A flood of recent publications has challenged the traditional view of the development of Islam and of the role that it played in the life of the young Muslim community.
For example, Yehuda Nevo has argued that paganism and ‘A very simple form of monotheism with Judaeo-Christian overtones’ constituted the religious beliefs of the early Arab elite, and Christoph Luxenberg has sought to demonstrate that the Quran was not composed in Arabic or derived from Arabian religious traditions, but rather drafted in a mixed Aramaic-Arabic tongue and based upon Christian Aramaic texts.
It is, of course, immensely difficult to document the early stages of a new religious tradition and a new regime, since events are moving swiftly and the fledgling community must constantly reinvent itself in response to these changes. In the case of early Islam this problem is compounded by a stalemate in the debate about the authenticity of Muslim accounts about Muhammad and his successors4 and a paucity of material evidence. In such a situation one might expect that such documents as do exist would be fully utilized, and yet vast numbers of papyri remain unedited, inscriptions unrecorded and excavations unpublished, and even those that are known are often not taken into account by Islamic historians.