Editor’s note: Robert Spencer’s acclaimed new book, Did Muhammad Exist?: An Inquiry into Islam’s Obscure Origins, is now available. To order, click here.
One of the jihadists’ most potent psychological weapons is the double standard Muslims have imposed on the West. Temples and churches are destroyed and vandalized, Christians murdered and driven from the lands of Christianity’s birth, anti-Semitic lunacy propagated by high-ranking Muslim clerics, and Christian territory like northern Cyprus ethnically cleansed and occupied by Muslims. Yet the West ignores these depredations all the while it agonizes over trivial “insults” to Islam and Mohammed, and decries the thought-crime of “Islamophobia” whenever even factual statements are made about Islamic history and theology. This groveling behavior confirms the traditional Islamic chauvinism that sees Muslims as the “best of nations” destined by Allah to rule the world through violent jihad.
Even in the rarefied world of academic scholarship, this fear of offense has protected Islam from the sort of critical scrutiny every other world religion has undergone for centuries. Some modern scholars who do exercise their intellectual freedom and investigate these issues, like Christoph Luxenberg or Ibn Warraq, must work incognito to avoid the wrath of the adherents of the “Religion of Peace.” Now Robert Spencer, the fearless director of Jihad Watch and author of several books telling the truths about Islam obscured by a frightened academy and media, in his new book Did Muhammad Exist? challenges this conspiracy of fear and silence by surveying the scholarship and historical evidence for the life and deeds of Islam’s founder.
As Spencer traces the story of Muhammed through ancient sources and archaeology, the evidence for the Prophet’s life becomes more and more evanescent. The name Muhammad, for example, appears only 4 times in the Qur’an, as compared to the 136 mentions of Moses in the Qur’an. And those references to Muhammad say nothing specific about his life. The first biography of Muhammad, written by Ibn Ishaq 125 years after the Prophet’s death, is the primary source of biographical detail, yet it “comes down to us only in the quite lengthy fragments reproduced by an even later chronicler, Ibn Hisham, who wrote in the first quarter of the ninth century, and by other historians who reproduced and thereby preserved additional sections.”
Nor are ancient sources outside Islam any more forthcoming. An early document from around 635, by a Jewish writer converting to Christianity, merely mentions a generic “prophet” who comes “armed with a sword.” But in this document the “prophet” is still alive 3 years after Muhammad’s death. And this prophet was notable for proclaiming the imminent arrival of the Jewish messiah. “At the height of the Arabian conquests,” Spencer writes, “the non Muslim sources are as silent as the Muslim ones are about the prophet and holy book that were supposed to have inspired those conquests.” This uncertainty in the ancient sources is a consistent feature of Spencer’s succinct survey of them. Indeed, these sources call into question the notion that Islam itself was recognized as a new, coherent religion. In 651, when Muawiya called on the Byzantine emperor Constantine to reject Christianity, he evoked the “God of our father Abraham,” not Islam per se. One hundred years after the death of Muhammad, “the image of the prophet of Islam remained fuzzy.”
Non-literary sources from the late 7th century are equally vague. Dedicatory inscriptions on dams and bridges make no mention of Islam, the Qur’an, or Mohammad. Coins bear the words “in the name of Allah,” the generic word for God used by Christians and Jews, but say nothing about Muhammad as Allah’s prophet or anything about Islam. Particularly noteworthy is the absence of Islam’s foundational statement “Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.” Later coins referring specifically to Muhammad depict him with a cross, contradicting the Qur’anic rejection of Christ’s crucifixion and later prohibitions against displaying crucifixes. Given that other evidence suggests that the word “muhammad” is an honorific meaning “praised one,” it is possible that these coins do not refer to the historical Muhammad at all.