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Tuesday, July 3, 2012
Reading List: Did Muhammad Exist?
- Spencer, Robert.
Did Muhammad Exist?
Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2012.
wrote that Islam
“was born in the full light of history…”. But
is this the case? What do we actually know of the origins of
Islam, the life of its prophet, and the provenance of
its holy book? In this thoroughly researched and documented
investigation the author argues that the answer to these questions
is very little indeed, and that contemporary
evidence for the existence of a prophet in Arabia who proclaimed
a scripture, led the believers into battle and prevailed,
unifying the peninsula, and lived the life documented in the
Muslim tradition is entirely nonexistent during the time of Muhammad's
supposed life, and did not emerge until decades, and in many
cases, more than a century later. Further, the historical record
shows clear signs, acknowledged by contemporary historians, of
having been fabricated by rival factions contending for power in
the emerging Arab empire.
What is beyond dispute is that in the century and a quarter
A.D. 622 and 750, Arab
armies erupted from the Arabian peninsula and
an empire spanning three continents, propagating a
change in culture, governance, and religion which remains
in effect in much of that region today. The conventional
story is that these warriors were the armies of Islam,
following their prophet's command to spread the word of
their God and bearing his holy writ, the Qur'an, before
them as they imposed it upon those they subdued by the
sword. But what is the evidence for this?
When you look for it, it's remarkably scanty. As the peoples
conquered by the Arab armies were, in many cases, literate, they
have left records of their defeat. And in every case, they
speak of the invaders as “Hagarians”,
“Ishmaelites”, “Muhajirun”, or
“Saracens”, and in none of these records is
there a mention of an Arab prophet, much less one named
“Muhammad”, or of “Islam”, or of
a holy book called the “Qur'an”.
Now, for those who study the historical foundations of
Christianity or Judaism, these results will be
familiar—when you trace the origins of a great
religious tradition back to its roots, you often discover
that they disappear into a fog of legend which believers
must ultimately accept on faith since historical confirmation,
at this remove, is impossible. This has been the implicit
assumption of those exploring the historical foundations of
the Bible for at least two centuries, but it is considered
extremely “edgy” to pose these questions
about Islam, even today. This is because when you do,
the believers are prone to use edgy weapons to cut your head off.
Jews and Christians have gotten beyond this, and just
shake their heads and chuckle. So some say it takes courage
to raise these questions about Islam. I'd say “some”
are the kind of cowards who opposed the translation of the
Bible into the vernacular, freeing it from the priesthood and
placing it in the hands of anybody who could read. And if
any throat-slitter should be irritated by these remarks and
be inclined to act upon them, be advised that I not only shoot back but,
circumstances depending, first.
I find the author's conclusion very plausible. After the Arab
conquest, its inheritors found themselves in command of a
multicontinental empire encompassing a large number of subject
peoples and a multitude of cultures and religious traditions.
If you were the ruler of such a newly-cobbled-together
empire, wouldn't you be motivated, based upon the experience
of those you have subdued, to promulgate a state religion,
proclaimed in the language of the conquerer, which demanded
submission? Would you not base that religion upon
the revelation of a prophet, speaking to the conquerers in
their own language, which came directly from God?
It is often observed that Islam, unlike the other Abrahamic
religions, is uniquely both a religious and political system,
leading inevitably to theocracy (which I've always believed
misnamed—I'd have no problem with theocracy: rule by
God; it's rule by people claiming to act in His name that
always seems to end badly). But what if Islam is so
intensely political precisely because it was invented
to support a political agenda—that of the Arabic
Empire of the
It's not that Islam is political because its doctrine encompasses
politics as well as religion; it's that's it's political because
it was designed that way by the political rulers who
directed the compilation of its sacred books, its traditions, and
spread it by the sword to further their imperial ambitions.