Islamic Historiography: Themes in Islamic History- Chase Robinson


Thesis- If the use of source and form criticism promotes more incredible history than credible, then the methods that are used to research the beginnings of Islam needs to be looked at differently

If it is uncharitable to say that source and form criticism has been its own worst enemy, it remains fair to say that its tools must now be handled differently. P. 1 paragraph 1

Source and form criticism- his definition of using sources from the ninth and tenth century to write seventh and eighth century history.

He states that he will play the role of both writer of the history and critic of the sources used. The historiographic tradition developed from a divided milieu of local and imperial elites. In this way he hopes to argue that source and form criticism is more valid than has been suggested by some historians.

The main problem with these sources to describe the history is this. Depending on who they come from, their status and religious belief the same history could have been written in an entirely different way. Example Sunni vs Shia accounts.

Most of the history that is not Koran or religious based comes from the imperial sector.

After all they kept the records and most of or historical research comes from these records.

His argument does not seek to state an imbalance between the Imperial elite and the more common view coming from letters, correspondences, journals and stories coming from local historians. One historian he uses is alAzdi. He describes the alAzdi as invaluable in the writing of this particular book. Other locals he gets are sassanids, Nestorians and other Christian books for the develepment of Mosul which predates the conquest by about 40 or 50 years.


Pre Islamic, late 6th century. In this method of source and form criticism Robinson defines clearly the sources related to the beginnings of the town of Mosul. From the account on page 64 the town began with a monestary which was built adjacent to a military garrison. We know this because the sources cited describe the people taking refuge in the complex during Arab raids. This fits according to Robinson, he says “ Now it is true that ruins and abandoned forts often served as sites for erecting monasteries.” P. 66.

“In criticizing conquest accounts one can begin to describe not only the emergence of the historiographic tradition, but something of the social and  political milieu in which it emerged; as we shall wee, this was a competitive and (sometimes) fractious milieu of local and imperial elites.”

The differnce between this and Crone is that Crone is dealing with early Islam and Robinson is basically dealing with pre Islamic late sixth century

Robinson critically looks at the information..example—He notes a range of material evidence that says Parthian and sasanian occupation on the east bank of the river did not exist, contrary to earlier scholarship.



The sharharij- a regional official –To trace the role of the shaharij he takes a lot from al-Baladouri except from al-Tabari that Mosul was ruled by sharharij. Robinson cross researches the word Sharharij to confirm his definition by researching a another scholar from a century ago, Noldeke who defines Shahr as a region or district. Therefore, making the shaharij an official, or a political governor of some kind.

Robinson uses non Islamic text although it is hagiographic none the less. (this renders it “susceptible to standard techniques of the genre” but nevertheless he regards it as authentic at least to a degree. P. 94.

In the text John of Daylam describes a story in which two sharharigen are taken captive, John who recognizes them from his own region ransoms them back and then sends them back after they repay him for the ransom and more. Robinson says this shows several things about the Sharharijan of the Iraqi landscape.

They were wealthy landowning headmen,

Their role in taxation-the evidence shows to be considerable. Robinson describes it as onerous.

All the sources used for the sharharij are at least late eighth century.

Jewish community examiner

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