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HISTORY, HISTORIOGRAPHY, HISTORIANS

Encyclopaedia of Ismailism by Mumtaz Ali Tajddin

The word history is derived from the Latin historia meaning narrative of past event, account, tale or story. The synonymous word in German is geschichte means occurrence. The earliest known historical writing comes from the old kingdom of Egypt. One surviving fragment is the Palermo Stone (about 2600 B.C.) dealing with the annals of the early dynasties of Pharaohs.

History is the product of historians' works in reconstructing the flow of events from the original written traces or sources into a narrative form. History is regarded a branch of humanities or as a social science because it is a mirror reflecting the past events. History in its broadest sense is the record of everything, which that ever happened. It is a philosophical teaching by example and bears a note of warning with both of its eyes that is geography and chronology. Sometimes it is all fact and not very seldom all fiction but still greater than truth. It is a voice for ever-sounding across the centuries, many oft-repeated laws of right and wrong. History is all time, all correct, record of the destiny of man on the tablets of eternity. History fosters a partnership with the dead, and the dead become alive through history. It also serves as a therapy for undue obsession with the present, and this may help to liberate one from being bound excessively by time.

John Huizings writes in Philosophy and History (London, 1936, p. 9) that, "History is the intellectual form in which a civilization renders account itself of its past." B. Croce writes in History as the story of Liberty (London, 1941, p. 19) that, "History consists essentially in seeing the past through the eyes of the present and in the light of its problem, and that the main work of the historian is not to record but to evaluate; for if he does not evaluate, how can he know what is worth recording."

Divisions of History

"The modern historians divided the history into following divisions: -

(1) Pre-historic (5500-4000 B.C.), Proto-historic (4000-3200 B.C.), Historic (3200-800 B.C.), and Colonization Age (8th century B.C.).

(2) Dark Age (410-1453 A.D.):- Early (410-1377 A.D.) and Later (1378-1453 A.D.)

(3) Modern Age (since 1454 A.D.):- Early (1494-1600 A.D.), Later (1600-1789 A.D.), and Present (since 1800 A.D.)"

The Dark Age (410-1453 A.D.) & Islamic History

The Dark Age is widely known as the Middle Age, and was coined as media tempora (middle time) during the 16th century. The Middle Age is also known as Medieval Age. By the end of 17th century, it was also called medium aevum (middle period). The Middle Age began with the fall of the Roman Empire in 410 A.D., which includes the Islamic history as follows: - The Prophet (571-632 A.D.), Pious Caliphs (632-661 A.D.), Umayyads of Damascus (661-750 A.D.), Abbasids (750-1258 A.D.), Umayyads of Spain (756-1027 A.D.), Fatimids (909-1160 A.D.) and Crusades (1095-1270 A.D.)

Islamic concept of History

"According to the Koran, “We tell you stories of the prophets, which will strengthen your heart, and thus bring you the truth, and exhortation and a memorial for the believers” (11:120) and “Say (O’Prophet) travel through the earth to find out surely the consequences of those who denied the truth” (3:42). Of particular significance is the repeated reference to asatir al-awwalin means stories of the ancients, a term occurs nine times in the Koran (6:25, 8:31, 16:24, 23:83, 25:5, 27:68, 46:17, 68:15, 83:13). The word asatir corresponds exactly to Latin historia. The word asatir is derived from satar meaning to write and therefore asatir also means record.

The Arabs do not seem to have a word for history in pre-Islamic period. They had a few stories without any concept of history. They however held the idea of ethnology. The advent of the Greek literature in Arabian territories also made no impact in the field of history. The Arabs developed a sense of history as a result of the Prophet’s mission."

The two technical terms by which the concept of history is commonly denoted in Arabic are al-akhbar and al-tarikh. The word akhbar (pl. of khabar) means informations, while the word tarikh means date or era. The Islamic calendar began under caliph Umar, and the word tarikh also introduced from 643 A.D. Later, the word tarikh acquired the meaning of historical work and afterwards that of history. The Arabs produced many important historians, who had sense of history and defined it in following words: - “History refers to events that are peculiar to a particular age or race” (Ibn Khaldun). “History gives information about what once took place in the world” (Makrizi). “History is a science of learning which investigates time-sections and circumstances prevailing in them.” (al-Kafiyaj). “History is a science which involves the knowledge of the condition of the ancients” (al-Marasi).

The Rasail Ikhwan as-Safa for the first time classified the sciences including history. It figures among the practical science, which comprises (a) reading and writing (b) lexicography and grammar (c) commercial counting (d) poetry and prosody (e) kinds of divination (f) magic and alchemy (g) profession and crafts (h) commerce, agriculture and animal husbandry (i) biography and history (ilm as-siyar wal akhbar).

Muslim Historiography – its early development

The term historiography means writing of history or written history. J. Sanford firstly coined this term in 1597, resembling the Arabic word ilm al-tarikh. The Koranic phrases asatir al-awwalin (writing of the ancient) also gives notion of historiography, vide 6:25, 8:31, 16:24-26, 23:83-85, 25:5-6, 27:68-70, 46:17, 68:15, 83:13, etc.

The Muslims knew no importance of history at early stage, and could not differentiate the tales, miracles, biography and history with one another. They made their acquaintance with the systematic classification of the branches of science being inspired mostly from Rasail Ikhwan as-Safa. Yet the Arabs did not assign a special place to history.

Sources of Muslim Historiography

"The later Muslim historians acquired their information from the following sources:- Sira (biography), Maghazi (expedition), Ansab (genealogies), Tabaqat (classical sketches), Akhbar (information) and Tarikh (annals).

The sira (biography) is the first brick of the Muslim historiography, which is accessible in the traditions (riwayat) or the hadiths of the Prophet. Each hadith contains a chain, from its originator to its last transmitter. The whole chain is called isnad (supporting), while the actual wording of the hadith is called matn (text). The awail (evidence) of the isnad is classified into three groups (a) pre-Islamic narratives (b) from Adam onward (c) historical facts."
The historical facts had been collected from the hadiths on the above basis. The earliest famous collectors of awail (evidence) were Tamim al-Dari (d. 40/660), Ubayd bin Umayr (d. 67/687), Tabarani (d. 361/971), Abu Hilal al-Askari (d. 395/1005), etc. M.G. Rasul writes in Muslim Historiography (Lahore, 1968, p. 49) that, “In that period of historical development, history was closely linked with hadith and followed in fact the traditionalist method.”

Another important point giving the idea of history-writing by the Muslims was the conquest of the countries. Description of these conquests and military expeditions came to be called as maghazi (derived from ghazwah means battle). The most notables among them were Urwah bin Zubair (d. 94/713), Wahab bin Munabbih (d. 97/717), Asim bin Umar Qatada (d. 119/738), Shihab al-Zuhri (d. 124/742), Aban bin Uthman (d. 201/816), , etc.

The ansab (pl. of nasab) means genealogies. The Arabs had good memory of recording the genealogies of their ancestors, whose factual notion was also the source of history.

The term tabaqat mean layer or class, which was used in the sense of generation to collect data of the origin of dynastic biography. The first to write on the dynasty i.e., the Abbasids was Muhammad bin Saleh bin Mihran bin al-Nattah (d. 119/738), but according to Fihrist (p. 134) by Ibn Nadim (d. 385/995) that Awanah bin Hakim al-Kalbi (d. 150/767) was the first to write the history of the Umayyads.

The akhbari were the compilers of akhbar (informations), who drew materials largely from the traditions and wrote direct and simple events. The famous among them were Awana bin Hakim (d. 147/764), Abu Mikhnaf (d. 157/774), Saif bin Umar and al-Madaini (d. 224/839).

Muslim Historiography between 9th and 15th century

Bernard Lewis writes in Historians of the Middle East (London, 1963, p. 3) that, “The first lesson of history – of universal history – was received by the Muslims in the shape of religious teachings and they proved themselves worthy students of the subject.” Islamic history is branch of human knowledge in which the Arabic language, not only seems the pioneer but the proudest also. Westenfeld enumerated some five hundred and ninety historians who flourished in the first millennium after the Hijra. Celebi ibn Abdullah (d. 460/1067) counted thirteen hundred historical works. And yet we unluckily do not have any book on Islamic history like Mommsen’s History of Rome. It is true that many books have been written by Moller, Brockelmann, Huart and Philip K. Hitti, but most of these books deal with the political matter of the Islamic world, and has endeared to its data the individual only and not the mankind.

Renowned historians contributed in the Muslim historiography in Arabic are Ibn Muqaffa (d. 139/757), Ibn Ishaq (d. 145/768), al-Waqidi (d. 207/823), Ibn Hisham (d. 218/833), Qutaidah (d. 268/882), Baladhuri (d. 280/892), Yaqubi (d. 284/898), Dinawari (d. 285/897), Tabari (d. 312/923), Masudi (d. 324/956), al-Musabbihi (d. 420/1029), Miskawayd (d. 421/1030), Utabi (d. 426/1035), Ibn al-Sabi (d. 448/1056), Ibn Asakir (d. 571/1176), Yaqut (d. 626/1229), Ibn Athir (d. 631/1234), Ibn Jawzi (d. 597/1200), Ibn Khallikan (d. 680/1282), Abul Fida (d. 732/1331), Ibn Khaldun (d. 808/1406), Mikrizi (d. 845/1442), etc.

The famous Persian historians were Juvaini (d. 681/1283), Rashiduddin (d. 718/1318), Hamiduddin Mustawfi (d. 749/1349), Mirkhund (d. 904/1498), Khawandamir (d. 944/1538), etc.

The notables Turks historians were Kamal Pashazade (d. 940/1534), Tashkopruzade (d. 968/1561), Haji Khalia (d. 1068/1657) and Munajjim Bashi (d. 1113/1702).

Critical study of the Historiography

Indeed history as a science is a new concept, which took its birth among the foggy platitudes of the olden historians and its birthday falls somewhere in the 19th century. The new school of history is determined to arrive at every or any historical truth, here, there and everywhere. Absolute truth may not be obtainable easily in history but the more we have it the more real and living it becomes. Therefore we, today, insist upon a scientific treatment of it. The modern scientific historian looks upon history as dealing with all aspects of human life and activity. The history of any nation or society must be something mobile and continually evolving and it should not overlook the important fact that man makes history under special circumstances.

The historical documents mean the sources or traces, which are classified as under:- ((a) Sources: It includes Traditions and Remains. The Traditions are Oral, Written and Pictorial. (b) Sources: The other type of it includes Primary, Secondary and Tertiary.

The method employed in studying sources is the historical method. It embraces two kinds of operations: (1) Criticism, and (2) Synthesis.

The criticism seeks to determine character of a source. It lays the foundation for a rational belief that this or that particular event actually happened. It produces those pieces of information, which are described as “the facts of history.” The process of criticism, offering to evaluate the sources and to determine the fact, follows the synthesis. Hence, as a scientist, a historian must have a critical frame of mind, and as an artist, he needs literary skills, and as a philosopher, he must employ his faculties of criticism and objective judgment in order to derive nearest approximation to the actual truth about the past.

The primary sources include records, documents in archives, letters, eye-witness reporting, diaries, contemporary materials, verses, coins or inscriptions. The secondary sources are accessible in the form of scholarly articles, monographs or specialized books. The tertiary sources are in the form of text-books, popularized events and encyclopaedia.

Audio-Visual Aids in the teaching of History

"Keeping in view the dearth of trained teachers and considering the quality of text-books, it seems all very necessary that we should resort to the modern method o teaching history. The benefits of taking into account all the audio-visual aids are the following:- (a) The modern visual and auditory aids make the methodology easy and more meaningful. (b) History being a record of the dead past, the reviving of which could only be enacted only by appealing through visual or auditory aids. (c) The students feel attracted to the lesson and thus not only learn better but also remember the lesson better. (d) The use of such aids creates activity, action and fun, which is psychologically conductive to the process of learning and biologically dear and near to the students. (e) It provides purposeful and meaningful experiences, and save the lengthy talks and round about methods. (f) These aids provide a chance to be the active participants of the lesson in hand and cut at the very root of passivity.

The different kinds of audio-visual aids in this connection, which may be named, here as :- (1) Historical monuments, building, bridges and pillars. (2) Coins and postage stamps. (3) Statues, models, sculpture. (4) Exhibits, charts, pictures, diagrams, sketches and posters. (5) Old historical dresses, costumes and parchments. (6) Films, gramophone records and slides and tape-recorded lessons. (7) Dramatization and historical pageants. (8) Field trips, excursions to historical places, and (9) Time-lines, time-charts, graphs with dates and decades."


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