The Birthplace of Islam: Western Arabia on the Eve of the Hegira


Le berceau de l'Islam: l'Arabie occidentale à la veille de l'hégire (The cradle of Islam: Western Arabia on the eve of the hegira) is an environmental and social history of the Hejaz region of the western Arabian Peninsula, the area which the author, Henri Lammens (1862‒1937), calls the “cradle of Islam.” The book is a study of the climate, geography, topography, and anthropology of the region at the beginning of the seventh century, rigorously based on the Arabic textual sources that are the principal bases of what is known about the region and its pre-Islamic inhabitants: Arab Bedouin, Jew, and Christian. In agreement with the majority of historians, Lammens dates the beginning of Muhammad’s prophetic inspiration to around the year 610. Muhammad moved from Mecca to Medina in 622, counted as year one of the Islamic calendar. The book consists of transcribed lectures and notes prepared for classes taught by Lammens in Rome and Beirut, which accounts for the diffuse organization of the often disconnected one-page essays that characterize the book. A detailed table of contents is provided to assist the reader. Lammens was a Belgian Jesuit who moved to Lebanon in his teenage years. He mastered Arabic and taught at Saint Joseph University in Beirut and at schools in Cairo and Alexandria, Egypt. He was known by his contemporaries for his provocative writing and strong opinions. Scholars have been of two minds about his work. While recognizing his profound knowledge of Arabic source material (he contributed 80 articles to the first edition of the Encyclopaedia of Islam), many scholars have criticized him for allowing his Catholicism to strongly color his attitudes toward Islam and other Christian denominations of the region. After a long decline in health, Lammens died in Beirut in 1937. The book was published in Rome in 1914 by the Pontifical Biblical Institute. It was planned as the first in a series on early Islamic history, a project that was never carried forward.

Last updated: March 17, 2016