Hussein Rashid is "a native New Yorker and Proud Muslim" who is "currently an instructor at the Center for Spiritual Inquiry at Park Avenue Christian Church and based at Hofstra University." His bio tag also says he "believes we need to start talking more intelligently about Islam specifically, and religion generally." Apparently, however, he thinks he can talk intelligently about my new book, Did Muhammad Exist?, without having read it: the press release was enough for this careful analyst who is "deeply committed to interfaith dialogue."
"New Spencer Book Denies Existence of Muhammad," by Hussein Rashid for Religion Dispatches, April 12 (thanks to David):
Robert Spencer, professional Islamophobe, has a new book coming out in which he attempts to show the historical problems with the historical record of Muhammad and Muslims. Unfortunately, the Islamophobia industry will likely get the book wide exposure.
Hussein Rashid also apparently believes that intelligent talk about Islam involves retailing the crude and manipulative Muslim Brotherhood coinage "Islamophobia," which was invented in order to intimidate non-Muslims into believing there was something wrong with resisting jihad and Islamic supremacism. Of course, no one is allowed to ask how much more of the stated Muslim Brotherhood agenda of "eliminating and destroying Western civilization from within" he is advancing through his "interfaith work," to which he is so "deeply committed."
A press release about the book, lays out several "questions" about Muhammad and the origins of Islam. I show below why the book is really a "so what" rather than a "oh wow."
Rashid thus semaphores: "Please, please don't read this book." After all, if it really were such a "so what," why did he bother devoting a column to it? Why is he so afraid of this book?
How the earliest biographical material about Muhammad dates from at least 125 years after his reported death.
Yep. Any decent historian or scholar of religion will tell you this. It’s like asking why earliest biographical material* about Jesus dates from at least two generation after his life. Welcome to the wonderful world of pre-modern history. Literacy is not such a big deal. A good resource for learning about this is Monty Python’s “Holy Grail.” It’s probably a more accurate portrayal of Medieval English history than anything Spencer concocts.
It is indeed "like" asking about the dates of the earliest biographical material about Jesus -- an endeavor on which scholars in the West have been working for several centuries. Why can't the same questions be asked about Islam? Why is only Islam exempt from historical-critical scrutiny?
And Rashid's airy dismissal of this 125-year gap -- "Literacy is not such a big deal" in "pre-modern history" -- assumes that oral transmission even for such long periods was entirely reliable, or that variations, discrepancies, and alterations that may have arisen within this period are unimportant. Yet that is by no means a given, for a variety of reasons. Certainly in oral cultures people's memories were trained to be more capacious and precise than they are today. However, no responsible historian would assume the reliability of material passed on exclusively by oral transmission even for two or three generations, to say nothing of 125 years, in any other context. The material may indeed be reliable, but that can only be determined by examining other factors. Here again, why should Muhammad and islam be exempt from such examination?
How six decades passed before the Arabian conquerors—or the people they conquered—even mentioned Muhammad, the Qur’an, or Islam.
Seems like an odd claim, since there's a whole academic sub-speciality that deals with non-Muslim accounts of the early Muslim period. Perhaps one of the most important of these works is written by St. John of Damascus, who writes about how his family served the Muslim empire from within 20 years of Muhammad's death. He uses the term "Ishmaelites" as opposed to "Muslim," so perhaps that is Spencer's technically correct claim, but St. John is clearly writing about Muslims.
Oddest sentence of an odd non-review of a book the reviewer has not read: "Seems like an odd claim, since there's a whole academic sub-speciality that deals with non-Muslim accounts of the early Muslim period." Well, yeah. That's what I examined: the non-Muslim accounts of the early Muslim period. And for 60 years after Muhammad's accepted death date, they never mention Muhammad, Qur'an, or Islam: a most curious and telling omission.
Also, I discuss what St. John of Damascus writes at some length in the book. The way he writes about the revelations Muhammad received strongly suggests that he did not know of the Qur'an as a single book at the time he was writing, which was in the first quarter of the eighth century, not "within 20 years of Muhammad's death" in 632. St. John was born in 675, according to most scholars, and it is not in the least assured that he was "clearly writing about Muslims" when he spoke of "Ishmaelites." That is precisely what is at issue; Rashid should provide evidence for his flat assertion, but he will have a tough time doing so.
The startling evidence that the Qur’an was constructed from existing materials—including pre-Islamic Christian texts.
Yup. The Qur’an says it is talking about and with earlier revelation, which it considers itself part of. In fact, the Qur'an even footnotes the Talmud (5:35). Amazingly, for scholars of other Abrahamic scriptures, they point to these scriptures borrowing from earlier sources, whether Gilgamesh or Mithra.
The Qur'an does say it is confirming earlier revelations, specifically the Torah and Gospel. That is not the same, however, as its being constructed from existing materials, which would flatly contradict the standard Islamic view that it is a perfect copy of a perfect and eternal book that existed forever with Allah. Nor does the Qur'an "footnote" the Talmud, at 5:35 or anywhere else. In 5:32, it appropriates a Talmudic dictum about how killing one person is like killing the whole world -- but it doesn't credit its source or acknowledge that it is using any source at all.
How even Muslim scholars acknowledge that countless reports of Muhammad’s deeds were fabricated.
Yup. It's part of the science of hadith collection. The Muslims who collected sayings of Muhammad knew that people were making things up and created checks and the best methodology that they could at the time to stop it. Modern scholars are revisiting the existing corpus with new tools and methods.
Quite so. And they've discovered that the "checks and best methodology" that were used to "stop" fabrication of hadiths are actually worthless from a historical standpoint, as are the hadith reports in general. It's all explained in the book, but of course Rashid couldn't be bothered to read it!
Why a famous mosque inscription may refer not to Muhammad but, astonishingly, to Jesus.
Stumped by this one. No idea what it refers to.
There's a hazard of reviewing a book you haven't read, Rashid. Find the answer in the book -- I'll send you a copy gratis. Email me at director[at]jihadwatch.org.
How the oldest records referring to a man named Muhammad bear little resemblance to the now-standard Islamic account of the life of the prophet.
But, but earlier Spencer says we don't have any early proof of Muhammad's existence. Which is it? Anyway, if you read the Gnostic Gospels** and look at the Gospels, there are very different versions of the life of Jesus. Talmudic stories are also very different from Torah studies. Is it really a surprise that people take stories and make them mean things to themselves?
We have early mentions of a man named Muhammad but he is nothing like the prophet of Islam. The point here is that as these are the earliest records, they pose a certain challenge to the canonical Islamic account.
The many indications that Arabian leaders fashioned Islam for political reasons.
Duh. Constantine, David, Solomon, etc.. Welcome to the wonderful world of reality.
This is just a silly tu quoque that does nothing to speak to the issue.
What Spencer’s press release shows is that he is divorced from the academic field that he uses for his legitimacy.
What academic field is that? Academia today is a one-party state in which intellectual conformity is ruthlessly enforced and free thought actively discouraged. I have no part in it and want no part in it. The only genuine study of Islam today is going on mostly outside the academy, which has no legitimacy to confer except the spurious legitimacy it gives to Islamic apologists and propagandists.
These are not new or provocative questions. They are the bread and butter of the field. There are truly challenging books that come out of the academia, including Steven Wasserstrom's Between Muslim and Jew and Fred Donner's Muhammad and the Believers, a recent book that deals with many of the questions Spencer raises, but that actually engages with primary material and that has been challenged by other experts in the field.
Does Rashid actually have any idea whether or not, or to what extent, I engage with primary material? Of course not: he hasn't read the book.
My fear is that the new Islamphobic strategy is to simply edit solid scholarship like Donner's into fear-mongering drivel and repackage it as their own. It's the problem when you want money over truth or knowledge. And it works because Spencer is banking on the fact that his audience won't apply the same questions he asks to their own faith traditions.
Actually, I haven't read Donner's work, and thus did not and could not have "edited" it. And Rashid's last point is particularly laughable: far from hoping my readers won't ask such questions of their own faiths, I discuss at some length in the opening chapter the impact of historical criticism on Judaism and Christianity. But how could Rashid know that? He is reviewing a book he has not read.
Spencer's work may in fact be one of the best arguments for religious studies.
And Rashid's may in fact be one of the best arguments for responsible journalism.