Unlike historical evidence of saints and prophets from other religions around the world, there are no historical evidence of a ‘prophet’ named Muhammad, a Quran or Islam to have existed anywhere near the Middle Eastern region during his assumed lifetime (570-632 AD). The earliest historical mention, and very short and brief, only appear over 100 years after his death.
There are plenty of evidence of a historical figure such as the Buddha, Jesus, the Hindu teachers and Jewish saints that are spread over entire regions, and found mentioned far beyond their countries to verify their place in history. There is also plenty of evidence of Muslim saints to have been actual historical figures, post Islam.
But there is no historical evidence that Islam, Muhammad or the Quran existed at all during Muhammad’s lifetime, indicating that Muhammad could possibly not have been either a prophet or the founder of Islam.
From the time when Arabs conquered and invaded entire areas in the Middle East, there exist no historical evidence of a religion called Islam, of the Quran or of a prophet named Muhammad. Muhammad could very well have existed but plausibly as an ordinary man, a criminal, rather than a religious figure and founder of Islam which would explain the complete silence in history of his importance in the region.
Islam is the youngest of the five main religions in the world. Some Muslims consider Muhammad to be the restorer of an ‘uncorrupted original’ monotheistic faith of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and other prophets. However, that would disregard Muhammad as a prophet all together since that would indicate Muhammad had no knowledge of his own and merely recited ideas from the founders of religious thought, like a self-appointed priest. And that again would completely reject any indication that Muhammad was capable to restore any original faith. In addition, Muhammad’s ‘vision’ of Angel Gabriel telling him that he is a prophet and messenger is suppose to have appeared in 610 A.D. – merely twenty-two years before his death. Basically again, it shows that Muhammad was a self-appointed prophet, not selected or recognized by the people for any particular qualities, which may explain the historical silence on Muhammad’s life from that time.
Since Islam focus more on political ideologies than actual religious codes, one has to ask the question: was Muhammad a common warlord and highway robber of his time, tailored as a ‘prophet’ to be used by invaders as a political tool to conquer enemies and regions? Or was Muhammad simply a megalomaniac? Are 1 billion Muslims following the ideology of a wolf in sheep’s clothing?
Megalomania is a condition of grandiosity, a psycho-pathological condition characterized by delusional fantasies of power, relevance, or omnipotence. ‘Megalomania is characterized by an inflated sense of self-esteem and overestimation by persons of their powers and beliefs’. Historically it was used as an old name for narcissistic personality disorder prior to the latter’s first use by Heinz Kohut in 1968, and is used these days as a non-clinical equivalent. It is not mentioned in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) or the International Statistical Classification of Diseases (ICD).
After pursuing various issues Robert Spencer sums up 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.”
- 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 non-specific 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 650’s. Contradicting that standard account is the fact that neither the Arabian 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 690’s, 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 earlier period of Islamic history.
- In the middle of the eighth century, the Abbasid dynastic 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 Mohammed 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 origin depend on it to be. (pp.205-206)
Given these huge problems for the history of Islam, how does Spencer explain the rise of Islam? He proposes the need for a political theology that would reflect Arabic culture, Arabic language, and Arabic religion. When warriors from Arabia encountered the conquered cultures they observed that the Roman empire had a political theology for the purpose of binding the empire together. “The earliest Arab rulers appear to have been adherents of Hagarism, a monotheistic religion centered around Abraham and Ishmael.” (p.208) It was not as anti-Christian as Islam developed later since there were Arab coins with crosses on them. This religious model reached its height in 691 and there began to emerge a defiantly Arabic one.
[Commentary by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi] SO WHAT ARE THE MAIN arguments against the historicity of the traditional Islamic accounts of Muhammad’s life and the subsequent rise of Islam through the Arab conquests?
To begin with, contemporary non-Muslim sources of the 7th century do not corroborate the canonical story. For example, 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.
The earliest account that can reliably be taken to refer to Muhammad is a chronicle by the Armenian bishop Sebeos, dating either to the 660s or 670s but containing material that sharply diverges from the traditional Islamic accounts: thus he has Muhammad “insisting on the Jews’ right to the Holy Land — even if in the context of claiming that land for the Ishmaelites, acting in conjunction with the Jews” (p. 32).
Only by around 730 CE, nearly one hundred years after Muhammad’s death in 632 CE according to the canonical story, do we see an account by John of Damascus make 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).
Instead, we have reference to Qur’anic chapter titles like “The Women” (this is the fourth Sura of the Qur’an today), implying that he was drawing on fragments of text that were later incorporated into the Qur’an.
Arabic epigraphic evidence from the 7th century similarly fails to validate the canonical account. 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.
On coins from this period, we do find the word “Muhammad” inscribed, but curiously the inscription comes under kingly figures bearing a cross, a symbol of Christianity that is totally antithetical to traditional Islam (pp. 43-4).
Bearing in mind that “Muhammad” can also mean “the chosen/praised one,” the coins could well be conveying the idea that the ruler is praised or chosen in God’s name (p. 45). Alternatively, they could be referring to Jesus — at a time when the religion of the Arab conquerors was still a vague monotheism — or a proto-Muhammad figure still very much unlike the man depicted in the traditional accounts of his life. Even the inscriptions on the Dome of the Rock — completed in 691 CE and often thought to be the first elaborations on traditional Islamic theology — could be referring to Jesus, explaining how he (“Muhammad”) is a mere messenger and not divine as orthodox Christianity held (pp. 56-7).
IT IS ONLY TOWARDS the middle of the 8th century (735 CE onwards) that we begin to see very clear epigraphic evidence referring to Muhammad as we know him from the Ahadith (plural of hadith) and Sira (pp. 61-2). This observation leads nicely to an examination of the reliability of biographical material from the Ahadith and Sira concerning the sunna (i.e. example) of Muhammad. The centrality of the Ahadith and Sira in interpreting various Qur’anic verses, whose meaning would otherwise be entirely obscure, cannot be overstated.
However, as Spencer points out, it is notable that the invocation of Muhammad’s example begins with the same caliph who had the Dome of the Rock built and issued the first coins invoking Muhammad as the Prophet of God: Abd al-Malik (p. 69), whose successors would do likewise.
Since Muhammad now became such an important figure as a paragon of moral virtue, there naturally arose a need for people to know what the Prophet said and did in various matters of life. The Ahadith in particular then became political weapons, liable to be completely fabricated. Even in the first half of the 8th century, one Islamic scholar wrote that the “emirs forced people to write hadiths” (p. 71).
Factionalism is an especially noteworthy phenomenon here behind the invention of Ahadith.
For example, in the midst of the dispute between the followers of the caliph Muawiya, who Shi’a believe usurped the place of Ali’s son and designated successor Husayn, and Ali’s followers who would later become the Shi’a, a hadith arose in which Muhammad declared that Ali’s father was burning in hellfire (p. 73), while Ali’s partisans invented a hadith in which Muhammad declared, “I go to war for the recognition of the Qur’an and Ali will fight for the interpretation of the Qur’an.”
It is little surprise that in light of all these disputes, the Ahadith are riddled with contradictions.
To be sure, Muslim scholars did try to devise criteria by which to separate forgeries from Ahadith they deemed to be authentic: for instance, how well a hadith is in accordance with the Qur’an. Yet however reasonable such a criterion may be, “it doesn’t get us any closer to what Muhammad actually said and did” (p. 81).
Another devised standard was the supposed reliability of an isnad (chain of oral transmission from the Prophet to the narrator), but this is even more dubious.
While Arabia may well have had “an established practice of memorizing poetry” (p. 84), the Ahadith are not pieces of poetry, and in any event must have been plagued by “embellishment, clarification, or alteration of any kind until the hadiths were finally collected and written down in the ninth century” (p. 85).
In all probability, the poet had his work dictated to a scribe. If the Iliad and Odyssey were subsequently memorized wholesale by bards, the bards were working from written texts, not via oral transmission of the poems.
If the Ahadith cannot be taken as a reliable guide to what Muhammad said and did, then what are we to make of Ibn Ishaq’s Sira? It is often noted that Ibn Ishaq’s biography, which does not in fact survive intact and is only partially preserved by later transmitters, dates over 100 years after Muhammad’s death in 632 CE. Tradition tells of earlier historians, but their purported works have not survived and little is known about their lives.
That Ishaq’s work dates so long after the time in which Muhammad supposedly lived is not proof of the Sira‘s unreliability, but the fact is that Ibn Ishaq would undoubtedly have been working from oral material that would have been embellished and fabricated.
Many of the stories transmitted by Ibn Ishaq would have been tailored to convince the audience that Muhammad was a prophet of God, hence tales of Christians already recognizing him as a prophet in his youth before his prophetic career began (p. 96).
One of the key reasons many critics of Islam think that the traditional accounts of Muhammad’s life are rooted in historical reality is the argument from embarrassment: that is, Muhammad is presented as doing things that might be deemed abhorrent to pious sensibilities. Ibn Hisham states that his own transmission of Ibn Ishaq’s work omits “things which it is disgraceful to discuss” (p. 88).
Even in the traditional accounts, there are still events recounted that have embarrassed Muslim apologists of the modern era: perhaps most notably, Muhammad’s marriage to his daughter-in-law Zaynab.
Yet as Spencer notes, “what constitutes a negative depiction is not necessarily constant from age to age and culture to culture” (p. 111). This is certainly true, for example, of the tradition that Aisha married Muhammad when she was six and consummated the marriage with him when she was nine: no one in the traditional accounts is shown having a problem with this betrothal (p. 112).
In any case, Spencer shows that the Zaynab incident is likely to have been a much later invention to explain the fact that there is an apparent doctrine in the Qur’an of a “prophetic bloodline”: that is, “the prophetic office is handed down from father to son” (p. 115).
Since Muhammad is regarded as the final prophet, it had to be emphasized that he did not have any sons — biological or adopted — who reached puberty. Thus, the status of Zayd as Muhammad’s adopted son had to be marginalized, hence the attendant Qur’anic doctrine delegitimizing adoption (Qur’an 33:4) and the emphasis that “Muhammad is not the father of any one of your men” (Qur’an 33:40).
You can order the book “Did Muhammad Exist?” here.
Did Muhammad Exist? Debate between Robert Spencer and David Wood vs. Anjem Choudary and Omar Bakri Mohammed. Moderated by Chris Conway. Pathetic drivel from Anjem Choudary and Omar Bakri Mohammed offer no other historical evidence or analysis for Muhammad, than quoting the Quran and personal declarations – generally a sign of the lowest intelligence level for research discussions.