Jonathan A.C. Brown

The Life of the Prophet Muhammad

Professor Jonathan Brown

Winter, 2008

 Mon. / Wed. 3:00-4:50

Course Description:
The Prophet Muhammad ranks among the most influential personages in world history.  His remarkable career initiated a religious movement that became the basis for a world civilization, and his life played a formative role in defining the faith, law and doctrine of Islam.  As the Danish cartoon controversy has demonstrated, however, Muhammad is not merely an historical actor.  For Muslims throughout the world today he remains a revered figure who embodies their ideals of piety and morality.  In Islamic ritual and Muslim communal identification, Muhammad’s charismatic legacy represents the contact point between the divine and the earthly world as well as the centerpiece of what it means to be Muslim.
This course will investigate two dimensions of Muhammad’s legacy.  It will provide students with a detailed exploration of Muhammad’s life and the context from which he emerged.  It will also discuss how Muhammad’s persona became an important touchstone for Muslim identity in Classical Islamic civilization (the 8th – 10th centuries) and will provide glimpses of the manner in which his life affects Muslims until today.  This course will also discuss the historical-critical issues crucial for studying the early Islamic period and the founding figures of religious movements in general.

Grading and Assignments:
Evaluation for this course will depend on:

  • Class participation & 1 minute essays (10%)
  • Paper (10-15) pages, due 9th week, rewrite/re-grade optional (30%)
  • Midterm exam (30%)
  • Final exam (30%)

Contacting Me:
Office Hours: Tuesday 1:30-3 pm in Denny M-27 (right above the NELC office)
Phone: 206-616-2390 (w)

    • Martin Lings, Muhammad (UW bookstore)
    • Edgar Krentz, The Historical Critical Method (UW bookstore)
    • Course packet at AVE Copies on University Ave.
    • E-reserves accessed at

Important Resources:

Topics and Assignments (due on date listed):

Week 1
1/7 Mon.                     Introduction to the topic of Muhammad
1/9 Wed.                     Mecca and Muhammad’s Early Career
Read:  -Martin Lings, Muhammad, pgs. 1 – 69 (Intro through ‘Wonderment and Hope’)

Week 2
1/14 Mon.                   Persecution and the Flight to Medina
Read:  -Lings, Muhammad, pgs. 70 – 124 (‘Family Divisions’ through ‘Entry to Medina
1/16 Wed.                   Establishing Islam in Medina and the Meccan Wars
Read:  -Lings, Muhammad, pgs. 125 – 236 (‘Harmony and Discord’   through ‘After the Siege’)

Week 3

1/21 Mon.                   No Class – Martin Luther King Day

1/23 Wed.                   Life in Medina and Building Alliances
Read:  -Lings, Muhammad, pgs. 237 – 290 (‘Hypocrites’ through ‘Death and Promise of a Birth’)

Week 4
1/28 Mon:                   Victory: the Conquest of Mecca and the Last Days of the Prophet
Read: -“The Farewell Pilgrimage,” The Life of Muhammad, pgs. 649-52 (packet). 
- Lings, Muhammad, finish.
1/30 Wed.                  Midterm Exam

Week 5
2/5 Mon.                    After the Prophet: Trial and Expansion in the Islamic Community
Read:  -Donner, “Conquests of Islam” from The Dictionary of the Middle Ages, (e-reserve)
            - Donner, “Centralized Authority and Military Autonomy in the Early Islamic Conquests.”(e-reserve)
            - Guillaume, The Life of Muhammad (packet), pgs. 212, 636-7, 648-9, 683-87.
2/7 Wed.                     Pre-Islamic Arabia
Read:  -Hoyland, Arabia Before the Arabs, 85-138 (Economy and Society) (packet).
-Kritzeck, Anthology of Islamic Literature, 54-62 (selected pre-Islamic poems) (packet).
-Hawting, “Haram and Hawta,” pgs.41-56 (e-reserve)

Week 6
2/11 Mon.                   Pre-Islamic Arabia
Read:  -Hoyland, Arabia Before the Arabs, 139-166 (Religion). (photocopy) (packet).
-Osman, “Arab Converts to Christianity,” pgs. 67-80 (e-reserve)
-Ibn al-Kalbi, the Book of Idols (packet)
2/13 Wed.               Pre-Islamic Near East: the Late Antique Period
                        Read:  -Peter Brown, The Rise of the Holy Man, pgs. 80-101 (e-reserve)
-Robert Kirschner, “The Vocation of Holiness in Late Antiquity,” pgs. 105-24 (e-reserve)
- Kister, “A Booth like the Booth of Moses,” pgs. 150-55 (e-reserve)

Week 7
2/18 Mon:                   No class – Presidents Day
2/20 Wed.                   The Prophet in Classical Islam: Jesus and Moses?
                        Read: - Guillame, The Life of Muhammad, pgs. 69-73 (packet)
-Josef Horovitz, “The Growth of the Muhammad Legend,” in The Life of Muhammad, ed. Uri Rubin, pgs. 269-278 (packet).

Week 8 
2/25 Mon.  The Prophet in Classical Islam: Our Prophet?
-C. Wiederhold, "Blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad and His Companions," Journal of Semitic Studies 42, I (1997), 39-70 (packet).
-Uri Rubin, “The Life of Muhammad and the Qur’an: the Case of Muhammad’s Hijra,” Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 28 (2003) 40-64 (packet).
- Kister, “A Bag of Meat,” pgs. 267-75 (e-reserve)
2/27 Wed.  Prophet in Classical Islam: Ritual/Practice
Read:  -Al-Busiri, al-Burdah (The Poem of the Cloak)  handout
-Nawawi, Forty Hadith (packet)

Week 9
3/3 Mon.    Prophet in Islamic Thought: Source and Symbol
Read:  - Ibn Arabi (d. 1240), The Bezels of Wisdom (Fusus al-hikam), "The Wisdom of Singularity in the Word of Muhammad," 1-11, 269-284 (packet).
- M. Sells, Early Islamic Mysticism (reserve), "The Mi'raj," 47-55 and "The Mi'raj of Bistami," 242-50 (packet).
- E. Waugh, "Following the Beloved, Muhammad as Model in the Sufi Tradition," in F.E. Reynolds, ed., The Biographical Process: Studies in the history and Psychology of Religion, 63-85 (packet).
3/5 Wed.  (Papers due)   Historical Critical Questions
                        Read:  -Krentz, The Historical Critical Method, 33-77.
                                    -Bart Ehrman, The New Testament, 201-7 (packet)
-H. Motzki, ed., The Biography of Muhammad: The Issue of the Sources (Leiden: Brill, 2000), "Introduction," xi-xvi. ONE (packet).

Week 10
3/10 Mon.                   Historical Critical Questions
                        Read:  Crone, Haggarism, intro. (reserve)
                                    Hoyland, Seeing Islam as Others Saw It (packet))

  • Doctrina Jacobi: 55-58;
  • John Bar Penkaye (wr. 687): 194-97 (top);
  • Sebeos (wr. 660s): 124-32 (top);
  • Zuqnin Chronicle: 409-14
  • Conclusions, 545-60

3/12 Wed.                   Review for Final Exam
3/20   2:30-4:20 FINAL EXAM in classroom


Academic Honesty

            In case of academic misconduct, such as copying homework or cheating on quizzes or exams, the offending student will be penalized in accordance with the policy of the College of Arts & Sciences: ( ). Those students who allow others to copy their work will also be penalized.


Disability Accommodations

            If you would like to request academic accommodations due to a disability, please contact Disabled Student Services, 448 Schmitz, (206) 543-8924. If you have a letter from Disabled Student Services indicating you have a disability that requires academic accommodations, please present the letter to the professor so we can discuss the accommodations you might need for the class. Their website is:  ( ), in 448 Schmitz, or 206-543-8924 (V/TTY).



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