In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Islam in Middle East and North Africa

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews and Textbooks
  • Reference Works
  • Anthologies of Primary Sources
  • Muhammad
  • The Qurʾan
  • The Sunna (Prophetic Tradition)
  • The Caliphate and Political Theory
  • Shiʿism
  • Theology
  • Philosophy
  • Art and Architecture
  • Conversion and Non-Muslims
  • Modern Islamic Thought
  • Modern Islamic Movements

Islamic Studies Islam in Middle East and North Africa
David Commins
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 June 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 14 December 2009
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0050


Scholarship on Islam in the Middle East and North Africa spans a range of disciplines in the humanities (e.g., religion, art history, literature) and social sciences (e.g., history, anthropology, sociology, political science). Nineteenth-century studies reflected scholarly training in Semitic languages and philology, resulting in close readings of texts. In the 20th century, closer attention to historical context added depth to the field. Since the 1970s, a revisionist school of thought deploying critical literary analysis has challenged established interpretations of early Islamic history, while insights arising from the social sciences and attention to women's roles have enriched scholarship. Due to Islam's genesis as a phenomenon embracing religious teachings, social organization, and political community, studies of Islam frequently disregard topical boundaries, such that theology and political theory, for example, may be treated together in specialized monographs, lending categorical distinctions an arbitrary quality, even if they are necessary in a bibliographic survey.

General Overviews and Textbooks

Introductory works fall into three groupings. Hodgson 1974, Lapidus 2002, Egger 2004, and Egger 2008 treat religious developments within the framework of the history of Islamic civilization in its full geographical extent. Abun-Nasr 1987 and Fisher and Ochsenwald 2003 restrict the scope to North Africa and the Middle East, respectively. Denny 2006 offers fuller discussions of religious thought and institutions along with a synoptic review of political developments.

  • Abun-Nasr, Jamil M. A History of the Maghrib in the Islamic Period. 3d ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

    The standard survey of North African history from the Arab conquests to the present, valuable for its thorough attention to the precolonial centuries.

  • Denny, Frederick M. An Introduction to Islam. 3d ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2006.

    A textbook treatment of religious developments, notable for placing Islam's emergence in the history of Middle East religions, and for its inclusion of chapters on religion in daily life and rites of passage. Written for the undergraduate reader.

  • Egger, Vernon O. A History of the Muslim World to 1405: The Making of a Civilization. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2004.

    An accessible synthesis of recent historical research that balances political, social, and cultural dimensions; includes useful maps and illustrations. Written for the undergraduate reader.

  • Egger, Vernon O. A History of the Muslim World since 1260: The Making of a Global Community. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2008.

    Like its companion volume, an accessible synthesis and excellent introduction.

  • Fisher, Sydney Nettleton, and William Ochsenwald. The Middle East: A History. 6th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2003.

    The most reliable single-volume survey of Middle East history from Muhammad to the present day; especially strong on the Ottoman Empire. Written for the undergraduate reader.

  • Hodgson, Marshall G. S. The Venture of Islam: Conscience and History in a World Civilization. 3 vols. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974.

    An original vision animates this deep exploration of Islamic civilization. It is full of fascinating insights, expressed in a singular voice, but not for the novice.

  • Lapidus, Ira M. A History of Islamic Societies. 2d ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

    The most ambitious attempt since Hodgson to encompass all Islamic civilization, with an emphasis on common social forms, institutions, and religious values.

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