Fred Donner is Peter B. Ritzma Professor of Near Eastern History in The Oriental Institute and Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. At the Academy, h...
Nina Maria Gorrissen Lecture
Islam’s Origins: Myth and Material Evidence
The traditional narrative of Islam’s origins centers on the career of the prophet Muhammad (d. 632 CE) in Arabia and the rapid spread of his movement throughout the Near East immediately after his death. Over the past half-century, however, scholars have come to realize that this picture is the product of the Islamic community of the eighth, ninth, and later centuries and that its goal of providing a satisfying narrative may not accurately reflect how Islam actually began and grew into the major world religion we know today. In this lecture, Fred M. Donner argues that a more historically accurate view of Islam’s origins has been hindered by the scarcity of documentary evidence from the seventh century and considers some of the key sources that may help us understand these momentous events in Islamic history.