Nassef is a lifelong learner of comparative study between Islam and International Relations. He co-founded the International Relations and Islamic Studies Research Cohort (Co-IRIS) and founded the Philippine International Studies Organization (PhISO).
Master in International Studies' Comprehensive Examinations
University of the Philippines-Diliman
August 24, 2009
B. Islamic Studies 221 (Arab Historiography)
Question number ONE:
Define and explain Arab historiography and discuss at least three (3) of its major features.
Arab historiography is a combined branch of learning of Philosophy of History and History that examines the past (whether pre-Islamic, medieval age, or contemporary) and the thinking, teachings, and approaches in the context of Islam as its main reference, and the Arab knowledge (from literature, positivist, to empirical studies) as its subtext.
It is also a way of describing, explaining, and articulating the events that happened in the past whether it is operated through unwritten (oral traditions or narratives) and written accounts. Muhammad Siddique in his work “An Islamic Concept of History” has presented differing variables from how a Western conception is dissimilar with the Muslim conception of history.
According to his thesis, there is a law of mechanical causality, i.e., A affected/caused by B is not tautologous to B or B is not tautologous to C. In explaining this prism, he gave two projections: 1) Hegelian approach, and 2) the Marxist approach or the historical materialism. The Hegelian approach is compounded on the significance of ‘ideas all the way down’; a change can be plausible in a dialectical process (or an intellectual exchange of ideas) even the opposite affects the change. Since ontology (what is out there?) precedes epistemology (how do we know it exist?), it represent a schema that there are no facts about the world, only ideas which are interconnected.
The Marxist materialism is compounded on the significance of a material reality, whereby a change is referred only to the realms of reality and its material afflictions. Arnold Toynbee has a different take on the matter; he added the imperative of a unit of civilization in the study of historiography. It is through civilizations that the historiographers were able to examine the differing views between Philosophy of History to History.
Thomas Naff’s “Towards a Muslim Theory of History” emphasized that within the Islamic context, a historical reform is possible if it’s for a moral betterment and not physical development of the Muslim civilizations. Moral piety is an important ingredient in Islamic theory of History. He elaborated of looking and going back to the community established by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as the sole and pure Islamic community in the world.
Franz Rosenthal in his work “Arabs Historiography” presented the tools utilized by Muslim historiography in examining the past. He firstly introduced “habar” or a form of narratives that tells a single story which was an important channel in the pre-Islamic age. It is a type of oral traditions among the Arab people. Second, the Analytical historiography that is composed of three categories of history: 1) chronography, 2) biography and 3) prosopography. Chronography is describing stories that are in chronological order embedded with the element of time. An example of biography is Majul’s Muslims in the Philippines. Prosopography is describing a group of people in its historicity and not collectivity as an individual member of a community. An example of this is Salibi’s Genealogy of the Sultanate system and the Sarsila.
Rosenthal added some lesser forms of Arab historiographies, these are: 1) Dynastic historiography 2) Tuqqaba historiography and 3) the Genealogy historiography. Dynastic is attributed to the scholars who are controlled by different Arab dynasties/families who have political power or member of the political elites. They only tell the positive aspects of these dynasties if they do not follow, they will face persecutions. The Tuqqaba historiography emphasizes the handing of a story/historical event from one generation to another. Tuqqaba in English means “layer.” The Genealogy historiography introduced the lineage system among the powerful families in a Muslim community, e.g., Sultans, Emirs, Kings, etc.
In sum, Arab historiography does not only tell the past but it also gives importance to interlocking aspects of knowledge between Philosophy (regarded as the Queen of all the sciences) and History (regarded as the foot of all the sciences).