Tabari on the Companions of The Prophet: Moral and Political Contours in Islamic Historical Writing

Albrecht Noth's landmark study, recently (1994) expanded with the collaboration of Lawrence Conrad and translated from the German by Michael Bonner, identified a number of motifs in early Islamic history writing. One of these was the way in which the doctrine of the status of the Prophet's companions became a dominant theme featured in the accounts of the riddah and fitnah wars. Following this historiographical support, Sunni thought posited the companions as models of piety, steadfastness, and bravery in early Islam. I want to argue in this paper that a close reading of Tabari's presentation of the companions in the first fitnah (the Battles of the Camel and Siffin) reveals a more nuanced view of this dominant conception. I suggest that this was a reflection of Tabari's unique place in Baghdad society, and his mastery of the use of sources in presenting early Islamic history.

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