Within a couple generations following the death of Muḥammad, the Muslim community saw itself in control of a vast expanse of land, stretching from the Atlantic Ocean in the west to the Indian sub-continent in the east. Among its striking accomplishments, this coalition of tribal forces from the Arabian Peninsula defeated the two reigning superpowers of the era; the Arab-Muslim conquerors completely subjugated the Sāsānian Empire and they dealt a crippling blow to the Byzantine Empire, which survived, albeit in a very different form. In this course, we will examine these momentous events, which forever changed the world, as well as their background and their repercussions, which continue to be felt to this day. In order to conduct our study, we will read primary sources and conclude our class with an investigation into several historiographical issues pertaining to early Islam: the causes of the conquests, the perspective of non-Muslim peoples, apocalyptic views, and the development of the body of literature about the Arab-Muslim conquests known as the futūḥ.
This course is a seminar and demands individual participation in class dialogues. Each student will have the opportunity to lead a classroom discussion revolving around the assigned readings. Students will write two papers for this class: a mid-term paper on an assigned topic and a research paper on a topic of choice. Students will be evaluated on the basis of four factors: (1) participation (20%), (2) mid-term paper (25%), (3) seminar presentation (25%), and (4) a research paper (30%). Given the importance of discussion, students are expected to have read the assigned reading in advance of each class. Almost every reading assignment includes primary literature highlighting a specific aspect of the session’s topic. These short texts (in English translation), which we will study further in class, are aimed to give you practice reading and analysing sources from different periods, traditions, and perspectives. Recommended readings are not required, but are offered for those seeking further depth, as a starting point for research papers, and as a highly-encouraged resource for those leading the daily conversations. By the end of this course, it is hoped that students will have not only a better understanding of early Islam and the Arab-Muslim conquests, but have developed better research skills, improved their analysis of primary texts, practiced critical thinking, and gained experience collecting and presenting information clearly.
Kennedy, Hugh N. The Great Arab conquests: How the spread of Islam changed the world we live in. Philadelphia: Da Capo Press, 2007.
Kennedy, Hugh N. The Prophet and the age of the caliphates: The Islamic Near East from the Sixth to the Eleventh Century. A History of the Near East. 2nd ed. Harlow, England: Longman, 2004.