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Imagining the ArabsArab Identity and the Rise of Islam$
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Peter Webb

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9781474408264

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474408264.001.0001

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Pre-Islamic ‘Arabless-ness’: Arabian Identities

Pre-Islamic ‘Arabless-ness’: Arabian Identities

Chapter:
(p.60) 2 Pre-Islamic ‘Arabless-ness’: Arabian Identities
Source:
Imagining the Arabs
Author(s):

Peter Webb

Publisher:
Edinburgh University Press
DOI:10.3366/edinburgh/9781474408264.003.0003

Developing Chapter 1’s findings on pre-Islamic Arabian society, this chapter proposes a new origin point for Arab communal consciousness. Chapter 2 seeks the first groups of people who called themselves ‘Arabs’ and explores how those people can be identified from historical records. We begin by appraising the evidence about Arabic language: when and where did it evolve and to what extent does Arabic-language use delineate Arab communal identity? We evaluate the surprising paucity of pre-Islamic Arabic records, and next turn to pre-Islamic poetry to examine its citation of the word ‘Arab’ alongside the senses of community the poets articulate. Pre-Islamic poetic reference to ‘Arabs’ is also almost non-existent, whereas alternative forms of communal identity are clearly expressed, in particular, a people known as Maʿadd. Marshalling theories of ethnogenesis to interpret the evidence, this chapter sheds new light on pre-Islamic Arabia’s fragmented communal boundaries. Chapter 2 closes with early Islamic-era poetry where poets first begin to call themselves ‘Arabs’, suggesting that Arab ethnogenesis was a result, not a cause of the rise of Islam.

Keywords:   Pre-Islamic Arabia, Arab origins, Arabic poetry, Arabic language, language and identity, ethnicity

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