Skip to main content

Talking about Islam's origins 1

  • Fred M. Donner (a1)

Neither of the terms commonly used to describe the seventh-century expansion of the movement that comes to be called Islam – “the Islamic conquests” or “the Arab conquests” – is satisfactory; both terms are anachronistic and in some ways misleading; yet there is, at present, no clear candidate for an alternative terminology. This article discusses the weaknesses of existing nomenclatures, with reference to relevant primary sources, and the conceptual problems the traditional nomenclatures pose in the context of an extensive review of scholarly literature from roughly 1900 to the present. It offers a few suggestions for possible new terminologies, but essentially opens the question for further discussion.

Corresponding author
Hide All

The initial version of this essay was drafted during the academic year 2014–15, while I was Marta Sutton Weeks Fellow at the Stanford Humanities Center. I am grateful to the Center, its staff, and its Director, Prof. Caroline Winterer, for providing the supportive environment in which I was able to undertake this work. I also wish to thank Carel Bertram, Antoine Borrut, Ilkka Lindstedt and Luke Sunderland for helpful comments on various drafts. They are not to be held responsible for the opinions expressed here or for any errors of fact, for which the author assumes sole responsibility. The peerless resources of the University of Chicago's Joseph Regenstein Library, and its online catalogue, were essential in assembling the bibliographical information surveyed herein. I thank the anonymous BSOAS reviewers for numerous helpful suggestions.

Hide All

2 As I was completing the draft of this article, Webb, Peter's book Imagining the Arabs: Arab Identity and the Rise of Islam (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016) appeared; it treats a number of the points made below, particularly in the second half of this essay, often in considerably greater detail. As Webb's conclusions mainly agree with my own, I could have cited his work in almost every paragraph, but have limited myself to a few citations where overlap is especially close.

3 Cf. Zellentin, Holger, The Qur’ān's Legal Culture: The Didascalia Apostolorum as a point of departure (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2013), 9: “Using traditional language to describe new problems is a time-honored strategy to cope with radical change”. But we may also ask whether it reflects in some cases the failure of the observer to grasp how much things have changed.

4 Such pejorative qualities may even be grounds for resuscitating a term well-known to be, in fact, inaccurate; a classic example would be the way English writers of the World War I period referred to the Germans as “Huns”.

5 See Penn, Michael Philip, When Christians First Met Muslims. A Sourcebook of the Earliest Syriac Writings on Islam (Oakland: University of California Press, 2015), 37.

6 See the convenient summary of different views on this process in Hoyland, Robert, Seeing Islam as Others Saw It (Princeton: Darwin Press, 1997), 546–7. I have made the case for “fuzzy boundaries” in my article From believers to Muslims: confessional self-identity in the early Islamic community”, Al-Abḥāth 50–51 (2002–03), 551 , and in Muhammad and the Believers: At the Origins of Islam (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2010).

7 A parallel problem of “fuzzy boundaries” between varieties of Judaism and the earliest Christians is discussed in Meeks, Wayne A., “Breaking away: three New Testament pictures of Christianity's separation from the Jewish communities”, in Neusner, Jacob and Frerichs, Ernest S. (eds), ‘To See Ourselves as Others See Us’: Christians, Jews, ‘others’ in Late Antiquity (Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1985), 85113 , and in the same volume, John J. Collins, “A symbol of otherness: circumcision and salvation in the first century”, 163–86.

8 For a preliminary discussion of this issue, see Donner, Fred M., “Visions of the early Islamic expansion: between the heroic and the horrific”, in Cheikh, Nadia Maria El and O'Sullivan, Shaun (eds), Byzantium in Early Islamic Syria (Beirut: American University of Beirut and Balamand: University of Balamand, 2011), 929 .

9 Ockley, Simon, The Conquest of Syria, Persia, and Ægypt, by the Saracens: Containing the Lives of Abubeker, Omar and Othman, the Immediate successors of Mahomet. Giving an Account of Their Most Remarkable Battles, Sieges, &c. … Illustrating the Religion, Rites, Customs and Manner of Living of That Warlike People (London: R. Knaplock et al., 1708); reissued as History of the Saracens in 1718, and reprinted numerous times as late as the 1890s.

10 e.g. Mayer, L. A., Saracenic Heraldry (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1933) or Latham, J. D., Saracen Archery (London: Holland, 1970); most recently, Nicholson, Helen J., God's Warriors: Crusaders, Saracens, and the Battle for Jerusalem (Oxford and NY: Osprey Publications, 2005), although in this case the term “Saracen” may be used to evoke the usage of the medieval Latin sources.

11 Gibb, Hamilton A. R., Mohammedanism: A Historical Survey (London and NY: Oxford University Press, 1949), which was re-issued in 1978 with the new title Islam, A Historical Survey. See also Schacht's, Joseph The Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1950), and von Grunebaum, Gustave, Muhammadan Festivals (New York: Schuman, 1951). I am grateful to one of the anonymous BSOAS reviewers for reminding me of some of these titles.

12 See, for example, the openings of the first two paragraphs on page 3 of Kennedy's, Hugh The Great Arab Conquests: How the Spread of Islam Changed the World We Live in (Philadelphia: Da Capo, 2007).

13 There are occasional references, at least to “Musulman conquests”, in much earlier works, such as Gibbon's famous Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776), which switches indiscriminately between “Arab”, “Arabian”, “Saracen”, “Moslem”, “Mohammedan”, and “Musulman”. (I am grateful to an anonymous BSOAS reader for this insight.) The phrase is not used that early in book titles, however. The earliest English-language title I have located using this term is Le Strange, Guy, Lands of the Eastern Caliphate: Mesopotamia, Persia, and Central Asia, from the Moslem Conquest to the Time of Timur (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1905), but it seems to be an outlier; the next instance does not appear until almost half a century later, with Ghirshman, Roman, Iran from Earliest Times to the Islamic Conquests (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1954), a translation of his French original, L'Iran, des origins à l'Islam (Paris: Payot, 1951). See Appendix A, supplementary material online.

14 Noth, Albrecht, Quellenkritische Untersuchungung zu Themen, Formen, und Tendenzen frühislamischer Geschichtsüberlieferung, Teil I, Themen und Formen (Bonn: Selbstverlag der Universität Bonn, 1973), Revised edition with Conrad, Lawrence I., trans. Bonner, Michael, Early Arabic Historical Tradition (Princeton: Darwin Press, 1994); Donner, Fred M., Narratives of Islamic Origins: The Beginnings of Islamic Historical Writing (Princeton: Darwin, 1998); Robinson, Chase F., Islamic Historiography (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 124–55. On the term itself, see now Donner, Fred M., “Arabic Fatḥ as ‘conquest’ and its origin in Islamic tradition”, Al-‘Uṣūr al-Wusṭā 24, 2016, 114 .

15 Hoyland, Robert, In God's Path: The Arab Conquests and the Creation of an Islamic Empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 5

16 I say “one of the earliest” because we have a few Arabic documents that are dated as early as the year 22, corresponding to 642–43 ce. This was before the Quran text was fully stabilized (see next note).

17 Wansbrough, John, Quranic Studies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977) famously proposed that the text of the Quran was not fixed until two or three centuries later, but even in the earliest manuscripts in Ḥijāzī script, the rasm or consonantal skeleton of the text (minus vowels and diacritical marks) seems fairly constant; see Sinai, Nicolai, “When did the consonantal skeleton of the Quran reach closure? Part I”), BSOAS 77/2, 2014, 273–92; Déroche, François, Qur'ans of the Umayyads. A First Overview (Leiden: Brill, 2014); and Hamdan, Omar, Studien zur Kanonisierung des Korantextes. Al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrīs Beiträge zur Geschichte des Korans (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2006). Instability in the Quran text after about 690 ce is mainly limited to the continuous improvement of the text through the addition of diacritics and vowelings; see Small, Keith E., Textual Criticism and Qur’ān Manuscripts (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2011). In the writer's opinion a few interpolations may have occurred c. 700; see discussion in next paragraph. See, however, the more radical suggestions of David Reid Ross, in various essays contained in his online volumes The Arabs and Their Qur'an, House of War and Throne of Glass (cumulative, most recent editions 2015), and Gallez, Édouard-Marie, Le messie et son prophète. Aux origines de l'Islam (2 vols, Versailles: Éditions de Paris, 2005–10).”

18 Donner, Muḥammad and the Believers, 57; Watt, Bell's Introduction to the Qur’ān (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1970), 150, notes that muslim is only used in later passages in the Quran.

19 Or, as my colleague Tahera Qutbuddin has suggested, “one who is committed to God's will”. See al-Quḍāʿī, Al-Qāḍī, Light in the Heavens. Sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, ed. and trans. Qutbuddin, Tahera. New York: New York University Press, 2016 , Introduction.

20 See for example Harding, Gerald Lankester, An Index and Concordance of pre-Islamic Arabian Names and Inscriptions (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1978), 545–6, for MSLM and related names.

21 For example, Q. 9: 74 includes the phrase … qālū kalimata l-kufri wa-kafarū baʿda islāmihim, “… they uttered the word of disbelief and disbelieved after their submission [to God] …”. Many modern translators, of course, render this as “after their Islām”.

22 See below, note 28, for fuller argumentation. Fred M. Donner, “Dīn, islām, und muslim im Koran”, in Georges Tamer (ed.), Kritische Koranhermeneutik: Günter Lüling in Memoriam (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, forthcoming).

23 Or perhaps “the faithful”. In recent years, several scholars have proposed that mu'min is a secular term meaning “one who provides security”, but translations of mu'min into contemporary texts in Greek and Syriac do not support this: see note 78, below. For this “secularizing” view of mu'min, see Prémare, Alfred-Louis de, Les fondations de l'islam. Entre écriture et histoire (Paris: Éditions de Seuil, 2002), 92–4; Popp, Volker, “Die Frühgeschichte des Islam nach schriftlichen und numismatischen Zeugnisse”, in Ohlig, Karl-Heinz and Puin, Gerd-R. (eds), Die dunklen Anfänge. Neue Forschungen zur Entstehung und frühen Geschichte des Islam (Berlin: Hans Schiler, 2005), 16123 , esp. 30–33; Hoyland, In God's Path, 57.

24 The most detailed study is Lecker, Michael, The “Constitution of Medina”: Muḥammad's First Legal Document (Princeton: Darwin Press, 2004), which contains references to all earlier treatments.

25 E.g. Miles, George C., “Early Islamic inscriptions near Ṭā’if in the Ḥijāz”, Journal of Near Eastern Studies 7, 1948, 236–42.

26 Ragib, Yusuf, “Une ère inconnue d’Égypte musulmane: l’ère de la jurisdiction des croyants”, Annales islamologiques 41, 2007, 187207 . The earliest document so far discovered dated to this era (but, like most documents, not actually naming the era) is a papyrus receipt from the year 22 (643 ce), PERF 558.

27 Lindstedt, Ilkka, “Muhājirūn as a name for the first/seventh century Muslims”, Journal of Near Eastern Studies 74, 2015, 6773 .

28 This phrase is found in Quran 3: 19, but a variant attributed to Ibn Masʿūd suggests that the Quranic reading may originally have inna al-dīn ʿind allāh al-ḥanīfiyya – referring to the pre-Islamic Arabian monotheism associated with Abraham; see Donner, “Dīn, islām, und muslim im Koran”. For the variant and discussion, see ʿAbd al-Laṭīf Muḥammad al-Khaṭīb, Muʿjam al-qirā’āt (11 vols, Damascus: Dār Saʿd al-Dīn, 2002), I, 464.

29 Karīm, Jumʿa Maḥmūd, “Naqsh Kūfī yaʿūdu li-l-ʿaṣr al-umawī min janūb sharq al-Gharra – Qaḍā’ al-Jafr”, Dirāsāt, al-ʿulūm al-insāniyya wa-l-ijtimāʿiyya 28/2, 2001, 391413 . An Egyptian tombstone published in 1932 by H.M. El-Hawary, supposedly from 71 ah, probably dates to 171 or later; see Hoyland, Robert, “The content and context of early Arabic inscriptions”, Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 21, 1997, 77102 , at 87 note 65, and Ilkka Lindstedt, “Arabic rock inscriptions until 750 ce”, in Andrew Marsham (ed.), The Umayyad World (London: Routledge, forthcoming). I am indebted to Dr Ilkka Lindstedt for these references.

30 Several convenient collections of these scattered seventh-century sources are now available: Palmer, Andrew, The Seventh Century in West-Syrian Chronicles (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1993); Hoyland, Seeing Islam as Others Saw It; Penn, When Christians First Met Muslims.

31 See Crone, Patricia, “The first-century concept of hiǧra ”, Arabica 41, 1994, 352–87, and Lindstedt, “Muhājirūn as a name for the first/seventh century Muslims”. Given the relative prominence of the term muhājirūn in later Islamic literature, and of its equivalent in Syriac and Greek writings by the conquered peoples, it is curious that it has not yet been found in early Arabic inscriptions or papyri. It does occur, once, near the beginning of the Constitution of Medina, in reference to the emigrants from Quraysh who had come to Yathrib.

32 See below.

33 As Hoyland, In God's Path, 195, puts it: “Before ʿAbd al-Malik we have no evidence for the public display of Islam by the state”.

34 Some scholars of nascent Christianity refer to the “Jesus movement” (or “movements”); see, for example, Stegemann, Ekkehard W. and Stegemann, Wolfgang, The Jesus Movement: A Social History of its First Century (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999). According to Acts 11: 26, the term “Christian” was first used as a self-designation by the Christians of Antioch (around 100 ce). I thank Prof. Margaret Mitchell for some of these references.

35 The difficulty of a new religious group in separating itself from its original matrix, and the blurred borders that sometimes existed between communities, is illustrated for early Christianity in Meeks, “Breaking away”, and Collins, “A symbol of otherness”.

36 A fuller discussion of this notion is found in Donner, “From Believers to Muslims” and Muḥammad and the Believers: At the Origins of Islam. Given the numerous Quranic verses that criticize the Christian doctrine of the Trinity and of Jesus as God's son, it remains unclear just how long the “open” phase of the Believers’ community lasted, but the prominent position of Christians in early Umayyad history suggests that the process lasted at least several decades after the prophet's death in 632 ce. On this see Borrut, Antoine and Donner, Fred M. (eds), Christians and Others in the Umayyad State (Chicago: The Oriental Institute, 2016)(The Late Antique and Medieval Islamic Near East, 1).

37 Including, of course, my own first book, The Early Islamic Conquests (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981).

38 The earliest book in English I have found whose title features this phrase is Vaux, W.S.W., Ancient History from the Monuments, Persia from the Earliest Period to the Arab Conquest (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1875), but see also Sharpe, Samuel, The History of Egypt from the Earliest Times till the Conquest by the Arabs, a.d. 640 (London: E. Moxon, 1846). The next landmark title is Butler's, Alfred The Arab Conquest of Egypt (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1902), a work still widely cited today.

39 de Goeje, M.J., Mémoire sur la Conquete de la Syrie (2nd ed. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1900), 1. (My translation.) The first edition of this work originally constituted part 2 of his Mémoires d'histoire et de géographie orientales, published in 1864.

40 A classic treatment is Kohn, Hans, The Idea of Nationalism: A Study of Its Origins and Background (New York: Macmillan, 1944); see also Geary, Patrick, Myth of Nations: The Medieval Origins of Europe (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002), the thoughtful reflections in Smith, Anthony D., The Antiquity of Nations (Cambridge and Malden, MA: Polity, 2004), and Anderson, Benedict R.O., Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1983).

41 Lewis, Bernard, The Arabs in History (London: Hutchinson & Co., 1950), 55. (Emphasis added.)

42 Personal communication, sometime around 1973, in his office at Princeton.

43 Including many works about the conquests produced in the modern Arab countries, whose inhabitants have whole-heartedly adopted the ethnic-nationalist vision. An early example is Dāghir, Asʿad Khalīl, Ḥaḍārat al-‘arab (Cairo: Maṭbaʿa Hindiyya, 1918), 746 , which discusses Assyrians, Babylonians, Arameans, and the ancient South Arabian kingdoms as “Arabs”.

44 A crucial milestone was the publication of the anthropologist Montagu, Ashley's book Man's Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race (New York: Columbia University Press, 1942). This built on the more theoretical discussions by Boas, Franz, , notablyRace and progress”, Science N.S. 74, 1934, 18 , and Race and character”, Anthropologischer Anzeiger 8, 1932, 280–4, both reprinted in , Boas, Race, Language and Culture (New York: Macmillan, 1940).

45 See Appendix B.

46 Smith, The Antiquity of Nations, esp. 131 and 135–6. He uses these qualities to establish what we might call a category of “pre-modern nations”.

47 We could, for example, speak of a group in the distant past consisting of all people having a particular blood type, even though those people knew nothing of blood types – perhaps by way of explaining why that group succumbed to a disease that impacts persons having one blood type more than those having another.

48 See the works cited in note 40, above.

49 The most careful recent studies of ancient “Arab” identity are Retsö, Jan, The Arabs in Antiquity (London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003), Macdonald, M.C.A., “Arabs, Arabias, and Arabic before Late Antiquity”, Topoi 16, 2009, 277332 , and Webb, Imagining the Arabs. The first two show convincingly that the term cannot be correlated with geographical origin, profession, nomadic way of life, etc. Macdonald argues that the term must be one internal to the people who are so designated (“emic”) and settles on a combination of common language and culture (296–7), while admitting that the criteria of identity were “irritatingly imprecise” and that the common language may have been named after the people, not the other way around. Webb, 26–9, rebuts several of Retsö’s claims, especially his assertion that there was a pre-Islamic “Arab” identity, the special association of these people with camels.

50 Cf. Webb, Imagining the Arabs, 118–20 on qur’ānan ʿarabiyyan.

51 Note also that the verbal noun, iʿrāb, literally “clarification”, is the technical term for the (usually unwritten) case endings in Arabic – which often make the exact meaning of a sentence intelligible.

52 This rendering seems reinforced by the phrase that follows it in Q. 12: 2 and 43: 3: “…so that you may comprehend” (la‘allakum ta‘qilūn).

53 Webb, Imagining the Arabs, 60–66, offers a good overview of the sparse inscriptional data.

54 Segal, J.B., Edessa, “The Blessed City” (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970), 22.

55 References to ṭayyāyē generally convey the impression that they belonged to the camel-rearing pastoralist groups of the desert, but Dr Muriel Debié informs me of a few instances in which the word is used in reference to groups like the Sabeans that were sedentary. (E-mail communication, Dec. 2016.)

56 As noted pointedly by Millar, Fergus, Religion, Language, and Community in the Roman Near East: Constantine to Muhammad (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 107–8: “And would we not be guilty of anachronism in speaking of the fifth- and sixth-century recipients [of Christian preaching] as ‘Arabs’?” See also Donner, Fred M., “Modern nationalism and medieval Islamic history”, Al-ʿUṣūr al-Wusṭā: The Bulletin of Middle East Medievalists 13/1, April 2001, 21–2.

57 E.g., Brooks, E.W. (ed. and trans.), Historia Ecclesiastica Zachariae Rhetori Adscripta (Paris: E Typographeo Reipublicae, 1919–21), text II.60, trans. II.41. (CSCO, Scriptores Syri, ser. 3, Tome VI, parts I and II.)

58 E.g. Hoyland, Seeing Islam as Others Saw It, 120, and Penn, When Christians First Met Muslims, both translating the phrase ṭayyāyē d-Mḥmṭ in the Chronicle of 640 (British Library Syriac Ms. Add. 14,643) as “the Arabs of Muḥammad”.

59 Segal, Edessa, 22–3.

60 See Brooks (ed. and trans.), Historia Ecclesiastica Zachariae Rhetori Adscrpita, text II.35; trans. II.24.

61 Even more confusing is the practice adopted in Hoyland, Robert, Theophilus of Edessa's Chronicle and the Circulation of Historical Knowledge in Late Antiquity and early Islam (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2011), who translates Syriac ʿarbāyē as “Arabians” (although they were resident in Syria and Mesopotamia), and translates ṭayyāyē (who did come from Arabia) as “Arabs”, e.g. p. 63, note 80. (I thank an anonymous BSOAS reviewer for this reference.)

62 See Hoyland, Robert G., “Arab kings, Arab tribes and the beginnings of Arab historical memory in late Roman epigraphy”, in Cotton, Hannah M., Hoyland, Robert G., Price, Jonathan J. and Wasserstein, David J. (eds), From Hellenism to Islam: Cultural and Linguistic Change in the Roman Near East (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 374400 .

63 The classic statement is perhaps von Grunebaum, Gustave, “The nature of Arab unity before Islam”, Arabica 10, 1963, 523 ; it has been rearticulated most recently by Robert Hoyland, In God's Path; and almost defiantly by Al-Azmeh, Aziz, The Emergence of Islam in Late Antiquity: Allāh and his People (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 100, fn. 1. See also the much more cautious remarks of Macdonald, “Arabs, Arabias, and Arabic”.

64 Advanced most recently by Hoyland, In God's Path and, much less stridently, in Fisher, Greg, Between Empires: Arabs, Romans, and Sasanians in Late Antiquity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011); also Al-Azmeh, Emergence of Islam, 100–63.

65 Fisher, Between Empires, 129.

66 This possible reading is noted also by Zakariya Mohammad in an online posting: see (consulted 17 Dec 2016). Note the use of this same letter-form to render the sound of ghayn in two places in line 4 of the inscription.

67 Millar, Religion, Language, and Identity, 141. Also noted in the excellent discussion of this inscription by Macdonald, M.C.A. and Nehmé, L. in Fisher, Greg (ed.), Arabs and Empires before Islam (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 405–9.

68 As discussed in detail by Webb, Imagining the Arabs, 66–85.

69 E.g., Al-Azmeh, Emergence of Islam, 146.

70 See above.

71 E.g. Jarīr al-Ṭabarī, Muḥammad b., Kitāb al-rusul wa l-mulūk (ed. de Goeje, M.J. and others, Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1879–1901) Ser. i/2241, “wujūh al-ʿarab”.

72 Webb, Imagining the Arabs, esp. chapters 3–6, offers at last a detailed and theoretically sophisticated study of how the term “Arab” as an ethnic identity was first developed in the late Umayyad and Abbasid periods (8th–10th centuries ce).

73 Turner, Victor, The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-structure (Chicago: Aldine, 1969). See also Turner, Edith, Communitas: The Anthropology of Collective Joy (NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).

74 Crone, Patricia and Cook, Michael, Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977).

75 Millar, Fergus, “Hagar, Ishmael, Josephus and the origins of Islam”, Journal of Jewish Studies 44, 1993, 2345 .

76 See Lindstedt, “Muhājirūn”, and note 31, above.

77 First proposed in a Late Antiquity and early Islam workshop in London in 1994, but not published until almost a decade later: Donner, “From Believers to Muslims” and Muḥammad and the Believers.

78 These translations of amīr al-mu'minīn make it quite clear that the argument presented by several scholars, who wish to see mu'min as meaning “someone offering security or protection”, is not consistent with how contemporaries of the early conquests who spoke Greek and Syriac understood the word. (See note 23 above.) Note also the office of rīš d-mhaymenē or “head of the believers” in the Sasanian government, who supervised the affairs of the Christian Church of the East in consultation with its patriarch: see Payne, Richard, A State of Mixture: Christians, Zoroastrians, and Iranian Political Culture in Late Antiquity (Oakland: University of California Press, 2015), 101–2.

79 Donner, “From Believers to Muslims” and Muḥammad and the Believers. See also the references to the works of Meeks and Collins in note 7, above. Hoyland, in God's Path, 135, notes, “There is probably some truth to the idea that Muslims did not initially see their faith as totally distinct from other monotheist confessions”.

80 On a related question see my Centralized authority and military autonomy in the early Islamic [sic] conquests”, in Cameron, Averil (ed.), The Byzantine and Early Islamic Near East, III: States, Resources and Armies (Princeton: Darwin Press, 1995), 337–60.

81 Casanova, Paul, Mohammed et la fin du monde: étude critique sur l'Islam primitif (Paris: Paul Geuthner, 1911–24); Donner, Fred M., “Piety and eschatology in early Kharijite poetry”, in al-Saʿāfīn, Ibrāhīm (ed.), Fī miḥrāb al-maʿrifa. Festschrift for Iḥsān ʿAbbās (Beirut: Dār Sader, 1997), 13–9; Shoemaker, Stephen, “‘The Reign of God Has Come”: eschatology and empire in Late Antiquity and early Islam”, Arabica 61, 2014, 514–58. Shoemaker's article provides an extensive bibliography of works dealing with the eschatological factor in Islam's origins.

82 On this era, see note 26 above.

83 Webb, Imagining the Arabs, 87.

84 Interestingly, the pioneering study of Hitti, Philip, History of the Arabs (New York: Macmillan, 1937 and later editions), despite its title, usually refers to the conquerors as “Arabians”, using phrases such as “the Arabian forces”, etc., although he does sometimes speak of “Arab rule” (e.g. in Iran, p. 158).

85 Al-Azmeh, Emergence of Islam, 279.

1 The initial version of this essay was drafted during the academic year 2014–15, while I was Marta Sutton Weeks Fellow at the Stanford Humanities Center. I am grateful to the Center, its staff, and its Director, Prof. Caroline Winterer, for providing the supportive environment in which I was able to undertake this work. I also wish to thank Carel Bertram, Antoine Borrut, Ilkka Lindstedt and Luke Sunderland for helpful comments on various drafts. They are not to be held responsible for the opinions expressed here or for any errors of fact, for which the author assumes sole responsibility. The peerless resources of the University of Chicago's Joseph Regenstein Library, and its online catalogue, were essential in assembling the bibliographical information surveyed herein. I thank the anonymous BSOAS reviewers for numerous helpful suggestions.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies
  • ISSN: 0041-977X
  • EISSN: 1474-0699
  • URL: /core/journals/bulletin-of-the-school-of-oriental-and-african-studies
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Donner supplementary material
Appendices A and B

 PDF (174 KB)
174 KB


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed