Skip to main content Accessibility help
The Cambridge History of Islam
  • Cited by 1
  • Export citation
  • Recommend to librarian
  • Buy the print book

Book description

First published in 1970, The Cambridge History of Islam is a most comprehensive and ambitious collaborative survey of Islamic history and civilization. On publication it was welcomed as a work useful both for reference and reading, for the general reader, student and specialist alike. It has now been reprinted, with corrections, and for ease of handling the original two hardcover volumes have each been divided into two separate paperbacks.


‘… undoubtedly a very valuable and very much needed contribution to the field of Islamic studies. It is a thoroughly scholarly and often erudite presentation of the entire Muslim world that will be consulted by the specialist and non-specialist for many years to come.’

Source: The Middle East Journal

‘On the basis of length and scope, the History is the most comprehensive, and at the same time the most detailed study of Islam so far attempted, and … it is likely to remain so for at least another generation.’

Source: Journal of the American Oriental Society

Refine List

Actions for selected content:

Select all | Deselect all
  • View selected items
  • Export citations
  • Download PDF (zip)
  • Save to Kindle
  • Save to Dropbox
  • Save to Google Drive

Save Search

You can save your searches here and later view and run them again in "My saved searches".

Please provide a title, maximum of 40 characters.


    pp 441-468
  • View abstract


    There is a closer relationship between Islam and its geographical setting, than that of any other of the great monotheistic religions. At the time of Muhammad, the oases of the Hijaz were prosperous market towns; these cities were caravan centres which had organized the relations between southern Arabia and the Mediterranean world ever since the decline of the former, towards the end of the fifth Christian century, had permitted them to take up the reins and assume the directing role. Two very different families of nomadic peoples, the Arabs and the Turks, undertook the diffusion of Islam, and the imprint left on the human landscape differed in each case. The essential instruments for the conversion of the countryside to Islam were the nomads rather than the peasants. The Muslim town, in fact, bears the marks of an almost total absence of municipal organization. Islam affected the condition of agriculture most through its landowning structure and laws of real property.
    pp 469-510
  • View abstract


    The establishment of Arab Islam in the alien world from Spain to the Oxus marks one of those periods in history when man loses his contact with his ancestors, and when the psychological continuity appears almost, even totally, broken. The new civilization, which represents the means and the goal of recovering lost bearings, creates a common memory constituted by a selection of shared memorabilia, largely historical events and judgments on the one hand, human and doctrinal assumptions on the other. The speed of the Muslim expansion, and the speed of the growth of Islamic civilization, prevented fundamental social changes below the highest level and apart from the arrangements which followed logically from the basic rationale of Muslim community structure. The dominant concerns of Muslim civilization had originated in the Arab milieu. Sufism may have absorbed more of Indian mentality than the terminology of its self-statements would indicate.
    pp 511-538
  • View abstract


    Arab immigration into neighbouring territories to the north of their peninsula had started many centuries before Muhammad, and the conquest. The coming of Islam was accompanied by a development of urbanization. In the economic-social structure, the principal distinction to be noted is that between the town and the countryside. The medieval Muslim world was situated almost exclusively within the subtropical zone. The agriculture of the Muslim countries has given rise to a special literature, the forerunner of which appeared in Iraq the 'Nabataean agriculture' of Ibn Wahshiyya, a mixture of oral traditions and borrowings from ancient treatises. In the Abbasid period, the great centre for the whole of the East was Baghdad, to be replaced after the fifth/eleventh century by Cairo, while the distant countries of the Muslim West also had their own activities, though on a smaller scale. In the Umayyad period, the governmental and administrative institutions were relatively simple.
    pp 539-568
  • View abstract


    The sacred law of Islam, the Sharia, occupies a central place in Muslim society, and its history runs parallel with the history of Islamic civilization. Islamic law had its roots in pre-Islamic Arab society. Muhammad began his public activity in Mecca as a religious reformer, and in Medina he became the ruler and lawgiver of a new society on a religious basis, a society which was meant, and at once began, to replace and supersede Arabian tribal society. Muhammad's legislation, too, was a complete innovation in the law of Arabia. At an early period, the ancient Arab idea sunna, precedent or normative custom, reasserted itself in Islam. The Safavids supervision of the religious institution was more thorough than had been that of the preceding Sunni rulers, and by the second half of the eleventh/seventeenth century the subordination of the religious institution to the political was officially recognized.
    pp 569-603
    • By Louis Gardet, Collège Phihsophique et Tbéologique, Toulouse
  • View abstract


    Between the first/seventh and the ninth/fifteenth centuries, Islamic lands reached great cultural heights. The Medinese period and the Umayyad age, particularly the latter, saw the establishment of the first Muslim culture, in which was combined the influences of ancient Arabia and of Byzantium. The Baghdad of the Abbasids continually absorbed Persian influences. The Muslim faith presents itself as a universal religion. Religious architecture was affected by many influences, Byzantine, Persian and later Mongol and there are many different styles of Muslim architecture. Secular Arabic literature was criticized by the developing Arabo-Muslim culture. The science of the Quranic commentaries or tafsir is certainly one of the poles of Muslim culture. The great cultures which came later, the Safavid restoration in Persia and the Mughal civilization in India, were no longer involved in the same way with the dar al-Islam in its entirety.
    pp 604-631
  • View abstract


    The Christian mystic in his quest for union with God relies first upon the person of Jesus Christ who, being of the Godhead, is Himself both the object of worship, the supreme model, and the goal of attainment. The Muslim mystic has no Christ-figure to mediate and intercede between himself and Allah. The formative period of Sufism extended over the first three centuries of the Muslim era. The ascetic movement spread from Medina to Kufa and Basra, to Damascus and newly founded Baghdad, to the distant provinces of Khurasan and Sind. The founder of the Baghdad school of speculative mysticism was al-Harith b. Asad al-Muhasibi. By the end of the fifth/eleventh century a broad measure of agreement had been reached on the meaning of Sufism and the details of Sufi experience and theory. Sufism was very far from pretending to be an independent sect of Islam.
    pp 632-656
  • View abstract


    The period in which formative developments took place in Islam, and at the end of which Muslim orthodoxy crystallized and emerged, roughly covered a period of two centuries and a half. Sufism has exercised, next to orthodoxy, the greatest influence on the Muslim community because of its insistence on the inner reform of the individual, and has, ever since its birth, posed the biggest challenge to orthodoxy down to the dawn of modern times. From the sixth/twelfth century onwards, Sufism became a mass movement in the form of organized brotherhoods which invaded the entire Muslim world from east to west. The criticism of historic Muslim social institutions by orientalists and Christian missionaries specifies the objectives of social reform for the Modernist. A real, effective renaissance of Islam is not possible until educational developments reach the point of contributing from an Islamic standpoint to the humanities of the world at large.
    pp 657-671
  • View abstract


    Arabic literature in its entirety and in the restricted sense is the enduring monument both of a civilization and of a people. The atomicity of pre-Islamic verse and the convention of the monorhyme naturally favoured short compositions on single themes. During the second half of the sixth century AD, a far-reaching change came over the spirit of Arabic poetry. The Umayyad period witnessed a poetic outburst reminiscent of the pre-Islamic one in sixth-century Arabia. The revolution which brought to power a new dynasty, the Abbasids, also opened for Arabic literature its golden age. The political decentralization of the Arab empire in the fourth/tenth century, and the reduction of Baghdad itself in 334/945 to a provincial capital by the Buyids, inevitably affected the course of a literature. The vitality of the Arabic literary tradition was transferred to younger and more vigorous Islamic literatures, whose growth it had directly or indirectly stimulated, namely, Persian, Turkish and Urdu.
    pp 671-682
  • View abstract


    In imperial Persia secular literature had been of a courtly character, and both its form and content reflected the tastes and interests of the kings and nobles who were its chief patrons. The destruction of Sasanian power brought to an end this system of patronage, and in the subsequent period of disruption, change and readjustment, Muslim Persians began to apply their talents to the enrichment of Arabic writing. The Shah-nama was written in an era when historical events, particularly in eastern Persia, encouraged a hopeful and spirited mood. The Sufi way of life, which advocated intense love and devotion as the means of attaining truth, found a considerable following in Persia, and Sufi convents grew increasingly popular after the fourth/tenth century. Persian mystics often were men of outstanding sensitivity and employed poetry or poetical diction to express their thoughts and to move their fellow men.
    pp 682-694
  • View abstract


    Islam came to the Turks through Persia. From the fifth/eleventh century, general Islamic culture was adopted by the Turks in a rather Persian form, and the new Persian literature became the source of inspiration for Turkish writers. Eastern Turkish was used as the literary language from the eleventh century until the end of the nineteenth century in all the countries where Turkish was spoken or where Turks ruled except the Ottoman Empire, western Persia and southern Crimea. In the seventh/thirteenth century a written language which was the continuation of Kara-Khanid Turkish was developed in Khwarazm in the Sir Darya delta, and from here it passed on to the Golden Horde. In recent times Navai has been regarded both as one of the greatest poets of the world, and as a mere follower of the Persian classics. The political and administrative reform movement known as the Tanzimat, which begin in 1839, had some effect on literature after 1850.
    pp 695-701
  • View abstract


    Urdu is the language spoken by the Muslims and by certain non-Muslim elements in the urban areas of West Pakistan and north-western India. The Sufi shaykhs, engaged in the dual task of converting the non-Muslims around them, and of evolving a technique of religious communication with their illeducated disciples, used an early form of Urdu for their popular writings, reserving the use of Persian more and more for learned dialectics. Until the beginning of the nineteenth century, Urdu prose had consisted either of theological literature with an arabicized syntax or of ornate magical romances. The Mutiny of 1857, its failure, and the liquidation of Muslim supremacy in Delhi, mark a sudden revolution in Urdu poetry. Urdu fiction had begun in the later eighteenth century with the dastans of the Amir Hamza cycle. The Muslim historical novel in the hands of 'Abd al-Halim Sharar romanticized the Muslim past in stereotyped colour and imagery and rather cheap sentimentality.
    pp 702-740
  • View abstract


    This chapter provides an overview of Islamic art. The earliest mosques, such as the Prophet's mosque at Medina, or those of Kufa and Basra, were primitive structures, erected of perishable material. Three mosques had been erected during the reign of the Patriarchal Caliphs. The first was at Basra in 14/635 and the second at Kufa in 17/638. The third mosque was built by Amr b. al-As, the conqueror of Egypt, at Fustat in 21-2/641-2. The largest and probably the most beautiful Umayyad palace is Khirbat al-Mafjar in Jericho. The Great Mosque of Samarra, built by al-Mutawakkil is the largest mosque in Islam. Excavations by Soviet archaeologists in Samarqand and Afrasiyab, and by the Metropolitan Museum at Nishapur, exposed an interesting type of pottery. The Fatimids came to power in Tunisia and founded their capital Mahdiyya with its Great Mosque.
  • 10 - SCIENCE
    pp 741-779
    • By G. Anawati, Institut Dominicain d’Etudes Orientales, Cairo
  • View abstract


    Practical science was composed of personal morality, domestic morality and politics, to which Ibn Sina also appended prophetology. In the 'Prolegomena', Ibn Khaldun, the celebrated historian and sociologist of the eighth/fourteenth century, has given a clear account of the whole field of the sciences as they appeared in his time. Muslim arithmeticians practised exponentiation, and the extraction of square and cube roots, sometimes using the formulae of root approximation borrowed from the Byzantines. The general Ptolemaic theory, accepted by nearly all Muslim astronomers, met with opposition only in Spain, where Ibn Bajja, Ibn Tufayl and Ibn Rushd rejected, in the name of Aristotle, the Ptolemaic account of the movements of the heavenly bodies. In the field of pharmacology, Muslim physicians enriched the materia medica inherited from Greece. In the Middle Ages, Muslim scientists were indisputably at the peak of their progress, scientific curiosity and research.
    pp 780-823
    • By S. Pines, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
  • View abstract


    Islamic philosophic thought presents a greater diversity than medieval Christian philosophy. Many of the translators who were employed in the incomparably more numerous translations undertaken in the Muslim period were Syriac-speaking Christians, who used in the novel task the traditional technique worked out in turning Greek texts into their native language which, being Semitic, has a certain affinity with Arabic. Al-Kindi, who was the author of numerous medical works, seems to have rejected alchemy, but believed in astrology, and composed a certain number of writings dealing with questions pertaining to this science. Al-Farabi, 'the Second Teacher' after Aristotle, was considered as the greatest Muslim philosopher up to the advent of Ibn Sina, who was decisively influenced by him. Ibn Sina was a native of Bukhara and familiar with both Persian and Arabic. At the end of the fifth/eleventh century, Muslim Spain was annexed by the fanatical Almoravids, whose armies came over from Africa and defeated the Christians in 479/1086.
  • 12 - WARFARE
    pp 824-850
  • View abstract


    The Arabs, within the two decades which followed the death of the Prophet Muhammad, won for themselves a large empire embracing Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Persia and much of Arabia itself. The role, in the armies of Islam, of soldiers Muslim through conversion and non-Arab in ethnic origin grew in importance during the years of Umayyad rule. The pattern of warfare which had brought the Arabs success in the time of the great conquests was soon overlaid, as it were, with procedures drawn from the traditions of Byzantium and Persia. The Arabs who conquered a great empire for Islam had little acquaintance with the techniques of siege warfare. The period of the Abbasid decline saw a large increase in the use of mamluks recruited as slaves, trained in the practice of war and freed to serve as professional troops. The iqta system was reaching its full development in the sixth/twelfth and seventh/thirteenth centuries.
    pp 851-889
  • View abstract


    From the seventh to the ninth Christian century, Muslim invasions and raids in the Mediterranean basin brought Christendom face to face with the warlike and destructive aspect of Islam. The cultural contact between Islam and Christendom, which began in the days of the Cordova amirate, was carried on intensively by the Mozarabic and Jewish elements throughout the period of Arab domination. The praiseworthy activities of the learned men who flocked thither from every part of Europe, in order to study the treasures of Graeco-Arab philosophy and science, were a striking feature of a great part of the twelfth century. In the field of philosophy it is generally maintained that what the West knew of Greek thought, and in particular of Aristotle, was transmitted to it by the Arabs. Arab medicine, culminating in Ibn Sina, remained until the closing years of the Renaissance the most authoritative source of Western theory and praxis.


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Book summary page views

Total views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between #date#. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.