For many years, secular scholarship on Islamic origins and the first Islamic century was characterised by a relatively uncritical acceptance of 9th- and 10th-Century CE Islamic literary sources at face value and, consequently, a relatively uncritical acceptance of the conventional Islamic origins-narrative that predominates therein. In the context of the field of Islamic origins, the first (as an approach or methodology) is often called “sanguine”, whilst the second (as a tendency of historical reconstruction) is often called “traditionalist”. Over the last few decades (and especially, over the last few years), however, a spate of new specialist books has appeared in the secular academy, articulating a “skeptical” methodology for approaching early Islamic literary sources and offering notable “revisionist” retellings of the history of the early Arab Empire and the origins of Islam. Beginning with Patricia Crone and Michael Cook’s seminal and controversial monograph Hagarism in 1977, this recent skepticism and revisionism has ostensibly redefined of the field of Islamic origins, with Fred Donner’s 2010 Muhammad and the Believers, Stephen Shoemaker’s 2012 The Death of a Prophet, and Robert Hoyland’s 2015 In God’s Path. Aspects of this tendency are also evident in Chase Robinson’s 2005 ‘Abd al-Malik, Stephen Humphrey’s 2006 Mu’awiya, Steven Judd’s 2014 Religious Scholars and the Umayyads, and Jonathan Brockopp’s Muhammad’s Heirs (2017), at least in terms of methodological skepticism. In addition to entering the academic mainstream, this skeptical and revisionist trend has also entered into public consciousness through Tom Holland’s 2012 In the Shadow of the Sword (which was written by a non-specialist for a general audience).
Although there are certainly points of contention between these various skeptical and revisionist scholars, their recent works nevertheless exemplify several notable trends within the historiography of the early Arab Empire and the origins of Islam—namely:
- The primacy of early non-Muslim literary sources and proto-Muslim documents over later Islamic literary sources.
- The general unreliability of the extant Islamic literary sources, and their relegation to a secondary and supplementary rôle in reconstructing Islamic origins.
- The pan-Abrahamic or pan-Abrahamitic tendency of proto-Islam.
- The apocalyptic character of proto-Islam.
- The lateness of the terms muslim and ʾislām as signifiers for a discrete religion or religious identity.
- The rejection of proto-Islam as a new or discrete religion—being instead self-conceived as a reformist or eschatological movement within the Abrahamitic tradition.
Meanwhile, the opponents of this skepticism and revisionism have retreated to an extremely modest stance—in some cases, a kind of minimal traditionalism, and in other cases, mere storytelling. In short, methodological skepticism and historiographical revisionism appear to be ascendant within the field of Islamic origins, if the recent spate of specialist monographs is anything to go by.
Non-Muslim and Proto-Muslim Sources
The primacy of the contemporaneous and early non-Muslim literary and proto-Muslim documentary or material sources over the later Islamic literary sources was notably championed by Crone and Cook in Hagarism, who utilised this methodology in their revisionist reconstruction of early Islamic history:
In making the attempt we have adopted an approach which differs appreciably from that of more conventional writing in the field. First, our account of the formation of Islam as a religion is radically new, or more precisely it is one which has been out of fashion since the seventh century: it is based on the intensive use of a small number of contemporary non-Muslim sources the testimony of which has hitherto been disregarded.
In addition to the proximity of earlier sources to the events that they purport to describe, their usage is necessitated by the problems that abound in the later Islamic literary sources. After summarising these problems, Crone and Cook concluded: “The only way out of the dilemma is thus to step outside the Islamic tradition altogether and start again.”
A clear echo of Crone and Cook’s methodology—especially the prioritisation of earlier (non-Muslim and proto-Muslim) sources—can be found in Robinson’s ‘Abd al-Malik; after outlining the lateness of the Islamic literary sources and their various constraints, Robinson concludes:
Given this historiographical problem, one must proceed gingerly, privileging contemporary (or at least relatively early) sources at the expense of later ones, in addition to those accounts that appear discordant with the consensus that would later emerge. In practice, this means reading poetry, such early narrative as can be recovered from the literary traditions, and the material evidence.
Robinson’s reconstruction of Umayyad history thus proceeds on the basis of contemporaneous and early Christian literary sources, proto-Muslim documents, and plausibly-archaic data extracted from later Abbasid-era Islamic literary sources.
Likewise, Humphreys argues in Mu’awiya that contemporaneous sources (i.e., documentary and archæological materials) are to be preferred in general over literary sources for a viable historical reconstruction, and laments their absence in relation to early Umayyad history:
It is best to build from original documents—diaries, letters, tax registers, decrees, inscriptions, and so on—together with monuments, artworks, coins and the like. Regrettably, very little of that kind has come down to us. There is a considerable quantity of silver and bronze coins minted in Mu’awiya’s reign but these do not carry his name and use Byzantine and Persian designs from the pre-Conquest era. There are a few Greek and Coptic papyri from Egypt and from Nessana in the Negev, but no written documents of any kind have reached us in their original form from the key provinces of Syria (that is, Damascus and Hims), Iraq or Iran. We know that such documents were produced in profusion, since the literary sources constantly allude to them, but very rarely do they give transcripts or even summaries of them; worse, the few documents they do claim to reproduce are of doubtful authenticity.
In lieu of documents and artefacts produced by the Umayyads themselves, Humphreys cites the contemporaneous witnesses of “a Byzantine ambassador” and “the Frankish pilgrim Arculf”—i.e., early non-Muslim literary sources. After summarising the early extant non-Muslim literary material pertinent to the Umayyads, Humphreys proceeds to summarise the general unreliability of the later Islamic literary sources (although he certainly does not dismiss them as valueless).
Donner is less skeptical than some of the other authors under consideration, and argues in Muhammad that a “basic skeleton” can be derived from the later Islamic literary sources. Nevertheless, Donner acknowledges the “well-founded concerns about the limitations of the traditional Muslim accounts of Muhammad’s life,” and consequently places a high importance on the early non-Muslim literary sources for his historical reconstruction:
Our situation as historians interested in Muhammad’s life and the nature of his message is far from hopeless, however. A few seventh century non-Muslim sources, from a slightly later time than that of Muhammad himself but much earlier than any of the traditional Muslim compilations, provide testimony that—although not strictly documentary in character—appears to be essentially reliable. Although these sources are few and provide very limited information, they are nonetheless invaluable.
Donner also regards the Quran as vital for the reconstruction of early Islamic history, given his view that the text is “the product of the earliest stages in the life of the community in western Arabia.” However, Donner argues that the Quran is not an Islamic source per se, but rather, proto-Islamic—or in his words, “Believerish.”
Shoemaker is perhaps the most enthusiastic practitioner of Crone and Cook’s skeptical methodology, and explicitly acknowledges his methodological debt to Hagarism in the introduction to The Death of a Prophet:
In particular, this relatively slim volume highlighted the potential importance of non-Islamic literature for knowledge of religious (and secular) history in the seventh and eighth centuries, a so-called dark age for which sources are often sparse and spotty.
Shoemaker’s reconstruction of early Islamic history is largely based upon the usage and prioritisation of these early non-Muslim sources, which he defends from various criticisms and bolsters with criteria drawn from recent Biblical scholarship; according to Shoemaker, “Hagarism opened the door to this new approach.” In addition to defending and utilising Crone and Cook’s methodology, Shoemaker also devotes his research to “one of Hagarism’s most startling revelations,” i.e., the indication that Muḥammad was still alive after 632 CE and led an invasion of Palestine. Shoemaker summarises his research—and his Hagarism-inspired methodology—as follows:
[T]his study aims to demonstrate the potential value of non-Islamic sources for reconstructing the history of formative Islam, when these sources are used in a methodologically critical manner and in conjunction with, rather than isolation from, Islamic sources.
In short, Shoemaker prioritises early non-Muslim literary sources over later Islamic literary sources, and interprets the latter in the light of the former. Like Donner, however, he also acknowledges that the Quran is a product of the 7th Century CE, and thus, can be used to shed at least some light on Islamic origins as well.
Judd is perhaps in practice the least skeptical of the authors under consideration (presumably because the Islamic literary sources are all that are available for his specific subject), but still embodies a good deal of methodological skepticism in his discussion on sources in Religious Scholars and the Umayyads. In general, he notes the absence of extant Umayyad-era sources:
Written sources from the Umayyad period are extraordinarily sparse. There are no extant Umayyad-era chronicles or other historical narratives. While later sources suggest that the Umayyads at times encouraged the writing or history, whatever output Umayyad-era historians may have achieved has been lost. Later sources preserve fragments attributed to Umayyad-era works, but the works themselves have not survived.
Judd goes on to elaborate the relevant lacunæ in more detail, noting that Umayyad administrative records are also completely non-extant, and that any kind of Umayyad-era manuscripts (i.e., papyrus fragments) are rare. Umayyad-era letters and epistles are also non-extant, bar quotations and reproductions in later Abbasid-era literary sources; some of these are plausible ascriptions, but in general, “authenticating such “documents” is problematic.” Moreover, the paucity of such ascriptions “demonstrates how sparse the written record of the Umayyad dynasty remains.” Umayyad-era poetry is also only available within later Abbasid-era literary sources, but is generally regarded as authentic; however, these poetic ascriptions “suffer from severe limitations as historical sources. Many offer no historical context beyond whatever evidence can be gleaned from the poems themselves.” In contrast to this literary paucity, various archæological evidences have survived, but these present their own set of problems—for example, the many extant Umayyad coins shed light on issues such as chronology, administration, and shifts in imperial propaganda, but their utility is limited:
Complex theological concepts cannot, however, be communicated in a short motto on the margin of a small coin. Consequently, scholars must rely on other sources to give the words on coins any meaningful context.
Umayyad-era architecture is also sparse, but the remaining palaces, monuments, and art nevertheless help to shed some light on issues such as Umayyad court life; however, the evidence is often ambiguous. Finally, Judd notes that early Christian literary sources “are particularly useful for determining the chain of events during the conquests and for addressing confusing issues of chronology,” but limited in their ability to describe early Islamic intellectual and theological developments. After summarising this paucity of extant primary sources and their various limitations, Judd concludes the following:
Any history of the Umayyad era relying exclusively on contemporary evidence would be cryptic at best. The written, numismatic and archeological records are simply too thin to allow a clear picture of Umayyad society. Consequently, scholars have had no alternative but to rely on later sources to reconstruct Umayyad-era events and the characteristics of Umayyad society.
In other words, Judd seems to prioritise early and contemporaneous sources in theory—it is only due to the absence of this material relevant to his subject-matter that he must instead rely for the most part upon the later Islamic literary sources, and especially, Abbasid-era religious prosopography: “these sources, despite their relatively late origin, offer important correctives to the ʿAbbāsid-centric narrative in more widely-read sources.” That said, he readily concedes the tenuousness of any historical reconstruction on that basis, noting that the lack of early and contemporaneous sources “makes it impossible to determine with great certainty the events of the period or the motivations of its historical actors.” In short, Judd does not explicitly identify as a skeptic, but his work nevertheless seems to reflect the influence of Crone and Cook’s methodological skepticism in the field.
Skepticism is evident in Hoyland’s work as well, despite his surprising failure to explicitly acknowledge his salient methodological debt to Crone and Cook in In God’s Path (as Donner has noted). Nevertheless, Hoyland’s work is based upon the usage of a Hagarism-inspired methodology, which he summarises in a short statement: “I will give precedence to seventh and eighth-century texts and documents over later ones.” Hoyland proceeds to defend this prioritisation of early non-Muslim sources (on the basis of their proximity to the described events, etc.), and reiterates the method in an appendix:
How can we write about the history of this period without simply regurgitating the religious perspectives and legal controversies of a later age? One way is to give the lead role to contemporary coins, documents, and non-Muslim sources for reconstructing events up to the death of the fourth caliph ʿAli in 660, which is what I have done in this book. Of course, these materials are not without their problems, but they do at least date to the period in question (630–60) or shortly thereafter…
Finally, there is Brockopp, who professes from the outset his “methodological commitment to documentary evidence” or “material sources” (such as Arabic inscriptions and papyri), which he collectively judges to be “a vital source for reconstructing early Islamic history.” Brockopp also recognises contemporaneous and early non-Muslim or non-Arabic literary sources as “particularly valuable” (alongside the Quran and “documentary evidence”) for shedding light onto the first Islamic century, and summarises his method—his prioritisation of such sources—as follows: “my study presumes that any history of early Muslim scholars must conform to what we know about early Islamic history based on documentary evidence.” Indeed, Brockopp even explicitly identified this approach as a skeptical one: “let me clarify that the basic premise of the skeptics is one that I share: any account of early Islamic history must make sense of the material evidence that survives; further, witnesses from neighboring cultures must also be taken into account.”
In sum, Robinson, Humphreys, Donner, Shoemaker, Judd, Hoyland, and Brockopp all variously prioritise or advocate the prioritisation of early non-Muslim literary sources and proto-Muslim documentary sources over later Islamic literary sources in their recent reconstructions of early Islamic history. This skeptical methodology was famously pioneered by Crone and Cook in Hagarism, and represents a clear departure from the sanguine approach that once dominated the field of Islamic origins.
The Islamic Tradition
The prioritisation of early non-Muslim literary sources (along with proto-Muslim documents and artefacts) necessarily entails the deprioritisation of the later Islamic literary sources. Indeed, this is why Crone et al. are called “skeptics”: their methodology usually begins with the observation that the Islamic literary sources are generally unreliable, or at least, highly suspect. The reasons for this unreliability sometimes vary from author to author, but some common themes obtain.
At the very outset of Hagarism, Crone and Cook note the “well-known” fact that the extant Islamic literary sources “are not demonstrably early.” They further note that the Quran is not well-attested for the early 7th Century CE, and that the text is in any case too ambiguous in and of itself to be of much historical value. For the most part, the conventional Islamic origins-narrative—the narrative commonly articulated within the Islamic literary sources—is late and unverifiable, and thus, “there are no cogent external grounds for accepting it.” On the basis of the research undertaken by Goldziher and Schacht, “it makes some sense to regard the tradition as without determinate historical content, and to insist that what purport to be accounts of religious events in the seventh century are utilisable only for the study of religious ideas in the eighth.” In short, attempts to reconstruct early Islamic history on the basis of the later Islamic literary sources are highly problematic; in the absence of some external check (e.g., earlier non-Muslim writings), there is often no way to “arbitrate” between conflicting approaches to the sources. In a subsequent “overextended footnote” to Hagarism, Crone further elaborated on the problems inherent to the Islamic literary sources by also noting the unsystematic and disrupted oral transmission of their content, and further noting the massive scale of anachronistic doctrines that were retrojected therein by later Muslim sectaries.
The Islamic literary sources are certainly far from useless, however: as Crone explained in her sequel monograph, the post-fitnah political history of early Arab and Muslim society is to some degree extractable from extant Islamic chronology and prosopography. Even in Hagarism, Crone and Cook did not completely reject the Islamic tradition—indeed, they explicitly identified plausibly-archaic (“fossilised”) data within the Islamic literary sources (for example, using the Criterion of Dissimilarity), and both continued to advocate the potential (albeit limited) utility of such sources in their subsequent work. Thus, in the preface to his 1981 Early Muslim Dogma, Cook summarised the skeptical method—including the rôle of Islamic literary sources—as follows:
Islam, as Peter Brown has recently reminded us, is a great traditional religion. Great traditions are notoriously Whiggish in what they have to tell us of the manner of their own formation—the process whereby they became traditions—and the Islamic case is in some ways particularly opaque. To those who persist in trying to penetrate this opacity, there are two obvious strategies. One is to step outside the tradition, and to piece together such testimonies as are to be found in sources independent of it: the early non-Muslim sources to which the attention of Islamicists was directed by Professor Cahen, and those early Muslim sources which survive archaeologically. The other strategy is to try to isolate and date the oldest elements preserved within the Islamic tradition, and more generally to seek to establish some criteria of stratification for its vast literary remains—a strategy which to date has been best exemplified by the researches of Schacht in the field of law.
There are echoes of this view in Robinson, who argues that some poetry preserved in Abbasid-era sources does ultimately derive from the preceding Marwanid period. Robinson contrasts such poetry with most “narrative accounts,” which do not provide “a contemporary witness to Umayyad history.” Worse, these later sources retrojected anachronistic ideals into their depictions of the Umayyad period; in general, “most of what we have in prose was written to a tune penned by composers who had no ear for real history.” Robinson also states that “the disciplined practice of transmitting and collecting hadith dates from the first third of the eighth century at the very earliest,” which would imply that the genre as a whole is anachronistic.
Humphreys (whose focus is also the Umayyad period) likewise laments the lack of “contemporary writings in Arabic,” or at the very least, “none that have reached us in anything like their original forms.” The earliest extant Islamic literary sources postdate the life and times of Muʿāwiyah by two centuries, and derive from reports that were orally-transmitted; such reports “were often remembered in ways that made for the best story, the cleverest rhetorical turn scored the strongest points against a narrator’s theological, personal, and tribal opponents.” In other words, the orally-transmitted Islamic historical memory was beset by all kinds of distorting pressures—and even when these reports started to be collected systematically, the collectors involved “reshaped the material they gathered in a major way – emphasizing certain things, omitting others, combining stories that were originally quite separate, and so on.” This kind of paraphrastic and mutable transmission continued even unto the first major literary compilations under the Abbasids, whose authors “regarded the sources as a plastic material which could be molded into many shapes. They did not see them as a corpus of fixed texts which they were obliged to copy more or less verbatim.” In short, Islamic historical memory was subject to a constant process of “wholesale reshaping” until perhaps the 10th Century CE, in both oral and then literary form. In addition to narrative concerns, the extant material was also shaped by ideological interests—most notably, sectarian propaganda. Humphreys does not reject the conventional Islamic origins-narrative completely, but his reconstruction of the life and times of Muʿāwiyah is still extremely tentative when based upon the Islamic tradition, and riddled with emphatic caveats and cautions.
Donner (whose focus is the life and times of Muḥammad) also notes the lateness of the Islamic literary sources, the limitations of their scope, and the evident polemical and doctrinal retrojections therein by later Muslim sectaries and storytellers. Donner also mentions the contradictions, miracle stories, and chronological confusion that characterise these sources, not to mention evident artificial literary features (such as numerology and Biblical typologies). Donner cautions against completely rejecting the conventional Islamic origins-narrative, and even goes so far as to derive a “basic skeleton” from the later Islamic literary sources; in general, however, he concludes that “it remains prudent to utilize the traditional narratives sparingly and with caution.”
Shoemaker (whose focus is also Muḥammad) likewise notes the lateness of the Islamic literary sources, the ambiguity of Quranic historical allusions, the “massive scale” of forgeries that occurred within Hadith, and the dubiousness of ʾisnāds: according to Shoemaker, the Mediæval Islamic criteria for authenticating hadiths via their ʾisnāds are “notoriously unreliable.” Shoemaker further notes that “the transmission of knowledge remained almost exclusively oral for more than one hundred years after Muhammad’s death,” and thus concludes that the “late formation” of the earliest Islamic literary sources “raises significant questions concerning their reliability as historical sources.” Consequently, Shoemaker casts doubt upon the conventional Islamic origins-narrative in general:
The manifold shortcomings of the early Islamic historical tradition, particularly with respect to the period of origins, invite the strong possibility that the beginnings of Islam differed significantly from their representation in the earliest biographies of Muhammad. Not only were the narratives first composed at only an arresting distance from the events that they describe, but modern scholarship on the traditional biographies of Muhammad has repeatedly found them to be unreliable sources.
According to this modern scholarship, later Muslim writers retrojected a “highly idealized image” of Muḥammad and his followers into their depictions of early Islamic history, anachronistically reformulating Islamic historical memory to fit later “literary and theological tendencies.” Moreover, the traditional Islamic chronology of the life and times of Muḥammad “has long been recognized as one of the most artificial and unreliable aspects” of the later Islamic literary sources. Finally, Shoemaker notes that earlier Islamic accounts—in this case, those pertaining to Muḥammad’s death—the are less detailed than later ones, and suggests that “elements” were added to the story over time. That being said, Shoemaker grants that “the traditions of the Qurʾān rather probably belong to the first Islamic century,” and also uses the Criterion of Embarrassment to identify plausibly-archaic hadiths—but in general, his usage of the Islamic tradition is extremely cautious, and undertaken in the light of earlier sources.
Judd focuses upon the Islamic tradition insofar as it relates to the Umayyads, with special reference to their later depictions within the chronicle of al-Ṭabarī; according to Judd, al-Ṭabarī was pro-Abbasid, and thus, vilified the Umayyads and even used them “to represent the ills of his own society.” In particular, al-Ṭabarī minimised Umayyad piety and Umayyad-era religious sectarianism, and instead focused upon tribalism. Judd extends similar conclusions to most extant Islamic chronicles, which tend to be extremely biased against the Umayyads, and therefore, mispresent that dynasty and its achievements. Finally, Judd summarises the Abbasid-era biographical-dictionaries written by traditionists, and notes their biases in the selection and omission of material. Nevertheless, these traditionists were not committed to portraying the Umayyad period as a “godless void,” and thus “offer a counter-narrative to the chronicles described earlier.” Judd thus argues for this utility of religious prosopography in the reconstruction of the history of Umayyad-era religious scholars, with a strong caveat:
While the paucity of contemporary Umayyad-era sources makes it impossible to determine with great certainty the events of the period or the motivations of its historical actors, it is possible to come to a more nuanced understanding of the period by relying on a greater variety of sources, even if some of those sources are relatively late in provenance. The biographical tradition created to serve the needs of the muḥaddiths offers important possibilities for a counter-narrative that corrects, at least in part, for the biases of the pro-ʿAbbāsid chronicles.
In general, however, Judd acknowledges the mass-retrojection of anachronisms that plagues the depiction of early Islamic history within the later Islamic tradition, thus casting doubt on the prospect of reconstructing even the Marwanid period (let alone the Sufyanid period) in lieu of contemporaneous sources:
The lack of reliable contemporary sources, combined with the well-studied tendency of later authors to project more recent solutions back to the formative period of Islam, makes a coherent image of the Marwānid era elusive at best.
In short, Judd’s approach to the extant Islamic literary sources seems quite skeptical, even if his criticisms and concerns are mostly confined to the issue of bias (rather than transmission, as with the other skeptics in question).
Hoyland characterises the conventional Islamic origins-narrative as inaccurate rather than “wrong” per se, due to the biases of the later Islamic literary sources; in addition to being one-sided, later Muslim writers anachronistically “shaped” their received historical information in accordance to their contemporaneous culture, idealising—and thereby distorting—early Islamic history. This is particularly problematic given the vast cultural gap between these later writers and the earlier events they purport to describe, as Hoyland notes:
This is of course always so, but the problem is magnified in this case because the political and religious landscape of the ninth-century Middle East was so dramatically different from that of the seventh century.
(In this, Hoyland is clearly repeating concerns voiced by Crone in her “overextended footnote” to Hagarism, where she noted the dramatic environmental discontinuity from Muḥammad to Muʿāwiyah to ʿAbd al-Malik, and the impact of such discontinuity upon the early Islamic oral tradition.) In a subsequent appendix, Hoyland reiterates the idealisation of early Islamic history by later Muslim writers, and their retrojection of later doctrines and controversies, before asking: “How can we write about the history of this period without simply regurgitating the religious perspectives and legal controversies of a later age?” (His answer to this rhetorical question has already been noted above.) To these woes, Hoyland adds the lateness of the Islamic literary sources and their derivation from an oral tradition, entailing an increased threat of interpolation and fabrication:
Extant Muslim accounts do not antedate the ninth century and rely on a long line of authorities, any one of which may have reworded and reshaped the original report (or even invented the report and attributed it to a putative eyewitness).
Like Crone, Robinson, and Humphreys, Hoyland also regards depictions of the Umayyad period as more reliable than depictions of the Prophet and his companions: in addition to their relative proximities to the extant Abbasid-era literary sources, the former was regarded as “profane” (and thus subject to ordinary biases and errors), whereas the latter was “salvation history” (and thus subject to far more intense ideological distortions).
And finally, whilst Brockopp rejects the “descriptive” (i.e., sanguine) approach and describes Sezgin’s method as “overly sanguine”, he also rejects the “skeptical” approach and cautions against disregarding the Islamic literary sources “altogether”. That said, Brockopp’s “skeptics” are really just “the most ardent skeptics” or “extreme skeptics” (i.e., the fringe Inarah school), and his own approach to the Islamic literary sources fits comfortably in the more mainstream skeptical tendency outlined above. Thus, although he describes these sources (or more precisely, biographical dictionaries) as “a vital resource” for reconstructing the history of early Muslim scholars, his usage thereof turns out to be similar to Crone and Cook’s: Brockopp invokes both the Criterion of Embarrassment or Dissimilarity and consonance with “contemporary evidence” as means to identify plausibly-archaic material preserved in the extant Islamic literary sources. In general, however, Brockopp acknowledges the lateness of these sources, the way in which they are riddled with sectarianism and fabrications, their “theological nature”, and consequently, the way in which getting at earlier layers therein “is difficult and controversial”. Similarly, Brockopp openly takes “a generally skeptical view of our ability to argue the authenticity of individual hadīth”. When it comes to the establishment of a state bureaucracy under ʿUmar, for example, Brockopp notes that “the point is not what Umar actually did, but how he is remembered.” In other words, Brockopp is searching within the story in question for underlying hint or memory regarding the nature of the bureaucracy in general (in this case, the underlying assumption that the bureaucracy were not existing religious scholars), since the story itself “is nothing more than an imaginative reconstruction of early conversations”. Similarly, when it comes to reconstructing Muslim proto-scholars amongst the Companions, Brockopp openly states: “my interest here is in how Muslim historians represent these individuals, which I believe can offer us important clues to the history of religious scholars.” Indeed, instead of taking ascriptions to these early figures at face value, Brockopp interprets their later veneration and the very fact that reports were ascribed to them as evidence that the figures in question were influential in early Islamic society—yet even this extremely minimal reconstruction is characterised by Brockopp himself as “suggestions” and “speculative”. This skepticism continues with Brockopp’s reconstruction of proto-scholars amongst the Followers (such as Ḥasan al-Baṣrī and Muṭarrif b. ʿAbd Allāh), whose ascriptions he acknowledges to be fabrications and which he instead takes as broader reflections of 8th-Century legal or pious tendencies. Even an extant manuscript fragment ascribed to Wahb b. Munnabih is rejected by Brockopp as a false ascription probably arising from later “pious respect” for this early figure. More generally, Brockopp posits that “a group of recognized teachers” passed on early Islamic teachings (i.e., during the first Islamic century), but concedes that the prospect of reconstructing their “teachings” is “very limited.” Even for Abbasid-era events, Brockopp prioritises manuscript (i.e., documentary or material) evidence over the narratives of Islamic literary sources. All of this is a far cry from methodological sanguinity and traditionalism—Brockopp is clearly part of the skeptical tendency. Against Crone and Cook (or at least, Hagarism), however, Brockopp (like Donner and Shoemaker) regards the Quran (especially in the form of early manuscript) to be a 7th-Century documentary source, and thus, also useful for reconstructing the first Islamic century.
In sum, the attitude of Crone and Cook towards the reliability of the Islamic literary sources appears to be reflected in the more recent works of Robinson, Humphreys, Donner, Shoemaker, Judd, Hoyland, and Brockopp. All of these authors converge upon either the general unreliability of the conventional Islamic origins-narrative or at least the rejection of accepting Islamic reports at face value, due to the lateness of the Islamic literary sources, the tenuous oral transmission of their content, the mass-retrojection of anachronistic doctrines, polemics, and ideals therein by later Muslim storytellers, jurists, and sectaries, and the successive reshaping and editing that all of this material underwent over the course of transmission. Consequently, these skeptical scholars—even those who accept the basic traditional outline of the first Islamic century—tend to relegate the Islamic literary sources to a secondary and supplementary rôle in their reconstructions of early Islamic history, and utilise them with extreme caution. The principal difference between the skeptical method of Crone and Cook in Hagarism and that articulated in more recent scholarship seems to be the position (argued by Donner, Shoemaker, Brockopp, and others) that the Quran is a product of the early-to-mid 7th Century CE and can thus shed light on Islamic origins, although even Crone and Cook themselves came to adopt this position.
One of the notable historical revisions championed by Crone and Cook was their identification of proto-Islam as a pan-Abrahamic movement—in their words, a kind of “Judeo-Hagarism.” According to Crone and Cook, Muḥammad was the leader of “an alliance of Jews and Arabs in the wilderness,” bonded by a common Abrahamic heritage and focused on reclaiming the Holy Land. The rise of the Arab Empire thus commenced with a “Jewish messianic fantasy,” which “was enacted in the form of an Arab conquest of the Holy Land.”
The crux of this thesis—the pan-Abrahamic or pan-Abrahamitic tendency of proto-Islam—reappears in the work of Donner, who similarly identifies “the confessionally ecumenical character of the early Believers’ movement.” According to Donner, this movement led by Muḥammad “was open to piety-minded and Godfearing monotheists, of whatever confession.” The main difference between Crone and Cook’s view and Donner’s view concerns the composition of the early movement: Crone and Cook saw Arab monotheists and Jews, whereas Donner argues for the inclusion of some Christians as well. Donner also notes an “apparent concern for the north” in the early Arab conquests, and tentatively posits a connection with “the eschatological tone of the Believers’ movement.” In other words, Donner points toward a common Abrahamitic focus on Holy Land within proto-Islam, albeit less confidently than Crone and Cook.
Shoemaker combines Crone and Cook’s emphasis on the Holy Land with Donner’s emphasis on proto-Islamic ecumenicalism, and after summarising the relevant evidence from various sources, concludes the following:
As has become increasingly clear, considerable evidence both within the Islamic tradition itself and from contemporary non-Islamic sources suggests earliest Islam to have been an eschatological movement focused on Jerusalem and the Holy Land, whose membership was open to a wide range of “Believers” united by their common commitment to a generic form of Abrahamic monotheism.
Shoemaker explicitly cites Crone, Cook, and Donner as sources for his synthesis, and like the latter, identifies Christians along with Jews as probable members of the “primitive, inter-confessional” movement led by Muḥammad; all such Abrahamitic monotheists were seemingly welcome, “so long as they subscribed to a simple profession of faith in “God and the last day.””
Hoyland is less radical in his revisionism than Crone, Cook, Donner, and Shoemaker, yet even he identifies proto-Islam as a “pluralist” community of Believers, which included Jews and “possibly a few Christians and monotheists of other hues.” According to Hoyland, this militant and pietistic movement retained its pan-Abrahamitic character even after the death of Muḥammad, despite later Muslim retellings to the contrary:
Muhammad’s coalition at this stage was, then, pluralist by nature, with everyone committed to waging jihad against the pagans whatever their own particular monotheist persuasion. This remained the case for some time after Muhammad’s death, though, once the Arab armies had entered Syria and Iraq, Jews became much less important and Christians much more so.
The diverse constituency of the proto-Islamic movement actually increased during the great Arab conquests, as various Christian Arab tribes and others joined forces with the conquerors. The later Islamic tradition remembered the conquests as a conflict between Muslims and non-Muslims, but according to Hoyland, this is an anachronism: “the distinction in the early decades was chiefly between conquerors and conquered.”
Finally, Brockopp explicitly rejects Donner’s thesis of proto-Islam as a “Believers’ movement”, but nevertheless observes that the Quran advises its audience to consult rabbis, that Muḥammad was influenced by Jewish messianism, and that an archaic hadith records early Muslims resolving legal disputes by recourse to Jewish lore. Concerning the latter in particular, Brockopp comments: “Whether authentic or not, this old story recommends at least a cautious approach to presumptions that early Muslim belief was markedly different from Arabian Judaism.” Similarly:
It is useful to remember that the lines between Judaism and Islam during the life of the Prophet may not have been very clear – certainly not as clear as they are today. Just as early Christianity took a century to distinguish itself from Judaism (and early Buddhism from Hindu traditions), so also the forms of Judaism and Islam that would have been found in Medina probably looked very much alike in this period.
In other words, Brockopp seems to regard proto-Islam as quasi-Jewish, or at least posits a kind of continuum between Judaism and proto-Islam. He also acknowledges that “the connection to Jewish and Christian religious stories was an essential part” of proto-Islamic identity (i.e., during the 7th Century CE).
In short, the “Judeo-Hagarism” posited by Crone and Cook has resurfaced as the “community of believers” posited by Donner, Shoemaker, and Hoyland—all reflecting a common tendency of identifying proto-Islam as pan-Abrahamic or pan-Abrahamitic. Something akin to “Judeo-Hagarism” also appears with Brockopp, who sees a heavy overlap between proto-Islam and Judaism.
The revival of the old hypothesis of an overarching eschatological and apocalyptic tendency in proto-Islam is another key aspect of Crone and Cook’s historical reconstruction, which they identify as a Jewish influence: “the core of the Prophet’s message, in the earliest testimony available to us outside the Islamic tradition, appears as Judaic messianism.” Crone and Cook even go so far as to identify the proto-Islamic messiah in question: ʿUmar b. al-Ḵaṭṭāb, the ‘redeemer’ (al-fārūq), conqueror of Jerusalem, and restorer of the Temple. In general, the great Arab conquests are identified as “a positive event in the eschatological drama” (per a contemporaneous Jewish source).
Donner has little to say about proto-Islamic messianism in particular, but elaborates more generally on the “apocalypticism and eschatological orientation” of Muḥammad’s movement and the subsequent conquests: “the community of Believers expected the Last Day to begin soon—or, perhaps, believed that the “beginning of the End” was already upon them.” Consequently, these proto-Muslims believed that they “would literally inherit the Earth from the sinful,” combining apocalypticism with militancy:
For those Believers who fully accepted Muhammad’s mission, this complex of ideas, which combined the displacement of unbelieving opponents from their property with God’s plan for the End of Days, must have been a powerful motivator to engage in positive action—military if necessary—to vanquish unbelief in the world and to establish what they saw as a God-guided, righteous order on Earth. 
Donner echoes Crone and Cook in suggesting that “some Believers may have felt an urgent need to try to secure control of the city of Jerusalem,” given the common centrality of the Holy Land within Abrahamitic eschatologies: “it held unique religious significance and thus may have been one of the Believers’ main objectives in invading Syria in the first place.”
Shoemaker likewise identifies proto-Islam as an apocalyptic movement, and like Crone, Cook, and Donner before him, emphasises the centrality of the Holy Land within the proto-Islamic eschatological scheme; according to Shoemaker, the pan-Abrahamitic “community of the Believers” sought to conquer Jerusalem in anticipation for the imminent apocalypse.
The notable exception to this historiographical trend is Hoyland (since he is otherwise quite revisionist), who seems not to address the question of proto-Islamic apocalypticism (as noted by Donner in a critical review).
Finally, Brockopp’s history of Muslim scholars is orthogonal to this issue, yet even he briefly alludes to the apocalypticism of proto-Islam, and specifically, a Jewish variety (as also posited by Crone and Cook in Hagarism): “Jewish messianic movements were widespread during this period, a notion that Muhammad appears to have made use of.” This is admittedly vague, however.
The Lateness of Islamic Identity
Crone and Cook argued that proto-Muslims did not self-identify as muslim and did not call their movement ʾislām, since such terms only appear at the very end of the 7th Century CE; instead, they were widely referred to as ‘descendants of Hagar’ by contemporaneous Syriac and Greek writers. Crone and Cook thus concluded that proto-Muslims primarily called themselves muhājirūn, meaning both “those who take part in a hijra” and “the descendants of Abraham by Hagar,” i.e., Hagarenes.
Donner agrees that proto-Muslims “did not call themselves “Muslims,” in the sense of a distinct monotheistic community, before about 700 C.E.,” but differs regarding their initial identity: on the basis of the Quran and proto-Islamic epigraphy, Donner argues that the early movement primarily self-identified as ‘believers’ (muʾminūn) in general, and that the term muhājir only applied to those believers who were also invading colonists in particular. If there were ‘Muslims’ at this time, they were group distinct from the ‘Believers’—for example, Muḥammad’s impious Bedouin allies, i.e., those who had merely politically submitted.
Shoemaker explicitly and extensively reiterates Donner’s thesis that proto-Islam began as a “community of Believers,” and that muslim and ʾislām (as exclusive identifiers of a distinct new religion, vis-à-vis Jews and Christians) only predominated during the Marwanid period.
Hoyland is again milder than his predecessors: although he agrees that muhājir became a general term for all proto-Muslim conquerors and colonists, he strangely fails to address the question of whether they also called themselves muslim (as noted by Donner in a critical review).
Brockopp is perhaps the least revisionist of all on this matter, for although he acknowledges the absence of any reference to “Muslims” and “Islam” prior to the Marwanid period and the ubiquity of muhājir in earlier non-Muslim sources, he explicitly rejects Donner’s interpretation of proto-Islam as a “Believers’ movement”. Rather than inferring a transformation in early Islamic identity, Brockopp takes this as evidence that early Islam was largely a private affair.
The Lateness of Islam as a Distinct Religion
In addition to the initial absence or insignificance of the terms muslim and ʾislām, Crone and Cook also argued that proto-Islam was not conceived of as a new or discrete religion: Muḥammad was a mere herald for the coming messiah, and it wasn’t until after the Arab Conquests that proto-Muslims began to construct “a positive religious identity of their own” (for example, by “recasting of Muḥammad as the bearer of a new revelation”).
Despite certain differences (regarding Muḥammad and the Quran), Donner fundamentally agrees that the proto-Islamic movement was not generally seen as a new or distinct religion by its adherents until the Marwanid period:
Because many, if not most, of the people of the Near East were already ostensibly monotheists, the original Believers’ movement can best be characterized as a monotheistic reform movement, rather than as a new and distinct religious confession.
Shoemaker straddles a midpoint between Crone and Cook on the one hand (who minimise the initial importance of Muḥammad) and Donner on the other (who emphasises the reformist aspect of proto-Islam), by synthesising both positions:
Muhammad does not appear to have been understood at this stage as a prophet of unique stature but was viewed instead as an eschatological herald who had been sent to warn the descendants of Abraham before the final judgment of the Hour.
On this view, Muḥammad and his followers were a reformist and eschatological movement within the Abrahamic tradition, and it was not until the Marwanid period that a “distinctively Islamic sectarian identity” emerged.
Hoyland is once again more modest than his predecessors, but still agrees that proto-Islam was initially “quite close to its Judaeo-Christian roots,” and even suggests that the movement would have been assimilated into the Christian culture of Byzantium were it not for their conquest of Persia as well. According to Hoyland, proto-Islam was not yet clearly distinct from Christianity in this early period:
Islam might have maintained the same relationship to Christianity as is held today by Mormonism, which like Islam has its own prophet and scripture and certain distinctive practices.
In other words, even Hoyland leans toward the view that proto-Islam was initially conceived as a reformist movement within the Abrahamitic tradition, rather than a discrete or new religion.
Brockopp similarly argues that proto-Islam was not a distinct religion, and that during the first few decades, “the boundaries between whatever we might term “Islam” and the religious traditions of surrounding cultures were fluid.” In particular, Brockopp posits an early overlap or fuzziness between proto-Islam and Judaism:
It is useful to remember that the lines between Judaism and Islam during the life of the Prophet may not have been very clear – certainly not as clear as they are today. Just as early Christianity took a century to distinguish itself from Judaism (and early Buddhism from Hindu traditions), so also the forms of Judaism and Islam that would have been found in Medina probably looked very much alike in this period.
Even as late as 680 CE (i.e., the end of the Sufyanid period), “the identity of the early Islamic movement was still quite open, and it could certainly have developed in a variety of ways.” It was only during the Marwanid period (i.e., from the 690s CE onward) that a more distinctive Islamic identity—or Islam as a distinct religion—seems to have emerged, although even then, Brockopp suggests continued interplay or influences “between Muslim and Christian theological speculation” and “Muslim and Jewish legal thinking” over the course of this period (i.e., 680 to 750 CE).
The Retreat of Sanguinity and Traditionalism
The evident recent resurgence of methodological skepticism and historiographical revisionism within the field of Islamic origins has coincided with a discernible retreat in the opposing camp of methodological sanguinity and historiographical traditionalism—perhaps best exemplified by the works of Hugh Kennedy, Harald Motzki, and Nicolai Sinai. In the case of Kennedy, this shift was noted by Brockopp, who identifies Crone as the cause:
It is interesting to note the gradual effect of Crone’s restated thesis on historians such as Hugh Kennedy. His first edition of The Prophet and the Age of the Caliphates: The Islamic Near East from the Sixth to the Eleventh Century (London: Longman, 1986) reflects Sellheim in arguing that the Sira was fixed “as early as the time of ʿUrwa b. al-Zubayr (d. 94/712)” (354) and records “numerous and serious objections” (357) to Crone’s thesis. By the second edition Kennedy has dropped both this claim and these objections, adopting more or less Donner’s view and admitting that “the old certainties have disappeared” (Kennedy, Prophet, 2nd ed. , 350).
This retreat is also evident in Kennedy’s 2007 The Great Arab Conquests, which is one of the few exceptions to the recent spate of skeptical and revisionist monographs. Although resistant to the “critical onslaught” of Crone and Cook, Kennedy’s retelling of the conventional Islamic origins-narrative is extremely tentative, as one reviewer observed:
Kennedy is fully aware of the pitfalls that his sources present, given that for the most part they are heavily anecdotal and were written at some considerable remove from the events they purport to describe. Phrases such as ‘so the story goes’ and ‘according to tradition’, with which the book is peppered, all serve to alert the reader to the doubts and uncertainties surrounding the events that are narrated.
Kennedy himself acknowledges the lateness and tenuousness of the Islamic literary sources, and instead commits himself to the line of retelling the story that Muslims told themselves: “it is extremely interesting as an expression of social memory, of how the early Muslims reconstructed their past and explained the coming of Islam to the areas in which they now lived.” In a subsequent elaboration of his methodology, Kennedy explicitly identifies his work as a “narrative,” rather than attempting to reconstruct “what really happened” per se:
This is a narrative history, heavily dependent on narrative sources. The nature and formation of these stories are discussed at some length in the Foreword, but I should say a few words about how I have treated them. The narratives of the early Muslim conquests are replete with confusion and improbability, and are often impossible to accept at face value. Modern authors have tended to approach these in two ways: either to dismiss them as hopelessly inaccurate and not worth the attention of serious historians; or to cherry-pick them for incidental details, names, places, etc. I have tried to do something slightly different: to read and use the stories for what they are trying to tell us; to work with the flow, so to speak, rather than against it, to surf the waves of the narrative and be carried along with it. This does not mean accepting the early Arabic accounts as accurate records of ‘what actually happened’, but accepting them as reflections of seventh- and eighth-century Muslim social memory and using them as such.
By contrast, Motzki aimed at rigorously reconstructing and dating earlier data from extant hadiths through the application of his ʾisnād–cum–matn analysis—certainly, he was attempting to derive more than an 8th-Century story from the late Islamic literary sources. Yet Motzki was extremely pessimistic in his results, and his approach cannot be used to defend the conventional Islamic origins-narrative beyond the most rudimentary of outlines. Thus, concerning the application of the ʾisnād–cum–matn analysis to biographical hadiths (and the story of Sallām b. ʾabī al-Ḥuqayq in particular), Motzki concluded:
We may wonder whether the outcome will justify the time and energy needed for such an enterprise. As we have shown, the historical facts that can be extracted from the sources relating a certain event of the Prophet’s life are few. In the case of the murder of Ibn Abī l-Ḥuqayq, not even the date of the event can be established with some certainty. The historical biography which will be the outcome of all these source-critical efforts will be only a very small one.
Motzki’s pessimism was seized upon by skeptics such as Shoemaker, who noted: “one should recognize just how meager these results are, particularly given the amount of effort involved.” Even if the ʾisnād–cum–matn analysis is sound (which Shoemaker rejects), “the resultant biography of Muhammad is disappointingly minimal.” All of this represents a massive retreat from pre-skeptical and pre-revisionism sanguinity and traditionalism.
For another example, consider Sinai’s 2017 The Qur’an, which defends the traditional narrative of the Quran’s having been produced by Muḥammad and codified by ʿUṯmān, with the caveat that some interpolation may have occurred post-Muḥammad. In other words, Sinai accepts at least the rudimentary outlines of the Islamic origins-narrative, whilst not discounting the possibility of some notable deviations therefrom. And yet, when it comes to the Islamic literary sources, Sinai deep expresses reservations due to their contradicting earlier non-Muslim literary sources:
Non-Islamic sources not only substantiate the historical existence of Muhammad, but also confirm or at least complement what Islamic historians tell us about two major episodes of pre-Islamic South Arabian history and, in part, about the main stages of the Arab conquests. In contrast, however, the Islamic dates for three crucial events of seventh-century Middle Eastern history conflict with what can be gleaned from non-Islamic sources, and quite possibly it is the former that fail to preserve the actual course of happenings here. In view of this mixed balance, it would be unwise to issue the Islamic historiographical tradition a blank cheque of confidence when it cannot be checked against other sources; a wholesale reliance on what the Islamic tradition tells us about Muhammad’s activity in Mecca and Medina—a topic on which Christian writers offer at most a few tantalising glimpses—is clearly not justified.
Sinai’s reliance on non-Muslim sources to call into question Islamic sources echoes the methodology articulated in Hagarism, and he even goes on to express something akin to the skeptical principle that Islamic reports are suspect until validated:
The Islamic tradition claims to preserve an extensive body of narratives about, and utterances by, Muhammad and his companions, yet it is virtually never possible to verify in a conclusive manner which of these traditions really do go back to their alleged sources. And even if we may safely consider a substantial part of the transmitted corpus of pre-Qur’anic Arabic poetry to be authentic, the amount of poetic material exhibiting relevant parallels to the Qur’an is comparatively small. We cannot therefore rely on post-Qur’anic Islamic literature in Arabic to provide us with reliable and sufficiently detailed glimpses of the Qur’an’s discursive background.
Once again, we see a retreat from sanguinity and traditionalism, replaced (in this instance) by something close to skepticism and what might be called minimal traditionalism. That said, Sinai and the broader circle of scholars led by Angelika Neuwirth to which he belongs are actually soft revisionists, occupying a middle ground between the traditionalism of both Muslim religious scholars and old European Orientalists on the one hand, and the hard revisionism of Crone et al. on the other. This centrist tendency is marked by an acceptance of the broad outlines of the conventional Islamic origins-narratives preserved in later Islamic literary sources, but a rejection of the details: the pagan and parochial Makkah of the Islamic tradition is replaced by some kind of Syriac-influenced, Late Antique, Abrahamitic-saturated milieu characterised by a significant Jewish and Christian presence, whilst the illiterate Muḥammad is replaced by a learnéd oral composer steeped in all kinds of Abrahamitic traditions. Clearly, Neuwirth et al. are revisionists as well (though not of the Hagarism-influenced variety), and they have escaped this label far too long.
A final recent exception to the current skeptical and revisionist trends in the field of Islamic origins is Tannous’ 2018 The Making of the Medieval Middle East, in which he accepts that the Quran is a product of the 7th Century CE and contrasts it to the relative relatedness of the Islamic literary sources and the scholarly debates surrounding their utility, but still accepts “the broad contours of the traditional account” and explicitly rejects the “radical skepticism” of Crone et al. Certainly, Tannous initially comes across as far more sanguine and traditionalist in practice than any of the above-cited scholars in his recounting of the various policies and happenings of Muḥammad, ʿUmar, and other early figures. Tannous also argues (explicitly against Crone, Cook, Robinson, and Donner) that Marwanid imperial propaganda (coins, inscriptions, etc.) cannot tell us about early Islam more broadly (and thus, cannot be used to infer that early Muslims did not call themselves Muslims, etc.). Tannous does acknowledge that the Islamic literary sources are “late, tendentious, and contradictory”, and also notes the contributions of various scholars (from Goldziher to Shoemaker) in building methodological skepticism there-towards, but ultimately relies on Motzki’s work to at least partially overcome this skepticism (i.e., with the argument that some reports can be traced back in some form to around 720 CE or even a few decades earlier).
And yet, for all of this, Tannous’ sanguinity and traditionalism turn out to be somewhat illusory. Thus, after summarising some of the debates over skepticism and revisionism within the field of Islamic origins, Tannous reveals: “I am not particularly interested in issues of the authenticity of this report or that—the question of whether Muḥammad or ʿUmar I or ʿUmar II actually uttered this statement or engaged in that act at some point in the seventh or eighth century.” In other words, Tannous is doing what skeptics like Goldziher have advocated all along: taking later (9th-Century) ascriptions to earlier (7th-Century) authorities as reflections of later or general controversies, rather than accepting them at face value as the actual words and deeds of the early authorities in question. This comes across particularly strongly in Tannous’ justification for his usage of the canonical Hadith collections:
Importantly for me, these authors were writing in a period when Muslims were still a demographic minority in the Middle East and therefore their reports, whether ultimately dating to the seventh, eighth, or even ninth centuries, and whether or not ‘authentic’ (understood to mean actually uttered by the person to whom they were attributed), relay important historical information about social dynamics and cultural attitudes among Muslim religious leaders in the Middle East in this period. In fact, arguing that the traditions these works contain should be dated to the eighth century rather than the seventh, makes them more useful to me than dating them to the seventh century, for it makes their actual context the post-conquest societies of the Fertile Crescent that interest me in this study, not the seventh-century Hijaz, which is of secondary concern in this book.
Thus, despite initially denying skepticism, Tannous’ approach to the sources is nevertheless partially skeptical, in his open agnosticism regarding the authenticity of the reports upon which he relies. Even with Tannous, then, there is no return to the old sanguinity and traditionalism of Islamic religious scholarship and European Orientalism. In the specialist literature of the secular field of Islamic origins, at least, the era of accepting the Islamic literary sources at face value appears to be well and truly over, whilst the traditional Islamic origins-narrative has withered from a detailed account of the life and times of the Prophet and his successors to a mere skeletal outline.
Crone and Cook’s skeptical methodology is evident in the recent works of Robinson, Humphreys, Donner, Shoemaker, Judd, Hoyland, and Brockopp: all of these scholars prioritise or advocate the prioritisation of early (in practice, non-Muslim and proto-Muslim) sources over later (in practice, Islamic literary) sources in their historical reconstructions, and all tend to regard the latter as highly dubious. Crone and Cook’s core revisionist conclusions have also manifested in Donner, Shoemaker, and Hoyland’s depictions of Muḥammad and the Arab conquests as a pan-Abrahamitic apocalyptic movement; the adherents of this movement did not yet identify as Muslims, and a discrete Islamic religious identity only emerged during the Marwanid period. Meanwhile, the leading proponents of (at least minimal) traditionalism—such as Kennedy, Motzki, and Sinai—have either abandoned historical reconstruction in favour of storytelling, or else concede that very little can be extracted from the Islamic tradition for a reliable reconstruction of early Islamic history.
Ostensibly, Tom Holland was not that far from the mark when he observed: “Between Patricia Crone and Fred Donner, the differences nowadays are more those of nuance than of substance.” Indeed, this dichotomy is misleading, given that the views of Crone and Donner can be synthesised to a significant degree, as exemplified by the recent work of Shoemaker. At long last, after nearly four decades, many of the key ideas originally expounded within Hagarism finally appear to have predominated—or at least to be ascendant—within the mainstream academic historiography of the early Arab Empire and the origins of Islam.
I wrote this article several years ago, but as far as I can tell, the field is still more or less on the same trajectory I outlined here. Two relatively new publications that are worth mentioning in this regard are Juan Cole’s 2018 Muhammad and Sean Anthony’s 2020 Muhammad the Empires of Faith. Cole explicitly affirms Donner’s variant of the pan-Abrahamitic thesis and the thesis of the belated rise of a distinctive Islamic identity, and is also quite skeptical of the Islamic literary sources in many ways (even if somewhat idiosyncratically), thereby exemplifying the continued spread of some of the ideas outlined herein. (All of this is despite Cole’s dismissive comments on Hagarism, or in other words: Cole himself does not seem to fully appreciate the historiographical tradition in which he resides.) Meanwhile, Anthony exemplifies the influence of Hagarism in his general “skeptical caution” towards the Islamic literary sources and his intensive use of early non-Muslim literary sources, and although he is not a revisionist (for example, rejecting Donner’s theses about pan-Abrahamiticism and the belated emergence of an exclusive Islamic identity), his extremely minimal historical reconstruction of Muḥammad embodies the continued absence of the old sanguinity and traditionalism in the field. Finally, both Cole and Anthony somewhat reflect the continued revival of the old thesis of proto-Islam as an apocalyptic movement, although this is not at the forefront of either work. Clearly, directly or indirectly, the revisionist and skeptical tendencies inaugurated by Hagarism continue to exert considerable influence over the recent historiography of Islamic origins. Indeed, Anthony has elsewhere stated that the study of “Early Islamic history” can be divided into “before/after Hagarism”, which “says a lot!” Likewise, according to Anthony, Hagarism is “often maligned, rarely understood by dilettantes; scholars ignore its influence @ their peril though I often disagree.” In short, even if one rejects Hagarism and the historiographical tendencies that it spawned, their enduring influence cannot be denied.
 This phase in the history of the field has been summarised ad nauseum in past works, and need not detain us here.
 Patricia Crone & Michael A. Cook, Hagarism: The making of the Islamic world (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1977).
 Fred M. Donner, Muhammad and the Believers: At the Origins of Islam (Cambridge, UK: Harvard University Press, 2010).
 Stephen J. Shoemaker, The Death of a Prophet: The End of Muhammad’s Life and the Beginnings of Islam (Philadelphia, USA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012).
 Robert G. Hoyland, In God’s Path: The Arab Conquests and the Creation of an Islamic Empire (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2015).
 Chase F. Robinson, ‘Abd al-Malik (Oxford, UK: Oneworld Publications, 2007).
 R. Stephen Humphreys, Mu’awiya ibn Abi Sufyan: From Arabia to Empire (Oxford, UK: Oneworld Publications, 2006).
 Steven C. Judd, Religious Scholars and the Umayyads: Piety-minded supporters of the Marwānid caliphate (Abington, UK: Routledge, 2014).
 Jonathan E. Brockopp, Muhammad’s Heirs: The Rise of Muslim Scholarly Communities, 622-950 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2017).
 Given Humphreys, Robinson, and Judd’s focus on the Umayyad period, it’s not surprising that their works are less revisionist. Most of the revisionism considered here concerns pre-Umayyad history, or at least, the first Islamic century.
 Tom Holland, In the Shadow of the Sword: The Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World (London, UK: Little, Brown Book Group, 2012).
 E.g., Crone, ‘Among the Believers: A new look at the origins of Islam describes a tolerant world that may not have existed’, Tablet (10th/August/2010), available online (http://tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/42023/among-the-believers), criticised Donner’s interpretation of the Quran and disregard of the possibility of Jewish Christians, and also criticised Donner’s dichotomy between religious motivations and political motivations, amongst other issues; Shoemaker (The Death of a Prophet, 5-6) criticises Hoyland’s criticism of the “criterion of dissimilarity or embarrassment”; Hoyland criticises Donner’s dichotomy of religion on one hand and economics and politics on the other (In God’s Path, 253, n. 4), and also criticises Donner’s articulation of a ‘non-violent conquest model’ (ibid., 259-260, n. 40); Donner, ‘Robert Hoyland, In God’s Path: The Arab Conquests and the Creation of an Islamic Empire’, al-ʿUṣūr al-Wusṭā, Volume 23 (2015), 136-140, criticised Hoyland’s failure to address the ecumenicalism and apocalypticism of proto-Islam; and so on, so forth.
 Crone & Cook, Hagarism, vii.
 Ibid., 3; also see Patricia Crone, Slaves on Horses: The Evolution of the Islamic Polity (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1980), 15; ead., Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam (Princeton, USA: Princeton University Press, 1987), 230.
 Robinson, ‘Abd al-Malik, 89.
 Ibid., e.g., 22 ff. (citing “an account written by an eighth-century bishop” and “one seventh-century Christian writing in northern Iraq,” etc.).
 Ibid., e.g., 1 ff. (citing the Dome of the Rock and its inscriptions).
 Ibid., e.g., 90 ff. (citing the poetry of al-ʾAḵṭal and al-Farazdaq, etc.).
 Humphreys, Mu’awiya, 10.
 Ibid., 11
 Ibid., 12-15.
 Ibid., 15-19.
 Donner, Muhammad, 91.
 Ibid., 52.
 Ibid., 52-53.
 Ibid., 53 ff.
 Ibid., 56.
 Ibid., 56 ff.; for the term “Believerish,” see ibid., 206, 208, 222.
 Ibid., 1; further acknowledgements to Hagarism are found throughout the introduction.
 Ibid., 6-7 (and ch. 1 in general).
 Ibid., 1-6.
 Ibid., 2.
 Ibid., 3.
 Ibid., 6. However, cf. Mehdy Shaddel, ‘Periodisation and the futūḥ: Making Sense of Muḥammad’s Leadership of the Conquests in Non-Muslim Sources’, Arabica, Volume 69, Issue 1 (2022), 96-145.
 Shoemaker, The Death of a Prophet, 8.
 Ibid., 118, 137. For example, Shoemaker relies heavily upon the Quran in reconstructing proto-Islamic apocalypticism (ibid., ch. 3).
 Judd, Religious Scholars, 17.
 Ibid., 17-18.
 Ibid., 18.
 Ibid., 18-19.
 Ibid., 18.
 Ibid., 19-20.
 Ibid., 11.
 Ibid., 20.
 Ibid., 26.
 Ibid., 33.
 Donner, ‘Robert’, 135. Indeed, Hoyland himself explicitly identifies this approach with Hagarism in ‘The Earliest Christian Writings on Muḥammad: An Appraisal’, in Harald Motzki (ed.), The Biography of Muḥammad: The Issue of the Sources (Leiden, the Netherlands: Koninklijke Brill NV, 2000), 289 ff.
 Id., In God’s Path, 2.
 Ibid., 2-3.
 Ibid., 231-232.
 Brockopp, Muhammad’s Heirs, 2.
 Ibid., 5.
 Ibid., 20.
 Ibid., 67-68.
 Crone & Cook, Hagarism, 1.
 Ibid. In her later work, however, Crone perhaps recognised the greater potential of the Quran as a historical source.
 Ibid.; Goldziher and Schacht are cited in the relevant endnote (ibid., 152, n. 1).
 Ibid., 1. Incidentally, this is precisely the problem that the ʾisnād–cum–matn analysis attempts to overcome; if sound and valid, this method could allow reconstructions on the basis of Islamic literary-sources alone, without necessarily needing to appeal to some external check for authentication.
 Crone, Slaves on Horses, 3.
 Ibid., 3-15.
 Ibid., 16-17.
 Id. & Cook, Hagarism, e.g., 5, 7, 9.
 Michael A. Cook, Early Muslim Dogma: A Source-critical Study (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1981), vii.
 Robinson, ‘Abd al-Malik, 81-87.
 Ibid., 86.
 Ibid., 87-89 (e.g., concerning the caliphate and hadith-collecting).
 Ibid., 88.
 Ibid., 89.
 Humphreys, Mu’awiya, 13-14.
 Ibid., 15.
 Ibid., 16.
 Ibid., 17.
 Ibid., 18-20, e.g.: “Just where the real Mu‘awiya is to be found is hard to say.” “…exact times, places and circumstances had become foggy.” “We may never find out what really happened – not in any detail…” “We do not know for sure – every bit of the testimony at our disposal is impeachable…” “Who knows if a single one of them actually happened?” “Even in this bare bones chronology, which represents what is generally agreed upon, there are many points of uncertainty. However shaky it may be, it will serve to get us started.” Etc.
 Donner, Muhammad, 50-51.
 Ibid., 51, 52.
 Ibid., 51.
 Ibid., 51-52.
 Ibid., 52.
 Ibid., 91.
 Ibid., 52.
 Shoemaker, The Death of a Prophet, 73.
 Ibid., 74.
 Ibid., 75.
 Ibid., 73.
 For example, Shoemaker (ibid., 170 ff.) argues for the early provenance of various apocalyptic hadithsvia the criterion of embarrassment.
 Judd, Religious Scholars, 21.
 Ibid., 22-23.
 Ibid., 21-22.
 Ibid., 23 ff.
 Ibid., 24-25.
 Ibid., 25.
 Ibid., 33.
 Ibid., 3.
 Hoyland, In God’s Path, 2.
 Crone, Slaves on Horses, 4-5.
 Hoyland, In God’s Path, 231.
 Ibid., 232.
 Ibid., 232-233.
 Brockopp, Muhammad’s Heirs, 5 ff.
 Ibid., 91.
 Ibid., 5 ff.
 Ibid., 10; also see ibid., 25, where Brockopp repeats Donner’s erroneous characterisation of Crone and Cook’s skepticism.
 Ibid., 6.
 Ibid., 28.
 Ibid., 18.
 Ibid., 41.
 Ibid., 18, 41.
 Ibid., 24.
 Ibid., 41.
 Ibid., 20.
 Ibid., 27.
 Ibid., 30.
 Ibid., 44.
 Ibid., 57.
 Ibid., 64.
 Ibid., 89-90.
 Ibid., 83.
 E.g., ibid., 102; also see ibid., 19, where Brockopp proposes to read the literary sources in light of manuscript evidence.
 Ibid., 13, 35. That said, Brockopp (ibid., 13, n. 25) is sympathetic to at least some of Wansbrough’s views on the composition of the Quran (which is relevant given that Crone and Cook’s early views of the Quran were largely based on Wansbrough’s work).
 E.g., Patricia Crone (ed. Hanna Siurua), The Qurʾānic Pagans and Related Matters: Collected Studies in Three Volumes (Leiden, the Netherlands: Koninklijke Brill NV, 2016), xii-xiii.
 Crone & Cook, Hagarism, e.g., 12.
 Ibid., 10.
 Ibid., e.g., 6-8, 10.
 Ibid., 10.
 Donner, Muhammad, 74.
 Ibid., e.g., 68-74.
 Ibid., 96.
 Ibid., 97.
 Shoemaker, The Death of a Prophet, 199.
 Ibid., e.g., 205.
 Ibid., 15.
 Hoyland, In God’s Path, 57.
 Ibid., 57-58.
 Ibid., 58, 60.
 Ibid., 197.
 Brockopp, Muhammad’s Heirs, 15-16.
 Ibid., 38-39.
 Ibid., 48.
 Ibid., 49-50.
 Ibid., 50.
 Ibid., 48.
 Ibid., 58.
 Crone & Cook, Hagarism, 4.
 Ibid., 5.
 Indeed, Donner (Muhammad, 185) seems to regard messianism as secondary within the development of proto-Islamic apocalypticism, in the form of mahdism.
 Ibid., 78.
 Ibid., 81.
 Ibid., 82.
 Ibid., 97.
 Ibid., 125; also see ibid., 143-144.
 Shoemaker (The Death of a Prophet, e.g., 204-205) notes that multiple sources converge upon the apocalyptic tendency of proto-Islam, including the Quran (ibid., 158-171), various plausibly-archaic hadiths (ibid., 172-178), the Doctrina Jacobi (ibid., 27), the Secrets of Rabbi Šimʿōn (ibid., 29, 32), etc.
 Ibid., 217 ff.
 Donner, ‘Robert’, 139-140.
 Brockopp, Muhammad’s Heirs, 48.
 Crone & Cook, Hagarism, 8-9.
 Donner, ‘Robert Hoyland’, 137.
 Id., Muhammad, 57-58.
 Ibid., 86, 203.
 Ibid., 57-58.
 Shoemaker, The Death of a Prophet, 205 ff.
 Ibid., 210.
 Hoyland, In God’s Path, 102.
 Donner, ‘Robert Hoyland’, 137-139.
 Brockopp, Muhammad’s Heirs, 15-16.
 Crone & Cook, Hagarism, 4.
 Ibid., 12.
 Ibid., 17.
 E.g., Donner (Muhammad, 75-76) emphasises the initial centrality of Muḥammad within proto-Islam.
 Ibid., 87; also see ibid., 110, 142.
 Shoemaker, The Death of a Prophet, 15.
 Ibid., 205-206.
 Hoyland, In God’s Path, 277, n. 33.
 Ibid., 230.
 Ibid., 277, n. 33.
 Brockopp, Muhammad’s Heirs, 31.
 Ibid., 48.
 Ibid., 82.
 Ibid., 31 (in reference to ʿAbd al-Malik’s coinage).
 Ibid., 95.
 Jonathan E. Brockopp, ‘Interpreting Material Evidence: Religion at the “Origins of Islam”’, History of Religions, Volume 55, Number 2 (2015), 126-127, n. 20.
 Hugh N. Kennedy, The Great Arab Conquests: How the Spread of Islam Changed the World We Live In (London, UK: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2007), 23.
 Simon Barton, ‘The Great Arab Conquests: How the Spread of Islam Changed the World We Live In. By Hugh Kennedy’, Early Medieval Europe, Volume 17, Issue 4 (2009), 466.
 Kennedy, The Great Arab Conquests, 2.
 Ibid., 4-5.
 Harald Motzki, ‘The Murder of Ibn Abī l-Ḥuqayq: On the Origin and Reliability of Some Maghāzī-Reports’, in Harald Motzki (ed.), The Biography of Muhammad: The Issue of the Sources (Leiden, the Netherlands: Koninklijke Brill NV, 2000), 233-234.
 Shoemaker, The Death of a Prophet, 89.
 Sinai, The Qur’an, ch. 2.
 E.g., ibid., 45 (concerning Muḥammad’s death),
 Ibid., 141.
 E.g., ibid., chs. 3, 6; Angelika Neuwirth & Michael A. Sells (eds.), Qurʾānic Studies Today (Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2016), 9-10; this is also implicit in the numerous studies produced by this camp demonstrating the Quranic usage of or interaction with (mostly Syriac) Abrahamitic texts and traditions. Also see Shoemaker, The Death of a Prophet, 142 (summarising Neuwirth on Muḥammad as an oral composer).
 Jack Tannous, The Making of the Medieval Middle East: Religion, Society, and Simple Believers (Princeton, USA: Princeton University Press, 2018).
 Ibid., 261-262.
 Ibid., 262.
 E.g., ibid., 263-264 (on various events in the life and times of Muḥammad), 274-275 (on the policies of ʿUmar). Even here, however, the language used by Tannous is sometimes suggestively tenuous (“are supposed to have” … “he is said to have” … “If we believe the traditional sources”).
 Ibid., 294 (incl. n. 130), 304.
 Ibid., 518.
 Ibid., 519.
 Ibid., 520.
 Ibid., 521; also see ibid., 276, 505, 522-523, for similar and relevant statements.
 E.g., Ignaz Goldziher (ed. Samuel M. Stern and trans. Christa R. Barber & Samuel M. Stern): Muslim Studies, Volume 2 (Albany, USA: State University Press of New York, 1971), 19: “The ḥadīth will not serve as a document for the history of the infancy of Islam, but rather as a reflection of the tendencies which appeared in the community during the maturer stages of its development.” For another example, see Crone & Cook, Hagarism, 9, who take an archaic-seeming hijrah hadith as a reflection of a common proto-Islamic perspective (seemingly on the basis of the criterion of dissimilarity and its consonance with other early evidence), rather than necessarily the literal words of the Prophet.
 Tannous, The Making of the Medieval Middle East, 524.
 Stated in a comment (published 15th/May/2012) to an online reviewer, on the following blog-post: Neville Morley, ‘Why I shall clearly never be a popular writer of history’, The Sphinx Blog (14th/May/2012), available online (http://thesphinxblog.com/2012/05/14/why-i-shall-clearly-never-be-a-popular-writer-of-history/#comment-92).
 Shoemaker’s The Death of a Prophet (1-3) explicitly acknowledges its debt to both of these academics and synthesises their respective materials: despite its flaws, Hagarism has forced academics to confront the problems of early Islamic religio-historiography and the conventional Islamic origins-narrative, and opened the way for alternative approaches and alternative sources; meanwhile, Donner’s Muhammad and the Believers underpins Shoemaker’s fourth chapter (The Death of a Prophet, 197 ff.); thus, the views of Crone (and Cook) and Donner are not wholly irreconcilable, and the dichotomy between them is not unbridgeable.
 Juan Cole, Muhammad: Prophet of Peace amid the Clash of Empires (New York, USA: Bold Type Books, 2018).
 Sean W. Anthony, Muhammad the Empires of Faith: The Making of the Prophet of Islam (Oakland, USA: University of California Press, 2020).
 Cole, Muhammad, 78-79, 112-113, 117, 125, 142, 284 (n. 44).
 Ibid., 78-79, 98-99, 106, 279 (n. 15).
 Concerning the Islamic literary sources and the reports therein, Cole (ibid.) variously criticises: their lateness (228, n. 7); their contradicting the Quran (137, 141-142, 175, 201); their hagiographical tendencies (41, 62, 96); their apologetical-redactional tendencies (97); their sectarian distortions (200-201, 278 (n. 9)); their distortions according to tribal interests (129, 145, 200); their anachronisms (142, 182, 185, 201); outright “transparent forgeries” (145, 170, 175, 185, 201, 204, 278 (n. 9), 290 (n. 3), 296-297 (n. 39), 302 (n. 38)); their artificial literary or narrative structures (39, 41, 129, 200); their embellishments (201); their construction and distortion by popular storytellers (54, 75, 157, 183, 204); and finally, their amnesia or disconnectedness regarding the meaning and milieu of the Quran (97, 100, 142, 145, 153, 199, 281 (n. 26), 282 (n. 28), 285-286 (n. 47)).
 Ibid., 229, n. 7.
 Anthony, Muhammad, 235; also see his introduction.
 This recurs throughout the whole book, but see, for example, ibid., 235.
 Ibid., 17, incl. n. 63. Anthony’s rejection of Donner’s thesis was much more clearly expressed during the Q&A of a talk he gave at St. Cross College, the University of Oxford, on the 19th of February, 2020. Also see: https://twitter.com/shahansean/status/1580003613396860929?s=46
 Cole, Muhammad, e.g., 50 ff., 82, 171; Anthony, Muhammad, e.g., 53-54, 238.