Did Muhammad Exist?
Is Robert Spencer the best friend Muslims ever had?
[Order Robert Spencer's updated and expanded book, Did Muhammad Exist? An Inquiry into Islam's Obscure Origins.]
Historicity is the quality of being objectively true, as opposed to merely a legend or myth. Religions vary in the importance they accord to historicity. Hinduism, possibly the world's oldest continuously practiced major religion, does not rely on historicity. Hanuman, the monkey god, Shiva, blue-skinned and represented by a phallus, and multi-armed Kali, who dresses in human skulls and severed hands, all exist on a transcendent plane. Historians have never presented peer-reviewed papers arguing for the historicity of an elephant-headed god. Buddha and Confucius were both meant to be mere mortals, and historians agree that both probably existed. For devout Buddhists and Confucianists, historicity doesn't much matter. If meditation brings enlightenment, and if filial piety holds families together and results in an orderly society, that is what matters.
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all take historicity very seriously. The Old Testament begins, not with laws, not with prayers, not with sins, saints, or visions, but with an historical account of God's creation of the world. It continues with God's calling of Abraham, God's freeing of Hebrew slaves, and other events, meant to have occurred in real life, in real time. Biblical maximalists and Biblical minimalists engage in heated debate over the extent to which the Bible's history is accurate, but objective facts support that Jews have an ancient lineage in the Middle East, where they worshipped Yahweh. These basic facts come from intense research into various scholarly disciplines, including archaeology, genetics, and extra-biblical mentions, for example in the Merneptah and the Mesha Steles. Modern-day Jews, a small, scrappy people who manage to eke out David v. Goliath victories against genocidal enemies, have so much in common with the Jews of the Bible that the question of the historicity seems almost moot.
Christianity hinges on the existence of a man named Jesus, who rose from the dead. If someone found Jesus' corpse, Christianity would be proven false. The full, fierce light of every possible scholarly tool, from archaeology to textual criticism to paleography, has been focused on discovering as much as possible about Jesus. Most historians agree, at minimum, on this basic biography: Jesus was a Jewish preacher who lived roughly in the first third of the first century. He was baptized by John the Baptist, he was said to be a miracle worker, he was crucified by the Romans, and his followers claimed that he rose from the dead.
Jesus, Christians like to say, is the "best attested" figure from the ancient world. By "best attested," claimants mean that there is a larger number of documents, produced closer in time to Jesus' life, by authors familiar with Jesus' milieu, and more widespread documentation for Jesus, than for any other ancient figure. The New Testament works were written by men like Jesus, that is, first century Jews. Even New Testament authors like Paul, who did not know Jesus personally, knew his culture, his language, and his acquaintances. The New Testament was first written for audiences close to the events described therein, audiences that would object to fabrications. The earliest New Testament books were written within twenty years of Jesus' death. Other objective facts are marshalled to support the "best attested" claim; see for example, this page, one of many available on the web. Bestsellers like Cold Case Christianity, The Case for Christ, The Case for the Real Jesus, and Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth have popularized the centuries of extensive, and ongoing, scholarship that establishes Jesus' historicity.
Luke receives a great deal of attention. He is the author of both the Gospel according to Luke and the book of Acts, comprising almost 28% of the New Testament. According to Princeton Bible scholar Bruce Metzger, "In the book of Acts, Luke mentions 32 countries, 54 cities, and 9 Mediterranean islands. He also lists 95 people by name, 62 of which are not named elsewhere in the New Testament." Luke's emphasis on the who-what-when-where-why-how background of Jesus' life, facts that can be checked against known history, is one criterion that separates the Gospels from myth. As CS Lewis, a myth scholar, writes, "I have been reading … legends and myths all my life … none of them are like this … Either this is reportage…or else, some unknown writer … without known predecessors or successors, suddenly anticipated the whole technique of modern novelistic realistic narrative."
Bart D. Ehrman, the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, writes, "Serious historians of the early Christian movement … have spent many years preparing to be experts in their field. Just to read the ancient sources requires expertise in … Greek, Hebrew, Latin … Aramaic, Syriac, and Coptic … Expertise requires years of patiently examining ancient texts and a thorough grounding in the history and culture of Greek and Roman antiquity … virtually everyone who has spent all the years needed to attain these qualifications is convinced that Jesus of Nazareth was a real historical figure … Jesus did exist, as virtually every scholar of antiquity, of biblical studies, of classics, and of Christian origins in this country and, in fact, in the Western world agrees … I am an agnostic with atheist leanings … But as a historian I think evidence matters … Jesus did exist."
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. In 1997, thirty-nine Heaven's Gate members committed mass suicide to coincide with the passage of the Hale-Bopp comet. 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?
Until recently, the Koran had not been exposed to the kind of rigorous examination that the New Testament has since it was first compiled. Why? The answer might be found in a comparison of two anecdotes. John 20:24-29 tells the story of "Doubting Thomas." Thomas, an apostle, said that he didn't believe that Jesus rose from the dead. The risen Jesus later confronted Thomas. Jesus placed Thomas' fingers in his crucifixion wounds, and invited Thomas, on the basis of that evidence, to conclude that the miraculous news was true. Jesus encouraged his followers to investigate facts and reach their own conclusions.
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." "Leave what makes you doubt for what does not make you doubt," says one hadith. The Koran states that "The believers are only the ones who have believed in Allah and his messenger and then doubt not," and "Allah will not be questioned." The Koran self-identifies, "This is the book about which there is no doubt."
Islam's emphasis on "submission" and its rejection of questioning informs Muslim behavior every day. In August, 2021, Ridvan Aydemir, a former Muslim, debated Hamza Myatt, a Muslim preacher, on YouTube. Aydemir pointed out that the Koran makes demonstrably false claims about the history of the Kaaba, the physical center of Islamic worship. Myatt was completely unaware of the Koranic verses to which Aydemir referred. If a Christian preacher publicly revealed such ignorance of Bible verses, he would have to apologize and his authority might never recover. When Myatt was challenged on his lack of knowledge by Milahan, who watched the debate on YouTube, Myatt, rather than confessing and apologizing for his own ignorance, attacked Milahan for "siding with the enemy." "Your name will get marked and that will be that," Myatt threatened. Myatt bragged that he left school at 15. Muslims attacked Milahan as a traitor, a closet Christian, or a CIA spy. Milahan could be killed for any of these infractions. Milahan and Aydemir, in knowing and stating objective truths about Islam, put their lives at risk.
Even to acknowledge that the Koran is a manmade creation, rather than an uncreated, eternal, and perfect document, is to invite death. Sam Shamoun quotes canonical Islamic sources recommending torture, imprisonment, and death for anyone who says that the Koran is a manmade creation.
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. Hatun is about five feet tall, a soft target for jihadis. British police, rather than arresting her attackers, have arrested her for preaching.
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. Even so, three obvious facts about the Koran suggest that Muhammad may never have existed. Those three facts: the Koran's incoherence, the Koran's focus on Jesus, and the Koran's hostility to Judaism and Christianity.
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. Robert Spencer repeats a Muslim joke about a reader who read the Koran verse, "This is the book with no doubt in it" as "This is the book with no oil in it," a reasonable mistake given the Koran's ambiguity.
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. "Deriving right guidance from the Qur'an does not depend on grasping the meaning … anyone who fails to understand … may still live a righteous life and attain salvation. The ordinary reader, therefore, need not delve too deeply into this matter." This lack of emphasis on understanding, but an insistence that mere exposure to the Koran brings blessings, is reflected in the tradition of memorizing the Koran, even by people who don't understand a single syllable they memorize. 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. Some of the folktales found in the Koran: the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus; a legend about Alexander the Great; a passage from the non-Biblical Infancy Gospel of Thomas, about Jesus bringing life to clay birds; and, from the non-Biblical Gospel of pseudo-Matthew, Mary picking dates from a palm tree that bent down for her. Folklorist Alan Dundes describes traditional folktales in the Koran, including "The Hermit and the Angel" and "The Animal Languages." These tales "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. "If one were to subtract all the oral formulas from the Koran, one would have an overall text reduced by as much as one third of its present length, if not more."
With both Biblical narratives and extra-Biblical folklore, the Koran doesn't so much tell stories as refer to stories. The Protoevangelium of James is the source of one Koran story, that of Joseph being chosen by lots to be Mary's husband. The Protoevangelium actually tells the story completely in a comprehensible narrative fashion. The story is alluded to in Koran 3:44, but not told. The verses before and after Koran 3:44 have nothing to do with the chosen-by-lots story.
There's another remarkable feature of the Koran, and of Islam in general. 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. Islamic commentary makes this association clear: "These two paths are the paths of the Christians and Jews, a fact that the believer should beware of so that he avoids them." The prayer condemning Jews and Christians comes from the very first chapter of the Koran, verse 7. The first six verses praise Allah, and verse 7 condemns Christians and Jews.
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.
Dr. Bill Warner ran the numbers. "Islam devotes a great amount of energy to the Kafir. The majority (64%) of the Koran is devoted to the Kafir, and nearly all of the Sira (81%) deals with Mohammed's struggle with them." Other tabulators have concluded that 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; compare Koran 5:75 and Koran 3:144.
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?
Before we answer that, let's take a brief look at the centuries leading up to the seventh century Arab Conquest. Muslims brag that the success of that 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? A variety of schools offered a dizzying array of theories of Jesus' true nature.
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. Beginning in the seventh century, Arabs advanced on a good portion of the world, from Spain to India and China. We think of these Arabs as Muslims. Modern scholarship calls this identification into question.
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.
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. One of the first of these scholars was John Wansbrough (1928-2002). In 1977, one of Wansbrough's students, Patricia Crone, (1945-2015), published, with her co-author Michael Cook, "Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World." Crone and Cook also described the Koran's roots in Jewish and Christian sources, material that had been edited to serve the needs of Arab conquerors.
In 2015, Odon Lafontaine published "Le Grand Secret de l'Islam: L'histoire cachée de l'islam révélée par la recherche historique." Lafontaine's book popularizes a much longer and more scholarly book, "Le messie et son prophète - Aux origines de l'Islam," published in 2005 by Edouard-Marie Gallez. The Koran, Gallez and Lafontaine agree, is the record of a heterodox community of believers who accepted some aspects of Christianity and Judaism as we understand those religions today, and rejected other aspects. They argue that the community that produced the documents that became the Koran accepted descent from Abraham and the Torah, but that they rejected the Babylonian Talmud, that appeared around 500 AD. Lafontaine says, for example, that Koran 4:156-157 is an explicit protest against derogatory statements the Babylonian Talmud made about Mary.
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.
The hadith, that is, sayings of Muhammad, and the sira, or biography of Muhammad, were written long after Muhammad is said to have died, by men utterly distant from Muhammad's native geography, flora, fauna, language, and culture. Bukhari, a prominent collector of hadith, was a Persian, not an Arab, and born in Uzbekistan, almost 2,000 miles from Mecca. Bukhari's collection of the sayings of Muhammad was produced c. 846 AD, over 200 years after Muhammad was said to have died. Bukhari collected 600,000 hadiths and accepted only 7,563 as "authentic." Bukhari's assessment that some hadiths are "authentic" is transparently arbitrary. 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. As Spencer points out, these volumes upon volumes of late-appearing hadith and sira are highly detailed, reporting on the most trivial details of daily life. Aisha, Muhammad's child bride, talks about washing his semen out of his clothes and Muhammad going to pray with wet clothes; she talks about playing with dolls, and also playing on a swing just before the consummation of her marriage. Hadith describe highly detailed instructions on toilet use. Nothing in the scholarship on oral cultures supports the supposition that it is plausible that reams of highly detailed, personal information could be accurately safeguarded, and remain unknown to the wider world, for two hundred years. Oral cultures retain general outlines of history and basic facts about heroes. They don't retain dozens of volumes of details like Aisha's heavy breathing before her marriage consummation.
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. One Muslim was so anxiety-ridden about the sight of a cross that he asked for advice on whether or not he could use a "plus" sign when adding numbers. Apparently the questioner was not alone because many authorities had handed down rulings on the use of the plus sign. Early Arab conquerors minting coins with crosses defies Islam as it is understood today.
Muhammad's canonical biography defies even common sense. It does not record any event in his life taking place in the leap months that existed in Muhammad's lifetime, but were later removed after a calendrical reform. In other words, those recording biographies of Muhammad 200 years after his life appear to be unaware of basic facts of the calendar Muhammad followed.
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.
Bukhari's "authentic" hadith have Aisha referring to foliage that doesn't grow in Mecca. Ibn Hisham describes Mecca as a town blessed with water and trees; in fact it is a desert without water or trees. Bukhari describes Muhammad entering Mecca via mountain passes; there are no mountain passes.
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.
A "court industry" "unabashedly manufactured material about what Muhammad said and did." It's clear that these unabashedly manufactured hadith advanced ideas not found in the Koran, which, by the time the hadith arrived, had been stabilized. For example, hadith were invented to sacralize stoning and "suckling" as Koranic practices. Aisha is made to say that if an unrelated man and woman must be together, contrary to Islamic dictates of purdah, their contact can be made "halal," or permitted, if the woman breastfeeds the man ten times. In Sunan Ibn Majah hadith 1944, Aisha is further made to say that the reason the verse of suckling didn't make it into the Koran was that a sheep ate the paper on which that verse was written. What is far more likely is that an Islamic community found it hard to comply with the seclusion of women and wanted an escape route. Inventing a hadith that allowed an unmarried man and woman to spend time together if the woman breastfed the man first provided that escape route.
Power surrenders reluctantly and not without a fight. Islam is a center of power, and it bestows power on imams, politicians, academics, and activists. Those who benefit from the power Islam bestows hate Robert Spencer with a white hot passion. Given that Spencer offers Muslims a chance to reconsider their commitment to an ideology that lacks a foundation, Robert Spencer is one of the very best friends Muslims have ever had.
Danusha Goska is the author of God through Binoculars: A Hitchhiker at a Monastery.