Peter Webb, Imagining the Arabs: Arab Identity and the Rise of Islam, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press 2016, 416pp.
A new interpretation of Arab origins and the historical roots of Arab identity
It is revealed that the time-honoured stereotypes depicting Arabs as ancient Arabian Bedouin are entirely misleading: the essence of Arab identity was in fact devised by Muslims during the first centuries of Islam. Arab identity emerged and evolved as groups imagined new notions of community to suit the radically changing circumstances of life in the early Caliphate. The idea of ‘the Arab’ was a device used by Muslims to articulate their communal identity, to negotiate post-Conquest power relations, and to explain the rise of Islam. Over Islam’s first four centuries, political elites, genealogists, poetry collectors, historians and grammarians all participated in a vibrant process of imagining and re-imagining Arab identity and history, and the sum of their works established a powerful tradition that influences Middle Eastern communities to the present day.