This essay is a review of The Nativist Prophets of Early Islamic Iran: Rural Revolt and Local Zoroastrianism (2014), the last book that Patricia Crone wrote before she died, as well as an overview of her career and a tribute to her as a great historian of Islam. In Crone's subaltern history of the Persian plateau, the “nativist prophets” are a series of Iranian divines, seers, and hooligans whose resentment against Arab domination was expressed in recourse to pre-Islamic Persian ideals and beliefs. Islamic orthodoxy was undefined in the early eighth century, Crone shows, and the law had not yet entered every corner of daily life. There was, moreover, no clerical class at the time to correct heresiarchs on the fringes of the empire. Hence, according to the reviewer, one can easily imagine the situation as Crone does, with the truths of the new faith, in the eastern extremities of the caliphate, mixing with the Zoroastrian, Christian, and Manichaean truths already rooted there. Crone bleeds the categories of “Islamic” and “pre-Islamic” into each other, and thus her history is composed less of blocks of time and well-defined identities than of mutable compounds of belief and usage. The reviewer argues that Crone's sense of an unruly proliferation of popular beliefs is confirmed by the latest archaeology, and then he closes with an extended meditation on the relevance of this early Arab-Persian divide to the contemporary political situation of Islam and the Middle East.
Christopher de Bellaigue; IRANIAN HERESIOGRAPHY. Common Knowledge 1 May 2016; 22 (2): 331–340. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0961754X-3465034
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