WHAT IS ISLAMIC HISTORY?
This paper begins with an argument for what Shahab Ahmed called the “islams not Islam” approach to defining the Islamic, rooting the argument not only in self-identification – a common social science tool for category definition and boundary making – but also in Islamic historical traditions themselves. It then demonstrates this historical rootedness through an unusually difficult test case: Chinese-language Islams that eschewed the words “Islam” and “Muslim.” After proposing a definition of “Islamic history,” one that is more expansive than prevailing understandings, the paper attempts a fresh examination of the nature of Islamic history, asking what makes it distinct and where it can contribute to a global comparative historiography.
Rian Thum is Associate Professor of History at Loyola University and a Fellow at the National Humanities Center, concurrently holding an ACLS fellowship. He is the author of The Sacred Routes of Uyghur History. His current work focuses on the history of Chinese Islams, particularly as they have been shaped by connections to South Asia, and on the Turkistani community in Saudi Arabia.