Christian Sahner Profile picture
Associate Professor of Islamic History @UniofOxford. Working on Syria & Iran. Author of "Christian Martyrs under Islam" @PrincetonUPress 🇺🇸 in 🇬🇧
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3 Jul 20
1/ This week I'm posting about early converts to Islam and what happened to their descendants once inside Muslim society

ʿAbdallāh ibn ʿAwn (d. 768) was a famous early Sunnī scholar from Basra whose grandfather had been a Christian deacon enslaved during the conquest of Iraq
2/ The grandfather was called Arṭabān, and judging from the name, he seems to have been a Persian. He was a deacon (shammās) and was captured and enslaved in southern Iraq (Maysān) by one of the Prophet’s Companions, ʿAbdallāh ibn Durra al-Muzanī
3/ This Arṭabān was eventually manumitted, became financially independent, and married another prisoner of war, a woman from Khurasan. Although he began life as a deacon, he seems to have been at home in his new religion, transmitting ḥadīth from ʿUmar, the second caliph
Read 11 tweets
29 Jun 20
1/ What happened to the descendants of the Sasanian cavalry (known as the Asāwira) who went over to the Arabs during the conquest of Iraq?

A thread on how Sasanian soldiers transformed into Muslim theologians over the course of several generations
2/ The Asāwira are a famous example of pre-Islamic elites who switched sides during the conquest and were richly rewarded for their loyalty.

They settled mainly in the city of Basra in southern Iraq, where they lived under the patronage of the powerful Arab tribe of Tamīm
3/ The sources report that they had their own quarter in Basra, including their own mosque. They also received the very highest military pension (the ʿaṭāʾ): 2,000 dirhams per year
Read 13 tweets
22 Jun 20
1/ A thread on the most famous slave revolt in Islamic history: the Zanj of #Iraq (869-83), who brought the Abbasid caliphate to its knees, followed a messianic preacher and even held slaves of their own

@HenryLouisGates has compared them to Spartacus & Toussaint Louverture
2/ The Arabic term "Zanj" refers to the inhabitants of East Africa, especially along the coast. Many were taken captive in the early Islamic period and brought as slaves to southern Iraq
3/ Slavery was ubiquitous in the early Islamic empire (as it was in many pre-industrial societies around the world). This included black slaves from Sub-Saharan Africa, Berbers from North Africa, Slavs from Eastern Europe, and Turks from Central Asia
Read 13 tweets
6 Feb 20
1/ Is it possible to convert to Islam without fully intending to?

Today's martyr is ʿAbd al-Masīḥ al-Ghassānī, an abbot of the famous Monastery of Mt. Sinai in #Egypt, who was executed for converting to #Islam and then returning to #Christianity in the middle of the 8th c. ImageImageImage
2/ The life of ʿAbd al-Masīḥ was written in #Arabic and is one of the earliest Christian texts composed in the language
3/ He was born Qays ibn Rabīʿ ibn Yazīd. He hailed from the famous Christian city of Najrān in southwestern Arabia, or was descended from Najrānī Christians who had settled in Syria or Iraq. This made him a purebred Arab

(Here, the famous Martyrs of Najrān, d. 523) Image
Read 13 tweets
20 Jan 20
1/ #Iran dominates #Iraq today, but it wasn't always this way. Thoughts on the relationship between two neighbors in Late Antiquity and the Early Islamic period:

The Sasanians were the last great Persian empire (224-661). They originated in Iran, but ruled from Iraq
2/ Control of Iran and Iraq gave the Sasanians (and other Persian dynasties going back to the Achaemenids) distinct advantages. With the Tigris and Euphrates, Iraq was an agricultural powerhouse. This also made it a tax collector's paradise
3/ By contrast, the Iranian plateau was a great reservoir of manpower, with which an empire could fill an army.

Put simply, Iraq supplied the financial muscle of the state, while Iran supplied the military muscle
Read 12 tweets
13 Jan 20
1/ Medieval Muslims were fascinated by Christian monasteries, which they celebrated as places of refreshment, beauty, and entertainment

These little-known images come from the Book of Wonders (Kitāb al-Bulhān) of ʿAbd al-Ḥasan al-Iṣfahānī, now at the Bodleian Library, Oxford
2/ The manuscript comes from mid-13th c. Baghdad. The image on the right portrays the "Monastery of the Maidens" (Dayr al-Banāt) and the one on the left portrays the "Monastery of the Raven" (Dayr al-Ghurāb)
3/ The Monastery of the Raven was apparently located in al-Andalus and was renowned for its talking raven (portrayed on the dome) which would identify visitors as they arrived
Read 8 tweets
23 Dec 19
1/ What does the #Quran have to say about #Christmas, and what does this ruined church located between #Jerusalem and #Bethlehem have to do with it?
2/ The Quran contains its own version of the Nativity story (Q. 19:22-27), in which Mary is said to withdraw to a remote place and to be overcome by the pains of labor. She then finds shelter under a date palm tree
3/ In agony, Mary cries out for help, and a voice tells her that God has placed a brook beneath her for her relief. The voice then instructs her to eat the dates of the tree and drink the water of the brook. She does so, and shortly after, gives birth to Jesus
Read 14 tweets
16 Dec 19
1/ If you're a Christian in medieval #Egypt, and the church won't grant you a divorce, what do you do? Head to the Muslim court!

This fascinating papyrus from the Fayyūm is dated to 909 AD. It records the divorce proceedings of a Christian named Sawīrah (Severus)
2/ It states that Sawīrah divorced his wife, Qasīdaq (the daughter of a monk named George) "three times [and] irrevocably." The divorce was witnessed by a series of Muslim men, who are named in the papyrus (His father-in-law, the monk, could not have been happy!)
3/ The triple divorce refers to the Islamic practice of ṭalāq, whereby a man may repudiate his wife by uttering the phrase "ṭalāq" three times, thereby dissolving the marriage
Read 9 tweets
29 Nov 19
1/ This week @UniofOxford we explored the origins of Shīʿism. One of the most interesting but little known forms is Zaydism, which began with the revolt of Zayd ibn ʿAlī in 740. Read on for more about this unique Zaydī coin and what it says about the doctrine of the Zaydī imamate
2/ Zaydīs believed that the imam had to be a descendant of ʿAlī through his sons al-Ḥasan or al-Ḥusayn. Among Shīʿīs, they were unique for also believing that the imam proved himself by his ability to lead a revolt (khurūj) against an unjust power
3/ This coin belongs to al-Ḥasan ibn Zayd, the founder of the Zaydī state of the mountains of Northern #Iran in 864. Zaydism also took root in #Yemen in 897. It eventually disappeared in Iran but survives to this day in Yemen (e.g., the #Houthis are Zaydī Shīʿīs)
Read 7 tweets
18 Nov 19
1/ This morning's Islamic History lecture @UniofOxford was on the Islamic West. We talked a lot about the #Berber "false prophets," incl. Salih ibn Tarif (ca. 8th c.), a mysterious figure from #Morocco who founded his own religion and possessed a Berber scripture (a "#Quran")
2/ Salih seems to have understood prophecy in vaguely Islamic terms, even though he was not a Muslim (or at least a conventional one). He claimed that #Quran 66:4 referred to him when it speaks of "the righteous of the faithful" (salih al-mu'minin)
3/ Salih seems to have inverted or altered several Islamic practices: his followers fasted in the month of Rajab but ate in #Ramadan; they prayed five times a day and five at night; and they were given to crying out, "Maggar yakush" in Berber ("God is great," الله أكبر)
Read 8 tweets
13 Nov 19
1/ Here’s a unique coin I love to show my students @UniofOxford. A fascinating window into the early history of #Islam in #Iran. Minted in Sistan, ca. 691-2. One side portrays the #Sasanian king of kings; the other has the Islamic profession of faith (the shahada) but in Pahlavi!
2/ Pahlavi (otherwise known as #Zoroastrian Middle #Persian) was the language of the #Sassanian kings and the #Zoroastrian clergy. It remained a prestige language in #Iran even after the Islamic conquest
3/ What makes the coin so unique is that it translates the shahada into an essentially #Zoroastrian idiom: “yazd-ēw bē ōy any yazd nēst mahmat paygāmbar ī yazd” (There is one God, without any other, #Muhammad is the #Prophet of God)
Read 15 tweets
11 Nov 19
1/ Fun fact from today’s Islamic History lecture @UniofOxford: the Khazars, a nomadic people from the S. Russian steppe, converted to #Judaism in ca. 9th. Here, a Khazar coin based on an Islamic model swaps “#Muhammad is the Messenger of God” for “#Moses is the Messenger of God”!
2/ Specifically, the Khazar king and his court are said to have converted. This model of top-down religious change happened all over the late antique and medieval worlds, but is most commonly associated with #Christianity and #Islam (not #Judaism!)
3/ The other great example of state conversion to #Judaism is the kingdom of Himyar in S. Arabia. The conversion was so thorough that after 380, pagan inscriptions disappear, replaced by inscriptions with Hebrew/Aramaic words (shalom, amen, kanisat) & names (Isaac, Judah, Joseph)
Read 7 tweets