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Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World is a 1977 book about the early history of Islam by the historians Patricia Crone and Michael Cook. Drawing on archaeological evidence and contemporary documents in Arabic, Armenian, Coptic, Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, Latin and Syriac, Crone and Cook depict an early Islam very different from the traditionally-accepted version derived from Muslim historical accounts.[1][2] Although the central hypotheses behind Hagarism have been generally rejected, even by the authors themselves,[3][4][5][6][7][8] the book has been hailed as a seminal work in its branch of Islamic historiography.[7][9][10]

Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World
Cover of the first edition
AuthorsPatricia Crone
Michael Cook
CountryUnited States
SubjectHistory of Islam
Media typePrint (Hardcover and Paperback)


Hagarism explainedEdit

The word "Hagarism" relates to the 7th-century Arabian Peninsula Hagarene tribes, i.e. the descendants of the Egyptian servant girl Hagar, who bore Abraham their son Ishmael.

According to the book Hagarism, the Arab conquests and the formation of the caliphate were a peninsular Arab movement inspired by Jewish messianism. In alliance with the Jews, the Arabs attempted to reclaim the Promised Land from the Byzantine Empire. The Qur'an was a product of 8th-century edits of various materials drawn from a variety of Judeo-Christian and Middle-Eastern sources while Muhammad was the herald of Umar "the redeemer", a Judaic messiah.[11]


Hagarism begins with the premise that Western historical scholarship on the beginnings of Islam should be based on contemporary historical, archaeological and philological data, as is done for the study of Judaism and Christianity, rather than Islamic traditions and later Arabic writings. The tradition expresses dogma, and tells historically irreconcilable and anachronistic accounts of the community's past. By relying on contemporary historical, archaeological and philological evidence, the authors attempt to reconstruct and present what they argue is a more historically accurate account of Islam's origins.

According to the authors, 7th century Syriac, Armenian and Hebrew sources depict the formation of Islam as a Jewish messianic movement known as Hagarism, which migrated into the Fertile Crescent. It drew considerable influences from the Samaritans and Babylonian Judaism. Around 690 AD the movement shed its Judaic identity to develop into what would later become Arab Islam.[12] The surviving records of the period describe the followers of Muhammad as Hagarenes, because of the way Muhammad invoked the Jewish god in order to introduce an alien monotheistic faith to the Arabs.

Muhammad claimed biological descent for the Arabs from Abraham through his slave wife Hagar. This united the ancestors of the tribe with the religion, in the same way as the Jews claimed descent from Abraham through Sarah and their ancestral faith. During this early period, the Jews and the Hagarenes united under a faith loosely described as Judeo-Hagarism, in order to recover the holy land from the Christian Byzantines. The scholars believe that the early manuscripts from eyewitnesses suggest that Muhammad was the leader of a military expedition to conquer Jerusalem, and that the original Hegira referred to a journey from northern Arabia to that city.

As time went on, the Hagarenes concluded that the adoption of Judaism and Christian Messianism did not provide them with the unique religious identity that they desired. They feared that being too influenced by Judaism might result in outright conversion and assimilation. Thus the Hagarenes contrived to create a religion of their own and decided to splinter off from Judaic practices and beliefs.

Driven by a quest for theological legitimacy, they developed a version of Abrahamic monotheism. It evolved from a blend of Judaism, Samaritanism and Christianity to form what became recognized as Islam. The authors propose that Islam was thus born and fashioned from Judaic mythology and symbology: the creation of a sacred scripture similar to the Jewish Torah; the Qur'an, and identification of a Moses-like prophet; and a sacred city of Mecca, modeled on the Jewish holy city of Jerusalem, adjacent to a holy mountain.

As late as the eighth century, some mosques have prayer niches oriented to the north - to Jerusalem, rather than to Mecca, which ultimately replaced it as Islam's holy city.


Journalist, scholar and author Toby Lester summarizes the claims of Hagarism's at odds with Islamic doctrine (followed by quotes of the authors in parenthesis):

  • "suggestions that the text of the Quran came into being later than is now believed" ("There is no hard evidence for the existence of the Koran in any form before the last decade of the seventh century");
  • "that Mecca was not the initial Islamic sanctuary" ("[the evidence] points unambiguously to a sanctuary in north-west Arabia ... Mecca was secondary");
  • "that the Arab conquests preceded the institutionalization of Islam ("the Jewish messianic fantasy was enacted in the form of an Arab conquest of the Holy Land");
  • "that the idea of the hijra, or the migration of Muhammad and his followers from Mecca to Medina in 622, may have evolved long after Muhammad died" ("No seventh-century source identifies the Arab era as that of the hijra"); and
  • "that the term "Muslim" was not commonly used in early Islam" ("There is no good reason to suppose that the bearers of this primitive identity called themselves 'Muslims' [but] sources do ... reveal an earlier designation of the community [which] appears in Greek as 'Magaritai' in a papyrus of 642, and in Syriac as 'Mahgre' or 'Mahgraye' from as early as the 640s")".[13]


Crone and Cook's work was part of revisionist history[14] arising from several scholars associated with the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), beginning in the 1970s. They introduced methods from biblical studies as a new way of analyzing the history of the Koran and Islam, for instance, the use of contemporary texts in languages other than that used in the holy text, and incorporating evidence from archeology and linguistics. Their work has presented the Koran as "a scripture with a history", as Patricia Crone said in a 1999 interview in The Atlantic Monthly.

In 1995, Michael Lecker proposed more conservative theories of early Jewish/Islamic relations in his articles "The conversion of Himyar to Judaism and the Jewish Banu Hadl of Medina"[15] and "Judaism among Kinda and the 'ridda' of Kinda".[16] His 1997 article "Zayd b. Thabit, 'a Jew with two sidelocks': Judaism and literacy in pre-Islamic Medina (Yatrib)" continued this approach.[17]

The journalist Toby Lester commented in The Atlantic that Hagarism was a notorious work, and that when it was published it "came under immediate attack, from Muslim and non-Muslim scholars alike, for its heavy reliance on hostile sources." He added that, "Crone and Cook have since backed away from some of its most radical propositions—such as, for example, that the Prophet Muhammad lived two years longer than the Muslim tradition claims he did, and that the historicity of his migration to Medina is questionable."[18]

Robert G. Hoyland characterized Hagarism as evolving into a wider inter-disciplinary and literary approach, and said that additional studies would be published in the Studies in Late Antiquity and Early Islam (SLAEI Series) in which his book appears. Since then the "SUNY Series in Near Eastern Studies"[19] has also published a selection of authors who are continuing to produce work related to a modified form of this theory.

In 2002, David Cook, in discussing the A'maq Cycle of historical apocalypses, says that this genre of Islamic literature "could in fact be based on some historical kernel, since ... the Muslims shared with the Jews the desire to build the Third Temple."[20]

The 2012 documentary Islam: The Untold Story, by English novelist and popular historian Tom Holland, is based on Crone's theories.[21]

Hagarism was acknowledged as raising some interesting questions and being a fresh approach in its reconstruction of early Islamic history, but it was described by Josef van Ess as an experiment.[22] He argued that: "... a refutation is perhaps unnecessary since the authors make no effort to prove it (the hypothesis of the book) in detail ... Where they are only giving a new interpretation of well-known facts, this is not decisive. But where the accepted facts are consciously put upside down, their approach is disastrous."[22]

Steven Humphreys criticised the authors for their "... use (or abuse) of its Greek and Syriac sources ..."[5] The controversial thesis of Hagarism is not widely accepted.[4]

R. B. Serjeant wrote in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society that Hagarism is "not only bitterly anti-Islamic in tone, but anti-Arabian. Its superficial fancies are so ridiculous that at first one wonders if it is just a 'leg pull', pure 'spoof'."[23]

Eric Manheimer, reviewing the work in the American Historical Review, commented that, "The research on Hagarism is thorough, but this reviewer feels that the conclusions drawn lack balance. The weights on the scales tip too easily toward the hypercritical side, tending to distract from what might have been an excellent study in comparative religion."[24]

David Waines, Professor of Islamic Studies Lancaster University states: "The Crone-Cook theory has been almost universally rejected. The evidence offered by the authors is far too tentative and conjectural (and possibly contradictory) to conclude that Arab-Jewish relations were as intimate as they would wish them to have been."[3]

John Wansbrough, who had mentored the authors, reviewed the book, specifically the first part, in the Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies. He begins by praising the book claiming, "the authors' erudition is extraordinary their industry everywhere evident, their prose ebullient." But, he says that, "... most, if not all, [of the sources] have been or can be challenged on suspicion of inauthenticity" and that "the material is upon occasion misleadingly represented ... My reservations here, and elsewhere in this first part of the book, turn upon what I take to be the authors' methodological assumptions, of which the principal must be that a vocabulary of motives can be freely extrapolated from a discrete collection of literary stereotypes composed by alien and mostly hostile observers, and thereupon employed to describe, even interpret, not merely the overt behaviour but also intellectual and spiritual development of the helpless and mostly innocent actors. Where even the sociologist fears to tread, the historian ought not with impunity be permitted to go."[25]

Oleg Grabar described Hagarism as a "brilliant, fascinating, original, arrogant, highly debatable book" and writes that "... the authors' fascination with lapidary formulas led them to cheap statements or to statements which require unusual intellectual gymnastics to comprehend and which become useless, at best cute" and that "... the whole construction proposed by the authors lacks entirely in truly historical foundations" but also praised the authors for trying to "relate the Muslim phenomenon to broad theories of acculturation and historical change."[26] The classicist Norman O. Brown wrote in Apocalypse and/or Metamorphosis (1991) that Hagarism, "illustrates in an ominous way the politics of Orientalism", and citing Grabar's review, added that, "The Western tradition of urbane condescension has degenerated into aggressive, unscrupulous even, calumny".[27]

Michael G. Morony remarked that "Despite a useful bibliography, this is a thin piece of Kulturgeschichte full of glib generalizations, facile assumptions, and tiresome jargon. More argument than evidence, it suffers all the problems of intellectual history, including reification and logical traps."[28]

Fred M. Donner, writing in the Middle East Studies Association Bulletin in 2006, commented on the negative press the book initially received.[29]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Daniel Pipes. "Lessons from the Prophet Muhammad's Diplomacy". The Middle East Quarterly. September 1999. Volume VI: Number 3.
  2. ^ Oleg Grabar. Speculum, Vol. 53, No. 4. (Oct., 1978), pp. 795–799.
  3. ^ a b Introduction to Islam, Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press, 1995. ISBN 0-521-42929-3, pp 273–274
  4. ^ a b Political Islam: Essays from Middle East Report. Los Angeles, California: University of California Press. 1997. p. 47.
  5. ^ a b Stephen Humphreys, Islamic History, (Princeton, 1991) pp. 84–85.

    "Unsurprisingly, the Crone-Cook interpretation has failed to win general acceptance among Western Orientalists, let alone Muslim scholars ... The rhetoric of these authors may be an obstacle for many readers, for their argument is conveyed through a dizzying and unrelenting array of allusions, metaphors, and analogies. More substantively, their use (or abuse) of the Greek and Syriac sources has been sharply criticised. In the end, perhaps we ought to use Hagarism more as a 'what-if' exercise than as a research monograph."

  6. ^ Gordon Newby (1988). A History of the Jews of Arabia. Los Angeles, California: University of California Press. p. 110. The reconstructable past as presented in Hagarism relies only on sources outside of Islâm, and constructs a view of a past so as odds with conventional views that it has been almost universally rejected. This has been particularly so because the authors' criticisms of the possibilities of understanding the earliest periods of Islâm would seem, if applied as a general method to the sources used by historians of religion, to lead toward a kind of historical solipsism.
  7. ^ a b Donner, Fred M. (2010). Muhammad and the Believers: At the Origins of Islam. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. p. 126. ISBN 978-0-674-05097-6.
  8. ^ Khan, Ali, Free Markets of Islamic Jurisprudence. Michigan State Law Review, 2006, p. 48. Also available at Washburn Law, p. 1535.
  9. ^ Shoemaker, Stephen J. "The Death of a Prophet The End of Muhammad's Life and the Beginnings of Islam". University of Pennsylvania. Retrieved August 22, 2012.
  10. ^ Stille, Alexander (2 March 2002). "Scholars Are Quietly Offering New Theories of the Koran". The New York Times. Retrieved August 22, 2012.
  11. ^ Ibn Warraq, The Origins of The Koran: Classic Essays on Islam's Holy Book, 1998
  12. ^ Oleg Grabar, Speculum, Vol. 53, No. 4. (Oct., 1978), pp. 795–799
  13. ^ LESTER, TOBY (January 1999). "What Is the Koran?". Atlantic. Retrieved 8 April 2019.
  14. ^ "Hagarism Revisited Bo Holmberg 2004 | Samaritans | Reality". Scribd. Retrieved 2017-04-04.
  15. ^ Michael Lecker, "The conversion of Himyar to Judaism and the Jewish Banu Hadl of Medina", Die Welt des Orients 26, Gottingen, 1995
  16. ^ Michael Lecker, Judaism among Kind and the ridda of Kinda, Journal of the American Oriental Society 115, New Haven, 1995
  17. ^ Michael Lecker, "Zayd b. Thabit, 'a Jew with two sidelocks': Judaism and literacy in pre-Islamic Medina (Yatrib)", Journal of Near Eastern Studies 56, Chicago, 1997
  18. ^
  19. ^ (SUNY Series in Near Eastern Studies). Albany, NY, U.S.A.: State University of New York Press
  20. ^ David Cook, Studies in Muslim Apocalyptic, (Studies in Late Antiquity and Early Islam; Darwin Press, 2002
  21. ^ Sutcliff, Tom (29 August 2012). "Last night's viewing – Islam: the Untold Story, Channel 4; Accused, BBC1". The Independent. Archived from the original on 7 November 2012.
  22. ^ a b van Ess, "The Making Of Islam", Times Literary Supplement, 8 September 1978, p. 998
  23. ^ R. B. Serjeant, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (1978). p. 78
  24. ^ Eric I. Manheimer. "Review". The American Historical Review, Vol. 83, No. 1. (Feb., 1978), pp. 240–241
  25. ^ J. Wansbrough. "Review", Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Vol. 41, No. 1. (1978), pp. 155–156.
  26. ^ Grabar, Oleg. Speculum, Vol. 53, No. 4. (Oct., 1978), pp. 795–799.
  27. ^ Norman O. Brown, Apocalypse and/or Metamorphosis, 1991, University of California Press, p. 65
  28. ^ Morony, Michael G. Journal of Near Eastern Studies, Vol. 41, No. 2. (Apr., 1982), pp. 157–159.
  29. ^ [1] Middle East Studies Association Bulletin, Vol. 40, No. 2 (December 2006), pp. 197-199

Further readingEdit

  • Coster, Marije, "Hagarism", in Muhammad in History, Thought, and Culture: An Encyclopedia of the Prophet of God (2 vols.), Edited by C. Fitzpatrick and A. Walker, Santa Barbara, ABC-CLIO, 2014, Vol I, pp. 236–239.

External linksEdit