View Printable Version :: Email to a Friend
Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam
Book Review
Umer Sarfraz


Book Name: Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam

Author:       Patricia Crone

Publisher:    Princeton University Press

Year:          1987

In her book Meccan Trade And the Rise of Islam, Patricia Crone challenges the prevalent western view, supported mainly by Henri Lammens and Montgomery Watt, of pre-Islamic Mecca being a rich, sophisticated trading center dealing in many high luxury products with great markets and rich merchants, with caravans going to and coming from all corners of the Arabian Peninsula and the rise of Islam being attributed to the genius of the Prophet (sws) in successfully addressing the issues of the Makkan proletariat.

The book is divided into three sections. In the first section of the book Crone discusses the classical spice trade from the time of King Solomon right up to the pre-Islamic periods. She establishes the existence of sea routes and the absence of Makkan traders in the major trade routes of these times.

In the second section, Crone scrutinizes all aspects of Makkan trade. She examines the products traditionally associated with Makkan traders, their active area of export and finally the role of Makkah as a sanctuary. In this section, Crone systematically strips Makkah of all the status granted to it by the traditional sources. Her conclusions reduce the Makkans to local traders trading in low quality products including items such as leather goods instead of high quality end products such as silk. She also examines the role of the Makkan Sanctuary in trade and concludes initially that the Makkan sanctuary had no role in trade and finally the absence of any sanctuary in Makkah.

In the third section, Crone critically examines the traditional sources of Islamic knowledge i.e. Hadīth literature and the Qur’ān at length and reveals the plethora of spurious information generated by both these sources. She concludes by stating the importance of secondary literature in understanding the conditions that prevailed in the pre-Islamic periods. She then offers an alternative theory about the rise of Islam one which involves rejection of Byzantine and Persian penetration in the peninsula.

Chapter 1 (Introduction)

In this chapter, Crone dispels some of the commonly held assumptions about Makkan Trade including their supposed trade in spices and other quality products. She does this by first eradicating the belief that Makkah was in the middle of all the major trading routes of that time:

Only by the most tortured map reading can it [Makkah] be described as a natural crossroad between a north-south route and an east-west one.1

She also establishes Makkah as being “off the beaten track” when it came to the route of the trade caravans and Ta’if being a more appropriate choice for the caravans.

Makkah’s role in the transit trade between India and the Greco-roman world is also disputed on the basis of it being a sea route from its very beginning.

Chapter 2 (The Classical Spice Trade)

This chapter is divided into two sections. In the first section, Crone describes the trade of spices such as frankincense from the peninsula and how the land route eventually became obsolete. By the time the Makkans come into context, there is nothing for them to take over in terms of either a land route or a market for the spices.

In the second part, she discusses the role of the land routes in the transit trade between India and the West. She claims the absence of any overland trade routes which were used in the transit trade. Crone believes the reason why the land route is said to have been used for transportation of transit goods is to create an explanation for the commercial success for Makkah. This chapter raises the important question about the rise of Makkah as a financial power and its establishment as the center of a vast and sophisticated trade network.

Chapter 3 (Makkan Spice Trade)

In this chapter, Crone refutes Lammens claim of the Makkans trading in frankincense. Throughout the chapter she discusses, at length, the various spices and the luxury goods the Makkans are traditionally accepted to have traded in. These include: Myrrh, Ladanum, Cancamum, etc. among the spices and silk and perfumes among the luxury goods. She establishes how all of them came to be exported for sources generally outside Arabia and particularly outside Makkah which leaves nothing but low end consumer goods for the Quraysh to have traded in.

Chapter 4 (What did the Makkans Export?)

In this chapter, Crone defines the commodities that the Makkans traded in. The methodology adopted by Crone in this section of the book is “minimal source critism” i.e. accepting tradition at face value and analyzing it for discrepancies.

In this chapter, Makkan links to silver, gold, perfume, leather, clothing, animals, misc. foodstuffs, raisins, wine, slaves and other items are discussed.

Of all the goods mentioned above, Crone only accepts the Makkans to have traded inperfume, leather, clothing and perhaps animals including camels and donkeys and some other food stuff. However, she maintains that the Makkans did not have a monopoly over any of these goods. She also claims that these goods were of cheap quality.

Another thing apparent in the chapter is Crones mistrust of the traditional sources. To her, most of the tradition is nothing but a collection of stories and hence should not be trusted when it comes to gathering facts about the conditions that prevailed in Makkah at the advent of Islam. 2

Chapter 5 (Where were the Makkans Active?)

After having described the goods that the Makkans traded in, Crone proceeds to define the extent of their trading routes. She starts by accepting, but solely on the basis of tradition, that the Makkans traded mainly in Syria, Yemen, Ethiopia and Iraq and then looks at each trading route in grater detail.

By the end of the chapter, Crone establishes Makkans to have traded with “Syria and its Egyptian Neighborhood”3 . The trade with Yemen is confined to the region of Najrān and from there on to Ethiopia. Regular trade with Iraq however is rejected.

In this chapter, Crone also reveals some discrepancies in the tradition. She does this by citing sources which in her own words “asserts both A and not A”4.

An important question raised in this chapter is the need for the Quraysh to trade, given that they were the guardians of a religious temple which warranted “a living by assiduous dispensation of religious services”.5

Chapter 6 (What Makkan Trade Was Not)

Having established that Makkan trade:

…was not a transit trade. Second, it was not a trade of the kind that attracted the attention of the inhabitants of the fertile crescent. Third, it was not a trade that presupposed control of any trade routes in Arabia.6

In this chapter, Crone further examines the Makkan trade routes and their dominance on these routes. She first examines the traditional claim of the Makkans having dealt extensively within the “Byzantium and the Byzantine sphere of influence”7. She claims that had this been the case, there would have been a mention of the Quraysh or at the least Makkah in the literature of their clients. She takes this lack of mention to be a sure sign of the absence of Makkans in the majority of areas traditionally claimed. She also refutes some of the claims made about Makkah’s mention in extra-Arabian literature on the basis of language and geography. This “silence of the sources”8 to Crone means two things:


1.The Makkans did not trade outside Arabia and

2.If the Quraysh were traders, their commercial activities were of a kind conducted in this area since time immemorial.9


For Makkan trade on the whole, Crone believes that they never dominated or monopolized any trading route on the whole.  Of the individual trade routes i.e. Makkah-Syria, Yemen-Makkah, Ethiopia-Makkah and Makkah-Iraq, Crone concedes only the Makkan dominance in the export of leather on the Makka-Syria route. For all the other commodities on all the other routes, Crone firmly refutes any Makkan dominance or monopoly.

Chapter 7 (What Makkan Trade May Have Been)

After having established the extent and the non-dominance of the Quraysh on the traditional trading routes, in this chapter Crone tries to examine the true nature of the Makkan Trade. Of Makkan trade on the whole, Crone claims:

Makkan trade was a local trade in the sense that the commodities sold were of Arabian origin and destined for consumption in Arabia itself or immediately outside it.10

Makkan trade is pictured as an exchange of pastoralist products with settled agriculturist products and as a trade that was generated totally by the Arab needs. Crone also examines the dominance of the Quraysh firstly in Arabia and secondly at the pilgrim fairs held regularly. Once again, this dominance cannot be proved, neither disproved by the sources. She then tries out different hypothesis on the nature of Makkan trade and the Quraysh itself. All these hypothesis “de-link” the Quraysh from Makkah and establish them elsewhere in Arabia. Makkah is then seen to be either a place of recruitment, or of organization but not as a trade center. This, however, leads to a complete refutation of the traditional account of the surrender of Makkah. It also leads to further intriguing questions about the very fundamental aspects of Prophet’s life such as:

Where was Muhammad active before the hijrah, and which was the city that he forced to surrender or conquered by force? Where was the sanctuary?11

Chapter 8 (The Sanctuary and Makkan Trade)

In this chapter, Crone explores the link between Makkah’s status as a sanctuary and Makkan trade. Based on the possibility of the Quraysh being traders even before their occupation of Makkah, Crone argues that the sacred status of the city had nothing to do with the trade status of the city. On the basis of tradition, Crone argues that the pilgrimage at Makkah was not a pilgrim fair and further more no trade was conducted during the days of the pilgrimage. Crone also exploits the differences in the tradition and the secondary literature to show that in the pre-Islamic times Makkah was not an object of pilgrimage. She also links Quraysh’s trade with the other sanctuaries in the area and labels the haram of Makkah to be redundant as far as the rise of Makkan trade is concerned. Crone concludes by showing how most of the tradition propositions regarding Makkan and Makkan trade seem more viable if the location of the Quraysh is shifted from Makkah to northwest Arabia. However, when the current location is considered all the problems outlined in this section of her book become apparent.

Chapter 9 (The Sources)

In this chapter, Crone evaluates the sources of Islamic Knowledge i.e. the Qur’ān and the Hadīth and in terms of their historical value. According to her the Qur’ān cannot be understood without the exegetical literature. Of the exegetical literature, she points out the differences between different exegetes and how based on tradition, the Qur’ān itself generates spurious information most of which is false.

Once again, she accuses Islamic tradition of being nothing but stories and outlines three major ways in which their stories are manifest in the sources of tradition.


1.     The tradition gives contradictory information on many occasions.

2.     Many accounts are merely variations of a single theme.

3.     There has been a steady growth of information regarding the rise of Islam most of which is false.


Through out the rest of the chapter she outlines, through examples, how the above three points have contributed greatly to generating a lot of false information in the tradition and concludes by linking this problem to the “mode of origin of the tradition”12 and the necessity of secondary literature in “reconstituting the original shapes of this early period13.”

Chapter 10 (The Rise of Islam)

In the final chapter of the book, Crone gives her idea for the rise of Islam, linking it to Muhammad’s genius in rallying the various tribes of Arabia in the face of a common enemy: the Byzantine and the Persians and giving their nomadic practices and their lifestyle a religious force validated by the ultimate authority of God.



1. Crone, Patricia, Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1987), 6.

2. Ibid, 91.

3. Ibid, 132.

4. Ibid, 111.

5. Ibid, 113.

6. Ibid, 133.

7. Ibid, 134.

8. Ibid, 137.

9. Ibid, 138.

10. Ibid, 149.

11. Ibid, 166.

12. Ibid, 230.

13. Ibid, 230.


For Questions on Islam, please use our

Replica Handbags Bottega Veneta fake Bvlgari fake Celine fake Christian Dior fake Gucci fake Gucci Bag fake Gucci Wallet fake Gucci Shoes fake Gucci Belt fake Hermes fake Loewe fake Louis Vuitton fake Louis Vuitton Belt fake Louis Vuitton Calf Leather fake Louis Vuitton Damier Azur Canvas fake Louis Vuitton Damier Ebene Canvas fake Louis Vuitton Damier Graphite Canvas fake Louis Vuitton Damier Infini Leather fake Louis Vuitton Damier Quilt lamb fake Louis Vuitton Embossed Calfskin fake Louis Vuitton Epi fake Louis Vuitton Game On Monogram Canvas fake Louis Vuitton Jewellery fake Louis Vuitton Key Holder fake Louis Vuitton Mahina Leather fake Louis Vuitton Monogram Canvas fake Louis Vuitton Monogram Denim fake Louis Vuitton Monogram Eclipse Canvas fake Louis Vuitton Monogram Empreinte fake Louis Vuitton Monogram Seal fake Louis Vuitton Monogram Shadow fake Louis Vuitton Monogram Vernis fake Louis Vuitton Monogram Watercolor fake Louis Vuitton New Wave fake Louis Vuitton Shoes fake Louis Vuitton Since 1854 fake Louis Vuitton Strap fake Louis Vuitton Taiga Leahter fake Louis Vuitton Taurillon leather fake Louis Vuitton Transformed Game On canvas fake Louis Vuitton Utah Calfskin fake Louis Vuitton X Supreme fake Mulberry fake Prada fake YSL fake