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Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World (1977) is a controversial, scholarly book on the early history of Islam written 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, Hagarism depicts an early Islam very different from the traditionally-accepted version derived from Muslim historical accounts.

Hagarism explained

The word Hagarism relates to the 7th century Arabian Peninsula Hagarene tribes, ie the descendants of the Egyptian servant girl Hagar.

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


Hagarism begins with the premise that Western historical scholarship on the beginnings of Islam should only be based on historical, archaeological and philological data rather than Islamic traditions which it finds to be dogmatically-based, historically irreconcilable and anachronistic accounts of the community's past, and of no historic value. Thus, relying exclusively on 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. In summary:
Virtually all accounts of the early development of Islam take it as axiomatic that it is possible to elicit at least the outlines of the process from the Islamic sources.
It is however well-known that these sources are not demonstrably early.
There is no hard evidence for the existence of the Koran in any form before the last decade of the seventh century, and the tradition which places this rather opaque revelation in its historical context is not attested before the middle of the eighth.
The historicity of the Islamic tradition is thus to some degree problematic: while there are no cogent internal grounds for rejecting it, there are equally no cogent external grounds for accepting it.
In the circumstances it is not unreasonable to proceed in the usual fashion by presenting a sensibly edited version of the tradition as historical fact.
But equally, 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 utilizable only for the study of religious ideas in the eighth.
The Islamic sources provide plenty of scope for the implementation of these different approaches, but offer little that can be used in any decisive way to arbitrate between them.
The only way out of the dilemma is thus to step outside the Islamic tradition altogether and start again.

According to the authors, Hagarism was a heretical branch of Judaism followed by the Hagarenes or Arabs in the early part of the 7th century. To the authors, 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. He is reported as doing this by claiming biological descent from Abraham through his slave wife Hagar for the Arabs in the same way as the Jews who claimed descent from Abraham through Sarah and thus as their ancestral faith. During this early period the Jews and the Hagarenes united, into a faith the authors loosely describe as Judeo-Hagarism, in order to recover the holy land from the Christian Byzantines. In their analysis, the early manuscripts from eye witnesses suggest that Muhammad was the leader of a military expedition to conquer Jerusalem, and that the original hijra actually 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 aspired for. They also feared that leaning on Judaism too much, might result in outright conversion and assimilation. Thus the hagarenes contrived to create a religion of their own and decided to splinter off from their Judaic practices and beliefs. Driven by a quest for theological legitimacy they devised a version of Abrahamic monotheism, that evolved from a blend of Judaism, Samaritanism and Christianity, which became what is now Islam. The authors propose that Islam was thus born and fashioned from Judaic mythology and symbology, that is; the creation of a sacred scripture similar to the Jewish Torah - (the Qur’an), and a Moses like prophet; along with a sacred city of Meccamarker modeled on the Jewish holy city of Jerusalemmarker adjacent to a holy mountain.


Hagarism is widely cited by many modern historians of early Islam, including Bernard Lewis, Robert G. Hoyland, Reza Aslan, G. R. Hawting, Herbert Berg, Francis Edwards Peters, S. N. Eisenstadt, Ziauddin Sardar, Malise Ruthven, Richard Landes, and John Wansbrough,[246691] as well as critics (like Ibn Warraq). It is on the suggested reading list of the School of Oriental and African Studiesmarker of London [246692] and other various major universities' Middle East studies reading lists [246693][246694].

In 1995, Michael Lecker proposed much more conservative theories of early Jewish/Islamic relations in The conversion of Himyar to Judaism and the Jewish Banu Hadl of Medina, and Judaism among Kinda and the ridda of Kinda and Zayd b. Thabit, 'a Jew with two sidelocks': Judaism and literacy in pre-Islamic Medina (Yatrib).

In 1997, Robert G. Hoyland described the legacy of Hagarism this way: "Almost two decades ago Patricia Crone and Michael Cook followed French historian Claude Cahen's advice in their reconstruction of the rise of Islam, which they attempted to write on the basis of testimony external to Islamic tradition. Yet, with a few notable exceptions [Conrad and Morony for example] this line of inquiry has not been pursued. This is unfortunate ... surely if one wishes to gain a proper understanding of the events and developments of this age, one must elicit the opinions of all those who participated in them... It is this belief and the example of the aforementioned scholars [referring to Crone & Cook] that have inspired this book ["Seeing Islam as others saw it"]" He characterizes hagarism as evolving into wider inter-disciplinary and promiscuous literary approach, and goes on to say that further studies will emerge in the Studies in Late Antiquity and Early series in which his book appears. Since then the "SUNY Series in Near Eastern Studies" has also collected a selection of authors who are continuing in 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"

In 2005, John C. Reeves says that Hagarism needs to do much basic research before it can propose bold theories. It "is an important area of research that as been largely uncultivated by modern Western scholars, and hence a comparative study across the religious boundaries of the confessional corpora remains very much in its infancy. One of the more important tasks ... involves the systematic identification, collation, and publication of the massive number of late antique and early medieval apocalyptic texts lurking in the manuscript collections of libraries and research institutes around the world."


Generally while acknowledged as raising a few interesting questions and being a fresh approach its reconstruction of early Islamic history has been dismissed by some as an experiment and criticised for its "...use (or abuse) of its Greek and Syriac sources..." The controversial thesis of Hagarism is not widely accepted.

  • Josef Van Ess 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."

  • R. B. Sergeant informs 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’."

  • Eric Manheimer concluded his review with the following:
"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."

  • 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 were as intimate as they would wish them to have been."

  • 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." However, he later comments 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."

  • Oleg Grabar described the book as "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 phenonemon to broad theories of acculturation and historical change."

  • Michael G. Morony remarked that "Despite a useful bibliography, this is a thin piece of Kulturgeschichte [cultural history] 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."

In Hagarism, a 1977 study by Patricia Crone and Michael Cook, the authors completely exclude the Arabic literary sources and reconstruct the early history of Islam only from the information to be found in Arabic papyri, coins, and inscriptions as well as non-Arabic literary sources in a wide array of languages (Aramaic, Armenian, Coptic, Greek, Hebrew, Latin, and Syriac). This approach leads Crone and Cook in wild new directions. In their account, Mecca's role is replaced by a city in northwestern Arabia and Muhammad was elevated "to the role of a scriptural prophet" only about a.d. 700, or seventy years after his death. As for the Qur'an, it was compiled in Iraq at about that same late date."

The authors' criticism of what they saw as credulous reliance upon biased Islam histories has been widely influential. Subsequent histories of early Islam have usually referred to Hagarism, if only to refute it. In 2006, legal scholar Liaquat Ali Khan claimed that Crone and Cook have explicitly disavowed their earlier book .


  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. The Origins of The Koran: Classic Essays on Islam’s Holy Book, 1998 Ibn Warraq
  4. P. Crone and M. Cook, Hagarism: The Making Of The Islamic World, 1977, Cambridge University Press, p. 3
  5. Bernard Lewis, The Jews of Islam, Princeton University Press, p.203,p. 231
  6. Robert G. Hoyland, Seeing Islam as Others Saw It: A Survey and Evaluation of Christian, Jewish and Zoroastrian Writings on Early Islam (Studies in Late Antiquity and Early Islam), Darwin Press, 1998
  7. Reza Aslan, No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, Random House, 2005
  8. G. R. Hawting, The First Dynasty of Islam, Southern Illinois Univ Press, pp.19, 44, 71, 121, 132, 133, 140
  9. G. R. Hawting, The Idea of Idolatry and the Emergence of Islam: From Polemic to History From Polemic to History
  10. Herbert Berg, Method and Theory in the Study of Islamic Origins, Brill, Leiden and Boston, 2003, pp. 114, 126, 133, 288, 297, 374, 391
  11. F. E. Peters, Muhammad and the Origins of Islam, State University of New York Press
  12. S. N. Eisenstadt, Jewish Civilization: The Jewish Historical Experience in a Comparative Perspective, State University of New York Press, 1992
  13. Ziauddin Sardar, Orientalism, Open University Press, 1999
  14. Malise Ruthven, Islam in the World, Oxford University Press, 2000
  15. Richard Landes, The Apocalyptic Year 1000: Religious Expectation and Social Change, 950–1050
  16. J. Wansbrough, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 41:1:155-156 (1978)
  17. Ibn Warraq, The Quest for the Historical Muhammad, Prometheus Books, 2000
  18. Michael Lecker, The conversion of Himyar to Judaism and the Jewish Banu Hadl of Medina, Die Welt des Orients 26, Gottingen, 1995
  19. Michael Lecker, Judaism among Kind and the ridda of Kinda, Journal of the American Oriental Society 115, New Haven, 1995
  20. 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.
  21. Robert G. Hoyland, Seeing Islam as Others Saw It: A Survey and Evaluation of Christian, Jewish and Zoroastrian Writings on Early Islam (Studies in Late Antiquity and Early; Darwin Press, 1998; p. 2-3
  22. (SUNY Series in Near Eastern Studies). Albany, NY, U.S.A.: State University of New York Press
  23. David Cook, Studies in Muslim apocalyptic, (Studies in Late Antiquity and Early; Darwin Press, 2002
  24. John C. Reeves. Trajectories in Near Eastern Apocalyptic, Society of Biblical Literature, 2005; p.24
  25. van Ess, "The Making Of Islam", Times Literary Supplement, Sep. 8 1978, p. 998
  26. Stephen Humphreys, Islamic History, (Princeton, 1991) pp. 84-85
  27. RB Sergeant, Journal of Royal Asiatic Society (1981) p. 210
  28. Eric I. Manheimer. " Review". The American Historical Review, Vol. 83, No. 1. (Feb., 1978), pp. 240-241
  29. Introduction to Islam, Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press, 1995. ISBN 0-521-42929-3, pp 273-274
  30. J. Wansbrough. " Review". Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Vol. 41, No. 1. (1978), pp. 155-156.
  31. Grabar, Oleg. Speculum, Vol. 53, No. 4. (Oct., 1978), pp. 795-799.
  32. Morony, Michael G. Journal of Near Eastern Studies, Vol. 41, No. 2. (Apr., 1982), pp. 157-159.
  33. Daniel Pipes. " Lessons from the Prophet Muhammad's Diplomacy". The Middle East Quarterly. September 1999. Volume VI: Number 3.

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