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HIST3195 Islam, Conquests and Caliphates, Part 1

Module Overview

Who was Muhammad and how did a new world religion spread from the Arabian Peninsula to Spain within 150 years? The seventh century CE is a crucial period of both religious and world history due to the rise of Islam. The Arabian Peninsula witnessed the leadership of Muhammad, the writing of the Qur’an, and the beginning of the Muslim Arab conquests westwards into the Eastern Mediterranean and North Africa, and eastwards into the Sassanid Persian Empire. The module will invite you to assess and debate the historical development of one the key religions that has shaped the modern world.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

• Investigate the historical origins of one the key religions that has shaped the modern world • Examine the historical and cultural world of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Arabian Peninsula in the early seventh century CE • Investigate the political and military conflicts between the Eastern Roman Empire and Sassanid Persia as the background to the rise of Islam • Explore the relationship between Jewish and Christian communities both religiously and politically prior to the Muslim Arab conquests • Consider and prompt debates on society in the Near East at the time of the rise of Islam

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • The historical and social context of the Eastern Mediterranean and Arabian Peninsula in the early seventh century CE
  • Debates on the factors that affected the historical and ideological development of early Islam
  • The success of the Muslim Arab conquests against the context of Byzantine-Persian warfare
  • The relationships between Jewish and Christian communities in the Near East in the early seventh century
  • The life of Muhammad
  • Key primary sources that provide evidence on the nature of society at the time of the rise of Islam
  • The latest research on the subjects of pre-Islamic Byzantium, Sassanid Persia and the Arabian Peninsula, and the religious groups within them
Cognitive Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Explain and discuss the factors that impacted on the historical development of early Islam
  • Evaluate the context into which Muhammad began his teaching
  • Analyse controversial issues in the history of the Near East in the early seventh century
  • Evaluate critically the theoretical and methodological approaches used by scholars working on the rise of Islam
  • Express familiarity with and interpret critically a variety of primary sources from Late Antiquity
  • Explain your own views on debates within the fields of the rise of Islam and Jewish-Christian relations in the early seventh century


Part one of this module will examine the broader society of the Near East at the time of the rise of Islam, which provides the context for the appearance of the new world religion. Through consideration of a diverse range of primary sources, including chronicles, legal codes and religious documents, we will begin by investigating the political turmoil within the Eastern Roman Empire in the early seventh century, which facilitated the success of the Muslim Arab conquests. This will include study of the intense warfare between the Eastern Roman Empire and their long term rivals, the Sassanid Persians, and especially the conquest and re-conquest of Jerusalem. We will examine society in pre-Islamic Arabia, Syria and Palestine, which formed the frontier between the dominant world powers of the seventh century. We will explore the social and religious environments of these regions, focusing on the Jewish and Christian communities and their place within a diverse array of geopolitical contexts prior to the Muslim Arab conquests. Finally, we will look at the tribal system in the Arabian Peninsula in the seventh century, which included Jewish and Christian Arabs alongside the polytheistic Bedouin, and in which context Muhammad first told of his revelations. Part 1: Society in the Eastern Mediterranean and Arabian Peninsula at the rise of Islam An indicative list of topics will include: Introduction What is Byzantium? Heraclius, 610-641 Byzantine Near East: Society in Palestine and Syria The Sassanian Persian Empire: from Chosroes II to Yazdegerd III The Byzantine-Persian Wars: conquest and re-conquest of Jerusalem Christian communities and controversies in the seventh century Jews amongst the Byzantines and Persians Pre-Islamic Arabia The life of Muhammad

Special Features

You will have access to the unique and world famous Parkes Library.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods focus on weekly seminars analysing key events, chronology and concepts, including examination and discussion of primary and secondary source material and the key issues of debate they raise. Learning activities include: • Preparatory reading before each seminar • Participation in group and seminar discussion • Independent reading of the sources provided and of related secondary works • Preparing and delivering short oral presentations on primary sources • Independent research of additional information and source materials Seminars will provide you with general knowledge and understanding about chronology, sources and key concepts. This will be consolidated through readings and seminar discussions of primary and secondary source material. Discussion in seminars will help you to develop your own ideas about a topic, to analyse a range of source material and to articulate a critical argument.

Follow-up work100
Preparation for scheduled sessions100
Completion of assessment task56
Total study time300

Resources & Reading list

Reynolds, G.S., ed (2008). The Qur’an in Its Historical Context. 

Hoyland, R.G (1997). Seeing Islam As Others Saw It: A Survey and Evaluation of Christian, Jewish and Zoroastrian Writings on Early Islam. 

Haldon, J.F (1990). Byzantium in the Seventh Century. 

Cook, M (1983). Muhammad. 

Levine, L. I. (ed.) (1999). Jerusalem: Its Sanctity and Centrality to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. 

Berkey, J (2003). The formation of Islam. Religion and society in the Near East, 600-1800. 

Hourani, A (2005). A History of the Arab Peoples. 

Hodgson, M (1974). The Venture of Islam, 3 vols. 

Mango, C.A (1994). Byzantium: the empire of the new Rome. 

Gil, M (1992). A History of Palestine 634-1099. 

Kaegi, W.E (2007). Heraclius Emperor of Byzantium. 

Kennedy, H (2007). The Great Arab conquests: how the spread of Islam changed the world we live in. 

Lapidus, I.M (2002). A History of Islamic Societies. 

Kaegi, W.E (1995). Byzantium and the Early Islamic Conquests. 

Wilken, R. L (1992). The Land Called Holy: Palestine in Christian History and Thought. 

Crone, P. and M.A. Cook (1977). Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World. 

Rippin, A (2005). Muslims: their religious beliefs and practices. 

Katz, S.T. (ed.) (2006). The Cambridge history of Judaism: Vol.4 Late Roman - Rabbinic period. 

Cameron, A., and I. Conrad (1992-95). The Byzantine and Early Islamic Near East vols 1-3. 

Hawting, G.R (2000). The first dynasty of Islam: the Umayyad caliphate AD 661-750. 

McAuliffe, J.D., ed (2006). The Cambridge Companion to the Qur’an. 

Crone, P (2004). Medieval Islamic political thought. 

Prawer, J. and H. Ben-Shammai (eds) (1996). The History of Jerusalem: The Early Muslim Period 638-1099. 

Donner, F.M (2010). Muhammad and the Believers: At the Origins of Islam. 


Assessment Strategy

Feedback Method • Guidance and advice on preparation, completion and presentation of assignments will be available to you in special seminar discussions • You will be encouraged to discuss preparation for your formal assessments with your tutor • You will have the opportunity to seek individual advice on your module progress from your tutor • You will have the opportunity to discuss written feedback on assignments with your tutor


Group work activities


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (4000 words) 50%
Take-away exam  (3000 words) 50%


MethodPercentage contribution
Resubmit assessments 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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