In this thought-provoking book Nadia Maria El Cheikh examines the roles of representations of women and sexuality in textual rhetoric of legitimation and self-definition during the first few centuries of the Abbasid dynasty (750–1258 CE). Having come to power by overthrowing the Umayyads (661–750 CE), the Abbasids initially sought to legitimate themselves by associating the former dynasty with the resurgence of attitudes and practices said to have been characteristic of pre-Islamic Arabian paganism, or jahiliyya. In a number of texts from the first few centuries of Abbasid rule, the jahiliyya was initially constructed as a time of impurity and corruption, and later as one of ignorance and barbarism. Such representations were less concerned about Arabian paganism per se than with defining what it meant to be Arab and Muslim, as well as a Sunni imperial power. El...

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