The Early Development of Islam: Emerging Identities and Contending Views

Key information

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Module code
FHEQ Level
Department of History

Module overview

This course discusses emerging identities and contending views in the origins and early history of Islam, 600 and 1000 CE. The approach is historical, and examines the crucial question of how different types of Islam emerged. How have contending views of Islams origins shaped the development of communal identities, and how can we trace the development of these contending view historically? Topics are chosen for their relevance to shedding light on the early development of Islam, and include topics such as the historical development of the Shia, the Kharijites, and the Sunnis, as well as the emergence of scholarly traditions such as theology and law. 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

On successful completion of the course, a student will:

  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: Emerging Identities and Contending Views
Week 2: Kharijism and the Kharijites
Week 3: Shi‘ism: the Imamiyya
Week 4: Ismāʿīli and Zaydi Shi‘ism
Week 5: The formation of Sunnism

Reading Week

Week 6: The development of Islamic law
Week 7: Freethinkers in early Islam
Week 8: Theology: the role of the scholars
Week 9: Ascetic and mystical trends in early Islam
Week 10:Arabization, Islamization, and the formation of universalist religion

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

Introductory bibliography:
  • Patricia Crone, Medieval Islamic Political Thought (Edinburgh/NY 2004)
  • Michael Cook, Commanding Right and Forbidding Wrong in Islamic Thought (Cambridge, 2000)
  • Michael Cook, Early Muslim Dogma : A Source-Critical Study (Cambridge, 1981)
  • Ignaz Goldziher, Muslim Studies, 2 vols., tr. by C. R. Barber and S. M. Stern, London 1971.
  • G. H. A. Juynboll (ed.), Studies on the First Century of Islamic Society (Carbondale and Edwardsville, 1982)
  • Ethan Kohlberg (ed.), Shi‘ism (Ashgate, 2003)
  • Christopher Melchert, The Formation of the Sunni Schools of Law, 9th-10th century CE, (Leiden 1997)
  • A. Rippin, Muslims: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices, new edition (London, 2005)
  • Joseph Schacht, Introduction to Islamic Law (Oxford, 1964)
  • Julius Wellhausen, The Religio-Political Factions in Early Islam (Berlin 1901), translated from the German by R. C. Ostle and S. M. Walzer (Amsterdam, 1975)


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