Reading notes: Did Muhammad Exist? An enquiry into Islam's obscure origins
by Robert Spencer

Reading notes compiled by John Perkins. Most of this is direct quotes from the book, more or less.

The Full Light of History?

Shadows and light

A thorough review of the historical records show that much if not all what we know about Muhammad is legend, not historical fact. The Quran is not a revelation from the one true god but was actually constructed from already existing material mostly from the Jewish and Christian traditions.

Historical scrutiny

Both Judaism and Christianity have been the subject of widespread scholarly investigation for more than two centuries. Can Islam survive this historical challenge?

The Power of Legend

There is little doubt that the political unification of Arabia took place around the time Muhammad is assumed to have lived. Scholars generally agree that the Arabian warriors swept out of Arabia beginning in the second quarter of the 7th century and within 100 years had subdued much of the Middle East, North Africa, Persia and had entered India and Spain.

I (RS) spent more than two decades studying Islamic theology, law and history in depth, before seriously considering the historical reliability of what the early Islamic sources say the prophet of Islam said and did.

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

The hadith, literally "reports", are the collections of Muhammad's words and deeds that form foundation of Islamic law and practice.

The Austrian scholar Aloys Sprenger (1813-1893), contributed mightily to the study of Islam's Origin by unearthing Islamic texts long thought to have been lost, including Ibn Hisham's 9th century biography of Muhammad.

Ignaz Goldziher (1850-1921), determined that the lateness of the hadith made it virtually impossible to regard them historically reliable. He said that the great majority of the traditions of the prophet were not documents of the time, but of times of successive stages of the development of the doctrines during the early centuries of Islam.

Joseph Schacht (1902-1969) said that the evidence of legal traditions goes back to the year 100 AH only.

John Wansborough (1928-2002) postulated that the Quran was developed primarily to establish Islam's origins in Arabia and that the hadith were fabricated in order to give the Arabian Empire its distinct identity so as to foster it's stability and unity.

Patricia Crone established that there were no historical records that showed Mecca as a centre of trade.

Guenther Lueling contended that the Quran reflects the theology of a non-Trinitarian Christian sect that left traces on Islamic theology.

Chapter 1
The Man Who Wasn't There

The sources

The name Mohammed appears in the Quran only 4 times and in three of those instances is used as a title, the "praised one" or "chosen one", rather than as a proper name. By contrast Moses is mentioned by name 136 times and Abraham 79 times. Even Pharaoh is mentioned 74 times. Meanwhile the "messenger of Allah" appears in various forms 300 times and "prophet" 43 times.

The Quran also refers to Jesus as a messenger (5:75). It's possible that when it refers to Muhammad meaning "praised one" it could be referring to Jesus.

Only in the Quran (48:29) where it says "Muhammad is the messenger of Allah" it likely to refer to the prophet of Islam.

The hadith, which are hugely voluminous, date from a period considerably after Muhammad's reported death in 632.

Then there is the Sira, the biography of the prophet of Islam written by Ibn Ishaq (died 773), at least 125 years after death of his protagonist.

The earliest records of an Arabian prophet

One of the earliest apparent mentions of Muhammad comes from a document known as the Doctrina Jacobi which is assumed to have been written by a Christian in Palestine between 634 and 640. This is at the time of the earliest Arab conquests.

This refers to a prophet of the Arabs. But this prophet is still alive and is proclaiming an expected Messiah. So this does not appear to refer to the prophet of Islam.

Was that Muhammad?

One apparent mention of Muhammad by name can be found in a collection of writings attributed to a Christian priest named Thomas and dated to the early 640s. There is a reference to a battle between the Romans and tayyaye d-Mhmt, east of Gaza in 634.

This could be translated as Mohammed of the Arabs, but it also could be referring to simpler title such as the praised one or chosen one. Some evidence indicates that this text was revised in the middle of the 8th century so there may be no early reference to Muhammad at all.

Sophronius and Umar

A seventh century Christian account of the Conquest of Jerusalem refers to the "godless Saracens who entered the holy city of Jerusalem with the permission of God and in punishment for our negligence".

Sophronius, the patriarch of Jerusalem, who turned the city over to the caliph Umar after the Arabian Conquest in 637, wrote about the conqueror’s brutality and made some references to their beliefs. He refers to their rejection of the cross, and their assertion that "the Jews did not slay Jesus nor crucify him".

Islamic sources refer to the "pact of Umar" however this is of doubtful historical authenticity. This was written much later. Writings at the time show no awareness that the Arabians had a prophet at all, or were Muslims.

Pagan Arabians?

In 676 a Nestorian synod declared in Syriac that there were pagans in Arabia, and Christians should not live with them. This was 40 years after the pagans were supposedly cleared from Arabia. It may be that the Arab conquerors were more pagan than Muslim because Islam as we know it did not yet exist.

No Muslims

In 639 the Monophysite Christian patriarch John 1 of Antioch held a colloquy with the Arabian Commander Amr ibn al-As. He refers to the Arabian not as Muslims, but as "Hagarian", that is the people of Hagar, that is, Abraham's concubine, and the mother of Ishmael. Neither side makes any mention of the Quran, Islam or Muhammad.

A 647 letter from the patriarch of Selucia, Ishoyahb III, refers to Arabic Hagarians who deny Christ's divinity.

A chronicle by Armenian Bishop Sebeos, written about 670 portrays a "Mahmet" as a merchant and preacher among the Ishmaelites. He advocated the worship of one true god but also oddly advocated the Jews right to the Holy Land. But there is no mention of Muslims or Islam.

Sebeos also records that Muawiya, governor of Syria and later Caliph, sent a letter to the Byzantine Emperor Constantine in 651. He calls upon the emperor to renounce Jesus but again there is no mention of Muhammad the Quran or Islam.

A non-Muslim Chronicler writing about 680 identifies Muhammad as leader of the "Sons of Ishmael" and refers to the Kaaba in Mecca and identifies it with Abraham.

In 690 the Nestorian Christian, John bar Penkaye, refers to Arabs who were attached to the traditions of Muhammad and who inflicted death upon those who contradicted the tradition.

The first use of the term Muslim

In the 690 a Coptic Christian bishop John of Nikiou refers to the religion of the Muslims. However this is only an Ethiopic translation for from 1602. In 708 the Christian writer Jacob of Edessa is still referring to Mahgraye or emigrants.

John of Damascus on the Hagaryans, Ishmaelites or Saracens.

John, in a 730 critique of heresies, details some of the Saracens beliefs rejecting Jesus as the son of God and rejecting the cross as idolatry. He refers to their books including "women", "the cow" and "the camel of god". He does not refer to the Quran as a book. There is still no clear picture of Muhammad.

Chapter 2
Jesus, the Muhammad

Muhammad: a late arrival on the scene

The Arabian invaders who swept into North Africa in the 650s and 660s sent a message to Constantinople in but 670 made no mention of the Quran or Islam.

In 677 or 688 during the reign of the first Umayyad caliph Muawiya, (661-680) a dam was dedicated near Ta'if in Arabia. The inscription refers to the year 58 and to Muawiya as "commander of the faithful". There is no mention of the Prophet or of Islam.

Likewise an inscription on a canal bridge in Egypt dating from the year 688 refers to the year 69 but it does not mention Muhammad the Quran or Islam.

The earliest known coins of the Arab conquerors had the inscription "in the name of Allah". There is no mention on coins of Muhammad as the messenger of Allah.

One coin struck in Palestine between 647 and 658 does bear the inscription Muhammad. But the figure depicted is carrying a cross.

Islamic law codified in the 9th and 10th centuries forbade Christians to display the cross. But other early coins such as an Assyrian coin dating from 686 or 687, also bear the cross and the word Muhammad.

An explanation is that of the word Muhammad is not a name at all but a title, meaning the "praised one" or "chosen one". This is a common Christian liturgical phrase where he praised one or blessed one refers to Jesus.

The cross and the crescent together

Another curious coin from the reign of Muawiya shows the horizontal bar of the cross in the shape of a crescent.

The caliph and the cross

A most arresting item is that of an inscription dating from the year 662 during the reign of Muawiya on a bath house in Gadara in Palestine. The inscription in Greek starts with a cross and refers to "the year 42 following the Arabs". The presence of crosses was officially sanctioned and mention of the Quran and of Islam was absent.

It was not considered at that time to be of year era of Islam or the era of the Hijra.

42 lunar years prior to the dedication of the bathhouse was the year 622. This year saw a decisive Byzantine victory over the Persians. Not long after that, the Arabs took control. Hence they likely date their calendar from this time, the time of their independence.

It appears that while the Arabs rejected the divinity of Christ, at the time of Muawiya they still considered themselves in some sense to be Christians.

The Dome of the Rock. The first exposition of Islamic theology?

The Dome of the Rock was completed in 691 during the reign of the caliph Abd al Malik. On it are inscriptions which are a mixture of Quranic and non-Quranic material. The order and the presentation are puzzling.

Christoph Luxembourg has posited that the inscription is not quoting from the Quran but predates it. Alternatively they both may have come from different sources. What is most unusual about the Dome of the Rock inscriptions however is that they may not refer to Islamic theology at all (p55).

A grammatical interpretation is that the use of Muhammad in the inscription does not refer to a person of that name but to the "praised one". A compelling case can be made that this inscription referred not to the prophet of Arabia at all but to Jesus himself, whom the inscription clearly calls a messenger of God.

The whole passage is about Jesus being but a messenger god, rather than his son. It may well offer a version of Christian Theology different from that Eastern Roman Byzantine empire and the great church in Constantinople.

The Dome of the Rock inscription is a surviving expression of the theology of a heretical Christian group that held Jesus as a divine messenger, but not as the son of god or saviour of the world.

Abd al-Malik and Hajjaj ibn Yusuf introduce Islam

It was not until 696, five years after the Dome of the Rock was dedicated, that caliph Abd al-Malik began to have coins minted without images of a sovereign (in line with Islam's prohibition of images) and bearing the shahada. That is, it was Abd al-Malik who proclaimed Islam as state the religion of the Empire of the Umayyads.

Abd al-Malik’s rival Abdullah ibn Az-Zubair, who had revolted against the Umayyad caliphate and now controlled Arabia, Iraq and Iran, had started minting coins that proclaimed Muhammad as the prophet of Allah as early as 685. That is, the rebellion may have had a religious component.

Some coins minted in this area showed the faith was still date of flux. Some coins still pictured rulers and one depicted rulers with crosses on their crowns.

However the reign of Abd al-Malik marked an important turning point. For the first time the term Muslims rather than Hagarians or Ishmaelites was used, and the Quran itself was referred to.

Abd al-Malik did not originate the idea Islamic prophet but he expropriated and greatly expanded on the nascent Mohammed myth for his own political purposes.

Several hadith support the claim that Abd al-Malik collected the Quran. The Umayyad Court of Abd al-Malik and those of his successors began to expand on the hadith about Muhammad and edit and augment the Quranic text to buttress their own practices and political position.

An inscription on a castle built by Abd al-Malik's successor Waild 1, (705-715) contains no mention of Muhammad.

But in 735 another inscription betrays another very different popular religious sensibility. This refers to Muhammad's great deeds of Jihad. By this time account of the heroic life and exemplary deeds of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, had begun to circulate widely.

Chapter 3
Inventing Muhammad

If Muhammad did not exist, it was necessary to invent him

The early Arab rulers while being "servants of god", make no mention whatsoever of the putative founder of the religion or his holy book for decades after beginning to conquer and transform huge expanses across the Middle East and North Africa.

Compounding this curiosity are the shaky historical foundations of the hadith, the voluminous account of Muhammad's words and deeds. These form the basis for Islamic law and practice. Much of the Quran would be in comprehensible without the hadith. The Quran itself does not explain its context.

Thus the Hadith become a necessity. They are the prism through which the vast majority of Muslims understand the Quran.

Many hadith offer conflicting explanations for the same Quranic verse. The different versions serve the interests of those who offer them. The multiplicity of explanations undermines their authenticity.

The accounts of the circumstances of the Quranic revelations generally emerged late, in the 9th century. This points to them being inventions rather than actually presenting historical circumstances.

The centrality of the hadith

The hadith are pivotal because of the importance that Islamic theology attaches to following the example of Muhammad. Exhortations to obey Allah’s Messenger, assumed to be Muhammad occur frequently in the Quran.

Hence one must know what he said and did. Muhammad is medium as well as the source of divine law. Hadith that record the prophet’s example are decisive.

The countless sunna

The early caliphs appear never to have invoked Mohammed's example. On the coins first four caliphs, the so-called "rightly guided caliphs," they described themselves as "caliphs of Allah" rather than the expected "caliphs of the prophet of Allah"

The caliph Abd al-Malik (685-705), did call upon rebels to obey Allah and the sunna of his prophet. However Patricia Crone and Martin Hinds contend that at this time the sunna did not yet exist as a specific set of rulings.

Due to warring factions the hadith began to be a manufactured wholesale. The caliph al Mahdi (775-785) was known as someone who fabricated hadiths.

Abd al-Malik wanted to restrict pilgrimages to Mecca and had a hadith manufactured which said that pilgrimages to Jerusalem were better.

Factionalism and the hadith

Ali ibn Abi Talib, Muhammad’s son in law, the last "rightly guided caliph" and Ali’s chosen successor Husayn were supplanted by the caliph Muawiya. Accordingly, a hadith appeared saying that Ali's father was burning in hell. Ali's supporters, the party of Ali, which became the Shiites, produced pro-Ali hadiths.

The various Muslim factions produced a steady stream of hadiths defending their leaders and attacking those of their opponents.

Riddled with contradictions

Because different hadith were issued by warring factions, they are riddled with contradictions. For example one hadith says that Muhammad disapproved of drinking water while standing while another describes him doing just that.

Collecting and Codifying the hadith

The six most important hadith collections all date from more than two centuries after Muhammad's death.

Bukhari traversed the Islamic world collecting over 300,000 hadith. He rejected 293000 as fabricated. His collection included 2602 separate hadith he deemed authentic. These still run to nine volumes. Muslims today raise virtually no question about the authenticity of these traditions.

The proliferation of forgery

With pious intentions, fabrications were combated with new fabrications. Bukhari and other hadith collectors claimed to be able to distinguish genuine material about Mohammed by examining the chain of transmitters (isnad). There are numerous indications that isnads were forged with the same alacrity with which the content of the hadiths were invented.

But are they all unreliable?

The old adage that the victors write the history books applies. There is a strong reason to question the reliability of isnads. They did not appear until after the hadiths had begun circulating. According to Islamic tradition the isnads began to appear after the fitna or Civil War more than 30 years after the death of Muhammad

The original transmitters were not poets, they were simply companions. We must assume that these companions essentially had total recall of the prophet's words, years or decades later. Seldom, if ever, has such a feat of memory been documented.

What did Muhammad really say and do?

The Abbasids, to a great degree further sponsored the proliferation of Hadith in opposition to the Umayyds who were charged with irreligion. Yet the Umayyadds beginning with Muawiya, ought to have had a much closer knowledge of the prophet then the Abbasids.

What the Islamic tradition characterises as Umayyad irreligion could simply reflect a time when the words and deeds of Muhammad and the text of the Quran had not yet been fixed.

Chapter 4
Switching on the full light of history

Muhammad's first Muslim biographer

The " full light of history" supposedly shining on Muhammad's life restlessly on the work of a pious Muslim named Mohammed ibn Ishaq ibn Yasar, generally known as ibn Ishaq.

Ibn Ishaq died in 773 so his work dates from well over 100 years after the death of his subject. The original work did not survive and comes to us via ibn Hisham, who died 60 years after ibn Ishaq. Some early hadith specialists doubted the work of ibn Ishaq.

Defending ibn Ishaq

Others defended his work as indispensable.

The Mohammed of ibn Ishaq is not a peaceful teacher but rather a warlord who fought numerous battles and ordered the assassination of his enemies. 20th century historian David Margoulith observes that the character attributed to Muhammad is exceedingly unfavourable. In order to gain his ends, he recoils from no expedient and approves of similar unscrupulousness on the part of his adherents.

While other earlier account ignore it ibn Ishaq relates the story of the notorious satanic verses. Muhammad names three pagan goddesses as worthy of veneration, then recants, claiming satan had inspired those verses.

Ibn Ishaq’s reliability

What was given ibn Ishaq’s motivation? He was clearly devoted to his protagonist and not troubled by any moral implications of his behaviour.

Material that circulated orally for as many as 125 years in an environment where mass forgery was rampant is extremely unlikely to have maintained any significant degree of historical reliability.

Nothing from the contents of ibn Ishaq is confirmed by inscriptions or other archaeological material. Testimonies from non-Muslim contemporaries do not exist.

Historical embroidery

Later biographers were even more knowing often embroidering on ibn Ishaq’s accounts, as Patricia Crone suggests.

Legendary elaboration

Scholar of Islam Gregor Schoeler contends that the events of Muhammad's life were accurately recorded. Important events were the Hijra, 622, the Battle of the Trench, 627, the treaty of Hudaibiyah, 628.

However these could still be elaboration of the legend.

The Quran itself says that the messenger who received the revelations was not a miracle worker. The Quran itself was supposed to be a sufficient sign.

Yet the Mohammed of ibn Ishaq’s biography is an accomplished miracle worker. He could heal the sick multiply food, draw water from dry ground, and shoot lightning from the strike of a pickaxe.

Johannes Jansen contends that the stories about Muhammad's travel to Syria was a creation that was made necessary by the theological need to have Mohammed recognised as a prophet by the Christians preferably a monk.

Jensen administers the coup de grace to any claims that ibn Ishaq biography is historical. Every event in the biography is meticulously recorded including the month it took place. But until the year 629, the Arabs added a leap months every three years to keep pace with the solar years. The Quran for forbids adding leap months.

That means that for almost all Muhammad's life until his death in 622 leap months were added. But nothing ever happened in the biography in a leap month. Hence the biography must have been fabricated at a time when the existence of leap months had been forgotten.

Having in both ways with ibn Ishaq

All accounts about Muhammad rely on the ibn Ishaq narrative. If that is not historical, then Islam stands as a momentous effect in search of a cause.

Mohammed: Arabian prophet?

The centrality of Arabia and Arabic language the message of Islam cannot be overstated. Converts to Islam take Arabic names. Muslims must pray and recite the Quran in Arabic. Arabic dress and culture has pride of place in the Islamic world.

Central to Islam therefore is the Arabian merchant who received the Quran in Arabic.

Twelve years into his prophetic career, Muhammad ordered raids on the Quraish caravans returning to Mecca from Syria. Some of these raids took place in the sacred month which fighting was forbidden. This established a precedent in Islamic ethics that whatever benefits Islam is good.

Mecca is pivotal to Islam but it is only mentioned once in the Quran, and what this refers to is unclear.

Mecca was supposed to be a centre of trade. But there is no mention of it in contemporary literature. Greek and Latin authors wrote about Arabian Trading Centres but did not mention Mecca. No non-Muslim historian mentions Mecca in any accounts of trade in the 6th and 7th centuries.

Contemporary evidence indicates that pilgrimages were conducted to at least three sites in Arabia: Ukaz, Dhul Majaz and Majanna, but not Mecca. These sites were uninhabited except during the times of pilgrimage.

So the objections of the Quraysh about Muhammad disruption of trade with the Meccans doesn't make sense. There is evidence that a shrine of some kind existed in Mecca but it does not appear to have been a major one. Muhammad's dispute with the Quraysh tribe is historically unsupported.

Chapter 5
The Embarrassment of Muhammad

Muhammad resourceful and opportunistic

One objection to the idea that the character of Muhammad is largely fictional is that significant amount of it portrays him in a negative light. If someone was to invent a hero then why give him weaknesses? Given the time period, violence may not have been problematic, but marrying his former daughter in law was an embarrassment.

The comley Zaynab and the historicity of Muhammad

Zayd was Muhammad's adopted son and is the only supported contemporary of Muhammad mentioned by name in the Quran. He was married to Zaynab.

Muhammad had desire for Zaynab, and Zayd offered to divorce her so that he could marry her. But Muhammad 's response is recorded in the Quran (33.37): "Keep thy wife to thyself and fear god".

But Allah then told Muhammad that he had given Zaynab to him and that he was rejecting Allah’s will. Muhammad then proclaimed that Allah had married Zaynab to him.

Allah explained that the episode was to teach a lesson that adopted son's are not the same as natural sons. To this day adoption is not considered legitimate in Islamic law

Aisha is said to have remarked that the Lord hastens to fulfil Muhammad’s wishes and desires. The incident depicts Muhammad as a rogue prophet enslaved to his lust. Could this story have been fabricated as pious legend?

The embarrassment is relative. A hadith collected by Bukhari notes that: "The prophet wrote the marriage contract with Aisha when she was 6 years old and consummated the marriage with her while she was 9 years old".

There is no hint in the earliest Islamic sources that was anything untoward about this. Child marriage was a cultural norm. The Quran specifies the rules for divorce for wives who have not yet menstruated (65 4).

Episodes describing Mohammed's and brutality are considered to demonstrate strength and fearlessness. Muhammad's polygamy was considered sign of his divinely assisted virility. It appears that a great deal of folk material and superstition has made it's way into the hadith. There are rules about spitting, yawning and signs from Satan. But only the episode about Zaynab appeared to cause early Muslims any embarrassment.

Why the Zaynab story was composed.

The Quran’s fragmented reference to the Zaynab incident concludes with the affirmation that Muhammad is not the father of any one of your men but at the messenger of God and the "Seal of the prophets".

This is why the Zaynab incident is important to Islamic theology. If Mohammed had a son who survived into adulthood, according to established theology, the son would have been a prophet as well, and Muhammad would not have been the last prophet.

Muhammad is reported to have had five sons, but none of them survived. The incident with Zaynab was designed to deny legitimacy to the adopted son Zayd and his sons.

The split with Shiites's occurred when authority fell to Ali, Muhammad’s son in law, and husband of his daughter Fatima. The issue of succession was thus hotly contested.

According to the narrative Zayd died in battle three years before Muhammad. The Zaynab incident was not an embarrassment. It was important to Islam’s theological claims that Muhammad had no surviving sons, either natural or adopted.

Zayd and Osama: Historical figures?

The imperative to have no successes explains why Quran (33:40) was constructed. It may seem possible that Zayd and his son Usama were historical figures. But the only evidence is the hadith.

Zaid’s death and the battle of Muta

There are Byzantine accounts that to some extent corroborate that a battle took place in 629. The Ibn Ishaq account seems contrived. We cannot know exactly what happened. But it does serve to emphasise the theological point that Muhammad was the "Seal of the prophets".

Muhammad Bewitched

Some hadith describe Muhammad as coming under the influence of magic spells. The intention there was to blame and demonise the Jews.

Don't bother Muhammad at home

None of the injunctions about restrictions on entering Muhammad 's house bear any necessary historical authenticity. They seem designed to reinforce Muhammad 's status as a prophet and an exceptional human being.

Chapter 6
The unchanging Quran changes

The Quran: Muhammad's book?

According to the Quran the sole author of the Muslim holy book is Allah. Those who do not accept this claim generally assume it was Muhammad who wrote the Quran.

For many, both Muslim and non-Muslim, the Quran itself is the principal indication that the canonical story of Islam’s origins is essentially true. Otherwise where did the Quran come from?

For Muslims the Quran is a perfect copy of the perfect eternal book. The text of the Quran is entirely reliable says the modern day Turkish Muslim political and educational leader Fethulla Guelen.

The Mutazilites, alone among Muslims believed to the Quran to be a human creation, not a perfect copy of a divine eternal book. The Mutazilites, facing persecution eventually died out.

20th century commentators claimed that the Quran exists today exactly as it was revealed. But the standard text published in Cairo in 1924 is based on traditions that date at the earliest from more than a century after Muhammad is supposed to have lived.

An examination of the records including early Islamic tradition itself indicates that the canonical text of the Quran cannot be attributed to Muhammad alone.

Flexible revelations

If the Quran actually evolved June 8th and 9th centuries, as it appears from the historical evidence, then this has to be explained. Hence revisions themselves were made into divine revelations.

Some hadith suggest the Quran could be changed by questioning the prophet. it was apparently Allah’s plan the Quran could be changed as circumstances warranted.

Muhammad's forgetfulness

Some hadiths record that Muhammad had forgotten some parts of the Quran until he was reminded.

The Quran itself says that this is no problem. "None of our revelations do we abrogate or call to be forgotten but we substitute something better or similar" (2:106).

Variations are explained in the hadith by the need to convey the recitation in separate dialects. In another hadith it is said that Muhammad received the same recitation from Gabriel in 7 different ways.

Haphazard collection

According to tradition some who had memorised portions of the Quran died in the Battle of Yamama. Parts of the Quran died with them.

According to some hadith, a passage from surah 98 was missing and also the section that mandated the stoning of adulterers. According to Aisha, this section used to be into surah 33.

Repentance, the 9th Surah, contains the book’s fiercest exhortations to jihad and warfare, e.g. (9:5), (9:123) and (9:29).

It must have been evident too many ninth century believers that their religion and their holy book were going through extensive changes.

In Islamic doctrine, an unmarried male and female may be lawfully alone together, in for example a workplace environment, only if she becomes his foster mother by suckling him a specified number of times. Aisha said that the Quran originally specified 10 clear sucklings and then 5.

Signs that say text has been altered

Lack of continuity and inherent contradictions are two of the most common indications alterations.

Scholars have focused in particular on (2:116-121).

Islamic spokesmen frequently argue that those who point out the book’s violent and hateful passages are taking them out of context, but there is hardly any context to begin with.

Chapter 7
The non-Arabic Arabic Quran

A book in pure and clear Arabic (with some non Arabic thrown in)

Islamic theologians have understood Arabic to be part of the Quran’s very essence. The Quran itself says that it is in "Arabic pure and clear" (16:103).

Allah explains that Arabic is used because its messenger is an Arab (41:44), In many passages the Quran describes itself as Arabic. However the evidence suggests that the original form was not in Arabic at all.

Thou doth protest too much methinks.

Why would an Arabic book need to insist again and again that it was in Arabic? The New Testament does not make similar claims about being in Greek. The insistence on being in Arabic appears to be a response to a contrary viewpoint.

The Quran is highly polemical in nature. It answers the theological claims of Judaism and Christianity and responds to the arguments of the unbelievers and hypocrites against Muhammad's prophetic claims and its own divined origins. On practically every page there is a denunciation of unbelievers.

The Arabic claims are similarly answering critics.

Muhammad's non-Arabic sources

Muhammad’s foes apparently charged him with getting material from a non-Arabic speaker (16:103). Some have identified the mysterious foreigner Persian. Ibn Ishaq identifies a foreigner as a Christian. The Quran responds heatedly to the accusation that it was forged (25:4-5).

If the Quran arose long after Mohammed is supposed to have lived, as appears to have been the case then the editors of the Quran would have been working with non-Arabic material and rendering it into Arabic. In that case they would have needed to explain the non-Arabic elements in the Quran.

Non-Arabic sources

The Quran’s dependence on non-Arabic Jewish and Christian sources for much of its theology is well known. It also relies on sources other than the Bible. In the Quranic story of creation, the angels are ordered to prostrate themselves before Allah, but Satan refuses. This story is not found in the Bible but is in Jewish apocryphal and rabbinical literature.

Similarly the Qur'anic passage that one unjust killing is the equivalent of slaying all mankind (5:32) is taken from Jewish tradition. The Arabic nature of the Quran is a later development and not a feature of the original text.


The Quran claims for itself that it is mubeen or clear. Philologist GerdR Puin contends that every 5th sentence or so of the Quran simply doesn't make sense.

The Quran itself acknowledges that portions of the book cannot be understood and warns Muslims and not to waste their time trying (3:7). No where in the Quran do we find a steady advance of narration. Noeldeke.

Literally translated it contains many grammatical infelicities and linguistic oddities.

Nonce words

Some words in the Quran have no meaning in any known language. For example the word sijill in 83:7. The Sabians referred to in 2:62 and 5:69 have no clear referent. The Quran has many non-Arabic loan words.

A Syriac Religious Universe

The Jews in the Near East no longer spoke Hebrew. Rather they spoke Aramaic Greek and other languages. Syriac, or Syro-Aramaic was spoken in the area. It was gradually displaced by Arabic, beginning in the 7th century.(Luxenberg).

The proper names of biblical personages are used in their Syriac form in the Quran. Almost all the religious terms in the Quran are derived from Syriac. (Mingana).

Even the word Quran itself may come from Syriac, in which it refers to a liturgical reading from scripture, a lectionary. The reference to Alexander the Great in the Quran, "the one with two horns" came from Syria.

Not just the religious vocabulary but the cultural vocabulary also.

If the Quran came from Arabia we would expect some influence of Arabian paganism. Its absence indicates that the Quran did not come from Arabia. The word jizya is a non-Arabic word. It later became very important in reference to the poll tax levied on the dhimmis or the "people of the book".

A text converted to Arabic.

The origin of the Quran was not Arabic at all but was rendered into Arabic. It was essential that the Arab empire had a holy book in Arabic.

Chapter 8

What the Quran may have been

A clue

What was the Quran in its original form? One clue is in sura 25: Al Furqan. This name has been translated as "criterion" (of right and wrong) but in Syriac it means "redemption" or "salvation".

A more precise translation would be "blessed is he who sent down the redemption on his servant that he might be a sacrifice for the peoples". Hence (25:1) is Christian statement referring to Jesus. The Christian origins of the Quran are consistent with the fact that the early Arabs had crosses on their coins.

Ambiguous text

Unfortunately the earliest manuscripts of the Quran do not contain most diacritical marks these are essential to make sense of the Arabic text. Diacritical marks may have been purposely omitted. Perhaps guidance was a secret only to the initiated.

Some scholars speculate that the diacritical marks themselves caused the incoherence in the Quran. The marks can completely change the meaning of words.

A Christian lectionary

Some scholars suggest that the Quran was a liturgical text designed for cultic recitation in public and private services. Gunther Lueling suggests that about one third of the Quran was originally a pre-Islamic Christian text.

Luxenberg states that if the Quran really means lectionary then it should be understood as a liturgical book with selected texts from the scriptures, (the Old and New Testament) and not at all as a substitute for the scriptures.

Luxenberg translates (12:1) as "We have sent it down as an Arab lectionary so that you may understand it." So it is not surprising that Jesus (Isa) is cited 25 times in the Quran and that he is there referred to as the messiah 11 times.

Luxenberg contends that Syriac was the official language of the Arab conquerors. Syriac was the chief literary language of the Middle East from the 4th to the 8th centuries.

The Arabic of (19:24) describing the birth of Jesus involving a "rivulet" or "brook" has puzzled Arabic scholars. Luxenberg however finds that this is a mistranslation from Syriac and the passage simply says "Do not be sad your Lord has made your delivery legitimate".

Raisins not virgins

Luxenberg won international attention for his interpretation of the Qur'anic references to the virgins. White eyed virgins does not make sense but white grapes does.

References to grapes were common in the hymns of the Syrians. The passages referring to boys in paradise also referred to grapes.

The Last Supper

The Quran’s Christian substratum can be seen int Surah 96 which is regarded as the first chronologically.

It has the angel Gabriel appearing before Muhammad and exhorting him to recite. The sura does not make sense.

It can be sensibly interpreted as a Christian hymn. The final section "bow thyshelf and draw nigh" is a call to receive the Eucharist.

The Quran (5:114) where Jesus prays for the lord to send a table from heaven is also an example of Christian Eucharist theology.

A Christian confession of faith

In sura 74 verse 32 is far longer than the others and is a conspicuous insertion. Islamic scholars accept that this is an insertion but claim that it took place in Muhammad’s lifetime.

Lueling interprets (74:11-17) as a Christological confession that rejects the trinity. This is consistent with the anti-Trinitarian sentiments of the Syrians.

Lueling says that the verse 31 was inserted at the time the text was Islamised. He argues that the traditional Meccan - Medinan division must be given up in favour of the contrast 'pre-Islamic strophic text' and 'Islamic texts'.

Hanifs - Pagans or Monotheists?

The Quran's Christology, both Islamic and pre-Islamic is defiantly anti-Trinitarian. Lueling argues the terms pagan and polytheist actually refers to Trinitarians. The Quran speaks of hanifs (3:67) in this sense.

Christmas in the Quran

Many of the Quran’s small obscure passages begin to make sense when read in light of it's having a foundation in Christian theology. Surah 97 refers to the "night of power". Muslims associated this with the first appearance of Gabriel to Muhammad. In light of its syriac Christian roots, this surah actually of refers to Christmas.

The liturgical Christian practice connected with the birth of Jesus was later adopted by Islam but reinterpreted by Islamic theology to mean the descent of the Quran.

Luxenberg interprets the word al qadr or power in the Syriac form where it can mean a star. This is a further textual reference that connects the night of power with Christmas.

Chapter 9
Who collected the Quran?

After Zayd, still no Quran.

According to the canonical account, in the early 650s the caliph Uthman began to collect the manuscript of the Quran. After he receives it, he said to a group of Muslims "in case you disagree with Zaid bin Thabit on any point in the Quran then write it in the dialect of Quraish, the Quran was revealed in their tongue".

This is curious because Muhammad was of the Quraish and presumably it would it would have already been in that dialect. Once his work was done around the year 653, Uthman is supposed to have sent the manuscript to all Islamic provinces.

The Quran and the battle of Siffin

The battle on the banks of the Euphrates featured two rival claimants for the caliphate: Ali ibn Abi Talib and Muawiya ibn Abi Sufan. When victory was in sight for Ali, Muawiya’s men raised up copies of the Quran on their lances. Ali then relented.

The entire episode centred on the Quran according to Islamic accounts. But these accounts date from at least two centuries after the event. Early records do not corroborate this. The coins they issued and the inscriptions on public buildings include no mention of the Quran.

The account makes a good story but it does not hold up as reliable history. The canonical claim is that early Arab conquerors had copies of the Quran in their hands. But the traditional account situates the collection of the Quran some two decades after the conquests began.

In what is generally understood as the earliest days of Islam, when they conquered Syria in 637, Armenia and Egypt in 639, North Africa beginning in the 650s and Cyprus in 654, there was no Quran for them to brandish. The Quran makes no appearance until six decades are the conquests began, and that version may be very different to today's.

Textual Variants and Uncertainty in the Quran

Only fragments of Quran manuscripts date back to the 7th century. There is no mention of the Quran in literature until the early 8th century. Variant readings survive even to the present day.

The variants begin with the Quran’s very first Surah the Fatiha. It has the Believer offering prayer and praise to Allah not Allah addressing Muhammad. Islamic orthodoxy has it that Allah is the speaker in every part of the Quran.

Not only is the uncertainty whether the Fatiha should be in the Quran, there are also textual variations in it.

Hafs, Warsh and other Variants

The Warsh tradition of the Qur'anic text predominates in North and west in Africa. The Cairo Quran represents the more common Hafs tradition. Most of differences between the traditions are ones of orthography, some of which can be significant.

The first mention of the Quran

The people the Arabs conquered had no idea they had a holy book. They were called Hagarians, Saracens Muhajirun or Ishmaelites. Not until the early eighth century did mentions of the Quran appear. When it was mentioned, it was not in the form we know now. The chapter of the cow was a separate book.

Abd al-Malik and Hajjaj ibn Yusuf: collectors of the Quran?

Abd al Malik claimed to have done so. From the historical records this makes sense. The Dome of the Rock inscriptions appear Quranic but it is not clear what came first.

Many hadith refer to Abd al Malik’s associate Hajjaj as the collector of the Quran. He is said to have sent copies to the provinces. Even according to Islamic tradition, the original Uthman copy did not survive.

It is hard to understand why hadith describing the Quran’s collection would be invented if it already existed.

A letter from the Byzantine emperor Leo III claimed that Hajjaj, governor of Persia, collected and falsified the compositions of Ali ibn Abi Talib. Whatever survives today derives from Hajjaj not Uthman.

Shaky foundations

Even if a declaration of Islamic faith dates from the Dome of the Rock in 691 this is still six decades after the Arab conquests began. The canonical account has very shaky foundations.

Chapter 10
Making sense of it all

The Canonical Story.

There was an Arabian of the Quraysh tribe of Mecca known to the world as Muhammad, a name that means praised one.

In the year 610, when he was 40, he was praying in a cave on Mount Hira about two miles from Mecca, when he was suddenly confronted by the angel Gabriel, who commanded him to recite. For the next 23 years until his death in 632 Muhammad recited the messages of Gabriel, presenting them to his followers as the word of God. After his death, the memorised revelations received, were collected together into the Quran, ("recitation").

Muhammad's preachings were unpopular with the polytheistic Quraysh and threatened their trade from the pilgrimage to the Kaaba.

In 622 Muhammad left Mecca with his followers, the Muslims, and settled in the city of Yatrib. This emigration was the Hijra, and the date marks the beginning calendar. Yatrib became known as the city of the prophet, Medina.

Muhammad then called on his followers to take up arms in defence of the community and then to fight offensive wars against non-believers. Muhammad himself led the Muslims into battle against the Quraysh and other pagan tribes.

These battles illustrate the core of Islamic salvation theology that obedience to Allah brings success and disobedience brings punishment.

After Muhammad's death, his Muslim warriors were energised by the Prophet’s exhortations to jihad and embarked on conquests unprecedented in their breadth and swiftness. Syria and the Holy Land by 637, Armenia and Egypt in 639, Cypress in 654, North Africa in the 650s and 660s, and by 674 the Muslims were threatening Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire. A century after the death of the Warrior Prophet they controlled a vast Empire stretching across the Middle East and North Africa.

This account is largely taken for granted by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. However it is clear that apart from the Arab conquests, virtually none of the standard account could have happened as stated.

A revisionist scenario

Here is what we know.

* 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, but who is still alive.
* the early accounts, written by the people the Arabs conquered, never mention Islam, Muhammad or the Quran. The conquerors are called Ishmaelites, Saracens, Muhjirun, and Hagarians but never Muslims.
* The Arab conquerors, in their coins and inscriptions, don't mention Islam, or the Quran, for the first six decades of their conquests. Mentions of Muhammad are non-specific and could refer to the "praised one", an honorific. On at least two occasions, inscriptions are accompanied by a cross.
* the Quran, even by the canonical account, was not distributed in its present form until the 650s. Contradicting this, neither Arabs, Christians nor Jews mention the Quran until early 8th century.
* during the reign of the caliph Muawiya, 661-680, he constructed at least one public building whose inscription was headed by cross
* We begin hearing about Muhammad the prophet of Islam, and about Islam itself in the 690s during the reign of caliph Abd al-Malik.
*. Abd al-Malik claimed to have collected the Quran
* at this time the governor of Iraq, Hajjaj ibn Yusuf, distributes copies of the Quran to the provinces, something that Uthman is supposed to have done decades earlier.
* In the middle of the 8th century the Abassid Dynasty supplanted the Umayyad line of Abd Al-Malik. The Abyssisds charged the Umayyads with impiety on a large scale. In the Abbasid period, biographical material about Muhammad began to proliferate. The first biography appeared 125 years after Muhammad's reported death.
* The biographical material that emerged situates Muhammad in an area of Arabia that never was the centre for trade and pilgrimage that the canonical account depends on it to be.

The lack of confirming historical detail and delayed development of the biography suggest that whatever Mohamed figure may have existed, he was quite different to what the legend portrays.

The creation of the hero

What really happened? The Arabs built a mighty Empire. Every Empire of the day was anchored in a political theology.

The Christological controversies of the early church threatened to tear Byzantine the empire asunder. After four Ecumenical councils, Christian groups that were regarded as heretical left the Empire.

The earliest Arab rulers appear to be have been adherents of Hagarism, a monotheistic religion centred around Abraham and Ishmael. They frowned on the Christian doctrines of the Trinity and the divinity of Christ. Hence Muawiya's letter to the Byzantine Emperor Constantine, calling on him to renounce Jesus and serve the god of Abraham.

They regarded Christ as the servant of Allah and his messenger. They embraced Jesus as a prophet and had crosses on coins and inscriptions. They saw themselves as encompassing both with Judaism and Christianity.

From monotheism to Muhammad

Abd al Malik’s 691 inscription on the Dome of the Rock is an anti-Trinitarian treatise in which the word Muhammad likely refers to Jesus as the praised one.

As the religion of Islam developed the inscription on the Dome of the Rock lent itself well to the adoption of a new Arab figure, distinct from Jesus, and became identified with what were then rumours of an early Arab prophet.

The concept of a legendary hero would be politically useful for the new Arab Empire. The new prophet needed to be in Arab, living deep within Arabia. He had to be a warrior prophet for the new Empire was aggressively expansionistic. This prophet would have needed a sacred scripture to lend him authority.

Much of the Quran shows signs of being borrowed from Jewish and Christian traditions indicating the founders of Islam fashioned it's scripture from existing material.

An Arabic prophet and Revelation was needed but Abd al Malik and his fellow Umayyad caliphs were not centred in Arabia but in Damascus. Hence it is not surprising that the Quran has many Syriac influences and non-Arabic influences.

Demonising the Umayyads

Quran has furious warnings of judgement and jihadist exhortations and holds Muhammad as an excellent example for all Muslims to follow, but has little detail on what the prophet actually said or did. Hence there was a great need for such material.

The great canonical hadith collections were all compiled the 8th century after the Abbasids replaced the Umayyads. The minting of hadith proliferated. The Umayyads, Abbasids and Shiites all issued hadiths criticising the other factions and supporting their own positions.

They also needed to convince the people that the stories of the prophet of Islam and his new religion or not actually new. The Abbassids blamed the Umayads for not obeying the prophet and not being religious. The Abbasids then claimed the credit for revealing the true nature of the Arab prophet.

Explaining a political religion

This reconstruction explains the curious silence of the Arab conquerors about Muhammad and the Quran. It explains why Islam arrived on the scene long after the Arab conquests.

Islam, by its nature, is a political faith. Unlike its Abrahamic forerunners, it considers its adherents as the instruments of divine justice on Earth. The Quran prescribes agonising punishment for disbelieving infidels, and exhorts Muslims to wage war against those infidels, apostates and polytheists.

The political, military and imperial components are intrinsic to the Islamic faith, and they are evident from the earliest records. This alternative scenario explains the unique political nature of Islam. The theology was created to justify and perpetuate the Arab Empire.

Did Muhammad exist?

There may have been a prophet of the Arabs, but not one who received the perfect eternal book from the supreme god.

The details of Muhammad's life, his alliances, his wives, are a creation of political ferment dating long after that the time that he was supposed to have lived. Records indicate strongly that the Quran, as such, did not exist until long after it was supposed to have been delivered.

The brave scholars who have sought answers to the questions described here have been relatively few in number. A serious quest for the historical Muhammad is long overdue.

Islamic forces have clashed with Empires for centuries. Islamists are now terrorising unbelievers and seeking subversion through the implementation of Sharia law.

Despite the differences between Islamic, Jewish and Christian theology, few have bothered to investigate how the Islamic tradition, and what it might tell us about the clash of civilisations, that has continued for more than a millennium.

Islam was not born in the full light of history, as claimed, but now is the time to usher it into the light.

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