SOAS University of London

Department of History, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

H348 Rulers, Rebels and Scholars in Early Islam (I)

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2020/2021
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 2 or Year 3
Taught in:
Full Year
This course explores the origins and early development of Islam in the context of major historical, social and cultural transformation in the Near East from late antiquity to the thirteenth century. It combines broad historical and political narrative with a detailed study of key aspects of the development of religious and intellectual life in early Islam. The objective of the course is to provide a firm knowledge of the crucial formative period of Islam, and prompt critical assessment of some of the key concepts of Islamic history.


  • This Module is capped at 15 places.
  • Students  enrol via the on-line Module Sign-Up system. Students are advised of the timing of this process via email by the Faculty Office

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the course, a student should…

  1. have acquired a strong and detailed understanding of the narrative of Islamic history to 1200
  2. have a firm knowledge of the key aspects of religious and intellectual developments of the period
  3. have gained a good understanding of the pertinent primary and secondary source
  4. be able to critically assess prevailing approaches to the subjects covered, and
  5. be able to write a competent well-structured essay making substantial use of primary materials.

Scope and syllabus

The first part of the course examines the world in which Islam appeared, the Arab conquests and major historical developments under the ruling dynasties to 1200; the second part of the course further explores important themes such as the development of sectarian traditions, the emergence of Islamic law, conversion to Islam, and the crystallization of other intellectual traditions such as mysticism in early Islam. Great emphasis is placed on familiarizing the students with the source material for the period: each week we will look in detail at a primary source text in translation, or contemporary material evidence such as documents, inscriptions or coins.

Method of assessment

Exam (50%) and 3 x Coursework (50%)

Suggested reading

  • R. Aslan, No God but God. The Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam. (London, 2006) [very accessible introduction to Islam, with focus on religion].
  • J. Berkey, The formation of Islam. Religion and society in the Near East, 600-1800.(Cambridge, 2003) [also focused on religion, more academic]
  • J. Bloom and Sh. Blair, Islam: a thousand years of faith and power (London, 2002) [accessible introduction, with focus on material culture]
  • P. Crone, Medieval Islamic political thought (Edinburgh, 2004) [excellent advanced introduction to Islamic political thought]
  • J. Esposito, The Oxford history of Islam (Oxford, 1999) [comprehensive sections on political history, law, science, art, philosophy, crusades].
  • J. van Ess, The flowering of Muslim theology , translated by Jane Marie Todd. (London, 2006)
    H. Halm, Shi‘ism [second edition] (Edinburgh, 2004) [second edition lists available primary source in translation at the end of each section]
  • G.R. Hawting, The first dynasty of Islam : the Umayyad caliphate AD 661-750, [second edition] (London, 2000)
  • H. Kennedy, An historical atlas of Islam, 2nd rev. ed. (Leiden, 2002).
  • Wilferd Madelung. Religious Trends in Early Islamic Iran (Albany, 1988) [collection of essays on various early Islamic traditions]
  • A. Rippin, Muslims : their religious beliefs and practices, 3rd ed. (London,2005) [accessible and critical introduction to the religion of Islam]
  • J. Wellhausen, Die religiös-politischen Oppositionsparteien im alten Islam (Berlin 1901), transl. The Religio-Political Factions in Early Islam (Amsterdam, 1975)


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