Parution: A. AZAD, Sacred Landscape in Medieval Afghanistan

Sacred Landscape in Medieval Afghanistan

Revisiting the Faḍāʾil-i Balkh

Arezou Azad
Oxford Oriental Monographs

240 pages | 13 colour plates, 7 b/w in-text figures, 3 maps | 216x138mm
978-0-19-968705-3 | Hardback | 12 December 2013
  • Looks at the influence of Buddhism in early Islamic history,
  • Highlights that the sacredness of a holy Islamic site precedes the arrival of Islam by many centuries
  • Describes how the history of a place is created through the collation of accounts and their repetition and adaptations over the centuries, providing a case study of Islamic historiography through the historical analysis of one concrete place.
  • Gives insight into the human values that served as examples of moral excellence in the mediaeval Islamic world.
  • Broadens understanding of the silk road and Islamic history in Afghanistan beyond a Middle East-focussed and Kabul-centred approach.

This book is about a sacred place called Balkh, known to the ancient Greeks as Bactra. Located in the north of today’s Afghanistan, along the silk road, Balkh was holy to many. The Prophet Zoroaster is rumoured to have died here, and during late antiquity, Balkh was the home of the Naw Bahār, a famed Buddhist temple and monastery. By the tenth century, Balkh had become a critical centre of Islamic learning and early poetry in the New Persian language that grew after the Islamic conquests and continues to be spoken in Iran, Afghanistan and parts of Central Asia today.
In this book, Arezou Azad provides the first in-depth study of the sacred sites and landscape of medieval Balkh, which continues to exemplify age-old sanctity in the Persian-speaking world and the eastern lands of Islam generally. Azad focuses on the five centuries from the Islamic conquests in the eighth century to just before the arrival of the Mongols in the thirteenth century, the crucial period in the emergence of Perso-Islamic historiography and Islamic legal thought. The book traces the development of ‘sacred landscape’, the notion that a place has a sensory meaning, as distinct from a purely topographical space. This opens up new possibilities for our understanding of Islamisation in the eastern Islamic lands, and specifically the transition from Buddhism to Islam. Azad offers a new look at the medieval local history of Balkh, the Faḍāʾil-i Balkh, and analyses its creation of a sacred landscape for Balkh. In doing so, she provides a compelling example of how the sacredness of a place is perpetuated through narratives, irrespective of the dominant religion or religious strand of the time.Readership: Students and scholars of Islamic and Buddhist history, sacred landscape (anthropologists), Islamic law, and area studies (Afghanistan, Iran, Central Asia)



Table of contents:

Introduction: The Discourse of Landscape, Balkh and its History
1: Writing about Place: Faḍāʾil-i Balkh
Text and transmission
The Question of Sources
How to Read the Message
2: The Sacred Sites and the City
The sacred sites of Balkh
The sacred landscape of Balkh
3: Scholars, the Spirits of Sacred Landscape
Religious distinctions and affiliations
The Character of Sanctity
Conclusion: Looking Back, Moving Forward


Arezou Azad, Lecturer in Medieval History, University of Birmingham and Leverhulme Research Officer, University of Oxford

Arezou Azad is Lecturer in Medieval History at the University of Birmingham. She is the founder and co-Director of the Balkh Art and Cultural Heritage project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust and based at the University of Oxford. She received her D.Phil. from the University of Oxford in 2010. She has published several articles on medieval Balkh and the Faḍāʾil-i Balkh, the city’s earliest surviving local history of which she is preparing a revised Persian edition and English translation. Prior to joining academia, she served as a peacekeeper and development worker for the United Nations and non-governmental organisations in a number of countries, including Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil and Timor-Leste.

Camille Rhoné

Agrégée d'histoire, titulaire d'une thèse de doctorat en histoire de l'Islam médiéval ("Défendre le territoire en Iran nord-oriental - Khorassan et Transoxiane -, IXe-XIe siècle"), Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne.

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