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Race and Slavery in the Middle EastAn Historical Enquiry$
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Bernard Lewis

Print publication date: 1992

Print ISBN-13: 9780195053265

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195053265.001.0001

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Ventures in Ethnology

Ventures in Ethnology

(p.43) 6 Ventures in Ethnology
Race and Slavery in the Middle East


Oxford University Press

The chapter shows how the ancient Arabs divided the world into themselves and others. The ancient Arabs showed an acute awareness of ethnic groups. Their main concern was the different tribes that were divided. Tribal loyalty was intense and this gave rise to feuding and warfare. Thus, most of early Arab historiography was concerned with tribal rivalries. The earliest attempt at classification of ethnic groups in Arab Islamic literature is Genesis 10. In time, certain conventional descriptions emerged: Arabs had generosity and courage; Persians were civil; Greeks were artists and philosophers; Indians were magicians; and the Chinese were makers of furniture and gadgets. These became the standard in the discussion of various ethnic groups all across the globe. There is also a considerable body of scholarly literature which provides detailed factual information about the different races of mankind, both inside and outside the Islamic ecumene.

Keywords:   ancient Arabs, tribal loyalty, Arab historiography, tribal rivalries, Genesis 10, Islamic ecumene

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