Petra Sijpesteijn is professor of Arabic at Leiden University. 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 from Islam’s crucial first centuries, Petra’s work explores the many, varied expressions of Islam from its formation up to the present day.
Looking at the transition from the pre-Islamic Byzantine system and its Egyptian variant to an Arab/Muslim state, she examines the extent to which the Arabs built on the ancient societies that preceded them and the innovations they introduced. Recently she has extended this interest to the dynamic historical processes underlying the transition from a conquest society to a lasting Muslim polity in other areas of the Muslim Empire, especially the Iberian peninsula and Central Asia.
Aiming to understand the diversity and unity of the Muslim Empire and its culture, Petra also works on global interactions and the networks that extended from the Mediterranean into Southeast Asia in the pre-modern world, and how the Middle East functioned within them. From material culture and archaeology to theological texts, she is interested in how people, objects and ideas travelled throughout this vast area and the changes they brought about.
In 2017, Petra Sijpesteijn has started an ERC Consolidator Grant project Embedding Conquest: Naturalising Muslim Rule in the Early Islamic Empire (600-1000) which aims to incorporate all available documents reflecting Muslim rule from the first 400 years of Islam, to reconstruct the system of social relations that enabled the crucial transition from a conquest society to a political organism that survived the breakdown of central caliphal control, and remains the region’s benchmark model today. Petra is spending this academic year as a senior fellow at the Historisches Kolleg in Munich.