Main SourcebooksAncientMedievalModern

Subsidiary SourcebooksAfricanEast AsianGlobalIndianJewishIslamicLesbian/GayScienceWomen

About IHSP Help Page IHSP Credits

Introduction to the Medieval World: Class 5

Class 5: Muhammad: Prophet or Statesman?
Assigned Reading:

I.      Introduction

A.      Importance of Islam
        In middle ages for a long period the most distinguished
        In the modern world a major part of world politics.

B.      The `third world' of the middle ages, Islam
        Also an heir to Greece and the Jews.
        Not an heir to Rome
        Not an heir to Germans
        Added input of Arabs and Arabic

C.      Sources
        Narrative Histories
        The Qu'ran
        Western and Byzantine sources
        No archives

D.      Definitions


        Other important Islamic peoples
        Jews and Christians remain important groups within Islam

E.      Names
        Arabs have three names
        first - the ism - persons real name  e.g. Ali
        2nd  - the Kunya - mentions some relation, Umma, Ibn, Abu
        3rd -  al qub - applied to an adult male, for some quality
                - e.g.. al Mahdi
        Not predictable which names stick to historical figures

II.     Pre-Islamic Arabia

A.      Arabs

        1.      Semites - Explain language families
                Indo-European, Hamitic, Semitic
                (all have grammatical gender.

        2.      Sheba
                750BC the Marib Dam built, burst 450 BC
                Sabaean spoken, in the south - Yemen
                later irrigation failed, many became Bedouin
                In 4th century - a Jewish state in Yemen

        3.      Center of Arab life now in central and north
                -Bedouin - Dates - Tribes and Sheiks
                -Towns in Western highlands

        4.      Saracenoi

        5.      Roman Arabs - Border states

        6.      Byzantine and Sassanid Background
                both central monarchies
                By 6th century, Ctesiphon, the Paris of the Mideast
                Imitated later by Arabs: The shah, viziers etc.
                Both weakened by wars with each other in early
                6th century

B.      Arab literature - great poetic achievement
        strings of pearls
        Oral - Memorized by rawis

C.      Central Asia - trade routes move south in 6th century

D.      Arab cities grow - Mecca, Medina, Taif

E.      Arab Religion

        1.      Pagan, Ritualistic, No clergy
                the Kaaba in Mecca was an important shrine

                three higher gods
                - in Mecca Goddesses - Al-Uzza, Manat, Al-Lat
                all daughters of a God called Allah

        2.      Hanifs - Monotheistic hermits

        3.      Jewish - some tribes
                Idea of One God, a Holy book, religious law
                all known. The Torah was known but not, it seems
                the prophets or the NT

III.    Muhammad 571-632

A.      Sources
        the Qu'ran
        Hadith - major collection by al-Bukhari, d. 870

B.      Origins - Minor branch of important trading family

        1.      Family
                Married Khadija when he was 25 and she was 40
                Had 7 children, only Fatima survived.

        2.      Literacy - Possible, open to question

C.      Early Career - Trips to Syria?

D.      Around age 40 he made a retreat on Mount Hira.
        Social confusion - a townsman in a nomadic society
        Heard a voice from God.
        Subject to uncontrollable shaking

E.      Recitations: the Qu'ran
        After first revelations he had a gap.
        then they returned
        written down by followers (belief in no variation.
        First stage a moral revelations
        Satanic Verses in Sura 53
        Second stage is monotheistic insistence.

F.      Religious Community
        Muhammad converted some people quickly.
        Remained for three years in a small circle.
        The Umma - Muslim community - remains the ideal.

G.      To Medina
        Attempted to convert Mecca for five years
        -serious opposition began
        The Hejira 622 - trip to Medina

H.      Jewish Tribes
        M. expected them to convert. They did not. so they
        were killed. 600 killed, and women sold into slavery.
        Blamed for attacks on Muslims by Meccans

I.      Attack on Mecca - Many battles. Peaceful takeover 630

J.      Pagan Tribes - come over to Islam, i.e. make submission

K.      Muhammad's Death - 630

L.      Prophet and Statesman - unique role

IV.     Islam

Submission, or being at peace

There is one God and Muhammad is his Prophet (and Ali his

A.      Monotheism
        Allah/God - Creator - Power of God is absolute
        `Father' not appropriate title
        Sin of Shirq - attributing parts to God

B.      Muhammad - the Prophet

C.      The Qu'ran -Holy Book
        Arranged according to length of Sura
        Memorized by many Muslims -edited under Uthman

D.      The Umma
        The religious community = the State
        Muhammad probably saw it as an Arab faith
        Supplemented the tribe - but did not replace it
        Answers to urban needs

        High regard for people of the Book
        But later had to say they distorted the Bible
        Islam for Arabs - for a time only

E.      The Five Pillars of Islam

        1.      Shahada - the Confession of Faith
        2.      Salaat - ritual prayer 5x p.d - Facing Mecca
                Use of Minarets and Muezzin later
        3.      Haj - to Mecca
                Follows ritual - walking round Kaaba
        4.      Saum - Fasting in Ramadan, Halal meat
        5.      Zakat - alms

F.      Jihad - striving

G.      Heaven and Hell - Paradise - Persian model
        Absolute predestination

H.      Religious Leadership
        No Clergy - Except in Shi'ism
        Judges/qadis are important - Ulema

I.      Buildings - Mosques
        Friday the Holy Day - but God did not need to rest
        The Mihrab points to Mecca (Mention Cook and Crone.

J.      Worship
        Friday Sermon - Khutba

K.      Calendar - AH 1 = AD622
        Muslim year short - useless for peasants

L.      Law

        1.      Sharia
                Various Schools
        2.      Kanun - secular law. Illegitimate

M.      Kalaam/Theology
        The Uncreated Qu'ran - Atomism - Kismet

        Islamic Study
        Closing of the Door of Istjahad by Al-Ghazzali in
        11th Century

N.      The Shia - Ali and Hussain (Kerbala.

O.      Sufism - Love of God -`I am God"

Return to Introduction to the Medieval World main page

© Paul Halsall, 1996.

This file is not copy-permitted.

The Internet History Sourcebooks Project is located at the History Department of  Fordham University, New York. The Internet Medieval Sourcebook, and other medieval components of the project, are located at the Fordham University Center for Medieval Studies.The IHSP recognizes the contribution of Fordham University, the Fordham University History Department, and the Fordham Center for Medieval Studies in providing web space and server support for the project. The IHSP is a project independent of Fordham University.  Although the IHSP seeks to follow all applicable copyright law, Fordham University is not the institutional owner, and is not liable as the result of any legal action.

© Site Concept and Design: Paul Halsall created 26 Jan 1996: latest revision 6 October 2023 [CV]