SOAS University of London

Department of History, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

The Origin of Islam: Sources and Perspectives

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2020/2021
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 1 or Year 2
Taught in:
Term 1

This course discusses the emergence and development of Islam in the Middle East from 600 and 1000 CE. The approach is historical, and examines the crucial question of the source material and the most important approaches in the scholarship of the period. Topics are chosen for their relevance to shedding light on the origins, early development and diffusion of Islam; they include source material of pre-existing religious traditions, the significance of the Prophet Muhammad’s life, the formation of the Qur'an, and material evidence for the origins and early development of Islam. Emphasis is placed on the complexity of the picture and the way in which a gradual crystallization of the forms that are later regarded as types of Islam can be traced in the extant source material.    

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

  1. a good understanding of the main problems in the study of Islam in its formative period
  2. a firm knowledge of key aspects of religious and intellectual developments
  3. a good familiarity with the pertinent primary and secondary sources
  4. an ability to critically assess prevailing approaches to the subjects covered, and
  5. an ability to write a competent and well-structured essay making substantial use of primary materials.

Scope and syllabus

Week 1: Introduction to the course
Week 2: Historiographic approaches in the history of early Islam
Week 3: Late Antiquity and the Middle East before Islam: non-Muslim sources
Week 4: The Qur‘an: origins and contexts
Week 5: Material evidence for the first century of Islam

 Reading Week

 Week 6: Muhammad and prophetic biography in the formative period
Week 7:  The Jāhiliyya and the development of Muslim literature
Week 8: Documentary evidence and the making of a Muslim empire
Week 9:  The caliphate: sources of authority in early Islam
Week 10: The emergence of a new religion: evidence and interpretation

Method of assessment

Essay of 3,000 words worth 80% of the final mark, Reaction paper/book review of 1,000 words worth 20% of the final mark

Suggested reading

  • Berg, Herbert (ed.), Method and Theory in the Study of Islamic Origins (Leiden, 2003)
  • Crone, Patricia and Cook, Michael, Hagarism: The making of the Islamic World (Cambridge, 1977)
  • Donner, Fred, Narratives of Islamic origins (Princeton, 1998)
  • Hawting, G.R., The idea of idolatry and the emergence of Islam (Cambridge, 1999)
  • Hodgson, M.G.S., The Venture of Islam (Chicago/London, 1974)
  • Hoyland, Robert, Seeing Islam as others saw it (Princeton, 1997)
  • Humphreys, R. Stephen, Islamic History: a framework for enquiry (Princeton, 1991)
  • Martin, Richard (ed.), Approaches to Islam in Religious Studies (Tucson, AZ, 1985)
  • Robinson, Chase, Islamic Historiography (Cambridge, 2003)

As this course replaces the existing and very successful 'Origins and Early Development of Islam', the library has most of the reading material.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules