In re-evaluating instances and categories of rebellion in the ‘long 8th century CE’, the project has the following three main objectives:
1. To ‘liberate’ rebellion from the primacy of religion and re-assess deep-rooted narratives in the scholarly understanding of revolt in the early Islamic period. Of key importance here is the investigation of the socio-political and economic contexts of specific revolts. This will not only shed light onto often understudied instances of rebellion, but also challenge the notion of Islam and confessional identities as (self-)explanatory paradigms as well as offer further insight into discourses of legitimacy. Rebels and their opponents were engaged in ideological conflicts, which again influences the way scholarship has perceived particularly the former. Labelling is a crucial aspect of this discourse as manifested, for instance, in the close connection between rebels and bandits (luṣūs, ṣaʿālīk, surrāq) in the written sources, a mechanism that denies the validity of rebel claims and actions. This connection can also be observed in early Islamic punitive practice: the classical Islamic law that distinguishes between rebellion (baghy) and banditry (ḥirāba) only crystallised after the 10th century CE; 8th-century CE rebels were subject to much the same punishment as bandits. Another important re-assessment concerns the investigation of non-Muslim/mixed rebellions, which have often been ignored by Islamicists working on the early Islamic period. The focus on Islam in Muslim-led rebellions, for example, obscures the fact that and the reasons why some of these were mass phenomena and/or enjoyed local non-Muslim support, while also disregarding that most regions of the ‘Islamic’ Empire remained majority non-Muslim until well after the 8th century CE. As a result, scholarship often does not account for the complexity of communal identities, which could be more fluid than is often assumed and did not necessarily conform to simple dichotomies based on religion or denomination (or, indeed, other markers of identity). The combined analysis of Muslim and non-Muslim revolts provides new insight into socio-political, economic, and cultural structures and patterns shared across communal boundaries.
2. The second objective is the establishment of a more differentiated vocabulary and typology of rebellion based on sets of criteria developed over the course of the project. One example is the distinction of political rebels – those who seek to install a rival claimant to power or hope for personal gains, but do not question the system as such – from (attempted) revolutionaries, who try to overturn a particular system. The lines between the two are fluid, of course, and original motivation (if it can be reconstructed reliably) can differ from eventual result and/or long-term consequences. The ʿAbbāsid takeover, often termed a ‘revolution’, is an interesting example here – to what extent were the fundamental changes that followed the overthrow of the Umayyads actually intended and by whom, considering the diversity of the ʿAbbāsid followership? Depending on the answers given, evaluations of this successful rebellion can differ substantially. The creation of a ‘catalogue’ of rebellion nevertheless represents major progress as more theoretical definitions and discussions are noticeably absent from Islamicist discourse. This will enable us to more accurately describe and thus understand rebellion as a social phenomenon.
3. The final objective flows from the first two and centres on arriving at a more nuanced picture of early ‘Islamic’ society/ies. The general lack of a comprehensive social history of the early Islamic period is partly due to the particular focus of the sources, but we also do not have anything comparable to the Geniza documents, the endowment deeds of Mamlūk times, or the archives of the Ottoman period for the early Islamic era. Consequently, many studies of this subject are dedicated to doctrinal or religious divisions. The socio-economic potential of the source material has not been fully utilised yet, however. The research group thus constitutes an important step towards a better grasp of the social strata and inter/intra-communal relationships that characterised early Muslim society/ies, as well as (changing) mechanisms and processes of power distribution within the early Islamic imperial rationale.