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Islamic Origins, Arabian Custom, and the Documents of the Prophet

Early Islamic historical literature attributes several hundred pragmatic documents to the Prophet Muḥammad. The consistent use of epistolary and legal formulae, which are found only in these documents, encourages us to treat these texts as a corpus. In addition to consistent terminology, formulaic structure, and formulae, these texts show remarkable stability through transmission. A comparison of these texts with Umayyad and ʿAbbasid papyri reveals that the Prophet's documents reflect obsolete or otherwise unattested formulae. This study will demonstrate through three case studies the particular functions of these documents in the history of social relations in late antique Arabia.
Publisher: Gorgias Press LLC
Availability: In stock
SKU (ISBN): 978-1-4632-0644-4
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Publication Status: In Print
Publication Date: Jun 30,2022
Interior Color: Black with Color Inserts
Trim Size: 6 x 9
Page Count: 335
Language: English
ISBN: 978-1-4632-0644-4
$149.50
Your price: $119.60

Along with the Qurʾān and ḥadīth, pragmatic documents negotiating land, taxes, and tribal relations are attributed to the Prophet Muḥammad (~570-632 CE) in early Islamic historiography. These are often viewed as relics reflecting the Prophet’s religio-political mission, or as anachronistic texts spuriously ascribed to him. Challenging both conclusions, this book argues that an indigenous Arabian legal and documentary tradition, distinct from classical Islamic law, can be traced in these documents. Laying out the formularies and formulae of around 200 such documents, these are compared to early Arabic papyri as well as older corpora including Aramaic conveyance documents, Sabaic letters, and Nabataean tomb inscriptions. The book also maps the variation found across medieval redactions of some of the documents; the case of one distinctive legal clause; and the tribal traditions of those who received the documents. The documents of the Prophet maintain a register of everyday transactions and customary law which survives compilation and redaction and is embedded in older local and transregional infrastructures which circulate the language, media, and forms for documents. These documents encourage a reconsideration of the concepts of authorship, literacy, and authenticity applied to medieval texts, as well as the presumed centrality of confessional identity in the legal infrastructures described by medieval Islamic genres such as sīra (biography), ḥadīth (traditions), and taʾrīkh (history). Rather than reflecting authorship as the creative acts of individuals, literacy as the decoding of written text, and authenticity as the faithful transmission of original texts over time, the documents of the Prophet are reflective of transregional communication technologies, customs that trace long-lived, geographically diffuse infrastructures of which formulae are the remnants.

Along with the Qurʾān and ḥadīth, pragmatic documents negotiating land, taxes, and tribal relations are attributed to the Prophet Muḥammad (~570-632 CE) in early Islamic historiography. These are often viewed as relics reflecting the Prophet’s religio-political mission, or as anachronistic texts spuriously ascribed to him. Challenging both conclusions, this book argues that an indigenous Arabian legal and documentary tradition, distinct from classical Islamic law, can be traced in these documents. Laying out the formularies and formulae of around 200 such documents, these are compared to early Arabic papyri as well as older corpora including Aramaic conveyance documents, Sabaic letters, and Nabataean tomb inscriptions. The book also maps the variation found across medieval redactions of some of the documents; the case of one distinctive legal clause; and the tribal traditions of those who received the documents. The documents of the Prophet maintain a register of everyday transactions and customary law which survives compilation and redaction and is embedded in older local and transregional infrastructures which circulate the language, media, and forms for documents. These documents encourage a reconsideration of the concepts of authorship, literacy, and authenticity applied to medieval texts, as well as the presumed centrality of confessional identity in the legal infrastructures described by medieval Islamic genres such as sīra (biography), ḥadīth (traditions), and taʾrīkh (history). Rather than reflecting authorship as the creative acts of individuals, literacy as the decoding of written text, and authenticity as the faithful transmission of original texts over time, the documents of the Prophet are reflective of transregional communication technologies, customs that trace long-lived, geographically diffuse infrastructures of which formulae are the remnants.

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ContributorBiography

Sarah Mirza

Sarah Z. Mirza is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the College of Wooster.

Table of Contents (v)
Acknowledgments (ix)
Abbreviations (xi)

Introduction: Four ways of looking at the Prophet’s documents (1)
Documents can be invisible (1)
How do we define (customary) law? (5)
The corpus (12)
Four ways of looking (15)
Conclusion: Formula as technology (22)

Chapter 1. Formulae (27)
The formula exists (27)
Comparing the Prophet’s corpus to Conquest-era documents and Arabic papyri: a profile (30)
Longevity of legal formulae, or, the pre-Islamic chancery register exists (36)
Commonly found formulae (39)
Selected legal formulae: documents of conveyance (69)
Free-formed, pre-formed, and anomalous material (82)
Conclusion: Documents as products of trans-local design (86)

Chapter 2. Variance (95)
Selection of redactions (101)
Typology of variants found (104)
Types of document (107)
Conclusion: The parameters of tradition are the limits to variance (151)

Chapter 3. Infrastructure: Dhimma agreements, sanctuary systems, and a case for Arabian customary law (163)
Formulae as historical evidence (166) 
The longevity of the dhimma formula (167) 
Security agreements (182) 
Inviolability under Arabian customary law (193) 
Sanctuary system as polity (197) 
Conclusion: Orality and the materiality of law (205)

Chapter 4. Persons: A popular material culture of ḥadīth (211)
Legal, narrative, and personal value of documents (213) 
Buckets, scraps, and trash (221) 
Textual shaping of reports and the scholar as authenticator (229) 
Hierarchies of persons and of texts (246) 
What is literacy? (249) 
Conclusion: Ḥadīth as social object (255)

Conclusion. There are no originals (259)

Appendix to Chapter 1: Comparative Arabic epistolary and legal formularies, from literary and documentary sources (269)
Letters from literary and documentary sources, with shared formulae highlighted (269)
Legal Documents, from literary and documentary sources, concerning sale, with shared formulae highlighted (276)

Appendix to Chapter 4: Correspondence between kitāba and istiʿmāl in biographical reports on Companions (279)

Bibliography (283)

Index (303)

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