Robert Spencer is known as a bÃªte noire to Islamist sympathizers. He published a critical blog with a chapter-by-chapter study of the Qur’an during 2007-2008, and in his current blog, http://www.jihadwatch.org/, furnishes us with up-to-date information hardly ever available from the mass media. He has also published several books on Islam and Muhammad; but his latest book, Did Muhammad Exist?, offers us significant departure from his previous endeavors. Like Tom Holland in The Shadow of the Sword, Spencer shows that the origin of Islam in the Arabian desert is doubtful — but he goes even further in doubting the existence of the “prophet” who started it all.
Can he be serious? Is he just trying to be provocative? Spencer explains that in the Introduction to his 2006 book, The Truth about Muhammad, a biography based on the earliest Muslim sources,
I pointed out “the paucity of early reliable sources” and observed that “from a strictly historical standpoint, it is impossible to state with certainty that a man named Muhammad actually existed, or if he did, that he did much or any of what is ascribed to him.” Even then, however, I said for a variety of reasons that “in all likelihood he did exist.” That may have been an overly optimistic assessment.
Proofs of non-existence — even of God — are notoriously difficult to substantiate. But Spencer is content to focus on the strange lack of historical evidence for the existence of Muhammad. This lacuna contrasts unfavorably with the abundant testimony, not only from believing Christians, but from Jewish and pagan historians, of the existence of Jesus. Hardly any trustworthy, roughly contemporary testimony is available for Muhammad. The quest for the “historical Muhammad” is made even more challenging by the fact that Muslim scholars, mostly because of religious taboos, have not applied anything analogous to the “historical-critical” methodology employed by Christian scripture-scholars.
The “canonical” story, briefly, is that Muhammad, brought up as a child by an uncle after his parents” death, worked as a merchant in Mecca, a pilgrimage site and bustling commercial center, married at 25, started to receive revelations from the angel Gabriel at age 40, fled from Mecca to Medina after his attempts to convert pagan polytheists were rebuffed, became a prophet/warlord in Medina, receiving messages from Allah which later were compiled into the Qur’an, and conquered hostile opponents to Islam, which was meant to supersede all other religions; he acquired a sizeable harem, great wealth and prestige, and died in 632 at the age of 62.
Numerous problems emerge with this narrative, according to Spencer:…