Tarikh Tabari

Book Review: The Reports of Abū Mikhnaf in al-Tabarī’s History: The Era of the Rightly Guided Caliphs

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Book Review: The Reports of Abū Mikhnaf in al-Tabarī’s History: The Era of the Rightly Guided Caliphs, a Critical Appraisal

Reviewed by Muntasir Zaman

[Marwiyyāt Abī Mikhnaf fī Tārīkh al-Tabarī: ‘Asr al-Khilāfah: al-Dirāsah Naqdiyyah, by Yahyā ibn Ibrāhīm al-Yahyā, Riyadh: Dār al-‘Asimah, 2011, 528 pp., $9.50 (hardback), ISBN 978-603-8057-11-7]

Introduction

The rapid expansion of Islam’s borders from a fledgling state to a massive empire is arguably one of the greatest military feats. By 30 AH/650 CE, the entire Arabian Peninsula and the area spanning from Egypt on the west to the Iranian plateau on the east were all under Muslim rule.[1] The annals of Islamic history are replete with extraordinary accomplishments by Muslims throughout this vast landscape. In the same breath, however, one comes across pages blemished with internecine conflict and political strife. Reports of this nature prima facie are clearly troubling, but this can be assuaged to a considerable extent by probing their authenticity.[2] Sieving the reliable from the unreliable is of greater importance in regards to the formative period of Islam,[3] particularly the Prophet’s life and the decades that immediately proceeded his demise, as it serves as a window to Islam in its most pristine form.[4]

One method of carrying this out is to critically examine influential historians who played a key role in shaping the dominant narrative of early Islamic history, specifically those who were the center of heated contention, such as Muhammad ibn Ishāq (d. 151 AH),[5] Sayf ibn ‘Umar al-Tamīmī (d. ca. 180 AH),[6] and Muhammad ibn ‘Umar al-Wāqidī (d. 207 AH).[7] To this end, Shaykh Yahyā Ibrāhīm al-Yahyā in his landmark study Marwiyyāt Abī Mikhnaf fī Tārīkh al-Tabarī sets out to examine a historian of ill repute, the Kūfan Abū Mikhnaf (d. 157 AH). The present study—based on the author’s M.A dissertation submitted to the Islamic University of Madīnah under the supervision of the renowned historian, Dr. Diyā’ al-Umarī—analyzes the historical accounts of Abū Mikhnaf in al-Tabarī’s History, with specific reference to the era of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs (r. 11-40 AH). This short review aims to summarize the author’s research, explore certain points of importance, and make brief comments in the relevant footnotes. The driving impetus for this review is to draw the attention of students and scholars to this phenomenal study; hence, a digital copy of the book is provided here. Read the rest of this entry »

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