A study of identity in Umayyad al-Andalus, the book’s main argument centres around the unstable nature of social categories, thus contributing to the well-established approach of analysing fluid and constructed identities. While the author summarizes some of the social scientific approaches to culture, she does not consider the rich literature on ethnicity, identity and religion, and thus does not engage with debates on the validity of these analytic categories. Coope acknowledges that the sources mainly concern the elites, but she is interested in what they reveal about interpretative frameworks in society. The task is further complicated by the nature of the source material; normative sources (such as law) constitute a significant part of the material from the period. Despite the title, political history receives a significant place, especially in the last two chapters that deal with revolts. While it greatly contributes to the strengths of this book that the diversity of opinion rather than some monolithic ‘Muslim identity’ is presented, most of the dissenting views come from a single author, Ibn Ḥazm. This leaves an open question: was he an exceptional, eccentric voice or representative of some part of the population? After providing (ch. 1) background information on the Umayyads, on how they took power in al-Andalus, and on the differences between the post-conquest scenario in al-Andalus and the Middle East, the tension between Arab and Muslim identity is explored. The ethnic component was never fully diluted in a universal Muslim identity, and thus the contradictory beliefs in Arab superiority and the equality of all believers were unresolved. While Arab identity was a source of social and religious prestige and loyalty (ch. 2), it also contributed to the discontent of non-Arabs. Arab identity itself was somewhat self-contradictory, because it could be based on descent through the paternal line, or on knowledge of Arabic and other cultural factors; it was possible to become an Arab without being born one. There were also debates over the superiority of classical Arabic. Many stories, however, highlighted the widespread view that linked together the knowledge of Arabic and the knowledge of Islam. The next issue (ch. 3) is the status of Christians and Jews in al-Andalus, and the differences between the theory of dhimmī status and practice. Coope argues that the theoretical regulation on dhimmīs was probably the most ignored part of the Shariʿa: both Jews and Christians served in the army and had posts in the running of the administration, and dress-codes were upheld only occasionally. Yet their status remained precarious, because the rules could always be invoked to cause the downfall of powerful Christians or Jews. Islamic religious thought itself did not contain only a single, unified view of the place of Jews and Muslims: law and religious polemic advocated different solutions. The two groups also had a different relationship to the Muslim rulers. Christians were the majority initially, potentially posing a threat, before a period of fast conversion to Islam took place. A detailed case of the personal aspects of ‘religious’ conflict demonstrates that accusations of close association with the Umayyad court were traded in Christian circles out of spite as well as out of conviction. Christian civil servants were part of the courtly elite; conversion could facilitate social rise, but could also lead to accusations of insincerity and cause the protagonist’s downfall. The sources on Jews also differ from those on Christians; in the former case, evidence concerns prominent individuals, whereas there is more information on Christian communities. A bilingual, Arabic and Hebrew literary culture developed, unmatched by any similar development in Christian circles. Muslim women’s legal status is next examined (chs. 4–5). Law did not give women full legal rights, yet did allow them to control their property and to refuse a marriage. Islamic marriage contracts had elements of the contract of sale, with the woman’s father and the prospective husband being the parties in the exchange, yet at the same time the bride’s financial security and mutual obligations between husbands and wives were also part of the contract. The wife, however, was clearly the inferior partner, most clearly seen in the differential access to divorce as well as the greater freedom of men to have extra-marital sex. Sources on practice include marriage contracts and court decisions. The former show the variety of stipulations that could be included to protect the woman, for example forbidding the husband to take a second wife or concubines. Legal rulings show that women’s rights to property were frequently challenged, but were upheld in practice. Despite the entrenched idea of the hierarchical relationship between men and women, similarly to Christianity, mysticism allowed women to transcend these limitations to some extent through their piety, gaining renown as famous Sufis. Coope states that prominent non-Arab Muslims cooperated with the Umayyads but also challenged the idea of Arab superiority and rebelled against them (chs. 6–7). The reasons for these revolts, however, are difficult to interpret. Two of these local revolts, by Ibn Ḥafṣūn and the Banū Qasī, show how local elites carved out their own spheres of power, but also demonstrate the greater fluidity of religious affiliation in the far north of al-Andalus, with intermarriage of Muslims and Christians and individual changes of religious adhesion. Overall, Coope emphasizes cultural instability, and the possibility for individuals to change their religious and ethnic identity. Clearly written, with concise and useful explanations on a great variety of Umayyad-era legal and social practices, the book is a good introduction to many aspects of the history of early al-Andalus. It demonstrates variation and disagreements, although, inevitably, given the nature of the sources, the accounts of the normative aspects and of the elites are much richer than those dealing with practice and with people lower down the social scale. Some recent work could have been considered, such as several volumes of the Brepols series Religion and Law in Medieval Christian and Muslim Societies, and Simon Barton’s Conquerors, Brides and Concubines: Interfaith Relations and Social Power in Medieval Iberia (Philadelphia, 2015). © The Author(s) (2018). Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Journal of Islamic Studies – Oxford University Press
Published: Apr 23, 2018
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