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INTRODUCTION

information about religious practices and beliefs, let alone those of men of humbler social classes, women and children, marginal groups and rural areas. Biographers were primarily interested in the ulamå (even though rulers, emirs, merchants, ͨfs and eccentrics do enter their works). Geographical treatises, chronicles and biographical dictionaries, travelogues, hagiographical works, fatwås, anti-bida treatises, sermons, and other didactic manuals were all written by learned men, who did not necessarily understand the voices of commoners properly, even if they did take the trouble to listen to them and record them. Moreover, some of them wrote about commoners with the intent of reforming their practices, or doing away with them altogether. Yet, I agree with Jonathan Berkey’s observation that in the medieval Middle East the lines separating one social group from another were porous, and that literacy was not a clear-cut mark of differentiation. There were varying degrees of literacy, and many, at least in urban centers, were exposed to some maktab-education.73 Mutatis mutandis, Gurevich’s reminder that “many genres of medieval didactic literature were written for the Church ock and that on both the form and content of this literature there remains the imprint of a kind of ‘pressure’ this audience imposed on learned authors”74 is applicable to our case. All in all, my contention is that we can succeed in capturing some of the seemingly mute voices of medieval Muslim society in the sources we do possess, and attempt to explain their expressions of piety. The main strategies here are to cover as large and varied a corpus of literature possible, and avoid the construction of a separate category for popular religion—an issue I will return to. The study of some topics should, perhaps, be given up altogether, at least until new sources or new methodologies become available. Our texts provide, for example, very little information about routine practices, such as daily prayers, weddings, or the celebrations of the two Islamic holidays. The modes of communal organization and the composition of religious congregations remain little known, even after close scrutiny of our sources. I have come to this conclusion after an obstinate struggle with my sources, in an attempt to identify the

73 74

Berkey, “Popular Culture,” 135. Gurevich, Historical Anthropology, 39.

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Jsrc 007 talmon heller islamic piety in medieval syria mosques, cemeteries and sermons under the zan  

Jsrc 007 talmon heller islamic piety in medieval syria mosques, cemeteries and sermons under the zan  

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