Conference Paper

Jihād in al-Shām: Ibn ʿAsākir and the Biographical Tradition of Ibn al-Mubārak

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Abstract

In his Tāʾrīkh Dimashq, Ibn ʿAsākir lavishes attention on the famous eighth-century ascetic and ghāzī, Ibn al-Mubārak. There are a great many biographical notices of Ibn al-Mubārak from the ninth century onwards, though the majority of those compiled before the turn of the eleventh century are nothing more than short, formulaic statements of the barest biographical information. It is only after the turn of the eleventh century that the biographical notices of Ibn al-Mubārak begin to incorporate additional material of a more subjective and anecdotal nature. This correlation between length and date of composition is striking, and raises an obvious problem when it comes to recovering the historical reality of Ibn al‑Mubārak, which can be assuaged somewhat by approaching the notices from a later perspective. Thus, whilst the historical Ibn al‑Mubārak may well recede, by approaching the material in this way, one can gain insight into later perceptions of the intellectual milieu of the eighth‑century Islamic world. This reveals not merely how Ibn al-Mubārak came to be regarded after his death, but also the self‑perceptions of later generations and how they sought to shape and create their group identities. It is with this in mind that I will discuss Ibn ʿAsākir's representation of Ibn al-Mubārak, whose biographical notice represents a distinct shift in emphasis. The basic framework for many of the biographical notices – including Ibn ʿAsākir's – was set by Abū Nuʿaym and al-Khaṭīb al-Baghdādī in their Ḥilyat al-Awliyāʾ and Tāʾrīkh Baghdād respectively, both of whom emphasised Ibn al-Mubārak's piety and asceticism. Ibn ʿAsākir introduces a great deal of hitherto unattested material which directly pertains to Ibn al-Mubārak's ghazw and jihād activities: he is thus the first to stress the military aspect of Ibn al‑Mubārak's persona. It is significant that this material first appears in the written record during the twelfth-century counter-crusade; this paper will discuss how Ibn ʿAsākir's introduction of this material into the biographical tradition relates to his other activities as a leading ideologue of the counter-crusade.

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