Peter Hannaford, a member of the Committee on the Present Danger and author of Reagan’s Roots: The People and Places That Shaped His Character, reviews my latest book (which you can get here). “BOOK REVIEW: “˜Did Muhammad Exist?,– by Peter Hannaford for The Washington Times, May 7:
DID MUHAMMAD EXIST?: AN INQUIRY INTO ISLAM”SOBSCURE ORIGINS
By Robert Spencer
ISI Books, $27.95, 254 pages
There are two answers to Robert Spencer’s rhetorical question: yes and no. For millions of Muslims who accept the established canon of their religion, it is yes. Many non-Muslims, after reading this book, will conclude that the answer is no.
The Muslim canon rests on the belief that a merchant of Mecca, one Muhammad of the Arabian Quraysh tribe, in 610, at age 40, had a visit from the angel Gabriel. Though the Quraysh were pagans, praying to several gods, Muhammad believed in one god. His visit came when he was praying in a cave outside Mecca. Gabriel announced that Muhammad was to be God’s messenger and would recite the words of God. For the next two decades, he did just that, until his death in 632.
By 622, according to the canon, Muhammad had a band of followers. On learning of a plot to kill him, he led his group from Mecca to Medina, where they settled. Up to that time, the messages Muhammad had received had had to do with salvation. In Medina, God’s messages began to change to emphasize defense of the community and, ultimately, fighting offensive wars against nonbelievers.
Muhammad led his growing following into successful battles against the Quraysh and other pagan tribes and began to unite the Arab tribes. After his death, his followers embarked on conquests that created an Arab empire stretching from the Iberian Peninsula in the west nearly to India in the east.
Muhammad lived in an oral culture where extensive use of memory passed truths from one generation to the next. In time, his successors caused what he had said to be compiled into the Koran. It, along with the many hadith sayings of Muhammad and interpretations by others of what he said, provided followers with a complete order of life. A belief in the infallibility of the Koran and the hadith is at the root of the insistence by radical jihadists that the world must submit to their vision.
Muhammad’s successors directed those who had memorized his messages to write them down. Supposedly, Caliph Uthman had them compiled into the final version in 653. It has guided Muslims ever since.
Author Robert Spencer says of all this, “The more one looks at the origins of Islam, the less one sees.” He has engaged in concerted detective work of a scholarly nature. His book is no polemic. It is a serious quest for facts. The ones wrapped up in the Muslim canon are, alas, elusive….
This book is well-written and moves right along despite considerable detail. While introspection and inquiry have been hallmarks of Christian scholars, it is unlikely that Muslim scholars will be moved by Robert Spencer’s work. The immutability of the Muslim canon and the presumed finality of the Koran stand in their way.