[P4964] Echoes of battle: Legitimation, memory, and the distant past in Islamic narratives

Created by D Gershon Lewental
Tuesday, 11/21/17 10:30am


The incredible speed of the Islamic expansion in the generation following the death of Muhammad challenged the descendants of the conquered peoples and later Muslims alike to explain the success of Islam and the defeat of the powerful empires and kingdoms that preceded it. With the assimilation of elements from prior Near Eastern traditions and cultures, there arose also a need to delineate a distinct Muslim identity that marked the borders between members of the community and ‘Others’. Over the centuries, Muslims (a population that itself expanded with the conversion of the Near Eastern and Central Asian peoples) elaborated complex conquest narratives that associated conceptions of moral and political legitimacy with military victories and defeats.

The presenters on this panel raise important questions in their effort to interrogate these themes of themes of conquest, legitimation, and narrative. What rôle do pre-Islamic figures play within Islamic literature and moral narratives? How did ancient legendary traditions find new meaning in an Islamicate context? How did Islamic collective memory preserve or reshape the events of the distant past? How did Muslims reinterpret universal themes as specific and unique to the success of Islam? How did Islamic historiography perceive and respond to early Muslim political and military setbacks? Can we uncover evidence for historical ‘kernels of truth’ in Islamic historical accounts? How did the cultural memory of early Islamic society develop and can we uncover traces of its formation?

Although definitive answers to these problems are elusive, we illuminate aspects of the formation and evolution of Islamic society through a critical scrutiny of its historical texts, bringing attention to key terms, ideas, topoi, and characters, the function of language, and the use of the past in defining the present and future. Thus, this panel’s papers explore how pre-Islamic legends came to bolster later political claims to legitimacy; how pre-Islamic battles were reframed within the context of Islamic kerygmatic memory; and how the events of the conquest of pre-Islamic empires transformed into quasi-mythical literary narratives.

In this manner, the presenters on this panel show how Islamic texts reflect not only the development of Islamic paradigms of conquest and religio-political legitimacy, but shed light on the processes of identity formation, the evolution of communal memory, and the changing cultural modes of Muslim societies.






D Gershon Lewental

(University of Oklahoma/Shalem College)
D Gershon Lewental is a cultural historian of the Middle East, focusing on how societies use religion, memory, and conflict to define and maintain their identities. He has been a visiting assistant professor in the Departments of History and International...
Panel Participating Role(s): Organizer; Presenter;

Scott Savran

(King Abdullah Academy)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;