This paper approaches issues pertaining to the Arabic/Islamic texts which have been foundational to the early history of Islam. Crucially, these sources cannot be defined as primary sources—they largely started to be written 150 years after the incidents they narrate. Further, there is a lack of archaeological evidence or independent archival records to corroborate these narratives. Nonetheless, there is a wide variety of sources for early Islamic history, which are narrative, literary, theological and geographical in nature. The sources further span books of Hadith as well interpretations/commentaries (exegeses) of the Koran. Scholars, and particularly orientalists, are divided over the merits of such texts as historical documents on which the history of early Islam can be based.
This paper will both survey this dispute between scholars and seek to resolve it. To do so, this paper visits the various methodological approaches adopted by academic historians towards the texts of early Islamic history beginning in the nineteenth century: the descriptive, critical, skeptical approaches, in addition to a school of thought which relies entirely on foreign language sources—particularly Syriac/Aramaic and (archaic) Greek sources — despite the fact that these latter sources face the same issues which the Arabic sources do.
This paper was published in Almuntaqa, the peer-reviewed English-language journal dedicated to the social sciences and humanities and the full article is available for free to read or download on Jstor.