Did Muhammad Exist?

Did Muhammad Exist? By Danusha Goska.

Islam hinges on the following being factually accurate: in 610 AD, the angel Jibril (Gabriel) revealed the Koran to Muhammad, an illiterate Arab camel driver. Muhammed shared this revelation with his followers, who followed the Koran’s many exhortations to jihad, and went on to the Muslim Conquest and military, political, and religious domination of North Africa, the Middle East, and beyond. If Muhammed never existed, Islam as a religion would be reduced to something like the Heaven’s Gate UFO cult. …

Did God order someone named Muhammed to fight and kill non-Muslims until Islam reigned over the entire planet, as described in this hadith? Or have millions of jihadis spilled the blood of others, and their own blood, in service to a lie invented by Arab conquerors to unite and justify their empire?

No scholars critiqued the Koran, until recently:

According to Islamic traditions, some Bedouins embraced Islam. They later left Islam and killed Muhammad’s shepherd. Muhammad had their eyes gouged out with hot iron, and their hands and feet amputated. They were thrown on stony ground where they slowly died. They were punished for “making war on Allah.” Anyone else who did so should be crucified, as stipulated in Koran 5:33. Hadith Bukhari 9:57 states “Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him.” Other hadiths support the death penalty for criticism of Muhammad. Islam has long held that to question Islam is to cause others to doubt, that is, to “wage war on Allah.” …

Islam’s emphasis on “submission” and its rejection of questioning informs Muslim behavior every day. … Even to acknowledge that the Koran is a manmade creation, rather than an uncreated, eternal, and perfect document, is to invite death. …

Hatun Tash, a Turkish-born former Muslim, preaches her Christian faith at London’s Speakers’ Corner. In one of her talks, she revealed that there are differences in wording between copies of the Koran. On July 25, 2021, Tash was repeatedly and violently stabbed. In previous assaults, Muslims have mobbed Tash, screamed for her death, punched her, and thrown her to the ground.

In short, scholars have been able to research the Bible. Scholarship on the Koran is unheard of in the Muslim world, and relatively recent in the West.

Oddity 1: The Koran’s incoherence:

Anyone who studies world sacred scripture comparatively cannot help but notice that the Koran is poorly composed. The Koran is a mess in a way that the Popol Vuh, the Vedas, African Anansi and Native American trickster tales, the Tibetan Book of the Dead and Zen koans are not. A Woke person would object, “You don’t understand the Koran because you are not a Muslim.” In fact Muslims themselves don’t understand the Koran. That is why there are literally dozens of books, the sira and hadith collections, that explain Islam to believers. …

  • The Koran uses pronouns like I, you, he, and they, and the reader cannot be sure to whom these pronouns refer.
  • The Koran does not finish most of the stories it refers to.
  • The Koran is not in chronological or subject order.
  • The Koran is so repetitive that if all the repeated material were removed, it would be 40% its current length. The Exodus story is repeated 27 times.
  • A notorious example of the Koran’s incoherence is verse 74:30. “Above it nineteen.” Above what, nineteen what, and what are these nineteen doing, exactly? This verse is not unique. Scholars who have devoted their lives to studying the Koran report that perhaps twenty percent of the Koran has no agreed upon meaning whatsoever.
  • Koran 2:1 reads simply “a-l-m.” At least one translator has decided that the verse’s complete lack of meaning is a “miracle” because “None but Allah knows their meanings.” Another commentator reassures Muslims that even if you don’t understand the verse, you can still benefit from it. … Merely mouthing alien, Arabic syllables is deemed holy.

Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Mary, Jesus, and many other Biblical characters, including minor characters like Potiphar’s wife, appear in the Koran. In addition to canonical Biblical texts, the Koran makes use of folklore…. “Surely antedate the Koran. We cannot assume that any of them were invented by Muhammad.”

The Koran purloins a line from the Talmud, “Whoever kills one man it is as if he has killed an entire world.” Sometimes the Koran author makes clumsy errors with material with which he is not fully familiar. Mary, Jesus’ mother, who lived in the first century AD, is assumed, in some verses, to be the sister of Moses, who lived over a thousand years before Mary. Why? Both Biblical women shared the same first name. That other Koran verses reveal clearer knowledge of Mary’s identity suggests that more than one author produced this document.

“The formulaic density of the Koran is well in excess of 20%,” writes Dundes. That is, much of the Koran consists, not of substantial statements, but rather of oral formulae whose only purpose is to aide someone memorizing the text, for example, “Allah is forgiving, merciful,” used dozens of times. …

Oddity 2: The Koran’s hostility to Judaism and Christianity:

Placed in the context of other world faiths, Islam is remarkable for the degree to which it is less a declaration of a new faith than an angry critique of two previous faiths, Judaism and Christianity. All religions express hostility towards other groups. But one could extract Amalek from the Old Testament, or anti-Buddhist rhetoric from Hindu scripture, or the notorious Matthew 27:25 from Christianity, and still have coherent religions.

In Islam, by contrast, hostility to Jews and Christians occupies so large and central a place that Islam would be substantially different if that hostility were edited out of Islamic art, architecture, practice, and daily prayer.

Jihad has been a central feature of Islam since the seventh century to the present. Muslims who follow Islam’s prayer schedule repeat a given prayer seventeen times a day. These repeated words identify Jews as angering God and Christians as going astray.

There are no parallels in any other world religion. Buddhists, Hindus, Confucians, Christians, and Jews are not required to repeat seventeen times a day that members of another religious group are disgusting to God himself. Given these prayers, it is not surprising that in a 2011 Pew Poll, Muslims expressed a negative view of Westerners, describing Westerners as “selfish, violent, greedy, immoral and arrogant.” Indeed, Koran 98:6 condemns kuffar as “The worst of created beings.” Kuffar, unbelievers, are “najis,” “unclean,” along with bodily waste, dogs, pigs, and corpses.

The familiar phrase “Allahu akbar” is yet another feature of Islam defining itself against a hostile view of other faiths. “Allahu akbar” does not mean, as it is so often translated, “God is great.” Rather, it means that Allah, the god of Islam, is superior to all other gods. Islamic records show that Muhammad shouted “Allahu akbar” during terror attacks on civilians he had ascertained were non-Muslims.

The Dome of the Rock is one of the oldest examples of Islamic architecture. It was completed a mere sixty years after the year Muhammad is believed to have died. As such, one would expect its inscriptions to record a powerful encapsulation of Islamic theology. In fact, the Dome is more anti-Christian than it is a coherent expression of any new faith. It was built on the model of Christian architecture, specifically the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, with that church’s dimensions. The Dome was placed on the Jewish Temple Mount, across from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, as a supremacist statement against both Christianity and Judaism. The inscriptions on the Dome of the Rock are obsessively focused, not on Muhammad, but on Jesus Christ. Jesus is not the son of God; Jesus is nothing more than a prophet; no one should mention the concept of the trinity: these statements are made over and over in the Dome’s inscriptions.

Oddity 3: The Koran’s focus on Jesus:

The Koran mentions Jesus 187 times. The word “Muhammad” is mentioned only four times in the Koran.

It is possible that those Koranic mentions use “Muhammad” as a title, “praised one” or “chosen one,” not a name. These mentions of Muhammad may well refer to Jesus …

The Arab conquest merely came into a power vacuum caused by the implosions of other empires. Meanwhile, Christians split into opposing camps. This could explain a lot:

Muslims brag that the success of [the seventh century Arab Conquest] is proof that Allah was on their side. History suggests otherwise.

From the second to the fifth centuries, Christians engaged in heated debate over the nature of Christ, including at the first seven ecumenical councils. Was Jesus a God, a man, a combination of the two? …

Nestorius, a fifth century archbishop, held that Jesus had distinct human and divine natures. The Council of Chalcedon, in 451 AD, held that Jesus was true God and true man, and that any other understanding was wrong. Nestorius was anathematized by his peers. The term Nestorian came to be applied to various Christian groups who held heterodox interpretations of Christ’s nature. These Nestorian churches were located to the east of Constantinople, in places like modern-day Syria and Turkey, and as far east as China. As we shall see, this debate helped pave the way for Islam.

Other events created a power vacuum that Islam would eventually fill. In 410, Visigoths sacked Rome. This was the first time Rome had fallen to a foreign invader in almost eight hundred years. As Jerome wrote, “The city which had taken the whole world was itself taken.” “Centuries later, the city which had at the height of its power boasted a population of more than a million people, was reduced to a lawless, ruined village of no more than 30,000 residents.”

Medieval scholar Michael McCormick nominates 536 as the worst year to be alive. An Icelandic volcano erupted. “‘The sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the moon, during the whole year,’ wrote Byzantine historian Procopius … Snow fell that summer in China; crops failed; people starved,” reports science writer Ann Gibbons.

The Plague of Justinian in the sixth through seventh centuries wiped out up to 40% of the population of Constantinople, and between a quarter and a half of the population of the Mediterranean. In the early seventh century, Persia and Byzantium fought their last war, which exhausted both sides.

All these events contributed to the total exhaustion of the powers — Romans, Greeks, and Persians — who had dominated the Mediterranean and Middle East for a thousand years. Their exhaustion created a power vacuum and paved the way for the Arab Conquest. …

Which brings us back to those who had heterodox ideas about the nature of Jesus. Some of them spoke Syriac, an Aramaic language related to Arabic. It is possible that one or more of them produced a lectionary, that is, a collection of scriptural readings. This proposed lectionary would contain many assertions that Jesus was not God. This lectionary would make reference to, but not repeat full texts of, Biblical stories and other material that the author knew his audience would be familiar with. This proposed lectionary was later repurposed by Arabs seeking a document that would unify and justify their new empire. …

An alternative explanation of Islam’s origins:

So, we have a religion whose foundational scripture defies narrative standards. This scripture makes use of material from two other faiths, Judaism and Christianity. Unlike other world scriptures, it doesn’t so much tell stories as refer to stories it assumes its audience knows. This religion is often more focused on critiquing two previously existing religions than on presenting a new ethos. What do these facts suggest about the question of whether or not Muhammad existed? …

We do not know the real name of Christoph Luxenberg, author of a 2000 book, The Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran. Luxenberg theorizes that the Koran’s basis was a heretical Christian Syriac lectionary. For this, “Luxenberg” faces death threats — thus the pseudonym.

The Arab alphabet in use in the seventh century was a blunt instrument, given to ambiguity. Luxenberg recognized, in those old manuscripts, that many words could have different translations. In fact, Luxenberg believed, the source document for the Koran was probably written in Syriac. He believes that his Syriac reading renders clear currently unclear Koran passages. In the current translation, Koran 29:24 reads as God saying to Mary, “Do not be sad. Your lord has placed a little river beneath you.” One wonders what on earth this might mean. Luxenberg re-translates the verse, with an eye to the Syriac language. “Do not be sad. Your Lord has made your delivery legitimate.” Luxenberg’s translation takes a nonsensical line and renders it completely sensible. Mary is a virgin and she is sad because she has just given birth to a child without a natural father. God comforts Mary by telling her that He, God, has rendered her child legitimate.

If the source for the Koran were a Syriac lectionary that was worked over by several editors to create a religious foundation for the new Arab empire, that would explain the Koran’s incoherence. The source document was not meant to be the foundational scripture of a new revelation. It was also not written in Arabic. It was merely a lectionary, a document that would make reference to, and comment on, but never fully flesh out, pre-existence Biblical and folk narratives, which is exactly what the Koran does. It would not be in chronological order, but rather it would hop from story to story, as the author commenting on stories saw fit to make the point he was trying to make.

Luxenberg’s theory would explain Islamic hostility to Judaism and Christianity. Perhaps the author of the source document for the Koran was a heretical Christian who had been anathematized and sent into exile for his belief that Jesus was not divine. No wonder the Koran, the Dome of the Rock inscriptions, and other Islamic material are full of denunciations of mainstream Christianity, and repeatedly insist that Allah is the greatest, Allah never had a son, Jesus was not divine, and the Trinity is an abomination.

Christoph Luxenberg is not alone. Other authors have studied the same material and come to similar, but slightly different, conclusions. …

Robert Spencer’s 2021 book, “Did Muhammad Exist? An Inquiry into Islam’s Obscure Origins” is an updated and expanded edition of his 2012 book by the same title. Spencer performs the heroic task of presenting a fun-to-read popularization of scholarly research into Muhammad’s historicity. Spencer’s book offers all the rewards of a page-turner mystery. It’s hard to believe that anyone could read Spencer’s book with an open mind and still believe that the Muhammad of the standard Islamic narrative ever existed. Muhammad’s life, as understood by pious Muslims, is not supported by archaeology, geography, ecology, numismatics, or detailed writings produced by contemporary authors directly affected by the Arab Conquest.

Muslims openly acknowledged that other Muslims invented hadith to serve their own purposes. If someone wanted to promote behavior X, that person merely invented a hadith approving of behavior X. So-called “authentic” hadith contradict each other. Muhammad drank while standing / never drank while standing; washed once / washed twice / washed three times; Muhammad condemned / approved the killing of women and children. Muhammad did / did not perform miracles.

The first biography we have of Muhammad was produced by Ibn Hisham, who died in 833, two hundred years after Muhammad. Ibn Hisham lived in Cairo, a largely Christian city, worlds away from the Meccan desert. … Arabs rapidly conquered ancient civilizations, full of scribes. If Arab conquerors were inflamed by a scripture passed directly from an angel to a camel driver, they could have hired scribes to write that material down.

Arab conquerors were writing things, Spencer reports, but their writings differ from today’s Islam in significant ways. For example, inscriptions on coins might include the word “Muhammad” alongside a cross. The mere sight of a cross is an abomination to orthodox Muslims. … Early Arab conquerors minting coins with crosses defies Islam as it is understood today. …

One of the key features of Muhammad’s biography is his placement, as a camel driver who worked trade caravans, in Mecca. Mecca, these biographies insist, was a major center of trade. But ancient authors who came from societies that engaged in trade with Arabs, authors who wrote extensively about Arabs, say not a word about Mecca. Early mosques did not face Mecca. Descriptions of Mecca in canonical Islamic writings bear no relation to the real Mecca. “Not one map before 900 AD even mentions Mecca,” writes Dan Gibson.

The victims of the Arab Conquest certainly wrote about it. They didn’t, at first, write about Muslims, the Koran, or Muhammad. They did call the Arabs by names, but the names were not “Muslim.” Rather, they used names like “Hagarians” or “Saracens.”

Spencer suggests that Islam as we know it today was more or less codified by Abd al-Malik, Ibn al-Zubayr, and Hajjaj ibn Yusuf “to unify and strengthen their empire.” Spencer points out that 1,400 years ago, empires had state religions. Byzantium was Christian; Persia was Zoroastrian. Invading Arabs suddenly found themselves in control of an empire, and they needed a justifying manifesto and a uniform practice that would unite wildly diverse populations under one monolithic, imperial roof. Speak only Arabic when you pray; face Arabia when you pray: soon Muslims from China to Spain would obey these imperial dictates. Consider yourself, not a citizen of your own country, but of the Ummah, the world empire of Islam. Muslims are the Dar al-Islam, the house of peace. Kuffar are Dar al-Harb, the house of war. Islam is very much the imperial religion Arab conquerors required.

Curiousier and curiouser. Makes sense though.