Zayde Antrim’s study of Ibn al-Adim’s regional topography of Aleppo inscribes the author’s hometown into an established Syrian “discourse of place” but with a difference. In contrast to his Damascene predecessors, Ibn al-Adim’s Syria is oriented to the north and the marchland bordering the Christian Byzantine Empire. A host of historical and political contingencies shape this depiction of a land that defies easy delimitation.
The Kurdish lands that are the focus of Boris James’ study straddle contested territory between Mamluks and Mongols in northern Mesopotamia. James makes sense of countervailing internal tensions and external pressures that beset a tribal society on the fringes of strong centralized states. He employs a brand of social theory based on Ibn Khaldun’s historical sociology while problematizing the use of terms and allied concepts like “Kurd” and “Kurdistan” that defy easy categorization.
Mary Hoyt Halavais considers the meaning of “home” for the people of sixteenth-century Spain. Home, she argues, was not a political or territorial entity to which one was loyal; instead, it was a specific place, and the lived experience of the physical and the human in that place. The reaction of Moriscos (Muslims required by law to convert to Christianity) as well as their Christian neighbors to the exile of the Moriscos of Spain (1609-1614) demonstrates this. Christians within Spain—even those who are representatives of the government in Madrid—protect their Morisco neighbors with little regard for Madrid’s laws, refusing to surrender them to the authorities. In one case, the Council of Aragon, part of the King’s governing system, subverts an order of execution. Some of the Moriscos who are exiled, pirates who repeatedly raid Spain’s ships, attempt to negotiate a surrender of all of their goods and their ships, if only they are allowed to return to their home and their families. Home is a physical and communal space for these early modern Spaniards.
Grounded Identities: Territory and Belonging in the Medieval and Early Modern Middle East and Mediterranean is a collection of essays on attachment to specific lands including Kurdistan, Andalusia and the Maghrib, and geographical Syria in the pre-modern Islamicate world. Together these essays put a premium on the affective and cultural dimensions of such attachments, fluctuations in the meaning and significance of lands in the face of historical transformations and, at the same time, the real and persistent qualities of lands and human attachments to them over long periods of time. These essays demonstrate that grounded identities are persistent and never static.
Steve Tamari examines pre-modern antecedents for Syrian territorial integrity focusing on the sacredness of the land in the mind of the seventeenth-century scholar and traveler ʿAbd al-Ghani al-Nabulusi. Al-Nabulusi traveled back and forth between the cities and towns of geographical Syria with stops at hundreds of shrines and historical sites in between. His pilgrimage routes trace the contours of a distinct territory and accentuate the connections that tie countryside to city and one rural area to another.
Alexander Elinson’s study of the Andalusian scholar Ibn al-Khatib (d. 1374) is based on a host of literary sources including both fictional and expository modes of discource. His descriptions of place and shifting definitions of al-Andalus and the Maghrib problematize the separation between the two at a time when al-Andalus which was once at the center of the Muslim West is increasingly relegated to the periphery. Elinson concludes with a focus on the importance of Granada and Fez in the 14th century in terms of what would soon become “Europe” and “North Africa” and how these two cultural locales came to be essential in the definition of Spain and Morocco respectively.