Did Muhammad Exist? – Educating Oneself About Political Islam
Pamela Geller wrote a book review entitled, Inventing Mohammad. She writes:
Robert Spencer’s groundbreaking blockbuster book, Did Muhammad Exist? An Inquiry Into Islam’s Obscure Origins is a game-changer of incomprehensible proportions. It shatters every conventional and accepted myth on the history of Muhammad and Islam. Is it any wonder that Islamic supremacists want to squash it?
But Geller is known to be very abrasive and biased against Islam. It is not hard to understand why she would rejoice in this publication. At the same time, for some reason, her review was recently removed from her site.
What did other reviewers say about the book?
Let me summarize two book reviews.
Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, Research Fellow at Middle East Forum
Al-Tamimi recommends that this book be used as a text in introductory Islamic studies courses, and hopes it will be translated into Arabic. He praises the way the book offers a new perspective even though we will likely never know the truth about Muhammad.
the Doctrina Jacobi (a document dating to 634-40 CE and probably written by a Christian living in Palestine; p. 20), an account of the Arab conquest of Jerusalem by Sophronius — the patriarch who is said to have surrendered the city in 637 — and a letter written in 647 by the patriarch of Seleucia make no reference to the Arab conquerors as Muslims, or show any awareness of a religion called Islam.
About 100 years after Muhammad’s death, a work by the Syrian monk, John Damascene, contained
detailed reference to parts of the Qur’an, but even then he does not name the Qur’an or allude to the existence of a complete holy book for those he calls “Hagarians,” “Ishmaelites” or “Saracens” (but not Muslims).
Perhaps even more remarkably:
An inscription attributed to the first Umayyad caliph — Muawiya — in 677 or 678 CE makes reference to belief in God but gives no indication of belief in Muhammad as his messenger or the Qur’an as revealed scripture.
Al-Tamimi goes on at length to describe the inconsistencies in the Quran, as well as the Hadith, as reported by Spencer in his book.
From all these findings, the most plausible conclusion to draw is that Islam as we know it emerged over a protracted period between the 7th and 8th centuries, developed in such a way as to (i) unify the vast empire created by the Arab conquests that conquered a vast amount of territory (stretching from Spain to Sindh by 750 CE) and (ii) justify the expansionism.
This “imperial theology” (to borrow Spencer’s term; p. 208) was based on a monotheism that perhaps was more tolerant towards Judaism and Christianity in its very early days (hence Qur’anic verses such as 2:62 that include Jews, Christians and Sabaeans in the fold of salvation; p. 209). Yet from the end of the 7th century onwards, Islam takes on a much more distinct identity, with a separate prophet and holy book, supplanting Judaism and Christianity.
Spencer compares this with the Roman Empire that did something similar – commissioning Virgil to write his epic history of the Roman dynasty. Spencer does not say that this is where the Arab conquerors got the idea from, but that it was an idea that showed how political expediency needed an epic to cement together the multiple parts of the growing Muslim empire.
Historian Richard Carrier
Carrier says experts agree on the following points:
- The Hadith were largely fabrications and elaborations over the centuries.
- There was nothing new written about Muhammad until over 100 years after his death.
- While there were materials being written about Muhammad within decades of his death, these were just repeated pieces from Quranic sources and not eyewitness accounts by anyone who had lived during his lifetime.
- There is no archaeological corroboration of Muhammad’s life or status dating from earlier than 100 years after his death (such as coins or inscriptions).
- Spencer’s book is the best treatise questioning the existence of a prophet named Muhammad, but he is dismissed by many as not a “real” academic.
Carrier asks an interesting question: what is the expected survival rate of documents, inscriptions, etc. from the 7th century? That would allow us to assess the lack of survival of materials contemporary to Muhammad.
For instance, we have contemporary inscriptions attesting the existence of Caliph Umar from within ten years of Muhammad’s purported death, and Umar was reputedly a “close companion” of Muhammad and major player in governing the new Muslim state; and we have inscriptions attesting other players as well; but so far, never Muhammad.
He then goes on to examine the writings of those who support the existence of Muhammad and those who call his existence into question. It is a lengthy and detailed summary and if you are interested, you can read the entire article here. He concludes with this assessment:
In the end, best I can tell (and I am not qualified to tell with much confidence), it is at least significantly more probable than not that a guy named Mohammad existed, and cobbled together the Quran, perhaps adapting earlier writings from a Torah observant Christian sect, and perhaps not alone, and perhaps even at someone else’s behest (e.g. Crone & Cook propose he was simply working as an assistant to Umar in this respect, and elevated to prophet status later for convenient propaganda). But that’s at most.