Key Pages:

Full Course Description
Course Goals
Web Resources
Course Documents
Reading Responses

Ian Straughn

Islamic Archaeology

Archaeology and Religion

Islamic Landscapes

Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology



Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology & the Ancient World
Brown University
Box 1837 / 60 George Street
Providence, RI 02912
Telephone: (401) 863-3188
Fax: (401) 863-9423
[email protected]

Essay #2 Assignment
Due Thursday May 10 by 5pm – NO EXEPTIONS
Hard copies to be left at my office at 70 Waterman


2000 words (6-8 pages); title; double spaced; page numbers; rigorously edited; consistent citation format.

It is required that you submit a full rough draft of this paper in class Wed. May 2 – these will be returned to you the following class when we have our final quiz.

Essay Topic:

The great 14th century scholar Ibn Khaldun makes the following comments in his monumental work the Muqaddima as part of his depiction of the emergence of the Muslim polity and its capacities:

Before Islam, the Arabs had been strangers to the realms of which they then took possession. When they came to rule them, there was not time enough for all the institutions of sedentary culture to develop fully. The buildings of others which they found were sufficient for them. (p. 271)


Sedentary culture is the goal of civilization. It means the end of its life span and brings about its corruption. We have explained before that royal authority (mulk) and the foundation of dynasties are the goal of group feeling (assabiya), that sedentary culture is the goal of Bedouin (Arab) life, and that any civilization, be it a Bedouin (Arab) civilization or sedentary culture, whether it concerns ruler or commoner, has a physical life, just as any individual has a physical life. (p.285)

Do you agree with what Ibn Khaldun has articulated in these passages? More specifically, does his depiction capture the ways in which the emergence of a Muslim political and religious civilization has transformed the role of Arabia and the Arabs in the political, cultural and economic history of the Near East? Should we understand the move to a Muslim polity and society as a radical break from the world of pre-Islamic Arabia or can we demonstrate that there are important continuations? In essence are we talking about the same “physical life,” just in some new stage?

As you look to develop a thesis concerning this questions I want you to consider the ways in which Arabia and the Arabs have provided for the material, intellectual and spiritual transformations of the social world that they come to dominate in the wake of the Muslim conquests and the emergence of dynasties and empires that are rooted in the events that took place in the Hijaz and elsewhere in Arabia during the formative period of Islam. For instance can we look to Medina as a model city or society for the rest of the Muslim world? How does Mecca and the hajj continue to transform the lives of those who make pilgrimage and the many more that never have that opportunity?

Again a crucial aspect of this is to consider the heterogeneity of Arabia and the Arabs. Just because the region becomes marginal in one period does not mean that this is its essential characteristic. Similarly, there is a diversity of roles that Arab groups and the landscape of Arabia play in the development of the Muslim world and the formation of the umma, that unbounded Muslim community. Does this constitute an underlying continuity with its pre-Islamic past, the way it relates to empire and the outside world, the role of tribal social orders, and the formation of civilization?

Remember to use specific examples to support your claims for or against continuity and the kind of role that Arabia and the Arabs play in the development of Muslim civilization. You might reference archaeological sites, specific historical events, institutions such as the hajj, or examples of processes such as sedentarization, dynastic rule, conquest and colonialism.

Document IconEssay2_2007_ArabaiArabs.doc