The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Madina's status in the late Marwani period

I read two books this afternoon - as fast as I could, since I was racing the library's clock. The book I had set out to read was Amikam Elad, The Rebellion of Muḥammad al-Nafs al-Zakiyya in 145/762 (Brill, 2016), about this self-proclaimed Shi'ite Mahdi in the Madina of the Prophet. Elad made an aside at his book's third chapter in pp. 103-5, claiming that the sparkle was off the Illuminated City as of the 760s AD and that this helped fan the rebellion. That aside further noted, ohai, another book discusses Madina too, namely Harry Munt, The Holy City of Medina (Cambridge University Press, 2014).

Apparently Elad had got wind of Munt's two-year-old book only at the print stage of his own book. These things happen. Both books are also gougingly overpriced. Cambridge might take Holy City down a notch for paperback, I hope later this year, because - spoiler - I do want to buy that one in its present state. But not Elad's - yet. I'll come back to that at the end.

So: back to Elad's book Rebellion, and its brief for Madinese decline ch. 3 pp. 103-5. Rebellion refers back to this, in p. 336 (as ch. 2, wrongly). So Elad sees that decline as important. But, prior to the early Abbasid misrule, he doesn't actually make an argument. Elad mainly cites A. Arazi (which he admits in the p. 103 footnote), "Matériaux pour l'étude du conflit de préséance entre la Mekke et Médine", JSAI 5 (1984), 177—235; 198-204. There's where the case was made.

Or so I am told since I didn't get access to Arazi directly. But maybe that's just as well. Back in 2014 Munt had pointed out, in the footnote at p. 149, that Arazi's study had since become controverted.

Munt then, pp. 149f., argued for Madinese economic continuity; to much better effect than Elad will argue for decline - at least, up to what I care about, which is up to Marwan II. Munt brings up that Medina stayed loyal against Abu Hamza's 130/747 rebellion over pp. 157-8 and that she shook off his occupation in p. 90. Even Elad has to present dozens of hadiths in which Marwan II dismisses any worry for what the Hasanis might be plotting.

So, this particular argument in Elad's book seems to be wrong and Munt right. Under the last Umayyads, Madina perhaps rested simply but did not rest hungry. The dynasty did not fear Madinese "resentment".

I cannot speak to the merits of the 'Abbasid era of the Elad / Munt dispute, since - as I've noted a few times - I am not a student of that era. Still, I will suggest one factor, to salvage Elad's lemma: political stagnation. To an ambitious family, and the Hasanids and Zubayrids were very ambitious, retirement might be worse than decline. Elad notes himself that, during 'Abd al-Malik's generation, the Zubayrids all lost their estates and that some of them abased themselves to the Caliph to get back their rice bowls. 'Abbasi rule suggested, to many, that adventure works; that destiny can be seized. Perhaps the Madinese just got greedy.

I suggest further to Dr Elad that he write a review article or a full-on followup to address Dr Munt's argument. I certainly hope he addresses it for the cheaper paperback edition, if the Ali Babas at Brill let him do one. Or maybe Elad could do an end-run and write a wholly new rendition for the masses!

I must, at any rate, applaud the good professor for pointing me to Munt. Elad's book might be (slightly) wrong (or completely right) but either way, the man's personal scholarly ethics are of the highest calibre.

posted by Zimri on 17:11 | link | 0 comments

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