Did Muhammad exist?

Spencer Warren writes:

FYI, Robert Spencer is the dinner speaker at the next Philadelphia Society meeting in April in Philadelphia. His topic: Did Mohammed exist?

LA replies:

I’ve heard of that thesis, but never had the desire to look into it. It seems so ridiculous; I hope that Robert Spencer is putting it down, not promoting it. Here is—as Michael Hart reasonably argued in his book The 100—the single most important man who ever lived, a man who founded both a major religion and a political/military power that conquered a large part of the world and is followed by a fifth of humanity today. This man wrote in detail of his own experiences. Of his spiritual experiences that led to the beginning of the Koran. Of his changes in his teaching to a teaching of war and conquest after he gained power in Medina. Of his consuming hatred for the Jews after they rejected his claim of being the Jewish messiah. Of his consuming hatred of (and desire to torture in eternity) anyone who failed to accept his claim of being Allah’s messenger. Of his lust for his young relative’s wife that led him to command that Muslim women be veiled. So many specific things are written by and about him, showing a unique personality.

And we’re supposed to believe that this unique personality didn’t exist. That he, one of the most important men who ever lived, was a fictitious character made up by OTHER people who, for some reason, are unknown to history.

- end of initial entry -

Daniel S. writes:

I do believe that this a thesis that Robert Spencer got from his friend, the secular humanist and apostate Muslim, Ibn Warraq (a questionable ally of Western traditionalists), who has several books arguing that Muhammad was likely some sort of historical construct of Arab imperialism. Now I would certainly concede that numerous accounts found in Muhammad’s biography are at best pious frauds invented by his later followers, but I think it takes much more of a leap to deny the existence of such a figure with historical impact that extends all the way down to our time than to affirm his well substantiated existence. I don’t know what Spencer’s motivation is in pushing this particular theory, since I doubt he lacks [?] the expertise to write seriously on the matter, other than that is controversial and thus more likely to sell books and get him time slots on the cable networks. I personally take Spencer much less seriously at this point than I did a few years ago.

LA replies:

Does Ibn Warraq believe that Jesus existed, or that he was some sort of historical construct invented by the early Christians? Given (the last time I read him) Warraq’s kneejerk hostility to all religion, not just Islam, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the latter, though I would be happy to find out that I am wrong.

D. Edwards writes:

At Jihad Watch, Robert Spencer quotes this description of his forthcoming book, “Did Muhammad Exist,” at Amazon:

The earliest biographical material about Muhammad dates from 150 years after the traditional date of his death. Neither the Arab conquerors of the seventh century nor the people they conquered made any mention of Muhammad, the Qur’an, or Islam for fully six decades. Recent scholarship indicating that the Qur’an was constructed from existing materials—including a pre-Islamic Christian text. Numerous archaeological indications that Islam as a religion was fashioned for political reasons.

Far from an anti-Islamic polemic, Did Muhammad Exist? is a sober and unflinching look at the origins of one of the world’s major religions. While Judaism and Christianity have been subjected to searching historical criticism for more than two centuries, Islam has, astonishingly, never received the same treatment on any significant scale. In bringing to light the latest scholarship on Muhammad and Islam, Robert Spencer raises questions of global consequence.

LA replies:

What Spencer says in the linked blog entry at JW focuses on an awfully obscure issue and would not persuade anyone that Muhammad did not exist.

William Muir, the great 19th century author of The Life of Mohamet (which I highly recommend, with the note that it is serious, though entirely accessible, reading), gave the following argument, which I find unanswerable, for the historic existence of Muhammad.

The Koran, Muir points out, is a mess, following no sequence except that it starts with the longest suras and ends with the shortest. It was obviously thrown hurriedly together from various bits and pieces, written on a variety of media by Muhammad’s followers, shortly after his death. If Muhammad had not existed, if the Koran was constructed long after the time of his supposed death in a deliberate process to construct a sacred myth of the founder of Islam, it would have been put together carefully. The fact that it is so incredibly disorganized is proof that the materials of which it is comprised are the real thing.

February 24

Sam writes:

If Spencer and company are seriously proposing that Muhammad did not exist, then they are damaging their own credibility and for no good reason. When secularists try to argue that Jesus Christ never existed, it becomes clear to most observers that they are no longer engaging in reasonable criticism. Rather, it becomes clear that they are driven to absurd lengths by their animus against Christianity. Seriously proposing that Jesus did not exist isn’t an indication of clear headed skepticism; it is an indication of an undiscerning intellect that is willing to believe anything so long as it undermines an ideological enemy.

So too with this “Muhammad never existed” thesis. It is so abundantly clear from history that Muhammad was a historical person that it would be foolish overreaching to try and seriously deny it. Moreover, it is utterly unnecessary to propose this outlandish thesis given the many historical and philosophical reasons to reject Islam. To propose this claim seriously is to weaken the rational credentials of the anti-jihadists, it makes them look like the village atheist who is willing to believe any historical absurdity so long as it undermines traditional religion.

February 24

Michael Hart writes:

Ibn Warraq’s book presents the arguments that Jesus is a mythical character. He does not take a stand on them. The arguments are substantial. I believe that Jesus was a real person, but the arguments were presented by real scholars, and I don’t find them nonsensical. He also presents the arguments that Muhammad is a fictitious figure. I don’t agree with the conclusion, but I don’t think the arguments should be dismissed out of hand.

Many fictitious figures (for example, Julien Sorel) sound very real. To repeat: I think that both Jesus and Muhammad were real persons. However, the evidence for their existence is MUCH weaker than the evidence that FDR really existed. More generally, the epistemological question of how we know historical “facts” is very difficult.

Many things that were for years accepted as historical “facts” are now believed to be false.

LA replies:

And who was it who wrote the things and made up the actions that are attributed to Jesus? Some unknown genius who just happened to have the divine knowledge and the unique personality of Jesus, but decided to remain in the background and create a fictitious mouthpiece for himself instead?

That’s what you have to believe to credit the “substantial” arguments that Jesus didn’t exist. In these arguments by “real scholars, there is seen a complete loss, not of religious faith, but of common sense and reason. It actually requires irrational faith to believe that Jesus didn’t exist.

LA continues:

Also, if the “real scholars” you mention are of the same water as those who people the Jesus Seminar, they are a joke. They have an agenda, and they will say anything, no matter how ridiculous, to advance it.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at February 23, 2012 08:38 PM | Send

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