…FP: So why did you write this book? This is not a question that most people have ever even considered.
Spencer: That’s true, Jamie. The question of whether or not Muhammad existed is one that few have thought to ask, or dared to ask. For most of the fourteen hundred years since the prophet of Islam is thought to have walked the earth, almost everyone has taken his existence for granted.
FP: Of course. After all, his imprint on human history is enormous. The Encyclopedia Britannica dubbed him “the most successful of all Prophets and religious personalities.” In his 1978 book The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History, historian Michael H. Hart put Muhammad in the top spot. So how can you say such a man never existed, and why does it matter?
Spencer: There is, in fact, considerable reason to question the historicity of Muhammad. Although the story of Muhammad, the Qur’an, and early Islam is widely accepted, on close examination the particulars of the story prove elusive. The more one looks at the origins of Islam, the less one sees. In Did Muhammad Exist?, I explore the questions that a small group of pioneering scholars has raised about the historical authenticity of the standard account of Muhammad’s life and prophetic career. A thorough review of the historical records provides startling indications that much, if not all, of what we know about Muhammad is legend, not historical fact. A careful investigation similarly suggests that the Qur’an is not a collection of what Muhammad presented as revelations from the one true God but was actually constructed from already existing material, mostly from the Jewish and Christian traditions.
It matters because my investigations, as the book shows, tend toward the probability that Islam was constructed as a political system foremost, and only secondarily a religious one — a point that has significant implications for the controversy today over anti-Sharia laws and how to regard the incursions of political Islam in the West.
FP: Fascinating. So what are some of those indications that Muhammad may not have existed?…