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The Social Origins of Islam

Mind, Economy, Discourse

1999
Author:

Mohammed A. Bamyeh

The Social Origins of Islam

Explores the genesis of Islam for insight into the nature of ideological transformation.

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
combines perspectives from sociology, literary studies, anthropology, and economic history to examine the cultural ecology that fostered Islam.

The Social Origins of Islam is a fascinating and highly informed discussion of the socio-historical and cultural contexts of early Islam and its precedent traditions.

Mary Layoun, author of Travels of Genre: The Modern Novel and Ideology

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 combines perspectives from sociology, literary studies, anthropology, and economic history to examine the cultural ecology that fostered Islam.

Highlighting the pivotal connections in pre-Islamic society between the emergence of certain economic practices (such as trade and money-based exchange), worldview (as rendered in pre-Islamic literature and theology), and the reconfiguration of transtribal patterns of solidarity and settlement, Bamyeh finds in the genesis of Islam a sophisticated model for examining ideological transformation in general.

At the heart of Bamyeh’s enterprise are close readings of both the Qur’an and the pre-Islamic poetry that preceded it. Bamyeh uncovers in these texts narrative and pedagogical content, poetic structure, use of metaphor, and historical references that are suggestive of societies in transition. He also explores the expressive limits of the pre-Islamic literature and its transmutation into Qur’anic speech in the wake of social transformation.

Emphasizing the organic connections between belief structures, economic formations, and modes of discourse in pre-Islamic Arabia, The Social Origins of Islam explains how various material and discursive changes made the idea of Islam possible at a particular point in history. More broadly, it persuasively demonstrates how grand cultural shifts give rise to new systems of faith.

Awards

Honorable Mention for the Middle East Studies Association’s Albert Hourani Book Award

The Social Origins of Islam

Mohammed A. Bamyeh teaches social theory and comparative civilizations at the Gallatin School of New York University and is editor of Passages: Journal of Transnational and Transcultural Studies.

The Social Origins of Islam

The Social Origins of Islam is a fascinating and highly informed discussion of the socio-historical and cultural contexts of early Islam and its precedent traditions.

Mary Layoun, author of Travels of Genre: The Modern Novel and Ideology

The writing displays a wide familiarity with secondary scholarship, and successfully weaves historical and cultural analysis. Fresh perspectives on the social character of Quran narrative and pre-Islamic poetry.

Religious Studies Review

A thought-provoking and useful work. Definitely recommended as an addition to the literature that deals with the emergence of Islam.

Journal of the American Oriental Society

Mohammed A. Bamyeh presents a sophisticated interdisciplinary analysis of the rise of Islam within the Arabian context of the late sixth and early seventh century of the Common Era. Bamyeh’s book represents a refreshingly critical contribution to the field of early Islam that helps bridge the gap between Islamic studies and social theory.

The Muslim World

Bamyeh has given us an interesting interpretation and analysis. His perspective will provide valuable clues to modern scholars keen to understand more about ancient Arab societies and circumstances for the emergence of the Muhammad movement and Islam.

Royal Institute for Inter-Faith Studies

The Social Origins of Islam

Contents

Introduction

Part I: The Ground one.

The Ideology ofthe Horizons
Horizon,Vision,Settlement—Halting and Discourse—The Camel,
the Path,and the Marketplace
two. Socioeconomy and the Horizon ofThought 17
Sedentarization—Money,Trade,and Abstract Thought—Mecca—
The Nomadic Flux—Kinda
three. Social Time,Death,and the Ideal 53
Rendering the Experience—Idealization and the Past—Mortality and the
Future—Waiting
four. Pre-Islamic Ontotheology and the Method ofKnowledge 79
Paganism and the Idea ofthe Ritual—Reformers,Hanifism,Pagan
Monotheism—Examples and Commentary
five. The Discourse and the Path 115
Forms,Codes,Words—Nature,Text,Ruins—The Wandering Logic—
Sources ofStructural Stability
Part II: The Faith
six. Prophetic Constitution 143
The Land Dreams ofa Prophet—Constitution ofSagehood: Knowledge,
Foreknowledge—The Tear ofthe Poet and the Fear ofthe Prophet: Failures
ofBelonging
seven. The House ofthe Ummaand the Spider Web ofthe Tribe 179
The Tribe—The Ruins ofthe Tribe—Fitnah,Hijra,War—The Satanic
Verses and Their Background—The Boundaries ofthe Umma—
Hudaybiyyahand the Paradigms ofthe Umma
eight. Austerity,Power,and Worldly Exchange 231
Death,Subjectivity,and Identity—Austerity,Justice,Perishing: Moses and
‘Ubayd—God’s Contracts—War and the Code ofJustice—Fate and the
Legitimacy ofAcquisition
nine. In Lieu ofa Conclusion:The Origins,the System,and the
Accident 257

Notes
Bibliography
Index