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: The Public Sphere during the Later Abbasid Caliphate (1000- 1258 CE): The Role of Sufism
: Muhammad, Atta
: The University of Leeds
: 2020
: pdf
: 286
: 14.8
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This study reconsiders and overturns key Orientalist assumptions about popular agency and despotic rule in medieval Islamic society. These assumptions encompass the notions that no relationship existed between the lower rungs of society and the ruling elite except through the hegemonic pattern of the absolute and unfettered rule of sul??ns/caliphs, and that people at large enjoyed little to no agency in regard to effecting social, political, spiritual and economic change. My study argues against these assumptions by clearing a space for better understanding of where the social, economic and political agency of ordinary people lay. I argue that medieval Islamic societies did not merely have a single authoritarian sphere of social activity in which only the elite had agency; rather, there were multiple public spheres where people recruited from a range of private spheres expressed differing modes of social agency. This study reveals that there was a vibrant public sphere in medieval Islamic societies, and particularly in later Abbasid Baghdad, in which ??f?s played a significant role. The establishment of ??f? lodges in Baghdad created a much broader public space where the community of believers would be involved in public sphere activities of various kinds, through which they could contribute to the public good. The plethora of evidence that I have gathered and analysed in this study reveals that ??f?s as social actors used their agency to influence state policies for the betterment of common people. Through their autonomous activities, by instructing the authorities or collaborating with the ruling authorities, ??f?s regularly and successfully intervened in the public domains for the welfare of the community, sometimes to quite radical effect. A number of ??f?s also tried to build bridges between ruling elites and commoners, to develop and sustain an environment where social actors and community members from various walks of life could contribute to and shape the common values of society. My investigation breaks new ground in documenting the fact that later Abbasid Baghdad functioned well as a social sphere in terms of social cohesion and a growth in prosperity, not because governments fulfilled their responsibilities impeccably but rather because ordinary people took on some of these responsibilities. I demonstrate clearly a shift in emphasis from the state to society, where whole social strata would contribute to the constitution of public spheres. The involvement of rulers as patrons and facilitators of these public spaces reveals that medieval rulers were not by any means necessarily despotic.












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