Unmasking Muhammad’s Dubious Existence (FrontPageMagazine.com) by Fjordman 05/02/12)
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Author Robert Spencer, founder of the major website Jihad Watch,
recently published a book with the provocative title Did Muhammad
Exist?: An Inquiry into Islam’s Obscure Origins.
The foreword was written by the eminent scholar Johannes J. G. (Hans)
Jansen, an Arabist and a Professor of Modern Islamic Thought at the
University of Utrecht in the Netherlands until his retirement in
2008. Among his other accomplishments, he has translated the Koran
into Dutch. Jansen points out that what sparse information and
physical evidence we do have does not seem to confirm the traditional
Islamic accounts of the sixth and seventh centuries.
In fact, archaeological findings contradict the traditional picture.
Only further archaeological work in present-day Arabia and Greater
Syria can shed more light on these issues. In Saudi Arabia, such
excavations are forbidden, and Wahhabi hardliners have actively
destroyed some sites. Furthermore, the religious authorities not be
interested in bringing to light findings that might contradict their
religious views or undermine Saudi Arabia’s central status in Islam.
As Jansen states, “An Iraqi scholar, Ibn Ishaq (c. 760), wrote a book
that is the basis of all biographies of Muhammad. No biographical
sketches of Muhammad exist that do not depend on Ibn Ishaq. If an
analysis of Ibn Ishaq’s book establishes that for whatever reason it
cannot be seen as an historical source, all knowledge we possess
about Muhammad evaporates. When Ibn Ishaq’s much-quoted and popular
book turns out to be nothing but pious fiction, we will have to
accept that it is not likely we will ever discover the truth about
Moreover, a fully developed Arabic script did not yet exist at the
time when the Koran was supposedly collected for the first time,
which further introduces substantial sources of error. The Koran
itself was probably far less stable and collected much later than
Finally, the hadith collections which elaborate upon the personal
example of Muhammad were developed many generations after the alleged
events of his life had taken place, and are considered partially
unreliable even by Muslims. It is likely that a great deal of this
material was fabricated outright in a process of political and
cultural struggle long after the first conquests.
Spencer does not claim to be an original scholar in these matters,
but credits such individuals as Ignaz Goldziher, Theodor Nöldeke,
Arthur Jeffery, Henri Lammens, Alphonse Mingana, Joseph Schacht,
Aloys Sprenger and Julius Wellhausen, as well as more recent
researchers such as Suliman Bashear, Patricia Crone, Volker Popp,
Yehuda Nevo, Michael Cook, Ibn Warraq, Judith Koren, Ibn Rawandi,
Günter Lüling, David S. Powers and John Wansbrough.
Several contemporary critical scholars — Christoph Luxenberg, for
example — have been forced to write under pseudonyms due to
persistent threats against their lives. This virtually never happened
to scholars in Christian Europe who critically examined the Bible or
the historical Jesus during the nineteenth century, but it happens
frequently to those who question Islam and its traditions.
One might suspect that the main reason why many Muslims often tend to
react with extreme aggression against anyone questioning their
religion is because it was originally built on shaky foundations and
could collapse if it is subjected to closer scrutiny.
Non-Muslim chroniclers writing at the time of the early Arabian
conquests made no mention of the Koran, Islam or Muslims, and scant
mention of Muhammad. The Arab conquerors themselves didn’t refer to
the Koran during the first decades, quite possibly because it did not
then exist in a recognizable form.
Islamic apologists love to talk about the supposedly tolerant nature
of these conquests. Yet as historian Emmet Scott has demonstrated in
his well-researched book Mohammed and Charlemagne Revisited, the
archaeological evidence clearly indicates that the Arab conquests
caused great devastation to the conquered regions. Furthermore, we
must consider the possibility that Islam as we know it simply did not
exist at the time of the initial conquests.
Modern scholars like Patricia Crone have questioned whether Mecca as
an important trading city and center of pilgrimage truly existed by
the year 600, as Islamic sources claim. Its location makes no sense
if it was supposed to be located on the trade routes between the
Indian Ocean and Mediterranean Europe. No non-Muslim historian
mentions it in any accounts of trade from the sixth or seventh
centuries. Given the centrality of Mecca in traditional history, this
casts the entire canonical story of the origins of Islam into doubt.
The Koran claims to be written in clear Arabic, but even educated
Arabs find parts of it hard to understand. The German philologist
Gerd R. Puin, whose pioneering work is quoted by Ibn Warraq in What
the Koran Really Says, states that up to a fifth of it is just
Perhaps one of the reasons why the Koran stresses its Arabic nature
may be, ironically, that portions of it were not originally written
in Arabic at all, but in related Semitic languages.
Christoph Luxenberg has suggested that some sections of it were
originally written in Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic that had long been
used as a literary language in much of the Middle East and the
Fertile Crescent. He demonstrates convincingly that certain puzzling
Koranic verses make more sense if you read them in Syriac. The
virgins that brave Muslim men are supposed to enjoy in Paradise
(Koran 44:51-57, 52:17-24, 56:27-40) may not be virgins at all, but
rather white raisins, or perhaps grapes. Yes, fruit.
It’s possible that some of these Christian Syriac texts were written
by a heretical group that rejected the Trinity of mainstream
Christianity. It’s certainly true that a few Koranic chapters as we
know them are somewhat more tolerant than others, but if we believe
this non-traditional reading of history, some of them were based on
pre-existing Jewish or Christian texts.
In the final section of the book, Spencer sums up the findings to
date. He suggests that Muhammad may have existed as a semi-legendary
figure, comparable to Robin Hood, King Arthur or William Tell, whose
exploits were greatly elaborated upon by later generations. Yet the
traditional account of him as Islam’s founder is riddled with gaps
The Arab conquerors may have known some vague monotheism partly
inspired by Christians and Jews, but in the generations and centuries
after the conquests they abandoned this and developed a more militant
creed that came to function as a vehicle for Arab nationalism and
imperialism. Perhaps the conquests shaped Islam more than Islam
shaped the conquests.
But if someone more or less invented Muhammad, wouldn’t they want to
invent a more sympathetic character than the very ruthless and brutal
man we see emerge from the traditional accounts? Possibly yes, but as
Spencer comments, the Arabs of this age may have thought that such a
ruthless character was an inspiration for conquest and empire-
It’s open to serious debate whether Muhammad ever existed, but I lean
towards concluding that he did, at least in the vague sense of a
militant Arab leader who helped unify different tribes and redirect
their tribal energy outwards towards the goal of external conquest.
This would not be substantially different from the way Genghis Khan
managed to unify squabbling Mongolian tribes into a viable Mongol
nation capable of conquering a vast empire.
The major difference is, of course, that a new religion was not built
around the personality of Genghis Khan. Perhaps we should be grateful
for that. Otherwise, the largest voting block at the United Nations
might now have been the Organisation of Mongolian Cooperation, and
the BBC and the New York Times would warn us against the dangers of
Robert Spencer possesses a special talent for presenting complex
issues in a way that is accessible and understandable to an educated
mainstream audience. His latest work is no exception. Did Muhammad
Exist? is a competent and readable introduction to some of the most
vexing riddles regarding the true birth of the creed we now know as
Islam. (Copyright © 2012 FrontPageMagazine.com 05/02/12)
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