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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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Arabness from the Qur’an to an Ethnos

Arabness from the Qur’an to an Ethnos

Chapter:
(p.110) 3 Arabness from the Qur’an to an Ethnos
Source:
Imagining the Arabs
Author(s):

Peter Webb

Publisher:
Edinburgh University Press
DOI:10.3366/edinburgh/9781474408264.003.0004

Pursuing the references to ‘Arabs’ in the Islamic-era poetry examined in Chapter 2, this chapter explores the processes by which Arab identity developed as a new form of community in early Islam. Analysis begins with the Qur’an, the first extant text to use the word ʿarabī to describe itself. It is revealed that the Qur’an’s Arabness is not a marker of ethnic identity, but it does mark key shifts which were amplified by new social processes following the Muslim Conquests. Employing models of ethnogenesis to interpret early Islam, this chapter demonstrates how the spread of Muslim communities and the centralisation of the Caliphate fostered an environment conducive to rethinking identities. The new social processes prompted early Muslims to experiment with various terms to define their community, and ‘Arab’ gradually gained traction during the later Umayyad period. The rise of Arabness as an ethnic identity thus closely intertwines with the maturation of Muslim community, but conflicting social pressures and imperfect communal cohesion meant that Umayyad-era Arab identity developed very unevenly in this formative period.

Keywords:   Arab identity, Arab origins, Qur’an, Islamic history, Identity in early Islam, ethnogenesis

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