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Gibbon on Islam

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jats:titleAbstract</jats:title> jats:pA strand in current scholarship examines early Islam and the Caliphate against a late antique backdrop of Sasanid–Roman tension, dogmatic strife in the Church, and the maturation of rabbinic Judaism. Gibbon long ago insisted that there had been more than one road out of Antiquity, leading not just to the formation of Latin Christendom— the Papacy, German Empire and Italian Renaissance—but also to Greek Christendom and the rise of Islam. Yet this aspect of Decline and Fall remains unappreciated, especially in John Pocock’s monumental Barbarism and Religion . The present article traces the origins of Gibbon’s eastward turn in his reading of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Arabists, historians and travellers, and in his decision to follow East Roman history down to 1453. Not only Voltaire but also the Universal History (London, 1736–66) encouraged Gibbon to look beyond Europe and its Christian narrative, while attitudes to Islam had softened in the decades around 1700 as a consequence of greater familiarity with its literature and the weakening of theological prejudice. Gibbon achieved a powerful, empathetic portrait of Muḥammad as a political leader as well as a prophet. His account of the Muslim empires from their Medinan origins to the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople offers revealing comparisons with ancient Iran and Rome. Although his Classical Greek and Roman criterion of cultural and historical value forced him to conclude that Islam too was, in the end, tyranny and imposture, nevertheless the weight that Gibbon accorded to the Muslim world anticipates the more inclusive methods of global historians in our day.</jats:p>



4301 Archaeology, 4303 Historical Studies, 43 History, Heritage and Archaeology

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Oxford University Press (OUP)