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A History of Muslim Sicily [Paperback]

Leonard C. Chiarelli

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Book Description

30 Sep 2011
A History of Muslim Sicily is a study of the period of Muslim Arab rule on the island from A.D. 827 to the Norman conquest in A.D. 1070. It is the first detailed study in English covering the various aspects of this 243-year period. It incorporates new Arabic sources and draws upon archaeological studies that hitherto have not been used. The book covers the political, social, economic, demographic, and cultural impacts that during this period forever changed the island's character. All aspects of society underwent change, making Sicily part of the Arabo-Muslim world for more than two hundred years. The book also examines Sicilys relations with Muslim Spain, the Byzantine Empire, southern Italy, and North Africa. A History of Muslim Sicily brings to light a history of the island that rarely has been known outside Italy. It therefore is an important contribution to American and European scholarship, and it fills the gap in the general history of medieval Europe and the Middle East/North Africa. 441p + colour insert (Midsea Books 2011)

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"Author Leonard Chiarelli uses Arab, Christian, Jewish, and recent archaeological sources to unravel the complex interplay of cultures." -- Mark Laiosa Renaissance Magazine Issue 88, Vol. 17 #6

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Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rediscovering Muslim Sicily 5 Nov 2012
By Charles Dalli - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This volume fills a major vacuum in the literature on Muslim Sicily. The titles in English on this long period of medieval history of the largest Mediterranean island - a crossroads of cultures at the heart of the inland sea - are few and far in between, and to date no volume in English had tried to encompass the subject so thoroughly, and if I may add in this successful manner. As Prof Henri Bresc states in the preface to this book, the author puts into proper perspective a period which is still evident in the heritage of Sicily. Bar a few minor shortcomings - including some proofreading slips, and a certain amount of overlap between chapters - this one-volume history of Muslim Sicily in the ninth to eleventh centuries makes accessible to a wider audience a substantial volume of research undertaken by Prof Leonard C Chiarelli, who is librarian at the Aziz Atiya Library for Middle East Studies at the University of Utah, over the past three decades or more. The work also builds on the author's PhD on Sicily during the Fatimid Age. It includes a lengthy introduction (xliv pages), followed by chapters on the Arab conquest of North Africa and the Aghlabid dynasty (1-12), the Arab conquest of Sicily and Aghlabid rule (12-66), the establishment of Fatimid rule in Sicily (67-94), the Kalbid dynasty (95-142), the social structure (143-208), the economy and trade (209-288), and Islamic culture (289-336). Chiarelli's discussion of the subject leaves few stones unturned (as may be seen from the endnotes to the individual chapters, as well as the appendices, long bibliography, and index), as he leads the reader through the thick and thin of the Arabic sources and secondary bibliography in numerous references. Most of the texts used by the author are inaccessible in English translation, which means that they are only available to the scholar with specialist knowledge of the subject and language. As a book on 'Muslim Sicily', the volume might have benefited from an extra chapter connecting the subject of Muslim Sicily - as opposed to the narrower definition of a Muslim-governed Sicily which is adopted here - down to the period of the Norman conquest and the 'final chapter' of Sicilian Islam - for a big chunk of Sicilian society stayed Muslim until the twelfth century. But that would have meant a thicker volume, among other practical considerations. This is definitely a must-have book for student and scholar alike.
Charles Dalli, University of Malta
charles.dalli@um.edu.mt
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars FABULOUS and INFORMATIVE!! 7 Nov 2011
By Hot2TrotDesigns - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Kudos to the knowledgable fine Author!!
I'm extremely excited to finish reading about the history of Sicily.
I have always wanted to go there.
Now, after reading the book, I CAN'T WAIT TO GO!! Sicily... Here I come!!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderfully written! 7 Nov 2011
By betta g - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I found this book very informative as well as interesting. It's look at Sicily from an angle that is not often heard of unless in certain scholarly groups. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is interested in Sicily or to anyone who is interested in how the Muslim religion has affected parts of Europe. Great Read!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tremendous Achievement, Superb Resource 11 Feb 2014
By Lavendula - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Professor Chiarelli's book about the roughly 250 year period of Arab rule in Sicily fills a huge gap. His richly documented and finely detailed work is the only comprehensive overview of this period available in English. Prior to this, the English language reader could only get glimpses of it in the historical work of David Abulafia (another author I would highly recommend), M.I. Finely, Denis Mack Smith, and others; although, as a rule, most Anglophone writers, particularly British historians tended to brush over this period in a mad dash to extended elegies about Norman rule in Sicily and the south of Italy in general. Travel writers, too numerous to mention, all touch upon this period to some extent, too. However, none of them gives more than a hint of what occurred during this period, and most end up getting bogged down in trying to draw tenuous (though not entirely inaccurate) connections between contemporary Sicilian language, cuisine, and culture with this Arabic heritage. And, while there is a fair amount of research available in Italian and French, the really substantial work in Italian done in this field was that of Michele Amari, over a century ago!

Chiarelli's text, as his exhaustive list of works cited indicates, incorporates virtually every resource available and adds his own analysis as well. As another reviewer notes, Chiarelli's narrative is essentially utilitarian: it is well written, but can be dry, almost textbook (in the worst sense of the word). Nevertheless, it is highly readable and can offer much to the layperson and scholar. Moreover, in light of the dearth of information we have about this period, the rather linear, dry narrative is perhaps ideal, because it achieves what it aims to do: give a thorough overview of the various aspects of this period, ranging from the military conquests, immigration, economy, agriculture, religion, literature, etc. while also situating it within the larger contexts of the Muslim world and the Mediterranean.

Finally, for those readers like me, Italian Americans of Sicilian descent, this book offers an accessible route to understanding a crucial period in the island's history; indeed, along with the period of Norman rule that followed, one can easily say, this was the island's golden age. If there is one criticism I can make of the book it is with the maps. The one map of Sicily is nestled in the middle of the book, rendering the center of the island difficult to view without breaking the binding. A better option would have been a foldout map. Similarly, the map fails to delineate the three administrative regions that are repeatedly mentioned in the text: Val di Mazara, Val di Noto, and Val Demone. Those minor quibbles aside, this is a welcomed resource for students of Sicilian history, Arab expansion in the Mediterranean, Islamic culture in southern Europe, etc. It is recommended to academic and leisure readers alike.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellant presentation 10 Aug 2013
By Benjamin A. Costa - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Excellant detail of exactly which Muslems came to Sicily when and where they settled. Very helpful for any Sicilian who is trying to understand the complex genetic mix of the different areas of Sicily.
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