Tayeb El-Hibri is an Assistant Professor of Near Eastern Studies at the University of Massachusetts in the USA. His Cambridge Studies in Islamic Civilization "Reinterpreting Islamic Historiography: Harun al-Rashid and the Narrative of the Abbasid Caliphate" charts the history of the early Abbasid caliphate in the eighth and ninth centuries. The period has often been studied as a factual synthesis of various accounts preserved in the medieval chronicles. El-Hibri's book breaks with the traditional approach, applying a literary-critical reading to examine the lives of the caliphs.By focusing on the reigns of Harun al-Rashid and his successors, al-Amin and al-Mamun, the study demonstrates how the various historical accounts were not intended as portraits of the past, but as allusive devices to shed light on controversial religious, political and social issues of the period, as well as on more abstract themes such as behaviour, morality and human destiny.The tragedy of the Barmakids, the civil war between the brothers and the mihna of al-Mamun are examined as key historical moments which were debated obliquely and in dialogue with the earlier Islamic past. The analysis shows how decoding Islamic historiography can uncover new layers of meaning and even identify the early narrators. This is an important book which represents a landmark in the field of early Islamic historiography.
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