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Writing the History of an Arabian Holy City: Ibn Zabāla and the First Local History of Medina*

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Abstract This study is an investigation into the lost Aḫbār al-Madīna attributed to Ibn Zabāla (d. after 199/814). Ibn Zabāla was the first scholar to write a local history of Medina—he was possibly the first to write a local history for any town in the Ḥiğāz—and his work is extremely important for our understanding of the development of Arabic historiography and of early ideas concerning Medina’s status as a holy place. A large number (hundreds) of citations apparently from this work have been preserved by later works, especially in the later local histories of Medina. These citations do not allow us to reconstruct the lost work with great precision, but they do permit us to study Ibn Zabāla’s ambition for his work, how it fitted into the historiographical context of the late second century AH, and how it was used as a source by later scholars. I suggest that Ibn Zabāla wrote his Aḫbār al-Madīna to put forward the case for Medina’s sanctity and unique position within the Islamic world. In doing so, he pioneered a distinct way of writing local history.

Affiliations: 1: University of Oxford


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