Muslim historians were primarily influenced by the Quran in their historiography, renowned historian Prof Dr Aslam Syed observed the other day while responding to a question on the contribution of Muslims in historiography during the early period of Islam.
“The Quran contains records that constitute the basis of the history of humankind from Adam through the last Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him). Another valuable resource for Islamic historians is the Hadith (the traditions or sayings of Muhammad (PBUH), which is arranged in such a way that lines of transmission can be traced back to those who knew the Prophet. Chains of authorities were introduced as integral ingredients to early Islamic theology and historiography,” he said in response to a question during a webinar on the "Weekends of Discourse in History.
This was the webinar’s fifth session exclusively dedicated to the early period of Muslim history. The webinar was arranged by the National Institute of Historical and Cultural Research (NIHCR), Centre of Excellence, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. It was attended online by over 1,300 participants including students, teachers and researchers who were keen to hear the guest speaker’s views.
He recalled the role of Al-Ṭabari, Rashid al-Din and Ibn Khaldun in the Muslim historiography. The early Muslim historian, al-Ṭabari was reputed to have memorised the Quran and also produced a 30,000-page commentary on it and an equally long universal history, he said.
“His contributions as a historian were his accurate chronology and his scrupulous faithfulness in the reproducing authorities, he added.
The Persian scholar Rashid al-Din composed a more truly universal history, Jami al-Tawarikh (Collector of Chronicles), which covered not only the Islamic world but also included data on the popes and emperors of Europe and on Mongolia and China, Dr Syed maintained.
The sophistication of Islamic historical thought was dramatically illustrated by the Muqaddimah (Introduction) of Arab historian Ibn Khaldun. This introductory volume of a universal history reveals Khaldun’s ideas about history — something chroniclers hardly ever did, he stated.
He further opined that there were no fixed and specific methods that were followed regarding the preservation and compilation of historical events. Rather it was preserved through oral traditions and odyssey.
“This system helps preserve religious rules and regulations, restrictions and others social rules. But it is not sufficient to establish a permanent system of the preservation of all historical data and events,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 26th, 2021.
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