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Crucible of Islam

by G. W. Bowersock Harvard University Press
Pub Date:
04/2019
ISBN:
9780674237728
Format:
Pbk 240 pages
Price:
AU$35.99 NZ$37.38
Product Status: In Stock Now
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Little is known about Arabia in the sixth century CE. Yet from this distant time and place emerged a faith and an empire that stretched from the Iberian peninsula to India. Today, Muslims account for nearly a quarter of the global population. G. W. Bowersock seeks to illuminate this most obscure and yet most dynamic period in the history of Islam—from the mid-sixth to mid-seventh century—exploring why arid Arabia proved to be such fertile ground for Muhammad’s prophetic message, and why that message spread so quickly to the wider world.


 


In Muhammad’s time Arabia stood at the crossroads of great empires, a place where Christianity, Judaism, and local polytheistic traditions vied for adherents. Mecca, Muhammad’s birthplace, belonged to the part of Arabia recently conquered by the Ethiopian Christian king Abraha. But Ethiopia lost western Arabia to Persia following Abraha’s death, while the death of the Byzantine emperor in 602 further destabilized the region. Within this chaotic environment, where lands and populations were traded frequently among competing powers and belief systems, Muhammad began winning converts to his revelations. In a troubled age, his followers coalesced into a powerful force, conquering Palestine, Syria, and Egypt and laying the groundwork of the Umayyad Caliphate.


 


The crucible of Islam remains an elusive vessel. Although we may never grasp it firmly, Bowersock offers the most detailed description of its contours and the most compelling explanation of how one of the world’s great religions took shape.

Map of Southwest Arabia, prepared by Fabrice Delrieux


Map of the ?ijaz, prepared by Fabrice Delrieux


Prologue


1. The Arabian Kingdom of Abraha


2. Arab Paganism in Late Antiquity


3. Late Antique Mecca


4. Ethiopia and Arabia


5. The Persians in Jerusalem


6. Mu?ammad and Medina


7. Interregnum of the Four Caliphs


8. A New Dispensation


9. The Dome of the Rock


Notes


Select Bibliography


Acknowledgments


Index

'The Crucible of Islam is a remarkable work of scholarship.' - Christopher Carroll, The Wall Street Journal


 


'Erudite and lucid… Bowersock’s fluency with specialist literature and his ability to transform scattered research into a coherent narrative are admirable.' - Chase Robinson, The Times Literary Supplement


 


'To write about the Arabian background of the Prophet Muhammad, about the origin of Islam in Mecca and Medina, and about the first conquests that led to the formation of the Arab empire (roughly between 560 and 690 AD) is to attempt to describe the first moments of a supernova - the flash of a stupendous detonation that marks the death of a massive star and the release of enormous amounts of energy. G.W. Bowersock has met this challenge in a little book of explosive originality and penetrating judgment… With The Crucible of Islam we reach the very center of this roiling world. We look into the depths of the crucible itself, to seize, in a true historical perspective, the ‘molten ingredients’ that came to form Islam. His book is an exercise in the art of historical truth. Bowersock is a classical scholar. He derives his skills from a tradition that reaches back to the Renaissance, to Erasmus and to Lorenzo Valla, whose demolition of the legendary Donation of Constantine he has himself translated with gusto. His book derives its strength from the method advocated by the great classical scholar Richard Bentley (1662–1742): ratio et res ipsa - reason confronting the thing itself… Part of the joy of reading this account of the background and emergence of early Islam is the knowledge that Bowersock has built it from solid stones, the weight of every one of which he has tested with his own critical mind. Secure that we are in the hands of a master, let us think about the implications of the substantial gains to scholarship that Bowersock has brought us in this compressed masterpiece… We must be grateful to Bowersock for giving us, at this time, a masterpiece of the historian’s craft.' - Peter Brown, The New York Review of Books


 


'This work is highly recommended for those interested in the religious and political attitudes that gave rise to Islam.' - Muhammed Hassanali, Booklist


 


'Bowersock paints a concise portrait of Islam’s early formation and consolidation, focusing on the political, social, economic, and religious conditions of 6th- and 7th-century Arabia… Bowersock clearly and succinctly describes the stage upon which Islam emerged, and also dispels certain rumors, myths, and half-histories that have come to dominate popular notions of the period (and even persist in scholarship)… Given the historical and current relationships and tensions among various groups of Jews, Christians, and Muslims, this brief and easily digestible introduction will interest and please a wide variety of readers.' - Publishers Weekly


 


'This is an invaluable examination of the origins of a great religion.' - G. M. Smith, Choice
G. W. Bowersock is Professor Emeritus of Ancient History at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton.