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Tracing the social and political changes experienced during the transition from pre-Islamic Arabian culture to the religious civilization of Islam, Firestone concludes that jihad is an indigenous Arabian phenomenon. It resulted, he argues, from the mixture of old Arabian culture with innovations in the traditional social structure and worldview engendered by the introduction of Islamic monotheism. The cauldron in which this mixture produced its new product was Medina, where various forces came together to produce the religious community of Muslims known as the Umma.. "Firestone's historical reconstruction of Islamic holy war challenges the traditional "evolutionary theory" of war that was first established by medieval Muslim scholars and subsequently accepted uncritically by Western scholarship. In its place, he offers a far more nuanced understanding, based on careful philological analysis of Islamic texts in conjunction with the application of contemporary methodologies in anthropology, history, and the study of religion. The result is a text that will be of interest to students of religion, ethics, history, the ancient and modern Middle East, anthropology, Islam, the Bible, and the medieval world.
While there exists no evidence to date that the indigenous inhabitants of Arabia knew of holy war prior to Islam, holy war ideas and behaviors appear already among Muslims during the first generation. This book focuses on why and how such a seemingly radical development took place. Basing his hypothesis on evidence from the Qur'an and early Islamic literary sources, Firestone locates the origin of Islamic holy war and traces its evolution as a response to the changes affecting the new community of Muslims in its transition from ancient Arabian culture to the religious civilization of Islam.
"Reuven Firestone has produced a book that should have been produced a long ago"--Journal of Near Eastern Studies
"In this book, Firestone had presented an attractive thsis which very much deserves to be read and debated by all who are interested in the subject."-- The Muslim World
"Firestone has done an admirable thing: he has written a brief, readable, carefully delineated, and scholarly study of a concept that is often bandied about in discussions of Islamic thought without reference to historical development or context."-- Journal of Near Eastern Studies