Professor Emeritus Donald P. Little (1932-2017) spent his career at McGill University’s Institute of Islamic Studies as Professor of Islamic History and Arabic Language. During these years, he not only published and taught, but also advised and guided numerous students in their research. In honour of his influence, Sami Massoud (editor) along with nine other scholars combined their efforts to produce a work in Islamic Historiography, divided into three sections.
The first, Classical Historiography, deals with … “the production of historical works in Arabic that narrate events that took place in the past, from the hands of recognized authors belonging to identifiable traditions of writing who lived in the Arab heartland of the medieval Islamic world.” The second section, Sacred History, features three essays that deal … “with histories that differ in style and purpose from those that fall within the realm of classical historiography.” This category addresses the voices of distinct sectarian and group identities of people who were either on the fringes of the Muslim heartland or minorities in their Islamic milieus. The final section, Perspectives, “offers two essays with fresh approaches to historiography” ranging from an examination of documentary sources to methodological approaches to the field.
These works reflect the intellectual presence of the man they seek to honour. A Professor, who not only shaped my understanding of Islamic History, but who also, rose to be a friend.
Review by Charles Fletcher, PhD
Sami Massoud, Editor. Studies in Islamic Historiography: Essays in Honour of Professor Donald P. Little. Leiden ; Boston : Brill, 2020. 278 pages. https://mcgill.on.worldcat.org/oclc/1122685937
Brighton, MA: Academic Studies Press, 2017. 180 pages
This unique interpretive study seeks to examine aspects of the building of the modern Turkish Nation. In particular the transmission of Kemalist Turkish Nationalism at the level of popular detective fiction. (Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (1881-1939) – Military/Political leader; First President of Turkey). Mason argues that nationalist concepts and ideas were disseminated through the medium of this literature. After introducing the genre of detective fiction, the works of five Turkish authors are analysed and found to promote such Kemalist concepts as: 1) Hardwork or Industrious; 2) Physically fit; 3) Feminist in perspective (All Turks are to participate in the nation); 4) Rationalist; and 5) Patriotic. The book represents an approach to cultural historical studies in which publications are viewed as ‘events.’ These ‘events’ provide access to a cross section of Turkish society including values, mores and the worldview of regular citizens, or at least, attempts to shape and direct popular beliefs about what it means to be a Turk under Ataturk’s vision of the Turkish Republic.
David Mason 1971-2017 completed his PhD (2011) at the Institute of Islamic Studies, McGill University. He was a friend and colleague.
Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2018. 264 pages
John of Damascus and Islam is the 34th volume in Brill’s series on the History of Christian-Muslim relations. A summary from the back cover: How did Islam come to be considered a Christian heresy? In this book, Peter Schadler outlines the intellectual background of the Christian Near East that led John, a Christian serving in the Damascus court of the caliph Abd al-Malik (685-705), to categorize Islam as a heresy. Schadler shows that different uses of the term heresy persisted among Christians, and then demonstrates that John’s assessment of the beliefs and practices of Muslims has been mistakenly dismissed on assumptions he was highly biased. By analyzing John of Damascus’ small work entitled ‘On Heresies 100’, Schadler proposes that the practices and beliefs John ascribes to Islam have analogues in the Islamic tradition, proving that John may well represent an accurate picture of Islam as he knew it in the seventh and eighth centuries in Syria and Palestine.
Schadler also includes the Greek text and English translation of ‘On Heresies 100’, which was part of John of Damascus’ larger work on heresies and offers an insightful tabulation of potential Qur’anic references in ‘On Heresies 100’. Schadler’s work is an important offering on the nascent relations between Christians and Muslims.
Throughout the year the Islamic Studies Library acquires numerous resources, books and journals (print and electronic formats), all of which contribute to the depth of the collection.
Here we highlight just two works recently received.
Originally published in German (Der Koran: Eine Einführung Stuttgart: Reclam, 2017), Nicolai Sinai’s 2017 English translation now grants access to a wider audience interested in a critical academic introduction to the Qur’an. At 242 pages, the work offers a concise introduction to the “basic methods and current state of historical-critical Qur’anic scholarship”. The author surveys the historical background by briefly introducing basic features of the Qur’an along with Muhammad and the milieu of the time, before moving to Part Two to discuss critical methodology. While Part Two deals with literary coherence, inner Qur’anic chronology and the broader intertextuality of Jewish and Christian contributions, Sinai completes his analysis in application to selected themes found in the Meccan and Medina Surahs. The absence of a concluding chapter to summarise his work does not negate the value of his contributions. If you are interested in academic Qur’anic studies, then Sinai’s book is a must read.
The Islamic Studies Library holds a wide range of works related to Qur’anic studies in a number of languages. The collection is accessible to the public.
Offered as the third of three volumes, all of which detail the manuscript holdings in the Maronite Library of Aleppo, this last volume completes the catalogue inventory (more than 1640 items). The first two volumes respectively catalogued manuscripts in Syriac and Karshuni (Arabic using the Syriac alphabet) with the final volume devoted to Arabic manuscripts. This latest volumes covers 1596 Arabic manuscripts, along with 50 images and includes an index for all three volumes (manuscripts in Arabic, Latin Script, Greek, Syriac and Karshuni). Aside from ecclesiastical works such as Biblical texts, theology, history and philosophy, the collection also contains works from Muslim authors which reflect the needs and interests of the local community between the 16th and 18th centuries and beyond.
The Islamic Studies Library houses numerous catalogues of manuscripts in a variety of Islamic languages. Manuscripts that are held at McGill can be found at Rare Books and Special Collections on the fourth floor of the Humanities and Social Sciences library.