The Historical Muhammad
In his quest for the historical Muhammad, Zeitlin's chief aim is tocatch glimpses of the birth of Islam and the role played by itsextraordinary founder. Islam, as its Prophet came to conceive it,was a strict and absolute monotheism. How Muhammad had arrived atthis view is not a problem for Muslims, who believe that theProphet received a revelation from Allah or God, mediated by theAngel Gabriel. For scholars, however, interested in placingMuhammad in the historical context of the seventh-century ArabianPeninsula, the source of the Prophets inspiration is a significantquestion.
It is apparent that the two earlier monotheisms, Judaism andChristianity, constituted an influential presence in the Hijaz, theregion comprising Mecca and Medina. Indeed, Jewish communities weresalient here, especially in Medina and other not-too-distant oases.Moreover, in addition to the presence of Jews and Christians, thereexisted a third category of individuals, the Hanifs, who,dissatisfied with their polytheistic beliefs, had developedmonotheistic ideas.
Zeitlin assesses the extent to which these various influencesshaped the emergence of Islam and the development of the Prophetsbeliefs. He also seeks to understand how the process set in motionby Muhammad led, not long after his death, to the establishment ofa world empire.
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Possible Inﬂuences on Muhammads Inspiration
Watts Muhammad at Mecca
William Muirs Analysis
Muhammad and the Jews
Concluding Sociological Reflections