This book studies the Arabic-Islamic view of Byzantium, tracing the Byzantine image as it evolved through centuries of warfare, contact, and exchanges. Including previously inaccessible material on the Arabic textual tradition on Byzantium, this investigation shows the significance of Byzantium to the Arab Muslim establishment and their appreciation of various facets of Byzantine culture and civilization.
The Arabic-Islamic representation of the Byzantine Empire stretching from the reference to Byzantium in the Qur’an until the fall of Constantinople in 1453 is considered in terms of a few salient themes. The image of Byzantium reveals itself to be complex, non-monolithic, and self-referential. Formulating an alternative appreciation to the politics of confrontation and hostility that so often underlies scholarly discourse on Muslim–Byzantine relations, this book presents the schemes developed by medieval authors to reinterpret aspects of their own history, their own self-definition, and their own view of the world.
The achievement of this book is to have made a wide-ranging, theoretically informed, and useful introduction to an important subject. It has succeeded in signaling the most important periods and themes of its subject, cutting a new trail for future Arabist scholarship and giving specialists from other fields a view of the treasures that can be found in this one.
In this very readable book, El Cheikh has given us an interesting and well-researched study into the perceptions entertained by the Muslims about their neighbours, the Byzantines… I have no hesitation at all in warmly recommending it to students and scholars seeking to learn more about this fascinating topic.
[El Cheikh] offers a clear and thorough survey of the various sources in a chronological framework. Her work is a valuable contribution to an area that has too often focused on polemics and has failed to see how identity is formed by defining oneself against the other… In addition, her work will be useful to those who want to examine the historical relationship between Islam and Christian cultures, especially outside of the usual areas of inquiry, the Crusades or colonialism. In addition to a survey of Arab-Muslim images of Byzantium, El Cheikh offers an historical evaluation of two faith traditions that have yet to live in peaceful coexistence in many parts of the world. Peaceful coexistence cannot be built when one faith has a consistent desire to conquer and dominate the other. El Cheikh’s work can also be seen as an invitation to dialogue, not just among historians and Byzantinists, but among Christians and Muslims who want to evaluate their own common histories honestly and openly.
- 288 pages
- Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University
From this author
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