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Historiography is not mere historical writing, but a study of how history is articulated. Such a reflexive attitude toward history is the trademark of contemporary historiographical writing and is visible also in the historical writings of classical, medieval, and modern Muslim historians.

Arguably the foremost Western scholar of Islamic historiography is Franz Rosenthal, who laid the foundations of a critical study of this subject in his seminal History of Muslim Historiography. Rosenthal's approach sheds light on the historical implications of this crucial term, but more specifically on tracing the genealogy of contemporary Islamic historiography back to classical Islamic sources. He notes, for instance, [how the following words of] the famous historian Ibn Khaldūn (d. 1406), continue to influence Muslim historiography: “The inner meaning of history, on the other hand, involves speculation and an attempt to get at the truth, subtle explanation of the causes and origins of existing things, and deep knowledge of the how and why of events. History, therefore, is firmly rooted in philosophy (Muqaddimah)” Modern and contemporary Islamic historiography continuously wrestles with such dialectics as change vs. continuity, representation vs. reality, and epistemic freedom vs. dogmatic tautology.

The characteristic formal structures, subject matter, and explanatory paradigms of Islamic historiographical literature took shape between the early eighth and eleventh centuries, and persisted—with much flexibility and elaboration—down to the early nineteenth century. By the 1840s, however, the forms and perspectives of traditional historiography, rich and varied as they were, no longer seemed adequate in the face of the radical challenges posed by Europe to every aspect of life in the Islamic contexts. This article presents a synopsis of modern and contemporary Islamic historiography in four contexts: Egypt, Turkey, Iran, and India.

Nineteenth Century.

The challenge of Europe was felt most immediately in political and economic life. Felt only by a tiny minority as late as the mid-nineteenth century, it had become inescapable to almost everyone (at least in the major urban centers) by the begin- ning of the twentieth. Not only did it threaten the political independence and economic autonomy of Muslim societies; it assailed the very foundations of Muslim identity.

The rapid intellectual readjustments of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries affected historical writing. The shift toward new forms and approaches began in Cairo and Istanbul, the two largest cities in the first region examined in this article. These two cities were the seats of the most ambitiously reformist regimes and the places most directly and profoundly exposed to Western pressures in the region.

Cairo was the first and most important center of an evolving and innovative historiography in the modern Muslim world. It had in fact produced the last great work in a traditional mold, the ʿAjāʿib al-āthār (Marvels of the Past) of ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Jabartī (d. 1826). Al-Jabartī witnessed the catastrophic self-destruction of the Mamlūk regime in the late eighteenth century, the shock of the French occupation in 1798–1801, and the tumultuous changes forced on the country by Muḥammad ʿAlī (r. 1805–1848). He was an acute observer, but he regarded none of this as progress and was content to work within the chronicle–biographical-dictionary framework bequeathed to him by the great Egyptian historians of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

Muḥammad ʿAlī had a great deal to do with the rise of an altered historical consciousness. Quite apart from his military, administrative, and economic initiatives, so disruptive of deep-rooted institutions and habits of thought, he took the risk of sending student missions to study in France, thereby exposing at least a few of his subjects to the thought and culture of contemporary Europe. No less important was his founding of the Translation Bureau (under the directorship of Rifāʿah Rāfiʿ al-Tahṭāwī, d. 1873), which rendered many works of medicine, engineering, geography, and history into Turkish and Arabic. To be sure, the few historical works chosen for translation—such as Montesquieu's Considérations sur les causes de la grandeur des Romains, et de leur décadence, and Voltaire's biographies of Charles XII and Peter the Great—represented the Enlightenment, not the new scientific history of Leopold von Ranke or the romantic nationalism of Jules Michelet; even so, they suggested radically new ways of imagining and representing the past.

The first major history in Arabic to reflect new possibilities and tensions was Al-khiṭaṭ al-tawfīqīyah al-jadīdah ([A Guide to the New Districts Ruled under Tawfiq Pasha in Egypt and Its Ancient and Contemporary Cities] 20 vols., Cairo, 1886–1888) by ʿAlī Mubārak Basha (d. 1893), the engineer who oversaw Khedive Ismāʿīl's ambitious revamping of Cairo in the 1860s and early 1870s. Modeled to some degree on the classic work by Taqī al-Dīn al-Maqrīzī (d. 1442), it is a remarkably rich miscellany of historical-biographical information, geographical description, and administrative data. Conceptually and structurally conservative—like al-Maqrīzī's work, it is organized by toponym—its contents nevertheless reflect many aspects of the new order. A hybrid work of this kind could not generate many successors, although the Taqwīm al-Nīl (Chronology of the Nile, 6 vols., Cairo, 1916–1936) of Amīn Sāmī (d. 1941) comes closest in spirit and content. Like al-Tahṭāwī and ʿAlī Mubārak, Sāmī spent his life in loyal service to the regime, chiefly as an educator; he was director of the government teachers’ college, Dār al-ʿUlūm, under Tawfīq and ʿAbbās II Ḥilmī, and was appointed to the Senate by King Fuʿād.

In Egypt, the political and ideological crisis of the late nineteenth century proved in the long run to be a turning point, but for a time one sees only limited results—owing in large part to the stifling of political life under the British viceroy Lord Cromer until almost the turn of the century. An exception to this generalization is Salīm al-Naqqāsh's passionate and richly detailed but still little-studied history of the ʿUrābī Revolt, Miṣr lil-Miṣrīyīn (Egypt for the Egyptians, 6 vols., Alexandria, 1884), based heavily on government documents and trial proceedings.

By the end of the century there is a marked shift from neotraditional to contemporary European models of historiography. The most successful and widely read of the new historians was the prolific Syrian immigrant Jirjī Zaydān (d. 1914). He edited several journals and wrote in many genres; among his works the most significant in the present context is hiss Tārīkh al-tamaddun al-Islāmī (History of Islamic Civilization 5 vols., Cairo, 1902–1906). This is less an original work of scholarship than a popular synthesis derived in large part from European Orientalist scholarship, but it was well done, and one volume was translated into English (Umayyads and Abbasids, London, 1907) by the David Margoliouth. Zaydān's was the first Arabic work in “modern” style to address medieval Islamic history. It was widely read but not much emulated, perhaps because as a Christian committed to a westernizing approach, Zaydān could not address adequately the deeper issues raised by his subject for modern Muslims. Nor could he really share the aspirations and frustrations of Egyptian nationalist writers. He was in fact offered the position in Islamic history at the new Egyptian University in 1910, but outrage in political circles compelled the offer to be withdrawn.

Istanbul was the home of a rather different historiographical evolution. It was still the capital of a vast empire, ruled by an autocrat who increasingly defined his role in terms of the Islamic caliphate. Moreover, its historians continued to be, as for centuries past, part of the scribal-bureaucratic elite whose careers and personal identities were closely linked to the fortunes of the Ottoman state. A strongly conservative trend is thus no surprise in the two leading historians of the mid- to late nineteenth century—Ahmed Cevdet Pasha (d. 1895) and Ahmed Lutfî Efendi (d. 1907), both of whom were official court historians (vakʿanüvis), the last men to hold that post under the Ottoman sultans. Both recognized the changes going on all around them, but Lutfî resisted them, while Cevdet Pasha exhibited a more realistic mentality. Lutfî, for example, drew heavily on the official gazette for his information on the Tanzimat decades, a method that ensured a narrow, superficial, and highly laudatory account of this critical period (Tarihi Lutfî [Lutfî's History], 8 vols., Istanbul, 1873–1910; the final volumes remain unpublished). Cevdet Pasha, in contrast, had a strong grasp of law and administrative institutions and was deeply concerned with the processes governing the decline and fall of states. He was several times Minister of Justice and of Education and occasionally acted as a provincial governor (usually in Syria). He was the editor in chief of the Mecelle (the sharīʿah-based code of civil law issued between 1870 and 1877) as well as a translator of Ibn Khaldūn. Although his chronicle of the crucial half-century between 1774 and 1826 (Tarihi vekayii devleti âliye [History of the Ottoman Empire], 12 vols., Istanbul, 1885–1892), composed over three decades, is traditionally constructed, it makes considerable use of European as well as Ottoman documents. Apart from Cevdet and Lutfî, there are the several historical works of the leading Young Ottoman intellectual Namık Kemal, a far more progressive spirit than his two older contemporaries. But his historical writings were hastily written inspirational and patriotic exercises and had almost no impact on the development of modern Turkish historiography. (Many were never published or were quickly suppressed.)[See KEMAL, MEHMET NAMıK.]

The old mold was broken first by the Young Turks’ seizure of power in 1908, and then, decisively, by the Kemalist revolution. Whatever his defects as a thinker and politician, Ziya Gökalp (d. 1924) brought contemporary European sociology and history into the mainstream of Turkish intellectual life, where it found a ready reception. After World War I, Atatürk's generation would create modern Turkish historical writing.[See GöKALP, MEHMET ZIYA.]

Nineteenth-century Iran did not witness the deep intellectual transformations of Cairo and Istanbul; the country's poverty and isolation and the political ineptitude of the Qājār court, left its historians working in a traditional (albeit highly sophisticated) framework until the turn of the century. The Constitutional Revolution (1905–1911) was the culmination of a long process, and it would be misleading to attribute the later explosion in Persian intellectual life solely to this cataclysmic event. Yet the Revolution did crystallize the new currents of thought in the country, still ill-formed and shallow-rooted before 1905. It also created a powerful myth of promise, betrayal, and struggle for redemption, a myth that continues even now to shape many realms of Iranian life.

The Indian Mutiny of 1857 against the British marked the end of centuries-old Muslim rule in India. Indian Muslims responded to British imperial rule and cultural influence in various ways, including educational reform and religious polemics. Though these reactions extended across the spectrum—from traditionalists, such as the Deobandīs, to modernists, such as Sayyid Aḥmad Khān (d. 1898)—the modernists’ historical consciousness is most noticeable. Islamic modernism in India may be traced back to Shāh Walī Allāh of Delhi (d. 1763). As an intellectual movement, however, it was inaugurated by the efforts of Karāmat ʿAlī, who retold the narrative of the Protestant Reformation from his Islamic point of view in his book Maʿkhaẕ-i ʿulūm (translated into English as Makhaz-i-Uloom, or, A Treatise on the Origin of the Sciences, Calcutta, 1867). Like Karamat ʿAli, Sayyid Aḥmad Khān embraced modern ideals, specifically the European emphasis on scientific objectivity. In the writings of Muslim modernists in British India, history was employed to assert the rationalism of the Qurʿān and Muhammad's teachings, and to counter the accusations of European and Hindu critics of Islam. Sayyid Aḥmad Khān's A Series of Essays on the Life of Muhammad (London, 1870) is a case in point. On the other hand, the traditional ʿulamāʿ used history to assert the superiority of their intellectual tradition over that of their opponents. An exception to this was the work of the ʿulamāʿ associated with Muhammad Ali Mongiri's Darul Uloom Nadwatul Ulama (Arabic Dār al-ʿUlūm Nadwat al-ʿUlamāʿ) in Lucknow, an Islamic seminary that combined the modernist rationalism of Sayyid Aḥmad Khān's Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College at Aligarh (now Aligarh Muslim University) and the revivalist traditionalism of Muhammad Qasim Nanotwi's Darul Uloom (Arabic Dār al-ʿUlūm) Deoband. The historical bent of the Nadwa school is explicit in the writings of Shiblī Nuʿmānī (author of Sīrat al-nabī [Life of the Prophet], an Urdu biography of Muḥammad) and Sayyid ʿAbd al-Ḥayy of Lucknow (author of Nuzhat al-khawāṭir [The Pleasure of Thoughts], an eight-volume biographical dictionary of Indian ʿulamāʿ).

Interwar Period, 1919–1945.

World War I was the turning point in almost every aspect of life in much of the Muslim World, perhaps most importantly in the Middle East. It created vast new hopes and possibilities, and consequently even more bitter disappointments and insoluble problems. It ushered in a new era of historical writing marked by several characteristics: growing professionalization (with several scholars getting doctorates in Europe, especially from Paris), institutionalized within the new universities of Cairo, Istanbul, Tehran, and Aligarh; a much closer approximation in form and methodology to the kinds of historical writing practiced in Europe; and a definition of persistent subject-matter areas, somewhat different for each of the linguistic/cultural realms. One apparently odd product of the period was a marked bilingualism among the new generation of historians, who often wrote in French or English for European audiences, and in Arabic, Persian, Turkish, or Urdu for their countrymen; in the latter works the cultural agendas and conflicts of their native countries came to the fore. This phenomenon continues in the present.

It would be incorrect to assume that all traces of traditional literary-historical culture disappeared during these two decades. On the contrary, some of the most significant and useful historical compositions adhere to long-established genres. Thus Osmanlı devrinde son sadrazamlar (The Last Grand Viziers of the Ottoman Era, Istanbul, 1940–1949) is an invaluable biographical compilation by İbnülemin Mahmut Kemal İnal (d. 1957), a senior bureaucrat in the empire's final decades and a scholar steeped in all aspects of Ottoman literary culture. Another writer, Muḥammad Kurd ʿAlī (d. 1953), the founder of the Arab Academy of Damascus and a prolific journalist and litterateur, composed a monumental history of Syria, Khiṭaṭ al-Shām (Description of Syria, 6 vols., Damascus, 1925–1929). Although Kurd ʿAlī was well acquainted with the critical methods of Western Orientalism, this is the last great work of historical topography, a Syrian tradition going back to Ibn ʿAsākir (d. 1176) that flourished at least until the eighteenth century.

Works of more “modern” style tended to reflect in direct ways the central contemporary political-cultural debates of the countries in which they were written. This was true not only of works on recent history, but of those dealing with the more remote past. Indeed, the historical periods chosen for discussion provide an excellent index of these debates. In Egypt, attention was focused equally on the nineteenth century (especially Muḥammad ʿAlī, Khedive Ismāʿīl, and the ʿUrābī Revolt) and on the beginnings of Islamic history. On the nineteenth century, the key works were probably those written by ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Rāfiʿī (d. 1966), Muḥammad Sabrī (d. 1978), and Shafīq Ghurbāl (d. 1961). Al-Rāfiʿī, an ardent partisan of the old National Party founded by Musṭafā Kāmil at the turn of the century and deeply immersed in Egypt's political struggles, was self-taught as a historian and wrote exclusively in Arabic. Sabrī and Ghurbāl were professional academics; both received doctorates from the Sorbonne, held chairs at Cairo University, and published much of their major work in French or English.

In early Islamic history, Tāhā Ḥusayn's Fī al-shiʿr al-jāhilī (On Pre-Islamic Poetry, Cairo, 1926), Muḥammad Ḥusayn Haykal's Ḥayāt Muḥammad (Life of Muḥammad, Cairo, 1934), and Aḥmad Amīn's three books on early Islamic history (Fajr al-Islām [The Dawn of Islam], Ḍuḥā al-Islām [The Forenoon of Islam], and Ẓuhr al-Islām [The Midday of Islam], Cairo, 1928–1953) are landmarks in their various ways. Ṭāhā Ḥusayn had received a Sorbonne doctorate with a thesis on Ibn Khaldūn; his attack on the authenticity of pre-Islamic Arabic poetry was an effort—almost disastrous for him and Cairo University—to apply European textual criticism to a culturally sanctified body of literature. The works of Haykal and Amīn, in contrast, were attempts to synthesize Islamic piety and “scientific” historical method. However one judges Haykal's use of modern critical methods, his biography of the Prophet was a literary tour de force, a superbly integrated portrait infused with a distinctively twentieth-century sensibility. Aḥmad Amīn's studies, though less accessible, have commanded broad respect since their first publication. Although he was a graduate of the School for Qādīs and was largely self-taught as a historian, his European colleagues at Cairo University formally recommended him for a professional chair on the strength of his publications.

In Turkey, scholars followed Atatürk's lead by turning their backs on the recently-extinguished Ottoman Empire in favor of an older, more “authentic” Turkish history, in particular Central Asia and the Seljuks. Here the leading figures were two contemporaries. Zeki Velidi Togan (d. 1970) was an emigré from Russian Turkestan and devoted his life to the history and literature (both medieval and modern) of the Turkic peoples of Central Asia. Mehmet Fuat Köprülü (d. 1966), a descendant of a famous seventeenth-century vizierial family, was an autodidact who became the most influential scholar of his generation in Turkish literature and the history of the Seljuks of Anatolia. He published mostly in Turkish, but his 1935 lectures in Paris, Les origines de l’Empire Ottoman, marked a turning point in the study of that controversial subject.

In Iran, work was inevitably affected by the neo-Achaemenidism and anti-clericalism of the Reza Shah regime; the historiography of this era, though by no means always royalist in tendency, was deeply nationalist and often anti-clerical. These trends are perhaps most tellingly summed up in the writings of Aḥmad Kasravī (d. 1946). Born in Tabrīz, politically the most progressive and cosmopolitan city in Iran at the turn of the century, and trained as a cleric, he abandoned that path by the age of twenty. In the early years of the Reza Shah era he served as a lawyer and judge and then taught history at the University of Tehran, but in 1934 he left these official careers to become a journalist and cultural critic. His vitriolic attacks on Shiism and Iranian cultural traditions earned him both a devoted following and deadly hostility; his assassination by the Fidāʿīyān‑i Islām (Islamic freedom fighters) was almost predictable. He was, when he set his mind to it, a talented historian. An early work, Shahriyārān-i gumnām (Forgotten Rulers, 3 vols., Tehran, 1928–1930), deals with the pre-Seljuk dynasties of his native province and is still regularly cited. His most important work, however, was on the Constitutional Revolution (Tārīkh-i mashrūṭah-i Īrān [History of the Constitutional Government of Iran], 3 vols., Tehran, 1940–1943), in which he had participated as a youth and in which his native city of Tabrīz had played a critical part.[See KASRAVI, AḥMAD.]

The leading Indian Muslim historian of this period was undoubtedly Sayyid Sulaymān Nadvī (d. 1953), a student of Shiblī Nuʿmānī and a Ṣūfī disciple of Ashraf ʿAlī Thānvī (d. 1943). Nadvī's mastery of Islamic history and classical Arabic qualified him to complete Shiblī Nuʿmānī'sSīrat al-nabī. In his surveys of Islamic thought, Nadvī often offered profound philosophical insights that attested to his semicritical, yet acute historical awareness. His renowned set of lectures, Khutbāt-i Madrās (The Madras Lectures, translated into English as Muhammad: The Ideal Prophet), is one such example. His other writings include historical works on the geography of the Arabian Peninsula and Arab navigation. Such historical work was not only of great importance to scholars but was also instrumental in moving Indian Muslim identity closer to its imagined origins in Arabia. In 1915, Nadvī established the Darul Musannefin (Arabic, Dār al-Musannifīn; House of Writers) in the northern Indian city of Azamgarh, a research institution that fostered historical writing and became a sought-after academy of letters devoted to publishing well-researched monographs in Urdu. Nadvī's work not only appealed to like-minded Muslim thinkers and theologians but was also influential in introducing traditional and conservative ʿulamāʿ to a historical method. After the partition of India, Nadvī served an important role in drafting the original constitution of Pakistan, invoking his knowledge of Islamic political history in this enterprise.

Before 1947, however, a heated political appropriation of history had occurred from which most followers of Thānvī, including Nadvī, had excused themselves. From World War I to the mid 1920s, many Indian Muslims, employing quixotic notions of an ideal Islamic past as an authenticating apparatus, rallied for the Ottoman caliphate under the leadership of the Deobandī theologian Mahmud Hasan (d. 1920). From the 1930s until 1947, history was constantly (mis)quoted in order to advocate or dismiss the two competing notions of Muslim social existence in the Indian subcontinent: a two-nation theory (championed by the poet-philosopher Muhammad Iqbal [d. 1938]) versus a united India (championed by Abū al-Kalām Āzād [d. 1958] and Ḥusayn Aḥmad Madanī [d. 1957]). Though these internal differences existed, in fact amounting to considerable internal strife, the overwhelming majority of Indian Muslims were unanimous in opposing the British government's presence in India.

Cold War and Middle Eastern Nationalisms, 1945–1970.

World War II marked another watershed as the domination of the region by Great Britain and France collapsed, to be replaced by a bipolar world of American-Soviet rivalry. Everywhere until the early 1970s, and in some arenas until the present, intellectuals in the Arab lands and Iran tended to interpret their past within a single broad framework, as a struggle against foreign domination—by England and France in the modern period, of course, but often by fellow Muslims (such as Mamlūk amirs and Arab invaders) in the medieval past. In the revolutionary age beginning in the mid-1950s, it was inevitable that many would also begin to look seriously at Marxism as an intellectual tradition, and thus to link issues of internal class struggle with long-established concerns about imperialism.

Turkish intellectual life moved along a different path. There the Atatürk revolution had successfully forestalled direct foreign domination. Likewise, while the Atatürk regime's etatist and autarchist policies may well have limited Turkey's economic growth, they also reduced concern over covert foreign influence, at least until the late 1960s, when a rise in anti-Americanism was provoked in part by the repeated crises over Cyprus. Marxist interpretations did, however, speak to the pervasive poverty of the Turkish countryside and the frustrations of an emerging working class in the major cities.

The inevitable engagement of historians in the political struggles of the postwar years did not prevent the increasing professionalization of historical writing. The process was rooted in the rapid growth of higher education in Middle Eastern countries: a flood of new students into the universities required more professors, and professors had to have advanced research degrees. Until the early 1970s, credible PhDs could only be obtained abroad, preferably in Paris or London—the old imperial capitals, ironically—but many students found themselves in newer and less prestigious institutions in the North of England or the American Middle West. The bilingual nature of historical research among Middle Eastern scholars continued and even increased; many of the major French and English monographs published during these years had begun life as doctoral theses at the Sorbonne or the University of London.

Again, it would be extremely misleading to interpret scholarly production simply as a reflection of ideology and political conflict. If a test for the “pure scholarship” of a work is its usability by scholars of disparate political-ideological commitments, then much produced in this era ranks very high indeed. To take only the most eminent names, it is hard to imagine modern Ottoman studies without Halil İnalcık, or early Islamic history without ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz al-Dūrī.[See DūRī, ʿABD AL-ʿAZīZ AL-.] The study of Seljuk history became a favored field of Turkish scholarship, and the collective contribution of Osman Turan, Mehmet Köymen, and Ibrahim Kafesoğlu probably outranks work on this subject done anywhere else in the world. In spite of political controls placed on Egyptian scholars under the Nasser regime, the students of Muḥammad Anīs at Cairo University began a major body of scholarship on the social and economic history of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Egypt. For an earlier but hardly less contested era, that of the Crusaders, Ayyūbids, and Mamlūks, Saʿīd ʿAbd al-Fattāḥ ʿĀshūr and his many students continue to produce a major corpus of texts and studies still too little consulted among Western scholars. Even so, the free play of historical research was undeniably constrained by political pressures that far exceeded the partisanship of the previous era, notably the internal security apparatus of Nasser's Egypt and Muhammad Reza Shah's Iran, the unpredictable violence of political life in Syria and Iraq, the intermittent military interventions in Turkey, and the taboos inspired by the Arab-Israeli conflict.

During this time, Muslims in India not only sought a historical grounding of their own existence among their country's Hindu majority but also remained sympathetic to the Arab cause. An example of a text that dovetails history and politics is Qāriʿ Muḥammad Ṭayyib Qāsimī's Asbāb-i ʿurūj o zawāl-i aqwām (Causes of the Rise and Fall of Nations). Although Qāsimī was the chancellor of the Darul Uloom Deoband for nearly fifty years (from the early 1930s to the early 1980s) and also served as the president of the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board, he did not use this opportunity to institute critical historical methodology for the study of classical and medieval Islamicate texts in the madrasah system. This is not to suggest that no Deobandī theologian contributed to Islamic historiography in post-colonial India. Manāẓir Aḥsan Gīlānī, for instance, used his skills in Urdu rhetoric and composition to write not only historical surveys of the institutionalization of Muslim education in the Indian subcontinent, but also put the prophet Muhammad's milieu in conversation with contemporary conditions of human existence in his Urdu book, Al-nabī al-khātim (The Prophet of the Seal). Also, Sayyid Abulḥasan ʿAlī Nadvī (d. 1999) established himself as a theologian who used history as the primary medium of exposition. His biography of Sayyid Aḥmad Shahīd of Bareilly, and his Arabic works, Mādhā khaṣira al-ʿālam bi-inḥitāt al-Muslimīn (What the World Lost through the Decline of the Muslims, translated as Islam and the World) and Rijāl al-fikr wa-al-daʿwah fī al-Islām (Thinking Men and Missionary Work in Islam, translated as Saviours of Islamic Spirit), in which he attempts to account for the co-existence of change and continuity in Islamic intellectual history, achieved great aclaim. Like his teacher, Sayyid Sulayman Nadvī, Abulḥasan ʿAlī Nadvī also espoused a semicritical attitude toward history. In the face of post-modernity, he was able only to offer apologias for Islam and remained nostalgic for a Muslim utopia.

Since 1970.

Several of the underlying trends established during the 1950s and 1960s have continued, in particular the burgeoning of universities and research institutes throughout the Middle East. In spite of chronic underfunding and a strong emphasis on scientific-technical training, this trend has led to an expansion of academic history. Particularly important, especially for the Ottoman period in Turkey and the Arab lands, has been a great improvement in the organization of archives and documentation centers of all kinds. (Unfortunately, Iran seems not to have benefited from such a process under either the shah or the Islamic Republic.) Another trend, already discernible before 1970 but much stronger since, has been the growing number of historians from the Middle East who hold permanent academic appointments in Europe and the United States. Two examples from the Indian-Pakistani context are Aziz Ahmad, a historian of South Asian Islam who taught at the University of Toronto and Fazlur Rahman, a historian of Islamic thought who taught at the University of Chicago.

The political climate in which historians must work has been variable. Egypt has witnessed an unsteady but substantial liberalization; in contrast, Syria and Iraq moved from instability to tightly regimented dictatorships. Turkey has experienced a cycle of almost chaotic openness, severe military censorship, and, since the mid-1980s, a gradual easing; however, it remains illegal to criticize Atatürk, which inevitably constrains work on the crucial quarter-century from 1914 to 1938. In Iran, the Islamic Revolution has opened up certain possibilities for research while closing others; historians of a secularist orientation have obviously had to choose their topics and their words carefully. In India, though greater historical consciousness was espoused by the modernists, it is the ʿulamāʿ who became the proponents of reinstituting traditional Islamic historiography. In general, the Islamic movement everywhere has increasingly affected historical inquiry and writing, as it has intellectual life in general. For example, a trend seen in the Arab world during the early 1970s—a radical critique of the nature of early Islamic society and even of the soundness of the sources—has been silenced or at least driven underground. There has been no real progress in Arabic-language works on the life of Muḥammad since Haykal's famous biography was published more than sixty years ago.

In spite of such official and cultural pressures, however, many periods and topics seem to be politically and religiously neutral, in the sense that historians are relatively free to construct their accounts of them in accordance with their own purposes and outlooks rather than externally-dictated agendas. The middle periods of Islamic history (ca. 900–1500) have long fallen in this category, with the partial exception of the Crusades and the figure of Saladin, and we can now add the early ʿAbbāsids and the Ottoman era, no longer a useful target for Arab nationalist polemics. The social and economic history of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, in particular, has attracted a great deal of first-rate work during the past two decades. In premodern times, the early ʿAbbāsids, the Seljuks, and the Mamlūks have continued to be the subject of valuable and sometimes ground-breaking studies. To name individual scholars for the last two decades seems invidious, because there are now so many historians at work, and it is hardly possible as yet to identify those whose contributions will prove seminal or enduring. What can be said is that there now exists, in all the major countries of the Muslim world, a substantial corps of traditional and professional academic historians writing chiefly in the languages of the area. In this respect, the history of the region and its local Islam is increasingly in the hands of its own scholars—the natural state of things, we might suppose, but one that was hardly the case for most of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.


  • Afshari, M. Reza. “The Historians of the Constitutional Movement and the Making of the Iranian Populist Tradition.”International Journal of Middle East Studies25, no. 3 (1993): 477–494. A sophisticated ideological analysis of modern Iranian historiography.
  • Amanat, Abbas. “The Study of History in Post-Revolutionary Iran: Nostalgia, Illusion, or Historical Awareness?”Iranian Studies22, no. 4 (1989): 3–18. Astute and well-documented critique.
  • Crabbs, Jack A., Jr.The Writing of History in Nineteenth-Century Egypt: A Study in National Transformation. Detroit, 1984. Careful and useful study, although the author's knowledge of premodern historiography is somewhat superficial.
  • Delanoue, Gilbert. Moralistes et politiques musulmans dans l’Égypte du XIXe siècle (1798–1882). 2 vols. Cairo, 1982. Indispensable for nineteenth-century intellectual life, with extended treatments of the careers and writings of al-Jabartī, al-Ṭahṭāwī, and ʿAlī Mubārak.
  • Ende, Werner. Arabische Nation und Islamische Geschichte: Die Umayyaden im Urteil arabischer Autoren des 20. Jahrhunderts. Beirut, 1977. Classic discussion of how twentieth-century ideological conflicts have shaped the debate over the significance of the Umayyad dynasty in Islamic and Arab history.
  • Faruqi, Nisar Ahmed. Early Muslim Historiography: A Study of Early Transmitters of Arab History from the Rise of Islam up to the End of Umayyad Period (612–750 a.d.). New Delhi, 1979.
  • Gheissari, Ali. “Truth and Method in Modern Iranian Historiography and Social Sciences.”Critique: Critical Middle Eastern Studies4, no. 6 (1995): 39–56.
  • Hirschler, Konrad. Medieval Arabic Historiography: Authors as Actors. London, 2006.
  • Hourani, Albert. Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, 1798–1939. London and New York, 1962. Contains only occasional remarks on historians per se, but irreplaceable for its account of modernizing social and political thought among modern Arab intellectuals.
  • Hourani, Albert. Islamic History: A Framework for Inquiry. Rev. ed. Princeton, N.J., 1991. Recent overview of premodern Islamic historiography, from its origins down to (but not including) the Ottoman and Safavid periods, with an extensive bibliography.
  • Humphreys, R. Stephen. “Historiography, Islamic.” In Dictionary of the Middle Ages, vol. 6, pp. 249–255. New York, 1982–1989.
  • Keaney, Heather N. Medieval Islamic Historiography: Remembering Rebellion. Routledge, 2013.
  • Kuran, Ercüment. “Ottoman Historiography of the Tanzimat Period.” In Historians of the Middle East, edited by Bernard Lewis and P. M. Holt, pp. 422–429. London, 1962. Terse but useful overview.
  • Leiser, Gary, trans. and ed.A History of the Seljuks: İbrahim Kafesoğlu's Interpretation and the Resulting Controversy. Carbondale, Ill., 1988. Translation of a significant piece of modern Turkish scholarship, framed by a review of the bitter academic and political quarrel connected with its writing.
  • Lewis, Bernard, and P. M. Holt, eds.Historians of the Middle East. London, 1962. Obsolete but still valuable collection of essays on many aspects of Islamic historiography, both medieval and modern.
  • Mardin, Şerif. The Genesis of Young Ottoman Thought: A Study in the Modernization of Turkish Political Ideas. Princeton, N.J., 1962. Still the best account of Ottomanism and early constitutionalism in the mid-nineteenth-century Ottoman Empire.
  • Philipp, Thomas. Ğurğī Zaydān: His Life and Thought. Beirut, 1979. The best study of a writer who is important both for his own literary achievement and for the broader intellectual trends which he symbolizes.
  • Rafeq, Abdul-Karim. “Ottoman Historical Research in Syria since 1946.”Asian Research Trends: A Humanities and Social Sciences Review2 (1992): 45–78. Careful survey that elucidates the ideological and methodological shifts among historians in Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon.
  • Reid, Donald Malcolm. Cairo University and the Making of Modern Egypt. Cambridge and New York, 1990. Invaluable for understanding the institutional milieu in which the most important body of twentieth-century Arabic historiography has been produced.
  • Robinson, Chase F.Islamic Historiography. Cambridge and New York, 2003.
  • Rosenthal, Franz. A History of Muslim Historiography. 2d ed. Leiden, 1968.
  • Shaykh, ʿAbd al-Rahmān, al-. ʿIlm al-tarīkh ʿind al-muslimīn. Cairo, 2006.
  • Shayyāl, Jamāl al-Dīn al-. A History of Egyptian Historiography in the Nineteenth Century. Alexandria, Egypt, 1962. Distinguished Egyptian historian's interpretation of the work of his immediate intellectual ancestors.
  • Shayyāl, Jamāl al-Dīn al-. “Historiography in Egypt in the Nineteenth Century.” In Historians of the Middle East, edited by Bernard Lewis and P. M. Holt, pp. 403–421. London, 1962.
  • Sivan, Emmanuel. “Arab Revisionist Historians.”Asian and African Studies12, no. 3 (1978): 283–311.
  • Shayyāl, Jamāl al-Dīn al-. “Modern Arab Historiography of the Crusades.”Asian and African Studies8, no. 2 (1972): 109–149. Perceptive if somewhat chilly critique of Arabic historical writing since 1952.
  • Smith, Charles D.Islam and the Search for Social Order in Modern Egypt: A Biography of Muhammad Husayn Haykal. Albany, N.Y., 1983. Essential for understanding the political and intellectual climate of the interwar period in Egypt.
  • Strohmeier, Martin. Seldschukische Geschichte und türkische Geschichtswissenschaft: Die Seldschuken im Urteil moderner türkischer Historiker. Berlin, 1984. Fundamental for the evolution of Turkish historiography since World War I.
  • Syed, Muhammad Aslam. Muslim Response to the West: Muslim Historiography in India, 1857–1914. Islamabad, 1988.
  • Tavakol-Targhi, Mohamad. Refashioning Iran: Orientalism, Occidentalism, and Historiography. New York, 2001.
  • Wessels, Antonie. A Modern Arabic Biography of Muḥammad: A Critical Study of Muḥammad Ḥusayn Haykal's Ḥayāt Muḥammad. Leiden, 1972. Useful introduction to the problems presented by this crucial work.

The reader may consult the new edition of the Encyclopaedia of Islam (Leiden, 2002–) for useful, sometimes essential entries, on many key figures. See the following entries: Aḥmad Amīn; Aḥmad Djewdet Pasha; ʿAlī Mubārak; al-Djabartī (ʿAbd al-Raḥmān); Gökalp (Ziya); İnal (Ibn al-Amīn); Kasrawī Tabrīzī (Aḥmad); Kemāl (Nāmiḳ); Köprülü (Mehmed Fuad); Kurd ʿAlī (Muḥammad); and Luṭfī Efendi (Aḥmad); Sayyid Ahmad Khan; Sayyid Sulayman Nadwi. Other important sources are listed below.

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