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Title: Creating Arab origins : Muslim constructions of al-Jāhiliyya and Arab history
Author: Webb, Peter A.
ISNI:       0000 0004 5359 1326
Awarding Body: SOAS, University of London
Current Institution: SOAS, University of London
Date of Award: 2014
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The pre-Islamic Arab is a ubiquitous character in classical Arabic literature, but to date, there has been only scant scholarly analysis of his portrayal. In contrast to the dynamic discussions of contemporary Arab identity, the pre-Islamic and early Islamic-era Arabs are commonly treated as a straightforward and culturally homogeneous ethnos. But this simplified 'original Arab' archetype that conjures images of Arabian Bedouin has substantial shortcomings. There is almost no trace of 'Arabs' in the pre-Islamic historical record, and the Arab ethnos seemingly emerges out of nowhere to take centre-stage in Muslim-era Arabic literature. This thesis examines Arabness and Muslim narratives of pre-Islamic history with the dual aims of (a) better understanding Arab origins; and (b) probing the reasons why classicalera Muslims conceptualised Arab ethnic identity in the ways portrayed in their writings. It demonstrates the likelihood that the pre-Islamic Arabian Peninsula was in fact 'Arab-less', and that Islam catalysed the formation of Arab identity as it is familiar today. These Muslim notions of Arabness were then projected backwards in reconstructions of pre-Islamic history (al-Jahiliyya) to retrospectively unify the pre- Islamic Arabians as all 'Arabs'. This thesis traces the complex history of Arabness from its stirrings in post-Muslim Conquest Iraq to the fourth/tenth century when urban Muslim scholars crafted the Arab-Bedouin archetype to accompany their reconstructions of al-Jahiliyya. Over the first four Muslim centuries, Arabness and al- Jahiliyya were developed in tandem, and this study offers an explanation for how we can interpret early classical-era narratives that invoke the pre-Islamic Arab.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available