The Making of the Islamic World

"The Making of the Islamic World" is a special series of podcasts intended for use with university students. It offers an overview of the history of Muslim societies from the 7th to 17th centuries. Each episode is based on conversations with three or more scholars whose research and teaching relate to different facets of the history of the Islamic world. Each episode also comes with bonus material such as suggestions of primary and secondary reading as well as further listening. 

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Islamic legal traditions rest on the revelations of the Qur'an and precedents attributed to the Prophet Muhammad and the early Muslim community. But they also rest on over a millennium of interpretation and debate.  

In our first episode of this series on "The Making of the Islamic World," we're exploring the history of Islamic legal traditions and the ways in which scholarship on the past relates to how people imagine what Islamic law is and what it can be. In addition to discussing what Islamic jurisprudence is and how it developed, we examine the extent to which Islamic law provided a framework for addressing matters that had little to do with religion as we might conventionally understand it. We also feature the voices of scholars engaged in new research that makes us rethink common misconceptions about the early history of Islam that have implications for how Muslims understand Islamic law today.

To view bonus material, visit the page for this episode

The first decades of Islam were characterized by a rapid territorial expansion accompanied by conflicts over leadership following the death of the Prophet Muhammad. Despite opposition from the supporters of Ali ibn Abi Talib, Muawiya Ibn Abi Sufyan would become Caliph and establish a dynasty for his clan: the Banu Umayyah. 

The next centuries of Islamic history would be defined by the imperial Caliphates of the Umayyads and Abbasids, who controlled empires stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to India. This episode of The Making of the Islamic World focuses on the creation of these Islamic empires, their institutional legacy, and the intellectual life of the Abbasid Caliphate during its height. We conclude with the Abbasid luminary al-Jahiz and what his writings tell us about the changing social fabric of the Abbasid world during the 9th century.

To view bonus material, visit the page for this episode

The political expansion of the Umayyad and Abbasid periods brought a wide range of territories into the Islamic fold. By the end of the 9th century, the Abbasid Empire could no longer exert central authority over its vast caliphate. Semi-autonomous governors throughout the Islamic world would gradually form their own dynasties. In the eastern portion of the Islamic world, this resulted in the rise of a number of Persian and Turkic dynasties that rather than displacing the Arabo-Islamic culture of early Islam, fused it with a Persianate tradition of statecraft, literature, and scholarship. 

In this episode, we're exploring the Turco-Persian dynasties of the 9th-13th centuries. We'll discuss the works of scholars like Ibn Sina, Abu Rayhan al-Biruni, Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, and Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi and their far-reaching impacts in the Islamic world and beyond. In addition to examining the evolution of Islamic polities, we'll shed light on the rise of Sufism and how it tied the new regions of the Islamic world together. We'll call that world "Rumi's world" after the 13th century mystic, scholar, and poet who was born in Khorasan but rose to fame in the newly conquered lands of the Seljuk Empire in Anatolia.

To view bonus material, visit the page for this episode

For brief period of history, the Fatimid Caliphate based in Egypt presided over arguably the most powerful empire in the Mediterranean. Yet because the legacy of this Ismaili dynasty was erased or downplayed by its Sunni rivals and successors, the Fatimids are often misunderstood. As we show in this installment of "The Making of the Islamic World," the Fatimid period and the sources that survive from it can in fact be critical to learning more about how pre-modern Islamic polities functioned, demonstrating that the Fatimids had a much more sophisticated state apparatus than some have assumed.

The statecraft of a pre-modern Islamic empire is just one of the topics we can study in the Fatimid world thanks to a rich trove of documents from the Cairo Genizah. The Genizah was a storeroom of a synagogue in Fustat that ended up containing a wealth of documents, many of them simply discarded or reused, that reveal the complexity and interconnection of the medieval Mediterranean. In this episode, we explore how scholars make use of the Genizah documents and the interconnected world stretching from Southeast Asia to Mediterranean Europe reveals in the Genizah papers. In the process, we learn about the emergence of the Fatimid Caliphate as a dynasty and state structure and the developments that took place under Fatimid rule in Cairo.

To view bonus material, visit the page for this episode

During the early 8th century, less than a century after the creation of the first Muslim communities, Islamic armies crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and quickly conquered most of modern-day Spain and Portugal. Muslim life in what became known as "al-Andalus" would last about eight centuries, reshaping the politics, culture, and landscapes of the Iberian Peninsula in numerous ways. 

In this episode, we're exploring the first centuries of Muslim life in al-Andalus and the legacies not just for Iberia but also for the rest of Europe and the Islamic world. We'll examine the distinctive Andalusi identity that emerged out of centuries of Muslims, Jews, and Christians living under Islamic polities. And we'll also consider the literary impact of Arabic on European culture and consider the historical significant of ecological exchange between the broader Islamic world and Iberia before the momentous date of 1492.

To view bonus material, visit the page for this episode

The Crusades loom large in the Western imagination of medieval history and Christendom's relationship with the Islamic world. But what did these wars of the 11th-13th centuries mean for Muslims at the time?

In this episode, we explore the history of the Crusades and their impact on the Islamic world. While the wars of the Crusades were bloody, they were not necessarily the main event of Islamic history beyond the regions bordering the Crusader states. In the Eastern Mediterranean, these states emerged as sites of both conflict and contact between European Christians and Muslims. In our episode, we go beyond the battlefield to discuss the gendered portrayals of the Crusaders within Islamic sources, and we consider the intellectual implications of access to the Islamicate scholarly tradition offered in the Crusader states. We also discuss the history and memory of Salah ad-Din al-Ayyubi or Saladin, whose chivalry and military prowess inspired awe both among Europeans of his day and among Arab nationalists many centuries later during their struggle with Western imperialism.

To view bonus material, visit the page for this episode

The Mongol conquests of the 13th century were an unprecedented event. Not since the Islamic conquests of the 7th and 8th centuries had such a rapid political rise occurred. For a time, Mongol successor states controlled most of Asia. And though many of these dynasties would not last, the lasting consequences of the Mongol Empire would be many.

In this episode, we study the consequences of the Mongol period for the Islamic world, focusing both on the immediate destructive impacts that appear in the Islamic sources from the period as well as the lasting transformations introduced by Mongol rule. Whether in terms of political ideology, law, trade, or culture, the Mongol period represented a significant departure for Muslim societies east of Egypt. In addition to highlighting the impacts of the Mongols in former Seljuk domains of Iran and Anatolia, we discuss the rise of the Timurid dynasty in Khorasan and foreshadow its legacy for South Asia.

To view bonus material, visit the page for this episode

Military slavery was critical to the function of most imperial states in the medieval Islamic world. But in a moment of crisis during the 13th century, the cadre of enslaved military personnel or mamluks employed by the Ayyubid dynasty in Egypt overthrew that dynasty, establishing their own sultanate that governed Egypt, Syria, and the Hijaz for more than two centuries. 

In this episode, we're examining the making of the Mamluk Sultanate and life in its capital of Cairo. We discuss the institutions and structures established in the city of Cairo as displays of power and charity by Mamluk elite, and we consider the role of urban protest and contention between the streets and the citadel as an integral facet of politics in Mamluk cities. We also shed light on the little-studied community of Ghurabā' who lived on the city's margins and engaged in one of the earliest examples of printing in the Islamic world.

To view bonus material, visit the page for this episode

From the 10th century onward, Islamic polities emerged in West Africa. Centered on the southern edge of the desert, these states built empires that benefited from the brisk Saharan trade. With time, they also built centers of Islamic learning as the wider population of West Africa began to embrace Islam. 

In this episode, we study what Islam meant for West Africa and what West Africa means for the history of Islam. We trace the evolution of Islamic polities in the region, which were built on the mineral wealth of salt and gold. Like other states of the period, they were also built on slavery and the slave trade. In our discussion, we focus on how the local tradition of Maliki jurisprudence engaged with the question of slavery, especially as the trade became increasingly racialized and global around the turn of the 17th century.

To view bonus material, visit the page for this episode

Across the 14th to 17th centuries, significant political transformation occurred in the Islamic world. Muslim al-Andalus was conquered and largely erased by the Christian kingdoms of Iberia, and the Byzantine Empire was absorbed and conquered by the Ottoman Empire. By the beginning of the 17th century, much of the Islamic world was controlled by three major empires, the Ottomans, the Safavids, and the Mughals, who combined a long tradition of Turco-Persian culture and Islamic statecraft with the military organization of post-Mongol societies and new possibilities created by the adoption of firearms. The empires they built laid the foundation for the societies of the modern period.  

In this episode, we detail the momentous rises and fall that accompanied the early modern period in the Islamic world. Beginning with itinerant scholar-statesmen like Ibn Khaldun, we explore how the Islamic world was changing during the period following the Black Death of the mid-14th century. We cover the gradual erasure of al-Andalus as well as the rise of the Ottomans and their rivalry with the Safavids of Iran. We also detial the life of Babur and the Mughal Empire his descendants built, and we consider the enduring status of the Indian Ocean as a "Muslim lake." We conclude with a reflection on how the intellectual developments of the early modern period built on medieval legacies.

To view bonus material, visit the page for this episode


Tom Roche said…
Great series! though I'm still waiting for the W Africa episode. That being said, in a More Perfect World,

1. Islam in Central Asia pre-and-post-the-Mongols would get its own episode, esp contact with China, Tibet, south Asia, Persia, (what is becoming) Russia, and the Persian/Turkish cultural split/blend.

2. the last episode#=10 would be split into (1) the Safavid/Mughal SW Asian complex (with all those Afghans, Bukharans, Turkmen etc in between--too bad Nader "The Man Who Broke the Mughals" Shah doesn't fit in your c600-c1700 chronology), and (2) the Ottomans (I mean, WTF, OHP ?-), who would also get a big share of ...

3. ... an episode on Islam-vs-rising-Europe 1453-c1700: Muscovy vs {Tatars, Ottomans}, Ottomans vs everybody, Habsburg-Persian alliance, VOC and EIC, SE Asian sultanates vs {England, Netherlands, Portugal} ... Portugal against everybody. (As a proud son of Terceira I'm biased, but I believe the Adal-Ethiopia-Ottoman-Portugal thing is "The Most Interesting War Most Folks Know Nothing About.") Which would merge naturally into ...

4. ... Islam in E and NE Africa: starring ibn Batuta and Zheng He! guest stars--Oman and Portugal! Perhaps as part of doing Indian Ocean Islam "for real"? placing a Aceh-to-Zanzibar axis parallel to your previously-presented Balkans-to-Bengal?

So that's 14 episodes for a 16-week semester: totally doable !-)

Yeah, I know, "whaddya want for nothing," "write yer own damn podcast" ...

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