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‘Considering the number of hours that pious men and women spent awake at night in prayer, reciting the Qur’an in spare moments during the day, weeping, walking endlessly, or suffering from a hunger caused by daily fasts or meager meals, surprisingly little has been written about the devotional life of medieval Muslims. One tends to think of these pursuits as solitary and quiescent, taking place beyond the notice of ordinary people. Yet in biographical notices, evidence of these activities is easy to spot because medieval Islamic piety was in fact more active than contemplative, full of personalised rituals and idiosyncratic bodily habits, which caught the attention of relatives, neighbours, colleagues, and eventually the medieval authors who recorded what they heard or saw. For instance the scholar Nasih al-Din Ibn al-Hanbali recalled in some detail the daily routine of a juries named Isma’il Ibn Nubata, who had studies with this grandfather and uncle:

He used to study the Qur’an a great deal, and he would undertake that from midnight onwards. Then at daw dawn he would pray by the river in the Citadel and perform the afternoon prayer at the spring of Baalbek, and vice versa. And often he read along the way either Qur’an or the Hidaya, I’m not sure which.1

1. Ibn Rajab, Dhayl ‘ala Tabaqat al-Hanabila, volume I, 351. The Hidaya is a well-known manual of substantive law (furu’ al-fiqh) particular to the Hanbali madhhab (one of the four Sunni legal schools), written by Abu-Khattab al-Kalwadhani (d. 510/1117)

p. 21.

‘The problem is not that modern scholars have failed to identify bodily piety as an important theme in medieval Islam. On the contrary, Chamberlain stresses that it was by means of the cultural practices associated with knowledge (‘ilm) that scholars achieved their social distinction. To the young aspirant who sought to emulate him, a teacher “was as much a model of bodily norms as he was a carrier of truths.” A scholar’s credentials did not consist solely in the textual knowledge he has acquired but in “the whole complex of manners. moral conduct. deportment, and scripted forms of self-presentation that in sum made up the notion of adab.” And indeed it was Berkey who first described in such rich detail how the transmission of religious knowledge in medieval Islam was a cultural practice that continually exceeded modern notions of scholarship in the academy; at times, he notes, the study session was a devotional occasion rather than a purely scholastic. …’

[authors italics] p. 10.

Law and Piety in Medieval Islam, Megan H. Reid, 2013.