Inventing tradition and constructing identity: The genealogy of cUmar Ibn Hafsün between Christianity and Islam

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Abstract

cUmar b. Hafsūn, the famous anti-Umayyad rebel in al-Andalus in the ninth century, laid claim at one stage in his career to a long and distinguished ancestry, including several generations of Muslims and four Christian generations. In this article I argue that the ancestry is an invention, invented to serve immediate political needs. There is no reason to suppose it genuine; we have no other example of such a genealogy from the Islamic world and scarcely any from anywhere else; and the genealogy presents other problems. The consequences of this are of some significance: first, understanding the genealogy as an invention enables us to understand the career of Ibn Hafsūn himself in a different light, and the better to assess what he was doing (and when) in the course of his long career. Secondly, we are in a position to look very differently at modern interpretations of his career: understanding the genealogy as a forgery means that we have no longer any reason to see Ibn Hafsūn as a descendant of late Visigothic nobility, and hence casts some doubt on the view of his activity as some sort of local Christian political revanchism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)269-297
Number of pages29
JournalAl-Qantara
Volume23
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - 2002

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