John P. Turner

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Scholars of Islam and historians have frequently pointed to the Miḥna, translated as ‘trial’ or ‘test,’ as a crossroad in the landscape of Islamic history. Professor John P. Turner of Colby College is among those who challenge the long held assumption that the Miḥna was a uniquely pivotal event in his work Inquisition in Early Islam: The Competition for Political and Religious Authority in the Abbasid Empire (I. B. Tauris, 2013). In his book, Turner explores issues of heresy, orthodoxy, and caliphal authority. He investigates how Muslim doxographers, a term Professor employs instead of heresiographers, defined orthodoxy not by what orthodoxy is but what orthodoxy is not. Defining the limits of orthodoxy allowed scholars and caliphs to become the arbiters of orthodoxy. This discussion sets the stage for his examination of heresy trials that took place under both the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphs. Of particular importance is the heresy trial of Aḥmad ibn Hanbal, whose name is carried on by the Hanbalī madhhab. Turner demonstrates that heresy trials were instituted by caliphs to consolidate their power and authority as the ‘Commnder of the Faithful’ by establishing and enforcing religious normativity. Thus, heresy trials, like the Miḥna, should not be understood as exceptional events, but one of the methods caliphs employed to solidify control of the Muslim polity. Professor Turner provides his readers with a clear and well argued revision of the understanding of the Miḥna in the history of Islam. All scholars of Islam will benefit from this work, but those with interests related to Islamic doxographies or political authority will thoroughly enjoy this book.

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