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Lecture | LUCIS What's New?! Series

Was Alexandria a Holy City in Medieval Islam?

Thursday 6 May 2021
What's New?! Spring Lecture Series 2021
This is an online event. Please register to receive the link to the lecture.
Lighthouse of Alexandria, Bodleian Library, inv. Or. 133, fol. 36 recto

In light of the reverence for Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem in medieval (and present-day) Islamic thought, the question whether the Egyptian city of Alexandria was of any religious significance for medieval Muslims seems trivial. Yet, there is ample evidence that some Muslims held that city in great esteem. They considered some of Alexandria’s architecture as precious remnants of the age of prophets, they believed that the city was the ultimate place to defend the Muslim polity against enemies of Islam, and they held that the first signs of the Apocalypse would appear in Alexandria.
This lecture discusses a tenth-century CE book devoted to Alexandria’s place in Islamic sacred geography. This book is not only one of the main sources for Muslim views of Alexandria, it is known to have remained popular for centuries. The lecture will first introduce the audience to the book and its author. It will then focus on two important themes the book addresses: Alexandria’s connection with the activities of Dhu al-Qarnayn and the prophet Muhammad’s alleged visit to the city during his night-journey. These themes illustrate how medieval Muslims dealt with Egypt’s pre-Islamic past and argued for its significance in the present.

About Jelle Bruning

Jelle Bruning specializes in the social and intellectual history of early Islamic Egypt (ca. 640-1000 CE). He works extensively with documentary sources in Arabic, Coptic, and Greek and contemporary literary texts. In 2018, he published a monograph on the centrality of the city of Fustat, Egypt’s first Muslim capital, during the reigns of the Rightly-Guided and Umayyad caliphs. His current projects deal with the history of slavery under Islam and Alexandria’s location in the medieval Islamic religious landscape.

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