2011

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Winning Titles

James Howard-Johnston
Witnesses to a World Crisis: Historians and Histories of the Middle East in the Seventh Century  (Oxford University Press)

The principal witnesses to the rise of Islam are examined, first contemporary and near‐contemporary non‐Muslims, then later writers with access to good sources of information, and finally the canonical Islamic accounts. As information is extracted from each successive witness, the extraordinary history of the seventh century in the Middle East—the human equivalent of the Big Bang—is gradually pieced together. Key events are securely dated for the first time—the surrender of Jerusalem (late in 634 or early 635), the decisive defeat of Persian forces at Qadisiyya (6 January 638), the assassination of ‘Ali (658), and the death of Husayn at Karbala (661). Others are observed clearly for the first time—three years of widespread fighting and bloodshed after the death of ‘Ali (658–61), the plot hatched at Damascus in 668 to assassinate the Byzantine Emperor Constans II (carried out in Syracuse on 15 July 669), Byzantium's Trafalgar fought off the coast of Lycia in 674, and the subsequent dangerous Christian insurgency in the Middle East. The final three chapters gather together all the testimonies into a continuous narrative, and seek out explanations for Muslim success. Muhammad's controversial decision to replace the Holy City, Jerusalem, with the pagan cult centre of Mecca as the focus of Muslim worship, and to incorporate the annual pagan pilgrimage into the new religion, is identified as a key moment in world history, in that it married the dynamism of the new faith with the organizational capability of a powerful city‐state.

 

Nasser Rabbat
Mamluk History through Architecture, Monuments, Culture and Politics in Medieval Egypt and Syria  (IB Tauris)

The most enduring testament to the Mamluk Sultanate is its architecture. Not only do Mamluk buildings embody one of the most outstanding medieval architectural traditions, Mamluk architecture is actually a key to the social history of the period. Analysing Mamluk constructions as a form of communication and documentation as well as a cultural index, "Mamluk History Through Architecture" shows how the buildings mirror the complex - and historically unique - military, political, social and financial structures of Mamluk society. With this original and authoritative study, Nasser Rabbat offers an innovative approach to the history of the Mamluks - through readings of the spectacular architecture of the period. Drawing on examples from throughout both Egypt and Syria, from the Citadel and Al-Azhar Mosque of Cairo to the Mausoleum of al-Zahir Baybars in Damascus, Rabbat demonstrates how Mamluk architecture served to reinforce visually the spirit of the counter-Crusade, when the Muslim world rebounded from the setbacks of the First Crusade. Both holistically and in case studies, Rabbat demonstrates how history is inscribed into and reflected by a culture's artefacts