In his quest for the historical Muhammad, Zeitlin's chief aim is to
catch glimpses of the birth of Islam and the role played by its
extraordinary founder. Islam, as its Prophet came to conceive it,
was a strict and absolute monotheism. How Muhammad had arrived at
this view is not a problem for Muslims, who believe that the
Prophet received a revelation from Allah or God, mediated by the
Angel Gabriel. For scholars, however, interested in placing
Muhammad in the historical context of the seventh-century Arabian
Peninsula, the source of the Prophets inspiration is a significant
It is apparent that the two earlier monotheisms, Judaism and
Christianity, constituted an influential presence in the Hijaz, the
region comprising Mecca and Medina. Indeed, Jewish communities were
salient here, especially in Medina and other not-too-distant oases.
Moreover, in addition to the presence of Jews and Christians, there
existed a third category of individuals, the Hanifs, who,
dissatisfied with their polytheistic beliefs, had developed
Zeitlin assesses the extent to which these various influences
shaped the emergence of Islam and the development of the Prophets
beliefs. He also seeks to understand how the process set in motion
by Muhammad led, not long after his death, to the establishment of
a world empire.
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