Craig Considine’s Fantasy Primary Documents
Gaping fallacies and bizarre theories create a wishful narrative.
“If you want a different narrative of Muhammad to come out then create the narrative,” Rice University sociologist Craig Considine stated about Islam’s prophet during a June 16, 2020, webinar. This very definition of “fantasy Islam” could aptly describe Considine’s promotion of his fellow Islam fantasist John Andrew Morrow in Considine’s debunked new book, The Humanity of Muhammad: A Christian View.
Considine, a jihad-appeasing, former sports management student, whose confused interfaith views on Islam Muslims themselves have condemned, spoke during his still-ongoing virtual book tour. As previously examined, in his book and elsewhere he has sophistically spun Muhammad’s seventh-century subjugation of the Arabian Peninsula’s non-Muslims into a fairy tale of creating a “civic nation” such as the United States. In Considine’s telling, medieval Islamic invasions into European regions such as the Iberian Peninsula later produced a quasi-Silicon Valley.
Considine has noted that his new “book is a collection of a lot of my previous research,” for which the Canadian Muslim convert Morrow has been a “role model and guide of mine.” Morrow’s 2013 book, The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World, was for Considine “really a game-changer.” He “found so much material based on the historical sources of Muhammad’s life and legacy” that examined, “in an in-depth manner, Muhammad’s relations with Christians.”
Morrow has examined six supposed covenants of Muhammad with various Christian communities during his seventh-century life. As Considine wrote in 2016, these documents supposedly prove that “Muhammad desired a pluralistic society.” Considine accordingly “campaigns for reviving the egalitarian spirit of the Covenants by refocusing our understanding of the ummah [Islamic community] as a site for religious freedom and civil rights.”
“As someone who is trying to spread knowledge, I felt almost obligated and duty bound to share this type of knowledge,” Considine has stated of his intellectual debt to Morrow. Considine has similarly presented himself as an objective scholar to Presbyterian pastor Dirk Ficca from the Chicago-based Niagara Foundation, an affiliate of the shadowy Turkish Islamist Fethullah Gulen. (The Gulenist Blue Dome Press is Considine’s publisher.) “There is nothing better than a primary source, if you are a scholar,” he stated, while Ficca enthused of Considine’s book that “everything you put in there has a scholarly foundation.”
Yet Muhammad’s “covenants” would cause many to question Considine’s understanding of “primary source” and “scholarly foundation.” Even covenant apologists such as Ahmed El-Wakil, a researcher on the covenants at Qatar’s Hamid bin Khalifa University, have noted the covenants dubious provenance. He wrote in his 2017 master’s thesis there that the “covenants of the Prophet Muhammad have until very recently been regarded as forgeries by both Muslim and non-Muslim academics,” including Jihad Watch’s own Robert Spencer.
The earliest copies of “the covenant of the Prophet with the monks of Mt. Sinai” date to the sixteenth century (over nine hundred years after the death of Muhammad). The “covenant of the Prophet with Assyrian Christians” dates to the seventeenth century (and is in an Islamic Persian script that did not exist in Muhammad’s day), and the “covenant of the Prophet with the Christians of the world,” which includes twenty-two signatures meant to be those of the Prophet’s companions, dates to the sixteenth.
Mubasher Hussain, a Pakistani Muslim academic, has similarly cast cold water on Morrow’s claims. His six covenants “are surprisingly not recorded in the classical Islamic sources, such as the Qur’an, the hadith collections, the sirah [Muhammad biography] writings, books of Islamic history, and manuals of Islamic law.” Correspondingly, these covenants “cannot attain the status of a source of Islamic law if their authenticity is not established on the criterion set by early hadith scholars and jurists.” Unsurprisingly, “Muslim scholars particularly the traditionists [did] not show any interest in such important documents.”
Morrow also provoked Hussain’s suspicions in other ways. “Contrary to the traditional Muslim standpoint,” Morrow has argued that Muhammad lived from the age of 15 until 40 among the Christian monks at Sinai’s Saint Catherine monastery. Hussain also “could not find a single reference to primary sources of sirah throughout the book. Moreover, many citations lack the reference at all…and some of them have incomplete references.”
Reynolds has identified clear ideological motives behind Morrow’s shoddy scholarship. His “interest in arguing for the authenticity of these covenants is not unlike the interest of those who forged them in the first place,” namely contriving a case for Islamic tolerance. El-Wakil has likewise used the covenants to counter jihadist threats to non-Muslims: “If proven authentic, the covenants have the power to alter this destructive rhetoric and promote tolerance between different religious communities.”
Responding to his critics, Morrow himself has revealed the threadbare nature of his agenda-driven attempts to substantiate a tolerant Islam. “No Muslim is obliged to accept the covenants of the Prophet,” Morrow conceded. “However, every Muslim has the right to believe in them if he or she believes that the case in their favor is convincing.”
Morrow has desperately grasped at the straw of the covenants given the disturbingly inconsistent nature of Islamic hadith, or canonical narratives about Muhammad’s life:
The hadith collections are radically divided, divided against themselves, when it comes to the character of the Prophet. They show us a man who speaks of slaughtering Jews and breaking crosses, and one who says to protect them; a man who calls upon people to honor and respect women and another who says beat them and rape female prisoners; a man who prohibits torture, and another who encourages torture; a man who prohibits the killing of non-combatants, and another who justifies the killing of children; a man who says that all humans are equal, and another who says the most racist things imaginable about Blacks. One is the Prophet of God; the other shows every indication of being the Prophet of Satan.
Here Morrow seeks corrective in the covenants. The “intolerant, hate-filled, and violent traditions…were falsely attributed to the Prophet” and “shamefully, were granted the status of sahih [sound] by scholars who have wrongly been granted an aura of sanctity and infallibility.” Thus “let us lose no time in submitting the hadith to a rigorous re-evaluation based on the norms of the Qur’an as seen in the light of his covenants” and other equally hyped, supposed historic Islamic documents such as the Constitution of Medina.
Considine in his writing on the covenants has followed Morrow’s dead-end. “Issues of the authenticity of the Covenants are one potential reason as to why these texts have been largely ignored,” Considine has noted. Nonetheless, he wants “to treat the Covenants of Prophet Muhammad as a third foundational source of Islamic scripture that is entirely in line with the Qur’an and hadiths.”
Even Considine must concede the questionable value of the covenants for Christians and other dhimmis, non-Muslim minorities subjugated under Islamic sharia law. Dhimmis “faced certain political restrictions” and had to pay the jizya poll tax, which “is enforced in all of the Covenants.” However, he makes the common propaganda claim that the “jizya was collected for the betterment of the ‘public good,’” and not the oppression of non-Muslims.
Considine quotes from Muhammad’s Covenant with the Christians of Persia that these Christians “are a people subject to my Nation, obedient to their word, whose helpers also they are.” Considine leaves unexplained why Christians should embrace this subjection. He claims that the “Prophet’s nation entailed no need for religious unity or conversion to Islam,” overlooking jihadist conquests that have destroyed numerous Christian societies such as Byzantium.
Precisely jihad’s non-Muslim victims such as the Byzantines are the aggressors in Considine’s inverted evaluation. During Islam’s seventh-century emergence, the “Byzantine Empire, the great Christian power of the time, had mobilized its forces to fight against the rise of Islam.” Later European colonialists “wreaked havoc by plundering Islamic economies and supplanting Islamic educational systems with secular or Christianity-based Systems.”
The unconvincing arguments of a self-proclaimed “Islamic apologist” such as Considine only raise questions about the credentials of a man who has written that the French phrase “‘On dit’…is Latin for ‘It is alleged.’” In his interview with the Gülenist Atlantic Institution, the moderator noted that among prominent American “Islamophobes” only the Middle East Forum’s founder Daniel Pipes has a doctorate in Islamic studies. Yet Considine is also only a sociologist, and the editor of his covenants essay was Todd Green, another like-minded Islam propagandist who is a Luther College professor of religion.
The gaping logical fallacies in Considine’s rehash of Morrow’s silly theories make mockery of Considine’s “peer-reviewed” book. Yet, as with his academic idols Juan Cole and Karen Armstrong, logical incoherence has been no barrier so far to Considine’s climbing the Ivory Tower. Modern academia simply has an insatiable desire to hear good news about Islam, no matter how fake.