Islamic History

Respond to two of three following essay prompts.
Use assigned primary and secondary sources. You may also cite lectures/class discussion when appropriate, but the bulk of your evidence should come from the readings.
You must cite your sources.
Responses should be typed, double spaced, 12 pt. font, 1-inch margins and each essay should be 5-7 pages. I will NOT read more than 14 pages from you so do not go beyond the page limit.
Review the rubric in order to understand how you will be evaluated.

1. There is a dearth of concrete, contemporary evidence of Muhammad’s life and career. Archaeology at Mecca and Medina, to the extent that any has been done has not yet produced anything that can be directly tied to Muhammad. No documents have been found apart from the Constitution of Medina, and that only exists as a copy of a copy. However, there are four main sources for the study of Muhammad’s life, and they are all complicated and complicating: three are internal to the Islamic tradition (the Qur’an, the Hadith, and prophetic biographies), and one is external (contemporary accounts from non-Muslims outside Arabia). Discuss the advantages and limitations of each body of source material and make an argument about the extent to which historians can use these sources to reconstruct a history of Muhammad’s life and career.

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2. The “umma” of Muhammad is known throughout Islamic history as a community of believers united in their devotion to the One God. However, Fred Donner addresses the nebulous, often misunderstood concept of “umma” in early Islam. According to Donner, it has held a range of meanings since the seventh century. From at least the ninth century, it has also had a more particular signification of the universal community of Muslim believers. What do Berkey and Donner say about the extent to which this later meaning was part of Islamic discourse from its earliest inception? To what extent can its specificity as a community of Muslims be projected into the past? Using both secondary and primary sources, make an argument about whether the “umma” of the 7-8th centuries included non-Muslims and describe the specific historical processes that may have led to a narrowing of the term’s application.

3. The religious power of the leader of the community of “true believers” resided with the Prophet Muhammad, who had sealed it. It extended further only in the memory of Muhammad’s companions, who remembered and transmitted what he had said, prescribed, and practiced. Since the first caliphs – the four “rightly guided” caliphs known as the Rashidun (Abū Bakr, ‘Umar, ‘Uthmān, ‘Alī) – were in fact companions, they could, to a certain extent, incarnate both the political authority of the community leader and the religious power of someone who knew what the Prophet had meant. However, the dispute surrounding the fourth caliph, ‘Alī broke the chain of the companion caliphs. Using both primary and secondary sources explain how the nature of religious and political authority transformed following the first fitna? In the history of early Islam, to what extent is it even analytically useful to consider religious and political authority as separate categories? If so, when do these become distinct categories of authority? Describe the specific events, institutions, factions, ideologies etc. that altered the nature of religious/political authority after the Rashidun.

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