The Abbasid invention of Islam

By Razib Khan 5 Comments

Since many readers of this weblog have rather naive views of Islam and its interaction with the Indian subcontinent, I thought they might appreciate my post on my other weblog, The Myth Of Arabian Paganism, And The Jewish-Christian Origins Of The Umayyads.

It wasn’t emphasized in the piece, but I will make it clear here: the development of Sunni Islam as we understand it was strongly conditioned on the cultural influences from the matrix of Iranian-Indian religious and social thought which matured in Turan. In fact, one of the early Abbasids, the son of an Iranian mother, even considered moving the capital of the Caliphate to Central Asia, in particular, the city of Merv.

The aspects of Islamic thought most clearly a product of this period and place? I believe that this is the hadith culture embedded within the institutions of the madrassa. Many argue the madrassa is a modification of the Central Asia vihara, and the analysis of proper practice due to religious law was a major function of the religious within these viharas.

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5 Replies to “The Abbasid invention of Islam”

  1. Who were Arabian pagans before Muhamad and Islam took over? There was a Serbian pantheon of goods. Every day was dedicated to one of many pagan deities (about 360 gods). They were demolished by Muhamad….

    … Minean Arabia, the capital was Karana (now Qarn al-Manazil) – Serbian tribes from Crete came during the Mino dynasty.
    Sabeyska (Sabeian) Arabia, south from Minean, (the capital was Saba) – Serbian tribes (names: Seba, Saba, Sabta, Sabteka mentioned in Old Testament: Job 1:13-15, Isaiah 45:14, and Joel 3:4-8 and the Quran Sura 34) came from Lycia in Asia Minor.

    Both, Minean and Sabeian Arabia composed ‘Fortunate Arabia.’
    At its height Saba was one of the greatest kingdoms in antiquity and ruled over a land that, to many, was considered blessed by the gods.

    (The following text by Joshua J. Mark)
    “Saba (also given as Sheba) was a kingdom in southern Arabia (region of modern-day Yemen) which flourished between the 8th century BCE and 275 CE when it was conquered by the neighbouring Himyarites. Although these are the most commonly accepted dates, various scholars have argued for a longer or shorter chronology with the earliest date of c. 1200 BCE; most agree on the terminus of c. 275 CE, however.

    In its prime, however, Saba was known as a wealthy kingdom which grew rich through trade along the Incense Routes (also known as the Spice Routes) between southern Arabia and the port of Gaza on the Mediterranean Sea. Most of the biblical and quranic references – including the tale of the famous queen – reference Saba’s wealth and success in trade.

    The Sabeans supplanted the Mineans in orchestrating trade and quickly became the wealthiest kingdom in southern Arabia. Goods were sent from Saba to Babylon and Uruk in Mesopotamia, to Memphis in Egypt, and to Byblos, Sidon, and Tyre in the Levant and, from the port at Gaza, even further. By the time of the reign of the Assyrian king Sargon II (722-705 BCE), their trade routes required his permission to operate in his realm and extend through Assyrian lands. The Egyptians had been trading with the land of Punt (modern-day Puntland State of Somalia) since their 5th Dynasty (c. 2498-2345 BCE), as well as their southern neighbour Nubia but had since initiated trade with southern Arabia. Gold from Nubia travelled north to the capital of Egypt at Memphis and then overland east and south down to Saba.

    Sabean kings (known as mukarribs) rose to power and commissioned great building projects from their capital at Ma’rib (modern-day Sana’a, Yemen). The most famous of these projects is the Ma’rib Dam, the oldest known dam in the world, blocking the ravine of Dhana (the Wadi Adanah). The mountainous ravine would flood during the rainy season and the dam was built to control and divert the water to the low-lying farms in the valley.

    Irrigation of the farmlands was so successful that Saba was consistently remarked upon as a “green country” by ancient historians such as Pliny the Elder (c. 23-79 CE) who called the region Arabia Eudaemon (“Fortunate Arabia”), a term later used by the Romans as “Arabia Felix”. The dam, considered one of the greatest engineering feats of the ancient world, was built under the reign of the Sabean mukarrib Yatha’ Amar Watta I (c. 760-740 BCE).

    Prior to the 8th century BCE, trade in the area seems to have been controlled by the Mineans of the kingdom of Ma’in but c. 950 BCE the Sabeans dominated the region and taxed the goods heading north from their southern neighbours of Hadramawt, Qataban, and the port of Qani. Sabean trade suffered during the Ptolemaic* Dynasty of Egypt (323-30 BCE) when the Ptolemies encouraged sea routes over land travel, and Saba’s prestige declined until they were conquered by the neighbouring Himyarites.

    ****(MT – NOTE: (P)Tolomey Lagic was a Serbian and Alexander the Great’s Duke who took over the Egypt after Alexander was assassinated. He established Ptolemaic Dynasty in Egypt.

    In c. 575 CE the Ma’rib dam failed and Saba was flooded. The Quran attributes the flood to an act of God (Surah 34:15-17) as punishment for the Sabeans refusing to accept his gifts. If so, said punishment was severe and resulted in the abandonment of towns and cities as the people were forced to leave the area or starve. A more rational explanation for the dam’s failure is simply its age and lack of maintenance, although secular legends claim it was due to rats weakening the dam’s supports by chewing on them.”

  2. It was mentioned recently in Open Thread but this is also relevant to the spreading of Islam…

    The first precisely recorded history of the pandemic was the “Justinian plague”, which spread throughout the territory of the Roman Empire from 531 to 589 (!!!) and, with its destructive consequences. It devastated entire areas. It is said that the plague, which appeared in the fifteenth year of Justinian’s reign, was especially strong in the year of his death (565). Later authors estimate that half a century’s pandemic has killed 50-100 million people.

    (MT – NOTE: Justinian was a Roman Emperor, originated from a poor Serbian village. He, however, managed to build Aya Sophia before the plague. In the first millennium, the estimate is that Serbs lost between 30 – 60 million of people, many during the wars, in genocides during Christianisation but also during two plagues which affected the Europe)

    The plague almost did not even touch the Arabian Peninsula, which contributed to the emergence and strengthening of Islam, which – if it were not for the plague – would be difficult to expand from the peninsula and grow into a world religion.

  3. Interesting post!

    Quote /..most non-Muslims see in Islam an appropriation and refashioning of the monotheism of the Christians and Jews. Therefore, most non-Muslims accept that Muhammad converted pagan Arabs to a new religion, but it was a religion he and his followers invented from preexisting ideas borrowed and adapted from Christianity and Judaism./

    That is indeed my view as would be of many Indians if I were to guess. Although Christians themselves being refashioning of Jewish faith for gentiles, the originality of most ideas could be attributed to Jews. And this base entity is already influenced to a great extent by the monotheistic ideas of Zoroastrianism (from the Jewish time in exile in Babylon?)

    The post suggests a new idea of the elite who started Islam to be themselves Arab christians. Does that mean the Arab christian did to Christianity what jews (like Saul/Paul) did to Jewish religion. Started as heretics and ended up with new religion? Does that also explain why they were so much occupied with Pagans?
    Just like paul is apostle of gentile, did they want to concentrate on pagans initially more than jewish / christians which they were already idealizing?

    In any case Islam get one more dose of eastern religion (Zoroastrianism /Buddhism) to result in present form, according to the post. That shifts the center on map from northern arabia to say iran. If similarly jewish religion could be plotted, it would be in middle of fertile cresent between Jerusalem and Babylon while Christianity can be plotted between Antioch and Rome, maybe somewhere in Greece.

    It is still amazing to see Arab centrality in Islam in manner which is not seen in Christianity for say Greeks?
    Also is Wahhabism is trying to back the center to Arabia by going back to ‘basics’ ?!

  4. @ iamMT > Good thinking youVY. Just to complement with a couple less known details. ‘Apostle’ is a Serbian word meaning ‘barefooted’ (because Jesus sent his followers barefooted to preach the gospel among the people). Paul spent some time hiding from Nero in caves in today’s Serbia, close to the town Trebinje (and Dubrovnik). He baptised people in the river Trebisnica and his cave has the name – Paul’s (i.e. Pavlova) cave. The first Christian diocese was established in Sirmium (40 km from Belgrade) in 29 AC. St. Peter first visited Sirmium (i.e. Serbium) and after that went to Rome. Eventually, he finished hanged in the Nero’s garden. Later on, Paul also finished as Nero’s victim. The first Episcope in Sirmium – Andronic, was also killed. Andrew, The First Chosen, (he was 33, one year older than Jesus was the oldest apostle) went to today’s Russia via Dubrovnik and Sirmium. Serbs were the first people to receive Christianity.

  5. As your use of the term “Turan” in multiple postings as a cultural geography term indicate (and I have a very crude sense of what that looks like on a map and a vague sense of when that designation becomes relevant, although with little depth or texture), you see the Turan as a (perhaps underrecognized) coherent units of cultural geography for a significant period of time.

    But, either you’ve never actually done a post on the Turan in particular as a central subject, or I’ve missed it (or forgotten it) from among your voluminous writings.

    I’d love to read a post from you focused on the Turan that would provide enlightenment beyond what you can read in Wikipedia about this part of historical cultural geography.

    What cultural ideas and influences are quintessentially “Turanic”? What made this region distinct? Why did the concept recede from wider use?

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