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Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

Part IB

Course Description 2023-24

This paper examines how the development of the Islamic world was shaped by its social, political, economic, and ecological contexts, tracing the history of Islam from its origins in the religious and political turmoil of late antiquity through the rise and fall of the first Muslim empire and the emergence of the new religious and political formations of early medieval times. The paper engages both with the primary sources for these questions, and with the debates in the modern literature.

The first five centuries after Muhammad witnessed the formation of many of the core beliefs and practices of Sunni and Shiʿi Islam, as well as key social political and political institutions, including the caliphate and the Islamic legal tradition. Further, this was the period in which Arab ethnic identity took shape and the Arabic (and, in the East, Persian) language became a vehicle of a shared culture from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean.

By the end of the paper students will be able to: evaluate key debates about explanations for the development of Islamic societies in the first centuries of Islam; draw upon various written primary source materials for the early development of the Islamic world in discussing the formative period; show an ability to present this knowledge orally, in essay form and in short commentaries on source extracts.

Form and Conduct

This paper will consist of eight essay questions, of which candidates will be required to answer two, and a question requiring commentary on three short source extracts (from a choice of ten). All questions will carry equal marks.


This description is subject to change, for the latest information, students should consult the Undergraduate Handbook available on the Faculty Intranet.