Writing for the Caliphate: The Unique Necklace by Ibn ʿAbd Rabbih*

Toral-Niehoff, Isabel

This study undertakes a political reading of the ʿIqd al-farīd by Ibn ʿAbd Rabbih (246/860-328/940). It proposes to identify this adab encyclopaedia, composed in Cordova as a “caliphal” composition, by interpreting its conceptual agenda and compositional structure against the background of (neo-) Umayyad caliphal ideology as reconstructed by Janina Safran and Gabriel Martinez-Gros. It reads the text as “imperialistic” in its claim to represent Umayyad leadership, as unique and universal, against that of its contemporary rivals, the Abbasids and Fatimids. The Umayyads in al-Andalus suffered from a peculiarly precarious legitimacy, since, in contrast to the Abbasids and Fatimids, they could not refer to a kinship link to the Prophet. Their territory was also situated far outside the central lands of Islam and did not dominate the Holy Sites in the Ḥijāz (required for a caliph), which was a source of embarrassment. Therefore, there was a particularly strong need for a consistent ideology to compensate for this weakness. The study concentrates on three arguments. First, that the ʿIqd al-Farīd was written by a man of the Umayyad regime under the tutelage of the caliph; second, that the ʿIqd reflects a cultural program that aimed at educating Cordovan elites according to cultural models set forth by caliphal Baghdad; and third, that, as an encyclopaedia, it reflects an inclusive, globalizing, culturally imperialistic program that matched the contemporaneous caliphal universal aspirations of the Umayyad regime.


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Al-ʿUsur al-Wusta

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August 17, 2022