Fred Donner

Fred McGraw Donner (born 1945) is a scholar of Islam and Professor of Near Eastern History at the University of Chicago.[1] He has published several books about early Islamic history.

Fred McGraw Donner
ResidenceChicago, Illinois
Alma materPrinceton University
Known forIslamic Studies; Quranic (Islamic) studies; scriptural exegesis; scholarship on Islamic origins
Scientific career
FieldsIslamic Studies
InstitutionsUniversity of Chicago;
Yale University;
University of Erlangen-Nuremberg


Donner was born in Washington, D.C. and grew up in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, where he attended public schools. In 1968 he completed his Bachelor of Arts degree in Oriental Studies at Princeton University, having interrupted his studies from 1966 to 1967 to pursue the study of Arabic at the Middle East Centre for Arab Studies (MECAS) in the village of Shimlan, Lebanon. From 1968 to 1970 he served with the U. S. Army, seeing duty with U. S. Army Security Agency in Herzogenaurach, Germany in 1969-1970. He then studied oriental philology for a year (1970-1971) at the Friedrich-Alexander Universität in Erlangen, Germany, before returning to Princeton for doctoral work. Donner received his PhD in Near Eastern Studies from Princeton in 1975. He taught Middle Eastern history in the History Department at Yale University from 1975-1982 before taking his position at the University of Chicago in 1982 (The Oriental Institute and Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations). He served as chairman of his Department (1997–2002) and as Director of the University's Center for Middle Eastern Studies (2009–present).

In 2007, he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship[2] to examine Arabic papyri from the first Islamic century (seventh century CE) at collections in Paris, Vienna, Oxford, and Heidelberg.

Donner was President of Middle East Medievalists from 1992 until 1994 and served as editor of the journal Al-Usur al-Wusta: The Bulletin of Middle East Medievalists from 1992 until 2011.[3]

Donner was President of the Middle East Studies Association of North America.[4] He has been a member of MESA since 1975, served an earlier term on MESA's Board of Directors (1992-1994) and was awarded MESA's Jere L. Bacharach Service Award in 2008.[5]

Donner is a long-term member of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA), The American Oriental Society, and Middle East Medievalists.


Donner's book The Early Islamic Conquests was published in 1981 by Princeton University Press.[6] He has also published a translation of a volume of the history of al-Tabari in 1993.[1]

In Narratives of Islamic Origins (1998), Donner argues for an early date for the Qur'an text. He responds in particular to the theory of late canonization of the Qur'an proposed by John Wansbrough and Yehuda D. Nevo.[7] The book attempts to explain how concerns for legitimation in the developing Islamic community shaped the themes that are the focus of Islamic historical writing, particularly the themes of prophecy, community, hegemony, and leadership.

Donner's book Muhammad and the Believers: At the Origins of Islam, an account of the early years of the spiritual movement that would come to be known as Islam, was published by Harvard University Press in May 2010. Donner's main argument is that what came to be called Islam began as a monotheistic "Believers' movement" inaugurated by Muhammad which included righteous Christians and Jews as well as those monotheists who followed the teachings of the Qur'an. Only under the rule of Abd al-Malik (685-705) Islam began to separate from Christians and Jews.[8] This argument was first presented at a "Late Antiquity and Early Islam" workshop in London in 1993, and published in his article "From Believers to Muslims," which appeared in the journal Al-Abhath 50-51 (2002–2003), pp. 9–53.


Donner's book The Early Islamic Conquests (1981) has been described as "magisterial"[6] and "a major contribution to the understanding of early Islamic history" (International Journal of Middle East Studies).[9] It is used as a set text for several university courses.[10]

Donner's Muhammad and the Believers has been described as "learned and brilliantly original" in a New York Times review.[11] Patricia Crone wrote that the only direct evidence for Donner's central thesis of an ecumenical early Islam comes from several Quranic verses, while the rest is based on conjecture. According to Crone, the New York Times review of Donner's book indicates that his account of a "nice, tolerant, and open" Islam appeals to American liberals, and it may perform a useful role in educating the broader public, but as a scholarly work "it leaves something to be desired".[12] Other academic reviews have characterized the book as "provocative and largely convincing"[13] and as a "a plausible and compelling, if necessarily somewhat speculative, alternate account of the emergence of Islam".[14]


  • The Early Islamic Conquests (Princeton University Press; 1981) ISBN 0-691-05327-8
  • The History of al-Tabari (Vol. 10): The Conquest of Arabia (State University of New York Press; 1993) ISBN 0-7914-1072-2 (translation)
  • Narratives of Islamic Origins: The Beginnings of Islamic Historical Writing (Darwin Press; 1998) ISBN 0-87850-127-4
  • Muhammad and the Believers. At the Origins of Islam (Harvard University Press; 2010) ISBN 978-0-674-05097-6


  1. ^ a b NELC Department Faculty list at University of Chicago
  2. ^ "University of Chicago article on Guggenheim Fellowship awards". 2007-04-12. Retrieved 2013-09-12.
  3. ^ Middle East Medievalists. "Al-Usur al-Wusta: The Bulletin of Middle East Medievalists". Retrieved 2013-09-12.
  4. ^ "Letters from MESA Presidents". Middle East Studies Association. Retrieved 2016-10-01.
  5. ^ "Jere L. Bacharach Service Award". Middle East Studies Association. Retrieved 2016-10-01.
  6. ^ a b Elton H in Bryn Mawr Medieval Review (accessed 2 October 2007)
  7. ^ Narratives of Islamic Origins p. 62
  8. ^ Patricia Crone: Among the Believers Tablet Magazine 10 August 2010
  9. ^ Review of The Early Islamic Conquests in the International Journal of Middle East Studies
  10. ^ e.g. refer University of Oklahoma (accessed 2 October 2007)
  11. ^ New York Times, The Muslim Past, Sunday Book Review by Max Rodenbeck 25 June 2010
  12. ^ Patricia Crone: Among the Believers Tablet Magazine 10. August 2010
  13. ^ Steven C. Judd (Sep 2011). "Review of Muhammad and the Believers: At the Origins of Islam by Fred M. Donner". Journal of the American Academy of Religion. 79 (3): 762–765. JSTOR 23020418.
  14. ^ Paul R. Powers (February 2013). "Review of Muhammad and the Believers: At the Origins of Islam by Fred M. Donner". History of Religions. 52 (3): 306–308. JSTOR 10.1086/66866.

External links

Arfaja al-Bariqi

Arfajah b. Harthama al-Bariqi (Arabic: عرفجة بن هرثمة البارقي‎) was a companion of Muhammad. He was governor of Mosul during the reign of Rashidun Caliph Umar. Abu Bakr dispatched Arfajah with Hudaifa bin Mihsan's corps to fight opponents of Islam in Oman.

Banu Qaynuqa

The Banu Qaynuqa (Arabic: بنو قينقاع‎; Hebrew: בני קינקאע‬; also spelled Banu Kainuka, Banu Kaynuka, Banu Qainuqa, Banu Qaynuqa) was one of the three main Jewish tribes living in the 7th century of Medina, now in Saudi Arabia. In 624,

the great-grandfather of Banu Qaynuqa tribe is Qaynuqa ibn Amchel ibn Munshi ibn Yohanan ibn Benjamin ibn Saron ibn Naphtali ibn Hayy ibn Moses and they are descendant of Manasseh ibn Joseph ibn Jacob ibn Isaac son of Abraham. They were expelled during the Invasion of Banu Qaynuqa, after breaking the treaty known as the Constitution of Medina.

Banu Qurayza

The Banu Qurayza (Arabic: بنو قريظة‎, Hebrew: בני קוריט'ה‬; alternate spellings include Quraiza, Qurayzah, Quraytha, and the archaic Koreiza) were a Jewish tribe which lived in northern Arabia, at the oasis of Yathrib (now known as Medina), until the 7th century, when their conflict with Muhammad led to their massacre.

Jewish tribes reportedly arrived in Hijaz in the wake of the Jewish-Roman wars and introduced agriculture, putting them in a culturally, economically and politically dominant position. However, in the 5th century, the Banu Aws and the Banu Khazraj, two Arab tribes that had arrived from Yemen, gained dominance. When these two tribes became embroiled in conflict with each other, the Jewish tribes, now clients or allies of the Arabs, fought on different sides, the Qurayza siding with the Aws.In 622, the Islamic prophet Muhammad arrived at Yathrib from Mecca and reportedly established a pact between the conflicting parties. While the city found itself at war with Muhammad's native Meccan tribe of the Quraysh, tensions between the growing numbers of Muslims and the Jewish communities mounted.In 627, when the Quraysh and their allies besieged the city in the Battle of the Trench, the Qurayza initially tried to remain neutral but eventually entered into negotiations with the besieging army, violating the pact they had agreed to years earlier. Subsequently, the tribe was charged with treason and besieged by the Muslims commanded by Muhammad. The Banu Qurayza eventually surrendered and their men were beheaded. The spoils of battle, including the enslaved women and children of the tribe, were divided up among the Islamic warriors that had participated in the siege and among the emigrees from Mecca (who had hitherto depended on the help of the Muslims native to Medina.The historicity of this incident has been questioned by some Islamic scholars and the Revisionist School of Islamic Studies.

Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Chicago

The Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Chicago is a National Resource Center for the study of a region extending from Morocco in the West to Kazakhstan in the East. As a result, this Area Center covers some of the most important and controversial regions - including North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia. Prior to the Center's formation, scholars originally received funding administered by Title VI of the US Department of Defense's National Defense Education Act. The University of Chicago did not form its center until 1965, well after the administration of funding was moved to the US Department of Education by President John F. Kennedy. This area center consistently ranks in the highest tier of those dealing with Middle Eastern studies in the United States according to US Department of Education and external reviews. In the most recent competition for Department of Education's Title VI funds in 2014, the Center was awarded both NRC (National Resource Center) and FLAS (Foreign Language and Area Studies) grants, which support courses, extracurricular programs, educational outreach, and graduate student fellowships.


Garrison (various spellings) (from the French garnison, itself from the verb garnir, "to equip") is the collective term for a body of troops stationed in a particular location, originally to guard it, but now often simply using it as a home base.

The garrison is usually in a city, town, fort, castle, ship or similar. "Garrison town" is a common expression for any town that has a military base nearby.

Gridley, Illinois

Gridley is a village in McLean County, Illinois, United States. The population consisted of 1,432 people at the end of the 2010 census. It is part of the Bloomington–Normal Metropolitan Statistical Area.

Gridley is located on U.S. Route 24 about 7 miles (11 km) east of El Paso. It is also about that distance west of Chenoa. Gridley is about halfway between Interstate 39 and Interstate 55. The village of Gridley was founded in 1869 and named after General Asahel Gridley, a noted early Republican, land investor, political backer and client of Abraham Lincoln, and a descendant of a Colonel Gridley who served at the Battle of Lexington.

Historicity of Muhammad

While the existence of the figure Muhammad is established by contemporaneous or near-contemporaneous historical records, attempts to distinguish between the historical elements and the unhistorical elements of many of the reports of Muhammad have not been very successful. Hence the historicity of Muhammad, aside from his existence, is debated. The earliest Muslim source of information for the life of Muhammad, the Quran, gives very little personal information and its historicity has been questioned. Next in importance is the sīra literature and hadith, which survive in the historical works of writers from the third, and fourth centuries of the Muslim era (c. 800−1000 AD). There are also a relatively small number of contemporaneous or near-contemporaneous non-Muslim sources, which confirm the existence of Muhammad and are valuable both in themselves and for comparison with Muslim sources.

History of the Quran

The history of Quran refers to the oral revelation of the Quran to Islamic prophet Muhammad and its subsequent written compilation into a manuscript. It spans several decades and forms an important part of early Islamic history.

According to Muslim belief and Islamic scholarly accounts, the revelation of the Quran began in 610 C.E. when the angel Gabriel (Arabic: جبريل, Jibrīl or جبرائيل, Jibrāʾīl) appeared to Muhammad in the cave Hira near Mecca, reciting to him the first verses of Sura Iqra (al-`Alaq). Throughout his life, Muhammad continued to have revelations until before his death in 632. The Quran as it is known in the present, was first compiled into book format by Zayd ibn Thabit and other scribes under the third caliph Uthman (r. 644–56). For this reason, the Quran as it exists today is also known as the Uthmanic codex. According to Professor Francis Edward Peters (1927), what was done to the Quran in the process seems to have been extremely conservative and the content was formed in a mechanical fashion to avoid redactional bias.

Ibn Hisham

Abu Muhammad 'Abd al-Malik bin Hisham ibn Ayyub al-Himyari (Arabic: أبو محمد عبدالمالك بن هشام‎), or Ibn Hisham, edited the biography of Islamic prophet Muhammad written by Ibn Ishaq.

In the Shadow of the Sword (book)

In the Shadow of the Sword is a history book charting the origins of Islam. The author, Tom Holland, had previously written two works on ancient history: Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic, which charted the fall of the Roman Republic, and Persian Fire, which is an account of the Greco-Persian Wars during the 5th century BC. According to Holland, "To understand the origins of Islam, and why it evolved in the way that it did, we must explore the empires and religions of late antiquity".In this book, following the research by scholars of Oriental studies such as John Wansbrough and Fred Donner, Holland suggests that Islam, rather than originating in the arid deserts of Arabia, was born further north, "in the borders of Syria-Palestine, a region that had long been devastated by plagues and wars — the usual precursors of apocalyptic scenarios and millennial hopes."While researching the book, Holland found that the oldest extant biography of Mohammed was written nearly two hundred years after he had died, and that scholars were unsure on how much early Islamic history could be considered accurate.

"The challenge with adopting this [historical] approach", says the author, "by looking at Qur'an in its historical context – which in any other field of history would be wholly uncontroversial – is that Muslim accounts of its composition, all of them written long after the lifetime of Muhammad, and often in direct contradiction of the Quran itself, are the only accounts we possess."


The Mhallami or Mhallami Arabs also Mhalmites, (Arabic: محلّمي‎, Mḥallame; Syriac: ܡܚܠܡܝ̈ܐ‎, Mḥallmāye/Mḥallmoye; Turkish: Mıhellemi) is an Assyrian-Arab tribe, most of whom are living in and around the city of Mardin, Turkey. Outside of the region, they are also known as Mardinli. In Germany they are known as Mhallami Arabs from Lebanon.Originating from the Arab tribe of Banu Bakr, their homeland was Najd in central Saudi Arabia, but they were settled by the Umayyad caliph Muawiyah I to that region. They are now primarily speakers of North Mesopotamian Arabic (qiltu variant); in terms of religion they are Sunni Muslims of Shafi`i madh'hab.

Middle East Studies Association of North America

Middle East Studies Association (often referred to as MESA) is a learned society, and according to its website, "a non-profit association that fosters the study of the Middle East, promotes high standards of scholarship and teaching, and encourages public understanding of the region and its peoples through programs, publications and services that enhance education, further intellectual exchange, recognize professional distinction, and defend academic freedom."

Narratives of Islamic Origins

Narratives of Islamic Origins: The Beginnings of Islamic Historical Writing is a 1998 book by historiographer of early Islam Fred Donner. The work was first published in January 1998 through Darwin Press as the fourteenth volume in the Studies in Late Antiquity and Early Islam series and has since gone through three editions.

Patricia Crone

Patricia Crone (March 28, 1945 – July 11, 2015) was a Danish-American author, Orientalist, and historian specializing in early Islamic history. Crone was a member of the Revisionist school of Islamic studies and questioned the historicity of the Islamic traditions about the beginnings of Islam

Prophetic biography

In Islam, Al-sīra al-Nabawiyya (Prophetic biography), Sīrat Rasūl Allāh (Life of the Messenger of God), or just Al-sīra are the traditional Muslim biographies of Muhammad from which, in addition to the Quran and trustable Hadiths, most historical information about his life and the early period of Islam is derived.


The Quraysh (Arabic: قريش‎) were a mercantile Arab tribe that historically inhabited and controlled Mecca and its Ka'aba. The Islamic prophet Muhammad was born into the Banu Hashim clan of the Quraysh tribe. The Quraysh staunchly opposed Muhammad until converting to Islam en masse in 630 AD. Afterward, leadership of the Muslim community traditionally passed to a member of the Quraysh as was the case with the Rashidun, Umayyad, and Abbasid caliphs.

Revisionist school of Islamic studies

The Revisionist school of Islamic studies, (also Historical-Critical school of Islamic studies) is a movement within Islamic studies which started in the 1970s and initiated a paradigm shift in Islamic Studies.

Textual Criticism and Qur’ān Manuscripts

Textual Criticism and Qur’ān Manuscripts is a 2011 book on the textual criticism of the Quran by Keith E. Small, a researcher and lecturer at the Centre for Islamic Studies and Muslim–Christian Relations at the London School of Theology.

The Quest for the Historical Muhammad (Ibn Warraq)

The Quest for the Historical Muhammad (2000), edited by Ibn Warraq, is an anthology of 15 studies examining the origins of Islam and the Qur'an. The contributors argue that traditional Islamic accounts of its history and the origins of the Qur'an are fictitious and based on historical revisionism aimed at forging a religious Arab identity.

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.