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The Social Origins of Islam: Mind, Economy, Discourse

Mohammed A. Bamyeh
Copyright Date: 1999
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 332
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  • Book Info
    The Social Origins of Islam
    Book Description:

    The story of the origins of Islam provides a rich and suggestive example of sweeping cultural transformation. Incorporating both innovation and continuity, Islam built upon the existing cultural patterns among the peoples of the Arabian peninsula even as it threatened to eradicate these same patterns. In this provocative interdisciplinary study, Mohammed A. Bamyeh_x000B_combines perspectives from sociology, literary studies, anthropology, and economic history to examine the cultural ecology that fostered Islam.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8984-2
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. vii-xiv)

    The story examined in this work has thus far been largely confined to an area of specialized scholarship that, as Edward Said has effectively demonstrated, consciously resists theoretical accounts. “Regional Studies,” as they are often called, are regularly restrained to “factual” narrative.¹ This work attempts, at least in part, to proceed against such a restriction. It employs interdisciplinary approaches from cultural anthropology, historical sociology, Qur’anic exegesis, literary analysis, and economic history. These approaches are employed to suggest some connective dynamics operating between grand spheres of social life. For example, what is particularly important here are such issues as the connections...

  4. Part I: The Ground

    • one The Ideology of the Horizons
      (pp. 3-16)

      We are speaking of a terrain in which life repeats itself both endlessly and precariously. Here, the eyes of the inhabitant open daily to a topography of solemn solitude, far more imposing to the soul than the minuscule islets of social life encountered thereupon. The desert is a sphere of absolute speechlessness. What is strange in the desert is speaking, thinking in words, dialogizing, communicating. In this vast expanse, ridiculing all notions of paramount subjectivity, profuse wilderness covers all visible destinations between the here and all horizons; the human actor is but an insignificant footnote to the space; to think...

    • two Socioeconomy and the Horizon of Thought
      (pp. 17-52)

      Nomadic (badawah) and sedentary (hadarah) lifestyles—along with some important subdivisions—constituted the two recognizable forms of social organization before and after the coming of Islam. Ibn Khaldun situated thebadawahlifestyle historically before thehadarah, arguing that the formation of a sedentary society comes about only after an accumulation of nomadic wealth motivates a settlement.¹ Other historians, such as al-Mas‘udi, also affirmed the chronological precedence ofbadawah.² A more dynamic picture, however, emerges when one examines geographic encyclopedias, such as Yaqut’s or al-Bekri’s, that outline the seasonal or temporal nature of many localities associated with a sedentary lifestyle.There are hints...

    • three Social Time, Death, and the Ideal
      (pp. 53-78)

      Eternal subsistence nomadism and the similitude of past and present seemed to the Bedouin to be normative destiny. Austere as it was, Bedouin life seemed inescapable. Western and northern Arabia offered only a few alternatives, mostly around small-scale agriculture and trade, which in turn could only be practiced by a small number of sedentaries. One of the major features of nomadic ideology, therefore, entailed denigrating an unattainablehadarah(sedentary) lifestyle while at the same time morally exalting the timeless ethics of thebadawah(nomadic) lifestyle. Furthermore, unlike the more integrated features of sedentary economy, where one activity (trade or agriculture)predominated and...

    • four Pre-Islamic Ontotheology and the Method of Knowledge
      (pp. 79-114)

      Spiritual life in the immediate pre-Islamic era consisted of paganism, book religions, and Hanifism. None of these could be confidently thought of as a “finished product” in its own right. Such movements and practices are best conceived of as trends of belief, open to diversity, amendment, and experimentation. As we shall see, trends of spiritual life were defined more on the basis of verbal pronouncements than on the basis of doctrinaire following. Traces of this oral priority can be detected in Islam, whose first pillar of faith was theutteranceof the formula professing that there is no God but...

    • five The Discourse and the Path
      (pp. 115-140)

      ‘Ilm al-Kalam, or scholasticism (literarily, “the science of speech”) was one of the most foundational components of early Islamic philosophy, as it began to take form a little less than a century after the death of the prophet.¹ The centrality of language analysis to many Islamic systems of thought is one of the most striking historical features of the intellectual offshoots of the faith. A leading commentator has expressed bewilderment, in the context of contemporary debates in literary theory, at how little is known of the fact that many of the contours of the lines of thought regarding language and...

  5. Part II: The Faith

    • six Prophetic Constitution
      (pp. 143-178)

      The pre-Islamic epoch witnessed a profusion of prophets and sages. Reports abound of mystics and diviners preaching doctrines and even sayings not far removed from what Muhammad was to articulate with more decisive impact. In addition to thehanifs(Abrahamic reformers) already discussed, some claimants to prophecy disputed Muhammad’s entitlement, and one in particular—Musaylimah—posed a serious threat to the nascent Islamic polity after his death. The Qur’an itself indirectly registered the anticipatory mood by assigning to Muhammad the three roles of bearing conclusive good news (mubashsheran), conveying warnings (nadhir), and serving as awitness(shahidan) for the direction...

    • seven The House of the Umma and the Spider Web of the Tribe
      (pp. 179-230)

      The beginning of open proselytization by Muhammad in Mecca, after three years of reclusive confinement within the small network of the early faithful, was reportedly instigated by the Qur’anic instruction:“Admonish your nearest kinsfolk and show kindness to those of the believers who follow you.”¹ This delineation of the audience spelled out an entire range of presumptions, foremost of which was that the new religion intended to speak to society according to its existing terms of social organization. It also marked the emergence of thesocialnature of religion; though the earlySahabah(companions)—as a cult of semi-Hanifi mystics—came...

    • eight Austerity, Power, and Worldly Exchange
      (pp. 231-256)

      The Qur’an words, amid the heat of the war against Mecca, revealed a sense of torment about the raison d’être of the war: “They have hearts they cannot comprehend with; they have eyes they cannot see with; and they have ears they cannot hear with. They are like beasts—indeed, they are more misguided.”¹ Apart from the war’s profane and visible association with the potential for economic remuneration, it remained more lodged in an incomprehensible resistance of the old system of belief to natural extinction.² But while this perception was simmering among the estrangedMuhajirun(Meccan Muslims in Medina), the...

    • nine In Lieu of a Conclusion: The Origins, the System, and the Accident
      (pp. 257-270)

      Successive events, understood in terms of continually changing microcontexts, may show the grand historical narrative that they collectively construct to be simply the product of a series of accidents, whose ultimate outcome could not have been predicted from the outset. This does not necessarily entail the complete absence of “structure”; rather, it highlights the ex post facto organization of a grand narrative into meaning. This posterior meaning would then, once apprehended according to a common enough conceptual formula, make the grand phenomenon appear natural and even necessary. Thus, though everything is perfectly accounted for in the epigraph to this chapter,...

  6. Notes
    (pp. 271-298)
  7. Bibliography
    (pp. 299-304)
  8. Index
    (pp. 305-316)
  9. Back Matter
    (pp. 317-317)