INTRODUCTION Islamic Piety in Medieval Syria is a study of a past Middle Eastern society—that of Bilåd al-Shåm—present-day Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and the West Bank, in the Zangid and Ayy¨bid period.1 The reconstruction of the religious beliefs and practices of members of that society, as undertaken in this book, entailed both the study of the works of its jurisconsults, preachers, and theologians, as well as an ethnography of its ‘living faith’. In my imagination, I embarked upon a virtual voyage into the cities, provincial towns and villages of mid-twelfth to mid-thirteenth century Syria, for long spans of ‘eldwork’, aspiring to attain some intimacy with the texture of medieval Muslim piety. Drawing on a large collection of works from the copious literary production of that society, a much smaller treasury of documents from its private and public archives, and the many remnants of the architectural and artistic output of its artisans, I chose to concentrate on the arenas that stood at the heart of religious life, and were attended by all: common men and women, members of the ruling military and administrative elites, scholars and religious functionaries, merchants and farmers. Their gatherings in mosques, attendance at popular assemblies of exhortation, visits to cemeteries, and pilgrimages to sacred shrines are the subject of the chapters of this book. This specic scheme seeks to treat the religious life of all classes and groups simultaneously, and to capture the religious experiences, liturgical calendars, spiritual leadership and communal organization of the unlettered classes (al-åmma, al-awåmm, al-nås) in interaction with those of the educated elite (al-khå‚‚a, al-khawå‚‚). It is an attempt to avoid the dichotomous model, the a priori positioning of the religion of the learned elite against the religion of the masses, and the construction of an ofcial, normative, orthodox version of religion, opposed to a popular, heterodox, folk version. It focuses on hybrid religious orientations, and on the processes through which the
1 For the sake of convenience, ‘Syria’ will be used as the name of the entire geographical unit throughout the book.