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Third Edition

Daniel W. Brown

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Preface to the Third Edition

This book straddles two traditions. The first, the Islamic tradition, is its obvious subject. Like any great human venture, the movement of ideas and people through history that we call Islam deserves serious attention from anyone who wants to understand the world in which we live. But there is also another tradition at play here, that is the tradition of scholarship about Islam that we call Islamic Studies. Islam is not just a great religion that gave rise to a great civilization; it is also the subject of a body of scholarship that has its own history, debates, heroes, and villains. This book aims to introduce Islam not just as a system of beliefs, but also as a field of study. Any serious introduction to a field of study should take into account the most significant ideas being debated in that field. This has not been the norm in the field of Islamic studies. Many of the most interesting debates in the field over the last thirty or so years have been slow to find their way into introductory texts. It is rare, for example, to find John Wansbrough's work on the Qurʾan mentioned in a college textbook, even though his studies continue to exert enormous influence twenty-five years after their publication. Wansbrough's work is so technical that perhaps the omission can be excused, but what of Joseph Schacht or Ignaz Goldziher? Some of the questions these and other scholars raised are deeply controversial, calling into question the traditional story of Muhammad's life, how the Qurʾan came into being, and the nature of early Islam. Yet no student, Muslim or not, should come away from an introductory course in Islam without knowing these names and understanding something of the challenges they have posed to traditional understandings of Islamic origins. To ignore them is like teaching a college-level New Testament course without mentioning Rudolph Bultmann or discussing form criticism. Consequently, my aim here is to introduce students to critical questions in the field in an original and lively way.

In the third edition two areas, one at each end of the historical timeline of the book, required significant revision. First, scholarship on Islamic origins – the life of Muhammad, the Qurʾan, and the hadith literature – has proliferated rapidly since the book was first written. Consequently chapters on the Qurʾan and the hadith literature needed to be thoroughly rewritten. Some speculative questions posed by revisionist scholars that still seemed open at the time I first wrote have been put to rest, while new questions have arisen. In the case of the Qurʾan renewed and fruitful attention is being paid to the importance of the Syriac context. New manuscript evidence has also come into play, and this in turn has fed into scholarship on textual variants and the early history of the text. In the field of hadith studies, scholars who build on the pioneering work of Juynboll and Motzki have been slowly and painstakingly increasing our confidence that at least some hadith reports can be traced to the first generations of Muslims. At the other end of the timeline, contemporary events continue to challenge our judgment about what ideas and movements should be judged historically significant. Apocalypticism, for example, has turned out to more important than we knew in shaping contemporary trends. Moreover, the emergence of Salafism in a variety of places and forms seemed to call for contextualization, and I have therefore devoted an entirely new chapter to the history of global Salafism.

In addition to these revisions, the third edition aims to make the book more accessible to students in a number of ways. To make the text more readable I have adopted a simplified system of transliteration. Arabic words that have come into common English usage – Qurʾan, hadith, jihad, or imam, for example – are given in conventional English forms. The new edition also includes study questions for each chapter, and I have updated the “resources for further study” section at the end of each chapter. To supplement the main text this edition also includes more illustrative material, charts, and excerpts from primary sources.

I owe a great debt of gratitude to the hundreds of scholars, most unknown to me, from whose painstaking scholarship I have learned. Thank you to the many readers who have taken the trouble to comment on earlier editions or on the present manuscript. I appreciate your many suggestions, and especially your correction of errors, and I regret that I have been unable to incorporate all of your valuable suggestions. The errors that remain are my own.

Since long before I began this book, Carol has been my constant companion and support – “more-warm-than-soul, more-deep-than-flesh are one” – and I am profoundly grateful.

Source Acknowledgments

The editor and publisher wish to thank the following for permission to use copyright material.

  1. A. J. Arberry, 1955. The Koran Interpreted. New York: Macmillan and London: Allen and Unwin. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers Ltd © 1955 Arthur J. Arberry
  2. P. Crone, 1987. Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam. Copyright © Princeton University Press. Princeton, NJ. Reprinted by permission of Princeton University Press
  3. O. Grabar, 1996. The Shape of the Holy: Early Islamic Jerusalem, p. 55. © Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ. Reprinted by permission of Princeton University Press
  4. O. Grabar, 1996. The Shape of the Holy: Early Islamic Jerusalem. p. 58. © Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ. Reprinted by permission of Princeton University Press
  5. R. Hattox, 1988. Coffee and Coffeehouses: The Origins of a Social Beverage in the Medieval Near East. © University of Washington Press, Seattle, WA. Reprinted by permission of The University of Washington Press
  6. A. H. Johns, 1987. Tarique. In Encyclopaedia of Religion, ed. Mircea Eliade, vol. 14, p. 346
  7. R. Nicholson, 1959. The Kashf al-Mahjub of al-Hujwīrī, p. 195. London: Luzac
  8. Qushayrī, 1990. Principles of Sufism, trans. B. R. von Schlegell. pp. 14, 49, 116, 170, 177, 207, 274, 316–317, 327–328, 343. Berkeley, CA: Mizan Press
  9. M. Sells, 1989. Desert Tracings: Six Classic Arabian Odes, pp. 48–56. © Wesleyan University Press, Middletown, CT. Reprinted by permission of the Wesleyan University Press

Every effort has been made to trace copyright holders and to obtain their permission for the use of copyright material. The editor and publisher will gladly receive any information enabling them rectify any error or omission in subsequent editions.

Unless otherwise noted, quotations from the Qurʾan are from Yūsuf ʿAlī, The Meaning of the Holy Qurʾān, 6th edn., revd. Beltsville, MD: Amana Publications, 1989.

Part One
The Formation of the Islamic Tradition