EL 234 The Life of Muhammad and his Christian Contemporaries

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Module Level


Time Allowance

1 lecture per week for 12 weeks


Evaluation is undertaken through the submission of an essay which should demonstrate familiarity with the literature, independent thought and critical analysis

Module Aims

The purpose of this course is to introduce the student to some of the Christians personalities who were Muhammad’s contemporaries. These Christians were quite well disposed to Muhammad and he to them. Some, like the Syrian monk Bahira, saw Muhammad as the long awaited prophet sent to the Arabs. For others, like the Christian king of Abyssinia, Muhammad was a friend, a religious reformer and political leader who united Arabia.

The Qur’an was revealed to mankind throughout the lifetime of Muhammad. Many of the verses in the Qur’an were revealed following formal meetings and monumental events, but the Qur’an was also revealed through normal everyday events that included interactions with Christians. An appreciation of the life of Muhammad therefore, provides a context and assists with the understanding of the meaning and import of any particular verse of the Qur’an. An appreciation of Muhammad’s relationship with his Christian contemporaries is critical to understanding the possibilities of living faithfully, in a spirit of mutual respect and harmony. When one sees the possibilities of coexistence practised during Muhammad’s lifetime, one can begin to envision possibilities today for greater dialogue and social cooperation.

Learning Outcomes

  • Be aware of the major Christian personalities who were contemporaries of Muhammad.
  • Understand the importance of the Life of Muhammad on the development of Islam and understanding of the Qur’an.
  • Analyse and discuss the varying paradigms of relationships between Christians and Muslims on the Arab Peninsula and surrounds at the dawn of Islam.
  • Understand and discuss the significance of the Qur’anic appellation The People of the Book.


  • Richard Lawrence Kimball, The People of the Book, Ahl Al-Kitāb: A Comparative Theological Exploration. Studies in Theology, Society and Culture vol 14 (Oxford: Peter Lang 2019).
  • Sidney H. Griffith, The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque, (Princeton University Press, 2008).
  • Martin Lings, Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources, (Inner Traditions 2006).
  • J. Spencer Trimingham, Christianity Among the Arabs in Pre-Islamic Times, Arab Background Series (Libraire du Liban 1990).