth and final interpretive framework integrates Mukhtar into larger propagandist narratives that center on other historical figures or movements. The chapters finds no discernible differences between historical sources based on their genre (chronography vs. prosopography vs. biography).
This chapter discusses the last eleven years of the life of Ya?ya b. ‘Abd Allah (d. 187/803). The Sunni sources express an interest in Ya?ya only insofar as he helps explain other developments in the ‘Abbasid world. In other words, Sunni historians are vested in an interpretive framework shaped by the larger tapestry of ‘Abbasid caliphal history in which Ya?ya plays a marginal role. The Zaydi sources exist within a different conceptual world where the ‘Abbasid caliphs play the role of tyrants in a broad ‘Alid led struggle for the establishment of a just state. In Ya?ya b. ‘Abd Allah, they rehabilitate a figure generally accepted as a Zaydi Imam but saddled with a history of accommodating ‘Abbasid power through interpretive frameworks that place him in the mold of an ideal Imam. The chapter demonstrates that Sunni and Shi‘i works adhere to the same rhetoricized model of historical writing despite the modern tendency to deem the latter as either hopelessly polemical (in the case of Twelver sources) or to ignore them altogether (in the case of Zaydi sources).
This chapter surveys recent scholarship in Muslim historiography and offers a new model for examining early Muslim historical works that draws on Late Antiquity. It also engages questions of audience and genre pertaining to Islamic historical writing.
Engaging with contemporary debates about the sources that shape our understanding of the early Muslim world, Najam Haider proposes a new model for Muslim historical writing that draws on Late Antique historiography to challenge the imposition of modern notions of history on a pre-modern society. Haider discusses three key case studies - the revolt of Mukhtar b. Abi 'Ubayd (d. 67/687), the life of the Twelver Shi'i Imam Musa al-Kazim (d. 183/799) and the rebellion and subsequent death of the Zaydi Shi'i Imam Yahya b. 'Abd Allah (d. 187/803) - in calling for a new line of inquiry which focuses on larger historiographical questions. What were the rules that governed historical writing in the early Muslim world? What were the intended audiences for these works? In the process, he rejects artificial divisions between Sunni and Shi'i historical writing.
The disappearance of the twelfth Imām in 874 plunged the Twelvers (then Imāmīs) into a prolonged state of crisis. It took generations for the community to arrive at a consensus regarding the number of Imāms and the eschatological implications of occultation. This chapter examines the subsequent development of Twelver Shī‘ism, which culminated in the adoption of a modified Mu‘tazilī theological edifice, the development of a rationalist legal system, and the growth of the authority of scholars. Specifically, it documents three seminal transformations in Twelver Shī‘ism: (i) the rise of Mu‘tazilī theology and systematic legal reasoning in the aftermath of the Imām's occultation, (ii) the far-reaching impact of Safavid patronage of Twelver Shī‘ism in Iran beginning in the sixteenth century, and (iii) the victory of rationalist (uṣūlī) over traditionist (akhbārī) legal discourse late in the eighteenth century. Although the chapter is organized chronologically, there are places where thematic concerns require a return to the preoccultation period.
The Implications of Occultation
Before 874, the forebears of the Twelver Shī‘a had a visible and (mostly) accessible Imām who provided guidance on uncertain or ambiguous issues. As detailed in Chapters 1 and 2, the Twelvers viewed the Imāmate as a necessary consequence of the end of prophethood. The Imām's interpretations were considered authoritative, and they guaranteed that the Muslim community remained on the proper path. This section examines the devolution of authority in the postoccultation period from an Imām to a class of religious scholars who relied primarily on rational discourse.
This chapter focuses on the mobilization of Nizārī Ismā‘īlī communities by the Aga Khans from the nineteenth through the twenty-first centuries. The first section traces the Aga Khans’ efforts to reinscribe and consolidate their authority over the Khojas and other historically Ismā‘īlī communities. These efforts, which benefited from British colonial policies, had to overcome a Khoja communal identity that was grounded in caste as opposed to religious considerations. The second section documents the Aga Khans’ embrace of transnationalism through the creation of a network of nongovernmental organizations. These served both to extend the scope of their authority to disparate and isolated Ismā‘īlī populations and to establish them as powerful nonstate players with broad international influence. In the contemporary period, the Aga Khans play dual and perhaps contradictory roles as (i) political heads of a nonterritorial community advocating European values and (ii) authoritative Imāms of a religious community whose members are largely non-European.
The Rise of the Aga Khans
When the Aga Khan arrived in India in the 1840s, he encountered a Khoja community firmly entrenched in local religious and political structures. In terms of religion, the Khojas adhered to the Satpanth (True Path) tradition that “employed terms and ideas from a variety of Indic religious and philosophical currents, such as the Bhakti, Sant, Sufi, Vaishnavite, and yogic traditions to articulate its core concepts.” They straddled the lines among a variety of identities without conforming to the Muslim–Hindu dichotomy that would come to dominate India under British colonial rule.