When Patricia Crone and Michael Cook’s Hagarism was first published in 1977 it was immediately controversial. Hagarism argued that the problems with the historical material of Islamic tradition were so severe that it was worthwhile looking at what source material there is from outside the Islamic tradition and reconstructing the history of the religion and Arab-Islamic civilization’s formation on that basis; or as they famously and breezily put it, “the only way out of the dilemma is thus to step outside the Islamic tradition altogether and start again”.
What followed was the depiction of a messianic movement in constant search of an identity, which in time evolved into something that we would recognize today as ‘Islam’. The shifting elements in this reconfiguration of the Semitic monotheistic tradition would include the concept of the caliphate, which Crone went on to argue with Martin Hinds in God’s Caliph: Religious Authority in the First Centuries of Islam was originally a ‘Shi’ite’ institution whereby the caliphs claimed direct authority from God as His representative; the idea of Sunna, or exemplary emulative behaviour, which they and others have argued originally included the caliphs and which only in Abbasid Baghdad, with the growing influence of the ulama, came to be conceived of as exclusively the preserve of Muhammad as The Prophet; the role of the class of ulama, who developed into a restraining force on the original absolutism of the caliph. Continue reading Was Hagarism Racist?