“The Reign of God Has Come”: Eschatology and Empire in Late Antiquity and Early Islam

In: Arabica
Stephen J. Shoemaker University of Oregon

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For much of the 20th century, scholarship on Muḥammad and the beginnings of Islam has shown a reluctance to acknowledge the importance of imminent eschatology in earliest Islam. One of the main reasons for this resistance to eschatology would appear to be the undeniable importance of conquest and political expansion in early Islam: if Muḥammad and his followers believed that the world would soon come to an end, why then did they seek to conquer and rule over so much of it? Nevertheless, there is no real contradiction between the urgent eschatology revealed by the Qurʾān and other early sources on the one hand, and the determination of Muḥammad and his followers to expand their religious policy and establish an empire on the other. To the contrary, the political eschatology of the Byzantine Christians during the sixth and early seventh centuries indicates that these two beliefs went hand in hand, offering important contemporary precedent for the imperial eschatology that seems to have fueled the rise of Islam.

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