Islamic Origins and Incidental Normativity

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The problem of Islamic origins has received much attention by both popular writers and militants who seek to define Islam on the basis of its past. The academic response to this attention is often dismissive, arguing that the past is contested and so any single-minded construction is reductionist and simplistic. This is certainly true, but it risks ignoring both the power of this polemic and also the new consensus that has emerged among scholars who work on Islamic origins. Most scholars now accept a mid-seventh century date for the basic text (rasm) of the Qur'an; they also agree that the writings of later historians must be subjected to a literary, not literal, reading. Yet material evidence from the first Islamic centuries is still poorly understood. I briefly describe some of this evidence to show how it undermines two forms of what I call incidental normativity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)28-43
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Religion
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Religious studies


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