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The Historical Muhammad



The Historical Muhammad

Irving M. Zeitlin

ISBN: 978-0-745-65488-1 April 2013 Polity 184 Pages

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In his quest for the historical Muhammad, Zeitlin's chief aim is to catch glimpses of the birth of Islam and the role played by its extraordinary founder. Islam, as its Prophet came to conceive it, was a strict and absolute monotheism. How Muhammad had arrived at this view is not a problem for Muslims, who believe that the Prophet received a revelation from Allah or God, mediated by the Angel Gabriel. For scholars, however, interested in placing Muhammad in the historical context of the seventh-century Arabian Peninsula, the source of the Prophets inspiration is a significant question.

It is apparent that the two earlier monotheisms, Judaism and Christianity, constituted an influential presence in the Hijaz, the region comprising Mecca and Medina. Indeed, Jewish communities were salient here, especially in Medina and other not-too-distant oases. Moreover, in addition to the presence of Jews and Christians, there existed a third category of individuals, the Hanifs, who, dissatisfied with their polytheistic beliefs, had developed monotheistic ideas.

Zeitlin assesses the extent to which these various influences shaped the emergence of Islam and the development of the Prophets beliefs. He also seeks to understand how the process set in motion by Muhammad led, not long after his death, to the establishment of a world empire.

  • Introduction and Overview of the Life of Muhammad
  • Donner’s Reply to the Skeptics
  • Enter Muhammad: An Overview
  • The Battle of the Trench
  • Chapter One Ibn Khaldun’s Social and Economic Theory
  • Bedouins and Sedentary Peoples
  • Asabiyah
  • Chapter Two Pre-Islamic Arabia
  • The Hijaz on the Eve of the Rise of Islam
  • Pre-Islamic Religion
  • Chapter Three The Role of Abraham, Hagar and Ishmael
  • Who was the Sacrificial Son?
  • The Islamic Theory that Abraham, Ishmael and Hagar Traveled to the Valley of Mecca
  • Abraham, Ishmael and the Kaaba
  • William Muir on the Abrahamic Question
  • Muir on the Founding of Mecca and the Abrahamic Legend
  • Chapter Four Recent and Current Scholarship
  • The Religion of Mecca
  • The Kaaba and Its Devotees
  • Hanifiya and the Religion of Abraham
  • G.E. von Grunebaum, “The Nature of Arab Unity Before Islam”
  • M.J.Kister, “Al-Hira: Some Notes on Its Relations with Arabia”
  • Joseph Henninger, “Pre-Islamic Bedouin Religion”
  • Moshe Gil, “Jews of Yathrib”
  • Fazlur Rahman, “Pre-Foundations of the Muslim Community in Mecca”
  • Uri Rubin, “Hanifiyya and Ka ‘ba: An Inquiry into the Arabian Background of Din Ibrahim”
  • More on Pre-Islamic Religion in the Arabian Peninsula
  • Hamilton A.R. Gibb, “Pre-Islamic Monotheism in Arabia”
  • W. Montgomery Watt, “Belief in a ‘High God’ in Pre-Islamic Mecca”
  • Uri Rubin, “The Kaaba: Aspects of Its Ritual Functions and Position in Pre-Islamic and Early Islamic Times”
  • Chapter Five Possible Influences on Muhammad’s Inspiration
  • Jewish Historians on the Jews of Arabia
  • Baron on Pre-Islamic, Arab-Jewish Relations in Arabia
  • Chapter Six The Jews of Arabia: A Recent Re-Examination
  • Chapter Seven Richard Bell’s Origin of Islam in its Christian Environment
  • Chapter Eight W. Montgomery Watt’s Muhammad at Mecca
  • The Daughters of Allah or the So-called Satanic Verses
  • More on the “Daughters of Allah” Affair
  • A Sociological Argument
  • W. Montgomery Watt’s Muhammad at Medina
  • Chapter Nine Muhammad at Medina: William Muir’s Analysis
  • Muhammad and the Jewish Tribes of Medina
  • The Battle of Badr
  • Current Research on the Massacre of the B. Qurayza
  • The Conquest of Khaybar
  • Chapter Ten Muhammad and the Jews
  • Muhammad and the Jews: G.D. Newby’s Re-Examination of the Evidence
  • Chapter Eleven Concluding Sociological Reflections
  • Abu Bakr and the Ridda
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index
“Zeitlin’s approach is novel and intriguing.”
Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

"This book will be of value to serious students of Islamic history as well as educated readers generally. Both groups will be well able to navigate the historical and historiographical landscapes of the rise of Islam – with the foundational qualities that enabled it to develop into a world religion. The pursuit of certainty in discerning and understanding Muhammad’s historical biography and the rise of his religious movement is ongoing, and Irving Zeitlin has provided a clear, balanced, and plausible account using traditional sources and modern scholarly theories and interpretations."
Frederick M. Denny, University of Colorado at Boulder

"It is very important for Muslims and non-Muslims alike to understand the importance of the Prophet Muhammad because he is so central to Islam. The Historical Muhammad contributes significantly to the discussion of the life of the Prophet, a subject highly relevant to our time."
Akbar S. Admed, American University, Washington DC

  • Major new book by one of the world’s leading scholars in the field of religion
  • Seeks to place the life of Muhammad in the social, historical and religious context of his time, and thereby shed light on the birth of Islam and the role played by its extraordinary founder
  • A balanced critical comparison of alternative and even conflicting points of view regarding Muhammad’s vision and process in establishing the Islamic religion and the Muslim community
  • Highly accessible and illuminating account of the Prophet Muhammad and the foundation of the Muslim religion