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Meet the expert: Petra Sijpesteijn

Petra Sijpesteijn is professor of Arabic. Her research concentrates on recovering the experiences of Muslims and non-Muslims living under Islamic rule, using the vast stores of radically under-used documents surviving from the early Islamic world. Starting in 2017, she manages an international research project entitled "Embedding Conquest: Naturalising Muslim Rule in the Early Islamic Empire (600-1000)", funded by the European Research Council. Since 2014, she has been director of the Leiden University Centre for the Study of Islam (LUCIS).

ERC Consolidator grant for research led by Petra Sijpesteijn

Recently, Sijpesteijn received a ERC Consolidator grant to fund her research on how the Arabs managed to maintain an empire based on Islamic principles for three hundred years. The LeidenGlobal expert wants to find out what held the Islamic Empire together. We already know a lot about the Arab Empire in the period from 600 to 1000 AD, but that knowledge is mainly about the upper strata of society. What Sijpesteijn wants to know is what daily life was like under the rule of the Arabic conquerors, and how the Muslims managed to keep all the different ethnic, linguistic and religious groups together by making them part of the empire. There were revolts, but not serious enough to affect the cohesion of the empire.

According to Sijpesteijn, it is the perfect time to conduct this research. 'In recent years a lot of letters and fragments have turned up from the time of the Islamic Empire, particularly in Egypt, Afghanistan and Iran, often on rubbish tips in dry parts of these countries: arid conditions are ideal for keeping the material intact. With irrigation techniques extending the usable land area, these rubbish tips are now being exposed. The letters often contain requests from ordinary people to more senior members of society. The arguments used by the writers reflect a particular value system that is related to social expectations. Just like today, arguments were put forward that were expected to have a particular effect.'

She also states that the letters in which one tries to persuade another to do someting, tells us a lot about what their expectations were of one another, how society was structured and how citizens were expected to conduct themselves.

More information on the Leiden University Website

Petra Sijpesteijn in Leiden | Islam interview series.

Besides the fact that the LeidenGlobal expert got her research funded, she also participated in the fourth video of the Leiden | Islam interview series, where she talks about Papyri and how they inform us about how people experienced Islam in the early centuries of this religion. This series contains short documentary-style videos including interview flashes with leading scholars in the field of Islam and Muslim societies. In this way, LUCIS aims to show the value of unconventional insights related to Islam and Muslim societies.

Click here for the Interview

Recently Petra Sijpesteijn also gave a lecture on Islam and Mohammed at the internet college series 'Universiteit van Nederland'.