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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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Arabs as a People and Arabness as an Idea: 750–900 CE

Arabs as a People and Arabness as an Idea: 750–900 CE

(p.240) 5 Arabs as a People and Arabness as an Idea: 750–900 CE
Imagining the Arabs

Peter Webb

Edinburgh University Press

The early Abbasid Caliphate marked a climax of Arab ethnogenesis. Urbanization, the centralisation of power, and the mixing of populations in cosmopolitan Iraq cultivated fertile ground for Muslim elites to rally around the banner of Arab identity as a means to maintain their status. This chapter engages models of ethnogenesis to investigate the consolidation of Arab identity under the first Abbasids and provides fresh insight into the significance of the putative Arab-Persian friction (al-shuʿūbiyya). Akin to the formation of ethnic identities elsewhere in the world, the consolidation of an Abbasid-Iraqi Arab identity prompted writers to imagine new origins for their community, forgetting the Arabs’ early Muslim-era ethnogenesis by transplanting their roots into much more ancient pre-Islamic Arabian pasts. This chapter investigates salient aspects of inventing Arab pre-Islamic origins which established paradigms about Arabness that persist to the present day. The chapter closes with investigation of sweeping societal changes in Iraq after AD 800, when a remarkable retreat from Arabness began: Muslims shifted from identifying themselves as ‘Arabs’, fundamentally altering the definition of Arabness in the process.

Keywords:   Arab history, Abbasid history, al-shuʿūbiyya, al-jāhiliyya, pre-Islam, monotheism

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