Muhammad and the Origins of Islam

Muhammad and the Origins of Islam

Muhammad and the Origins of Islam

Muhammad and the Origins of Islam

Synopsis

An inquiry into the religious environment of the person Muslims hail as the "Envoy of God" and an attempt to trace his progress along the path from paganism to that distinctive form of monotheism called Islam.

Excerpt

Muhammad stands at the Islamic center, of course, as he has from the beginning; and those who have sought to stand beside him, or even perhaps within him, have essayed biographies of the Prophet of Islam. Whatever the value of the individual author's insights, these are not all on the same scale, of course, or of the same critical merit, and undoubtedly Montgomery Watt's two-volume life of Muhammad written at the mid-century has become the standard for students and scholars alike. Works of such magnitude and conviction usually signal a pause, the reshaping of a new communis opinio, and such seems to have occurred here: no one has since attempted a like enterprise in English. But if Watt's two volumes closed one large door, they opened many others. From 1960, when M. J. Kister began his remarkable labors in Jerusalem, down to the present, investigation of the life of Muhammad, and particularly the religious environment of his native Mecca, has been one of the most productive and provocative areas in the entire field of Islamic studies.

The present work is biographical, but it is at the same time something broader. It is an inquiry--or perhaps a joint inquiry because the reader will be provided with the same sources available to the historian--into the religious environment of the person Muslims hail as the "Envoy of God" and an attempt to trace his progress along the path from paganism to that distinctive form of monotheism called Islam. The Arabic islam means "submission," and though we may never come to any firm conviction as to why this man first "submitted" to the Almighty God in Western Arabia in the seventh Christian century, then persistently and persuasively convinced others to do likewise, we do have at hand a large body of evidence to enable us to try, as well as a long tradition of scholarship from Muslims and non-Muslims who have gone before along this way.

However long the search has gone on, the "quest of the historical Muhammad" is still surrounded by enormous difficulties . . .

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