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Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World
Cover of the first edition
AuthorsPatricia Crone
Michael Cook
CountryUnited States
SubjectHistory of Islam
Media typePrint (Hardcover and Paperback)

Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World is a 1977 book about the early history of Islam 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, Crone and Cook depict an early Islam very different from the traditionally-accepted version derived from Muslim historical accounts.[1][2] According to them, 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 while Muhammad was the herald of Umar "the redeemer", a Judaic messiah.[3]

Although the central hypotheses behind Hagarism have been generally rejected, even by the authors themselves,[4][5][6][7][8][9] the book has been hailed as a seminal work in its branch of Islamic historiography,[8][10][11] and has been said to have "explod[ed] the academic consensus" that deferred to the traditional Islamic narrative of Islam's origins.[12]


Cook and Crone postulate that "Hagarism" started as a "Jewish messianic movement" to "reestablish Judaism" in the Jewish Holyland (Palestine) and known at first as muhajirun, not Muslims, their hijra (migration) was to Jerusalem not Medina. Its members were both Jewish and Arab to begin with but "with the Arabs' increasing success" that group broke with the Jews (culminating around the time of Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan). They first flirted with Christianity and adopted a respect for Jesus as prophet and Mary as Virgin, before asserting a new independent Abrahamic monotheist identity. This borrowed from the Jewish breakaway sect of Samaritanism "the idea of a scripture limited to the Pentateuch, a prophet like Moses (Muhammad), a holy book revealed like the Torah (the Quran), a sacred city (Mecca) with a nearby mountain (Jabal an-Nour) and shrine (the Kaaba) of an appropriate patriarch (Abraham), plus a caliphate modeled on an Aaronid priesthood."[12][13]


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 the 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, stressing non-Muslim sources, the authors attempt to reconstruct and present what they argue is a more historically accurate account of Islam's origins.

The term Hagarism[edit]

According to the authors, Hagarenes is a term used commonly by various sources (Greek 'Magaritai', Syriac 'Mahgre' or 'Mahgraye') to describe the 7th-century Arab conquerors. The word was a self-designation of the early Muslim community with a double-meaning. Firstly, it is a cognate of muhājirūn, an Arabic term for those who partake in hijra (exodus). Secondly, it refers to Ishmaelites: descendants of Abraham through his handmaid Hagar and their child Ishmael, in the same way as the Jews claimed descent and their ancestral faith from Abraham through his wife Sarah and their child Isaac. Muhammad would have claimed such descent for Arabs to give them a birthright to the Holy Land and to prepend a monotheist genealogy compatible with Judaism to their pagan ancestral practice (such as sacrifice and circumcision). Hagarism thus refers to this early faith movement. The designation as Muslims and Islam would only come later, after the success of contests made the duty of hijra obsolete.


The authors, interpreting 7th century Syriac, Armenian and Hebrew sources, put forward the hypothesis that Muhammad was alive during the conquest of Palestine (about two years longer than traditionally believed; the caliphate of Abu Bakr was hence a later invention). He led Jews and Hagarenes (Arabs) united under a faith loosely described as Judeo-Hagarism, as a prophet preaching the coming of a Judaic messiah who would redeem the Promised Land from the Christian Byzantines. This redeemer came in the person of Umar, as suggested by the Aramaic origins of his epiteth 'Al-Faruq'.

The hijra, the defining idea and religious duty of Hagarenes, thus referred to the emigration from northern Arabia to Palestine (later more generally to conquered territories), not to a single exodus from Mecca to Medina (in particular, "no seventh-century source identifies the Arab era as that of the hijra"). Mecca was only a secondary sanctuary; the initial gathering of Hagarenes and Jews took place rather somewhere in north-west Arabia, north of Medina.


After the successful conquest of the Holy Land, Hagarenes feared that being too influenced by Judaism might result in outright conversion and assimilation. In order to break with Jewish messianism, they recognised Jesus as messiah (though rejecting his crucifixion), which also served to soften the initially hostile attitude towards a growing numbers of Christian subjects. However, to form a distinct identity, not conflated with either Judaism or Christianity, ancestral practice was reframed as a distinct monotheistic Abrahamic religion. It took the Samaritan scriptural position, defined as accepting the Pentateuch while rejecting prophets. This also served to undermine the legitimacy of the Davidic monarchy, which the Samaritans rejected, as well as the sanctity of Jerusalem. Instead, Samaritans had had their holy city in Shechem and a temple on the nearby Mount Gerizim; Mecca with its nearby mountain were contrived as a parallel of these.

To combine the Abrahamic, Christian, and Samaritan elements, the role of Muhammad was recast as a prophet parallel to Moses, bringing a new scriptural revelation. The Quran was expeditiously collected from earlier disparate Hagarene writings, possibly heavily edited into its complete form by al-Hajjaj (that is, in the last decade of the 7th century rather than the middle, under Uthman, as traditionally believed; see Origin according to academic historians).

The political theory of early Islam was based on two sources. The first was Samaritan high-priesthood, which joins political and religious authority and legitimises it on basis of religious knowledge and genealogy. Secondly, a resurgence of Judaic influences in Babylonian Iraq, which led to the reassertion of messianism in the form of mahdism, especially in Shia Islam. The identification as Hagarenes was replaced with the Samaritan notion of Islam (understood as submission or as a covenant of peace), its adherents becoming Muslims.

Consolidation in Iraq[edit]

The transition to a confident, recognisably Islamic identity, with its various borrowings assimilated, occurred in the late 7th century, during the reign of Abd al-Malik. However, its evolution continued. As power was transferred from Syria to Iraq, Islam incorporated the rabbinical culture of Babylonian Judaism: religious law practised by a learned laity and based on oral traditions.

In the second half of the eighth century, the early Muʿtazila, simultaneously with Karaite Judaism, rejected all oral traditions, leading to a failed attempt to base law on Greek rationalism. In response, scholars followed Shafi'i in gathering chains of authorities (isnads) to support traditions item by item. This original solution finalised the independence of Islam from Judaism.

Part I of the book ends by considering the peculiar state in which the Hagarenes found themselves: their own success pushed them away from the sanctuaries of Jerusalem and Mecca to Babylonia, as finalised by the Abbasid Revolution; Umar had already lived and there was no lost land or freedom to hope for. This led Sunni religious politics into quietism under a desanctified state, contrasted only with "Sufi resignation".

Wider context[edit]

The remainder of the book, Parts II and III, discuss later developments and the larger context in which Islam originated: the Late Antique Near East, and relate it to theoretical themes of cultural history. This contrasts with the usual setting, focusing almost exclusively on Arabian indigenous polytheistic beliefs (jahiliyya).[14]


Crone and Cook's work was part of revisionist history[15] 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"[16] and "Judaism among Kinda and the 'ridda' of Kinda".[17] His 1997 article "Zayd b. Thabit, 'a Jew with two sidelocks': Judaism and literacy in pre-Islamic Medina (Yatrib)" continued this approach.[18]

The journalist Toby Lester commented in The Atlantic that Hagarism was a notorious work, and that when it was published it "came under immediate attack, from Muslim and non-Muslim scholars alike, for its heavy reliance on hostile sources." He added that, "Crone and Cook have since backed away from some of its most radical propositions—such as, for example, that the Prophet Muhammad lived two years longer than the Muslim tradition claims he did, and that the historicity of his migration to Medina is questionable."[19]

Robert G. Hoyland 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"[20] 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."[21]

The 2012 documentary Islam: The Untold Story, by English novelist and popular historian Tom Holland, is based on Crone's theories.[22]

Hagarism 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.[23] 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."[23]

Steven Humphreys criticised the authors for their "... use (or abuse) of its Greek and Syriac sources ..."[6] The controversial thesis of Hagarism is not widely accepted.[5]

R. B. Serjeant wrote in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 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'."[24]

Eric Manheimer, reviewing the work in the American Historical Review, commented that, "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."[25]

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."[4]

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."[26]

Oleg Grabar described Hagarism as a "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."[2] The classicist Norman O. Brown wrote in Apocalypse and/or Metamorphosis (1991) that Hagarism, "illustrates in an ominous way the politics of Orientalism", and citing Grabar's review, added that, "The Western tradition of urbane condescension has degenerated into aggressive, unscrupulous even, calumny".[27]

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."[28]

Fred M. Donner, writing in the Middle East Studies Association Bulletin in 2006, commented on the negative press the book initially received.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Daniel Pipes. "Lessons from the Prophet Muhammad's Diplomacy". The Middle East Quarterly. September 1999. Volume VI: Number 3.
  2. ^ a b Grabar, Oleg. Speculum, Vol. 53, No. 4. (Oct., 1978), pp. 795–799.
  3. ^ Ibn Warraq, The Origins of The Koran: Classic Essays on Islam's Holy Book, 1998
  4. ^ a b Introduction to Islam, Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press, 1995. ISBN 0-521-42929-3, pp 273–274
  5. ^ a b Political Islam: Essays from Middle East Report. Los Angeles, California: University of California Press. 1997. p. 47.
  6. ^ a b Stephen Humphreys, Islamic History, (Princeton, 1991) pp. 84–85.

    "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."

  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ a b Donner, Fred M. (2010). Muhammad and the Believers: At the Origins of Islam. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. p. 126. ISBN 978-0-674-05097-6.
  9. ^ Khan, Ali, Free Markets of Islamic Jurisprudence. Michigan State Law Review, 2006, p. 48. Also available at Washburn Law, p. 1535.
  10. ^ Shoemaker, Stephen J. "The Death of a Prophet The End of Muhammad's Life and the Beginnings of Islam". University of Pennsylvania. Retrieved August 22, 2012.
  11. ^ Stille, Alexander (2 March 2002). "Scholars Are Quietly Offering New Theories of the Koran". The New York Times. Retrieved August 22, 2012.
  12. ^ a b Ibn Warraq, ed. (2000). "2. Origins of Islam: A Critical Look at the Sources". The Quest for the Historical Muhammad. Prometheus. p. 95.
  13. ^ Ibn Warraq, ed. (2000). "2. Origins of Islam: A Critical Look at the Sources". The Quest for the Historical Muhammad. Prometheus. pp. 94–5.
  14. ^ a b [1] Middle East Studies Association Bulletin, Vol. 40, No. 2 (December 2006), pp. 197-199
  15. ^ "Hagarism Revisited Bo Holmberg 2004 | Samaritans | Reality". Scribd. Retrieved 2017-04-04.
  16. ^ Michael Lecker, "The conversion of Himyar to Judaism and the Jewish Banu Hadl of Medina", Die Welt des Orients 26, Gottingen, 1995
  17. ^ Michael Lecker, Judaism among Kind and the ridda of Kinda, Journal of the American Oriental Society 115, New Haven, 1995
  18. ^ 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
  19. ^ Lester, Toby (January 1999). "What Is the Koran?". Atlantic. Retrieved 8 April 2019.
  20. ^ (SUNY Series in Near Eastern Studies). Albany, NY, U.S.A.: State University of New York Press
  21. ^ David Cook, Studies in Muslim Apocalyptic, (Studies in Late Antiquity and Early Islam); Darwin Press, 2002
  22. ^ Sutcliff, Tom (29 August 2012). "Last night's viewing – Islam: the Untold Story, Channel 4; Accused, BBC1". The Independent. Archived from the original on 23 October 2012.
  23. ^ a b van Ess, "The Making Of Islam", Times Literary Supplement, 8 September 1978, p. 998
  24. ^ R. B. Serjeant, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (1978). p. 78
  25. ^ Eric I. Manheimer. "Review". The American Historical Review, Vol. 83, No. 1. (Feb., 1978), pp. 240–241
  26. ^ J. Wansbrough. "Review", Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Vol. 41, No. 1. (1978), pp. 155–156.
  27. ^ Norman O. Brown, Apocalypse and/or Metamorphosis, 1991, University of California Press, p. 65
  28. ^ Morony, Michael G. Journal of Near Eastern Studies, Vol. 41, No. 2. (Apr., 1982), pp. 157–159.

Further reading[edit]

  • 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.

External links[edit]