This endlessly informative history brings the classical Islamic world to life
In this accessibly written history, Amira K. Bennison contradicts the common assumption that Islam somehow interrupted the smooth flow of Western civilization from its Graeco-Roman origins to its more recent European and American manifestations. Instead, she places Islamic civilization in the longer trajectory of Mediterranean civilizations and sees the ‘Abbasid Empire (750–1258 CE) as the inheritor and interpreter of Graeco-Roman traditions.
At its zenith the ‘Abbasid caliphate stretched over the entire Middle East and part of North Africa, and influenced Islamic regimes as far west as Spain. Bennison’s examination of the politics, society, and culture of the ‘Abbasid period presents a picture of a society that nurtured many of the “civilized” values that Western civilization claims to represent, albeit in different premodern forms: from urban planning and international trade networks to religious pluralism and academic research. Bennison’s argument counters the common Western view of Muslim culture as alien and offers a new perspective on the relationship between Western and Islamic cultures.
". . . concise and comprehensive."—Choice
"Amira Bennison's engaging history of the 'Abbasid caliphate moves beyond more conventional or drier accounts of political intrigue among ruling elites and sectarian squabbles. The author adopts a broader and deeper approach, focusing above all on ‘the people:’ that mosaic of urban and rural folk who individually and collectively make up a civilization. Women, children, beggars, tricksters, merchants and pilgrims—as well as the great cities that brought them all together—are given fascinating coverage. Nor does the author neglect the community of scholars cultivated by the 'Abbasids who - in the fields of literature, philosophy, theology, mathematics and astronomy—left their indelible mark upon Islamic civilization. The Great Caliphs is an important work which offers a new and stimulating perspective on an exciting era."—David Waines, Lancaster University
"Aimed at the educated general reader, this volume offers a sweeping portrayal of major Islamic cultures and societies down to the 13th century AD and occasionally beyond. Drawing on both primary sources and secondary studies, the author provides a lively survey of politics, urban and rural life, societal and religious realities, trade and commerce, and elite culture and learning, with attention to issues of race/ethnicity, gender, and class. Her book is a thoughtful introduction to society, culture, and characteristic institutions as these took shape in the central and western reaches of the Islamic world, from Iran to Spain and Morocco, in the ‘Abbasid era."—William A. Graham, Harvard University