Today is the official publication date of my new book Did Muhammad Exist? An Inquiry Into Islam’s Obscure Origins, and in The American Thinker this morning I discuss why it matters:
Why would it matter if Muhammad never existed? Certainly the accepted story of Islam’s origins is taken for granted as historically accurate; while many don’t accept Muhammad’s claim to have been a prophet, few doubt that there was a man named Muhammad who in the early seventh century began to claim that he was receiving messages from Allah through the angel Gabriel. Many who hear about my new book Did Muhammad Exist? An Inquiry Into Islam’s Obscure Origins ask why it would matter whether or not Muhammad existed — after all, a billion Muslims believe he did, and they are not going to stop doing so because of some historical investigations. Yet the numerous indications that the standard account of Muhammad’s life is more legend than fact actually have considerable implications for the contemporary political scene.
These are just a few of the weaknesses in the traditional account of Muhammad’s life and the early days of Islam:
- No record of Muhammad’s reported death in 632 appears until more than a century after that date.
- The early accounts written by the people the Arabs conquered never mention Islam, Muhammad, or the Qur’an. They call the conquerors “Ishmaelites,” “Saracens,” “Muhajirun,” and “Hagarians,” but never “Muslims.”
- The Arab conquerors, in their coins and inscriptions, don’t mention Islam or the Qur’an for the first six decades of their conquests. Mentions of “Muhammad” are non-specific and on at least two occasions are accompanied by a cross. The word can be used not only as a proper name, but also as an honorific.
- The Qur’an, even by the canonical Muslim account, was not distributed in its present form until the 650s. Casting into serious doubt that standard account is the fact that neither the Arabians nor the Christians and Jews in the region mention its existence until the early eighth century.
- We don’t begin to hear about Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, and about Islam itself until the 690s, during the reign of the caliph Abd al-Malik. Coins and inscriptions reflecting Islamic beliefs begin to appear at this time also.
- In the middle of the eighth century, the Abbasid dynasty supplanted the Umayyad line of Abd al-Malik. In the Abbasid period, biographical material about Muhammad began to proliferate. The first complete biography of the prophet of Islam finally appeared during this era-at least 125 years after the traditional date of his death.
The lack of confirming detail in the historical record, the late development of biographical material about the Islamic prophet, the atmosphere of political and religious factionalism in which that material developed, and much more, suggest that the Muhammad of Islamic tradition did not exist, or if he did, he was substantially different from how that tradition portrays him.
How to make sense of all this? If the Arab forces that conquered so much territory beginning in the 630s were not energized by the teachings of a new prophet and the divine word he delivered, how did the Islamic character of their empire arise at all? If Muhammad did not exist, why was it ever considered necessary to invent him?…