Fiscal Regime and Social Conflict in the Early Islamic Near East: Or, a New History of the Abbasid Revolution, with Mehdy Shaddel

Recorded November 8, 2023:

Fiscal Regime and Social Conflict in the Early Islamic Near East: Or, a New History of the Abbasid Revolution

Mehdy Shaddel, Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations, Aga Khan University London

This talk maps out the outlines of a research project to revisit the nature of the fiscal regime and social change in the early Islamic Near East. Bringing together untapped literary, papyrological, and other evidence, it argues that the seventh-century conquerors who established themselves in garrison towns all across the territories of the Caliphate self-identified as members of a new ruling elite who called themselves muhājirūn and inscribed themselves as such in registers called dīwān for the purpose of receiving stipends. Over time, however, this initially workable system became increasingly imparticable as growing numbers of converts demanded to join the ranks of the conqueror class but were turned away by the government. The failure of successive attempts at reform (notably by the caliphs Sulaymān and ʿUmar II) left these converts a constituency to be courted by the opposition, and many of them were recruited into various rebel causes, including the Hashemite movement that brought down the Umayyad regime in 750. Having attained power with the help of this constituency, the Abbasids saw to a revision of the fiscal system whereby it was Muslimness (rather than muhājir status) that entitled one to membership of the ruling classes and taxes were assessed on the basis of religious status, thus giving shape to classical Islamic fiscal law as we know it.

Mehdy Shaddel is a scholar of Near Eastern history specialising in Islamic origins and the socio-economic, political, and religious history of the early Muslim empire. At its core, his work blends together philology with theoretical and comparative insights to address broader interdisciplinary themes such as apocalypticism and eschatology and comparative empires and state formation, with early Islam usually as a case-study. His publications have appeared in such venues as Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African StudiesJournal of the Royal Asiatic SocietyArabicaDer IslamJournal of Semitic Studies, and Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam. He is currently working on a monograph, tentatively entitled The Sufyanids and the Beginnings of the Second Muslim Civil War, 660-684 CE, and editions and translations of the Kitāb al-wuzarāʾ wa-l-kuttāb of Muḥammad ibn ʿAbdūs al-Jahshiyārī and (with Samuel J. Noble) the Arabic versions of the pseudonymous anti-Jewish tractate Doctrina Iacobi nuper baptizati.

The Circle is convened by Parvaneh Pourshariati, Associate Professor of History at CityTech, CUNY.  The Circle for Late Antique and Medieval Studies is based at the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies at the Graduate Center, CUNY.