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The Great Caliphs: The Golden Age of the Abbasid Empire

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“The Great Caliphs: The Golden Age of the ‘Abbasid Empire” by Amira K. Bennison offers a captivating reassessment of Islamic civilization during the ‘Abbasid period, challenging prevailing assumptions and providing a fresh perspective on the relationship between Western and Islamic cultures. In this accessible and engaging history, Bennison presents a compelling argument that places Islamic civilization within the broader context of Mediterranean civilizations, highlighting its continuity with Graeco-Roman traditions rather than seeing it as an interruption.

At its zenith, the ‘Abbasid caliphate wielded considerable influence across vast territories spanning the Middle East and North Africa, leaving a lasting imprint on Islamic regimes as far west as Spain. Bennison’s exploration of the politics, society, and culture of the ‘Abbasid era paints a vivid picture of a society that nurtured many values commonly associated with Western civilization, albeit in different premodern forms.

One of the central themes of Bennison’s work is the idea that Islamic civilization was not an alien entity but rather an inheritor and interpreter of Graeco-Roman traditions. She highlights the ‘Abbasid Empire’s contributions to urban planning, international trade networks, religious pluralism, and academic research, showcasing its role in shaping the trajectory of global civilization.

Bennison’s argument challenges the common Western perception of Muslim culture as alien and offers a nuanced understanding of the relationship between Western and Islamic cultures. By emphasizing the interconnectedness and mutual influence between these civilizations, she offers a more balanced and inclusive narrative of world history.

Overall, “The Great Caliphs: The Golden Age of the ‘Abbasid Empire” is a thought-provoking and illuminating exploration of a pivotal period in Islamic history. Bennison’s accessible writing style, coupled with her rigorous scholarship, makes this book essential reading for anyone interested in gaining a deeper understanding of the complexities of cultural exchange and dialogue between Western and Islamic civilizations.