The Perils and Joys of writing on the Arabs before Islam

For a political scientist, the contradictory themes surrounding the Arabs and their region before the coming of Islam often seem strange and incomprehensible. Although there are no major barriers posed by rivers or mountain ranges, numerous civilizations are identified in the region each with their own language. As such, there is little opportunity for an Arab identity to emerge among those groups, despite the fact the Arabs themselves, as well as the Romans, seemingly had no problem identifying "Arabs". Some discussions on the theme have revealed a hesitancy in delineating the Arab language and script before the 5th century, rendering the appearance of the Qur’an mysterious. The majority of Arabs in the Roman East were Christians by this same period, and some still believe that monotheistic informants of the prophet need to be identified. Once these contradictions are unraveled a fascinating longue durée of events can emerge, which provides a common historical space between the East and the West, with religious ideas flowing from the periphery to the center. This talk will explore the process of dealing with these and other contradictions by adding a political and sociological lens to this stretch of history which focuses on the disappearance of the Arabs from history before Islam, their sudden appearance behind the banners of the Prophet, and the powerful and traumatic effect this emergence into world history has had on the relationship between the Arabs and the West.

The Author's Voice lecture series is hosted by: Sabine Schmidtke (School of Historical Studies, IAS) and George A. Kiraz (School of Historical Studies, IAS and Editor-in-Chief, Gorgias Press) in cooperation with Angelos Chaniotis (School of Historical Studies, IAS).

For more information, please contact




Ayad Al-Ani


Professor for Change Management and Consulting, Associate Member of the Einstein Centre Digital Future, Berlin, and Professor extraordinary at the School of Public Leadership, Stellenbosch University