Merchant Capital and Islam

[ Middle Eastern Studies ]

Merchant Capital and Islam

By Mahmood Ibrahim

Through a rereading of original Arabic sources and drawing from modern scholarship on the subject, Ibrahim offers a new interpretation of the rise of Islam.



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6 x 9 | 256 pp.

ISBN: 978-0-292-74118-8

The rise of merchant capital in Mecca conditioned the development of Meccan social, economic, religious, and political structure. Mahmood Ibrahim traces the roots of capitalism from the emergence of merchants as the main force in Mecca through the first civil war in Islam (656–661). Through a rereading of original Arabic sources and drawing from modern scholarship on the subject, Ibrahim offers a new interpretation of the rise of Islam.

He argues that Islam contributed certain institutional beliefs and practices that unblocked obstacles and helped merchants gain political and economic hegemony over western Asia. Ibrahim contends that, with the conquest of Mecca, the newly formed Muslim state spread its control to the rest of Arabia, which mobilized a significant social force and allowed for further expansion outside Arabia, thus extending merchant control to include new surplus-producing regions, a vast network of trade routes, and wider markets.
This extensively researched study offers a new interpretation of the history of Islam, including the formation of Islamic society and the unfolding of the first civil war. In offering a better understanding of the Umayyad Caliphate that ruled Islam for a century to come, Ibrahim helps lay the groundwork for understanding the Middle East as it is today.
Of interest to scholars of Middle Eastern studies, this important work will be necessary reading for students of Near Eastern and North African history, as well as students of the history of Medieval Europe.


1. Pre-Islamic Arabia
The Period of Antiquity (to A.D. 300)
The Second Himyarite State (A.D. 300–600)
The Decline of Himyar
The Lakhmids of Hira

2. The Development of Merchant Capital in Mecca
The Genesis
The Development
The Rise of Mecca’s Power
Culture as Ideology

3. Merchant Capital and Mecca’s Internal Development
Social and Economic Differentiation
Factional Conflict and the Rise of the Banu Umayya
Consolidation of the Position of the Banu Umayya

4. Merchant Capital and the Rise of Islam
The Institutional Environment of Islam
Muhammad in Mecca
Muhammad in Medina
The Winning of Mecca and Arabia

5. Islamic Expansion and the Establishment of the Islamic State
The Consolidation of Arabia: The Ridda War

6. The Emergence of the New Segment
Distribution of Wealth
The Shura and the Seeds of the Fitna
ʿUthman’s Caliphate
Growth of the Opposition
Open Revolt

7. The Civil War and the Struggle for Power
The Election of ʿAli
The Revolt of Talha and Zubair
Muʿawiya’s Strategy
The Tahkim
The Internal Conquest: The Return of the Traditional Segment

The Umayyad Caliphate
Islam, Capitalism, or Feudalism


Mahmood Ibrahim is Professor and Chair of History at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.