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Oct 13, 2018

Loyalty and Leadership in an Early Islamic Society


Loyalty and Leadership in an Early Islamic Society by Roy Mottahedeh ’57?. This book examines the threads that weave the fabric of society in western Iran and southern Iraq during the years of the Buyid dynasty (934-1062 AD). Starting with anecdotes in primary sources, Roy uncovers the importance of oaths and vows in maintaining stable relationships among individuals. The commitments formed when two people swear an oath is indeed sacred as God is considered to be a third party. Vows are just between the individual and God. Neither oaths nor vows can be broken with impunity. There are also loyalties of category. Clerks, soldiers and various professions are bound by their commonality. Finally, there are the kings who maintain a balance between the various groups. For scholars, Roy presents the strata of the society in all its complexity, differentiating between such concepts as hasab, deeds which can accrue to the next generation, and nasab, genealogy. Society itself can be seen as hierarchical (tanaqah) or more neutrally (sinf). For the lay reader, a hitherto unknown place and time emerges from the shadows.

The rarity of women in this book undoubtedly reflects their place in that society. A woman scholar was cited at the beginning, and Mohammad’s daughter was mentioned glancingly as a way to identify her husband. After that, women vanished. Then on page 152, a ra’is (some kind of local official I think) swore by his marriage and his wife. Apparently, for all her lack of status in society, the wife was sometimes seen as valuable.

Roy has served as Professor of Islamic history at Harvard.



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