Islam in the Middle Ages: The Origins and Shaping of Classical Islamic Civilization

Publication Year



In the Middle Ages, a varied and vibrant Islamic culture flourished in all its aspects, from religious institutions to legal and scientific endeavors. Lassner, Reisman, and Bonner detail how all three montheist traditions are linked to the same sacred history. They trace the most current scholarship on the Arabian background to Islam, the prophet's early religious message and its appeal. They the Qur'an and how it would have been understood by the earliest generations of Muslims. How much does historical memory come into play in current depictions of this early era? Beyond religious institutions, Muslim scholars and scientists were vital to both the transmission of knowledge from the Greek civilization and to the uninterrupted progress of science. The authors explore the role that non-Muslim minorities played within this culture and they detail the splits within the Muslim world that continue to this day.


Arabia in the eve of Islam -- Muhammad the prophet of Islam : origins -- The prophet's mission : Mecca -- The prophet's mission : Medina -- The Meccan response and the triumph of the ummah -- Succession, conquest, and expansion: the ummah becomes an 'Arab kingdom' -- The Hashimite restoration : a revolution shaped by images of an idealized past -- The split between the Hashimites : 'Alids versus Abbasids/Shi'ites versus Sunnites -- Centralzing power : the rise of a universal Islamic empire -- Emerging cracks within the universal Islamic empire -- The changing political climate : heralding the end of the formative period of medieval Islam -- The Qur'an and its commentators -- The major themes of Muslim scripture -- The formation of Islamic law and legal tradition -- The formation of different schools of Islamic law -- Islamic theology and popular religion.

Reviews and Endorsements

“This fresh look at the first four centuries of lslam is a valuable introduction to the subject. . . . The story is told clearly and insightfully, with relevance for the nonspecialist reader.”—Saudi Aramco World

“Lassner (emeritus Jewish civilization, Northwestern U., Illinois) and Bonner (Medieval Islamic history, U. of Michigan-Ann Arbor) boil down the extensive temporal, geographic, and cultural breadth of Islam into an overview for general readers of the religion during the Middle Ages of Christian Europe. Most of their treatment is chronological, describing such stages of the history and Arabia on the eve of Islam, the Prophet's mission in Mecca and Medina, the ummah becomes an Arab kingdom, Alids versus Abbasids and Shi'ites versus Sunnites, and the end of the formative period of Medieval Islam. The final section explores various aspects of the religion, including the Qur'an and its commentators, the formation of Islamic law and legal tradition, and Islamic theology and popular religion.”—Reference & Research Book News

“There is no doubt that Jacob Lassner and Michael Bonner are two of the currently most adept historians of early Islam. In Islam in the Middle Ages they have successfully and very accessibly given an account of the origins and early development of classical Islamic civilization, including insightful discussions of the major cultural components of the polity. Particularly striking is the deft way they have informatively charted their course through the maelstrom that currently roils the historiography of early Islam; Lassner and Bonner have fairly assessed the situation and given a succinct account of how the historian might reasonably move forward. Their book should soon become a standard text for courses in Islamic history; I expect to adopt it for my own, undergraduate course in Islamic Origins.”—Sidney H. Griffith, Professor at the Institute of Christian Oriental Research in The Catholic University of America

“The reading public's interest in Islam and Islamic civilization has never been higher or more significant. So the need for a nuanced, comprehensive narrative history of Islam in its classical age that is both very learned and accessible has never been greater. With Islam in the Middle Ages: The Origins and Shaping of Classical Islamic History, Michael Bonner and Jacob Lassner deliver a work that is breathtaking in its depth and scope and exacting in its attention to detail and the problems of intepretation.

Here are two gifted scholars at the top of their form, in command of the primary sources and in control of various methods of social-historical and religious-historical study required to provide the reader with a narrative history of Islam in its classical age. It is necessary reading for the public, students and scholars.”—Ross Brann, Milton R. Konvitz Professor of Judeo-Islamic Studies Cornell University

Series Title
Praeger Series on the Middle Ages
Santa Barbara, CA
Cloth: 9780275985691; ebook: 9780313047091