John Wansbrough, Islam, and monotheism

In: Method & Theory in the Study of Religion
G.R. Hawting School of Oriental and African Studies University of London

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John Wansbrough has elaborated a model of the emergence of Islam, one of the chief merits of which is to place Islam squarely within the development of Semitic or Middle Eastern monotheism. This article draws attention to the way in which Islam's own tradition about its origins, and most modern scholarship which has worked within the framework provided by Muslim tradition, has the effect of distancing Islam from the development of the wider stream of monotheism - especially by explaining it as the result of an act of revelation which occurred in a remote region of inner Arabia. By insisting that Islam developed and came to fruition in the Middle East outside Arabia following the Arab conquest of the region and that its account of its own origins has to be understood in the same context, Wansbrough has increased our understanding of the nature of Islam's own tradition and what can and cannot be done with it. The article attempts to put him in a scholarly context and to contrast his approach with more usual modern scholarly discussion of the origins of Islam.

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