History 2606E Lecture Notes - Lecture 5: Kufa, Aristocracy, Dhimmi

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Published on 9 Feb 2014
Western University
History 2606E
Lecture 5 – Islamic Society and the Islamic City: Social Structures and Institutions
Space and Demographics
oGross area of the Arab Empire was some 9-10 million square kilometers,
twice as large as the Roman Empire
oInhabited area was only 2/3 of the Roman Empire, given the desert areas
included in the Islamic Empire
oMediterranean suffered a sharp decline in population before arrival of the
Result of the Justinian plague
Population estimated at 15-19 million, compared to 25 million
during the Roman period
During next 3 centuries it is believed that population recovered to
reach 20 million
oPopulation of the Arab Empire was certainly not below 20 million and not
above 60 million, likely about 35-40 million
Islamization and Arabization
o2 transformation: Conversion to Islam and the introduction of Arabic
oIslamization introduced common institutions, Islamic legal system,
communal prayer and mosques
oArabic language became sacred because the Qur’an was written in it, but it
was also the language of legal documents, poetry and literature and used
in everyday life
oWas Islamic society a melting pot?
Many different cultural groups living in the Middle East
Equality and Citizenship
oIn Arabia, the tribal system meant that there as equality among members
of the tribes, but not among the tribes
oOrigin and descent were crucial in establishing social hierarchy
Slaves or black ancestry were considered lower social status
One of the messages of Islam was equality for all Muslims
oIn reality, as conversion accelerated, not all were admitted into the new
society as equals
Arabs retained a higher social status
oAppearance of al the mawali, converts, mostly from Sassanid lands, were
required to attach themselves to an Arab tribe in order to gain higher social
oThe notion of foreigner, ajami, being foreign, remains a social indication
of lower origin throughout Islamic history
Grounded in the mentality of Islam
Islamic Law and Equality
oIndividuals: Islamic law recognizes only one category of citizens:
All citizens are equal
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However, slaves and women and dhimmis (Christians and Jews)
have different legal status
oUnlike in Western Europe the social status of urban dwellers, peasants in
villages, nomads, or people without fixed location are all equal
oNo institutional differences in terms of equality
The “Blood Aristocracy”
oAristocracy: descendants of the Prophet
oBlood aristocracy is Islamic terms were those claiming to the descendants
from the family of the Prophet, the sherifs
Secular and Religious Interaction
oUmmah is the community, all the members who belong to one group
Its base is religious
Caliph is its head, both political and religious
oThe court and the city are secular institutions with uneasy relationship
with the religious institutions
oReligious institutions were unable to influence the behaviour of the
political institutions
oAt the same time, the ruler, as a Muslim, was frequently under pressure to
exhibit personal conduct of a devout Muslim
Social Elements of Diversity: Race, Religion and Language
oRacial composition
oReligious communities
oOnce settled in the conquered areas the new Islamic societies incorporated
previous ethnic groups:
Semites in Syria and Mesopotamia
Turks and Slavs and Africans
Berbers from north Africa and Indians from India
oSpoke different languages, their knowledge of Arabic was minimal
oAlthough they were converted to Islam, their knowledge of the religion
varied greatly
Slaves and Slavery in Islam
oFirst slaves were POWs
oSlaves were imported regularly from central Asia, Russia and Africa due
to lack of manpower
Result of Justinian plague
oUnlike the Roman slaves or American slaves, in Islamic territories they
did not work in agriculture and ere not present in rural areas
One generation slaves: children did not became children
Islamic law encourages people to emancipate their slaves
oThey were employed in domestic service, or were artisans in the cities
oA strong component of Turks and Africans became slave soldiers
oMuslims could not be enslaved and a converted slave had to be set free
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