Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World

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Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World (1977) is a controversial book on the early history of Islam written by the historians Patricia Crone and Michael Cook.

Drawing on archaeological evidence and contemporary documents in Arabic, Armenian, Coptic, Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, Latin and Syriac, Hagarism depicts an early Islam very different from the traditionally-accepted version derived from Muslim historical accounts.[1][2][3]

According to Hagarism, the Arab conquests and the formation of the caliphate were a peninsular Arab movement inspired by Jewish messianism, which, in alliance with Jews, attempted to reclaim the Promised Land from the Byzantine Empire. The Qur'an would then be the product of 8th century edits of various materials drawn from a variety of Judeo-Christian and Middle-Eastern sources, and Muhammad the herald of Umar "the redeemer", a Judaic messiah.[4]


Hagarism begins with the premise that Western historical scholarship on the beginnings of Islam should only be based on historical, archaeological and philological data rather than Islamic traditions which it finds to be dogmatically-based, historically irreconcilable and anachronistic accounts of the community's past, and of no historic value. Thus, relying exclusively on historical, archaeological and philological evidence, the authors attempt to reconstruct and present what they argue is a more historically accurate account of Islam's origins. In summary:

Virtually all accounts of the early development of Islam take it as axiomatic that it is possible to elicit at least the outlines of the process from the Islamic sources. It is however well-known that these sources are not demonstrably early. There is no hard evidence for the existence of the Koran in any form before the last decade of the seventh century, and the tradition which places this rather opaque revelation in its historical context is not attested before the middle of the eighth. The historicity of the Islamic tradition is thus to some degree problematic: while there are no cogent internal grounds for rejecting it, there are equally no cogent external grounds for accepting it. In the circumstances it is not unreasonable to proceed in the usual fashion by presenting a sensibly edited version of the tradition as historical fact. But equally, it makes some sense to regard the tradition as without determinate historical content, and to insist that what purport to be accounts of religious events in the seventh century are utilizable only for the study of religious ideas in the eighth. The Islamic sources provide plenty of scope for the implementation of these different approaches, but offer little that can be used in any decisive way to arbitrate between them. The only way out of the dilemma is thus to step outside the Islamic tradition altogether and start again.[5]

According to the authors, Hagarism was a heretical branch of Judaism followed by the Hagarenes or Arabs in the early part of the 7th century. To the authors, the surviving records of the period describe the followers of Muhammad as Hagarenes, because of the way Muhammad invoked the Jewish god in order to introduce an alien monotheistic faith to the Arabs. He is reported as doing this by claiming biological descent from Abraham through his slave wife Hagar for the Arabs in the same way as the Jews who claimed descent from Abraham through Sarah and thus as their ancestral faith. During this early period the Jews and the Hagarenes united, into a faith the authors loosely describe as Judeo-Hagarism, in order to recover the holy land from the Christian Byzantines. In their analysis, the early manuscripts from eye witnesses suggest that Muhammad was the leader of a military expedition to conquer Jerusalem, and that the original hijra actually referred to a journey from northern Arabia to that city.

As time went on, the Hagarenes concluded that the adoption of Judaism and Christian Messianism did not provide them with the unique religious identity that they aspired for. They also feared that leaning on Judaism too much, might result in outright conversion and assimilation. Thus the hagarenes contrived to create a religion of their own and decided to splinter off from their Judaic practices and beliefs. Driven by a quest for theological legitimacy they devised a version of Abrahamic monotheism, that evolved from a blend of Judaism, Samaritanism and Christianity, which became what is now Islam. The authors propose that Islam was thus born and fashioned from Judaic mythology and symbology, that is; the creation of a sacred scripture similar to the Jewish Torah - (the Qur'an), and a Moses-like prophet; along with a sacred city of Mecca modeled on the Jewish holy city of Jerusalem adjacent to a holy mountain.

While the full assertions of the book were controversial, the attempts to deconstruct early Islamic history have made this a groundbreaking and important work on early Islamic history.


The authors document their thesis that Muhammad was preaching a heretical form of Judaism around 634 and was proclaiming the advent of a Jewish Messiah by drawing upon early non-Muslim sources such as the Doctrina Iacobi (AD 634) and others listed in the table below.

634 Doctrina Iacobi 650 Fredegar 676 The Synod of 676 692 Syriac Apocalypse of Pseudo-Ephraem 717 The Vision of Enoch the Just
636 Fragment on the Arab Conquests 655 Pope Martin I 680 George of Resh'aina 697 Anti-Jewish Polemicists 717 A Monk of Beth Hale and an Arab Notable
639 Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem 659 Isho'yahb III of Adiabene 680 The Secrets of Rabbi Simon ben Yohai 700 Anastasius of Sinai 720 Greek Interpolation of the Syriac Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius
640 Thomas the Presbyter 660 Sebeos, Bishop of the Bagratunis 680 Bundahishn 700 Hnanisho' the Exegete 720 Willibald
640 Homily on the Child Saints of Babylon 660 A Chronicler of Khuzistan 681 Trophies of Damascus 705 Ad Annum 705 730 Patriarch Germanus
640 John of Nikiu 662 Maximus the Confessor 687 Athanasius of Balad, Patriarch of Antioch 708 Jacob of Edessa 730 John of Damascus
644 Coptic Apocalypse of Pseudo-Shenute 665 Benjamin I 687 John bar Penkaye 715 Coptic Apocalpyse of Pseudo-Athanasius 770 A Maronite Chronicler
648 Life of Gabriel of Qartmin 670 Arculf, a Pilgrim 690 Syriac Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius 717 Greek Daniel,First Vision 780 Isho'bokht, Metropolitan of Fars
785 Stephen of Alexandria 785 Theophilus of Edessa 801 T'ung tien


Hagarism is widely cited by many modern historians of early Islam, including Bernard Lewis,[6] Robert G. Hoyland,[7] Reza Aslan,[8] G. R. Hawting,[9][10] Herbert Berg,[11] Francis Edwards Peters,[12] S. N. Eisenstadt,[13] Ziauddin Sardar,[14] Malise Ruthven,[15] Richard Landes,[16] and John Wansbrough,[17][1] as well as critics (like Ibn Warraq[18]). It is on the suggested reading list of the School of Oriental and African Studies of London [2] and other various major universities' Middle East studies reading lists [3][4].

In 1995, Michael Lecker proposed much more conservative theories of early Jewish/Islamic relations in The conversion of Himyar to Judaism and the Jewish Banu Hadl of Medina,[19] and Judaism among Kinda and the ridda of Kinda[20] and Zayd b. Thabit, 'a Jew with two sidelocks': Judaism and literacy in pre-Islamic Medina (Yatrib).[21]

In 1997, Robert G. Hoyland described the legacy of Hagarism this way: "Almost two decades ago Patricia Crone and Michael Cook followed [French historian Claude Cahen's] advice in their reconstruction of the rise of Islam, which they attempted to write on the basis of testimony external to Islamic tradition. Yet, with a few notable exceptions [Conrad and Morony for example] this line line of inquiry has not been pursued. This is unfortunate ... surely if one wishes to gain a proper understanding of the events and developments of this age, one must elicit the opinions of all those who participated in them... It is this belief and the example of the aforementioned scholars [referring to Crone & Cook] that have inspired this book ["Seeing Islam as others saw it"]"[22] He characterizes hagarism as evolving into wider inter-disciplinary and promiscuous literary approach, and goes on to say that further studies will emerge in the Studies in Late Antiquity and Early series in which his book appears. Since then the "SUNY Series in Near Eastern Studies"[23] has also collected a selection of authors who are continuing in a modified form of this theory.

In 2002, David Cook in discussing the A'maq Cycle of historical apocalypses says that this genre of Islamic literature "could in fact be based on some historical kernel, since ... the Muslims shared with the Jews the desire to build the Third Temple"[24]

In 2005, John C. Reeves says that Hagarism needs to do much basic research before it can propose bold theories. It "is an important area of research that as been largely uncultivated by modern Western scholars, and hence a comparative study across the religious boundaries of the confessional corpora remains very much in its infancy. One of the more important tasks ... involves the systematic identification, collation, and publication of the massive number of late antique and early medieval apocalyptic texts lurking in the manuscript collections of libraries and research institutes around the world."[25]


  1. Daniel Pipes. "Lessons from the Prophet Muhammad's Diplomacy". The Middle East Quarterly. September 1999. Volume VI: Number 3. Hagarism, a 1977 study by Patricia Crone and Michael Cook, the authors completely exclude the Arabic literary sources and reconstruct the early history of Islam only from the information to be found in Arabic papyri, coins, and inscriptions as well as non-Arabic literary sources in a wide array of languages (Aramaic, Armenian, Coptic, Greek, Hebrew, Latin, and Syriac).
  2. Oleg Grabar. Speculum, Vol. 53, No. 4. (Oct., 1978), pp. 795-799. What we know as Islam, the authors claim, was a Jewish messianic movement known, primarily in Syriac (but also reflected in Armenian and Hebrew) sources, as Hagarism, which moved into the Fertile Crescent, was heavily influenced by the Samaritans and by Babylonian Judaism, and at a certain point (presumably at the time of Abd al-Malik, ca. 690) shed its Judaicizing identity to become Arab Islam. This first change required the recasting of whatever memories or records existed of the movement’s birth into a more or less coherent form, a process which occupied much of the following century.
  3. Liaquat Ali Khan. Hagarism: The Story of a Book Written by Infidels for Infidels. Retrieved on 2006-06-12.The book titled "Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World," questions just about everything Muslims believe as historical truths. It challenges the common belief that the Quran was revealed to Prophet Muhammad over a period of 22 years (610-632) in Mecca and Medina. Instead, the book contends that the Quran was composed, possibly in Syria or Iraq, more than fifty years after the Prophet's death, projected back in time, and attributed to the Prophet.
  4. The Origins of The Koran: Classic Essays on Islam’s Holy Book, 1998 Ibn Warraq A group of scholars influenced by Wansbrough took an even more radical approach; they rejected wholesale the entire Islamic version of early Islamic history. Michael Cook, Patricia Crone, and Martin Hinds writing between 1977 and 1987 regard the whole established version of Islamic history down at least to the time of Abd al-Malik (685-705) as a later fabrication, and reconstruct the Arab Conquests and the formation of the Caliphate as a movement of peninsular Arabs who had been inspired by Jewish messianism to try to reclaim the Promised Land. In this interpretation, Islam emerged as an autonomous religion and culture only within the process of a long struggle for identity among the disparate peoples yoked together by the Conquests: Jacobite Syrians, Nestorian Aramaeans in Iraq, Copts, Jews, and (finally) peninsular Arabs.
  5. P. Crone and M. Cook, Hagarism: The Making Of The Islamic World, 1977, Cambridge University Press, p. 3
  6. Bernard Lewis, The Jews of Islam, Princeton University Press, p.203,p. 231
  7. Robert G. Hoyland, Seeing Islam as Others Saw It: A Survey and Evaluation of Christian, Jewish and Zoroastrian Writings on Early Islam (Studies in Late Antiquity and Early Islam), Darwin Press, 1998
  8. Reza Aslan, No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, Random House, 2005
  9. G. R. Hawting, The First Dynasty of Islam, Southern Illinois Univ Press, pp.19, 44, 71, 121, 132, 133, 140
  10. G. R. Hawting, The Idea of Idolatry and the Emergence of Islam: From Polemic to History From Polemic to History
  11. Herbert Berg, Method and Theory in the Study of Islamic Origins, Brill, Leiden and Boston, 2003, pp. 114, 126, 133, 288, 297, 374, 391
  12. F. E. Peters, Muhammad and the Origins of Islam, State University of New York Press
  13. S. N. Eisenstadt, Jewish Civilization: The Jewish Historical Experience in a Comparative Perspective, State University of New York Press, 1992
  14. Ziauddin Sardar, Orientalism, Open University Press, 1999
  15. Malise Ruthven, Islam in the World, Oxford University Press, 2000
  16. Richard Landes, The Apocalyptic Year 1000: Religious Expectation and Social Change, 950–1050
  17. J. Wansbrough, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 41:1:155-156 (1978)
  18. Ibn Warraq, The Quest for the Historical Muhammad, Prometheus Books, 2000
  19. Michael Lecker, The conversion of Himyar to Judaism and the Jewish Banu Hadl of Medina, Die Welt des Orients 26, Gottingen, 1995
  20. Michael Lecker, Judaism among Kind and the ridda of Kinda, Journal of the American Oriental Society 115, New Haven, 1995
  21. Michael Lecker, Zayd b. Thabit, 'a Jew with two sidelocks': Judaism and literacy in pre-Islamic Medina (Yatrib), Journal of Near Eastern Studies 56, Chicago, 1997.
  22. Robert G. Hoyland, Seeing Islam as Others Saw It: A Survey and Evaluation of Christian, Jewish and Zoroastrian Writings on Early Islam (Studies in Late Antiquity and Early; Darwin Press, 1998; p. 2-3)
  23. (SUNY Series in Near Eastern Studies). Albany, NY, U.S.A.: State University of New York Press
  24. David Cook, Studies in Muslim apocalyptic, (Studies in Late Antiquity and Early; Darwin Press, 2002)
  25. John C. Reeves. Trajectories in Near Eastern Apocalyptic, Society of Biblical Literature, 2005; p.24

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