University Homepage
DRPS Homepage
DRPS Search
DRPS Contact
DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures : Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies

Undergraduate Course: Where History meets Mystery: Approaches to the Study of Early Islam (IMES10082)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Literatures, Languages and Cultures CollegeCollege of Humanities and Social Science
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 4 Undergraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryResearch on early Islam faces particular challenges due to the nature of the source material on the period in question: The existing Islamic sources have emerged only long after the events of which they report. They contain numerous contradictions in details and are influenced by later political, theological and legal debates. Moreover, their statements are not or only partially supported by archaeological findings or non-Islamic sources. This has led some researchers to call the formative history of Islam into question and instead assume the origins of this religion in the 8th or 9th century in Syria, Iraq or Khurasan. In the seminar, various approaches to research on the history of the Qur'an and the biography of the Prophet are discussed.
Course description 1. Introduction: Problems in the study of early Islam
Overview of the situation of the sources on early Islam, material and literal sources, dating, Islamic and non-Islamic sources.

2. The Qur'an: Background, traditional dating
Overview of the sources used for dating the Qur'anic text, traditional Muslim view of the history of the text, history of Western views of the dating of the text. The Muslim view places the codification of the text in the time of 'Uthman, about two decades after Muhammad.

3. The Qur'an: Alternative theories of dating: Casanova, Mingana, Wansbrough
Casanova and Mingana used mainly non-Muslim sources for the dating of the Qur'anic text. They came to the conclusion that the text was codified in the time of 'Abd al-Malik, about a century after Muhammad. Wansbrough rejected the traditions on the history of the text and studied the Qur'anic text itself and compared its development to the canonisation of the Jewish bible. He came to the conclusion that the Qur'anic text did not reach its final form before the end of the second century after Muhammad.

4. The Qur'an: Relation to earlier scripture: Luxenberg, Geiger
Luxenberg saw parallels to Christian texts and lectionaries in the Qur'an and concluded that at least part of the Qur'anic text consists of misread Christian texts, originating at least a century before Muhammad. Geiger studied the parallels between the Qur'an and the Jewish tradition.

5. The Qur'an: Structure and composition of the Suras (Cuypers, Neuwirth, Sadeghi)
What does the structure of the suras tell us about the composition of the Qur'an?

6. Sira: Background, Traditional dating
Overview of the sources for the life of Muhammad, traditional Muslim position on the authenticity and historicity of the text.

7. Sira: Watt, Lammens, Becker, Crone, Cook, Ohlig, Nevo/Koren
Different views on the reliability of the sources, ranging from moderate confidence in the sources to extreme scepticism

8. Sira: The Qur'an as source for the life of Muhammad (Rippin, Cook)
What does the Qur'an tell us about the life of Muhammad?

9. Sira: non-Islamic sources for the life of Muhammad (Hoyland, Crone/Cook, Shoemaker)
What information can be gained on the life of Muhammad from non-Islamic sources?

10. Sira: The isnad-cum-matn analysis and its critics (Schoeler, Görke, Shoemaker)
Attempts to reconstruct older sources and thus get a more reliable picture of the history of the life of Muhammad and critical reviews of these attempts.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites It is RECOMMENDED that students have passed Islamic History A: The Formation of the Islamic World (IMES08033) OR Introduction to Islam A: The Foundational Sources (IMES08023)
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements Students without background in Islamic History or Introduction to Islam should consult the course organiser.

Before enrolling students on this course, you are asked to contact the IMES Secretary to ensure that a place is available (Tel: 504182, e-mail
Information for Visiting Students
Pre-requisitesVisiting students should have at least 3 courses in a suitable subject area at grade B or above (or be predicted to obtain this). We will only consider University/College level courses.
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
Critical understanding of the main problems involved in the study of early Islam.
Familiarity with the main methods and approaches scholars have taken in the study of early Islam.
Ability to evaluate and critique scholarly and other writings on the above topics.
Reading List
Select bibliography

'Abd Allah, Ahmad 'Ali Muhammad, Variant readings of the Qur'an : a critical study of their historical and linguistic origins, Herndon: International Institute of Islamic Thought, 1995.
A'zami, Muhammad Mustafa, The history of the Qur'anic text : from revelation to compilation : a comparative study with the Old and New Testaments, Leicester: UK Islamic Academy, 2003.
Bennet, Clinton, In Search of Muhammad, London, New York: Cassell, 1998.
Berg, Herbert (ed.), Method and theory in the study of Islamic origins, Leiden: Brill, 2003.
Burton, John, The collection of the Qur'an, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977.
Caetani, Leone, ''Uthman and the recension of the Koran', Muslim World 5 (1915), 380-90.
Conrad, Lawrence I., 'Abraha and Muhammad: Some Observations Apropos of Chronology and Literary "topoi" in the Early Arabic Historical Tradition', in Bulletin of the School of Oriental and Asian Studies 50 (1987), 225-40.
Conrad, Lawrence I., 'Recovering Lost Texts: Some Methodological Issues' (Review article of G.D. Newby, The Making of the Last Prophet), in Journal of the American Oriental Society 113 (1993), 258-63.
Cook, Michael, 'Eschatology and the Dating of Traditions', Princeton Papers in Near Eastern Studies 1 (1992), 23-47.
Cook, Michael, Muhammad, Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 1983.
Crone, Patricia, Meccan trade and the rise of Islam, Princeton: Princeton University Press 1987.
Crone, Patricia, Slaves on horses: The evolution of the Islamic polity, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980.
Crone, Patricia, 'What do we actually know about Mohammed' (
Crone, Patricia & Michael Cook, Hagarism: The making of the Islamic world, Cambridge [etc.]: Cambridge University Press, 1977.
Donner, Fred McGraw, Narratives of Islamic origins: the beginnings of Islamic historical writing, Princeton: The Darwin Press, 1998.
Donner, Fred McGraw, Muhammad and the believers : at the origins of Islam, Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2010.
Duri, 'Abd al-'Aziz, The rise of historical writing among the Arabs, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983.
Geiger, Abraham: 'What did Muhammad borrow from Judaism', in Ibn Warraq (ed.), On the Origins of the Koran, Amherst: Prometheus Books, 1998, 165-226.
Goldziher, Ignac, Muslim Studies, translated by S.M. Stern, London: Allen and Unwin, 1966-1971.
Görke, Andreas, 'The historical tradition about al-Hudaybiya: A study of 'Urwa b. al-Zubayr's account', in: Harald Motzki (ed.), The biography of Muhammad: The issue of the sources, Leiden [etc.]: Brill, 2000, 240-275.
Görke, Andreas, 'Eschatology, History, and the Common Link: A Study in Methodology', in Herbert Berg (ed.), Method and Theory in Study of Islamic Origins, Leiden, Boston: Brill 2003, 179-208.
Görke, Andreas, 'Prospects and limits in the study of the historical Muhammad', in Nicolet Boekhoff-van der Voort, Kees Versteegh and Joas Wagemakers (eds.), The Transmission and Dynamics of the Textual Sources of Islam: Essays in Honour of Harald Motzki, Leiden: Brill, 2011, 137-151.
Görke, Andreas & Gregor Schoeler, 'Reconstructing the earliest sira texts: The Hijra in the corpus of 'Urwa b. al-Zubayr', Der Islam, vol. 82, no. 2, 2005, 209-220.
Horovitz, Josef, 'The earliest biographies of the Prophet and their authors', Islamic culture, vol. 1, 1927, 535-59, vol. 2, 1928, 22-50, 164-182, 495-526.
Horovitz, Josef, The earliest biographies of the Prophet and their authors, Princeton: The Darwin Press, 2002.
Hoyland, Robert G., 'The earliest Christian writings on Muhammad: An appraisal', in: Harald Motzki (ed.), The biography of Mu¿ammad: The issue of the sources, Leiden [etc.]: Brill, 2000, 276-297.
Hoyland, Robert G., Seeing Islam as others saw it: A survey and evaluation of Christian, Jewish, and Zoroastrian writings on early Islam, Princeton: The Darwin Press, 1997.
Humphreys, R. Stephen, Islamic history: a framework for inquiry, New York 1991.
Ibn Warraq (ed.), The Origins of the Koran: Classic Essays on Islam's Holy Book, Amherst: Prometheus, 1998.
Ibn Warraq (ed.), The Quest for the historical Muhammad, Amherst: Prometheus, 2000.
Ibn Warraq, What the Koran Really Says: Language, Text and Commentary, Amherst: Prometheus, 2002.
Ibn Warraq (ed.), Which Koran? Variants, Manuscripts, and the Influence of Pre-Islamic Poetry, Amherst: Prometheus, 2007.
Jones, J.M.B., 'The Chronology of the Maghazi : A Textual Survey', in Bulletin of the School of Oriental and Asian Studies 19 (1957), 244¿80.
Juynboll, Gautier H. A., Encyclopedia of Canonical ¿ad¿th, Leiden, Boston: Brill, 2007.
Juynboll, Gautier H. A., Muslim Tradition: Studies in chronology, provenance and authorship of early Hadith, Cambridge etc.: Cambridge University Press, 1983.
Juynboll, Gautier H. A., 'Nafi', the mawla of Ibn 'Umar and his position in Muslim Hadith literature', Der Islam 70 (1993), 207-244.
Juynboll, Gautier H. A., 'Some isnad-analytical methods illustrated on the basis of several women-demeaning sayings from Hadith literature', al-Qantara 10 (1989), 343-383.
Lecker, Michael, The 'Constitution of Medina': Muhammad's first legal document, Princeton: The Darwin Press, 2004.
Landau-Tasseron, Ella, 'On the Reconstruction of Lost Sources', in al-Qantara 25 (2004), 45-91.
Landau-Tasseron, Ella, 'Processes of Redaction: The Case of the Tamimite Delegation to the Prophet Muhammad', in Bulletin of the School of Oriental and Asian Studies 49 (1986), 253-70.
Leder, Stefan, 'Authorship and transmission in unauthored literature', in Oriens 31 (1988), 67-81.
Leder, Stefan, 'The Literary Use of the Khabar: A Basic Form of Historical Writing', in L. Conrad, A. Cameron (ed.): The Byzantine and Early Islamic Near East, I: Problems in the Literary Source Material, Princeton 1992, 277-315.
Lüling, Günter, A challenge to Islam for reformation: the rediscovery and reliable reconstruction of a comprehensive pre-Islamic Christian hymnal hidden in the Koran under earliest Islamic reinterpretations. New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 2003.
Luxenberg, Christoph, The Syro-Aramaic reading of the Koran : a contribution to the decoding of the language of the Koran, Berlin: H. Schiler, 2007.
Mingana, Alphonse, 'The Transmission of the Kur'an', Journal of the Manchester Egyptian and Oriental Society 5 (1915-16), 25-47.
Motzki, Harald, Analysing Muslim traditions: studies in legal, exegetical and Maghazi hadith, Leiden, Boston: Brill, 2010.
Motzki, Harald (ed.), The biography of Muhammad: the issue of the sources, Leiden 2000.
Motzki, Harald, 'The collection of the Qur'an. A reconsideration of Western Views in Light of Recent Methodological Developments', Der Islam 78 (2001), 1-34.
Motzki, Harald, 'Dating Muslim traditions: a survey', Arabica 52 (2005), 204-253.
Motzki, Harald, 'Introduction', in Harald Motzki (ed.), Hadith: Origins and Developments, (The Formation of the Classical Islamic World, 28), Aldershot: Ashgate 2004, xiii-liii.
Motzki, Harald, The origins of Islamic jurisprudence : Meccan fiqh before the classical schools, Leiden, Boston: Brill, 2002.
Motzki, Harald, 'The murder of Ibn Abi l-Huqayq: On the origin and reliability of some maghazi-reports', in: id. (ed.), The biography of Muhammad: The issue of the sources, Leiden [etc.]: Brill, 2000, 170-239.
Motzki, Harald, 'The Prophet and the cat: On dating Malik's Muwatta' and legal traditions', Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam, vol. 22, 1998, 18-83.
Neuwirth, Angelika, Nicolai Sinai and Michael Marx, The Qur'an in context: historical and literary investigations into the Qur'anic milieu, Leiden, Boston: Brill, 2010.
Nevo, Yehuda, and Judith Koren, Crossroads to Islam: the origins of the Arab religion and the Arab state, Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 2003.
Nevo, Yehuda, and Judith Koren, 'Methodological Approaches to Islamic studies', in Der Islam 68 (1991), 87-107.
Noth, Albrecht (in collaboration with Lawrence I. Conrad), The early Arabic historical tradition: a source-critical study, Princeton: The Darwin Press, 1994.
Ohlig, Karl-Heinz and Gerd-Rüdiger Puin (eds.), The hidden origins of Islam : new research into its early history, Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 2008.
Peters, Francis E., 'The quest of the historical Muhammad', International journal of Middle Eastern studies, vol. 23, no. 3, 1991, 291-315.
Reynolds, Gabriel Said, The Qur'an in its historical context, London 2008.
Rippin, Andrew, 'Muhammad in the Qur'an: Reading scripture in the 21st century', in: Harald Motzki (ed.), The biography of Muhammad: The issue of the sources, Leiden [etc.]: Brill, 2000, 298-309.
Rubin, Uri, The eye of the beholder: the life of Mu¿ammad as viewed by the early Muslims, Princeton: The Darwin Press, 1995.
Rubin, Uri (ed.), The life of Mu¿ammad, Aldershot: Ashgate 1998.
Schoeler, Gregor, The Biography of Muhammad. Nature and authenticity, Oxon, New York: Routledge, 2010.
Schoeler, Gregor, 'The Constitution of the Koran as a Codified Work: Paradigm for Codifying Hadith and the Islamic Sciences?', Oral Tradition, 25 (2010), 199-210.
Schoeler, Gregor, The Oral and the Written in Early Islam, transl. U. Vagelpohl, ed. J. Montgomery, New York: Routledge 2006.
Serjeant, Robert B., 'Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam: Misonceptions and Flawed Polemics', review article of P. Crone, Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam, in Journal of the American Oriental Society 110 (1990), 472-86.
Shoemaker, Stephen R., 'In Search of 'Urwa's Sira: Some Methodological Issues in the Quest for "Authenticity" in the Life of Muhammad, Der Islam 85 (2008), 257-344.
Wansbrough, John, Quranic studies: sources and methods of scriptural interpretations, London: Oxford University Press, 1977.
Wansbrough, John, The sectarian milieu: content and composition of Islamic salvation history, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978.
Watt, William Montgomery, Muhammad at Mecca, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1953.
Watt, William Montgomery, Muhammad at Medina, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1956.
Watt, William Montgomery, 'The Materials used by Ibn Ishaq', in Bernard Lewis und Peter Malcolm Holt (eds.), Historians of the Middle East, London: Oxford University Press, 1962, 23-34.
Watt, William Montgomery, 'The reliability of Ibn-Ishaq's sources', in La Vie du prophète Mahomet. Colloque de Strasbourg (octobre 1980), Paris : Presses universitaires de France, 1983, 31-43.
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Not entered
Course organiserDr Andreas Goerke
Tel: (0131 6)50 4177
Course secretaryMrs Eleanor Birch
Tel: (0131 6)50 4182
Help & Information
Search DPTs and Courses
Degree Programmes
Browse DPTs
Humanities and Social Science
Science and Engineering
Medicine and Veterinary Medicine
Other Information
Combined Course Timetable
Important Information