2. Documents from the era written or created by Arabs/Muslims themselves;
3. The Qur’an itself;
4. The Hadiths, Islamic commentaries and sayings collected in the 8th and 9th centuries; and
5. The first biography of Muhammad, written by Ibn Ishaq over a century after Muhammed’s lifetime, on which all subsequent biographies are based.
The Arabian conquests are a historical fact; that the Arabian conquerors actually came out of Arabia inspired by the Qur’an and Muhammad is less certain.
In it the author refers to the Arabians not as Muslims but as “Hagarians” (mhaggraye) — that is, the people of Hagar, Abraham’s concubine and the mother of Ishmael. The Arabic interlocutor denies the divinity of Christ, in accord with Islamic teaching, but neither side makes any mention of the Qur’an, Islam, or Muhammad.“
This Qur’anic material is the earliest direct attestation to the existence of the book — sixty years after the Arab armies that had presumably been inspired by it began conquering neighboring lands. … Given the seamlessly mixed Qur’anic / non-Qur’anic nature of the inscription and the way the Qur’an passages are pulled together from all over the book, some scholars, including Christoph Luxenberg, have posited that whoever wrote this inscription was not quoting from a Qur’an that already existed. Rather, they suggest, most of this material was added to the Qur’an only later, as the book was compiled. … It may be that both the Dome of the Rock and the Qur’an incorporated material from earlier sources that contained similar material in different forms.”
The name Muhammad actually appears in the Qur’an only four times, and in three of those instances it could be used as a title — the “praised one” or “chosen one” — rather than as a proper name. By contrast, Moses is mentioned by name 136 times, and Abraham, 79 times. Even Pharaoh is mentioned 74 times. Meanwhile, “messenger of Allah” (rasul Allah) appears in various forms 300 times, and “prophet” (nabi), 43 times. Are those all references to Muhammad, the seventh-century prophet of Arabia? Perhaps. Certainly they have been taken as such by readers of the Qur’an through the ages. But even if they are, they tell us little to nothing about the events and circumstances of his life.Indeed, throughout the Qur’an there is essentially nothing about this messenger beyond insistent assertions of his status as an emissary of Allah and calls for the believers to obey him. Three of the four times that the name Muhammad is mentioned, nothing at all is disclosed about his life.
That is all as far as Qur’anic mentions of Muhammad by name go. In the many other references to the messenger of Allah, this messenger is not named, and little is said about his specific actions. As a result, we can glean nothing from these passages about Muhammad’s biography. Nor is it even certain, on the basis of the Qur’anic text alone, that these passages refer to Muhammad, or did so originally.”
Since warring parties were all fabricating hadiths that supported their positions, the Hadith are riddled with contradictions.
In the latter part of the eighth century, the Abbasids initiated the collection and codification of the Hadith. By doing so, they exponentially expanded specific knowledge about what the prophet of Islam had commanded and condemned, approved and disapproved. … This great effort came to full fruition in the next century, with the appearance of the six most important Hadith collections, none of which date from earlier than two centuries after Muhammad’s death.
Ignaz Goldziher, the pioneering critical historian of the Hadith, notes that “the simplest means by which honest men sought to combat the rapid increase of faked hadiths is at the same time a most remarkable phenomenon in the history of literature. With pious intention, fabrications were combated with new fabrications, with new hadiths which were smuggled in and in which the invention of illegitimate hadiths were condemned by strong words uttered by the Prophet.”
If a hadith could be forged, however, so could its chain of transmission. There are numerous indications that isnads were forged with the same alacrity with which matns — that is, the content of the hadiths — were invented.”
The “full light of history” supposedly shining on Muhammad’s life results largely from the work of a pious Muslim named Muhammad Ibn Ishaq Ibn Yasar, generally known as Ibn Ishaq, who wrote the first biography of Muhammad. But Ibn Ishaq was not remotely a contemporary of his prophet, who died in 632. Ibn Ishaq died in 773, and so his work dates from well over a hundred years after the death of his subject. What’s more, Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah — Biography of the Messenger of Allah — has not survived in its original form. It comes down to us today only in a later, abbreviated (although still quite lengthy) version compiled by another Islamic scholar, Ibn Hisham, who died in 834….The Muhammad of Ibn Ishaq is not a peaceful teacher of the love of God and the brotherhood of man but rather a warlord who fought numerous battles and ordered the assassination of his enemies. “The character attributed to Muhammad in the biography of Ibn Ishaq,” observes the twentieth-century historian David Margoliouth, “is exceedingly unfavorable.”……Ibn Hisham, moreover, warns that his version is sanitized: He left out, he says, “things which it is disgraceful to discuss; matters which would distress certain people….”
Muhammad was an Arab messenger, born in Mecca, speaking Arabic, and bringing the message of Allah to the Arabs and thence to the world at large. Every element of that sentence is a commonplace that both Muslims and non-Muslims take for granted; yet every element, upon closer scrutiny, begins to dissolve. From the extant historical records, it is not at all clear that there was an Arab prophet named Muhammad anywhere near Mecca, who brought any kind of message to the world. Or at the very least, the records indicate that if there was a Muhammad, he was not in Mecca and didn’t preach anything that closely resembles Islam — until long after his death, when his biography and holy book as we know them began to be constructed.
by Robert Spencer
ISI Books, April 2012