Ajam Media Collective Podcast
Ajam Podcast #25: Rebels, Imams, and the Problems of History in Early Islam
In this episode, Rustin and Ali are joined by Professor Najam Haider, Professor of Religion at Barnard College, to talk about his recent book, The Rebel and the Imām in Early Islam: Explorations in Muslim Historiography.
The lack of contemporary sources for the first century of the Islamic period poses many challenges for historians past and present. Engaging with many of the impasses that still animate the study of early Islam, Professor Haider proposes that one way forward is to explore the rules that governed historical writing among early Muslims as well as their intended audiences. Instead of remaining preoccupied with 19th century European standards of historical writing, such as the search for veracity, he argues that the historians of the early Islamic period worked in continuity with the traditions of Late Antiquity. They were not interested in what “really happened,” but rather, they played with known narratives to make competing claims for contemporary audiences. After a personal anecdote about his own interest in the subject, Haider walks us through the example of the seventh Twelver-Shi’i Imam, Musa al Kadhim, explaining how sources over the centuries have told and retold his biography in keeping with their own theological and political concerns.
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