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The First Islamic Empire - Semester 2 - HIS00186H

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Harry Munt
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2024-25
    • See module specification for other years: 2023-24

Module summary

Over the century following the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632, Muslims built an empire that spanned from the Atlantic Ocean to Central Asia. In this Special Subject, we will study the emergence of this empire over the seventh century, its new and evolving ideological foundations, and the social and political changes that came about as a result. The Mediterranean and Middle Eastern world into which the Muslim community emerged had long-standing traditions of empire and had for centuries been dominated by two great superpowers, the Romans and the Persians. As Muslim armies conquered these two cosmopolitan empires, they encountered a range of communities with varying ideas about government, God and communal identity. In this Special Subject, we will investigate the processes through which the early Muslim community—which remained a minority of the population across the empire—adopted and adapted these ideas over the seventh century to transform the political culture and society of the Middle East.

This Special Subject will approach the history of the formation of the first Islamic empire through seminar topics grouped around four main themes: prophecy and conquest in Semester 1, government and community in Semester 2. We will study these themes through analysis of primary sources ranging from surviving documents to grand narratives of universal history, written by members of the region’s diverse religious and linguistic communities. Through these sources, we will see that the seventh century in the Middle East witnessed a dynamic period of empire and community formation, a process of transformation to which Christians, Jews and Muslims all contributed.

Related modules

Students taking this module must also take the first part in Semester 1.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2024-25

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To introduce students to in depth study of a specific historical topic using primary and secondary material;
  • To enable students to explore the topic through discussion and writing; and
  • To enable students to evaluate and analyse primary sources.

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Grasp key themes, issues and debates relevant to the topic being studied;
  • Have acquired knowledge and understanding about that topic;
  • Be able to comment on and analyse original sources;
  • Be able to relate the primary and secondary material to one another; and
  • Have acquired skills and confidence in close reading and discussion of texts and debates.

Module content

Students will attend a 3-hour seminar in weeks 2-4, 6-8 and 10-11 of semester 2. Weeks 5 & 9 are Reading and Writing Weeks (RAW). Students prepare for and participate in eight three-hour seminars in all. A one-to-one meeting between tutor and students will also be held to discuss assessments.

Seminar topics are subject to variation, but are likely to include the following:

  1. Establishing government in the conquered territories
  2. The centralisation of power and authority in the late 7th century
  3. A view from the provinces I: Egypt
  4. A view from the provinces II: northern Mesopotamia
  5. A ‘Community of Believers’?
  6. Arabisation
  7. Islamisation
  8. The caliphs: God’s deputies on earth?


Task Length % of module mark
4,000 word essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

For formative assessment, students submit an essay draft of 2000-words.

For summative assessment, students complete a 4000-word essay relating to the themes and issues of the module. This comprises 100% of the overall module mark. Summative assessments will be due in the assessment period.


Task Length % of module mark
4,000 word essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

Following their formative assessment task, students will receive a one-to-one meeting with the tutor to discuss the essay and their plans for the assessed essay.

Work will be returned to students with written comments in their tutorial and may be supplemented by the tutor giving some oral feedback to the whole group. All students are encouraged, if they wish, to make use of their tutor’s student hours. For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

For summative assessment tasks, students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback within 25 working days of the submission deadline. For more information, see the Statement of Assessment.

Indicative reading

For semester time reading, please refer to the module VLE site. Before the course starts, we encourage you to look at the following items of preliminary reading:

  • Averil Cameron, The Mediterranean World in Late Antiquity: 395–700 AD (2nd edition. London: Routledge, 2012).
  • Fred M. Donner, Muhammad and the Believers at the Origins of Islam (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010).
  • Robert G. Hoyland, In God’s Path: The Arab Conquests and the Creation of an Islamic Empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015).

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.