Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World (1977) is a 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. Although the central hypotheses behind Hagarism have been generally rejected, even by the authors themselves, the book has been hailed as a seminal work in its branch of Islamic historiography.
According to the book Hagarism, the Arab conquests and the formation of the caliphate were a peninsular Arab movement inspired by Jewish messianism. In alliance with the Jews, the Arabs attempted to reclaim the Promised Land from the Byzantine Empire. The Qur'an was a product of 8th-century edits of various materials drawn from a variety of Judeo-Christian and Middle-Eastern sources. The Prophet Muhammad was the herald of Umar "the redeemer", a Judaic messiah.
Hagarism begins with the premise that Western historical scholarship on the beginnings of Islam should be based on contemporary historical, archaeological and philological data, as is done for study of Judaism and Christianity, rather than Islamic traditions and later Arabic writings. The tradition expresses dogma, and tells historically irreconcilable and anachronistic accounts of the community's past. By relying on contemporary 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.
"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."
According to the authors, 7th century Syriac, Armenian and Hebrew sources depict the formation of Islam as a Jewish messianic movement known as Hagarism, which migrated into the Fertile Crescent. It drew considerable influences from the Samaritans and Babylonian Judaism. Around 690 AD the movement shed its Judaic identity to develop into what would later become Arab Islam. 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.
Muhammad claimed biological descent for the Arabs from Abraham through his slave wife Hagar. This united the ancestors of the tribe with the religion, in the same way as the Jews claimed descent from Abraham through Sarah and their ancestral faith. During this early period, the Jews and the Hagarenes united under a faith loosely described as Judeo-Hagarism, in order to recover the holy land from the Christian Byzantines. The scholars believe that the early manuscripts from eyewitnesses suggest that Muhammad was the leader of a military expedition to conquer Jerusalem, and that the original hijra 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 desired. They feared that being too influenced by Judaism might result in outright conversion and assimilation. Thus the hagarenes contrived to create a religion of their own and decided to splinter off from Judaic practices and beliefs.
Driven by a quest for theological legitimacy, they developed a version of Abrahamic monotheism. It evolved from a blend of Judaism, Samaritanism and Christianity to become what became recognized as 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 identification of a Moses-like prophet; along with a sacred city of Mecca, modeled on the Jewish holy city of Jerusalem, adjacent to a holy mountain.
As late as the eighth century, some mosques have prayer niches oriented to the north - to Jerusalem, rather than to Mecca, which ultimately replaced it as Islam's holy city.
Crone and Cook's work was part of revisionist history arising from several scholars associated with the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), beginning in the 1970s. They introduced methods from biblical studies as a new way of analyzing the history of the Koran and Islam, for instance, the use of contemporary texts in languages other than that used in the holy text, and incorporating evidence from archeology and linguistics. Their work has presented the Koran as "a scripture with a history", as Patricia Crone said in a 1999 interview in The Atlantic Monthly.
In 1995, Michael Lecker proposed more conservative theories of early Jewish/Islamic relations in his articles "The conversion of Himyar to Judaism and the Jewish Banu Hadl of Medina" and "Judaism among Kinda and the 'ridda' of Kinda" His 1997 article "Zayd b. Thabit, 'a Jew with two sidelocks': Judaism and literacy in pre-Islamic Medina (Yatrib)" continued this approach.
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 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]"
He characterized hagarism as evolving into a wider inter-disciplinary and literary approach, and said that additional studies would be published in the Studies in Late Antiquity and Early Islam (SLAEI Series) in which his book appears. Since then the "SUNY Series in Near Eastern Studies" has also published a selection of authors who are continuing to produce work related to 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."
In 2005, John C. Reeves says that Hagarism needs to do much basic research before it can propose bold theories. He notes it
"is an important area of research that has 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."
Their work was acknowledged as raising some interesting questions and being a fresh approach in its reconstruction of early Islamic history, but it was described by Josef van Ess as an experiment. He argued that: "... a refutation is perhaps unnecessary since the authors make no effort to prove it (the hypothesis of the book) in detail ... Where they are only giving a new interpretation of well-known facts, this is not decisive. But where the accepted facts are consciously put upside down, their approach is disastrous."
R. B. Serjeant claimed that: "Hagarism ... is not only bitterly anti-Islamic in tone, but anti-Arabian. Its superficial fancies are so ridiculous that at first one wonders if it is just a 'leg pull', pure 'spoof'."
Eric Manheimer concluded his review with the following:
"The research on Hagarism is thorough, but this reviewer feels that the conclusions drawn lack balance. The weights on the scales tip too easily toward the hypercritical side, tending to distract from what might have been an excellent study in comparative religion."
David Waines, Professor of Islamic Studies Lancaster University states: "The Crone-Cook theory has been almost universally rejected. The evidence offered by the authors is far too tentative and conjectural (and possibly contradictory) to conclude that Arab-Jewish relations were as intimate as they would wish them to have been."
John Wansbrough, who had mentored the authors, reviewed the book, specifically the first part, in the Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies. He begins by praising the book claiming, "the authors' erudition is extraordinary their industry everywhere evident, their prose ebullient." But, he says that
"... most, if not all, [of the sources] have been or can be challenged on suspicion of inauthenticity" and that "the material is upon occasion misleadingly represented ... My reservations here, and elsewhere in this first part of the book, turn upon what I take to be the authors' methodological assumptions, of which the principal must be that a vocabulary of motives can be freely extrapolated from a discrete collection of literary stereotypes composed by alien and mostly hostile observers, and thereupon employed to describe, even interpret, not merely the overt behaviour but also intellectual and spiritual development of the helpless and mostly innocent actors. Where even the sociologist fears to tread, the historian ought not with impunity be permitted to go."
Oleg Grabar described the book as "brilliant, fascinating, original, arrogant, highly debatable book" and writes that
"... the authors' fascination with lapidary formulas led them to cheap statements or to statements which require unusual intellectual gymnastics to comprehend and which become useless, at best cute." and that "... the whole construction proposed by the authors lacks entirely in truly historical foundations" but also praised the authors for trying to "relate the Muslim phenomenon to broad theories of acculturation and historical change."
Michael G. Morony remarked that "Despite a useful bibliography, this is a thin piece of Kulturgeschichte full of glib generalizations, facile assumptions, and tiresome jargon. More argument than evidence, it suffers all the problems of intellectual history, including reification and logical traps."
- Historiography of early Islam
- In the Shadow of the Sword (book)
- The Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran
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"Unsurprisingly, the Crone-Cook interpretation has failed to win general acceptance among Western Orientalists, let alone Muslim scholars ... The rhetoric of these authors may be an obstacle for many readers, for their argument is conveyed through a dizzying and unrelenting array of allusions, metaphors, and analogies. More substantively, their use (or abuse) of the Greek and Syriac sources has been sharply criticised. In the end, perhaps we ought to use Hagarism more as a 'what-if' exercise than as a research monograph."
- Gordon Newby (1988). A History of the Jews of Arabia. Los Angeles, California: University of California Press. p. 110.
The reconstructable past as presented in Hagarism relies only on sources outside of Islâm, and constructs a view of a past so as odds with conventional views that it has been almost universally rejected. This has been particularly so because the authors' criticisms of the possibilities of understanding the earliest periods of Islâm would seem, if applied as a general method to the sources used by historians of religion, to lead toward a kind of historical solipsism.
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- Michael Lecker, "The conversion of Himyar to Judaism and the Jewish Banu Hadl of Medina", Die Welt des Orients 26, Gottingen, 1995
- Michael Lecker, Judaism among Kind and the ridda of Kinda, Journal of the American Oriental Society 115, New Haven, 1995
- 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
- 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 Series; Darwin Press, 1998; pp. 2–3
- (SUNY Series in Near Eastern Studies). Albany, NY, U.S.A.: State University of New York Press
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- Coster, Marije, "Hagarism", in Muhammad in History, Thought, and Culture: An Encyclopedia of the Prophet of God (2 vols.), Edited by C. Fitzpatrick and A. Walker, Santa Barbara, ABC-CLIO, 2014, Vol I, pp. 236-239.