Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS


FOI — Result In Brief

Project ID: 209801
Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Country: Netherlands

Islam’s early beginnings

Old papyri in different languages have revealed a much more accurate and more sophisticated account of Islam’s rise and first wave of conquests.
Islam’s early beginnings
Egypt represents a very interesting case study of how Muslim rule took hold in the region following the Arab conquest of the 7th century. The best sources of information on the topic come from Arabic, Coptic and Greek papyri found in the country, centuries before the invention of paper. FOI (The formation of Islam: The view from below) was an EU-funded project that shed new light on the history of the first two centuries of Islam in Egypt.

The project examined the impact on the daily life under the new regime, how the Arabs ran society, and what changes the new rulers bought, including to administration, organisation, language and culture. FOI also pointed out Near Eastern and Arabian influences that shaped Egyptian life and society.

Traditionally, researchers of Islam have relied on texts written around 150 years after the religion’s social and institutional framework developed, compromising the validity of the data. In addition, the large amount of unpublished and uncatalogued papyri in different languages had discouraged historians from delving into them.

This project overcame these limitations by studying and helping to preserve thousands of papyrus texts that contain detailed data on everyday life. It took stock of the unedited papyri, built a compilation of the most significant ones, and articulated a historical analysis both online and in print. The website, which is open to the public, contains databases of selected documents, technical terms and relevant bibliography.

Through these efforts, the project team underlined novel ideas pertaining to Islamic society and its positive impact on the various cultures it superseded. In addition, FOI provided valuable insight on the extent, character and ambition of Muslim state competence during the period in question.

The work accomplished by the project has been acknowledged globally, demystifying the pivotally important formative era of Islam while redressing inaccuracies and inconsistencies in accepted historic narratives.

Today the world is plagued by common misconceptions from all sides of the religious spectrum about Islam as a system. Such work will no doubt be useful in highlighting the functional, practical and organised society that Islam represented in its early years, contributing to fostering understanding and building bridges.

Related information


Islam, papyri, Egypt, Arabian, Muslim
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