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Byzantium Viewed by the Arabs (Harvard Middle Eastern Monographs) Paperback – 6 Aug 2004
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The achievement of this book is to have made a wide-ranging, theoretically informed, and useful introduction to an important subject. It has succeeded in signaling the most important periods and themes of its subject, cutting a new trail for future Arabist scholarship and giving specialists from other fields a view of the treasures that can be found in this one.-- (12/19/2004)
In this very readable book, El Cheikh has given us an interesting and well-researched study into the perceptions entertained by the Muslims about their neighbours, the Byzantines... I have no hesitation at all in warmly recommending it to students and scholars seeking to learn more about this fascinating topic.--Robert G. Hoyland"Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam" (01/01/2006)
[El Cheikh] offers a clear and thorough survey of the various sources in a chronological framework. Her work is a valuable contribution to an area that has too often focused on polemics and has failed to see how identity is formed by defining oneself against the other... In addition, her work will be useful to those who want to examine the historical relationship between Islam and Christian cultures, especially outside of the usual areas of inquiry, the Crusades or colonialism. In addition to a survey of Arab-Muslim images of Byzantium, El Cheikh offers an historical evaluation of two faith traditions that have yet to live in peaceful coexistence in many parts of the world. Peaceful coexistence cannot be built when one faith has a consistent desire to conquer and dominate the other. El Cheikh's work can also be seen as an invitation to dialogue, not just among historians and Byzantinists, but among Christians and Muslims who want to evaluate their own common histories honestly and openly.-- (01/01/2006)
About the Author
Nadia Maria El Cheikh is Professor of History at the American University of Beirut.
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Nadia Maria El Cheikh has presented Byzantium "as viewed by the Arabs" and in the same time she has also presented this Arab view "as viewed by post-Fredrik Barth ethnology/sociology of difference". Fredrik Barth has long been recognized as the 'father of modern ethnology'. He was among the first to recognize that distinction between "us and them" is a dynamic process of "boundary construction" and "boundary maintenance". A group recognizes the cohesion between its members by pointing out their common differences from an "other" group that is used as reference. These differences can be objective realities or -more frequently- a subjective highlighting of minor differences accompanied by a similarly subjective neglect of similarities.
This is exactly what the Arabs have done with Byzantium. The Rum ("Byzantines") were the major "infidel other" for the Arabs and, in the same time, the "Agarine deniers of Christ" were the major "infidel other" for the Early/Middle Byzantines. Each group has functioned as a whetstone that has sharpened the identity of the 'other'. Each group had created a non objective image for the 'other' in order to highlight the traits that it considered as characteristic of its own identity.
Byzantium was, in the same time, many different things in the eyes of the Arabs: an admirable culture, a political institution that was to be copied, a religious 'other' and a major military opponent.
This book presents exactly all the different ways in which Byzantium was meaningful to the Arabs and, in the same time, renders this 'meaningfulness-for-the-Arabs' itself meaningful to the modern post-Fredrik Barth reader.
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in Byzantium.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
This is a fairly comprehensive text that dives into every nook and cranny to pull out all of the tasty historical anecdotes and hints as to how Arabic culture viewed Byzantium's culture, people, religion, architecture, learning and so on. It covers all the bases from the rise of Islam to the fall of Constantinople in 1453 and everything in between. I was initially worried that this book would be to dense for my less academically attuned brain to follow, but this text was surprisingly easily accessible.
I love this book and if the topic interests you then I guarantee that there is no better text out there to better educate, enlighten and entertain.