Studying Rebellion @ UHH
SCORE studies social contexts of rebellion in the early Islamic period, from the reign of ʿAbd al-Malik (c.692-705 CE) until the defeat of the last major ‘Alid revolts in c.815-816 CE. This ‘long 8th century CE’ (692-816 CE) saw a high frequency of rebellions across the entire Islamic Empire. The research group focuses on four categories of revolt: ashrāfī rebellions, led by tribal notables (ashrāf); revolts that made claims to power in the name of the family of ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib (d. 661 CE); Khārijite rebellions; and non-Muslim/mixed rebellions, using Armenian revolts as a case study. The scope of the projectis limited to the central lands of the early Islamic Empire; regions like Transoxania or North Africa are outside its purview.
Scholarship on rebellion in this period is surprisingly scarce, and much of what there is emphasizes its religious aspects. There is no synthetic study of the historical phenomenon of rebellion in this period, for example, and even major instances of revolt and contention remain understudied. Following a number of works published in the late 19th and early 20th century, several of which still constitute the most detailed studies of particular revolts to date despite the fact that many new sources have since become available, scholarly interest in rebellion declined and has been slow to make a comeback. Accompanying this is a general lack of terminological and definitional reflections: neither the various Arabic terms for rebellion (e.g., fitna, khurūj, ʿiṣyān) nor their equivalents in European languages are systematically discussed in scholarship on rebellions in the early Islamic period. Many studies also prefer to analyse rebels and revolts in the framework of heterodoxy, martyrdom, and millenarism; the social contexts of rebellion remain poorly understood. This applies especially to cases in which the very label given to a rebellion in the sources already implies a religious motivation, particularly in the case of Khārijism and early (pro-)ʿAlid/Shīʿī rebels. In contrast, the underlying premise of the project is that religion constitutes only one among many markers of identity and (thus) only one among many factors that influence social action, here participation in rebellion. The research group therefore investigates the selected rebellions specifically with regard to their socio-political and economic dimensions.
The project operates on two levels: individual case studies conducted by team members are intended to shine a new light on the social composition and (thus) motivation of particular revolts, with ramifications for the broader contexts in which these were situated. The critical comparison of these studies over the course of the project will enhance our grasp of the macro level of rebellion in the early Islamic period. In sum, while religious dimensions of revolt can and will not be disregarded, the planned project will lead to a more complex and profound understanding of why and how people in the early Islamic period chose to engage in rebellion.