I wrote an essay prompt (one of four, but explicitly offering a direction to help develop a thesis rather than a question to be answered):

What are some of the key elements and themes that characterized the Islamic World? How did societies within the Islamic World differ from each other?

I got some theses (two of twenty-four) that went like this:

The characteristics of Islam are monotheism, intolerance towards opposing religions, strict rules for women and perceived male superiority, a belief in the all knowing and all powerful nature of God, and if it is in the name of God, to fight and die is the greatest honor and privilege.

Similarly, the titles were things like “The Characteristics of Islam”.

I responded:

Describing the main characteristics of Islam does not make a historical argument—it’s just a summary of what was. The prompt said “What are some of the key elements and themes that characterized the Islamic World?” Note, the Islamic World, not Islam. To look at the impact that the main facets of Islam had on Islamic societies at the time, to discuss the rise of syncretism, write about the connections created by the spread of Islam, etc, these things are all making historical arguments.

Here’s an example of a very similar introduction that does make historical arguments:

Islam provided a basis for all people to prosper towards a better life and a more morally just lifestyle. Furthermore, it encouraged goodwill and tolerance towards humanity. The Islamic faith included key components for a wholesome life conveyed through combined state and religion, established the status of women, provided a means to spread itself, and extended effects on people that did not fully embrace the faith.

Note that Islam is doing things, not just existing. This essay is going to use similar evidence to yours, but do much more with it.

Am I on solid ground here? Is the difference between the two just cosmetic, or does the second one really show an understanding of cause and effect and require the student to bring in a wider range of evidence rather than just distilling the excerpts from the Koran and Hadith?

Incidentally, no matter how well written or organized, a paper without a historical argument gets some type of C, so it matters.

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