Michael Cook (historian)

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Michael Cook

Professor Michael Cook (cropped).jpg
Michael Cook during the Holberg Symposium, 2014
Michael Allan Cook

1940 (age 80–81)
Academic background
Alma materKing's College, Cambridge
SOAS University of London
Academic work
Princeton University
Notable worksHagarism (1977)
Commanding Right and Forbidding Wrong in Islamic Thought (2000)

Michael Allan Cook FBA (born in 1940) is a British historian and scholar of Islamic history. Cook is the general editor of The New Cambridge History of Islam.


Michael Cook developed an early interest in Turkey and Ottoman history and studied history and oriental studies at King's College, Cambridge 1959-1963 and did postgraduate studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) of the University of London 1963–1966. He was lecturer in Economic History with reference to the Middle East at SOAS 1966-1984 and reader in the History of the Near and Middle East 1984–1986. In 1986, he was appointed Cleveland E. Dodge Professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University. Since 2007, he has been Class of 1943 University Professor of Near Eastern Studies. He was a Guggenheim Fellow in Spring 1990.[1]


In Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World (1977), Cook and his associate Patricia Crone provided a new analysis of early Islamic history by studying the only surviving contemporary accounts of the rise of Islam. They fundamentally questioned the historicity of the Islamic traditions about the beginnings of Islam. Thus they tried to produce the picture of Islam's beginnings only from non-Arabic sources. By studying the only surviving contemporary accounts of the rise of Islam, which were written in Armenian, Greek, Aramaic and Syriac by witnesses, they reconstructed a significantly different story of Islam's beginnings, compared with the story known from the Islamic traditions. Cook and Crone claimed to be able to explain exactly how Islam came into being by the fusion of various near eastern civilizations under Arabic leadership. Later, Michael Cook refrained from this attempt of a detailed reconstruction of Islam's beginnings, and concentrated on Islamic ethics and law.[2] Patricia Crone later suggested that the book was “a graduate essay" and "a hypothesis," not "a conclusive finding.”[3]

In his work Commanding Right and Forbidding Wrong in Islamic Thought (Cambridge, 2000), Michael Cook, in the chapter on the doctrine of al-Amr bi'l-Maʿrūf wa'l-Nahy ʿan il-Munkar among the Ibāḍīs, makes a comparison between western and eastern Ibāḍism and with the doctrines of the other Islamic sects and schools. The eastern and western Ibāḍīs represent two distinct historical communities with largely separate literary heritages, at least until, roughly, the beginning of the twentieth century. There are occasional links between them: one shared literary borrowing (Māwardī, Ghazālī), the unusual doctrine that the verbal obligation does not lapse when the offender will not listen, the equally unusual interest in women as performers of the duty. Differences are likely to reflect the very different political histories of the two wings of the sect. In Oman, the resilience of the Imamate down the centuries finds obvious and direct expression in the frequency with which the Omani sources link forbidding wrong with this institution. In the West, where the vacuum left by the disappearance of the Imamate was filled in part by clerical organisation and authority, the scholars seem to have become less cautious about the role of the individual performer. Comparing the Ibāḍī doctrine of forbidding wrong with the doctrines of other Islamic sects and schools, the significant point is that, left aside the close association of forbidding wrong with righteous rebellion and state-formation which the Ibāḍīs share with the Zaydīs, Ibāḍī views do not in any systematic way diverge from those of the Islamic mainstream.[4]

Cook is also known for synthetic works for a general audience, including The Koran: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2000) and A Brief History of the Human Race (Norton, 2003). Cook served as general editor of The New Cambridge History of Islam, which covers fourteen centuries of Muslim history. This six-volume project was selected as winner of the 2011 Waldo G. Leland Prize for the “most outstanding reference tool in the field of history” published between May 1, 2006, and April 30, 2011.


R. B. Serjeant described Hagarism as "bitterly anti-Islamic" and "anti-Arabian" in 1978.[5] Cook's most recent work, Ancient Religions, Modern Politics (2014), has been criticized by Duke Religion scholar, Bruce Lawrence, as an "anti-Islam manifesto."[6]

Cook addresses his approach to navigating the politics of scholarship on Islam in a video for the Nicholas D. Chabraja Center for Historical Studies. In his words, he claims that "I personally see my academic role not as being anybody's advocate for or against. I hold onto a kind of ideal of objectivity, which I am sure I don't fully realize...I didn't like the philo-Islamic pull and I don't like the anti-Islamic pull. They are kind of a distraction from scholarship."[7]


Cook receiving the Farabi International Award in 2008


  • Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World, 1977, with Patricia Crone.
  • Early Muslim Dogma: A Source-Critical Study, 1981.
  • Muhammad (Past Masters), 1983.
  • The Koran: A Very Short Introduction, 2000.
  • Commanding Right and Forbidding Wrong in Islamic Thought, 2001 (Winner of the Albert Hourani Book Award).
  • Forbidding Wrong in Islam: An Introduction (Themes in Islamic History), 2003.
  • A Brief History of the Human Race, New York 2003.
  • Studies in the Origins of Early Islamic Culture and Tradition, 2004.
  • (ed.): The New Cambridge History of Islam, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2010. (six vols, 4,929pp)[12]
  • Ancient Religions, Modern Politics: The Islamic Case in Comparative Perspective, 2014

Works related to Ibadism[edit]

  • Cook, Michael: (1981) Early muslim dogma. A source critical study. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981. ISBN 0-521-23379-8.[4]
  • Cook, Michael: (2000) Commanding right and forbidding wrong in Islamic thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. ISBN 0521-661749.[4]


  1. ^ Michael Allan Cook at Holberg Prize page
  2. ^ "Holberg Price 2014: About Michael Cook". Archived from the original on 2016-08-14. Retrieved 2016-08-14.
  3. ^ Khan, Ali (2005). "Hagarism: The Story of a Book Written by Infidels for Infidels". SSRN Electronic Journal. doi:10.2139/ssrn.944295. ISSN 1556-5068.
  4. ^ a b c Custers, Martin H. (2016). Al-Ibāḍiyya: A Bibliography, Volume 3 (Second revised and enlarged ed.). Hildesheim-London-N.Y.: Olms Publishing. p. 179.
  5. ^ Serjeant, R. B. (1978). "Review of Quranic Studies: Sources and Methods of Scriptural Interpretation, ; Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World". Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland (1): 76–78. doi:10.1017/S0035869X00134264. JSTOR 25210922.
  6. ^ Lawrence, Bruce B. (2017-06-01). "Ancient Religions, Modern Politics: The Islamic Case in Comparative Perspective. By Michael Cook". Journal of the American Academy of Religion. 85 (2): 555–558. doi:10.1093/jaarel/lfx014. ISSN 0002-7189.
  7. ^ "Michael Cook: How being a historian of Islam has changed in the past 15 years". Youtube. Retrieved 16 August 2021.
  8. ^ Albert Hourani Book Award Archived 2010-05-16 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ 2002 Distinguished Achievement Award Recipients Mellon Foundation
  10. ^ Members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences Retrieved 10 February 2010
  11. ^ "Honorary Doctorates at Leiden for Arabists Patricia Crone & Michael Cook and for translator Rien Verhoef". Leiden University. Retrieved 9 February 2013.
  12. ^ Malcolm, Noel (2011-02-06). "The New Cambridge History of Islam Ed by Michael Cook et al: review". Daily Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 2019-08-28.

External links[edit]