Muhammad and the Believers: At the Origins of Islam

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Overview

The origins of Islam have been the subject of increasing controversy in recent years. The traditional view, which presents Islam as a self-consciously distinct religion tied to the life and revelations of the prophet Muhammad in western Arabia, has since the 1970s been challenged by historians engaged in critical study of the Muslim sources.

In Muhammad and the Believers, the eminent historian Fred Donner offers a lucid and original vision of how Islam first evolved. He argues that the origins of Islam lie in what we may call the "Believers' movement" begun by the prophet Muhammad—a movement of religious reform emphasizing strict monotheism and righteous behavior in conformity with God's revealed law. The Believers' movement thus included righteous Christians and Jews in its early years, because like the Qur'anic Believers, Christians and Jews were monotheists and agreed to live righteously in obedience to their revealed law. The conviction that Muslims constituted a separate religious community, utterly distinct from Christians and Jews, emerged a century later, when the leaders of the Believers' movement decided that only those who saw the Qur'an as the final revelation of the One God and Muhammad as the final prophet, qualified as Believers. This separated them decisively from monotheists who adhered to the Gospels or Torah.

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Editorial Reviews

Saudi Gazette

In Muhammad and the Believers: At the Origins of Islam, Donner takes a fresh look at the heart and soul of Islamic history.
— Joseph Richard Preville

New York Times

A learned and brilliantly original, yet concise and accessible study of Islam's formative first century...Donner's explanation of the process by which Muslims came to define themselves is both fascinating and enlightening.
— Max Rodenbeck

culturemob.com

It is an excellent introduction to how and why the faith was born, and explains its proliferation in the Middle East and beyond...Donner uses the original text of the Qur'an and other source materials dating from the same period to piece together the history of the faith. What quickly becomes clear is that Islam, and what it means to be a "Muslim," have both changed dramatically since the early days...Muhammad and the Believers is full...of intriguing questions and challenges readers to reconsider what they think they know about Islam...[It's] a rewarding read.
— Dan Sampson

New York Review of Books

Donner is to be commended for posing questions that many mainstream scholars have chosen to leave aside.
— Malise Ruthven

Times Literary Supplement

Provocative and accessible...Donner's vision of an "ecumenical Islam" is thought-provoking...Donner's overarching thesis in Muhammad and the Believers is convincing. It sheds light on a world far more fluid and confused than the one we have come to expect from the usual storyline.
— Christian C. Sahner

Ahmet Karamustafa
Donner is one of the leading scholars of early Islam in the world. No other book I know of distills the often highly arcane and dispersed stuff of scholarship on the first century of Islamic history into such an accessible narrative account that, in addition, offers a compelling new interpretation on the formation of Islamic confessional identity. A tremendous achievement.
Tom Holland
This is an invaluable book. Not only does it provide a sane and lucid guide to the origins of Islam, a topic that is currently more mired in controversy than any other in the entire field of ancient history, but it is also a stimulating and original work of scholarship in its own right.
Saudi Gazette - Joseph Richard Preville
In Muhammad and the Believers: At the Origins of Islam, Donner takes a fresh look at the heart and soul of Islamic history.
New York Times - Max Rodenbeck
A learned and brilliantly original, yet concise and accessible study of Islam's formative first century...Donner's explanation of the process by which Muslims came to define themselves is both fascinating and enlightening.
culturemob.com - Dan Sampson
It is an excellent introduction to how and why the faith was born, and explains its proliferation in the Middle East and beyond...Donner uses the original text of the Qur'an and other source materials dating from the same period to piece together the history of the faith. What quickly becomes clear is that Islam, and what it means to be a "Muslim," have both changed dramatically since the early days...Muhammad and the Believers is full...of intriguing questions and challenges readers to reconsider what they think they know about Islam...[It's] a rewarding read.
New York Review of Books - Malise Ruthven
Donner is to be commended for posing questions that many mainstream scholars have chosen to leave aside.
Times Literary Supplement - Christian C. Sahner
Provocative and accessible...Donner's vision of an "ecumenical Islam" is thought-provoking...Donner's overarching thesis in Muhammad and the Believers is convincing. It sheds light on a world far more fluid and confused than the one we have come to expect from the usual storyline.
New York Times
A learned and brilliantly original, yet concise and accessible study of Islam's formative first century...Donner's explanation of the process by which Muslims came to define themselves is both fascinating and enlightening.
— Max Rodenbeck
Times Literary Supplement
Provocative and accessible...Donner's vision of an "ecumenical Islam" is thought-provoking...Donner's overarching thesis in Muhammad and the Believers is convincing. It sheds light on a world far more fluid and confused than the one we have come to expect from the usual storyline.
— Christian C. Sahner
New York Review of Books
Donner is to be commended for posing questions that many mainstream scholars have chosen to leave aside.
— Malise Ruthven
Saudi Gazette
In Muhammad and the Believers: At the Origins of Islam, Donner takes a fresh look at the heart and soul of Islamic history.
— Joseph Richard Preville
culturemob.com
It is an excellent introduction to how and why the faith was born, and explains its proliferation in the Middle East and beyond...Donner uses the original text of the Qu'ran and other source materials dating from the same period to piece together the history of the faith. What quickly becomes clear is that Islam, and what it means to be a "Muslim," have both changed dramatically since the early days...Muhammad and the Believers is full...of intriguing questions and challenges readers to reconsider what they think they know about Islam...[It's] a rewarding read.
— Dan Sampson
Max Rodenbeck
…a learned and brilliantly original, yet concise and accessible study of Islam's formative first century…Donner's explanation of the process by which Muslims came to define themselves is both fascinating and enlightening.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
A University of Chicago professor in Near Eastern history, Donner (Narratives of Islamic Origins) presents the intriguing view that the early Islamic movement, as presided over by Muhammad, actively included Jews and Christians in the flock as part of a general monotheistic community. It was only later, after Muhammad's death, that a new generation of Muslims began ritualizing Islam with its own distinctive practices, such as the hajj (pilgrimage) and the five daily prayers. Though Donner isn't entirely persuasive (and surely many Muslims would be stunned by some of his assertions), he raises many original points, gleaning evidence from everything from coinage to original source documents. Questioning longstanding stereotypes, he argues (and proves) that Muslims are not, by nature, anti-Jewish and also that, based on archeological evidence, Muslims did not routinely tear down churches. The early Muslims, though brutal in war, created a sophisticated and organized civil system. For those curious about Islam's beginnings, no book is as original and as evenhanded as this succinct read. (May)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674064140
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 5/7/2012
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 534,765
  • Product dimensions: 5.54 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 0.78 (d)

Meet the Author

Fred M. Donner is Professor of Near Eastern History in the Oriental Institute and Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago.
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Table of Contents

List of Maps ix

Preface xi

Acknowledgments xv

A Note on Conventions xvii

1 The Near East on the Eve of Islam 1

The Empires of the Late Antique Near East 3

Arabia between the Great Powers 27

Mecca and Yathrib (Medina) 34

2 Muhammad and the Believers' Movement 39

The Traditional Biography of Muhammad the Prophet 39

The Problem of Sources 50

The Character of the Early Believers' Movement 56

3 The Expansion of the Community of Believers 90

Sources 90

The Community in the Last Years of Muhammad's Life 92

Succession to Muhammad and the Ridda Wars 97

The Character of the Believers' Early Expansion 106

The Course and Scope of the Early Expansion 119

Consolidation and Institutions of the Early Expansion Era 133

4 The Struggle for Leadership of the Community, 34-73/655-692 145

Background of the First Civil War 146

The Course of the First Civil War (35-40/656-661) 155

Between Civil Wars (40-60/661-680) 170

The Second Civil War (60-73 /680-692) 177

Reflections on the Civil Wars 189

5 The Emergence of Islam 194

The Umayyad Restoration and Return to the Imperial Agenda 195

The Redefinition of Key Terms 203

Emphasis on Muhammad and the Qur'an 205

The Problem of the Trinity 212

Elaboration of Islamic Cultic Practices 214

Elaboration of the Islamic Origins Story 216

The Coalescence of an "Arab" Political Identity 217

Official vs. Popular Change 220

Appendix A The umma Document 227

Appendix B Inscriptions in the Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem 233

Notes and Guide to Further Reading 237

Glossary 257

Illustration Credits 265

Index 267

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