|Arab Culture and Civilization: A collaborative web project created by NITLE and sponsored by MEPC|
|Main Menu Introduction Timeline Readings Audio/Video Links Bibliography|
Know that the science of history is noble in its conception, abounding in instruction, and exalted in its aim. It acquaints us with the characteristics of ancient peoples, the ways of life followed by prophets, and the dynasties and government of kings, so that those who wish may draw valuable lessons for their guidance in religious and worldly affairs.
Through this unit you can explore some of the historical forces that shaped the Arab World into the place it is today. The timeline, the central and unifying feature of this unit, provides a broad overview, tracing the achievements of Arab civilization back to its first emergence some 200 or so years after the decline of the Roman empire, when a merchant on the Arabian Peninsula began receiving revelations that would form the basis of one of the world's greatest religions. In addition to political events, the timeline offers some particularly important dates in the social and cultural history of the region, as well as significant dates in world history that will help situate events from this region in a global context.
The readings that accompany this unit focus on the more recent past. While providing some elaboration on earlier history, they concentrate on the period in which the political and social landscape began to solidify into the picture that one sees today, beginning with the decline of the Ottoman Empire. Essays discuss issues of general concern to those who seek to understand the history of the region, as well as some of the most important historical developments and trends including the rise and decline of Arab nationalism, the war in Lebanon, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Iran-Iraq war, the Gulf War, the civil conflict in Algeria, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, and the status of recent economic and political reforms in the area. Articles such as Imperial Muddle directly relate current events such as the 2003 war in Iraq to historical events, in this case British rule in Iraq.
The texts included are organized, roughly, from the general to the specific, with regional surveys covering long periods of time appearing first, and essays on more specific topics following. Thus the unit readings begin with the text of an an interview with William Cleveland, a Professor of History at Simon Fraser University in Canada, who offers some advice to students interested in the history of the region, as well as some reflections on the history of the Arab World since the end of the Ottoman Empire. This is followed by an essay "Egypt and North Africa" by Peter von Sivers, which looks at the development of Islam in North Africa from the arrival of Islam to the present, and a reading by Ira Lapidus that focuses on more recent history in the Arab States, excluding North Africa. The remainder of the essays deal with specific periods, issues or areas in the history of the Arab World. This structure may seem arbitrary, but it is, perhaps, the best way to organize such a diverse set of readings that remains very much under development. The last two readings, however, both discuss recent US policy in the region, with William Quandt assessing the role played by the US in mediating the Arab-Israeli conflict since 1967, and Fawaz Gerges assessing American policy toward Islamist movements.
The audio-video segment of the unit contains an interview with Azzedine Layachi in which he discusses the development of Arab Nationalism and Islamic Radicalism, as well as the recent history of Morocco and Algeria in relationship to similar developments in the rest of the Arab World. This section also includes a number of film clips documenting key events in the recent history of the Arab World.
Those interested in the history of the region will find other relevant resources beyond this unit of the site. A major development in the modern history of the Arab world has been the rise of "Political Islam" or "Islamists", often inaccurately referred to as "Islamic Fundamentalists". The resources from the unit on Islam that contextualize this phenomenon historically are too numerous to list here, but visitors woud be well advised to consider audio interviews such as that with John L. Esposito, as well as texts such as "Islam and the Theology of Power" by Khaled Abou El Fadl. An exploration of the unit on Ethnicity and Identity, will yield information on the history of ethnic and religious minorities in the region. The unit on Family and Society contains a great deal of material on the status of Arab women thoughout history, including interviews with historian Judith Tucker and sociologist Marnia Lazreg, as well as readings on topics such as "Women in Muslim History" by Fatima Mernissi. Of course, literary history and art history are both important components of the units relating to those topics.