Publication Spotlight: ‘Medieval Central Asia and the Persianate World: Iranian Tradition and Islamic Civilisation’

Medieval Central Asia and the Persianae WorldWhen we think of the Sunni Muslim world today, we tend to think in terms of the great Arab Arab cities of the Middle East – places like Cairo, Damascus and Baghdad. Yet in the Middle Ages, especially the ninth to twelfth centuries, the cultural heart of this world was far to the east, in Central Asian territories now famous only for their obscurity and remoteness – Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and eastern Iran. This vast region, which medieval Muslims called Khurasan, was the stronghold of Sunnism in a period when places likes Egypt and Iraq were under Shiite rule. Thus in fact it was Khurasan that played a crucial role in shaping what we think of as classical Islamic civilisation. From Khurasan came most of the compilers of the canonical collections of the Prophet’s sayings (the hadith), still in use among Sunni Muslims today, and it was there that Sufism, a form of Muslim piety based on the efficacy of holy men and miracles, developed into its recognisable form. For the princes of the Muslim courts of what is now Afghanistan and Uzbekistan some of the great works of classical Arabic and Persian literature were composed. The madrasa, the Muslim school of law which some consider the precursor of or even the inspiration for universities in the west, originated in Central Asia in this period, while even the tall, thin, cylindrical minaret, today the quintessential symbol of Islam, first developed in this region before spreading westward. Read more of this post