The book, “Did Muhammad Exist?” by Robert Spencer is highly recommended, should you be interested in understanding Islam’s obscure origins. Islam is more of a patched ideology, rather than a religion.
Go to a high-street or online bookstore, and one can find numerous biographies written about Muhammad — the reputed founder of Islam — by the likes of Karen Armstrong and Tariq Ramadan. These works — generally apologetic in nature — wholly rely on the traditional Islamic accounts of the Prophet’s life, and if they ever delve into the question of the reliability of those sources, it is only in the hope of explaining away incidents in Muhammad’s life that might come across as unsavory to modern readers.
Such an approach, however, simply will not do for genuine historical research. One cannot adopt a pick-and-mix method to determining what aspects of Muhammad’s life actually occurred on moralistic grounds. It is in this respect that Robert Spencer’s latest book differs from the writings of Armstrong and Ramadan.
Without indulging in polemics or pushing a partisan political agenda, the author simply investigates the question of whether we can really trust the traditional Islamic accounts for the life of Muhammad and the supposed early days of Islam during the Arab conquests.
So, did Muhammad exist? As a prophet of the Arabs who taught a vaguely defined monotheism, he may have existed. But beyond that, his life story is lost in the mists of legend, like those of Robin Hood and Macbeth. As the prophet of Islam, who received (or even claimed to receive) the perfect copy of the perfect eternal book from the supreme God, Muhammad almost certainly did not exist. There are too many gaps, too many silences, too many aspects of the historical record that simply do not accord, and cannot be made to accord, with the traditional account of the Arabian prophet teaching his Qur’an, energizing his followers to such an extent that they went out and conquered a good part of the world.
A careful investigation makes at least one thing clear: The details of Muhammad’s life that have been handed down as canonical—that he unified Arabia by the force of arms, concluded alliances, married wives, legislated for his community, and did so much else—are a creation of political ferments dating from long after the time he is supposed to have lived. Similarly, the records strongly indicate that the Qur’an did not exist until long after it was supposed to have been delivered to the prophet of Islam.
In light of this evidence, there is compelling reason to conclude that Muhammad the messenger of Allah came into existence only after the Arab Empire was firmly entrenched and casting about for a political theology to anchor and unify it. Muhammad and the Qur’an cemented the power of the Umayyad caliphate and then that of the Abbasid caliphate. That is the most persuasive explanation for why they were created at all. And once legends about Muhammad began to be elaborated, his story took on a life of its own: One legend begat another, as people hungered to know what their prophet said and did regarding issues that vexed them. Once Muhammad was summoned, he could not be sent away. One pious legend fabricated for political purposes would lead to another, and then another, to fill in holes and address anomalies in the first; then those new stories would lead in turn to still newer ones, until finally the faithful Muslims were able to fill wheelbarrows with volumes of hadiths, as is the case today.
As long as the oddities, inconsistencies, and lacunae exist in the traditional Islamic narratives and the records of early Islam, there will arise people with the courage to seek answers to the questions we have considered here. Up to now, however, those brave scholars have been relatively few in number. This is both unusual and unfortunate. It is unusual in that the world’s other major religions have undergone thorough historical investigation; the “quest for the historical Jesus,” a parallel to inquiries into the historical Muhammad, has been a prominent field of scholarship for two centuries. It is unfortunate in that the lack of interest in examining Islam’s origins, among Muslim and non-Muslim scholars alike, robs everyone of access to the truth.
To be sure, many fervent believers in Islam resist such historical investigation. Even raising the question of whether Muhammad existed challenges the very premise of their belief system. No Muslim authorities have encouraged such scholarship, and those who have pursued this line of inquiry often labor under threat of death. But scholarly examinations of the origins of Christianity and Judaism have gone forward even as some Christians and Jews, including high religious authorities, condemned these historical inquiries as attempts to undermine their faith. Of course, other authorities have actually approved and even welcomed the inquiries. Islam, however, has remained largely exempt from such scrutiny.
For some fourteen hundred years, Islam has profoundly shaped the history and culture not only of the Near East but also of the entire world. At one point, the Islamic Empire stretched as far west as Spain and as far east as India, as far south as Sudan and as far north as the Caucasus. Over the centuries Islamic forces have repeatedly clashed with Western powers, whether it was in the initial wave of conquests that created the Islamic Empire, the clashes with the Crusaders of the Byzantine Empire over Christian holy lands, or the Ottoman Empire’s fierce efforts to control the Mediterranean in the sixteenth century. More recently, of course, the nature of the conflict has changed: No longer are traditional powers facing off on the battlefield; instead, Islamic jihadists are terrorizing unbelievers and seeking in various ways, including nonviolent subversion and the electoral process, to impose sharia law.
This long history of conflict demonstrates that there are pronounced differences between the Islamic tradition and the Judeo-Christian tradition of the West. And yet despite those differences, few have bothered to investigate how the Islamic tradition emerged and what those origins might tell us about the “clash of civilizations” that has been a defining feature of world history for well over a millennium.
Did Muhammad exist? The full truth of whether a prophet named Muhammad lived in seventh-century Arabia, and if he did, what sort of a man he was, may never be known. But it would be intellectually irresponsible not to ask the question or consider the implications of the provocative evidence that pioneering scholars have assembled.
Contrary to the common assumption, Islam and its supposed prophet did not emerge in the “full light of history.” Now, more than ever before, historical investigators have the opportunity—in fact, the responsibility—to usher Islam’s origins out of the shadows and into the light.
After the investigations of the book, “Did Muhammad Exist?” by Robert Spencer, here is what we know about 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.
• A Christian account apparently dating from the mid-630s speaks of an Arab prophet “armed with a sword” who seems to be still alive.
• 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.”1
• 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 nonspecific 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. Contradicting that standard account is the fact that neither the Arabians nor the Christians and Jews in the region mention the Qur’an until the early eighth century.
• During the reign of the caliph Muawiya (661–680), the Arabs constructed at least one public building whose inscription was headed by a cross.
• We begin hearing about Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, and about Islam itself in the 690s, during the reign of the caliph Abd al-Malik. Coins and inscriptions reflecting Islamic beliefs begin to appear at this time also.
• Around the same time, Arabic became the predominant written language of the Arabian Empire, supplanting Syriac and Greek.
• Abd al-Malik claimed, in a passing remark in one hadith, to have collected the Qur’an, contradicting Islamic tradition that the collection was the work of the caliph Uthman forty years earlier.
• Multiple hadiths report that Hajjaj ibn Yusuf, governor of Iraq during the reign of Abd al-Malik, edited the Qur’an and distributed his new edition to the various Arab-controlled provinces—again, something Uthman is supposed to have done decades earlier.
• Even some Islamic traditions maintain that certain common Islamic practices, such as the recitation of the Qur’an during mosque prayers, date from orders of Hajjaj ibn Yusuf, not to the earliest period of Islamic history.
• In the middle of the eighth century, the Abbasid dynasty supplanted the Umayyad line of Abd al-Malik. The Abbasids charged the Umayyads with impiety on a large scale. 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 biographical material that emerged situates Muhammad in an area of Arabia that never was the center for trade and pilgrimage that the canonical Islamic account of Islam’s origins depends on it to be.
In short, 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.
(Source: “Did Muhammad Exist?” – Robert Spencer)