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Muhammad and the Believers: At the Origins of Islam Hardcover – 25 May 2010

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 290 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (25 May 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674050975
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674050976
  • Product Dimensions: 21.8 x 14 x 2.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 989,938 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

Donner presents the intriguing view that the early Islamic movement, as presided over by Muhammad, actively included Jews and Christians in the flock as part of a general monotheistic community. It was only later, after Muhammad's death, that a new generation of Muslims began ritualizing Islam with its own distinctive practices, such as the hajj (pilgrimage) and the five daily prayers...He raises many original points, gleaning evidence from everything from coinage to original source documents. Questioning longstanding stereotypes, he argues (and proves) that Muslims are not, by nature, anti-Jewish and also that, based on archeological evidence, Muslims did not routinely tear down churches. The early Muslims, though brutal in war, created a sophisticated and organized civil system. For those curious about Islam's beginnings, no book is as original and as evenhanded as this succinct read. Publishers Weekly 20100308 In Muhammad and the Believers: At the Origins of Islam, Donner takes a fresh look at the heart and soul of Islamic history. -- Joseph Richard Preville Saudi Gazette 20100621 A learned and brilliantly original, yet concise and accessible study of Islam's formative first century...Donner's explanation of the process by which Muslims came to define themselves is both fascinating and enlightening. -- Max Rodenbeck New York Times 20100627 It is an excellent introduction to how and why the faith was born, and explains its proliferation in the Middle East and beyond...Donner uses the original text of the Qu'ran and other source materials dating from the same period to piece together the history of the faith. What quickly becomes clear is that Islam, and what it means to be a "Muslim," have both changed dramatically since the early days...Muhammad and the Believers is full...of intriguing questions and challenges readers to reconsider what they think they know about Islam...[It's] a rewarding read. -- Dan Sampson culturemob.com 20100707

About the Author

Fred M. Donner is Professor of Near Eastern History at the University of Chicago.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Sebastian Miller on 13 Nov. 2014
Format: Paperback
Fred Donner thoughtfully draws together the Quran and the Treaty of Medina and archeological evidence to argue that Jews, Christians and Pagan converts to Islam joined together in one umma of believers which was able to penetrate Byzantium by stealth . Surprisingly his book does not hold any punches against the early movement, the details of the early days are vivid and will be disturbing to Muslims, his arguments are relentlessly backed up with historical records from non-Muslim sources of the time. He largely evades the traditional Hadith literature which is too complex for this type of book. He also selects verses of the Quran which support his view, but does not address verses which run counter to his hypothesis. Also, a careful reading of the Treaty of Medina does not necessarily back up his view that the Jews of Medina are included among Muslim 'believers' even if they enter the treaty as equals in the community or 'umma', which obviously is not quite the same thing. Overall, Donner does accept that secular-style tolerance of other religions is an option in early Islam and that the level of cohabitation could only have been achieved by Muslims if they included Jews and Christians under the umbrella of Islam.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Dr. I. G. Poole on 4 Jan. 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The book provides an excellent introduction into the world into which Mohammad was born, and connects this to the later growth of the Islamic faith. As such, it has clearly annoyed many who would prefer to believe that the Quran are the actual words of God - immutable and unchangeable - just as some Chrsitians prefer to believe that the NT is the actual word of God. However, just as all scholarship now accepts that the Gospels we have are the result of endless redaction, such a view still finds problems within parts (only parts) of the Islamic community. The book answers the question as to what faith(s) people had in pre-Islamic Arabia, and comes out with the result that forms of Christianity such as Nestorianism thrived, along with Judaism. These provided the background for the Islamioc faith. Such is not to denigrate that faith, no more than the acceptance that Christianity grew out of Judaism denigrates either faith or prophet. However, it is clear that the early Islamic faith accepted all montheists (the 'believers' of the title). It brings into full view what a total disaster the Crusades actually were. This book provides a quiet voice of reasoning in a world full of trumpeting bigots.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By reader 451 TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 26 May 2011
Format: Hardcover
Donner's new book is a good historical introduction to early Islam, but the reader must be warned that it is also a work that takes a position within a specific academic debate.

Ostensibly this is a book for the general public. It is not footnoted, it is illustrated, and it is in most part narrative. Thus Donner usefully goes through the geo-political and ideological background to Islam's rise: the Roman-Persian wars, the Christological disputes. He provides Muhammad's traditional biography. Then he goes through the Muslim conquest, the two civil wars or fitna, and Abd al-Malik's initiatives to codify Islam more thoroughly, as evidenced by the issuance of the first epigraphic coins and the construction of the Dome of the Rock, with its injunctions against the trinity, in the 690s. In passing, he discusses source issues, in particular how historians may approach the Islamic historical tradition, which was passed on orally for decades before it was put in writing.

But at the same time, Donner aims to convince the reader that Islam was at the beginning an ecumenical movement, that the community of the believers or umma initially included Christians and Jews. Donner thus positions himself between historians who have towed the line of the Islamic tradition and ultra-revisionists who deny everything, including that Mecca was Islam's original pilgrimage centre. He argues mainly from the Koran and from a document known as the Constitution of Medina. The problem is that the Koran contains many suras critical of Christianity and Judaism, and that Donner picks and chooses. And if one accepts the Meccan tradition (as he does and I think one must), then surely Islam cannot have been ecumenical, having its own special pilgrimage centre.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Iftikhar Shah on 23 April 2012
Format: Hardcover
One reviewer on this Amazon page called Donner's book an "eccentric view" of Islamic origins and described its central argument as "careless". That reviewer is welcome to his or her opinion, of course, but I disagree. I found Donner's book to be strongly and logically argued and never inconsistent or unreasonable. Its central article is not unconventional enough to be "eccentric", but it is certainly imaginative enough to be interesting. The main weakness is that Donner does not verify each key point he makes via footnotes or endnotes. He seeks to get around the requirement for detailed citations by having a "Notes and Guide to Further Reading", which is essentially a chapter-by-chapter literature review. This section is helpful, but nowhere near as helpful as claim-by-claim footnotes or endnotes would have been.
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